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wish i knew how to break this spell

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The light is on.

Louis sees it even through the flurry of snowfall, this little pinprick that’s bright as a beacon in the growing darkness. He tells himself it’s the only reason he stops, heart thumping unreasonably hard as gets out of the car and leaves it parked in the middle of a narrow country road to collect snow. It’s stupid, and maybe a little dangerous. He has no way of knowing who’s inside; someone could have come upon the cabin same way he did, some four odd years ago, determined to break away from the bustle and noise of the crowded campsite miles north of the place. He doesn’t think anyone in their right minds would be out in this weather by choice, but he hears these woods get a lot more traffic these days. The fact that the cabin now rests on private property—as proclaimed by the imposingly large sign he had someone stake down not too long ago—wouldn’t deter someone looking to spend the night indoors.

It could be anyone. Louis doesn’t have the time to investigate, not if he wants to make it home before the storm gets much worse. He didn’t tell his mum he was driving out—didn’t know he would until a few hours ago, when restlessness and the same old takeout four days in a row finally got the best of him. The main road is still congested with holiday travellers, and nostalgia’s insistence that he drive by the cabin meant he lost at least two hours. Night falls in the afternoon this time of year and he doesn’t fancy driving in the dark any longer than he has to, wary of his own exhaustion and the bitter cold.

His feet keep moving while he argues with himself. He’s careful about climbing the stone steps that lead up from the road, and as he comes over the hill it becomes obvious that the light is from a fire, soft and intimate. Familiar.

Maybe it should be more of a surprise to open the door and find Harry wrapped up in about a dozen blankets, face pink from the cold and soft from sleep. It isn’t.

Harry blinks at him like he’s not sure he’s real. “Louis?”

“No, it’s Father Christmas,” Louis says, letting the door swing shut behind him. It’s not as warm inside the cabin as Louis expected it to be, the fire small for all that it lights up the room. The nest Harry’s made of the blankets suggests it hasn’t been going for long. “What the hell are you doing here? You left the door unlocked.”

“I was just outside,” Harry says, like that explains anything, and then, nonsensically, “Niall didn’t tell you?”

“Niall’s here?”

“No,” Harry says. He shakes his head like he’s clearing it. “What?”

“What?” Louis echoes, then peels off his gloves and pelts them at his head. “Wake up.”

One hits his shoulder with a thwack. ”Hey.”

With Harry sat on the floor, both armchairs are unoccupied. Louis shrugs off his coat, takes a seat, and tries not to fixate on the fact that they haven’t been in the same room for over a month. “I thought you were in LA.”

He regrets it as soon as it’s out of his mouth. Louis has spent too much time cultivating an air of casual indifference to Harry related events to spoil it now. It’s hardly a secret what he gets up to, because Louis will hear about him from his mum if no one else, but Harry doesn’t need to know Louis still cares what corner of the world he’s in at any given moment. Not when he’s been ignoring Louis for just as long.

But either Harry’s falling asleep, or he just doesn’t care, because all he does is shrug and burrow further into the blankets. “Yeah. I was.”

“And now you’re here,” Louis continues, when it becomes clear Harry isn’t going to. “Freezing your arse off, by the looks of it. Doesn’t feel quite like Christmas until your balls have crawled back up inside, is that it?”

“I’ve got a fire,” Harry protests. The tip of his nose is red. His hair’s just starting to get long again, curling sweetly and hiding his ears, but Louis would bet they’re red as well. “The heater died this morning.”

“Jesus. And you’re still here?”

“‘s not so bad,” Harry says. “I’ve got socks, too.”

“Oh, well, if you’ve got socks.

Louis knows he’s not going to get a straight answer. A few years ago the thought of Harry hiding anything from him was laughable, but these days there’s a strange sort of comfort in it. Harry’s always been something of a mystery; Louis has made his peace with no longer being the one who unravels him.


“Take your boots off,” Harry says, “you’re making a mess.”

“I should get going,” Louis says, though he makes no move to get up. This armchair is more comfortable than he remembers, and the fire’s nice. He can almost feel his face again. “Headed home.” It sounds flimsy, and Harry’s eyes are sharp, but Louis trusts his voice to stay casual. “Just dropped by to check on the heater.”

“Mm,” Harry says, and for a foolish second Louis thinks he’s going to ask him to stay, fascinated by the silent struggle that plays over his face. “Pay your respects before you go, then.”

That’s that, then. Louis snorts and levers himself up out of the chair.

“Yeah, all right. I’ll see you,” he says, and he will, though he’s not sure when. He’s going home for the holidays and knows Harry will too, but it’s not like they have much occasion to just run into each other anymore, outside the odd birthday or wedding.

Louis reckons it’s just something that happens, sometimes, this missing each other. He wouldn’t obsess over it if it wasn’t Harry, but it is, and living in each other’s pockets for the better part of five years spoiled him. It’s a sore Louis tries not to poke at, because he can’t do much about it, but. Sometimes the weight of Harry’s absence suffocates him.

Finding him here felt like a sign, is all.

“I called you,” he says, because he can’t help himself, shrugging on his coat to keep from having to look at Harry. “This morning. To see when you were coming home. If you wanted to drop by, or, like.” Harry’s silent. The prospect of going out into the freezing cold is becoming more appealing by the second. “It went to voicemail.”

“I turned my phone off,” Harry says.

Of course he did. “Yeah, I figured.” God. It’s time to go. He should just— “Who knows you’re here? Besides me. I’m not leaving you stranded in the middle of the woods to freeze to death, am I? My conscience couldn’t bear it. And Anne would kill me.”

Behind him Harry makes a small noise. “Hardly the middle of the woods.”


“Louis,” Harry says, and then, “if you’re so worried—”

Louis turns to look at him when he falls silent. “Was there an end to that sentence, or?”

Harry shrugs, picking at his bottom lip. He looks so young it makes Louis’ chest twinge. It used to be so easy to pull him out of his moods; sometimes all Louis had to do was look at him and he’d break. He doesn’t know what to do with this version of Harry that’s determined to keep him at bay.

“The storm’s just going to get worse. So.”


Harry shrugs again. Louis could kill him.

“I could stay,” Louis says, because he’s always been easy for Harry, in the end. “But I wouldn’t want to impose on the whole fortress of solitude thing you’ve got going.”

“It’s okay,” Harry says placidly. “Not like you’re loud, or anything.”

Louis has to turn back to the door to hide his smile. “Quiet as a mouse, me.”


“So,” Louis says. “Better go and get my socks.”

When Louis bought the place he had every intention of fixing it up himself. He’d picked up the bug from Dan, who was still trying to renovate the second floor of Louis’ childhood home on his own, and when they were on the road it was a comfort, having plans. Getting the cabin in shape was going to be his pet project for their next break from touring that never came.

Louis ended up hiring someone to take care of it. He knew the guy, trusted him, and most of the changes made were functional and probably way beyond his own abilities anyway, but Louis still feels a little like he’s missed out. Everything’s the way he wanted and it’s actually livable now, but the cabin they found that summer, filthy and damp and bare except for a grungy rug and a stove that wouldn’t work, felt more like home.

He wonders if Harry feels the same. They never really talked about their plans for the place. At first there was the silent agreement that it was theirs, the expectation that if Louis was going to be banging around making an absolute fucking mess of things, Harry was going to be in the other corner cleaning up after him. But that fell apart, somehow, and in the same unnerving way HarryandLouis became just Louis, the cabin became just his.

But Harry was just as attached to the place. Maybe still is. Louis wonders what he thinks of the hardwood floors and the shiny new kitchen and the heater before it broke. Whether he likes the gauzy curtains and the bed that’s so big it doesn’t leave room for anything else. Louis gave him a key but never asked for his input, not explicitly, not once he stopped offering it. Now he wishes he had.

He’s not surprised to find Harry here. He just doesn’t know what it means that he is.

Louis gets his duffel from the car and heads to the bedroom to change. They still have a functioning water heater, thank fuck, so he washes his face after taking a piss, brushes his teeth. The towel smells of detergent, like it ought to. Louis doesn’t know why he’s sniffing it, anyway.

In the bedroom he finds Harry’s bags and the guitar Louis bought him years ago, cased. The bed’s made in a familiar way, and the thought of Harry sleeping here—staying here, by himself, for days at a time—is a troubling one. They haven’t been here together since Louis bought the place. Missing each other, even in this. Louis tries not to let it bother him, but the tension in his jaw has transformed into a headache by the time he goes back outside.

Harry’s still curled up in front of the fire, poking at it absentmindedly. He doesn’t look up when Louis crosses the room to the kitchen, hair falling into his eyes and shielding his face. Louis wonders what he’s thinking. Used to be he could just ask him.

There’s a tray of muffins in the oven but no milk in the fridge. He baked. Louis takes his bowl of dry cereal back to the living room, wondering how he can get some answers out of him, but Harry beats him to it.

“I wasn’t ignoring you,” he says, and for a sick, lurching moment Louis can’t remember whether he said that out loud. Harry frowns at the fire. “I wasn’t ignoring just you.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” Louis says, dry twist to his voice that belies how much of a relief it actually is. He knows Harry hasn’t been trying to cut Louis out of his life, or anything. That would be absurd. It’s more likely he just keeps forgetting about him. “You might want to give out a warning before you turn off your phone. Just a thought. PSA: Gone to the woods. Might freeze. Don’t look for me.”

“‘You won’t find me until I’ve found myself,’” Harry intones, so fucking morbid that Louis can’t hold in a laugh.

“Yeah. Something like that.”

The cereal’s gone a bit stale and without any milk the lack of a crunch is even more disappointing than usual. Louis wrinkles his nose around a spoonful and Harry’s mouth twitches. He’s as close to the fire as he can get without being in the fire, and the longer Louis watches him the higher the blankets rise, until all that’s visible are his eyes, bright and inscrutable. Louis is used to being the first one to look away.

“You really didn’t know I was here?”

Louis tucks his socked feet under himself and tries not to fixate on how much warmer it would be under Harry’s blankets. He has a blanket of his own and it’s perfectly adequate. “How could I have known?”

“I thought someone told you.”

Louis wants to keep up with this conversation, he really does. It’s the first one they’ve had in months—a proper one, not broken up with texts sent at odd hours of the night—but it’s fucking freezing, his blanket’s for shit, and Harry’s making even less sense than usual. “Said I was driving by, didn’t I?”

Harry pokes at the fire. “It’s not on your way.”

Louis doesn’t know why Harry sounds like he doesn’t believe him, but he tries not to let it bother him. It’s so easy to get into a fight with Harry when he’s like this, and over nothing. “So you think someone ratted on you and I dropped by to, what? Kick you out?”

“No,” Harry says, beginning to sound frustrated. “I thought—”

“You know I don’t care if you stay here.”

“I know, I—”

“Or whether you tell me about it. You have a key for a reason, I’m not going to—”

“I thought you were looking for me,” Harry blurts out. The blankets slip down over his shoulders when he runs both hands through his hair, agitated—embarrassed. Why is he embarrassed? “You said you called.”

“Yeah,” Louis says after a tense beat. “I did.”

Harry’s silent. His jumper’s ugly, this garish red monstrosity with fat little reindeer all over it. Louis has a matching one in green.

God, he’s too tired for this, on edge and worse for not knowing why.

“Harry. Can you just—I don’t know what you’re trying to say. Just say it.”

There’s nothing for what feels like forever. Then, quietly: “I don’t know how to talk to you anymore.”

“Oh,” Louis says, stung.

He didn’t think Harry would ever say it. Louis was so careful about making the growing distance between them a product of circumstance—something that just happened, something they’d change if they could. They were oceans apart. They were busy. They couldn’t help it. It was no one’s fault.

I don’t know how to talk to you anymore.

That sounds like his.

“Louis,” Harry starts.

“It’s okay,” Louis interrupts. Harry looks miserable and Louis can’t stand not knowing how to fix it. He needs to—not be here. There’s nowhere to go. “We don’t have to talk. It’s getting late, anyway.”

Harry opens his mouth but Louis gets up before he can say more. It’s childish, acting like rearranging the blankets is taking all of his concentration, but for once he doesn’t want to know what Harry means. The hurt’s lodged right in his throat, and has to show on his face. If Harry was as easy to read as him maybe this wouldn’t have come as a surprise.

“‘m exhausted,” he says, and Harry doesn’t try to say anything else. Louis is proud of how even his voice sounds. “Let’s just go to sleep, yeah?”

Sleeping is easier said than done.

It’s viciously cold outside the pocket of warmth created by the fire, and Louis gives up on the bed when he realizes he can’t get his teeth to stop chattering. The mattress is too big to carry outside by himself and he’s not about to call Harry in for help, so he settles for stripping the covers off. His fingers are so stiff from the cold that even that’s something of a struggle, but he does it, and Harry doesn’t say anything when he comes back into the room swaddled in bedding and dragging every pillow he could find behind him.

There’s about a thousand jokes just waiting to be made but Louis can’t get his voice to work. Maybe he should brave the storm after all. The thought of sitting in this awful silence until he falls asleep is unbearable, but snow’s piling up on the windows and the world outside has transformed into a blur of white.

Harry’s looking at the windows too. Does he want him to go? He hadn’t really asked Louis to stay. Louis just ended up inviting himself, hadn’t he? He can’t remember now why he thought that was a good idea. Louis doesn’t know why Harry’s been so broody, but if he’s come out here in the middle of bloody winter to get away from everyone, company is probably not what he’s after. Louis knew that, maybe as soon as he saw the lights from the car.

But he can’t help it. He just—missed him. Misses him.

“Louis,” Harry says, quiet enough that Louis can pretend to not hear him. There’s a strain to his mouth that Louis wants to chase away. He used to know how.

He doesn’t look at Harry while he lays the covers out, lines them with blankets and folds them over. The cocoon it creates is more than big enough for the both of them, so it shouldn’t be weird. It’s probably better if they’re close, anyway—body heat, and all that. If it was up to him he’d be in the car by now and headed home, but he’s not about to kill himself to spare them a bit of discomfort. They’re stuck here, and Louis doesn’t fancy freezing to death in the middle of the night, so they might as well make the best of it.

What he says is, “Get over here. You’re turning blue.”

Harry complies silently and Louis follows suit, lying down behind him and pulling the covers over them both. The space between them fills up with cold air instantly, but Louis can’t make himself bridge the gap, paralyzed by the thought of Harry pulling away. He wouldn’t. But Louis couldn’t bear it if he did.

I don’t know how to talk to you anymore. What else had changed? Sometimes the past few years feel like they lasted forever; sometimes Louis thinks he just—blinked, and that was all. The back of Harry’s head is familiar to him, even haloed from the fire and blurred from fatigue. Louis would know him anywhere, in any crowd. He knows him. Doesn’t he?

He falls asleep wishing he could stop thinking.

He wakes plastered to Harry’s back. They’re tangled together in the worst way, and for a few muggy seconds Louis doesn’t understand why they shouldn’t be. The fire hasn’t quite died down, still stubborn, but the cold has seeped in through the covers and Louis’ skin feels paper thin, sore from it. It hurts to breathe the frigid air, so he buries his nose against the side of Harry’s neck and only resurfaces when Harry flinches.

The line of Harry’s body is tense, and he’s barely breathing. Louis can read his pulse on his lips, pounding like a drumbeat, and his own heart picks up in response. He should pull back and roll over, pretend he’s been asleep the entire time. He doesn’t know when Harry woke up—whether he slept at all—but this is easy enough to excuse if he just—moves.

He can’t let go. He doesn’t want to.

Harry must realize it at the same time, tensing further, until he’s coiled up so tight Louis starts counting down the seconds until he snaps. He holds his breath and waits for him to move, to untangle their legs and shake off the arm Louis has splayed across his chest with some mumbled excuse on the ready.

But all Harry does is sigh, slow and shaky, and sink back into his arms.

He’s a lot bigger now than he was when they first did this, in the tiny top bunk Louis had claimed on The X Factor, but the way he melts is achingly familiar. He curls his body into Louis’ like nothing’s changed. Like they’ll always fit.

He feels small, somehow. Louis’ throat closes up around relief and the knit of Harry’s jumper is soft against his nose. He smells like detergent and boy. Louis presses his face between his shoulderblades and breathes him in, and for a second everything else melts away.

Then Harry says, “I don’t know how to say it.”

Louis wouldn’t have heard him if he hadn’t been listening to him breathe. “Say what?”

“What I mean.”

“Because of me?” Louis asks, just as quietly.

“Because of me,” Harry corrects, and curls up so small Louis has to squeeze him tighter, dig his chin into his shoulder and press his mouth to his hair.

“Go to sleep,” he murmurs, because Harry’s easier to brave in his dreams.

Harry turns his head to look at him, and his face is pink from the fire and his own frustration, eyebrows drawn and mouth red like he’s been worrying it for hours. Firelight plays over his face in strange ways. Being this close to him makes Louis a little dizzy.

Harry’s eyes drop to his mouth. Louis knows what he’s going to do before he does it, but the moment stretches out for a small eternity, making the hairs on the back of his neck rise. Harry moves like he’s giving Louis a chance to pull back, and another, and another, until Louis can feel his breath searing the thin skin of his upper lip and his heart has climbed up past his throat to settle behind his teeth. Harry doesn’t kiss him until every inch of Louis is aching for it, anticipation making his skin buzz and painting the inside of his mouth metallic.

He doesn’t know what he’d been waiting for until he gets it. Harry’s skin is so soft it makes Louis’ stomach clench, and the first touch of their mouths drags a sound from his throat. Harry makes a sound too, a little, shaky thing that Louis kisses quiet, and then they’re kissing properly, hard and thorough, with an urgency that sets him burning.

They’ve kissed before, but not like this. There have been quick, fumbly things back when they were still figuring out what it meant to want each other, and quiet kisses for comfort when there wasn’t anything more to say. Louis has kissed Harry goodbye, but never kissed him hello. This feels like a hello. Like I missed you.

And Louis has missed him, carried that ache around with him for months. It manifests itself now in the way he holds him still and takes his mouth, rougher than he’d let himself be if Harry wasn’t digging his nails into the back of his neck and pulling him in, again and again, like Louis might still need convincing. He’s twisted himself around to clutch at Louis, hands in his hair and on his shoulders and cupping his jaw, clumsy with greed. The pillows have bunched up beneath them somehow, and they have too many layers between them and not enough patience to do much more than paw at each other, desperate.

Harry flinches when Louis slides cold hands under his jumper, gasps against his mouth and then arches into him, muscles bunching up tight at Louis’ touch. His skin is hot and smooth under Louis’ palms and Louis can feel how he strains into each kiss, every shaky breath he takes when Louis gives him a chance. Louis rucks his jumper up under his arms but it’s not enough; he wants to look at all of him, see that shameless sprawl and know that he can touch, whenever he wants, however he wants. Louis wants him in his bed.

“What do you want?” Louis thinks he knows. He pulls back anyway, pins Harry’s wrists to the floor while he waits for an answer. Harry could flip them without even trying, have Louis under him in a blink, but instead he flexes his hands once and goes pliant, loose and sweet, like held down is exactly what he wants to be.

“Touch me,” he says, and god, his voice is shot, all from a little bit of kissing. Louis wonders what he’d sound like with a cock in him, if Louis could fuck him hoarse, then silent.

“I am touching you,” is what he says, and squeezes Harry’s wrists to prove the point.

“Fuck me, then,” Harry says, like he knows every thought that runs through Louis’ head, can read them all on his flushed face. He arches when Louis squeezes harder, mouth dropping open like an invitation and Louis has to take it, has to kiss him. “That’s what I want,” Harry says between kisses, “you—you asked, so I’m—”

“Not like this,” Louis says, and Harry bites him.

“Yes,” he insists, tugging Louis’ bottom lip into his mouth, soothing the hurt with his tongue. Louis wants to pull on his hair so he releases his hands, and they go right to Louis’ trousers, palming his cock with one hand and trying to pop the button with the other. “Louis, just—”

They both moan when Harry finally pulls his cock out. His hands are warm but the air is still bitterly cold despite the heat between them, and the head of Louis’ cock is wet and oversensitive, throbbing in time with his heart. Harry eases his foreskin up over the head with every pump of his hand and Louis forgets about everything else, just rocks his hips in time and feels the orgasm building at the base of his spine. Every touch has him thinking he’s going to come, the twist of Harry’s hand and taste of his mouth, and Louis doesn’t know when the anticipation tips over into reality, but Harry jerks him through it.

Doesn’t stop.

It’s too much. Harry keeps working him, cock wet with his own come, and Louis is too breathless to tell him to stop, arrested by the look on his face. He doesn’t give him a chance to come down, the orgasm more of a pause than anything else. Louis is shaking from the aftershocks when he starts feeling like he’s going to come again, drained and shockingly sensitive but still, somehow, hungry for it.

He’s gotten come all over Harry, his fist and stomach and ugly jumper. When Harry sees him looking he pulls him forward by the arse, until Louis is rutting his cock into the mess on his stomach, humping him like he doesn’t know any better. He feels eighteen again, curled up around Harry in the dead of the night and too full of adrenaline to fall asleep, taking in lungfuls of his scent and trying like hell not to get hard. It hadn’t always worked; he doesn’t know if Harry ever figured out how close he came to just getting off against his arse, but god, everything about Harry drove him crazy, overwhelmed him in the worst way. That hasn’t changed. Sometimes Louis thinks it’s only getting worse and worse—that it’ll consume him one day.

He doesn’t think he’d mind.

“Want you,” Harry’s gasping. His fingers are digging into Louis’ hips, and Louis knows if he found skin he’d scratch him up, leave so many stinging reminders all down his back. The fire’s nearly burned out, thrusting Harry’s face into shadows, making his skin look as flushed as it feels, hot to the touch. When Louis thumbs at his mouth Harry whines. “Just want you.”

You have me, Louis wants to say, but Harry tugs him into a kiss, and it’s all Louis can do to remember how to breathe.

The head of his cock catches against Harry’s jumper on every odd thrust and it’s a little shock to his system each time, makes him gasp and twitch and fuck harder. If he closes his eyes he can picture it so easily, fucking Harry like this, hard and fast and relentless—but then he wouldn’t be able to see Harry’s face, so he keeps them slitted, vision only just clear enough to make out Harry’s red, gasping mouth and wet eyes. He looks close to coming but hasn’t even gotten his cock out. Fuck, Louis wants to see his cock.

It takes some effort to still his hips. Harry protests, palming Louis’ arse and pulling him down, and somehow the bloody covers get in the way, but it’s worth the struggle for how Harry’s cock feels in his hand, so hard Louis’ aches in sympathy, big and thick and mouthwateringly wet at the tip. He gets wet—embarrassingly so, he once admitted to the room at large, though the look in his eyes had been as shameless as ever—and Louis can see it for himself now, feel it when he drags his thumb over the tip, spreads his precome around. He doesn’t know how many times he’s thought about this—little fantasies he told himself meant nothing, just the product of close quarters and Harry being too attractive for his own good. That’s all they were because that’s all he allowed them to be; this was never in the cards for them, couldn’t be, not if they were going to make it.

And they made it. The realisation hits him between one blink and the next. They made it, and they’re still here. Nothing’s stopping them anymore.

He bites back the words.

“Look at you,” he says instead, breath stuttering. Harry looks like a fever dream, and Louis can’t shake the feeling that this is one. But he feels real in Louis’ hand, and Louis doesn’t think he could dream up the sounds he makes, low, throaty moans and hurt little gasps, like it feels so good he can’t stand it. Louis can’t work Harry’s trousers past his thighs, and the frustration of not being able to get in between his legs is overwhelming. When Louis squeezes his thighs Harry shudders, so Louis works his fingers in the hot little space between them, brushing against his full, sensitive balls and making him jolt. “Next time,” Louis tells him, twisting his hand, “I’m going to get you naked. And I’m going to fuck you here first.”

“Yes,” Harry gasps, “please, please,” and tries to fold himself up, even held down by Louis’ weight and twisted up in his clothes, squirming helplessly when Louis pins his hips down.

“Next time,” Louis promises, and lowers himself to grip both of their cocks in his hand the best he can, driving his hips into Harry’s as roughly as he dares. His mind is buzzing with everything he wants to do to him, the thousand ways he wants to take him apart, over and over again, but here and now he kisses Harry hard and makes him come.

Harry’s silent, the long line of his throat bared as Louis tugs pulse after pulse of come out of him. His mouth is lax under Louis’, wet and silky where Louis tongues it, and he can feel the frantic thump of Harry’s heart against his own chest, how he shudders when Louis starts to come. It’s almost dry, this time, only a few weak spurts of come to paint Harry’s softening cock with, but it makes him tingle all over, drives the weight of satisfaction right into the core of him.

Harry takes his weight with a grunt and Louis can’t bring himself to roll over. His breath turns to fog and all he can smell is sex and Harry’s skin, damp now with sweat, salty on his tongue. The cold only gives them a moment, sweeping in to pinch their exposed skin the second Louis comes down from his orgasm.

They clean up with one of the blankets. Harry’s jumper is a lost cause but it’s too cold to think about taking it off, so Louis just laughs at the disgruntled look on his face and pulls the covers over them again.

The fire needs more kindling. Louis settles in behind Harry with his nose buried in his curls and hand on his belly, warm skin on skin, and tells himself he’ll get up in a minute. His heart’s slowing down and sweat is cooling on his skin, wracking him with shivers, but he still feels warmed, somehow, all the way down to his toes. Harry’s hand finds his, clammy and tentative.

He’s tense. The slow, bracing breath he takes dispels whatever exhaustion was weighing Louis down. Suddenly, he’s wide awake, heart seizing in his chest.

“What?” he asks softly. His voice still sounds too loud. He wishes he hadn’t asked, that he could just close his eyes and pretend that the stiff set of Harry’s shoulders meant nothing. Wishes he could just kiss him and let that say everything.

Harry’s silent. Louis levers himself up and shifts him onto his back so he can look at his face. It’s impossible to read in this light, but his eyes are bright. “Harry.”

“I wanted you to find me,” Harry says finally, voice rough. “Do you know that? This entire time, that’s what I wanted. I told everyone I was coming here to write. To think. I told Niall—I thought he’d tell you. That if you got tired of—if you were looking for me—” Harry breaks off and his throat bobs on a swallow. Louis holds his breath. “I wanted you to come looking, and I wanted you to ask, what’s wrong with you? So I could say, I think I’m in love with you.”

The roar of blood in Louis’ ears is so loud he doesn’t even hear him, just sees his mouth shape the words. His heart is frantic, bruising itself against his ribcage, and Harry just looks at him for what feels like forever, just looks, until Louis starts to ache from it.

“It’s more than that,” Harry says, hushed. “It’s bigger. But I don’t know how to say it.”

So Louis kisses him.

It takes a beat for Harry to kiss back, like Louis took him off guard. Planned for everything but Louis’ reaction, apparently, and his hands are shaking when he reaches up to cradle Louis’ face, mouth hot under Louis’, breath short.

This doesn’t feel like a kiss. Bigger, he said. More.

“You’ve thought about everything,” Louis says against his mouth, grip tight on his arms, “haven’t you? All this time I was trying to get you to talk and you’ve been thinking. Have you thought about what I’d say?” Harry tries to pull him into another kiss and Louis resists, pulls back to look at his flushed face. “What am I going to say, Harry?”

“That you love me,” he says, but he doesn’t sound sure. How can he not be sure? How can he not know? “You love me.”

“Say it like you mean it,” Louis says, and Harry flips them over, landing on Louis’ chest. His hair’s sticking up every which way and his eyes look a little wild. Louis feels like he might choke on all the feeling clamouring in his chest.

“Don’t take the piss.”

“Don’t make it so easy,” Louis counters, and pulls him in until their noses knock. He cradles Harry’s head in his hands and strokes the tender skin under his eyes and tells him, “Do you know how much I—Christ, fuck. Harry. You look away and I start missing you.” Harry’s fingers are cold on his wrists. Bruising. “Baby,” Louis says softly. “I’ve been going out of my mind.”

“I didn’t mean to—” Harry starts, then stops. “Everything’s different now.” The line of his mouth tells Louis that’s not what he meant to say. But Louis can read him now, as easy as ever, like he’s clicked back into place. Louis knows him.

“Yeah, well, I’m too old to change,” Louis says, trying for flippant, and ignores the way his voice cracks. “Set in my ways. Gonna love you forever.”

“Yeah?” It’s barely even a whisper, soundless except for the rush of breath.

Louis presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth. Another hello.

“I’m going to prove it to you.”