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One of the Beautiful People

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There's a snake wrapped around Louis' neck.

The slithering reptile goes by Dani, a regular occupant of Louis' broad shoulders, balanced on him with ease as Louis holds her tail in one hand and her neck in the other, moving his hips to the tune of an uptempo eighties remix.

Louis' skin is golden slick with sweat. His bare chest is smeared spectacularly with silver glitter that catches the changing hues of the club's lights as they bathe him in colour through the bars of his cage. The cage hangs from the ceiling, just close enough to the people dancing below that they can peer through it and salivate at the surreal sight of him, but high enough off the ground that he feels like he's flying, twisting on his tiptoes as he moves his body in a circle.

It's hot today -- not unusually so for a Friday night, bodies packed against each other on the dance floor, radiating moist heat. Louis is grateful for the fact that all he has to wear are these glow-in-the-dark go-go shorts, clinging to the shape of his arse.

His hair was perfectly coifed at the beginning of the night, but now it swooshes damply across his forehead, gleaming along with the sparkling blue of his eyes and the glint of his never-ending grin.

He feels beautiful as he moves to the ruthless beat of the bass drum, all eyes on him. His toes step over crisp and crumpled bills, some of them tucked and forgotten in his waistband, the rough material familiar against his skin. No one tries to touch him through the bars, but they'll pass him money, they'll throw a hundred quid in if they're drunk enough, and Louis basks in being wanted so much but never had, always free and hanging above the crowd like a hazy dream.

--

Zayn texts Louis to let him know that he and Niall are waiting for him at the club across the street. It's two AM and he's just finished his shift. He counts it as a good night, seeing as he only had to twist away from one greedy hand grabbing his arse as he made his way through the crush of bodies and to the back of the club.

He walks into his dressing room sucking a red lolly and counting the money he made. It's a hefty tip, one of his better nights. He tucks the wad of cash away into the pocket of his bag and changes into tight red trousers, a white t-shirt and suspenders. He tweaks his hair in the mirror but doesn't do much to tame his wrecked look, cheeks flushed and lashes sweaty and glitter splattered sporadically over his skin.

He meets Zayn and Niall inside the other club, and they already have a shot of tequila lined up for him. He downs it with ease, biting a wedge of lime from Zayn's mouth before spitting it out and diving back in for a kiss, tongue working against Zayn's.

They both wind up laughing into it until Louis breaks away. He licks his lips and looks at Niall. "Pills tonight, love?"

"Work tomorrow," Niall says, because he doesn't know how to stop working, doesn't know how to have lazy Saturdays and Sundays and doesn't know how to let his bones rest. Louis doesn't fault him for it, because he's the same way, always spinning too fast and burning too bright and rarely taking a day to breathe.

Louis is already a bit drunk now, having had a couple of vodka crans after he'd come down from his cage, paid for by a regular bloke that ogles Louis with desperate eyes and asks him out at least twice a week, waiting tirelessly for a different answer.

("You're a doll," Louis tells him with a smile, accepting the drinks gratefully. He kisses the corner of his mouth after an empty conversation then saunters away, feeling the bloke's eyes burn into the smooth skin of his back.)

Niall is kissing someone now, a short girl he's been seeing on and off who dislikes Robbie Williams in a way that's massively disconcerting. For the most part, Louis finds her to be a good fit for someone like Niall, continuously up for a round of banter and content with Niall's lack of bravado.

"Come dance with me," Louis says, taking Zayn by the hand, but he doesn't wait for a response, just tugs Zayn into the sea of bodies and Zayn follows, always follows.

Zayn presses up along Louis' back and his arms find their way around his body, holding onto him in a familiar grip, and Louis smiles brilliantly as he melts back into him. He lifts a hand over his shoulder to cup Zayn's cheek, tilting his head to press a kiss to his jaw.

"Made a fortune in tips tonight," he tells Zayn. "I might even buy you a drink."

"Is that right?" Zayn laughs. He lifts his own arm to survey it. "I can tell you've had a good night when just touching you leaves me swimming in glitter."

Louis grins, feeling the concentrated heat of Zayn's crotch rubbing against him from behind, Zayn's fingers curling in the belly of Louis' shirt, leaving the material warm and damp against the soft skin of his stomach.

The music thrums in Louis's veins and he lets Zayn grind against the roundness of his arse until both of them are halfway to hard on the dance floor. Zayn's palm slips lower down Louis' stomach and to his waistband, holding him in place as he moves against him. Louis huffs out a breathless laugh and tilts his head back against Zayn's shoulder, eyes fluttering shut.

He bites his lip and turns easily in Zayn's arms, wrapping his arms around his neck. He closes his lips around Zayn's and murmurs into them. "I've a grand idea. You should take me to the loo and shag me."

"Is that right?" Zayn asks, shaking his head, but the hint of a smirk finds his eyes. "You're unbelievable."

"Unbelievable like a dream? You flatter me, love," Louis says with a smile and then he's tugging Zayn's hand again out of the crowd and towards the toilets and Zayn follows, always follows.

--

When Louis wakes up the next day, he's in Zayn's bed and he's still sparkling silver all over. There's glitter in the spread of his lashes and his cheeks, lips pink with sleep and skin softer than his pillow.

He slips out of the sheets covered in nothing but the residual smell of filthy sex and weed and a few bruises on his hips where Zayn pressed too hard.

He stretches his arms above his head and admires Zayn's sleeping form, sprawled haphazardly over the sheets, his thick, hardened cock curving against the expanse of his stomach.

Louis feels wicked for a moment, wants to crawl back into bed and put his mouth on Zayn's morning wood, run his tongue over it until Zayn wakes up with a grunt, but Louis' arse is still sore from last night and he doesn't think he could handle Zayn wanting to fuck him through the mattress again.

Louis showers and eats breakfast and checks his emails on Zayn's computer and watches three episodes of Skins on the telly before Zayn is even awake.

Louis can hear Zayn drag himself into the kitchen to restart the coffee maker and he makes his way over to greet him. He leans against the doorframe, smirking at the way Zayn's boxers are slung low on his hips, below the dimples on the small of his back.

Zayn is scratching the back of his head when Louis says, "What happened to 'I can't shag you anymore, Lou, I've got a boyfriend'?"

Zayn turns around, regarding Louis with a sleepy once-over, and Louis notes smugly that Zayn's eyes always scan him over with a certain amount of thirst, as though he hadn't fucked him innumerable times since they met as teenagers -- as though Louis was still new.

"Liam's not my boyfriend," Zayn says, his voice rough with sleep. "And I can't shag you anymore. We'll start today."

Louis huffs out a laugh, walking over and wrapping his arms around Zayn from behind. "Or you could do away entirely with the impending 'boyfriend' label and fuck who you want."

"Ah, if only we could all be Louis Tomlinsons. All traces of chivalry would be dead and gone."

"Oi. I'm an incredibly chivalrous young man. Dare I remind you that I graciously rolled the condom on for you last night? And I asked you nicely to fuck me harder?"

"A true gentleman."

Louis kisses his shoulder. "Precisely."

Zayn pours himself a mug of coffee and walks into the living room, Louis trailing behind him. The two settle on the couch and Louis tucks his feet beneath himself, his tiny frame curling up into a ball.

"Really, though," Louis presses. "Will this fuck things up with Liam?"

Zayn shakes his head. "I'm not going to tell him I've fucked my best friend. He'll hate you before he even meets you. Besides, it's whatever -- it won't happen again."

Louis rolls his eyes, taking Zayn's coffee and having a long sip. "That's what we always say. Until it does happen. And then it happens again, like, ten minutes after. And then in the shower. And then again in the morning."

Zayn turns to look at him, raising his eyebrows. It takes a moment, but his face settles into something that looks more like resignation and maybe exhaustion. "Liam's a good guy, Lou. I wanna keep this one around, yeah. So stop rubbing your arse on me at clubs and maybe I'll be able to."

Louis bites his lip, eyes sparkling. "You're wasting your youth, love. Think about all the arses you could have... they're not going to be here forever."

Zayn rolls his eyes. "Yeah, well, neither am I, so. Fancy that."

Louis sighs dramatically. "Fine. I will attempt to seem less tempting in your presence, but I have to warn you. I don't get less attractive, even when I make a concerted effort to look terrible."

"Seriously, Lou. Don't be so bloody hard on yourself."

Louis grins, setting Zayn's mug down on the table. "Well, I'm off. It's Sunday and I've picked up an extra shift at the bookshop."

He leans over to press a kiss to Zayn's lips before standing up, catching Zayn's pointed glare.

"What?" Louis demands with faux indignation, a mischievous glint in his own gaze. "It was just a kiss! You said nothing about kissing."

Zayn rolls his eyes. "Go on, then. Harlot."

Louis smiles, sauntering over to Zayn's door. He feels Zayn's eyes on his hips as he walks, but resists turning around to call him on it. Instead, he bends over for an unnecessary amount of time to pull on his espadrilles and slips out of the flat, the smirk never leaving his lips.

***

Louis hardly sees the lads for the entirety of the following week. He's got a few lengthy shifts at the bookshop, but he tries (and fails) to get the boys to come out with him every moment he's free.

Niall can't do it because he's constantly working, teaching teenagers a variety of instruments during all hours of the day, and when he's not playing the role of music tutor, he's in the studio laying down guitar tracks for a handful of local bands or playing shows with them.

Zayn won't drink with Louis because Zayn is too busy wooing Liam off his feet and buying into some idiotic version of a real life American rom com. He replies to all of Louis' incessant texts throughout the week, but the lag time is longer and Louis knows it's because he's probably curled up on Liam's couch watching Wuthering Heights for the millionth time or possibly sharing a cone of ice cream like a disgustingly lovesick teenager.

Zayn won't even introduce Liam to them yet, claims he has to make sure Liam likes him first before he's exposed to the existence of is his bat shit best mates. That way, at least, there's still a chance Liam will want to go out with him after.

(Louis facetiously tells Zayn that Liam will dump him after he's had a chance to come on his cheekbones, claiming that it's everyone's end goal when dating Zayn, but Zayn reminds Louis that he was still begging Zayn to fuck him years after he had the glorious opportunity to jerk off over Zayn's face. Possibly, Louis thinks, they have a really unhealthy friendship, or possibly they have the best kind.)

When Saturday rolls around and Louis is in his dressing room getting ready to dance for tips in his cage again, he shoots off a quick text to Zayn.

I'm afraid we're not friends anymore, you've become impossibly boring. I wish you luck with the rest of your dreadful life without me... xo

He puts his phone down to rub lotion over his smooth legs, satisfied when they shine beneath his fingers, radiating a soft golden sheen and the subtle scent of vanilla. His phone buzzes, prompting him to wipe his fingers clean on his discarded trousers before grabbing it.

Will make it up to you tonight, promise. Up for a dance? x

Louis rolls his eyes but bites his lip through a smile. All right, then. Don't want you to cry yourself to sleep over losing me -- I'll just have to ween you off slowly, like a child and his pacifier.

Zayn. Don't flatter yourself, you pompous prick. :) x

Louis. You'd love to pump my prick, wouldn't you? Perve.

Zayn. I'm going to stop messaging you now before you get the idea that we're sexting xx aha :)

Louis. Like I said, BORING. xxx

Louis twists his head when his dressing room door opens, his boss popping his upper half in. "Ready, Tommo? Almost time."

Louis slips his phone back into his bag and grabs for the sparkling jar on the counter, shaking it out over his arms. "Just a tad more glitter and I'll be golden."

It ends up being a good Saturday for dancing, Louis decides, wrecked and drenched in sweat by the end of his shift. His boss had given him a handful of glow stick necklaces and helped smear him in glow-in-the-dark paint, because apparently there was some sort of rave theme this evening, black lights and all.

By the time he comes down from his cage for a drink, Louis has a whole line up of boys waiting to buy him something at the bar and shower him with compliments. It's a mess of "your arse is perfect" and "your lashes go on for ages" and "my God, is that baby oil on your thighs or are they naturally so divine?" Some of it is creepy and some of it is lovely and all of it comes with a side of free alcohol, so Louis lingers longer than usual after his shift, even swaps spit with some of the fitter lads before slipping away into the back of the club like a mirage.

By the time Louis cleans the paint off, dresses up in a fresh change of clothes and heads over to another club to meet with Zayn and Niall, he's already buzzed and giggling to himself in the back of a cab, cheeks flushed and skin thrumming warmly with vodka.

When he gets to the club, his eyes search out Zayn and Niall before getting inevitably distracted surveying his potential prey for the night, lickings his lips at the sight of a few dorky hipsters kinds -- just his type. He's walking backwards at one point, already eye-fucking a boy in a plaid shirt and thick-rimmed glasses across the dance floor, when he bumps into someone behind him. He giggles and turns around, grabbing onto their arms with a, "Sorry, sorry -- "

Zayn rolls his eyes. "You're already pissed, aren't you?"

Louis wraps his arms around Zayn's neck, resting their foreheads together with a brilliant grin. "Didn't realize it was you. I'm less sorry now."

Zayn seems tense beneath Louis' grip, and he doesn't smile the way he usually would at Louis' advances. "Calm yourself, Lou. I want you to meet someone, yeah?"

Louis bites his lip and raises his brows. He breaks away from Zayn enough to peer around him, seeing Niall and another boy stood at the bar, watching them. Niall is nursing a pint but the other boy is empty-handed; he seems to be utterly concerned, bottom lip pulled between his teeth and brows furrowed together.

"No!" Louis says, meeting Zayn's gaze again. "Really? You absolute fuck. Why wouldn't you tell me you were bringing him with you?"

"Because you would've been weird about it or possibly cancelled."

"Would not!"

"Would too. You hate meeting new people. Especially nice ones."

Louis rolls his eyes. "It's not my fault that all your stories about him nearly put me to sleep. Like, really? The worst thing he's done is accidentally backhand a fly to its death? I didn't know your type was Gandhi."

"Gandhi was an arsehole."

"Whatever." Louis drops his arms from around Zayn and takes a deep breath. "Go on, then. I can't exactly back out of meeting him now that he's seen me nearly kissing you."

"Thanks for that, by the way. Strong first impression -- I really think our dysfunctional friendship is going to go a far way in making my relationships work."

Zayn turns and leads Louis to the lads, leaning against the bar next to Liam and kissing his shoulder in a way that makes Louis want to projectile vomit on the lot of them. "Liam, this is Louis, my crazy best mate. He's a bit pissed, so don't mind him."

"Rude," Louis retorts, glowering at Zayn before turning his gaze to Liam, putting on a false smile. "What are you drinking, Liam? I've had a good night dancing, so I think I'll buy a few rounds."

"Oh, thanks," Liam says, sounding utterly surprised by the offer. "I'm -- I'm all right."

"Like, you're all right right now or forever? Because the offer might expire in a few minutes. I saw a bloke I want to ravish and it might take up the rest of my night."

"No, I just -- I don't drink."

Louis furrows his eyebrows and pulls his head back slightly, taken aback by the statement. It almost sounds like another language to him. It's only then that he notices Zayn raising his eyebrows and glaring at him as if he was going to duct tape Louis' mouth shut if he didn't stop talking.

Louis rolls his eyes and leans over the counter, ordering four shots. He slides one over to each Zayn and Niall then downs the remaining two in a row. "More for me," he says simply.

"I'm good," Zayn says, leaving his shot untouched as Niall downs his own, and Zayn's stuck to Liam's side as if there was some sort of magnetic field between them. Louis thinks he might actually retch.

"Fantastic," Louis spits out, grabbing Zayn's shot and downing it, slamming it down on the counter. "Later, lads."

He slips away from the bar, his skin tight around his bones as he makes his way into the dance floor, the corners of his vision gone soft and blurry. He knows he's being a bit of a prick, but if this is the game Zayn wants to play, he's not too bothered with being polite. He blinks a few times, but it does nothing to bring the club into focus, so he settles on letting his fingers trail over the swarm of bodies as he passes through them, his sense of touch guiding him.

He feels an arm slip around his waist and he turns to find that it belongs to the bloke with the thick-rimmed glasses from before. It brings a smile to Louis' lips to discover that he's just as good looking up close, and he wraps his arms around his neck with ease.

Louis leans up on his tiptoes, talking into his ear. "I see you've found me."

"That I have," the bloke says. "I thought maybe you wanted to dance?"

"You thought right," Louis says, and presses up against him, letting the beat of the music and the warmth of the alcohol course through him, pressing his forehead into the bloke's neck as they move.

He quickly finds that the boy isn't coordinated enough to keep Louis' attention, and though he's fit and Louis can feel his sculpted torso through the press of their sweaty shirts, Louis' gaze strays to survey the rest of the dance floor, ready for something new.

To his pleasant surprise, his gaze lands on a pair of dark green eyes that are already locked on his. The boy looks away when he's caught staring with what seems like a dimpled cheek and a soft blush. Louis bites his lip and pulls away from the grip of the plaid-wearing hipster, realizing with a sense of satisfaction that he doesn't yet know his name and probably never will.

"I'm afraid that's the end of the road for us, babe," he tells him, squeezing his hand in his with a wink as he walks away, feeling a bewildered gaze follow him.

He makes his way to the green eyed, curly haired bloke, admiring the way his lanky body sticks out from the crowd, even in his dark corner, back pressed against the wall. Everyone in the club is colourful, making too much of an effort to be bright and fantastic and exceptional, their appearances screaming for attention. This boy, though, is utterly simple. He's clad in a loose black t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up at the hem, coupled with tight black trousers and a pair of suede loafers.

Louis presses his palms to the boy's sides and looks into his eyes, his own shining bright and blue; he lets his gaze travel to the boy's red mouth which he finds quirked up into a timid smile.

"What're you doing here all by yourself? If I hadn't seen you admiring the view, I'd almost think you weren't enjoying yourself at all."

The boy laughs and it's lovely to Louis' ears, sending a rush through his lower stomach and pulling tight at his insides.

"I'm here with a friend," he says, and his voice is much deeper than Louis had expected it to be. His features are young -- almost too young to be in a place like this -- but his voice is raw and low and it makes Louis wants to fuck his throat, just a bit. "It's not really my scene."

"Pity. I thought maybe you and I could have a good time, but if it's not your scene -- "

"No, no. Don't leave. I -- I didn't mean it that way."

Louis raises his eyebrows at him.

"You're -- you're very beautiful..." The bloke trails off expectantly.

"Louis," Louis supplies. "And you're very kind. Flattery will get you far in a place like this."

"Do you reckon? I'm not one to lie, though. You really are wonderful to look at," he says, a goofy grin taking residence on his face. "And my name's Harry, by the way. Harry Styles."

"All right, Harry, let's not get too cheesy."

"I'm not trying it on, I promise," he says, and then there's his quiet laugh again, rumbling and genuine and utterly fascinating. Louis definitely wants to wreck him. "You're just sort of angelic."

"Well, thank you, love. Your eyes aren't blown so I'm going to assume it's not any drugs that have got you rambling like a teenager."

"I am a teenager," Harry says, and Louis tightens his fingers in his sides, shooting him a questioning look. "Eighteen, though. Nothing too young."

"Jesus Christ," Louis mutters. "Come dance with me before I change my mind about you."

The last thing Louis sees before tugging him onto the dance floor is Harry biting his lip through a grin.

Harry is broad and sturdy for an eighteen year old boy. He curls himself around Louis in a way that makes him forget about the hipster bloke with no rhythm that had come and gone before him.

They're pressed front-to-front with one of Harry's hands on Louis' neck and the other on his hip. Louis slips his hands into Harry's back pockets and presses close, watching Harry's face curiously.

Harry has a concentrated expression contorting his features, this look of furrowed brows and piercing eyes and pursed lips, like he's very determined to find out how his lengthy, bony body fits best against Louis' small, curvy frame, and Louis has to admit that whatever Harry's doing now to rub their hips together is working spectacularly well. The friction of denim on denim sends a spark of heat down Louis' spine, some of it going all the way down to his toes.

Louis pecks Harry's lips lightly to get his attention, and it seems to break Harry's intense concentration because he's smiling then, easy as ever, eyes fixing themselves on Louis' as if he'd just remembered what Louis looks like.

"Let me buy you a drink," Harry says, and Louis contemplates ignoring his words, contemplates just kissing him silly until both their lips are bruised and swollen. He thinks Harry looks like someone who'd know how to fuck him, but he could be wrong. He's been wrong about these things before.

"An eighteen year old buying me a drink. What has the world come to?"

Harry just smirks at that, eyes twinkling beneath the dim flash of the club lights before he leads Louis to the bar by his hand. Louis bites his lip, bracing himself for another interaction with the lads, but Zayn and Liam aren't at the bar any longer and Niall is caught up chatting with one of the bartenders.

"What can I get you?" Harry asks Louis, leaning against the counter and raising a few fingers up to grab the attention of the barkeep.

"Hmm," Louis considers. "Long Island iced tea, please."

Harry orders a couple, sliding one to Louis and taking a sip of his own. "You're glowing, by the way."

"I'm not pregnant, if that's what you're thinking."

Harry laughs. "No, like -- properly glowing." He picks up Louis' hand and stretches his arm out, scanning it. "You're sparkling all over. I'm a bit jealous."

"Aw, love. I've got a jar of glitter with me somewhere, if you're desperate for it."

Harry smiles a crooked smile, eyes settling on Louis' mouth. "Why do you carry around a jar of glitter? Are you secretly a fairy?"

"Oh, sweetheart, that's not a secret at all. And I don't, really, I was only joking. I keep it in my dressing room."

"Oh? Are you some sort of glam rockstar?"

"Hardly. I think that would require me to wear eight inch platforms and shoot heroin into my prick, which sounds painful on a very physical level." Louis pauses, biting his lip. "I do get paid to entertain the masses, though. I'm a part-time dancer. It's quite the job."

"Sounds like a bit of mayhem," Harry comments, and Louis might be mistaken, but Harry's eyes seem to light up at the prospect of Louis dancing professionally. "I could tell when we were dancing that you knew how to move. That's lovely. I want to see you dance."

"Don't get too excited. I've got a pair of little shorts to cover up my good bits at all times, even when I'm getting paid for it."

"Pity," Harry teases. "I still think it would be quite wonderful, though, to see you dancing."

"Maybe one day, if you've got luck on your side. You're quite the gentleman, you know that? It's awful. Do you always say things like 'that's lovely' and 'it would be quite wonderful'?"

Harry laughs. "I'm just a bit awkward, to be honest. I could leave you alone, if you'd like."

Louis sighs theatrically. "I'm afraid you've intrigued me enough that I'm reluctantly enjoying your company."

"Wow, massive compliment."

Louis smirks, eyeing Harry's smiling mouth. "We'll leave the true compliments for when they're well-deserved. Keeps things exciting, don't you think, having a sliding scale of flattery?"

"You're ridiculous."

"Oi! I'm your elder, you shouldn't speak to me like that."

Harry smiles. "You hardly look a day past twenty."

"Twenty-one, actually, but you're a doll. I think I'll probably age in reverse at some point. I'm too lovely to wrinkle, as you would say."

"It's true," Harry concedes, and he stares at Louis in this disconcerting state of awe, like a puppy that's about to lick his nose.

Instead, a light pink flush finds Harry's cheeks just before he dips in close, pressing a tentative, warm kiss to Louis' lips.

"I'm not made of porcelain, you know," Louis teases, looking up into Harry's eyes through his thick lashes. "You can snog me properly. Tongue and everything!"

Harry rolls his eyes but smiles wider, curling a fist into Louis' shirt and pulling him in. He lowers his lips against Louis', kissing him deeply now. Harry's tongue presses against his, eliciting a small moan of satisfaction from the back of Louis' throat. Louis melts into it like putty, giving as good as he gets, all tongue and heat and firm pressure until they're both just this side of breathless.

"Please tell me you don't live with your parents," Louis says into his mouth and Harry laughs, eyes crinkling at the edges.

"I'm a grown lad. Have my own flat and everything."

"Flatmate?"

"I doubt he's going to be home tonight."

"Good, because I can get quite loud," Louis says in a deliberately quiet tone, pleased when he feels Harry shiver bodily in response.

Within minutes, and after a quick stop at the bar for a hurried round of shots, they're in the back of a cab with Louis straddling Harry's lap drunkenly and giggling into his head of curls.

The driver grumbles that he can't see from Louis' head, so Louis ducks down and put his teeth to use, biting into Harry's neck viciously before licking over the abused skin to soothe the pain. He swallows Harry's resulting groan and snogs him senseless to make up for it, leaving his lips red and wet and swollen with want.

By the time they're up the steps of Harry's building and stumbling into his (disgustingly posh) flat, Louis is halfway to hard and obscenely ready to be touched. He presses his hips against Harry's in the midst of a particularly filthy open-mouthed kiss to find that Harry's cock is already stiff, the large outline of it pushing against the restraints of his skintight trousers.

Harry is pushy and greedy all at once, kneading Louis' ass as they kiss, leading him backwards into his bedroom. The back of Louis' knees hit the mattress and Harry pushes him onto it, letting him land against the sheets in a panting splay of limbs.

Harry wastes no time climbing on top of Louis to roughly discard of Louis' kit, letting the clothes hang forgotten on the edges of his bed, and Louis goes with the push and pull of Harry's demanding hands like clay. Somehow, it's the gentlest manhandling Louis's ever experienced, leaving him breathless and achingly hard.

In the midst of having his clothes torn off him, Louis swears he hears fabric rip and it elicits an embarrassing whine of satisfaction from the back of his throat. He arches his bare back off the sheets, his hands reaching behind him to curl into the headboard, gripping tightly until his knuckles go white.

Louis' cock is warm and thick as it lies against his stomach, needing some semblance of attention -- preferably in the form of a tongue tracing the throbbing veins on the underside. Before he can even get a word in or ask snappily if Harry's going to take off his own kit anytime soon, Harry's head of curls is all he can see between his legs and there's a tight, wet slickness surrounding his cock and oh.

It turns out that Harry is incredible with his mouth, to the point where Louis thinks Harry must be a hundred year old vampire who is eternally stuck being a modelesque teenager who has decades upon decades of deep throating experience. He giggles to himself faintly at the thought and feels Harry's eyes shift upwards to inspect the situation, but apparently Harry's not too bothered with it because a moment later his eyes are shut again and he's swallowing the entirety of Louis' length with a hum of appreciation, as though he was just enjoying a soothing ice lolly on a warm summer's day.

Louis keens and grabs at Harry's shoulders, his hands met with two pesky fistfuls of fabric, so he tugs and twists at the shirt until Harry gets the hint, pulling off of Louis' wet cock to slip it over his head, throwing it aside. He smiles down at Louis and there's a lust-drunk haziness to his gaze, like he'd somehow grown more intoxicated just from drinking Louis in, and the thought of it is so equally heady to Louis that he whimpers, arching his hips up into the air.

"You look wrecked," Harry breathes out, and Louis bites his lip into his mouth with a nod. "Fuck, Louis."

"You can, if you want to," Louis murmurs. "Fuck me, that is."

Harry huffs out a breathless laugh and nods to himself, pushing up from the bed to get to his feet. Harry strips off the rest of his clothes in the same way that he speaks, painstakingly slow and as though there's no end purpose to it. Except, Louis is painfully aware that there is an end purpose, and that end purpose is for Harry's cock to be inside of him, so he really wishes Harry would hurry up or regain some of his rough eagerness from earlier when he'd ripped Louis' bloody kit off.

Harry fumbles in his bedside drawer and produces a row of condoms before reaching into the back for a bottle of lube. When he retrieves it, it's entangled in a pair of red knickers. Harry's cheeks turn a light, hot pink, a timid smile playing upon his lips.

"Sorry," he says, disentangling the lube from the knickers and setting the pair neatly back into his drawer, as though he were going to give them back to their rightful owner as soon as this was over.

Louis doesn't have much time to think about who the knickers could belong to or why Harry would have women's underwear in his nightstand in the first place, because before he knows it there's a pair of warm lubed up fingers that rub against the rim of his arsehole. The first finger presses into him, stretching him open and crooking upwards, and it's not long before the second follows. Louis hips go upwards with the crook of Harry's fingers, as though they were controlling his movements, and then he settles himself back into the bed and squirms forward, mewling obscenely for more.

He looks at Harry through half-lidded eyes, Harry's gaze cast downward as he watches himself fuck Louis open with no shame. There's something about the earnest way his brows furrow just in time with his fingers slipping in deeper in search of Louis' prostate that drives Louis' mad, cock leaking uselessly against his belly.

There's more lube and a third finger is fucking him, the promise of Harry's cock nagging at the back of Louis' mind as he pushes his hips further into Harry's fingers, his arse intent on pulling them in all the way to the last knuckle.

Harry hisses something beneath his breath that sounds suspiciously like fuck and that's when Louis notices that Harry's other arm is moving lazily, presumably stroking his own cock. Louis brings his knees up and squeezes Harry's hips to get his attention.

Harry looks up, meeting Louis' eyes for the first time since he'd decided to finger fuck him into oblivion, but his hands don't stop moving. Louis' hair sticks to his forehead with sweat, his lashes thick with beads of it. His eyes are somehow bluer than before, and there's a flush of pink that blooms from his cheeks and neck down to his chest. He really, really needs Harry to fuck him now, so he tells him as much, his voice coming out thick and raspy, as though he's the one who'd sucked Harry into the depths of his throat.

To his credit, Harry's anything but a tease, readily slipping his fingers out of Louis, and Louis makes a soft, involuntary noise at the loss of contact.

Louis' eyes flutter shut as he breathes erratically, trying to calm himself from the state of euphoria he was slipping into; he loosens his aching fingers from their returned grip on the headboard, flexing them around to relieve the throbbing in his joints. He hears Harry uncapping the bottle of lube and the slick sound of him stroking his cock moments later.

He can feel Harry shuffling into place above him, slotting their hips together, and his own thighs wrap around Harry's frame weakly in response. Harry guides himself against Louis' hole, teasing it with the tip of his cock, and only when Louis hums encouragingly does Harry start to push inside.

Louis hadn't gotten a decent look at Harry's cock, doesn't realize how thick he is until he's stretching him open, and Louis' feels the dull burn of it despite the fact that he'd taken three of Harry's fingers already.

Louis swallows the dryness in his throat, curling his fingers into Harry's bare shoulders, digging his nails into the flesh as Harry starts to slowly roll his hips against him.

Louis is breathing through his mouth, shallow puffs that get reflected back onto his own chin, making him realize how close Harry's face must be to his own. He lets his eyes blink open lazily and regrets it almost right away, seeing Harry's intense gaze burning into him, unabashed. The sight of it coupled with Harry's deep, deliberate thrusts makes Louis moan brokenly, cock throbbing between their bodies. It's almost as if Harry reads his mind, because he's reaching a hand between them to curl long, spidery fingers around him, engulfing Louis' cock wholly as he strokes him in time with his thrusts.

"Okay?" Harry asks, and Louis almost wants to laugh, almost wants to scream at Harry for being such a fucking teenager, but all he can do instead is nod, as though it wasn't ridiculous for Harry to ask him that like Louis was some sort of virgin.

Harry dips his head down and presses a kiss to Louis' neck, murmuring, "You feel amazing."

Louis digs his nails harder into Harry's shoulders, maybe to shut him up or maybe to distract his own racing and disjointed thoughts, but either way it spurs a slight change in Harry's thrusts, fucking him just that bit deeper and faster, starting to build up a steady rhythm.

"I want to fuck you properly," Harry murmurs into the crook of Louis' neck, as though he couldn't say it to him if he was looking him in the eye. "I want to fuck you so hard, Lou."

"Please," Louis breathes out, and Harry moans softly in response, his gaze moving to meet Louis'.

Lower than before and with a hidden hint of wild desperation, Harry asks, "You sure?"

Louis just arches up, pushing his back off the bed and tightening his thighs around Harry's hips, forcing Harry all the way inside of him. Harry doesn't need anymore encouragement than that, because it's only moments before he's pounding into Louis' arse in earnest, his fingers curled into fists in the sheets by Louis' sides.

Harry fucks him with intent, like he wants to ruin him, like he wants Louis to fall apart beneath him, to scream and whimper and dig half-crescent moons of blood into Harry's shoulders, and Louis does all those things, for the most part.

Harry shifts his hips until he's fucking Louis exactly right, sending a blinding spark of pleasure through Louis' spine, and the sound that comes out of Louis' lips sounds anything but human.

Louis pants Harry's name softly until it doesn't make sense, throwing his head back into the bed, his chest curving upwards even as his hips are pinned into the mattress repeatedly by way of Harry's relentless thrusts. He feels his eyes start to water as Harry drives in rougher, letting out a sob against Harry's neck, the pleasure almost unbearable as Harry rocks his body.

Harry mouths at his jaw and murmurs against it so faintly that Louis almost wonders if he makes it up when Harry breathes, "You take it so fucking well." It turns out to be the last straw for Louis, because he feels himself come apart at the seams, Harry's cock pushing into him until he's sure he hears the headboard bang against the wall.

Harry's hand had long-abandoned his cock, but apparently Louis's at the point where he doesn't need Harry's fingers around him to come, spilling between their bodies with a scream of pleasure, fingernails twisting into Harry's abused shoulders for leverage.

Louis' entire upper body curves off the bed to meet Harry's chest through an obscene sheen of sweat and he freezes against him for a moment. He settles against the bed bonelessly seconds later, but before Harry can even think to slow down, Louis whimpers, "Keep going, harder," because he wants Harry to come, wants it almost as much as he'd wanted his own release.

It's all the direction Harry needs, apparently, because his fingers move to hold Louis' hip down against the sheets, his gaze disappearing to look between their bodies as he continues to fuck Louis mercilessly. Louis is so over-sensitized he could scream, but he doesn't, just pants and whines and watches Harry through lust-thick lashes, his hands holding onto the sides of Harry's neck uselessly.

Harry grunts as he pulls himself out of Louis, and Louis moves his hand almost on autopilot, pulling the condom off Harry so he can stroke his cock in tight, rough jerks, pulling him to a release that makes his entire body shake and tremble. Harry lets out a broken moan as he spills onto Louis' heaving stomach, and for a moment, Louis worries that Harry is going to completely collapse against him before he's even done coming.

Harry is stronger than Louis thinks, because he manages to keep his body held above Louis through the entire thing, covering Louis' fingers and belly in thick white streaks. Louis smirks tiredly after he milks the last of Harry's release out of him, sated and worn to the bone. He lets go of him in favour of idly running his palm through the mess of come on his skin, as if it was nothing but coconut butter or his favourite vanilla lotion.

Harry presses a gentle kiss to Louis' temple and cheek and the hollow of his throat before he gingerly rolls onto his back next to him, seeming to bask in the afterglow of what just happened. Louis feels the dip and rise of the bed when Harry gets to his feet a few moments later. He tilts his head to watch him walk into his bathroom, appreciating Harry's lazy stride and the shape of his arse and the dimples that lie right above it.

When Harry comes back with a damp washcloth, he has that same boyish look to him but there's somehow more -- something masculine in a way that Louis hadn't noticed under the unforgiving lights of the club earlier. Maybe, Louis thinks, it has to do with the fact that Harry had fucked him up so well since then, or maybe there was an edge there all along.

Harry curls up beside Louis and wipes his stomach clean, picking up Louis' fingers to wipe them off as well, his movements inexplicably careful and soft, as though he hadn't been the one to nearly break him in two just moments ago.

"I can get you clean pants if you'd like," Harry says, his eyes a brilliant shade of green when they meet Louis', and Louis swallows hard at the feeling that pulls at his insides -- a feeling he hasn't had in ages.

It's the feeling that makes him think it might not be a terrible idea to stay the night, to curl up in a strange boy's bed and maybe even indulge in a cuddle. But the thought is more terrifying than enticing, so Louis shifts and sits up on the sheets instead, reaching over Harry's body to grab for his own pair of pants from the bed.

He stands up on the mattress beside Harry, towering over him, and starts to pull the pants on, setting a palm on the wall to hold himself steady. "Don't you worry your pretty little head, love. I'll change into something clean once I'm home. I've got to shower before bed anyway."

He steps over Harry's body and hops onto the ground, starting to put his kit back on wordlessly with his back to Harry. He doesn't think of what Harry's face must look like right now, ignores the air of disappointment that surrounds them and avoids turning around until he's fully dressed.

"Do I look all right?" Louis asks, fixing his hair. "Or can you tell I've just had my brains shagged out of my head?"

Harry looks wounded and stunned into silence for a long, torturous moment. He eventually mutters, "No, you look fine. Gorgeous, even," and Louis takes that as his cue to leave.

"Thanks, darling," he says, walking over to press a kiss to Harry's head through his curls and murmur a muffled good night, and then he's padding out of Harry's room and slipping into his shoes. He makes his way out of the flat as quietly as possible, as though any loud noise would just add insult to injury.

--

The next day, Louis feels the aftermath of his sour interaction with Zayn at the bar wash over him in increments.

At first, he feels indignant that Zayn would drop Liam on him like that without so much of a heads-up, all in the wake of ignoring Louis' company for the entirety of the week in the interest of spending every waking minute with his new boy toy. You would think one day of the week could be reserved for their lifelong friendship and untainted by his fleeting new romance, but apparently nothing is sacred anymore.

It takes two cups of peppermint tea before Louis' anger starts to fade, changing into something softer and more persistent as it buzzes beneath Louis' skin, impossible to ignore. It's a mixture of grief, as though he was mourning something he'd lost, and terrible, nagging guilt.

Maybe he was in the wrong more than Zayn was. Maybe completely blowing him and Niall (and Liam) off wasn't the best way to communicate his annoyance. Maybe it wasn't really a competition of who was more of a prick and maybe they both needed to cough up an apology.

Eventually, after Louis has a bubble bath and cooks himself a late breakfast, he ventures outside and makes a stop at a cafe, grabbing three large coffees and a bag full of creamer and sugar. He's determined to set things right. Zayn and Liam should be well-past their morning shag now and ready for a little energy boost -- Louis figures the caffeine will do just the trick.

He shows up at Zayn and Niall's flat and knocks nervously, chewing on his lip. When Zayn answers, he barely cracks open the door, just enough for him to lean his body against the door frame and gaze tiredly at Louis through the opening.

Louis glances at the coffee tray in his own hands then meets Zayn's eyes, bouncing on the soles of his feet. "Thought you and your lover boy might need a little caffeine after the night of crazy rabbit sex I'm sure you've had."

Zayn scoffs quietly and walks away from Louis. The only indication that he's not going to refuse Louis entry is the fact that he leaves the door cracked open. Louis shoulders his way in gratefully, shutting the door behind him and following Zayn into the kitchen.

"Liam's not here," Zayn says, going back to the sink where the water is still running, resuming rinsing his dishes.

"Oh," Louis says, setting down the coffee tray. "Sad I missed him. We could just split his portion of the coffee in half, then -- or you could keep it in the fridge for him, if you'd like, as a grand romantic gesture--"

"Come off it, Lou." Zayn's voice is even in a way that sends a shiver down Louis' spine.

Louis watches Zayn's back, his shoulders flexing as he moves a dish beneath the water. "If you're angry with me, just say it."

"All right, Louis," Zayn snaps half-heartedly, slipping the wet plate into the dishwasher. "I'm angry with you and you're a stupid fuck. Happy?"

Louis rolls his eyes. "Ecstatic."

"Why are you here, then? Had such a change of heart since last night? Decided you want to know what it feels like to be a decent friend?"

"Okay. Ouch. I guess I deserve that."

Zayn lets out a breathless laugh, stacking the last few remaining dishes into the washer and turning it on, wiping his hands on a washcloth before turning around, meeting Louis' eyes.

"You said two sentences to him, Lou. Two sentences and then you were off in a huff trying to pull blokes, as if he'd done something unforgivable to you."

"I didn't really get the feeling that either of you wanted me around, to be perfectly honest."

"The world doesn't revolve around you, Lou. I know it shocks you to hear it, but I think sometimes you forget that other people get hurt when you're selfish."

Louis sighs. "Well, why do you think I've brought you coffee?"

Zayn shrugs. "I don't want it. I don't want your shots of tequila and your coffee and your avoidance gifts. I just want you to admit you were a prick."

Louis stares at Zayn, chewing his bottom lip, and Zayn stares right back, neither of them giving an inch.

Finally, Louis rolls his eyes, glancing away. "I'm a prick, then."

"Good," Zayn finally says, walking over and grabbing one of the three coffees from the tray, carrying it with him into his bedroom without another word.

Louis dumps a hefty amount of cream and half a cup of sugar into his own coffee, stirring it vigorously before following Zayn. He finds him sitting up on the headboard, glasses on, clad in a white t-shirt and grey sweatpants, bare toes curling into the sheets.

The morning newscast is on low volume, and Louis slips off his shoes and curls up onto the bed next to him to watch. He notes that Zayn's side of the bed is a mess, but the side Louis is sitting on is perfectly made and far from slept in. Liam must've not come home with Zayn at all.

"I was a bit pissed last night," Louis says, as if that changes anything.

Zayn nods idly, eyes trained on the telly.

"I don't want you to be cross with me," Louis goes on. "I'll make it up."

Zayn looks over at him, raising his brows, but his voice is deceivingly calm. "So you want to make it up just so I'm nice to you again? Not because you were genuinely a prick to Liam and feel bad about it?"

Louis rolls his eyes. "Well, I'm sorry that I don't have any emotional attachments to your boyfriend yet. I've barely even met him."

"And whose fault is that?"

"Oh god, this back and forth could go on for ages and get us nowhere. Let's just call a truce, for the love of Beyoncé."

Beyoncé is sacred around these parts, and Louis knows well that Zayn understands a Beyoncé truce is a serious one.

Zayn takes a moment to consider before finally responding, sounding exhausted. "Fine. I'm just -- I'm sorry. I'm in a bit of a state this morning."

Louis curls up closer against the headboard, tucking his body into Zayn's side, his eyes on the telly as he speaks. "Tell me your problems, love. I'll play therapist."

"The last time that happened you wrote me a prescription for enough alcohol I nearly had to get my stomach pumped."

Louis smiles wistfully as he stares off in the distance. "That was a good night."

Zayn rolls his eyes. "Liam's cross with me because of you."

Louis looks over at Zayn, brows furrowing in concern. "Serious?"

"Deadly. He was being weird after you stalked off and he wanted to leave the club a bit after. He wouldn't come home with me for a cuddle or even let me go over to his, which was... strange. We'd been sleeping in each other's beds for the entire week."

"Wow," Louis says, waiting a beat before adding, "And how big's his prick?"

Zayn glares at him. "Louis!"

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I just -- sometimes that helps me put things into perspective."

"Really? His measurements are going to make it easier to understand why he's shutting me out after last night?"

"I'm just saying, Zayn. There's such a thing as prick compatibility, and maybe you lack it."

"God, you're the only prick in this equation that I'm utterly incompatible with."

"Shite luck that, seeing as you've been my best mate for the better part of your life," Louis says sweetly, and Zayn can't even argue his point. "Just call him, Zayn. Tell him we should all hang out together and have a drink. I'll even buy him a Sprite."

"I'm not always the sharpest when it comes to these things, but I really don't think seeing more of you is the solution."

"Well," Louis says. "Let's just try. I won't bite him and I certainly won't attempt to measure his cock."

"I'll speak to him," Zayn says, and Louis tilts his head onto his shoulder in response. "You've got to be nicer, Lou. Just. I love you, and I love the way you are, even when you're being impossible -- but. This one matters to me and I don't want to fuck it up. Not yet, anyway."

"Then we won't," Louis says decidedly, and he takes Zayn's quiet exhale as agreement.

***

They've been 'getting ready' for dinner with Liam for about an hour now, and yet somehow, Louis is still in nothing but his bright red pants that cling to his arse, prancing around Zayn and Niall's flat unabashedly.

"Louis!" Zayn groans from the bathroom where he can probably hear Louis belting out a Madonna tune into the full-length mirror of Zayn's bedroom in perfect pitch. "Do you even have a shirt on? Lou. Just put on a fucking shirt and any pair of trousers. It's not even a date for you."

Zayn's been ready for a while now. He's in a pair of black trousers, a white undershirt and an ironed plaid button-up that's left undone. The sleeves are rolled up to give him more of a casual look, and he has two necklaces dangling over the collar of his shirt, chest tattoos peeking out from beneath. His hair is standing high with gel and his lashes look like they've been coated with three layers of mascara.

"I know that," Louis says bitingly, hip cocked in front of the mirror, mostly nude and fixing his hair. "But you never know with these things. I could meet the shag of my life and look like too much of a mess to pull him. I can't chance it."

Zayn rolls his eyes. "You meet the shag of your life twice a week."

"Yes, but. That's proof that there's always room for something better. Life surprises you."

Zayn comes out of the bathroom and Louis catches sight of him in the mirror raiding his closet, producing a pair of clean sneakers. He slips into them and stands up straight, looking at his reflection next to Louis' from afar. "What do you think?"

"You're fit," Louis says. "You could go wearing sweatpants and Uggs and he'd still want to shag you."

"Not too late, could change into my yoga kit," Zayn quips, distracted as he looks down at his mobile, tapping away with his thumbs.

"Babe," Louis says thoughtfully, going through the few changes of clothes that he brought over with him. "Purple trousers and white t-shirt with braces or -- white trousers and baby blue shirt?"

Zayn doesn't look up from his phone. "Purple trousers and white shirt, no braces."

Louis gasps and twists himself to gape at Zayn, his suggestion sounding blasphemous to Louis' ears. "That's like saying you want a cheeseburger without the cheese. Or a cherry cola without the cherry."

"Why do you ask my advice when you've made up your mind?"

"Have not," Louis says defensively, throwing the braces aside before putting his kit on without them. "See? I can be cooperative."

"Niall, he's got his clothes on!" Zayn calls out, and Niall comes padding in, dressed in khakis and a graphic tank, blonde wisps of his hair coming through his snapback.

"Oof, Louis -- record time. Only took you what, an hour?"

"Don't get too excited, I've got to fix my hair still."

"It looks fine," they both say in unison, seemingly exasperated as they watch Louis saunter off into the loo.

"I'll only be a minute," Louis calls back, and he can hear Zayn plan to go for a cigarette and Niall decide on a wank, knowing that a minute really means fifteen.

Miraculously, after Louis decides to change his shoes twice -- one time doubling back to the flat after they'd left because he decided the light in the elevator gave him a different perspective on his espadrilles -- and they drive to pick up Niall's girlfriend Jamie on the way, they only make it to the restaurant twenty minutes late.

Liam is sat by himself at a large table for six, scrolling through his mobile phone, and Zayn furrows his brows apologetically as he leads the way to him.

"I'm so sorry, babe," Zayn says, leaning down to press a chaste kiss to Liam's lips before settling into the seat next to him. "Louis decided to have a bit of a fashion show before we came here."

"Three outfits hardly classifies as a fashion show. I'd need at least five different looks for that," Louis says, settling down across from them, and Zayn rolls his eyes, opting to ignore him as he glances over at Liam.

Zayn furrows his brows. "Where's--?"

"Just in the bathroom, he'll be back any minute," Liam responds. "I've ordered a few starters for us, hope no one minds."

"I'll get a few more just in case," Niall says readily, having already scanned the entire menu in the time it took Jamie to slip her coat off, his arm up in the air in an attempt to flag down a waiter.

"No need, really--" Liam tries to interject. "I ordered three different kinds."

"Aw, that's sweet, mate," Niall says with a smile, as if Liam was a naive but pleasant child who will one day learn that three starters is only enough for one person.

When Liam's friend comes back from the bathroom, he has his head ducked down and he's ruffling his curly head of hair, pulling it to one side, and Louis' heart jumps into his throat. Those curls are utterly unmistakable, but Louis' first though is that they absolutely cannot belong to Harry. Harry cannot be Liam's friend.

Shit. Shit, shit, fuck, shit.

Louis picks up his menu quickly and distracts himself with it, as if he'd be able to make Harry disappear through the sheer force of will and desperation.

No such luck, apparently, because everyone stops doing what they're doing and the table settles into an eerie silence, meaning Louis is forced to glance up from his menu to assess the situation.

Harry is still standing, looking straight at Louis with intently furrowed brows and tightly pursed lips. There's four sets of eyes that are traveling back and forth between the two of them, mystified by the tension that you could now effectively cut with a knife.

"Haz," Liam says, and his voice is quiet, barely audible. "Is -- is everything alright?"

"Yeah," Harry says, breaking his stare to look over at his friend, squeezing his shoulder. "Yeah, good."

Except it's not good. Nothing is good, because Liam is sitting next to Zayn and Niall next to Jamie and the only empty seat is right beside Louis', of course it is. Harry shuffles over and sits down without looking over at Louis, grabbing a napkin and unfolding it over his lap.

Louis wants to be annoyed with Harry for being so unbearably posh when Louis knows what Harry's capable of behind closed doors, but he thinks it would be an unfounded outburst of emotion and that his annoyance is misguided. Mostly, he thinks, he wants to poke himself in the eye for choosing the one bloke that would get him into this situation.

"Harry," Liam says, and Harry glances up with a nod, as though he was dazed. "You've met Zayn and Niall, but I don't think you've met--"

"Jamie," Niall offers, nodding towards his girlfriend, and then Louis bites his tongue and holds his breath.

"And this is Louis, Zayn's mate," Liam says all too gracefully, making Louis force a smile.

"Zayn's mate is fairly low on my list of preferred descriptors, but it'll have to do," he says, going for light and joking.

"I'm sure there's a lot more that could be said about you," Harry says cryptically to anyone who isn't Louis. Louis can feel the bite behind the words and his smile grows sweeter and faker in response, disguising his desire to land a closed fist between Harry's legs just to watch Harry double over himself and face plant into his cutlery.

Alas, Louis is civilized and composed, so he runs his fingers through his fringe and looks up at the rest of the table, eyes shining brilliantly. "Ready to order, are we?"

Dinner goes on mostly without incident, Zayn and Harry finding some common ground around football to engage in, Niall and Liam debating the merits of feeding dogs human food versus pebbles which Niall somehow knows are 'absolutely disgusting, just rank'. Louis and Jamie both force conversation, switching from topic to topic to avoid any awkward silences, each of them hurrying to fill in the blanks.

"Li," Harry says as soon as their emptied plates are pulled away, and Louis' heart inexplicably speeds up at the sound of the one syllable, as if Harry was going to tell Liam in front of everyone that Louis had abandoned him after a one night stand. "I've got to run. I'm sorry. I've just been feeling a bit poorly."

"Oh." Liam's face crumples, as if Harry had said that he was terminally ill, and Louis wonders if it gets tiring being so empathetic all the time. "Do you need me to bring something home? Panadol or something?"

Great, Louis thinks. Not only are they mates, but they live together. This is going to end so well for Louis.

"Not at all," Harry says with a dismissive shake of his head. "I just need a good night's sleep, I think."

"All right, well. I won't stay out long," Liam says, but Zayn shoots him a brief wounded look at that, and Liam catches it before Zayn fixes his features back into a casual neutrality. "I mean..."

"Li, please," Harry interjects. "Don't worry about it. Have a good time. I'll be fine, I'm going to go back to the flat and have a cuppa and watch some shit telly. Maybe I'll call Aiden over to join."

"Sounds like a bit of mayhem," Louis says before he can stop himself, and then his throat constricts to hold him back from voicing any other ridiculous sentences, because god, he must sound like a wanker.

"Not all of us can lead glamourous, sparkling lives," Harry says calmly, pushing up from his seat to grab his coat, slipping it on. "Some of us like to retain a bit of normalcy. Maintain human connections. Just standard things."

Zayn furrows his eyebrows at Louis, clearly trying to piece things together, but Louis knows Zayn well enough to know that he's clueless as ever.

"Good luck with that, mate," Louis says, and it sounds cold even to his own ears. He considers leaving it at that, but his heart thumps against his chest and he decides to soften the blow by meeting Harry's eyes and adding, "Feel better, yeah?"

"Yeah," Harry breathes out, looking a cross between tired and confused. He lingers for a moment as he stuffs his hands into his coat pockets, nodding at the rest of the table.

Louis blinks and then Harry's turning to make his way out, his shoulders hunched as he slips through the restaurant and disappears through the doors.

--

After Harry leaves the dinner table, they're ready to settle the bill, and Louis becomes painfully aware that he's the odd one out.

Louis can tell by the way Zayn goes for his wallet while Liam squeezes Zayn's thigh that Zayn is going to pay for Liam. Niall is already counting notes for him and Jamie and, well, Harry left his share of the bill near his plate with a bit leftover for tip.

They all hesitate for a moment, looking at Louis cautiously as if they're afraid he'll suddenly realize he's the only one who's devastatingly single and he'll fall apart at the seams, but Louis is dropping his credit card on the table before any of them can make the situation more pitiful by speaking.

"As Beyoncé would say," Louis pipes up breezily, lifting his fingers up in the air to grab the attention of the waiter. "All my ladies making money throw your hands up at me."

Zayn rolls his eyes and the rest of them let out small chuckles as they settle their share of the bills with less visible guilt than before.

The wind is crisp when they start the walk to Zayn and Niall's flat. Louis feels as though the rest of the group had surreptitiously met and made a collective decision to take pity on him, because Zayn links his arm with Louis' instead of Liam's and the two of them huddle together for warmth while the others follow behind.

Louis wants to roll his eyes, wants to shove Zayn at Liam and tell them he's not the fifth wheel and refuses to be treated as such, but it actually feels quite nice to have the extra body heat by his side so he saves his protests for later. He thinks briefly that if Harry had been a bit less of a dramatic teenager about the whole thing, feigning illness like they were in some daytime drama, then the group would still be even-numbered and there would be enough of them to share warmth equally.

Zayn nudges Louis, his quiet voice meant only for him. "Thanks for being civil, yeah?"

"My pleasure," Louis says. "I took some tranquilizers beforehand to keep me zen."

Zayn feigns shock. "But Saturday's your standard night to pull! Won't the tranquilizer render Tommo Jr. useless?"

"That's sweet, but you should know by now that nothing can keep the Tommo down when it's his time to rise up and greet the nation."

"That's... a disturbing image," Zayn says and Louis smirks to himself. "But I appreciate you not asking Liam his prick size, so I'll entertain it. Anyway, I wanted to ask -- did you find something weird about Liam's friend tonight?"

Louis' heart speeds up a notch, but he answers with a deliberate ease. "Not really? I guess you could tell he was ill from the start. Pale and a bit strange altogether."

"Yeah," Zayn agrees. "I guess you're right."

Zayn drops the subject and Louis is relieved; he promises whatever deity that's on his side that he will donate some of his tips from later tonight to charity.

Louis's even more relieved that when they reach the flat, they don't waste any precious time before they're breaking out the bottles of rum and vodka. Louis mixes everyone a few drinks before they settle together in front of the telly to watch a round of X Factor.

"Did you know," Louis says grandly from where he's sat on the ground, eyes lighting up as he regards Zayn and Liam who are snuggled together on the couch. "That our Zayner here wanted to audition for the X Factor once upon a time. Even made it as far as the parking lot."

"Did you really?" Liam says as he looks at Zayn. Louis notes that Liam's curiosity is laced with the kind of awe that comes with dating someone new; everything you discover about them is precious and worthy of adoration in a way that makes bile crawl up Louis' throat. He takes a swig of his drink to swallow it down.

"I don't quite think it's story time," Zayn tells Louis pointedly. "I think the potential for story time ended after your second serving of vodka tonic, actually."

"I'm hardly pissed, if that's what you're saying," Louis says, but his cheeks are red and his eyes are shining and he's definitely on his way to being smashed. "Anyways! This was back when we lived in Bradford, just two young lads with a whole world left to discover. Zayn decides he wants to go audition for the X Factor and I, being the fantastic mate that I am, agree to go along for an audition as well. It's worth noting that I sing as well as I cook, which is to say, not very well at all. Like, I can make a pasta dish or a pie, but it's nothing consistent or mind-blowing--"

"Tangent," Niall calls out from where he's seated on the armchair, Jamie somehow squeezed against him in the tight space. "But it's true, your cooking is tragic, mate."

"I was saying," Louis continues sharply, ignoring him. "I drove us up from Bradford for hours and hours just to go to this audition and when we get there, what does Zayn do?"

"Babe..." Liam says to Zayn sweetly and preemptively, as if he's aware of the ego boost Zayn's going to need once the ending to the story proves to be as pathetic as the buildup promises.

Louis continues dramatically. "He disappears to buy a pack of fags and doesn't come back! I'm sat there texting him furiously, telling him we're going to miss our slot to audition, and he doesn't reply. Turns out he went back to the car and sulked for an hour without even a word about it."

Niall snorts, remembering. "He didn't even message you, did he? You just went back to the car and found him sleeping in the backseat."

"That's right!" Louis exclaims, remembering more clearly now; it's been a while since he had someone new to share this story with. He throws a pillow at Zayn, his annoyance from that fateful day returning. "You were such a wanker. To top it off you didn't even have your driver's license and I had to drive us both ways for nothing."

Liam has a hand squeezing the back of Zayn's neck and he presses a kiss to the side of his head. Zayn shrugs and doesn't say anything to defend himself, just meets Louis' eyes sheepishly, like he was still a bit regretful about it.

"There's always next year," Zayn says, and Niall chimes in with "here, here!" while lifting his bottle of beer into the air.

There's a stretch of relative quiet after that as they all watch a small brunette sing her heart out into a microphone on the telly. Louis bites his lip and lets his eyes fall shut, assaulted with a flood of memories. He thinks of the drive back to Bradford after Zayn had sabotaged his chance to audition. It was a quiet drive, more quiet than they'd ever been in the company of each other.

Louis remembers how they ended up parked at the side of an abandoned road within an hour, Louis with his back to the door and his trousers bunched around his knees. Zayn with his head dipping up and down between Louis' legs, the obscene sound of his slick, hot mouth hollowed out around Louis' cock and Louis' shallow breaths filling the air.

At first Louis had thought the impromptu blowjob was just Zayn's way of apologizing for being a twat, but when Zayn had dug his fingernails desperately into Louis' thighs and keened around him sadly, it made Louis realize with a pain in his chest that Zayn wasn't saying sorry. Instead, Zayn was stifling himself, stifling his anger for fucking the audition up, for being self-destructive, for not being able to go after something he so desperately wanted.

It sends a shiver down Louis' spine to remember how he came down Zayn's throat and kissed him fervently through the aftertaste until he'd calmed down, Louis thumbing away the silent tears from the lines of Zayn's jaw.

Louis lets his eyes open now and they fall on Liam and Zayn. They're kissing, not with any fervency or intent or desperation, but slow and gentle, like they're confident that their time together is anything but fleeting.

Louis watches in a daze for just a moment longer before snapping out of it and letting free a shuddery breath. With his palms to the floor, he forces himself to push up to his feet.

"All right, lads," he announces, voice steadier than he thought it could be. "It's time for me to leave you. I've got some dancing shoes and a cage with my name on it for the night."

"I'll walk you out," Zayn says unexpectedly, easing himself from Liam's side. He stretches his arms out after being curled up on the couch for so long. "I need a smoke anyway. I'll be back in a minute, yeah?"

Louis leads the way outside. Zayn rests against the building and Louis settles in next to him, breathing in Zayn's first exhale of smoke, used to it by now.

"You were a bit lost in thought back there," Zayn notes.

"Yeah, well. I was utterly bored with the company so I decided to fantasize about all the beautiful boys I'd be pulling tonight."

Zayn rolls his eyes. "You enjoyed yourself. I could tell. You had a good time even if you won't admit."

"I'm not a complete prick, you know. I do like happiness."

Zayn smirks, ashing his cigarette once before pulling Louis against his side by the shoulders. He kisses Louis' temple. "You deserve happiness."

"Ugh. Don't be sappy. It's weird," Louis grumbles, but he instinctively leans in closer, his voice gone thin and unconvincing.

Zayn takes a long drag from his cigarette, speaking thickly through the smoke. "Be safe tonight, yeah?"

"Got a whole row of condoms in my pocket, don't worry yourself."

"That's not what I meant, Lou."

"I know," Louis says, pulling away from Zayn's grip reluctantly and fixing his hair, exhaling deeply. Zayn takes another pull of his cigarette, watching Louis closely in a way that's unnerving, but Louis just sweeps his fringe to the side and says, "How do I look?"

"Great, babe. Brilliant," Zayn says.

"Figured as much," Louis says with a smirk, and rocks in closer to Zayn's body. He can smell Liam on him, and a bittersweet smile finds his lips as he presses a kiss to Zayn's jawline instead of his mouth. "Have a good night, yeah?"

Zayn nods, saying nothing as Louis takes two steps back and turns to walk away, but Louis feels a pair of eyes boring into him until he rounds the corner and puts his arm out for a taxi.

The rest of the night passes in a haze. Louis changes into a pair of silver shorts in his dressing room and the material presses graceless red indents into his belly where the waistband digs into him. He forgoes the usual spread of glitter for a more subdued look, tracing his eyes with a smoky black liner to make the blue of his irises stand out and hide their red-rimmed exhaustion.

In his cage, Louis closes his eyes and moves his hips to the music but he can't seem to lose himself in the beat. His range of go-to smiles falter and flicker and he forces them to be bigger and brighter, unrelenting.

He makes a good amount of tips and wonders if it's because people on the dance floor are too drunk to notice the difference between good entertainment and the warm, fatigued and half-naked body that is Louis tonight.

Louis doesn't accept the drink that's offered to him by a bald bloke when he comes down from his cage. He changes in the backroom and slips out of the club into the crisp night air, appreciating the way it slaps against his cheeks to wake him up.

When he makes his way back to the warmth of his quiet flat, the sobering efforts of the cold air start to dissipate from his chilled limbs and he becomes bone-weary once again. He slips into a pair of sweatpants and a loose t-shirt that doesn't belong to him and within minutes, he falls asleep on the couch with a cold mug of tea by his side.

***

Louis is avoiding green-eyed, curly-haired, and dimple-cheeked Harry Styles at all costs while wondering why in the world he'd agreed to this.

He figures it's because he still owes Zayn after he: a) convinced Zayn to fuck him in the loo of a club while Zayn was trying to be a faithful something to Liam, and b) was initially a complete prick to Liam and nearly sabotaged their entire relationship for no certifiable reason.

Louis cringes internally at that word relationship. He still thinks Zayn is being a bit naive, jumping into something like that at the reckless age of twenty with a posh and proper boy like Liam, but Louis's trying to remind himself that Zayn is his own person and that Louis has some duties as Zayn's best mate, which currently include being supportive and not sucking his cock.

Ultimately, Louis' not sure why he said yes to coming to a party at Liam's flat where Harry lives, but he's pretty sure he's just trying to prove he can be a decent human being.

(It's worth noting, maybe, that Louis had resisted at first.

"I don't think that's a very good idea," he'd said to Zayn, and Zayn had nodded knowingly.

"Thought as much," Zayn had said, his voice already gone icy, prompting Louis to sigh. Louis hadn't known a polite way to say, I fucked Liam's flatmate and left right after without so much as pretending to be interested in seeing him again.

"Zayn," he'd said instead. "I just think it's okay for you to go and party with him without me, is all."

"He invited you, you wanker. Can't you sacrifice one Friday night? You might even meet someone half-decent."

Louis'd rolled his eyes and agreed in a huff because Zayn was turning into his irrational touchy self, and Louis hadn't had it in him to defuse that kind of expert level of broodiness.)

Somewhere around his fifth drink, though, Louis becomes bored and wonders why Harry is ignoring him. Really, he'd expected Harry to be his regular glare-y teenaged self, shooting Louis cryptic yet utterly angsty looks of longing, but instead, it looks like Harry is successfully enjoying himself.

He seems to know a lot of the people there, mutual friends of him and Liam's, and hops between conversations effortlessly, loved up by the lads and ladies alike.

It all makes Louis want to gag -- Harry's dimpled cheek when he smiles with deliberate charm, the way Harry's green eyes become hazier by the drink, and the way Harry's deep and lazy voice carries across the room every once in awhile, unmistakable and grating.

Possibly, though, what makes Louis want to gag the most is the fact that he may have mixed his liquors a tad too much and should mostly slow down before he's ill. He steps out onto the balcony for some air and hangs over the railing, his red cup of vodka cranberry nestled between his fingers delicately as he scans the scene below, trying to keep the distant figures from blurring into each other.

He smells Zayn before he sees him. The sliding door drags shut behind him and the scent of Zayn's aftershave fills his nostrils. A beat later, they're elbow-to-elbow hanging over the railing, and there's a thick cloud of smoke coming from Zayn's lips and curling around him like a grey cloak.

"Have you come to check up on me?" Louis asks, holding his fingers out for Zayn's cigarette. He doesn't smoke often, but it becomes tempting when he's buzzed, the way Zayn sucks on the filter looking so utterly convincing that Louis feels the need to do the same.

Zayn shrugs, taking another pull before passing the cigarette over. Zayn tilts his head away to blow out the smoke in a steady stream. Louis takes a drag and holds the smoke in, handing it back wordlessly.

"Are you thinking to leave soon?" Zayn asks.

Louis breathes out the smoke. "I've got my eye on one or two lads," he lies. "Might be worth sticking around for."

"Just don't shag them in Liam's room," Zayn says, voice muffled around the butt of his cigarette. "Better yet, take them back to yours. Your bed could use some action."

"Don't be silly, babe, you know my rule. My flat is a 100% shag-free zone."

Zayn scoffs. "I've been in that bed with you for less-than-holy reasons too many times to believe that."

"Yeah, well. Best mate privileges. Consider yourself the chosen one."

"Flattered, really."

Louis smirks, turning around to press his back to the railing, his hands reaching behind him to curl around it on each of his sides. He listens to the sounds of Zayn smoking his cigarette to the filter before rubbing the cherry out against the metal, throwing the butt to the ground below.

They both look over as the sliding door is pulled open, and then there he is, curls and green eyes and constant charm, even when he's not smiling, even when a frown shifts his features out of place.

"Sorry," Harry says. "Didn't think I'd be interrupting. Just needed a breath."

"You haven't interrupted. Was just out here for a smoke," Zayn says, pushing himself off the railing.

Louis pulls his weight off the metal as well, making his way around Harry to go back inside, but Harry's fingers grab at his wrist and tug him back.

"I wanted to talk to you, actually," Harry says, and Louis' heart jumps to his throat but he nods, casual as ever.

Zayn surveys them, eyes traveling back and forth before giving Louis a brief, meaningful look, and Louis knows what he's saying -- he's reminding him that Harry's Liam's best mate, that Harry is off-limits, that Harry is sacred and not to be touched. Louis wants to laugh or possibly cry at the irony of the entire situation.

"I'll see you in a bit, yeah?" Zayn tells Louis, and Louis nods and watches as Zayn disappears inside, the raucous sounds of the party silenced once he pulls the sliding door shut.

Harry sits down on the edge of a plastic chair, and for the first time that night, Louis gets a proper look at him. For some reason, he's overdressed -- a white blouse unbuttoned messily to the middle of his chest and tucked into a pair of black trousers.

Harry looks like maybe he's been to a wedding or maybe he's much older than he says he is, holding down an office job and coming in and out of conference calls throughout the day. Louis smiles to himself at the thought.

"Why are you so dressed up?" he asks, nudging his foot against Harry's to get his attention.

Harry huffs out a humourless laugh, glancing down at his shiny black shoes. "My mum had a cocktail party."

"Cocktail party. That must be nice."

Louis can feel the alcohol coursing through him steadily now, and even through his blurred vision, he can tell with a sharp certainty that Harry looks gorgeous like this, his eyes tired, contradicting the vibrant city lights that wash over his face. His lips are red with wine, and there are subtle spreads of acne spotting his forehead and chin that give away his age.

Louis sits down on the edge of the table that faces Harry's chair, his legs fitting between the gap of Harry's knees. Louis runs his hands up Harry's thighs and Harry meets his eyes.

"You're still angry," Louis notes quietly, looking down at Harry's lips.

"That you shagged me and left without even pretending to be interested...? A bit bothered by it, yeah."

Louis takes his own lip between his teeth, flicking his eyes up to meet Harry's. "You're so young, Harry. Are you used to everyone wanting you all the time?"

Harry shakes his head and looks away, and Louis can tell he hit a nerve by the way Harry's lips become pursed into a tight line and he doesn't respond. Louis watches the side of his face intently. His voice is quiet when he says, "Look at me," and Harry does, turning back to meet Louis' eyes like he has no other choice.

"You'll grow up and realize that 'pretending to be interested' is a waste of your time," Louis says. "And it'll stop hurting so much to leave things behind."

Harry shakes his head, casting his eyes downward. "I liked you," he says, as if it were some grand reveal.

Louis smiles sadly, hearing the sincerity in Harry's voice. "I know you did. I reckon you still do."

Harry lets his eyes fall shut and Louis takes pity on him, leaning in and kissing his head through the curls. "You're pissed and upset. You should probably have a glass of water and shake it off."

"I don't want a bloody glass of water," Harry says. He lifts his eyes and meets Louis', silent for a long time before speaking, his voice unsteady with what seems like a bad combination of booze and vulnerability. "Do you not like me, then? Am I -- am I not your type or something?"

Louis laughs softly. "It's not about that, Harry. I wouldn't have shagged you if I wasn't at least interested."

"Then what?" Harry asks desperately. He slides his hand up the inside of Louis' thigh, inching dangerously close to his crotch. "What is it?"

Louis bites his lip, and apparently Harry takes that as encouragement, because a moment later he's rubbing Louis through his trousers. Harry rests his forehead against Louis' and both their eyes fall shut. Louis can smell the wine on Harry's breath. He lets out a small moan of appreciation at the feel of Harry's hand on him, cock responding to his advances despite himself.

"I don't think that's a good idea," Louis forces himself to say, and to his surprise, Harry actually listens to him, slowing his hand down. He rubs the line of Louis's cock but with less purpose, his palm just a light pressure as it moves up and down.

Louis moves his hands to the sides of Harry's neck and kisses his lips lightly before he scans his eyes. "You didn't tell Liam?"

"No," Harry confirms. "He'd just take it out on Zayn and I don't want to get between them."

"You'll be probably be seeing a lot more of me," Louis says. "Zayn's hellbent on having me befriend Liam and I'm guessing it's a bit of a package deal with you lot."

Harry's hand has stopped rubbing him by now, fingers curled uselessly around Louis' crotch but not moving. "Go out with me, Lou."

Louis laughs humourlessly. "You're pissed, love."

"Go out with me. When I'm sober. When you're sober. What will it hurt?"

"I don't -- I don't do that, I'm sorry."

The sliding door starts to drag open and thankfully, despite how slow his reflexes can be, Harry pulls off of Louis just in time that when Liam slips out onto the balcony, Harry and Louis don't look to be in too much of an incriminating situation.

"Everything all right, lads?" Liam asks.

Louis smiles. "Good, yeah. I was just checking up on young Harold here. He seems to be doing okay. Bit pissed, though."

Liam stands beside Harry's chair and ruffles his hair fondly. "You all right, Haz? Drank too much?"

"I'm fine," Harry says dismissively, pushing up to his feet. "Just had to get a bit of fresh air. I think I'll go to bed, though. Knackered."

"I'll grab you a glass of water," Louis offers, pushing to his feet and pressing a steadying hand to Harry's hip.

"I'm fine, really--" Harry insists, but Liam stops him.

"Don't be daft, water will keep you from waking up a mess," Liam says. "Are you sure you want to grab it, Louis? I could just get it for him myself."

"Nonsense. You're the host of this party, don't worry about it. Go entertain your guests!"

Harry leads the way inside before disappearing into the hallway and presumably to his room, the one he'd fucked Louis in just a few weeks before. Louis swallows hard at the memory. Liam thanks Louis again and Louis snaps out of his thoughts, forcing a smile and assuring him it's no trouble.

Louis fetches a glass of ice water and makes his way into the hallway; he doesn't remember much about it except that he'd been kissing Harry desperately the last time he made his way through here. He finds Liam's room first and then what looks like a spare, and it makes him wonder, briefly, how much the two of them pay to share a spacious flat like this in the good part of town. He steps into the darkness of the room at the end of the hall, immediately recognizing it as Harry's.

Harry is sitting up on the headboard with the blankets up to his waist, his torso bare save for the necklaces dangling down his chest, the pendants catching enough light from his window to sparkle in the dark. His head is tilted back and his gaze is on the ceiling, and Louis can't help but admire the long column of his throat stretched before him.

"Deja vu," Harry says.

Louis laughs under his breath. "I didn't get a good look last time. I'm fairly certain we stumbled right into your bed -- missed the grand tour entirely."

"Not much to see," Harry adds. "Feel free to have a look."

Louis shuts the door behind him and goes over to the bed, setting down the glass of water on Harry's nightstand. He surveys the floor and finds that Harry had discarded everything he was wearing, from his white blouse to his trousers and pants, leaving him naked beneath his blanket.

Louis bites his lip. He crawls into the bed, pulling the covers off Harry's waist, and Harry's eyes move to watch him. Louis holds Harry's gaze as he spits into the palm of his hand, can see the way Harry's eyes go dark at the sight. He reaches between them, curling his fingers around Harry's half-hard cock and strokes him slowly, feeling him grow in his hand with unbelievable ease.

He watches Harry's reactions. Harry's gaze is thick with lust and something else, something indiscernible, and his lips are parted soundlessly. Louis eases himself down, lets his eyes fall shut, taking Harry into his mouth. He moans appreciatively at the salty taste of Harry's precome mixed in with his own spit, his tongue flattening against the underside.

He hallows his cheeks and sucks in earnest as he lowers his lips carefully to take more of him in. He feels Harry's fingers curl in his hair, Harry's back bowing in pleasure. He can feel the length of Harry's cock force itself further down his throat when Harry's hips twitch off the bed, and it chokes him for just a moment.

He pulls off with an obscene noise, replacing his lips with his hand, jerking Harry firmly as he presses a kiss to his slit. The room fills with the wet sound of Louis' hand moving on Harry's cock, Harry's choked noises that he tries to hold back, Louis' warm, shallow breaths as his own cock stiffens in interest within the restraints of his trousers.

He takes Harry back into his throat, fondling his balls in his sweat-slick palm until Harry's at the edge of orgasm, Louis moaning around him as though it was his own release that was nearing.

Harry pulls at Louis' shoulders in warning, whining his name repeatedly, but Louis only moans around him in encouragement. Harry keens desperately and arches his hips off the bed, coming deeply into Louis' throat as his knuckles go white around his shoulders. Louis swallows around him thoroughly and pulls off inch by inch. He lifts his hand to Harry's cock, milking him through it gently, then presses a soft kiss to the underside and breaks away.

"That should help put you to sleep," Louis says, leaning over Harry's body to press a kiss to his lips.

"Do you want me to--?" Harry asks, fingers curling into Louis' waistband.

"That's all right, love. I'll live."

Harry looks into his eyes for a moment before nudging his nose against his, his eyes falling shut. "Is this when you leave again?"

"Afraid so," Louis says quietly, surveying Harry's face, but he doesn't move off him. "Why did you want me to go out with you?"

Harry shrugs. His eyes remain shut as he tilts his head back against the headboard, Louis watching the pink of his cheeks closely. "Do I need a reason? Just liked you."

"Well, there must have been something that made you like me." Louis noses at his jawline, kissing his throat. "There must have been something that had you upset when I'd left."

"You just seemed... alive," Harry says sheepishly, as though he knows just how ridiculous his admission sounds. He opens his eyes and meets Louis', smiling small now, and it must be contagious because Louis mirrors it without thought. "Your eyes lit up when you spoke and you were carefree and reckless in a way that I didn't even have to know you to figure out. I could just feel it, like a vibe. You were literally sparkling, for God's sake."

Louis smirks in amusement, pecking Harry's lips. He sits back on his legs and picks up Harry's phone from his nightstand, sliding his thumb across the bottom to unlock it. "What's your password?"

"3992," Harry supplies, watching him curiously. Louis puts in his number and saves it, setting the phone aside.

"You said you wanted to see me dance," Louis says simply. "Message me tomorrow if you still want to and I'll tell you where I am."

Louis' own phone buzzes and he stands on his knees so he can pull it out of his back pocket. He bites his lip as he responds to a message. "I'd better go before Zayn finds out I've been sucking your cock. He'll have me murdered."

Harry smirks lazily. "Will you promise to reply to my message tomorrow?"

"I said I would," Louis says. "But don't get too excited. It's just to see me dance."

"Sure," Harry says and he sounds utterly disbelieving, his tone hopeful enough that Louis wonders if he'd made a huge mistake, but before he can reiterate the fact that it's not a date, Harry is sitting up with handfuls of Louis' hips, kissing him open-mouthed and full of heat and Louis loses himself in it until his phone buzzes again and he has to break away with a moan.

"Night, love," Louis murmurs into Harry's lips, and it's too much like the last time they'd parted, but when Louis shuts the door behind him this time, he knows from the pounding of his heart that he's going to see Harry again.

--

The next night, Louis is flustered and nearly late for his shift at the club.

He has a loose-lidded thermos of coffee in one hand, his keys, wallet and iPhone charger stuffed into the other, and a bag full of clothes weighing him down. He tries to push past his stubborn dressing room door and he feels about ten degrees too warm beneath his stupidly woolly jumper and he's just about to break down melodramatically on the floor to cry, because today is decidedly not his favourite.

The thing is, he'd had an inexplicably lousy night of sleep followed by a lethargic day spent grumbling face-first into the couch, and the resulting exhaustion has thrown him off in everything he's tried to do since waking up:

He spilt hot tea on himself in the morning,
put sugar in his chicken stir-fry instead of salt,
had a useless argument over the phone with Zayn,
accidentally gave the cabbie far more than the fare he owed on the way here,
and now he can't even get through this damn dressing room door without feeling like he's waging war against the flimsy weight of it.

He nearly topples over and winds up wearing his coffee when he finally shoulders his way into the room with a whoosh, but he quickly balances himself as he walks over to the dresser and sets his things down, his phone buzzing loudly.

He groans when he sees an incoming message from Harry who's apparently already outside the club -- he'd somehow forgotten that he'd invited a child to come watch him dance. Of course he did.

He taps out quick instructions for Harry to get to his dressing room and sets his phone aside, starting to strip off to get ready for the night. He's right in the middle of pulling his pants down his thighs when the door swings open and he wants to roll his eyes at Harry's impeccable timing.

"Didn't mean to just barge in," Harry spits out apologetically. He looks a mix between bashful and wild when their eyes meet, his cheeks tinged pink and smelling like cold air.

Louis laughs to himself, pulling on a tight pair of snakeskin shorts. "You didn't exactly knock," he points out. "Hoping for an eyeful of arse, were you?"

Harry smiles, shaking out his hair and pulling his fringe to the side as he looks up, meeting Louis' eyes. "Can't say it's anything to complain about."

There's something unnervingly disarming about Harry's gaze so Louis looks away from it, grabbing lotion off the counter and smearing it on his arms and torso. "Want to help me with the glitter, then? Since you're such a big fan of sparkle."

Harry walks over and pulls off his jacket, setting it aside. Louis hands him the jar of glitter, spreading his arms out by his sides readily. "Go on, love. Make me gorgeous."

Harry smiles. "Won't be too hard, to be honest."

It's Louis' turn to go pink in the cheeks, but he rolls his eyes to downplay Harry's embarrassing effect on him. It's maddening to him that a child could get him to blush. Was this some sort of quarter life crisis? If it was, he refused to succumb to Harry's charm without a fight.

He watches as Harry carefully sprinkles his arms with glitter, as though if he did it too hard, the soft silver flakes would break Louis. He wants to remind Harry that he's been much, much rougher with him in the past, but he bites his tongue. Once he's done sprinkling, Harry smooths his hand over the glitter and spreads it over Louis's arms like butter, a fond smile playing on his lips the entire time.

"This is great, you know," he says.

Louis watches the side of his face curiously. "What's that?"

"This," Harry reiterates unhelpfully, but a moment later he twists his body to give Louis' dressing room a once over. "You really are a rockstar. I feel like I'm with someone famous."

Louis scoffs. "Are you taking the piss? I've seen rubbish bins more luxurious than this room."

"Dressing rooms aren't meant to be luxurious! They're meant to be gritty. I've been in a band before and I'm fairly certain one of our dressing rooms was an actual literal rubbish bin. Gives you street cred and that."

"Says the poshest boy I've met in a while," Louis comments. Harry turns back to him with an unfazed smile and Louis can't help but glance at his lips. "You sing, then, do you?"

"A bit, yeah. I'm in lessons now to get my voice better."

"Should've known," Louis laments, meeting Harry's gaze with a mischievous glint in his own.

"And why's that?"

Louis raises his brows. "I seem to remember that you've got great control of your throat. Must be all those vocal exercises..."

Harry laughs, cheeks rosy once again. He takes a few steps forward to close the distance between them, pressing his body against Louis' and curling his fingers in his hips, pulling him in. "You're filthy."

"Lies. I'm utterly pure, young Harold."

Harry smiles and ducks in, closing his lips around Louis' in a warm kiss. "A right angel, you are..."

"I've got the wings to prove it," Louis murmurs, pecking Harry once more before he slides away, digging through one of the dresser drawers and pulling out a set of white wings, holding them up proudly.

Harry barks out a laugh, grabbing them from Louis to inspect the feathers. "You weren't joking."

"Nope. Zayn sewed them for me last Halloween, the artist he is. They nearly got ruined that fateful night--" Harry starts to slip the wings gingerly onto Louis, securing them over his shoulders and adjusting the straps. "--I was with a bloke dressed as a zombie who was dead set on finishing himself off on them. He said he'd always wanted to come on an angel, which mostly killed the mood? Anyhow, I had to get them dry cleaned."

Harry wraps his arms around Louis from behind and nestles his chin over his shoulder with a grin, the two of them facing the mirror, watching their reflections. "Charming. Will you wear them while you dance tonight?"

"Absolutely not. They hardly match my kit. Snakeskin and feathers aren't exactly biscuits and jam, Harold."

"For me?" Harry cajoles in a low voice, dropping a kiss to his neck. He he has this dopey smile on his face that manages to put Louis at ease and cloud his judgement spectacularly until Louis's rolling his eyes in a huff and saying, "Fine, you petulant child. Now shove off, I've got work to do."

---

Harry's presence in his dressing room had temporarily distracted Louis from his earlier bout of exhaustion, but as soon as Louis sets foot in his cage above the dance floor, the weariness from earlier is back in his bones, making him ache before he even starts to dance. He shakes his arms out and takes a deep breath, releasing it slowly.

Someone catcalls and a brilliantly forced smile finds Louis' lips as he winks in the direction of the noise. He holds the bars on each of his sides and starts to move, twisting his hips to the beat. He sees a few erratic flashes from mobile phones below, people eager to take his picture.

It's not long before his eyes find Harry's, locking in on him. Louis can tell, even through the sweat-thickened air that's hazy with manufactured fog, that Harry is in a state of awe. Louis has seen that look from many a boy before. They would shag him in a frenzy after his shift was over, driven to careless lust by the way Louis' hips had gyrated in his cage.

It's not that Louis's up himself or as if he thinks himself completely irresistible, it's just that he's lived through this scenario enough times to know how it goes. Boy meets boy. Boy watches him dance. Boy is reduced to an animalistic desire to fuck him silly.

The club gets hotter and the night darker and the bodies multiply around them, radiating moist heat until it becomes difficult to take a breath without choking on it. When Louis starts to become flushed and damp with sweat, he lets his eyes close against the world.

The glitter on his body catches the red and blue and green lights of the club and his skin glimmers with their vibrancy, reflecting rainbows back into the crowd, almost like he was some form of human disco ball. A shiver goes down his spine at the thought of being a mere object there to serve others, but he brushes it off, remembering with a sharp clarity that dancing like this has always been about his own satisfaction and never the pleasure of others.

Louis doesn't talk much about dancing -- doesn't tell people about the formal training he had as a child, from ballet to classic to tap. He doesn't talk about the fact that his family couldn't afford to send him off to proper classes, so one of the neighbourhood mums gave him private lessons as a favour. He doesn't really discuss any of it, but sometimes after Zayn packs them a bowl and they cough through the smell of weed, Louis lets his tongue loose.

Red-eyed and light-headed, Louis talks about being in his cage and spinning on his tiptoes and feeling physically possessed with music. He talks about sometimes feeling like there were two versions of him: one standing on the dance floor between the crush of bodies and one moving in the cage above him -- the one on the floor watches the one in the cage as he swings his limbs, moving gloriously to the beat.

Zayn should make fun of him for his supposed out of body experiences -- Louis would definitely make fun of himself -- but Zayn is a better person than he is so he just kisses Louis' temple and says, "Sounds brilliant, Lou," as though there was a good chance that Louis wasn't absolutely bloody mad.

When Louis' eyes reopen, the strobe lights assault him all at once and Harry is still watching him, a smile playing on his crooked lips. It might be the sweat pooling between his own lashes, but Louis could swear that Harry's eyes were glimmering in the distance, as though they were made of diamonds -- of emeralds.

Louis huffs out a laugh at the ludicrous thought and Harry seems to catch it because he mirrors it with a laugh of his own. It comforts Louis a little, to think that Harry might be just as overwhelmed by the electricity in the air as he is, that the two of them can snap each other out of it just the same.

Time passes in a strange, distorted kind of way, speeding up and slowing down impossibly until Louis' shift ends and he's climbing down from his cage, taking a breath once his feet hit solid ground. He feels disoriented and on fire, his heart racing, fingers tingling. It's not an unfamiliar sensation, but it's an infrequent one -- one he'd almost forgotten.

Within a beat, Harry's crashing into Louis' chest, taking his cheeks between his palms and kissing him with intent, prompting a small sound of surprise from Louis. Louis curls both his hands around Harry's wrists and pushes up onto his tiptoes, starting to kiss back. Harry keeps hold of his face and the kiss deepens on both ends, their lips all but battling for dominance, bruising in the midst of it.

When they break, Louis lowers himself back to the ground, watching Harry's lips breathlessly. "I'm guessing you liked what you saw."

"You're brilliant," Harry tells him quietly. "Genuinely honoured to be kissing you."

"You talk so much shit," Louis tells him with a soft groan, shaking his head.

Harry quirks a smile. "I don't talk any shit. You're just terrible at taking a compliment."

"I'd rather be showered with alcohol than flattery, to be perfectly honest."

Harry rolls his eyes but lets go of Louis' face, taking his hands in his instead, squeezing them as he pecks Louis' lips. "Have a drink or ten with me."

"Just a couple," Louis says, and Harry kisses him with an appeased nod before leading him to the bar by the hand.

--

The problem with claiming they were just going to have a couple of drinks is that it's a complete and utter load of shit.

By the time they're in the back of a cab at the end of the night, Harry's cheeks have gone as red as the wine he'd devoured and Louis can barely keep his eyes open, body tucked beneath Harry's arm and huddled against him for warmth.

Louis' throat feels raw from talking. In a corner booth of the club, he'd slammed a succession of shot glasses down on the table and told Harry about his family. He'd told Harry about his sisters and his twice divorced mother who's always been his only hero.

He'd told Harry about his aborted English Lit. degree and his current dream job at the bookstore where he can flick through dusty books all day and ignore customers while his boss, Nick, yelled at him from the back. He'd told him all about Nick, about how he can be insufferable at times but is great for banter and a good heart-to-heart when you need it.

He'd told him about the two versions of himself, the one on the dance floor and the one in a cage, the two of them coexisting strangely in this exact club every once in a while.

Harry had taken it all in with big doe eyes, pulling the information out of Louis with simple, earnest curiosity and a series of questions that Louis hadn't been asked in a while.

In return, Harry'd told him about his only sister and his beautiful mother and his nice enough stepfather in Cheshire. He'd told him about being in his third year of sociology and wanting to work in Pro Bono law sometime down the road. He'd told him about the types of girls and boys he usually likes to kiss and the way that liars turn him off more than anything else.

Harry had nudged his nose against Louis and pressed their mouths together and had told him he was having a great time, they should definitely do this again.

They're contently quiet in the back of the car now, listening to the distant sirens of a police van racing down the streets of London in search for one thing or the other. Harry sings below his breath, "Let's follow the cops back home, let's follow the cops back home, let's follow the cops back home and rob their houses..."

The first address they'd given the taxi was Louis', and when they arrive, Harry presses a kiss to Louis' hair and stops him from going for his wallet. "I've got it, babe."

Louis meets his eyes through thick lashes, searching them for something. "Why?"

"I just have," Harry says, pecking Louis' nose.

Louis lets his eyes fall shut, vaguely hearing their driver let out an agitated sigh, his hazard signal ticking loudly as he waits for Louis to get out.

"Come up with me," Louis mumbles, and he's just drunk enough that the words don't terrify him into taking them back. "It's late and it'll be a long drive to yours yet."

"All right, lads?" the driver calls back through the glass divider, audibly impatient.

"Yeah, sorry," Harry says, disentangling himself from Louis to pay the fare.

Louis slips out first and wraps his arms around himself sleepily against the night air, waiting for Harry. Harry follows close behind with Louis' clothes bag swung over his shoulder and Louis leads the way inside and upstairs to his flat.

Louis waits only long enough for them to push off their shoes and set their things down in the entryway before he takes Harry's hand and leads him to the bedroom. When he lets go of Harry, Louis strips off his kit drunkenly, letting out a sigh of relief once he's completely naked, crawling underneath the covers. Harry grins as he watches him, his smile lop-sided and eyes dazed, then starts to undress as well.

"Your job is to keep me warm at all times," Louis grumbles decidedly, his voice raspy with exhaustion, eyes already shut.

"Shouldn't be too hard," Harry tells him, crawling beneath the covers. He wraps an arm around Louis from behind, his hand splaying out over Louis' bare chest as he drops a kiss to his shoulder.

Louis winces and squirms away half-heartedly, reaching behind him to push Harry off by the hip. "Your hand is cold as ice, you absolute arse."

Harry laughs but pulls Louis back against him firmly, fitting them together and kissing his neck. "Don't be a prat. It's because I had to give a particular someone my gloves. You'll warm up in a minute."

"You're a nuisance," Louis mumbles, but he doesn't pull away. He's fairly certain he'll never admit how quickly he falls asleep to the beat of Harry's heart thrumming against his spine, Harry's cold fingertips going warm against his skin.

--

It takes Louis a good three minutes to realize the pesky knocking at his door isn't a part of his ridiculously intricate dream about dinosaurs returning to Earth but being much smaller than he'd expected. He misses his pet T-Rex soon as the noise wakes him from slumber.

It's nearly two in the afternoon and the incessant banging won't bloody stop, no matter how much Louis stubbornly wills it to. A moment of hopeful silence... and then it's there again, louder and harder.

Louis moans and drags himself out of bed begrudgingly. He groans once he stands and his feet hit the cold tile, then again when he hears ruffling from behind him and turns around cautiously to find Harry splayed out on his sheets, dead asleep.

"Why, Lou? Why do you do this?" he whispers to himself.

His room doesn't even smell like sex and there's a warm, preposterously inviting body in his bed. What was his world coming to? He takes a deep breath and turns away from the lanky eighteen year old with a mess of sheets slung obscenely low on his hips. He'll worry about it later.

Louis pulls on his pants blearily, shuffling to the front door, and when he cracks it open, he comes face-to-face with a very annoyed looking Zayn. Louis wants to be more concerned, he really, really does, but instead of that he rubs the sleep from his eyes and lets out an involuntary yawn.

Zayn doesn't seem impressed, if his sharp tone is any indication. "So you're alive, then? Jesus fucking Christ, Lou. I could punch your teeth in right now."

"Morning to you, too, sunshine," Louis grumbles dryly, leaving the door open and making his way into the kitchen.

He's guessing there's no hope of him trying to get back to sleep when Zayn is In a Mood, so he may as well go for a cuppa. He starts the kettle and hears Zayn click the front door shut, kick off his shoes and follow behind him.

"Ever heard of a mobile phone?" Zayn asks. "It's great -- people call you on it to check up on you and you bloody answer them so they don't have to worry you're passed out in a ditch somewhere."

"Is that what it's for?" Louis quips half-heartedly, pulling two mugs down from the cupboard. "Huh. Always thought it was more to send dirty photos when you've had a drink too many."

Louis knows he's being unfair. Him and Zayn have an unspoken agreement that Louis texts him when he's finished dancing on Saturdays to let him know he's okay -- he's in an apartment on Baker St. because he'd pulled a fit lad in white trainers who looked a bit like Bon Jovi and Channing Tatum's bastard lovechild or he's at home alone and very moodily going to bed.

The club isn't in the safest neighbourhood and there was a scare in the area when a lost person poster had gone up last month, but Louis has to remind Zayn that it's London -- nowhere he goes is going to be a playpen and there's always a chance that something completely shit could happen to him.

"I called all morning," Zayn goes on. "No answer and then it went straight to voice mail. Are you still cross with me from yesterday or something? You could've at least answered and told me to fuck myself."

"I don't even remember what we'd fought about." He's not lying. He thinks it may have had something to do with Louis comparing Liam to the Virgin Mary, but he can't quite remember. "I was just asleep, is all. My phone must've died in the night. Nothing dramatic, I'm afraid."

Louis picks up the two mugs of tea and walks over to Zayn, pressing one against his chest. The look in Zayn's eyes is one he'd expect to see from a puppy whose owner got hurt in front of him.

Louis sighs, his voice becoming gentler. "I'm fine, Zayn. No one's kidnapped me and I woke up in my own bed like a champ. The horny, insufferable club patrons didn't win this time."

Zayn drops his forehead to Louis', eyes falling shut. "I'm gonna have a smoke," he tells him quietly and Louis rolls his eyes.

"Don't," he mumbles, pecking Zayn's lips. "The smell will stick to everything I own."

"Febreze," Zayn says simply, accepting the mug of tea and wrapping his arms around Louis' shoulders, holding him close.

Louis nuzzles Zayn's neck, eyes falling shut. "You're a pain."

"A pain who's willing to love you, so you'll have to live with it."

A cough from the doorway forces them to break apart and look up, and of course, there's Harry with his sleep-mussed hair and pants hanging even lower on his hips than the sheets had been minutes ago. He's scratching at the back of his neck and looking incredibly confused and concentrated as he studies Louis and Zayn, endearing red indents pressed into his cheek where it had hit the pillow.

Louis doesn't know who of Zayn or Harry he's going to need to explain this situation to more direly, so he just walks back to the kettle as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. He pulls down another mug and chirps, "Morning, Harry. Fancy a cuppa?"

"Yeah, sure," Harry says, but Louis can tell it's aloof and distracted. "Sorry. I didn't realize you were over."

"Didn't exactly think you'd be here, either," Zayn says, and Louis wonders how much magic he'd require to abracadabra the floor open so he can fall right through.

"Great coincidence for everyone, it's true," Louis says, walking back and handing Harry his mug. "You wanna grab a shower?"

Harry nods slowly. "Yeah, all right."

"Great," Louis says, setting his own tea aside and walking to the doorway. "I'll set you up with a towel and toothbrush and all that. Come with me."

Harry furrows his brows deeper and stares at Zayn for just a moment longer before following behind Louis into the bathroom. He's uncharacteristically quiet, even for someone who rarely strings more than a handful of sentences together at once.

Louis sets a clean towel and toiletries down on the closed toilet lid. "If the shower head whistles, just pull at that little thing on the faucet and it should quiet down."

"Am I missing something?" Harry asks, meeting Louis' eyes, and Louis can hear the unspoken question about Zayn and Louis' relationship tucked right in there.

Louis glances over at the pile of things he'd left out for Harry and then meets his eyes again, deciding to take the cowardly way out by playing stupid. "I don't think you're missing anything. I could get you a clean pair of pants, if you'd like."

Harry nods small, looking a bit wounded at Louis' unwillingness to acknowledge his question. "That'd be good, yeah. Thanks."

"No worries. I'll set them down in front of the door for you."

Louis walks out and does as he promised before padding back into the kitchen, finding Zayn smoking a cigarette by the windowsill. Zayn's tea is steaming beside him and a soft, cool breeze is coming through the small crack in the window. A spread of goose pimples finds its way over Louis' arms, but he's not sure if it's the cold or Zayn's curious gaze that does it.

They're both silent for a while before Zayn finally speaks up, voice even. "I love you, Lou, but no. You've got to end whatever you've started with him and I hope to God you've not fucked him up already."

Louis swallows hard, taken aback by the severity of the sentiment. He feels Zayn's words like a bucket of ice water dumped over his head, sobering him up in an unexpectedly ugly way.

"Right," he says eventually and clears his throat, nodding. He holds himself together. "Right, of course."

"You knew he was off-limits, Lou. The one bloke I told you to stay away from. God. If Liam knew?"

"He won't know," Louis says. "Just forget what you saw. I wasn't planning to have anything with him anyway."

"Of course you weren't, Lou. That's the problem. You shag them, break them and then leave them to pick up the pieces. Except Liam will end up putting him back together and resenting me for it."

"Zayn," Louis interjects firmly. "None of that will happen. Just forget what you saw. Go back to your boyfriend and let me handle this myself, all right?"

Zayn shakes his head and turns to the window, putting his cigarette out on the sill before pushing the butt of it out of a tear in the mesh netting. "Charge your mobile, all right? We'll talk later."

"I will," Louis says, watching as Zayn walks over and puts his tea down in the sink, walking past Louis wordlessly.

Louis bites his lip and stands there, listening to the sounds of Zayn tying his shoes and slipping out the flat without so much of a goodbye. Louis takes a deep breath and does the few dishes left in the sink before heading into his living room.

He curls up on the couch with his tea and a blanket thrown over his folded body, feeling warm and sleepy in the yellow light that pours in from between his curtains. He watches the telly on low volume, the shower still running in his washroom for another good while before Harry dresses and comes to join Louis, sitting down on the couch next to him.

"This was a mistake," Louis tells him after a moment, eyes trained on the telly. "I shouldn't have let you come up here last night."

Harry doesn't seem to react at all, but Louis can feel his eyes on his face. "You're very intent on shutting me out, aren't you?"

Louis rolls his eyes. "It's not about that, is it?"

"I think it's exactly what it's about, really. I don't know about you, but I had a wonderful time last night. And I really enjoy your company, Lou. I enjoy it a disgusting amount even though I know nearly nothing about you. Except that you very well might be in love with my best mate's boyfriend. And if that's true, just tell me."

Louis takes a breath. "Harry. You don't know what you're talking about."

"Don't I?"

"Zayn and I are friends. Good friends. We've had... things in the past, but he likes Liam. A lot. And that's why you and I fucking around like this is not a brilliant idea."

"I'm not looking to fuck around, Lou," Harry pleads, his exasperation becoming audible. "I've told you. I want to get to know you. I like you. I like your friends. I like your stupidly nice apartment and the fact you've got two entire bookshelves filled with poetry and I like the pictures you've got of your family everywhere and I like the feeling of butterflies in my stomach you give me every time I see you. I don't know if you know how hard it is to meet someone who makes you feel comfortable these days, but you do that for me."

"Harry--"

"I know what you're thinking and it's not shit, Lou. It's not. It's how I feel."

"Okay." Louis nods, quiet. "Okay, well. You should go home, all right? It's been a long few days and I think it's probably best if you go home."

"Right," Harry says, nodding slowly, the wrong kind of smile finding his lips. "Right, Lou."

Louis watches with a pain in his chest as Harry gets up from the couch and walks over to the door. He slips on his shoes and jacket all too gracefully before finally making his way out, slamming the door shut behind him.

Louis goes back to bed.

***

For a week, Louis avoids nearly everyone he knows. He's an uncertain mix of hurt, embarrassed and tired by the events of his weekend and decides to take some time to piece his life back together into something remotely coherent.

He goes into work at the bookstore the next day feeling haggard and Nick starts strong with a kind enough "Morning, darling!" then quickly deteriorates with a comment on how spectacularly shit Louis looks. Louis quips that now he knows what Nick must feel like everyday and he has to block the water bottle that Nick throws his way.

Louis stocks the new arrivals until his headache fades. He drinks two mugs of coffee behind the counter with a worn copy of Siken's Crush opened in front of him, pulling him into another world.

"Oi! I'm not paying you to look pretty," Nick chides as he comes out of the back with two boxes stacked in his arms. "You're not even doing a good job of that. Run a comb through your head, why don't you."

Louis rolls his eyes, flipping the page. "For that, I'm going to stay on break for another two hours."

Nick's voice is distant from between the bookshelves. "I forget why I've not fired you, to be honest."

"Because my arse sells more books than your face could ever?"

"Fair point," is the only reply Louis gets and he smirks small to himself around the rim of his mug.

When he goes home that night, Louis calls his supervisor at the club to tell him he needs the weekend off to see his family. He's due for a visit to Doncaster and the timing is perfect for him to get away. Louis is so eager to escape London that he starts to pack for the trip as early as Tuesday.

On Friday morning, Louis reads Killing Yourself to Live on his way to Doncaster until he falls asleep, lulled by the steady sway of the train on the tracks. When he gets in, his mother has already baked him Shepherd's Pie as a welcome treat. He slides her a wad of money after they eat and she refuses it just like always, but they both know he's going to stuff it into the biscuit barrel for her to find when he leaves.

Stan comes over for a beer and a standard round of football in the backyard and Louis' sisters make him give them matching French braids before they go to bed. Everything is fine for a while, everything is great until his phone buzzes on Sunday evening and Zayn's name flashes on the screen.

All right, Lou? x

Louis considers ignoring it altogether -- it's just three words and he can't be bothered to do whatever this is over text -- but it's all too easy to slide his thumb across the bottom of his phone to unlock it and type back.

Yeah, alls good. In doncaster. Yourself? x

Still in london, im afraid. Li & I are having a get together for his bday tues night come by? xx :)

Louis hesitates.

Dunno, you sure that's a good idea?

'Harry will be there' goes unsaid and his phone buzzes an instant later.

Yeh, bring some wine and well make dinner. 7pm. Miss you love to jo from me xx

--

As expected, Harry looks unnaturally and nauseatingly beautiful at Liam's birthday.

It doesn't take more than a few drinks for Louis to ponder the likelihood that Harry was actually made in a factory. He becomes briefly hopeful at the idea that Harry was mass produced and distributed worldwide. There could be dozens of him that don't come with the drama of being his best friend's boyfriend's best friend.

Harry's clad in a navy blue flannel button up and his black jeans look painted on his endless legs. He's barefoot and there's a glass of wine held delicately between the web of his fingers while he laughs at something someone says. Louis hates how much he wants to go over and snog him in a completely and utterly domestic, albeit slightly possessive and inappropriate, way.

Instead, Louis sits on the couch with Niall looking through pages and pages of Justin Bieber's Twitter feed (Niall's idea), drinking rum with a dash of coke (his idea) until his skin is buzzing with it. He does a good job of ignoring Harry and getting smashed and pretending to be interested every time Niall looks up from his phone and says, "He's cool as fuck, isn't he, Lou?"

Zayn doesn't say much to Louis, the air still tense between them, but once Liam is distracted talking to a few cousins visiting from Manchester, Zayn asks if Louis wants to join him on the balcony for a smoke.

Louis agrees and they lean over the railing and stare down at the street that's far too bright and alive for a night like this. Louis is in the middle of counting taxis when the repeated hiss of Zayn's lighter breaks the silence, the wind fighting against the flame.

"I'm sorry," Zayn says finally, seeming to have successfully lit his cigarette. He watches Louis through a cloud of smoke and Louis furrows his brows inquisitively until Zayn goes on. "What I said the other day about you and Harry. It wasn't fair. He spoke to Liam about you and he really does like you, Lou."

"Oh," Louis says uselessly, because that's not what he was expecting out of this conversation at all, and he hadn't really come prepared to hear that Harry had spoken about him to someone, let alone to Liam.

"It was fucked of me to talk to you that way. It's not right of me to be angry with you for the fact that you and I -- for the fact that it never worked out the way it could've."

Louis swallows hard, wetting his dry throat. "You can still be angry with me. For as long as you like. I did sort of cheat on you."

Zayn shakes his head. "That was ages ago, Lou. We were young and we weren't even really together, were we? We just had too much on our plates and things happened and it's in the past now. You've always been my best friend through it. I love you more than anyone I know. I really hope you get that, yeah?"

"I know," Louis says under his breath, and suddenly he wishes he hadn't had so much to drink, because he's a bit queasy and overwhelmed and imbalanced and he feels like he's either going to cry or be ill. He takes a deep, calming breath and says, "I feel the same."

Zayn nods, taking a pull of his cigarette and exhaling slowly. "I know."

There's a stretch of silence before Zayn glances over at him, scanning the profile of his face. "And what about Harry, then? Do you like him?"

Louis huffs out a humourless laugh. "How truthful am I required to be?"

"You can lie, but I know you well enough to know the difference," Zayn says, still watching him, but this time with the beginnings of a smirk playing on his face.

Louis parts his mouth, watching the street lights bleed together in the distance as he gathers his thoughts, but Zayn's phone startles him out of his own head with a succession of buzzes.

"Fuck, sorry," Zayn says, checking his messages and putting out his cigarette moments later. "They're bringing out the cake. Come on, then. We'll talk after."

Louis nods. He follows Zayn back indoors and the lights go dim around them before he can readjust. Everyone breaks into song as soon as Harry comes in with the cake, candles lit up along with his smile.

Louis hugs himself tightly and stares at Harry through the flickering fire and hazy smoke, forgetting to sing along. He moves his gaze to Liam's hand as it curls into Zayn's fingers. When Liam blows out his candles, he jokes that he'd wished for the cake to have ice cream inside and the resulting laughter brings Louis out of his trance.

He takes a tremulous breath, finally recognizing the pressure that's settling heavy in his chest and thrumming in his fingertips. It squeezes at his lungs until his eyes start to sting and he finds himself turning back to the balcony to slip outside quietly, needing more air than a room full of people could provide.

It's a few minutes before the door opens and Louis turns to say, "I'm fine, Zayn, just give me a second--"

But it's not Zayn. It's Harry, stepping outside gingerly in bare feet, his face twisted in concern. "You looked like you were about to be ill."

"Not a fan of ice cream," Louis quips. "The mention of it brings back traumatic childhood memories of being a clumsy kid who fed his ice lollies to the hot asphalt on a regular basis."

"Louis," Harry says, taking a few steps closer, curling his fingers around his wrists. "You're shaking. Are you cold?"

Louis doesn't realize it until Harry mentions it, and even when he sees his own fingers shivering he doesn't think he's cold at all. He could use a cuppa, maybe -- tea always has a way to calm his nerves when anxiety creeps up on him and if he was somehow actually cold without knowing it, a hot mug of tea would do just the trick. He's going to ask Harry for tea. Tea will help.

"I think I like you," he blurts out instead, and Harry furrows his eyebrows worriedly as if Louis were concussed or bleeding profusely from the head.

"Now I'm really worried about you," Harry says, sounding gratingly earnest even through the pounding of Louis' heart in his ears. "Did you take something? Let me see your eyes."

"Don't be a wanker, Harry." Louis takes a shaky breath. His eyes are wild and red-rimmed with intoxication as they settle on Harry's. "Against... all better judgement, I think -- I think I like you. In a stupid, ludicrous sort of way that gets me shaking on a balcony at a birthday party. I think I may be having a crisis, Harry."

Harry's lips are suddenly twisting upwards into what looks like a fond yet disgustingly smug smile, as if he'd known they were going to get to this conversation sooner rather than later. Louis wants to smack or possibly snog the self-assurance off his face.

There's a playful lilt to Harry's voice when he says, "Are you always this insufferable when you let yourself, like, feel emotions?"

Louis groans, because is that what it is? Is he having a feelings fest over a teenager? Surely that can't be the state of things. Louis makes a mental note to knee Liam in the nads for inadvertently turning his world upside down.

"This doesn't change anything," Louis says belatedly. "I'm still going to not date you."

"Is that right?" Harry asks, eyes sparkling.

"I'm in control of my life," Louis insists weakly, and Harry huffs out an infuriatingly charming chuckle as he steps in closer, fingers curling tighter around Louis' wrists. He holds their hands between their chests as he drops a kiss to Louis' lips.

"I think I'm going to enjoy not dating you," Harry murmurs into it.

"I hate you," Louis mumbles back.

Harry nudges their noses together. "You're glowing."

"I've not got any glitter on."

"Not like that." Harry's face has settled into something soft and open. "You look happy."

Louis rests his forehead against Harry's as his eyes fall shut, sighing against his lips. "I'm well and truly fucked, aren't I?"

Harry laughs under his breath, kissing Louis again and again until Louis takes it as his answer.

--

It's been three weeks of them not dating when Harry stutters and stammers and invites Louis to watch him sing.

Harry, bless his eighteen year old heart, is lying next to Louis in bed when he blushes furiously and ducks his head to avoid Louis' amused gaze and says, "You don't have to, really, it's just a thing."

It's hilarious to Louis, because just minutes ago Harry had fucked him until his cheeks were flushed pink, his hair stuck to his forehead and his skin on fire. Louis had been keening Harry's name like a mantra that was keeping him from bursting out of his skin, squirming beneath him and grabbing desperately onto any part of him that he could reach.

Louis' eyes and the jut of his cheekbones are wet now, because he'd been so over-sensitized he'd cried from the pain and the pleasure of it all, letting out a sob when he'd come. Harry had finished off on Louis' heaving stomach, running his long fingers through the warm mess afterwards so Louis could lick his hand clean, sucking between the webs of his fingers diligently.

"Look at you," Louis teases, eyes lit up with a playful wickedness. "You'll throw me into a wall without batting a lash but it takes you ten minutes to get out that you've got a gig. Why is that? Are you a terrible singer? Tell me honestly, love, I must prepare myself if I've got to lie about how good you are."

Harry rolls his eyes, and Louis is frighteningly endeared by how well Harry has come to know him and how well he takes Louis' constant abuse. "I'm a perfectly fine singer, thanks very much. I'm like John Mayer only good-looking."

Louis squints at him, intrigued. "Really? You think you're better looking than John Mayer?"

"You don't?" Harry squawks indignantly.

"Besides the point, Mr. Humble over here," Louis says dismissively. He picks up Harry's hand from where it's splayed on his chest, entangling their fingers mid-air. "Am I going to have to dress up for this? Am I going to have to like, meet your friends?"

"Gosh, you're so romantic," Harry says. "Please, it's unbearably sweet, you're giving me a toothache just listening to you."

"I'm just saying, Harold. I'm too old for like, gritty rock gigs. And I'm too... not classy for anything jazz related."

"It's pop rock stuff. Me and my mate Aiden. You'll like it. Just come. If you hate it, you can get unbearably drunk until we sound spectacular."

"Will you pay my tab?" Louis teases.

Harry rolls his eyes. "I'll pay your tab, you twat."

"Oi, now, don't be cheeky. No one told you to pursue an emotionally unstable go-go dancer. You did that all on your own."

"What can I say, babe," Harry says with a small smirk. "Sounded like a bit of mayhem."

Louis laughs and Harry dips his head to capture Louis' lips in a kiss, snogging him breathless amidst their chuckles.

--

The whole lot of them come out to cheer Harry on after having pre-drinks at Zayn and Niall's.

The show is two quid on entry and Louis teases that he's indignant he has to pay for it. He makes as if he's going to leave as they approach the venue, but Harry seems to have gathered up some liquid courage already because he tugs Louis against him sharply by the hand, looks him in the eye and says, "I need my boyfriend's support tonight."

Louis didn't realize that's what they were calling it now, but he doesn't have an overwhelming urge to tell Harry to bite his tongue or stick a bar of soap down his throat, so he just curls a hand against the side of Harry's neck, pushes up on his tiptoes and kisses his lips.

"You've got my support, babe," he says, knocking their foreheads together. "You've just also got my undivided sarcasm and quick wit."

Harry smiles dopily at that, and Louis knows for a fact it's because Harry's excited to finally have gotten Louis to admit that they are, in fact, maybe sort of dating.

Inside, Zayn stands with his back to the bar, his arms looped around Liam from behind, the two of them sharing a Sprite. Niall sits on a stool with Jamie perched in his lap, already halfway through his second pint. Louis leans on the counter and nurses a vodka cranberry, watching as Harry and Aiden set up on stage.

The venue is admittedly not as rank as he thought it was going to be. In fact, Louis would feel perfectly hygienic getting on his knees in the toilets after to give Harry a congratulatory blowjob, but he supposes he'll have to wait to see if Harry's any good first.

When Harry takes the mic, he introduces their duo as Harry Styles and Aiden Grimshaw of Omnibus, and Louis makes a mental note to have a talk with Harry about his tragically hipster tendencies. He soon forgets all about their pretentious name, though, because, well, Harry is actually good.

Harry is unbelievably good. Harry is so good that Louis is shocked that Harry hadn't just sung Louis' pants off him when they'd first met rather than try to awkwardly flirt while employing his lone dimple. Singing could've saved them a ton of time during foreplay, Louis supposes, because he already feels arousal stir low in his stomach, mixed in with something else.

Louis feels his chest tighten when he realizes that that something else is pride. He feels a swell of adoration as Harry sings, having a visceral reaction to his low, soothing voice, Harry's eyes closed and lips pressed into the microphone.

"Your boy's good," Zayn says to Louis as Harry thanks the audience and Aiden tunes his guitar between songs. "Really good."

"Yeah. He's all right, isn't he?" Louis says, eyes meeting Harry's briefly while Harry talks nonsense to the crowd, still a bit breathless and sweaty from his last number. He looks perfectly in his element.

Harry introduces the next song as a Beatles cover, dedicating it to all the new lovers in the crowd who had to work hard to win their birds, and Louis very nearly rolls his eyes at how obvious Harry is.

"Imagine I'm in love with you, it's easy 'cause I know," Harry croons, a smile on his face. "I've imagined I'm in love with you many, many, many times before. It's not like me to pretend, but I'll get you in the end. Yes I will, I'll get you in the end, ohhh yeah."

Harry peers over at Louis, his smile growing, nearly splitting his face in half. "I think about you night and day, I need you and it's true. When I think about you, I can say, I'm never, never, never, never blue."

Louis rolls his eyes and looks away, but it's not long before he's watching Harry again, his own smile starting to reach his eyes, cheeks aching from the effort to downplay it.

"So I'm telling you, my friend, that I'll get you, I'll get you in the end, yes I will, I'll get you in the end. There's gonna be a time when I'm gonna change your mind. So you might as well resign yourself to me. Imagine I'm in love with you, it's easy 'cause I know... I've imagined I'm in love with you, many, many, many times before."

Louis sighs dramatically, as though having an eighteen year old boy (with a surprising legion of local fans screaming his name) sing a love song to him was such a burden, but in reality, he can't push away the feeling of warmth buzzing just beneath his skin throughout the entire set.

He waits impatiently for Harry to finish up, and when Harry's done, he comes down from the stage and straight to the bar. Harry's black shirt sticks to him with sweat, his curls smeared over his forehead, cheeks splotchy red and eyes a bright, wet green. He curls his hands around Louis' hips, presses into him and says, "All right?"

Louis wonders if Harry's asking about the quality of the performance or about his little dedication to Louis, but either way Louis grins and says, "Yeah. Yeah, good."

Harry smiles so wide it makes Louis' jaw ache just seeing it, and when Harry presses a giddy kiss to Louis' lips, Louis wraps his arms around Harry's neck and pushes up on his tiptoes, meeting him halfway.