The song starts fading out and Louis looks up from his book in a hurry, grabbing the microphone and hovering his hand over the trackpad on his laptop.
"Alright, ladies and gentlemen – well, mostly ladies, I won't lie to myself here – that was some modern throwback wonder for you in 'Headlines (Friendship Never Ends)' by the quintessential soundtrack to the nineties and mainstream harbingers of feminist pride: Spice Girls!"
Louis pauses briefly and looks down at his notes. "And now, I'd like to invite you to email all your agony aunt quandaries to louis-at-chaos-radio-dot-co-uk. Our next email is from 'Betrayed and Miserable' and she says: dear louis, my boyfriend cheated on me with our other good friend. both of them said they were drunk and being stupid and it was a mistake, but i feel so betrayed! my boyfriend is begging for another chance, and i just don't know if i can trust him again! what should i do?"
Turning away and quickly taking a sip of water, Louis leans back into the microphone. "Well, BAM, this is a tough one. First off, I'm very sorry to hear about your situation – I'm sure most of us have been in a situation like that from some angle, and it's generally horrible on all fronts. I think what you have to do is consider the situation and analyse how you feel and what you know about these two people, right? Do you see this possibly happening again? Or do you believe it was just a drunk and stupid night? Cheating doesn't make someone a bad person, and not cheating doesn't make someone a good person. Mistakes do happen. Look at Ross on Friends! We all know he'd never cheat on Rachel, but he was upset and drunk and he made a mistake. So I think you should carefully analyse the situation and reexamine the trust you have for your boyfriend and make a decision on your own. He is not suddenly undateable or unloveable because he slept with someone else, and I think you should use this situation as a great excuse to re-examine how you feel about him in the long term. Hope this helps!"
Louis glances at the clock. "Alright, guys, I've got one last song for you, and because I'm sure all sorts of disaffected hipsters are tuning in right about now, here's something to liven the mood before Harry brings you all back down to your usual brand of misery. This is Girls Aloud with 'Black Jacks' – a song I was listening to whilst walking to class the other day and got very much caught by many people doing some wonderful Chezza-inspired dance moves. Enjoy. This has been Piss Off If You Don't Like It, I've been Louis Tomlinson, and Harry Styles is up next."
Tapping the play button, Louis slides off his headphones and pushes the microphone away, turning to smile at Harry, who's just entered the studio. He breaks off into a coughing fit and Harry's eyes turn dark with concern.
Harry gives him a pet on the head and Louis leans into it. "How'd it go? How's your throat?" Harry asks.
Louis pulls a face. "I need about a week of sleep on a nice warm beach with lots of barely clothed people surrounding me at all times."
Harry smiles. "Maybe we can figure that out for summer?"
Louis shakes his head and grins at Harry through his eyelashes. "You dreamer. Anyway, I'll get out of your way. Have a good show, you indie-fuck. I'll see you at home."
"Yeah, yeah," Harry says. "I'll dedicate something to you. Will you listen?"
Louis bats his eyelashes furiously, heedless of his headache. "I tune in every week, don't I? Your voice is just so sexy."
"Get out of here, you maniac." Harry shoves Louis toward the door, giving him a swat on the bum.
"Love you!" Louis rasps behind him as he walks out the door.
Louis stumbles out of the radio department and into the freezing January air, tugging his collar up to his ears and huddling down into his coat. It's two minutes to midnight and he has a paper due tomorrow. Life is not smiling down on him lately, he thinks, burying another coughing fit in his elbow.
After the frigid ten minute walk across campus to his and Harry's flat, Louis digs around for his favourite pajama pants and pulls on one of Harry's old, soft teeshirts. He curls down in bed and flips the radio on before digging out his books and notes.
Grinning softly to himself, Louis begins to write as Harry's low, gravelly voice comes through the airwaves.
"Good evening, tossers. I'm Harry Styles and you're listening to Manic Underachiever on Chaos Radio. That was The Walkmen with 'The Rat.' Here are Stagnant Pools with 'Dead Sailor.' I hope you all get that homework finished."
Louis shakes his head and forces his burning eyes to concentrate on his cramped and desperate handwriting, his careful analysis of The Wasteland blurring together into waves of exhaustion. He rubs his eyes furiously.
Harry's voice crackles into the air again, and Louis leans back on his pillows, pulling his knees up to his chest. "Alright, guys, this next song is dedicated to my best friend who's got the most heinous taste in music ever, but let's work on that, shall we? This is Dan Griffin with 'The Fire' all for you, Louis. Finish that paper and I'll make you breakfast before class."
Louis rolls his eyes and pulls out his phone. i'll hold you to that. also, asshole. also, i love this song.
Harry texts back almost immediately. i know. also, i know. also, i know. finish and get some sleep xx
Louis wakes up at 5 o'clock in the morning to the dulcet tones of his screaming alarm and groans. His head is pounding and his skin is burning and he's freezing cold. He sneezes pathetically before rolling out of bed and sliding on trousers and one of Harry's hoodies. He grabs his big down jacket and his bag and starts walking to the library.
Finding a table in the back of the quiet lounge, he pops an adderall in his mouth and begins analysing T.S. Eliot's marriage breakdown and mental breakdown between the lines of The Wasteland.
Two and a half hours later, his phone buzzes in his pocket.
where are you? thought i was making brekkie ):
Louis smiles and wishes like hell he was back at the flat, watching Harry stumble around him, fussing worriedly, and making one of his fryups. didn't finish ): at lib. more for you!!! sorry x
He doesn't get anything back, so he pulls his headphones out of his bag and hits shuffle on his iPod, grinning slightly when Cat Stevens' jangly guitar pours into his ears.
Twenty minutes and four songs later, the door of the study room swings open and Louis glances up from his computer through his fringe. Harry's standing in front of Louis in his pajamas with his hair a mess and just a jumper protecting him from the cold walk over, holding a steaming container in two hands.
"You need breakfast, Lou," Harry says with a small smile.
Louis stares at him. "Haz..."
Shaking his head to cut Louis off, Harry pushes the container over to Louis. "Come on, you're sick and stressed and you need something warm."
Louis takes it and gives Harry the most grateful look he can muster. He thinks it might border more on pathetic. "You're the best mate I could ever dream up. Even in my happy dreams. Even in the happiest dreams on earth. Hugh Hefner's happy dreams."
Harry rolls his eyes. "How's the paper coming?"
"Coming. I'm editing now," Louis says, shrugging.
Harry nods. "Can you rest tonight?"
"I think so," Louis says. "Niall wants to get dinner with all of us, if we can track down Liam."
"I'll find Liam. You get Zayn." Harry runs a hand through Louis's hair and starts backing away. "Good luck, Lou. See you after class, yeah? Don't make any plans. You need rest, okay?"
Louis shakes his head fondly and smiles at Harry. "Yeah, yeah. Have a good day, mum."
After eating the lukewarm eggs and sausages and giving his paper one more halfhearted reread, Louis stands and stretches and packs up his bag, heading upstairs to the main stacks and slumping against the circulation desk.
Zayn looks at him pityingly. "You didn't sound too great last night, mate," he says.
Louis glances up blearily. "Oh, wow, thank you. Please, hold nothing back, it's not like I work hard on those shows or anything."
Zayn rolls his eyes. "I mean health-wise, idiot."
"Just a cold. It's nothing," Louis says. "Harry brought me breakfast, though. I'm feeling better. Print my paper, would you? It's in the queue."
Zayn nods and turns back to his computer quickly, before grabbing the pages the printer next to him spits out. "You just have the one class today, yeah?" he asks as he hands it over.
"Yeah, then dear Harold is forcing me to stay in so he can fuss over me all afternoon," Louis says. "Quite a drag, really."
Zayn laughs lightly. "I wish my boyfriend would do that," he says.
Louis rolls his eyes. The boyfriend jokes are too old to even bother acknowledging. "Speaking of your boyfriend, Niall wants all of us to eat together tonight, so you should find Liam and make sure he comes. It's been too long."
Zayn pulls his lower lip into his mouth. "He's really busy, you know? I'll ask him."
"Come on, Zayn!" Louis whines. "We haven't all sat down together in ages! I'm starting to think you two think you're too good for the rest of us, and you know what that does to my self-esteem? Do you? Do you have any idea how worthless I feel?"
Zayn shakes his head. "Yeah, shut up, your self-esteem could do with a few knocks, honestly."
Louis mock-gasps. "How very dare you! I've worked hard to become as amazing as I currently am."
"You're too sick to banter, mate," Zayn says dryly. "Please stop. It's like arguing with a kitten."
Louis feels his face fold up into a rueful smile as he leans down to rest his head on the counter. "I'm dying."
"Go to class. I'll text you about tonight."
"'Kay," Louis says and he forces himself to pick up his bag and shove his paper inside. "Make it happen, Malik. You'll have three weeping boys to deal with otherwise."
"So, standard practice, then," Zayn says. "See you later, Lou."
"Honey, I'm home!" Louis manages a whispered shout as he opens the door to their flat and slumps against it once it closes behind him. Harry's bedroom door opens immediately.
"Hey," Harry says quietly, walking over to Louis and tugging him to lean against Harry's body instead of the door.
"Mmm," Louis sounds into his neck. "Bed."
"Yeah," Harry says, walking them to Louis's room. "Want anything? There's water on the nightstand and I have soup ready whenever you want it."
Louis shakes his head into Harry's shoulder. "Too good to me, Hazza. Way too good to me."
Harry laughs a little. "Nah. Hate seeing you like this." He gives Louis a little push and Louis dutifully climbs into his bed, toeing off his boots and sliding his trousers down his thighs. He keeps Harry's hoodie on and bundles himself under the comforter.
Giving him a small smile, Harry tugs the blankets up to Louis's chin and runs a hand through his hair. "I'll wake you in a few hours for soup, okay? And Liam said he and Zayn will be at dinner."
Louis closes his eyes and grins. "Good. Dream team back together again. We're like Take That. Only sexier."
Harry laughs. "Liam's Gary."
"You're Robbie," Louis says, cracking an eye open.
"You're Jason," Harry says.
Giggling softly, Louis says, "Niall's Mark."
"Obviously. Shut up and go to sleep, okay? I'll be in my room if you need anything."
Louis reaches out and squeezes Harry's hand. "Thanks, Haz."
Harry leaves the room with the door ajar, presumably so he can hear if Louis dies in his sleep or something, Louis thinks with affectionate frustration. He closes his eyes again and huddles under the covers, putting how shit he feels out of his mind by sheer force of willpower.
Sleep eventually comes, but it's uneasy and desperate. Louis dreams of shipwrecks, of shifting skies, of wanderlust gone wrong, of the northern star burning out. He dreams of drowning and he shocks awake, gasping and cold, the sheets sticking to his skin by the glue of tacky sweat.
He must make a sound, because Harry's there immediately, all dark green concern.
"Everything alright, love?" Harry asks as he sits at the foot of Louis's bed.
Louis closes his eyes again and slumps back against the pillows, pulling the hood of Harry's sweatshirt over his head. "Bad dream, I guess." He takes a drink of water.
Harry bites his lip. "It's about time for dinner. I didn't wake you up earlier because I figured I should let you sleep as much as possible. Want to grab a shower and head over? Are you up to it?"
Louis smiles wanly. "You know me, always up for it." He waggles his eyebrows suggestively and Harry rolls his eyes.
"Shower. You smell."
Louis climbs out of bed, grumbling under his breath. "I'm not leaving the door open, Harry," he says.
Harry stops on his way back to his room and looks at Louis with wide-eyed worry. "But what if you fall? Or pass out? Don't lock it, okay?"
Louis stares at him. "You honestly do think you're my mother, don't you?"
"Shut up," Harry mumbles. "Don't lock it."
Louis shakes his head, but doesn't lock the door.
When they reach the dining hall, Harry presses Louis down in a chair. "I'll get you some food, yeah? Sit tight."
Louis rolls his eyes. "I'm not a bloody invalid, Haz."
Harry gives him a look and Louis sighs. "Fine," he says. Harry nods.
Niall comes up a moment later with a tray loaded for three, but really, just for one. "Hey, mate. Heard you're sick? Better eat something."
"Harry's getting it," Louis says, eyeing Niall's chips. Niall curls an arm around his food protectively.
"Don't even think on it."
Louis smirks. "You're Mark Owen, did you know that?"
Niall looks up through a mouthful of meatloaf. "Yeah? Didn't all the girls fancy him? Cool. You're Jason, aren't you?"
"Apparently," Louis says, rolling his eyes.
Niall laughs, mouth wide open. Louis winces. "Let me guess," Niall says. "Zayn's Howard. Liam's Gary. Harry's Robbie."
"You're good," Louis says, and Liam and Zayn show up then, hands locked and eyes smiling. "Did you just fuck? I rescind the invitation. No one who's getting laid regularly is allowed at this table."
Zayn rolls his eyes. Liam looks embarrassed.
"Hi, Liam," Louis says, contrite.
"Hi, Lou," Liam says, shaking his head. "How're you feeling?"
"Oh my god, being sick is not my only defining characteristic. I'm fine," Louis snaps.
Zayn's eyes narrow now. "You need food. Stop being a bitch. Where's Haz?"
Louis slumps down and leans his head on his hand. "Coming. With food. Sorry."
Liam smiles. "I wish my boyfriend would do that," he says with a nudge to Zayn's side.
Zayn glances at him. "What do you want? The chicken? With a salad?" He stands, waiting for Liam's answer.
"Ugh," Niall says. "You four are disgusting."
"Daily reminder that Harry and I are not dating," Louis throws in, offhand.
A bowl of chicken soup slides in front of Louis and Harry sits down in the chair to his left. "Stop breaking my heart," Harry says.
Louis smiles and leans his head over on Harry's shoulder. "Thanks, babe."
Liam stares at them. "You're dating harder than Zayn and I are," he says.
Harry snorts. "I'd be looking a bit more satisfied if that were true," he says. "A bit like you do now, actually, mate. Good afternoon?"
Liam blushes. "Shut up."
"Also," Louis says, "how do you measure the forcefulness of dating? If Harry and I are dating harder than you two, how are we talking here? Do I need to give you some lessons on getting the job done?"
"Oh my god," Liam says, bright red now. "Forget I said anything."
"Gladly," Niall says.
"And," Louis continues, "the point remains that Harry and I aren't dating."
Zayn comes back with two plates of food and hands one off to Liam. "You just should be," he says, sitting down.
"Anyway," says Harry, "how are we all today? Besides Louis."
"Oh my god," Louis yells, as much as he can. "There's more to me than my disease!"
"Nah. You turn into a massive twat when you're sick, mate. We all know that." Niall's still talking around a mouthful of food.
"Chew and swallow." Louis kicks him. Zayn smirks.
"Remember when you two hated each other?" Zayn says, pointing his fork between Louis and Harry.
Harry scoffs, "We didn't hate each other."
Louis hides his smile behind his glass of water. "Well..."
Zayn laughs. "Yeah, mate, speak for yourself," he says to Harry.
"What?" Harry says, looking at Louis. "You hated me?"
Still laughing, Zayn says, "Oh, god, you should have heard him freshman year. Whinging on and on about the fucking hipster who was after his timeslot, the fucking hipster with the hair who still thought playing the Smiths was cool."
"Oi! Zayn!" Louis kicks out at him, now. "We keep roommate secrets to ourselves, okay."
"You hated me?" Harry says again, sounding like Louis had announced that the world was actually about to end.
Louis rolls his eyes. "Come on, mate, you didn't like me either."
Harry blushes. "I never disliked you!"
"Really," Louis says dryly, "because I seem to remember overhearing you talking to Cher and saying something about how a Top 40 pop show really had no place on a university station and that that Louis guy talked too much."
"I don't remember saying that," Harry says. "I don't remember even thinking that." He's staring down at his plate now, brow furrowed.
Louis nudges him with his knee. "Hey, Haz, it's cool. Look where we are now, yeah?"
"I can't believe you hated me." Harry doesn't look up from his food, his fork running through his mashed potatoes all droopily.
Louis looks at Zayn and gives him a wide-eyed fix this look. Zayn stares back at him, mystified.
"Harry, mate, it wasn't a big deal. He obviously loves you now, he definitely ditched me – the only good roommate in the entire world – for you," Zayn says. Liam snorts loudly.
Harry gives Zayn a little smile. "Yeah, I guess. I'm pretty charming."
Louis sighs. "Okay, can we change the subject, please? Don't want my little nursemaid moping about all evening."
Harry's noticeably subdued as they're walking back to their flat after dinner.
"Hey. Come on, Hazza. It's not a big deal," Louis says quietly.
Harry glances at him and quickly shifts his eyes back to the ground, burrowing his hands deeper into his pocket. "I'm so sorry I said that, Lou," he says.
Louis rolls his eyes. "Harry! It was three years ago! We became friends like four months after it happened! I'm clearly over it!"
Harry bites his lip. "I do love your show, you know."
Louis laughs. "No, you don't. And that's fine, mate, really."
"I listen every week!" Harry protests.
Louis gives him a slightly disbelieving look. "Bollocks. Why? You hate my taste in music."
"Well, sort of," Harry concedes, "but not entirely, I mean, it reminds me of you and I love hearing you talk. Your agony aunt bit is quite wonderful, also. It's definitely how I'm going to get relationship advice." Harry kicks a foot at Louis's ankle and Louis laughs, throwing his arm around Harry's shoulders.
"You should write in," Louis says. "Dear Louis," he affects a high-pitched singsong voice now, "I'm so upset! My best friend in the entire world is just so much cooler than me and it hurts so much because I've built my entire being based on the fact I'm the coolest boy alive! What do I do?! Sincerely, Brooding Under Morose Moonlight In Northern Germany."
Harry rolls his eyes. "The acronyms are your favourite parts, aren't they?"
"Totally," Louis says. "I love it when people find themselves clever."
"Hey, play me a song next week, okay?" Harry says, pushing himself closer to Louis. Louis tightens his arm around him.
"Okay. What do you want?"
"I dunno." Harry shrugs. "Surprise me."
Louis hums to himself thoughtfully. "Alright. But I expect the same, mister."
Harry shakes his head. "I always have a song for you, you prat."
"Yeah," Louis says, knocking his head against Harry's gently, smiling. "Yeah, you do."
"I hope everyone is have a brilliant evening, you wonderful people," Louis says into the microphone the next week. "That was Queen Britney's 'Inside Out' from her Femme Fatale album, which, quite honestly, might be her best since Oops.... We've got some time for an email now, and as always, feel free to send me your personal troubles to louis-at-chaos-radio-dot-co-uk! This is from Too Pathetic For Acronyms – which, I gotta say, is kind of harshing my vibe here, but I'll go with it – and they say, dear louis, i'm in love with my best friend but he doesn't take me seriously! what do i do? ps. you're the best agony aunt ever xoxoxo."
Louis leans back in his chair, throwing his feet up on the desk. "Well, Pathetic, thanks for the compliment, that truly warms the cockles of my heart. And your situation is tricky! I assume you don't want to risk losing that friendship, but obviously you're unsatisfied with just being his friend, so there's kind of a fragile balance there. I guess you just have to judge whether the potential benefits outweigh the potential losses? Because if he shoots you down, no matter how nice he is about it, it's going to be incredibly hard to stay his friend. We've all had crushes like that, and it's a bit difficult to overcome the hurt, at least for awhile. I'm a big proponent of honesty, but you've got to go in knowing there's a good chance losing him. But there's also a chance he likes you back! Go with your gut, my friend, and let me know how it turns out!"
Sitting back up and scrolling through his playlist, Louis leans into the microphone. "Speaking of best friends, actually, here's a song for mine. He's going to hate it and that's okay, because this has been Piss off If You Don't Like it, and I've been Louis Tomlinson. Here's some exit music in the form of Taylor Swift's 'Our Song,' all for Hazza, who's up next. Have a great night, kiddos." He hits play and pulls off his headphones, unplugging them, and letting the song flood through the studio, just as Harry walks in, dusting snow from his hair.
Harry looks at him with a smile curling across his entire face, pulling his eyes into squints. "You're the worst."
Louis grins. "You love me."
"I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate hate hate hate hate Taylor Swift and you know it, arsehole," Harry says, laughing.
"When we're on the phone and you talk reaaal slow," Louis yells along to the music, "cos it's late and your mama don't know."
Harry mimes vomiting all over Louis and Louis bats him away, smiling up at him. "I expect something wonderful tonight, babe," Louis says.
Harry shakes his head, trying to not laugh. "I don't know if I can improve upon this."
"I am fantastic," Louis allows. "It'll be hard."
Harry rolls his eyes. "You compliment yourself enough for the rest of us. Get out of here, I know you have that Keats analysis due tomorrow."
"Okay, okay," Louis says, hauling himself up and shoving his laptop and papers into his bag. "Have a good show, yeah? Try not to play the most depressing shit ever."
Harry sticks out his tongue like a five year old, and sets up his own laptop, leaning into the mic as the Taylor Swift fades out. "Hey, wankers, it's Harry Styles with Manic Underachievers. Now for a refreshing change of pace, here's Wye Oak with 'Holy Holy.' Finish your homework before getting drunk, you hear?" He leans back and smiles one more time at Louis, who's standing in the doorway. "See you later," he says.
"Bye, Haz," Louis says fondly.
Louis hurries back to the flat through the slowly drifting snow, pausing briefly to stare up at the sky through the glow of the streetlamps lighting the campus. When he gets back, he's shivering and sniffling, and he pulls off his clothes quickly and grabs a jumper off the back of the couch, smiling softly when he pulls it over his head, overwhelmed with the distinct smell of Harry's cologne and shampoo. He turns on the radio and curls up on the couch with Keats, sinking into the sound of Cities' 'Writing on the Wall.'
He must doze off for a moment, because he jerks awake to the sound of Harry's slow drawl.
"Alright, guys, that was 'Truths Arise' by Red Sparowes, with Cities before that. This next song is for Louis, because though he subjects us to Taylor Swift, we still love him. Here's Two Door Cinema Club with 'Something Good Can Work.'"
Louis smiles and pushes his books to the ground, pulling his knees up to his chest and curling down around himself. He texts Harry quickly.
why are you so nice when im a dick?? i love this song. also the royal we, haz? really..
Harry texts back, we're just a better person than you, luv.
Louis rolls his eyes. now you just sound schizo
finish your homework, i'll be home soon xx
Louis sighs and pulls his blanket around him tighter. He hates it when Zayn's right, he really does, but honestly, sometimes he feels like he and Harry are dating. And it's weird, right, because Harry's been his best friend for years now and maybe at first there was a bit of what if and he's fit and we get on so well and all that, and Louis is used to feeling that way when he makes new friends, because new people are lovely and shiny and puzzling and wonderful. But the problem is that Harry's still fit and they still get on so well and he's still lovely and shiny and puzzling and wonderful and Louis has this space inside him, this Harry-space, that's all warmth and light and safety and he doesn't know how to loosen this hold Harry has on him, this unwavering desire to be around him all the time. He doesn't know how to not miss him or not want to hear him laugh or not want to give him cuddles.
And he knows Harry feels similarly; they don't hide it well. They don't hide how relaxed they make each other, how an arm around the shoulder leads to heads tipped together leads to thighs pressed leads to overlapping limbs leads to spooning on Liam and Zayn's couch during movie nights. They don't hide how they're the first to know everything that happens to each other during any given day. They don't hide how their eyes light up when they walk into a room. And it's worrisome to Louis, honestly, because he doesn't know how he'll cope when Harry finds someone who he has all that with plus actually, like, getting laid. He doesn't know how he'll deal with that, how he'll deal with losing what sets he and Harry apart from everyone else. He's never shared well – too used to protecting what's his from a family of seven, and Harry's quickly become his favourite thing, his most important thing.
Louis gets lost in his thoughts for a long time. Too long, really, because he's very carefully created a locked box in his brain for this train of thought. Here be monsters, it says in big gothic print above the steel padlock.
The door slams and Louis jerks. Harry drops his jacket in the entry way and does a running leap, landing on top of Louis, forcing all the air out of his lungs in one huge whoosh.
"Whatcha doin'?" Harry asks, peering into Louis's face from centimeters away, grinning like a maniac.
Louis groans, feigning agony. "Dying, now, thanks to this lump of boy on top of me."
Harry laughs. "I thought you liked boys on top of you."
"Ugh," Louis says, feeling his cheeks redden completely against his will. Here be monsters, he reminds himself. "How dare you say such a thing about my virtue?"
Smiling kind of softly, Harry shifts to sit in the gap between the back of the couch and Louis's legs, throwing his own legs over Louis's thighs. "Did you like the show?"
"Always," Louis says. "I like it when you play songs instead of just noise."
Harry shakes his head ruefully. "You need some serious music tutelage, mate."
Louis smirks. "Says the boy who dares to hate Taylor Swift."
"I'm going to kill you," Harry says, leaning over and digging his fingers into Louis's side, where he knows he's most ticklish.
"You're Satan's bit on the side!" Louis gasps, writhing away from Harry uselessly. They end up collapsed together, breathing heavily, with Harry's head pressed against Louis's heartbeat. Louis brings his hand up to card through Harry's curls and Harry sighs gently.
"Should get to bed," he says.
"Yeah," says Louis.
They don't move until the sun hits them the next morning.
The next three days are filled with torrential snow – enough so classes get cancelled, which Niall calls a bloody fucking miracle.
On Thursday, Louis finds himself alone in the flat, bored out of his mind. He checks his emails, reads over some of the many lonely girl problems in his inbox, and halfheartedly starts putting together a playlist. He doesn't know where Harry is and that makes him restless and twitchy.
He eventually texts Zayn.
Zayn responds immediately.
as if, princess. walk?
meet me in the quad in five.
Louis grabs his jacket and pulls on his wellies and a beanie before trudging out into the frankly apocalyptic tundra England has descended into.
Zayn's waiting for him, leaning against a lamppost, smoking a fag.
"Alright?" Zayn says.
Louis smiles and walks into him, burying his hands under Zayn's jumper. "Cold, cold, cold, Zayner."
Zayn smiles and pulls Louis into a hug. "You're always cold."
"Yes," Louis says. "If I get sick again like I was last week, someone might die."
"What have you been doing with your day off, mate?" Zayn asks as they start walking down the partially cleared pathway. Louis thinks the groundskeepers have given up, and honestly, he would too. The snow is still falling, creating a hazy shroud of white with a three hundred and sixty degree radius.
"Nothing," Louis says. "Absolutely bloody nothing. I'm losing my mind."
"Yeah. Yeah, you're no good when you're bored." Zayn flicks his ash, and it hits the snow with a hissing sound. Louis kind of wants to take up smoking, simply to drop lit cigarettes in snow.
"I'm always good, how very dare you. Have you heard from Harry? He left early this morning and I haven't seen him."
Zayn shrugs and looks at Louis curiously. "Can you honestly not go a day without him?"
"Shut up," Louis says, pulling his jacket around him tighter.
Zayn sighs. "Are you ever gonna do anything with that situation?"
"Excuse me? What situation?" Louis says.
"Um. The situation where you two are so fucking in love you don't even look at anyone else? Honestly, Lou, have you gotten laid since you met him?" Zayn sounds frustrated now, which Louis thinks isn't fair. Zayn's getting laid all the bloody time.
"Yes!" Louis says. "As a matter of fact, I have. Remember Jamie? And there was Henry, too."
Arching an eyebrow, Zayn follows up with, "Since you started living together?"
Louis slumps down and shrugs. "It'd be weird to bring someone back to the flat. I don't know. It doesn't have to be a thing, Zayn. We're fine the way we are."
"Yeah," Zayn says. "Yeah, but what if he brings someone back? Would that be fine?"
"Harry's his own person and perfectly capable of making his own decisions," Louis sniffs. "He can do whatever he wants."
Zayn breathes out slowly. "But how would you feel, Lou?"
"It doesn't matter how I would feel!" Louis deflects.
Zayn stops walking and turns to face Louis. "Seriously, Louis, we all know you're in love with him. You know you're in love with him. The only thing you're doing by ignoring it is pushing him away."
Louis is quiet for a long time, and they resume their walk. Zayn lights another cigarette, content with letting Louis think.
After a few minutes, Louis says, "I don't want to mess with it."
"Yeah," Zayn says. "But you're gonna miss your chance."
Louis punches him lightly in the arm. He's very done with this conversation. "Oi," he says. "I'm the agony aunt here, mate, step off my territory, yeah?"
Zayn just shakes his head, disappointed.
When Louis gets back to the flat, he has an intense and primal craving for pancakes. After pulling off his chronically wet clothes, he throws on Harry's sweatpants and another one of Harry's jumpers and pads into the kitchen, plugging his iPod into the stereo. He busies himself with making pancakes and singing as loudly as he can for the next ten minutes.
"Did you tell him? NO NO NO. Give him kisses? NO NO NO. Whisper honey? NO NO NO. You're god delicious? HELL NO!" Louis shouts into his pancake batter, shaking his arse ridiculously.
"Um. Lou?" comes a voice from behind him.
Louis whips around and quickly turns the music down, blushing bright red. Harry's standing in the doorway looking simultaneously amused and bemused and there's a tall boy with a floppy quiff hovering behind him.
"Oh!" Louis says, trying like mad to regain some semblance of dignity. "Hello! I'm, um. Pancakes!"
"Yes," Harry says, nodding slowly. "Um, so, this is Aiden. Aiden, this is my flatmate Louis. He, um, really likes Cheryl Cole."
Louis quickly pastes on a smile in Aiden's direction and says, "I'd go straight for Chezza, I can't lie."
Aiden's eyes are wide, as if Louis is some sort of strange woodland animal, and he says, "Well. I mean. Who wouldn't?"
Louis winks and Harry barks a laugh. "Right," Harry says. "Well, um. We'll just be in my room, I guess. See you later, Lou." Harry tugs on Aiden's beltloop and they turn and disappear down the hallway.
"Yeah," Louis says faintly. "See you." He glances down at his pancakes, suddenly not so hungry.
haz brought someone back. did you know or are you just bad luck, Louis texts Zayn.
Zayn texts back almost immediately. i knew he was talking to aiden, i didn't think it'd be that fast. sorry lou. wanna come over? li's here, could watch a movie.
think im gonna wallow thx m8 x, Louis sends, and turns off his phone. He puts the pancake mix in the fridge and pulls his coat and boots back on, trudging out back into the wasteland to the library.
When he finally deems it safe enough to venture back to the flat – two hours later, because no one can go for two hours, right? – Louis makes to walk straight into his bedroom, but Harry's voice stops him.
"That you, Lou?"
Bracing himself for a quaint view of post-coital cuddling, Louis puts his smile on well before he walks into the living room. Harry's alone, curled on the couch, with footie on the telly.
"Hey," Louis says, and sits down on the other end, giving Harry way more space than he ever has.
Harry throws him a strange look at that, and says, "Where've you been?"
Louis shrugs. "Thought I'd clear off, you know. Give you some privacy."
Harry has a pained expression on his face. "Didn't have to do that."
Louis forces a little smile. "Not a problem at all, mate."
"Yeah, okay." Harry sighs, turning back to the TV. "Think the Baggies can stay up this year?"
Louis pulls his feet under him and sticks his freezing hands in the fold of his knees. "They did crush Liverpool in the opener, so, you know, there's a chance. I'm thinking Newcastle's the side to watch, honestly."
"Hey," Harry says. "C'mere. You look cold."
Louis bites his lip and tries to feel like this entire day hasn't been one massive punch in the gut. He crawls over to Harry dutifully, curling himself around his warm body. "Missed you," he whispers into Harry's curls, unable to help himself.
Harry's arms tighten around him. "Yeah, Lou, me too."
"Alright, lovelies, that was a reminder to all you nineties babies out there that the Backstreet Boys are still the greatest boyband to grace the earth. That was 'If I Knew Then' from their 2006 album. Still relevant, bitches!" Louis honestly doesn't know if he's allowed to say that.
"But now, we have a followup from our dear friend Too Pathetic For Acronyms, and they say, dear louis, i'm so confused about my best friend! he acts like he's into me and all our friends say he is, but he backs off whenever i try to push things. i even made him think i got with another guy last week and he didn't care at all! what should i do?" Louis holds in his sigh when he finishes reading the email. He really doesn't want to deal with some girl's drama right now, but this is technically his job.
"Alright, Pathetic, the name is getting a bit biographical, yeah? Don't play mindgames, okay? That's just shitty. There's a good chance he feels awful about it and is pretending not to because he wants you to be happy. There's a good chance he's into you but he thinks you're not into him. I don't know what you expect me to say, really, because you know the only answer here is to tell him how you feel. Write back when you've done that and not before, got me?" He can't quite tell if he's being too short, too honest, too blunt, but he doesn't care. This is just another punch in the stomach in a long line of punches in the stomach. Harry's been absent from the flat a lot more than usual and when he comes back he looks all ruffled and cheerful and it's killing Louis, a little, and he hates himself for it.
He doesn't know how he and Harry got through two years of being this close, and a year and a half of living together without either of them dating, but they did. And now Harry is very much dating and Louis honestly didn't realise how fucking much he relied on Harry, on Harry's constant presence, constant emotional availability until he lost it. It's sickening, is what it is. No fucking wonder he likes pop songs so much, really, because he is the fucking essence of a pop song. Gross. He loves Taylor Swift, he does, but he's never wanted to relate to her. Christ.
"And now here's my weekly dedication to our very own Harry Styles. This is 'Hips Don't Lie' by la princesa Shakira. This has been Piss Off and I've been Louis Tomlinson."
Louis flips off the mic and leans back in the chair, scrubbing his hands over his face. Warm fingers suddenly dig into his shoulders, pulling at the muscles, and Louis tilts his head back, gazing up at Harry.
"Hey," Harry says, smiling through his fringe. "Love this one, thanks, mate."
"You'd have to be dead not to," Louis says, closing his eyes as Harry works a particularly tense spot.
"You okay?" Harry asks as he keeps his hands moving.
"Always," Louis says. "Don't stop."
"You've been a bit quiet lately."
Louis shrugs as much as he can with Harry's hands on him. "Dunno. Bit weird without you around."
Harry bites his lip and looks guilty, which makes Louis feel even worse. "But, like, come on, I totally understand," Louis adds, putting on a smile. "I almost remember dating. I remember it being nice."
"Sure," Harry says, but he shakes his head and still looks sad.
"Hey," Louis says, sitting up and pulling away. "Hey, Harry, come on, stop. It's good. I'm happy for you!"
Harry looks at him for a moment, then nods shortly. He pulls the microphone toward him and says quickly, "Good evening, douchebags. Harry Styles here. This is the Smiths with 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now.' Enjoy."
Louis chokes out a laugh as Harry switches off the mic. "Seriously, Haz? You get a boyfriend and play this shit?"
Harry rolls his eyes. "Don't you have homework or something?"
Louis tries not to notice that Harry usually know his assignments better than he does and grins instead. "Not tonight, babe. Shall I keep you company? Have you not missed me? Have you completely replaced me?"
He also tries not to be scared of the answer.
Harry gives him a sharp look, all hurt dark eyes. "I know I haven't been around much in the past few days, but..."
Louis lets out a light laugh. "Sorry, oh my god, Harry, I'm just kidding. Obviously I know I'm irreplaceable." He shines a bright grin in Harry's direction. "My sparkling personality and fantastic arse, I mean, come on, you'd need to start dating a Kardashian before I'd believe I've been replaced."
Harry relaxes a little and shakes his head with a little chuckle. "You're so insane." He reaches a hand out in Louis's direction and Louis takes it, twining their fingers together.
"Have missed you, Lou," Harry whispers. Louis tightens his grip.
A few days later, the five of them finally manage to grab dinner together again. They find a table in the corner of the dining hall, somewhat pushed away from the intense noise of the dinner rush.
"Hey, Haz," Niall says, with a full mouth. Louis curls his lip. "I hear you've got a fella, yeah? Why didn't you bring him along?"
Harry tenses noticeably. "It's really actually nothing. We're just hanging out. He's helping me with a paper."
Louis flinches at that and Zayn glances at him worriedly.
Liam says, "Wait, you live with an English student and you're off with some other bloke for help?"
Louis quite literally wants raise his shirt and check his stomach for bruises. "I'm gonna grab a biscuit, anyone want?" he asks, walking off before anyone has the chance to answer.
When he makes it back to the table, the subject has been very decidedly changed and Harry pulls Louis closer, wraps his arm around Louis's shoulders. Louis tilts his head to nudge against Harry's, despite himself.
Zayn pulls him aside after dinner. "Can we talk?" he says shortly. Louis sighs, nods, and turns back to Harry, who's waiting for him.
"Meet you back at the flat, Haz?" he says. Harry's mouth pulls down but he nods and takes off.
"Okay," Louis says, turning back to Zayn. "I'm almost completely sure I don't want to have this conversation, so let's make it quick."
Zayn nods and walks outside, lighting a fag. "So I was talking to Matt Cardle the other day. He's in one of my studio classes." Louis nods, for lack of anything better. He has no idea who Matt Cardle is.
"Anyway," Zayn says. "He's dating Aiden Grimshaw."
Louis blinks. "Harry? Yeah, mate, I got that one, thanks for the reminder."
"No, you twat," Zayn snaps. "Matt is. Aiden and Harry really have just been working on a paper."
Louis steps back a little. "That's bullshit, Zayn. Harry's said they were dating."
Zayn considers Louis, shadows falling across his face. "Has he really, though?"
Louis thinks back, opens his mouth. Closes it. "I–" he starts, and Zayn looks smug in a pitying way. "No, fuck off, he's never once denied it. I've mentioned it way more often than I'd like to. I've been supportive, god. He's never denied it."
Zayn shrugs. "Maybe you two are doing some sort of weird dance around each other, yeah? Maybe he's letting you think something to be passive-aggressive and maybe you're moping around miserably because it's working."
"But that'd be mean," Louis protests. "Harry's not mean."
"Yeah," Zayn agrees. "But maybe he's fed up."
Louis shakes his head and stares off into the darkness of the quad. "You think you're pretty fucking wise, don't you, mate?"
Zayn laughs a little, shakes his head. "You two are just super fucking stupid. It's not my fault I look brilliant in comparison."
"I hate you," Louis says, his voice thoughtful.
"Gonna do something?" Zayn asks, flicking his glowing butt into the shrubs behind him.
Louis runs a hand through his hair. "Might have to, I guess. Gonna get more fucked up if this goes on."
"That's the spirit," Zayn says. "Good lad."
"Oh, shut the fuck up."
The next week, Louis settles into the chair at the studio at the top of the hour and takes a deep breath. "Good evening, beautiful people. I'm going to start off this show with a quick apology. I've been giving a lot of advice lately and not been taking any myself, and that's kind of hypocritical, yeah? So here's your first song and it's dedicated to Harry Styles. This is 'You Belong With Me' by our favourite straight white girl, Taylor Swift. So. I – yeah. For Harry."
He clicks off the mic and slumps onto the desk, resting his head on his forearms. His phone's been shut off all day and Harry's been avoiding him subtly for the past five days and he doesn't know what to do, really. He's on some sort of last-gasp, death-rattle shit right now. He's been avoiding the flat because Harry's been avoiding the flat and he can't stand being there when Harry's not, so he curls up on Zayn's couch and mopes off to Niall's when Zayn not-so-gently kicks him out to have sex with his boyfriend – which, like, thanks – and Niall just pats him on the head and shoves an XBOX controller in his hand and a slice of pizza in his mouth. And it's not fine, but it sort of is. He sees Harry briefly and they're so forcibly normal. So normal with their banter and their smiles and Louis actually feels like he's being stretched tighter and tighter. He just wants to scream something, like, I know you're not fucking Aiden, or, like, Why are you doing this to me, and it's ridiculous, because who know that Harry not fucking someone else would hurt more than if he actually were?
The song begins its fade out and Louis clicks back on. "Again, that was Taylor Swift, and here's 'Painted By Numbers' by the Sounds. Enjoy."
He leans back in his chair, staring at the celing, when his email dings. He glances down at it, groaning slightly when he sees it's another lonely girl problem.
As the song fades out, he leans back in and says, "Alright, folks, we just got another email from the lovely Too Pathetic For Acronyms. I told them not to write back until there was development, so let's see what they say. dear louis," Louis reads, "you're right. mindgames are shitty and i feel awful about it. if you could see that i'm the one who understands you, been here all along–" Louis stops.
Oh, fuck no. He fumbles for a moment, staring blankly at the computer screen, drawn so tight he might crumble into powder.
"I– um. Okay. Here's Justin Timblerlake with 'My Love.'" Louis quickly plays the song with shaking hands and pulls out his phone, turning it on.
are you serious, he types.
i still hate taylor swift, lou, Harry sends back.
harry. are you serious.
come on, lou. everyone knew.
Louis bites his lip and tenses his jaw and finishes the last half hour of his show with every muscle in his body strained to the point of breaking. "Thanks for listening, everyone," he finally says. "This has been Piss Off and I've been Louis Tomlinson. Playing you out is N*E*R*D with 'Love Bomb.'"
There's the slightest noise of a door opening behind him, and Louis turns around. Harry's standing in the doorway, hands in his pockets, biting his lip.
Louis stands up, and can't move any further. He stands in the middle of the room and stares at Harry in the doorway and he can't move.
Harry makes a small noise and takes a few steps forward. "No, okay. I need us to say this. With real words, not shitty songs. For once in our life, can we say something with real words?" His voice is desperate and cracking and Louis wants to touch him, wants to hold him, wants to tell him that it'll be okay, that he loves him. But he can't fucking move.
Harry stares at him, waiting for an answer, and Louis just stares back, eyes wide and heart beating so fast he's surprised it hasn't split his chest open.
"Okay," Harry looks down. "Okay, so, I love you. And I've loved you for a long time, alright? And we were so perfect, but I guess I thought we'd never really get to where I thought we should be? So I did some stupid things. I wrote into your lonely girl problems radio show, Louis. That's how desperate I was." Harry glances up at him through his stupid curls and gives a smirk. Louis just stares.
"And just. You got the wrong idea with Aiden and I didn't correct you because I thought you'd do something, but you didn't, you were so lovely about it and that just made everything worse and I just. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for jerking you around, you know? But I just. I just couldn't do it anymore."
Louis opens his mouth and then he closes it again. Harry makes a frustrated noise. "Louis. Please say something. The song's about to end."
Louis can't. He honestly fucking can't and if someone has a gun in the near vicinity he's sending out mass telepathic messages to fucking blow his brains out because he is the worst but he just. Cannot say anything.
Harry sighs, and sits down, queuing up his playlist. "Hey, guys," he says quietly. "This is Harry, and there's a theme for tonight, so just go with it. This is Stars with 'My Favourite Book.'"
Harry presses play and flips off the mic. He looks back up at Louis. "Lou," he says softly. "Lou, come on, it's just me."
And, yeah. Yeah. It's Harry. Harry, who knows every fucking thing about him, who holds him every time he's upset, who's always loved him in some way, in some tangible, visible, visceral way. It's Harry, now, and Louis loves him.
"I love you," Louis says and he chokes a little and Harry's there and Harry's got these big hands on his jaw and he's tilting his face up.
"Yeah?" Harry says.
Louis nods. He nods and he closes his eyes and he says, "I was so scared I was gonna lose you, you know? And I just. I just always have loved you and I don't like it when you're not around me and you've never not been wonderful."
"Yeah?" Harry says again, and Louis looks up to see Harry's red lips curl up into a stupid happy smile and he feels himself start to smile, too. A small giggle bubbles up from some-fucking-where inside him and suddenly he's laughing – he's fucking laughing and Harry's laughing too and Louis buries his face in Harry's shoulder. Harry's hand swipes down his back and his other one reaches out for Louis's. Louis locks their fingers together.
"We're so stupid," Louis whispers.
"Yeah?" Harry says one more time, still laughing a little, and Louis shakes his head with a smile and leans up to press a kiss on Harry's stupid red mouth.
Harry pulls away after a second and Louis says, "No, what? Stop," and Harry rolls his eyes, gesturing to the mic. He segues into 'Something In The Way She Moves' – Radiohead's cover, of fucking course, that hipsterfuck – and reaches back out to Louis.
"Gonna be for real, now, right?" Harry asks, kind of tentatively.
Louis plops himself down on Harry's lap, fitting himself to the curve of his body, like he's done so many times before. "Can we still talk through songs?" he says, tilting his head back onto Harry's shoulder.
Harry huffs a small laugh in his ear. "I'm thinkin' it's a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images and when we kiss they're perfectly aligned."
Louis turns himself slightly, fitting his mouth to Harry's, pressing in and licking at Harry's bottom lip, pushing in when Harry's mouth opens. Harry's hands curve around his hips, squeezing gently, and Louis brings his own hands up to wind in Harry's hair, pulling him closer.
Louis leans back slightly for a moment. "Everyone's going to be sickened by us."
Harry smirks. "We're going to be the cutest couple in the world."
"I'm going to dedicate the sappiest songs to you." Louis.
"I'm going to make you breakfast every day." Harry.
"I'm not going to let you out of the flat for days at a time." Louis.
"I'm going to leave post-it notes with stupid lyrics around the entire campus." Harry.
"I'm–" Louis starts, and Harry cuts him off with a quick finger to his lips.
He leans into the mic. "This next one is called 'Fasten You To Me' by the Belle Brigade."
Louis presses his face into Harry's neck, hiding his smile.
"You were saying?" Harry prompts.
Louis shakes his head. "I love you."
Harry smiles at him. "It's weirdly freeing to say that, isn't it? I love you."
"I love you," Louis repeats. "Yeah, wow, it is."
"I love you," Harry says again, laughing a little.
Louis's phone rings, suddenly. It's Zayn. He answers it, after pulling a face at Harry. "Yes?"
"Tell Harry," Zayn says, voice unreadable, "that he fucking left the mic on."
Louis takes one look at Harry's horrified expression and starts laughing. "Everyone knew, Haz, you said. Now everyone knows."