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Speak Low If You Speak Love

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Nine thirty on a Wednesday night is really quite a terrible time to be sitting in the car park at the Westfield in Stratford with a car full of Christmas decorations and a giant box containing a seven and a half foot, pre-lit Christmas tree in the boot.

"I am an idiot," Louis tells himself, angling the rear view mirror so he can look himself in the eye and really make a point of this. "I am a total fucking idiot."

B&Q had started it. Well, if he was being honest, the petrol gauge warning light had started it, driving past the Sainsburys in Greenwich peninsula and having to pull in to fill up. The massive rack of Christmas trees over at the B&Q at the other side of the car park had been a call to arms, and then after he'd spent £89.99 on a stupid fake Christmas tree, he'd had to drive all the way to John fucking Lewis to buy the fucking decorations because he was ninety-nine per cent sure that Nick would be able to spot an Argos bauble at fifty feet.

Now he has a car full of decorations he doesn't actually know what to do with, six text messages from his boyfriend asking him if he's dead, and a gentle sense of foreboding that he's gone over the top for no good reason. And after all of that, all he's going to do with a car full of shit is completely humiliate himself for literally zero gain.

So, an evening well spent, then.


Sitting on his living room floor an hour later, surrounded by eleven large John Lewis carrier bags, a set of fairy lights that have already tied themselves into a giant knot, a Christmas tree that requires an A level in physics just to put together and is currently lying in a hundred pieces scattered across his floor, Louis decides to just fuck it, and get pissed and play FIFA instead.

This is literally the last time he tries to do something grown up to impress Nick. Nick, with his posh bookshelves and his stupid Waitrose jam and his new wood flooring; Nick with his rich friends and his gleaming kitchen and his collection of artwork.

Louis, with his B&Q Christmas tree and an uncomfortable sofa and a flat in wanker central.

He cracks open a beer and pretends none of it's there.


"All right?" Nick says, the following lunchtime, coming in from the lift and dumping his bag on the floor by the door. "Do you want a gnome dressed up as a pumpkin?"

Louis is a bit hungover and playing FIFA again. "No," he says, without pausing the game. He's doing a cracking job of pretending he hadn't just got up to answer the doorbell and let Nick in the lift. "Hang on, what?"

"Fiona got it for me in the office secret rubbish Santa," Nick says, coming over and plonking it down on the coffee table, making room for it in amongst Louis's cereal bowls and old cups of tea. Louis can only see it out of the corner of his eye, but it's a garden gnome that's got a fishing rod and a pumpkin outfit. It's got a bit of tinsel round its neck like a scarf. "It's supposed to be secret but she's got a crap poker face."

"Hmm," Louis says. If he doesn't pause his game, he doesn't have to acknowledge the fact that Father Christmas has decimated his living room and left the corpse of a Christmas tree behind him as proof of him being there.

Nick carefully sits down next to him, and bumps his knee into Louis's. "Hi."

"Hi," Louis says, bumping his knee back. He keeps staring at the TV screen because he's too scared not to. He's not very good at this boyfriend thing yet.

"So," Nick says, drawing it out. "You bought a Christmas tree."

"I did," Louis says.

"Then you scattered it round your living room?"

"Yep." He wants to say more, but he's too embarrassed. He's clearly spent a fortune on Christmas crap, and he's really only done it because he's fairly sure that Nick wants to go out with someone who's better at being a grown up than Louis, but he can't quite say that, either.

Nick sighs. "I'll do you a tea, shall I?"

"Milk, no sugar."

There's a pause. "I know," Nick says finally, and Louis hasn't even looked at him, and he's fucking this up. Again.

It's a few minutes before Nick comes back, settling down next to him on the sofa again and making room for their drinks on the coffee table, next to the ugliest fucking gnome Louis's ever seen.

"I think I'm going to name him Bernard," Nick says, sounding thoughtful. "He looks like a Bernard, right?"

Louis pauses his game. "He does not fucking look like a Bernard, what the fuck."

"Finally," Nick says. "Thought you were ignoring me."

"Nope," Louis shakes his head. He dumps the controller down onto the cushion next to him, and bumps his knee into Nick's again. Nick's in ripped skinny jeans and a big stripy jumper that's falling off one shoulder, and his glasses. Louis really likes him in his glasses. "Thanks for the tea."

"Any time. Am I going to get a hello kiss, then?"

"Only if you ask me nicely," Louis says, but he's already leaning over to rub his nose against Nick's cheek. Nick's shaved but missed a little patch; Louis touches his tongue to it. "Missed you."

"Glad to hear it," Nick says. He slides his hand down over Louis's side, rubbing his thumb against Louis's hip. "You're almost out of coffee, by the way."

"I'll buy you some more."

Nick smells nice. He always smells nice. Louis wants to bury his face in Nick's neck and just breathe him in. Nick kisses the corner of Louis's mouth, but doesn't hurry it. He always seems as content to be in Louis's space as Louis is to have him there, and it's something they never talk about but Louis really, really likes to be touched.

Louis tilts his chin up a little, and lets himself be kissed.

"What's with the Christmas explosion?" Nick asks finally, when Louis's thrown a leg over Nick's thighs and is fiddling with the cuff of Nick's jumper, cheek pressed to Nick's shoulder. It's all soft to the touch, the kind of expensive knitwear Louis never considers buying. When he buys for himself he tends towards comfortable; everything else comes with the job.

Louis shrugs, but doesn't move. There's a little hole in Nick's cuff. "Thought I should decorate."

"Any particular reason?"

"Dunno. Thought you might like it." He keeps his cheek pressed to Nick's shoulder, and doesn't look up. He feels like an idiot almost all of the time with Nick, like there's no fucking way he can measure up, and there's usually almost no point in trying to.

Nick doesn't say anything to that.

"Laugh if you want."

"Don't want to," Nick says.

"I'm an idiot."

"No," Nick says. "You're pretty much the best thing in my life."

Louis doesn't say any of the things he wants to, things like, I thought Harry was, or why are you even putting up with me, or bet your friends are better at this than me. He closes his eyes instead, just for a moment, and sticks his tongue out to lick at Nick's neck. Nick shivers.

"Is that you saying that I'm the best thing in yours, too?"

Louis shrugs again. "I love you," he says softly, mouth pressed to Nick's skin.

Nick huffs a breath at that. "Yeah," he says, and leans down to tilt Louis's chin up, his hand touching at Louis's jaw, and Louis loves how that feels, even though he's never telling anyone.

Nick kisses him.

Sometimes they're so gentle with each other it almost makes Louis cry because he wants it so much. It's so stupid to want this this much. It's even stupider to need it.

He pushes Nick away. "Tea's getting cold."

Nick rolls his eyes. "Are you going to help me put this tree up, or just watch me do all the heavy lifting?"

"It's branches, Nicholas," Louis says. "I'm going to direct."

"From the sofa."

"From the sofa," Louis agrees, and it's almost like Louis being a total fucking failure at boyfriend interaction is forgotten. Almost like the way Nick's eyes crinkle up at the edges as he smiles, or like how he leans in for a kiss before standing up to make some sense of B&Q Christmas tree instructions is enough for Nick to pretend Louis's worth keeping around.

"Fine," Nick says, and he goes to poke about in the box for the instructions.

Louis unpauses the game for a minute, and then stops playing and picks up his phone. Why am I such a dick to nick ?? he texts Liam, then dumps his phone down on the sofa next to him, picking up his game again.

When his phone buzzes with a reply, he glances down to see it on his lock screen. Try not bein a d ick? You can do it! !!

Honestly, if it was that easy, he'd be doing it. He sneaks a glance over at Nick, who's kneeling on the floor, instructions in one hand, trying to put the layers of the tree together in the other. It makes Louis's heart contract, this stupid man he loves so much, this guy who let Louis back in.

He turns the telly off and goes over to loop an arm around Nick's shoulders, bending over to kiss the top of his head.

He doesn't say sorry, but he hopes Nick hears it anyway.

Nick slides his hand over Louis's. He pauses for a moment, the gap where the it's okay should go. "You going to help me put this monster together, then?"

"Course," Louis says, and drops down onto his knees by Nick's side, arm still wrapped around his shoulders. He has no fucking idea how to be Nick's boyfriend, that's the problem. He has no fucking idea how to do this. He hasn't entirely managed to get used to being able to touch him and not have to make an excuse to do it then run away afterwards. He darts in and kisses Nick's cheek. "Bet I'll be better at it than you."

Nick rolls his eyes. "That's what you think."

"I don't think, I know."

Nick slides an arm around Louis's waist, and ducks in to kiss his mouth. "Let's do this, then."

It takes them another ninety minutes to get the tree up, and twenty solid minutes after that just to get the extra lights plugged in and looking vaguely half-decent. Louis sulks for part of that, but Nick sulks for the other part, so by the time the lights look good enough for both of them to be satisfied, their bickering is mostly forgotten. The tree stands by the Louis's huge windows on to the terrace; they can see the river, and if they crane around the tree, up towards Tower Bridge and the Shard. Bits of green and instructions and half the box lay littered around the floor, but the tree twinkles quite happily by itself. It's starting to go dark.

"Looks nice," Nick says, leaning back against the arm of the sofa.

"Yeah," Louis agrees. He eyes the remaining ten John Lewis bags dubiously. There are all sorts of baubles and decorations in there, some of them the sophisticated ones he's partly sure that Nick would lean more towards owning, and some of them weird stags and rabbits and Santas and an Abbey Road sign that Louis only chose because his growing desperation had rather overtaken him in the Christmas section. He'd wanted tinsel but apparently it wasn't cool anymore so John Lewis didn't stock it. Argos probably had tinsel. "We can leave the rest of the decorations for later, right?"

"Thank fuck," Nick says. "Not that it doesn't look great, obviously, but I need a break." He reaches for Louis, sliding a hand over Louis's arse and resting on his hip.

"You only want me for my arse," Louis says, trying his best for sanctimonious. He doesn't give in and curl into Nick's side.

"Absolutely true," Nick agrees, looping his fingers around Louis's wrist. "You going to give me a proper kiss now, or do I have to beg for it?"

Louis pretends to look like he's thinking. "Maybe."

"I'll beg," Nick says, making some kind of frowny face. "Please, Louis. Let me kiss you."

"You're the worst," Louis says, but his heart's starting to beat a little faster. He can't make it stop, this way he reacts to Nick. It's the battle between safe and risk that he can't find a middle ground for, this desperate need inside of him to be touched and pushed around that still doesn't fit with the rest of him.

"Come here and kiss me," Nick tugs on his wrist, opening his legs as some kind of invitation for Louis to come and fit between them.

"No," Louis says, because it's this constant fucking battle inside of him that he can't ever fucking win, this need he has to be obedient and to let Nick take charge that he can't let himself give in to. He goes to stand by the window, next to the tree, arms folded.

Nick follows him, wrapping his arms around Louis's waist from behind, and resting his chin on Louis's shoulder. "You can ask me if you want me to push you around, you know. You don't have to try and goad me into it."

"I wasn't," Louis says, but it's half-hearted at best. He's been an arse all day. He's pissing himself off as much as he's probably pissing Nick off, though.

Nick kisses his neck. "You can have whatever you want to ask for," he tells Louis, and his mouth tickles against Louis's skin. "Tell me if you need something. I'll give it to you if I can."

"I—" Louis lets out a breath. His shoulders slump.

"Ask me."

"I can't."

Nick kisses him again. "You can," he says. "You can ask me for anything."

His chest feels tight. It's felt kind of tight all day. It's felt tight since sitting in the bloody car park at the Westfield last night, if he's honest. Probably before that too. "I want something," he says finally. "I need something."

"Give me a clue."

Louis shrugs. "I feel all—" he stops. "Just, like, I don't know, all right? Push me around a bit or something."

Nick splays his fingers out a little over Louis's neck, tilting his head back so that he can mouth at his jaw. "We're going to have to work on your instructions, I think."

"You hate being told what to do." Louis is trying not to focus too heavily on Nick's fingers, but he can't help it. He just wants to give in and let Nick do whatever the fuck he wants with him, put him wherever he wants, just let go and hand it all over, but there's a huge fucking part of him that's battling to keep at least some semblance of control.

"And you love it," Nick tells him, and he turns Louis around, nudging him back against the wall. Louis refuses to give in to it, but he fucking loves how this feels, pushed back against something, Nick crowding him into the wall. He gets so close, one knee in between Louis's legs, leaning in so his nose is touching Louis's. His breath's warm against Louis's mouth. "How's this for starters? This good?"

Louis nods quickly, eyes darting down to Nick's mouth and back up again. His hands twist into fists.

"Not enough though, is it, babe?" Nick says, and Louis wants to rail against the babe, but he can't. "Say it."

Sometimes Nick asks him questions that make the answers feel like they're being dragged out from deep inside of him. It's always worse when the question's an easy one. "It's not enough," he says, and his gaze meets Nick's. "I want more."

Nick rocks his hips up, his thigh pressing up against Louis's dick. He's getting hard, his dick fattening up in his tracksuit bottoms. Nick slides his hands down until they're circling Louis's wrists, and he squeezes. Louis can't help the soft whimper he makes at the pressure, or the way that Nick's eyebrow twitches in response. Louis tries to look at Nick's cheek instead of into his eyes; he's freckled and pretty and a little flushed.

Nick can see him inside of him, that's the problem; he always has been able to, and that's fucking terrifying. There are lies in there, lies and barely hidden truths, and a list of wants so long that even Louis hasn't ventured that far down, too scared to investigate the depths.

He squeezes Louis's wrists again and Louis's getting harder.

"I love how you react," Nick says softly, mouth to Louis's jaw.

Louis can't give in to it. It's all in there, just waiting to come out. "Nick—" he manages, and Nick shushes him. He steps back, letting go, and unzips Louis's hoodie, Louis shrugging it down his arms and dropping it on the ground, his t-shirt following. Nick looks him up and down, and Louis kicks him in the ankle, not hard enough to hurt, but dragging Nick's attention back up to his face.

Nick rolls his eyes. "Arms up," he says, not reacting to Louis's kick, which sort of makes Louis mad, because he wants Nick to do something at least, react or push or force Louis to act in some way. The fact that Louis never fucking knows what the fuck it is that he wants is the worst.

Louis sulkily puts his hands up over his head, but then Nick rests his hands on Louis's hips, bracketing him back against the wall with his thighs again, and runs his fingers up over Louis's waist to his ribs and up to his armpits. He stops there, fingertips stroking under his arms so that Louis shivers and goes red and itches to fight back. He presses Louis's arms to the wall above Louis's head then, hands stroking from his shoulders to his fingertips.

Nick isn't that big, but he's big enough that he can hold Louis's wrists in one hand above Louis's head without a problem, his other hand cupping Louis's face. He rocks his hips up against Louis's, and Louis frowns, trying to rub his dick against Nick's.

"Stay still," Nick tells him sharply, and it makes Louis harder. It makes him harder and he doesn't even know why.

"No," Louis snaps, because he has to fight back. He shelters his secrets the only way he can, by covering them up, but Nick can always see through him. He hates that. He wants it so much it hurts. He wants Nick to press inside of him, crack him open and steal all of his secrets, take them and look after them and be careful with them like Louis can't be.

"Do you need me to make you?" Nick asks. His knees are either side of Louis's, and he presses in a little, making Louis's space smaller. He squeezes Louis's wrists.

Louis can breathe easier in a smaller space. It doesn't make any fucking sense.

"Do I?" Nick asks again, and Louis doesn't mean to nod his yes, but he can't help it. "Say it."

"Make me stay still," Louis tells him, words coming out quickly in his embarrassment. "Please. Please."

He never understands the expression on Nick's face when he does what he's asked. He never understands that look in Nick's eyes. Maybe if he did, more of this would make sense.

Nick tightens his hold on Louis's wrists, his other hand splayed across Louis's chest, across his heart, and pushes him back against the wall. Then he drops his gaze to Louis's mouth, leans in, and kisses him.

Louis kisses back, not able to help the noises he's making, the way his breath catches in his throat as Nick keeps a tight hold of him. He tries to flex his wrists a little, but Nick doesn’t let him go, nipping at his lip with his teeth. Louis hisses in a breath, but Nick keeps on kissing him.

"I almost fucked you here once," Nick says, kissing his cheek, his jaw, his ear. "Up against the glass. Where anyone could have seen."

"They wouldn't have," Louis says, although conceivably they might have done. It's not about being seen. The thrill's there, but it's not what he wants. He remembers that day; it's not like he could forget. Nick coming over and holding Louis up against the wall; kissing for ages on the sofa before Nick carried him into the bedroom. He'd rimmed Louis for the first time, too, taken him apart with his tongue, and if Louis had started to recognise that feeling inside of him then, instead of months later, everything might have been different. But it hadn't been the possibility of being seen that had seen Louis through countless guilty masturbation sessions afterwards, it had been Nick holding him up, Louis with his legs wrapped around Nick's waist. The way it had felt, the way it had made him feel, the confusing, conflicting wave of emotion that came with craving that kind of touch. "I love you," he says finally, because he says it all the time. He always fucking has, to his family, his mum, his sisters. He gets to say it to Nick now, and he'll keep on saying it even though Nick doesn't always say it back. Nick doesn't always need to. Louis knows. Sometimes he forgets, but mostly he knows.

It's dark outside. It's only a few days until the shortest day of the year. The only light is the glow of the fairy lights on the tree; outside there are the lights around the water below the flat, the boats and flats and buildings spreading off down the river towards the centre. London glows at the best of times, but at dusk when the air is clear in winter, it stays lit up.

It sneaks inside of him, the light, and he doesn't let it out again. "Hold me up," he says softly, against Nick's mouth. "Like last time. Hold me up."

Nick lets go of his wrists then, pulling back just for a moment to meet Louis's gaze head on. He slides his hands down to Louis's arse, cupping his bum. "Jump up, then."

Louis scrambles up, wrapping his legs around Nick's waist, his arms around his neck, Nick pressing him back against the window. Nick won't be able to hold him here for long, but he'll take what he can. He'll take Nick tilting his chin up to meet Louis's mouth in a kiss. He'll take Nick holding him up, holding him here, giving him just what he wants.

He slides his hands into Nick's hair, his dick rubbing up against Nick's stomach, his ankles crossed behind Nick's waist, and leans in to kiss him again.

They kiss until Nick's breathless and his arms are trembling, until they're panting into each other's mouths and Louis's losing his grip, until he's sliding down until his feet are on the floor again and London's spread out behind him.

Nick presses his face into the curve of Louis's neck.

Louis wraps his arms around Nick's neck, and holds on.

"Take me to bed," he says finally, kissing Nick's cheek. "Hold me down and fuck me."

He feels Nick's huff of breath against his throat. Feels his dick against his thigh.

"That's what I was talking about earlier," Nick says, without moving. "When I said you needed to give better instructions."

Louis shrugs. "Can't always."

Nick licks his neck. "I know. It's okay."

"Bed," Louis says, and this time Nick acquiesces, taking Louis's hand and leading him through the Christmas decoration detritus in the direction of Louis's bedroom, and Louis's messy, unmade bed. "Don't say anything," he warns, when Nick has to step over yesterday's discarded pants, and t-shirts from the past few days just to get to the bed.

"Wasn't going to," Nick says, kicking some tracksuit bottoms out of the way so he could stand by the bed, and tugging Louis towards him. Louis stumbles into his chest with an ooof, and wraps his arms around Nick's shoulders. Nick's hands settle into the curve of Louis's bare back, and slide down under his waistband to cup his arse. "No pants?"

"No pants," Louis agrees, although Nick's already cupping his bum, so he rather thinks Nick doesn't mind the lack of layers. Louis really needed to do some washing.

"Dirty," Nick says, ducking in to mouth at Louis's neck. "Missed you."

Louis shivers. How he feels about Nick is so important to him, but it still feels so secret, so furtive, like it's happening in his imagination and not in real life. "You've got too many clothes on," he says instead, because there's not much else he can say when his whole life feels like it's a dream.

"I have," Nick agrees, but he doesn't pull away. "Do you need me to make you stay still, or are you going to be good?"

Louis's dick loves that just as much as Louis does. He's hard. He rubs himself against Nick's thigh.

Nick pinches his bum. "Concentrate."

"I'll be good," Louis says, but he's not sure he can be. Sometimes it feels like there's something inside of him that just desperately wants to break out. Sometimes it's like his skin hums with it. His palms itch.

"Get undressed then." Nick steps back, pulling off his jumper and his t-shirt, then sitting down on the end of the bed to take off his boots and his socks and his jeans. He's tall and knobbly kneed and skinny, hairier than Louis, and never in a million years had Louis ever thought he could learn a man's body the same way he's learnt his own, but with Nick it feels like he's a book he's getting further and further through. He knows his tattoos, the way his chest hair feels beneath Louis's fingers, the taste of his toothpaste and the weight of his dick against Louis's tongue. He knows his freckles and how bony his hips are and what he looks like soft.

When Louis had imagined giving into it all those months ago, giving in and kissing Nick like he'd always wanted to, he'd never imagined knowing what Nick looked like soft. He'd never imagined growing so familiar that he'd learn another man's dick.

Louis pushes his tracksuit bottoms down, stepping out of them and his stripy socks. He rubs his thumb over his maple leaf tattoo, just like always, and when Nick catches the movement out of the corner of his eye, he turns around and presses his mouth to it.

It always had been a stupid declaration of love, but it doesn't fill Louis with quite the same sense of shame and futility it used to. When Nick touches him there on his tattoo, on his hip under where his pants would normally sit, it's as intimate a thing as the two of them do. He hisses in a breath.

"Lie down on the bed," Nick tells him. "Face down."

Louis pushes the duvet out of the way, and lies down, cheek pressed to his pillow. He probably needs to change the sheets. They've had enough sex in here recently that they could do with a wash. He likes the soft familiarity of worn sheets, though, and—even if he could be bothered with the palaver of washing them—stiff, fresh sheets remind him of hotels. There's a glorious privilege in getting to stay in his own bed that no one else understands.

He spreads his legs anyway, even though Nick hasn't told him to. His dick rubs against the sheet, already a little slick at the tip, and he puts his hands above his head, holding onto the headboard.

"Someone knows what he wants," Nick says, kneeling on the edge of the bed. He rests the flat of his hand in the small of Louis's back. The pressure's barely there, but he's holding Louis down, and Louis has to swallow down a whimper at that. Nick keeps his hand there, but with his other hand he trails his fingertips up Louis's side until he gets to his armpit.

Louis's sensitive there, and no one else has ever noticed it. Not until Nick.

Nick leans in, fingers splayed across Louis's ribs, and licks at his skin. Louis shivers, but stays quiet.

"Good boy," Nick says softly, and Louis buries his face in the pillow. He knows he's gone red.

Nick sits back up, the gentle pressure on Louis's back lessening as he strokes down over Louis's arse. He nudges Louis's legs further apart, settling himself between Louis's spread legs, and Louis can only imagine what he looks like all on display like this, skin flushed, his erection pressed against the sheets.

It starts with the pad of Nick's thumb, stroking over his hole, gentle enough to make Louis tremble. It doesn't settle the itch inside of him though, doesn't quench the fucking need that crawls across his skin.


"I know, babe," Nick says. "So needy, aren't you?"

"Fuck off."

Nick smacks his arse then, not hard, but enough that Louis makes a sharp, cut off sound he can't quite manage to completely silence. They've talked about spanking, sort of, an awkward semi-conversation because Louis isn't good enough at human interaction to manage to say hello to his boyfriend properly, without having to talk about how and when Nick's going to hit him. They've done enough falling into shit that they haven't properly talked about that they're both more cautious now, anyway. In Louis's case, he's more scared than he used to be. He's terrified of losing Nick. He'd lost him that first time he'd pissed himself; he's not about to fuck it all up again by getting into something they haven't talked about.

So when Nick licks him, tongue pressed to Louis's hole, Louis whines, trying to push back against him, even as Nick's pressing him down into the bed. He's still not entirely happy with how dirty it seems, Nick's mouth on his arse, but he can't get over how good it feels. He grips onto the headboard as Nick slowly takes him apart, stroking his balls and the underside of his cock as he licks him open.

Louis can't relax. His muscles tremble, his legs tensing as Nick rims him, as Nick presses his tongue inside. It feels so good but the satisfaction he so desperately needs sits somewhere away from him, in reach but not here. "Nick," he begs finally, his dick leaking against Nick's fingertips. "Please, more, please."

"Course," Nick says, a moment later. He sits back on his heels, and Louis shifts, looking back over his shoulder to where Nick's flipping the lid on the lube. He's flushed too, red-cheeked and his hair a mess, his glasses gone. "Still so still."

Louis just nods. He never knows whether or not he can talk, but he knows he's more likely to get called good if he stays quiet. He likes that, though. He'll never admit it, but he really likes it.

"Might have to get you something that'll help you stay still, if you want," Nick continues, squeezing lube out onto his fingers.

Louis waits a moment, but Nick is clearly interested in his response. "Like what?"

Nick reaches down and slides his lube-slick fingers over Louis's hole. He slides the tip of a finger inside.

"Like cuffs? We can look, see what you want."

"Don't want anything," Louis lies.

Nick rolls his eyes. "Fine."


"Tell me what you want." His finger is still inside of him, the tip of another pressing at his rim.

"Make me come," Louis says. His cheeks burn. "And then cuffs. I want cuffs."

Nick leans in then, and presses his mouth to the centre of Louis's back. "Okay."

If he'd said something like whatever you want, Louis might have kicked him.

Nick fingers him until he's whimpering, until he's desperate to come, until his dick has leaked a wet patch onto the sheets and Louis is sweaty and hot and crying out to be fucked. His arms ache from where he's holding onto the headboard but the ache spurs him on, makes him want even harder, even more.

"Please," he begs finally, when he can't hold out. He's not even entirely sure what he's begging for. "I can't, fuck, please. Fuck me. Please."


Louis shakes his head. He shuts his eyes, burying his face in the pillowcase. The loss of Nick's fingers makes him feel cold and empty, even though he's being urged up onto his hands and knees, his arms stiff from where they've been holding onto the headboard, and it's only a moment before Nick's hand is on his hip and his dick is a blunt pressure against his arse.

Nick sliding inside of him never stops feeling fucking amazing. He groans as Nick fills him up, hips rolling with him, desperate to have as much as he can as soon as can. Nick's hands are on his hips, holding him still as he fucks into him, and Louis cries out, wanting more, wanting it harder, wanting it faster, wanting Nick.

He's been hovering on the edge of his orgasm for a while now, Nick bringing him off with his fingers, hazy and needy and begging for more. It's not as rough as he sometimes needs it to be, and he tries to pull away so that Nick will hold on to him tighter. He wants fingertip bruises on his hips, something to remind him that this happened, a memory that sits outside his head and out in reality instead. He and Nick are still so much of a secret that it still feels like their relationship is happening inside of his head.

"Leave marks," he tells Nick, voice rough. He's breathless, on the edge, wanting more. "Please."

Nick makes a sound at that, his rhythm stuttering as he fucks up into him. "You want to feel this after?"

"Always," Louis manages. He tenses his thighs, trying to communicate any way he can that he wants to fucking remember. He wants to make it real. So much of it happens in his head. He wants to know it's real. "Mark me up."

Nick digs his fingers in then, one hand on his thigh, the other on his hip. He's holding on too tight but it's what Louis needs. It's enough for now but Louis always wants more. He wants to take Nick with him wherever he goes, and if that's in the memory of Nick's touch against his skin, he'll take that. There's so much going on inside of him, and he's got no idea how to communicate any of it; he'll take pushing back against Nick's dick as Nick fucks him, breathlessly panting as he holds himself up on his hands, Nick's breaths catching as he fucks his hips up.

"I'm gonna come," Louis tells him. He's on the cusp, the crest, his arms shaking. He's desperate to give in to it.

"Hold on. You can do it, come on."

"I can't."

Then Nick's hand shifts, and he's cupping Louis's dick instead, his rhythm staccato and off-beat, stilted and stuttering as he tries to wank Louis off at the same time as fucking him. Louis can't last. He's trying so hard to hold off like Nick's asked him to, but he wants to come with Nick's hand on him and with Nick's dick inside of him and Nick's attention one hundred per cent focused on Louis.

Louis always wants to be the focus. It's what gets him into trouble.

He comes under Nick's hand, pulsing all over Nick's fingers and his sheets and it's all too much. He drops down onto his elbows, thighs burning, and Nick keeps on fucking him, pushing in with the slick, wet sound of his lubed-up dick, and Louis wants to be used. He wants to be used and pushed around and he fucking needs it, he needs it so much that he has literally zero idea how he's ever supposed to ask for it. He's over-sensitive and trembling with it, breath catching as he shakes, as Nick leaves come-slick fingertip bruises on his hips and fucks up into him.

When Nick comes, it's almost too much for Louis, overstimulation burning across his skin. He spills inside of him, slipping out even as Louis drops down onto the sheets, sprawled out with his hands on the pillows above his head.

Come's leaking out of him, his thighs already sticky from the lube. Nick drops down next to him, rolling onto his side and dropping a tentative hand into the small of Louis's back.


"Uh-huh?" Louis doesn't open his eyes.

"How are you feeling?"

"Used," Louis says, a little sleepily. He's not going to sleep, but he does want to lay here for a bit, and let the aftereffects settle, let the haze of satisfaction rest against his skin.

Nick moves his hand away, but Louis shakes his head. "It's good," he says. "Hug me."

He does his best to sound imperious. He's too fucked out to see if it's worked, but Nick settles against his side, arm wrapped around Louis's back, mouth pressed to Louis's shoulder.

"We need to clean up," Nick says, but Louis doesn't open his eyes.

"In a minute." He feels a bit revolting. There's come leaking out of him. His thighs are wet.

"All right." Nick pokes at Louis's shoulder. "Turn around, though."

"No," Louis says, but he does it anyway, shifting so that he's resting his right cheek against his hands instead of his left, so that he's facing Nick. He likes lying on his stomach. "Happier now?"

"Much." Nick's all fucked out and smiley, mouth wide, skin flushed pink. His hair's a mess.

Louis reaches out and runs his fingers through Nick's floppy quiff. "You need your hairdressing kittens," he says. "With their little kitten combs and shit."

"Is it a mess? I didn't bring the kittens. Couldn't fit their combs in my bag."

"And I don't lend out my frogs so you can't have a borrow of them either. It's a bit of a mess. I like it."

Nick goes a little bit pinker at that, which is a little odd, but also nice. Louis shuffles closer and kisses his jaw. It's a little fuzzy with stubble now, which Louis also likes. He bumps his toes into Nick's ankle.

"Thanks for coming over."

"Anytime," Nick says. "You feeling a little bit better, now?"

Louis shrugs. He doesn't want to talk about the inside of his head. How fucked up he is inside is much better left ignored. "Suppose," he says, although the truth is, he doesn't feel quite as settled as he wishes he did. There's a faintly familiar pull deep down in his stomach he doesn't want to deal with or ask for. It's embarrassing, is what it is. "I'm going to wipe my arse."

Nick snorts, but he props himself up on his elbows to watch Louis walk into the en-suite. "Downside of barebacking," he says from the bed, as Louis stares into the mirror above the sink and wonders if he'd look different on the outside if he admitted everything that was on the inside. He feels sort of—quiet.

He wipes himself off with a wet flannel, thighs and dick and arse – nice of his mum to get him four multipacks of coloured flannels from Ikea, less nice if she'd realised what it was he was using them for – and then dumps it in the general direction of the washing pile as Nick wanders into the bathroom.

"Got one of them for me?"

Louis picks up a yellow one from the drawer. He runs it under the tap, waiting for the water to get warm again, and then leans over to wipe it over Nick's hands first, and then his balls and his dick. He refuses to meet Nick's eyes because he has no idea what the protocol is for cleaning each other up after a good dicking, but he makes sure Nick's cleaned up before chucking the flannel after his own in the direction of what might be a washing pile.

The quietness seems to be sneaking inside of him, settling down in his chest, and he doesn't know what to do to make it go away. Ignore it, probably. He kisses Nick's shoulder, hand to the centre of his chest, thumb brushing his nipple, and then goes back into the bedroom to pull on his tracksuit bottoms again and a hoodie. Nick watches him from the bathroom door.

"You're quiet."

"Am not," Louis lies. He's got cold feet. He gets ridiculous slippers for Christmas every year from his mum, but his old ones have worn out and he's holding out for a new pair next week. There's one stripy sock and one yellow one in the drawer; he puts them on without looking for pairs. "Do you want tea? I want tea."


"I'll put the kettle on."

He doesn't look back, but he hears Nick's sigh as he reaches for his clothes.

He boils the kettle, and uses the last of the instant to make Nick a coffee and him a tea. He carries them into the living room, making space for them on the coffee table.

The places is a mess, which he doesn't care about, but he's embarrassed about the Christmas decorations and the tree. He hates trying to be the kind of person that Nick wants and needs; he's so terrified of losing him again that he'll do anything, though. Anything so long as Nick keeps him. He opens one of the bags and starts pulling the baubles and tree decorations out, hanging them haphazardly on the tree. Nick probably does it a special way so it all looks great; Louis doesn't. He hasn't ever cared about bauble distribution, and he doesn't know how to start. He just bungs things on the tree where he's standing, then stands somewhere else to do the next bag.

"Nice decorations," Nick says, coming over and grabbing his coffee from the table. He always drinks whatever Louis makes him, but it's clear he doesn't really like instant.

"Nice tracksuit," Louis says, trying to grin. Nick's stolen one of his, an Adidas one that Louis had made an attempt at tidying up and had hung back up after wearing. They're normally a bit short for Nick, but they hang off his hips instead of his waist so they look pretty good. He's put his own jumper back on, and messed with his hair a bit so it doesn't look quite as fucked.

"Stole some of your gel. And your toothpaste."

"And my clothes."

Nick rolls his eyes at that. "You like seeing me in your clothes."

Louis does. He likes any part of Nick that feels like it fits in with Louis's life. "Like it when you're mine."

Nick smiles at that. It's all soft round the edges, his eyes fond, and Louis wants to steal how that feels and sneak it inside of him, wrap it carefully around his heart to keep him safe.

"I know. You want a hand with the tree?"

Louis nods, nudging one of the bags in Nick's general direction. "See what's in there and bung it on the tree, will you?"

Nick comes over and kisses his cheek. "You like me in your clothes."

"Shush," Louis says, ignoring the fact he's blushing. "Do the tree." He gets so mad at himself, that's the problem. If he could just give in to it and let Nick give him what he needs, he'd be half way there, he knows it. But he can't. There's still a disconnect, a faulty synapse, a roadblock the size of High Wycombe between what's inside of him and what he needs to say out loud to get what he needs.

"Is there any order to this, or…"

"Does it look like there's any order?"

Nick laughs at that. "No."

"Well, then." Whenever he bends over to pick up another decoration, he feels the ache right down his thighs, his arse a little sore. He likes the burn, normally. He likes it now, because often the only way he can carry Nick around with him is in the memory of his touch, but he's mad at himself. He knows what he wants right now. He knows this feeling inside, this quietness that's threatening to take him over. He knows it, knows a way to settle it, but he can't ask. He can't. It's embarrassing and it makes him vulnerable, and if there's one overwhelming thing about how he feels about Nick, it's how vulnerable it makes Louis in general. He really, really doesn't like how that feels.

He gets through another two bags of decorations before he stops to drink some of his tea.

"You all right?" Nick asks. He's spread his decorations out over the whole of the tree, rather than doing one patch at a time, like Louis. Overall it actually looks quite nice, although there are about another four or five bags of baubles and Christmas shit to put up.

"Course," Louis lies. His tea's just the wrong side of lukewarm.

Nick smiles at that. It looks a little sad. "I wish you'd trust me."

"I do."

"Sometimes you do."

Louis really, really hates that he can put that look on Nick's face. He dumps his mug down onto the coffee table and presses himself to Nick's front, rubbing his cheek against Nick's jumper. He wraps his arms around Nick's waist, and Nick hesitates for a moment before wrapping his arms around Louis's shoulders and kissing his temple. "It's stupid," he says after a pause. Even saying that out loud is a wrestling match he might not have won.

Nick hugs him a little tighter. "It's never stupid," he says. "I wish you wouldn't say that."

"I'm so mixed up," Louis says, burying his face in Nick's jumper.

Nick stills. "About us?"

"Never. Never, ever."

"You fucking terrify me, you know," Nick says, after a moment. "Half the time I'm sure you're halfway out the door."

Louis shakes his head, but he doesn't look up. "It's never about that. If I could keep you forever, I would."

Nick kisses the top of his head. "I don’t know what to do to make you feel like you can tell me when you're mixed up."

"The stuff I want…" he stops. "I'm embarrassed about it."

"I know, but you don't have to be."

Louis takes a deep breath. He tucks his fingers into Nick's jumper. "I feel sort of quiet."

"Okay, so we don't have to talk, I'll shut up, I'm pretty sure I can manage it if I try—"

"No," Louis says. "I don’t mean that."

"What, then?"

Louis chews at his lip. "Sit down," he says. "There." He points at the sofa. "I'll be back in a minute."

In the bedroom, he closes the door, and leans his head back against the wall. It's a constant battle between giving Nick enough to make him stay, and not giving him enough to make him leave.

Get a grip.

He goes over to the bed and grabs a couple of the pillows, and then he opens the door and goes back down the hall to the living room. Nick's sitting on the sofa with his phone in his lap; when he sees Louis he drops it down onto the seat next to him.

Louis drops the pillows down onto the floor by Nick's feet, doesn't allow himself more than a momentary glance in Nick's direction, and sits down on the pillows with a bump.


Louis ignores him. He settles himself on the pillows by Nick's feet, and wraps an arm around Nick's calf, cheek pressed to his knee.

"This is what you wanted?" Nick asks a little hesitantly.

"Put the TV on," Louis says. He wants to say touch my hair. The words feel trapped in his throat. His heart pounds. All he wants to do is settle himself inside; there's something in his chest that's begging for quiet.

"This is what you meant when you said you felt quiet?"

Louis nods. "It's nothing."

Nick leans down and presses his mouth to the top of Louis's head. "You can ask for this," he says. "I can give you this."

Louis doesn't say anything to that. He rubs his cheek against Nick's knee. It's stupid, wanting this so much. It's humiliating.

Nick reaches for the remote. "What do you want to watch?"

"You choose," Louis says.

"You'll complain if I get it wrong."

Not today. Louis doesn't want to pick. "You decide."

Love Actually is on Sky On Demand. Nick probably picks it because it's the first thing on the list, but Louis doesn't care. He's not good with the beginning or the end of Love Actually; he's seen too many airports and had too many goodbyes for it to be anything other than a wrench. He's never had a goodbye with Nick at an airport; they've never really had a goodbye. They've just had endings.

"Play with my hair," Louis says softly. "Please."

Nick kisses the top of his head again, and then slides his hand into Louis's hair. He cards his fingers through Louis's hair, slowing it down after a while, scratching at his scalp.

"You can pull," Louis tells him, as onscreen that guy from My Family accidentally insults the chef at the wedding reception. He feels a little sleepy, that tangled, breathless feeling that's been caught in his chest for days slowly settling down into something less frantic.

Nick pulls fairly gently, long fingers massaging his scalp in-between pulls.

"You okay?" he asks later on, whilst Alan Rickman's trying to buy a necklace he shouldn't be.

Louis nods. He feels almost out of it, that sort of hazy feeling that comes with being really drunk or really tired. He's not either one of those things though; he's just… settled. He hugs Nick's leg a little harder.

"You must be uncomfortable down there," Nick says gently.

Louis shakes his head, even though he is stiff. They'd done this a couple of times before, but the first time it had been in Nick's flat, and Louis had been so uncomfortable by the time they'd stopped, but he'd been absolutely unwilling for it to end.

"Come up here. I'll still play with your hair. Come on."

All the time sitting on the floor has made Louis clumsy; Nick has to help him to his feet and then he curls up on the sofa with his head in Nick's lap, one of the pillows beneath him. Nick keeps on stroking his hair, not pulling like before, and it's been a long time since he could genuinely say that he didn't want to move a muscle.

He sleeps after a bit, and when he wakes up he's got no fucking idea what time it is because the telly's on low, Love Actually has finished, and Nick's holding Louis's hand and fucking around with his phone.


"Hey, love." He puts his phone down on the arm of the sofa and shifts a little so that Louis can sit up and curl into Nick's side, knee up to his chest. He's still half-asleep, his limbs feeling heavy and like they don't quite belong to him. Nick wraps an arm around him and pulls him in. "How are you feeling?"

Louis shrugs. "Dunno," he says, trying to press closer. He hides his face in Nick's shoulder and kisses his neck. "Didn't mean to fall asleep."

"'s'all right," Nick says. "Was going to wake you up in a bit. I'm ravenous."

Louis smiles at that. He feels like a zombie. Napping always make him feel like that. "Sorry."

"I ordered us some stuff on Just Eat. Should be here in a bit."


"Aren't you mad at me for not letting you pick what I ordered?"

Louis shakes his head. "You can choose tonight."

"Letting me pick the film and the food. Brave new world."

"Just tonight," Louis tells him sleepily. "Want you to decide tonight."

Nick lets out a breath at that.


"Nothing. Just, you know, at some point we're going to have to talk about some of this stuff."

"Not tonight." Louis is sleepy, the Christmas tree is mostly decorated and all lit up, and for once he's getting exactly what he wants from Nick without needing anything more. "Another time."

"I'll hold you to that."

Louis presses a little closer. He reaches for Nick, cupping his cheek in his hand. "Love you," he says softly. "And I've not got one foot out the door."

Nick kisses him. "Me neither." He laces his fingers with Louis's. "Here for good, me. Now, are you going to let me pick something to watch now without complaining?"

"Just for tonight," Louis tells him, burrowing as close as possible. It's so oddly peaceful inside of him, and he'll hold on to that as long as he can. "Just for tonight." I'll do better, Louis thinks. He doesn't ever want Nick to think he's leaving. He's in this for the long haul, for as long as Nick will have him, forever if he can manage it.

"David Attenborough repeats it is, then," Nick says, and switches over to the opening credits of The Blue Planet. He squeezes Louis's hand. "I love you, by the way."

Just for tonight, just for now, the Christmas tree's all lit up and it's just the two of them, and Louis will settle for that. He'll settle, just so long as he's got this.