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C'mon Miracle

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Louis visits Liam first with the news. Of course he visits Liam first.

The door to Liam's flat is open when Louis tries it, his hand shaking a little on the doorknob as he figures out exactly what he wants to say. Louis doesn't even knock, just kind of spills into the room with a huff and a smile and a crazy feeling pounding against his ribs.

Liam is sitting cross-legged on his couch, some football highlights playing on the telly. He glances up from his mobile and he's grinning stupidly big, like he was waiting for Louis the whole while. "Sorry, Harry texted," Liam says, a teasing note in his voice. "Sort of spoiled the surprise."

"Dammit," Louis says, running his hands back through his hair and then just has to, pressing his palms against his cheeks. The adrenaline that pumps through Louis is like cheap liquor, getting him drunk and dumb, buzzing with nerves and fidgeting his hands together like a child, can't stop moving, can't stop feeling like he's fourteen and ill-fitting again. "I wanted to tell you myself."

"I told you," Liam says, quietly gloating. Louis kind of wants to punch Liam, or kiss him, or both really, because he's giving Louis that look, that slightly winning smile that seems to say I told you so but I'm too kind to rub it in properly. "I've been telling you for weeks."

Louis takes another deep breath and yeah, okay, so his blood is still running as thin as water, and a crazy little pulse bobs in his throat, and he feels like he's halfway between screaming or passing out, but he's damned if he's going to let Liam continue with that little fucking grin. "I'm going to slap you stupid, I swear."

Liam gets off the couch and walks towards Louis, poised to give him a hug but stopping short. "Did you –" Liam pauses, his eyes narrowing as he stares at Louis' face properly, "– you're all pink – did you stop – did you stop in the middle of kissing Harry just to come and tell me?"

"I – shut up, shut up, I just really wanted to tell you, and –" Louis wants to punch him again, or kiss him, so he just gives Liam a crushing hug instead, digging his face in Liam's shoulder, giving one loud gasp of laughter into the skin between shirt collar and neck. "Yes, okay, you were right. Never mention it again as long as we both live. Are you happy now?"

"I am actually," Liam says, almost flinching a little like he expects a slap for it.

"Go on, then, gloat," Louis says. "Let's have it all out at once."

"Actually, no, no , there's kind of – Harry wanted me to repeat his text to you," Liam says, his cheeks pinking suddenly, "but it is – it's too – you know, it's Harry, and he kind of described a little of what he wants - but, I can't – here, just read it –" Liam's worries his bottom lip between his teeth as Louis takes the phone from him, looking away respectfully as Louis reads through the three page text. It begins with So I just made out with Lou haha I think he's heading over to talk to you now read him this message when you see him and ends with want you to cum in my mouth I wanna taste you on me. Louis just starts laughing, picturing Liam as he scrolls through that message: alone in his sweats and torn up Wanderers t-shirt watching the best of Wayne Rooney, his eyes widening as he gets to the bit about wanting Louis to fuck him up against a wall. Louis reads it over a second time, and just, fuck, this is actually happening in his life, right now, a tightness in his lungs like a choked back laugh. "Well."

"Please delete it when you're done," Liam says, still looking away. "You know, sometimes I think you and Harry do that on purpose. Make me read stuff like that."

Louis laughs, and deletes the texts for Liam before handing back the phone. "Why would you even think that, Liam, honestly." They stand apart for a moment, the silence not so much awkward as too full to talk, too many things more easily said with little smiles and shrugs instead. "So – I'm going to go now."

"Yep. Okay. I expected you might," Liam says brightly, drumming the sides of his legs awkwardly. "Have fun and good luck and, uh, all that."

"You'll tell Niall and Zayn, yeah?" Louis asks, hating how small and shy his voice gets right then. He wants to kind of breeze past it, not make it such a thing, but he can't really say it without biting his lips. It's strange how important this one silly little moment is, this knowing, this actually telling Liam that he and Harry – that finally – that they're actually – and Liam rubs his shoulder and Louis closes his eyes, and it feels too big to really name.

It's not that Niall and Zayn don't have their suspicions. They've always been aware of the strange orbits Louis and Harry had around each other, it's just that Liam was always the one Louis ended up coming to about things like this. It was Liam that Louis was first honest with, talking about the sick tar-black mess that was eating out his guts, that was making him run for days without sleep. It was Liam's room that Louis stumbled into on the fucked-up nights when he had had too much to drink and could only think about Harry; it was Liam's couch that Louis crashed on when living with Harry sometimes got too much, too overwhelming, not sure what the hell was going on in his own brain. It was Liam's shoulder he pressed his face against on when he couldn't stop thinking those same bruised words over and over, when he hated himself so much he needed someone to love him enough for two.

"What? Tell them the whole message?"

And then it's just Liam, just stupid, wonderful, obvious Liam, and Louis slaps him upside the head. "You can leave out the finer points. Just let them know, me and Harry are, you know. And so on."

"Right, I can do that," Liam says. "Have you thought about – you know, the future, of the band and the girls and –" Louis narrows his eyes and Liam shuts up quickly. "Right. Sorry. Not now. We'll think about it later."

"Good," Louis says, brushing a hand against Liam's cheek that becomes a friendly slap. "And. You know. Thank you. For."

Liam smiles down at his feet, and then gives a shrug. "You're all right," Liam says, his cheeks lighting up again.

*

"You don't mind, do you?" Louis asks, closing the front door behind him. "That I scarpered?"

Harry leans his head back to watch Louis come in, his face brightening immediately. He's sitting on the couch, bare-chested with a blanket pooled around his waist, a half-empty bottle of Stella sweating on the sidetable, watching the same football highlights Liam had on in his room. "Course not."

Louis pauses in the middle of the living room, looking down at Harry and the couch and the beer and exactly the same picture he's seen a dozen, dozen times before. What ought to seem familiar is suddenly and immediately shifted, like it can't ever feel like it used to, not after today. Nothing is really different, just a bunch of words traded, just a few crazy, needy kisses crushed between their mouths, but it's like the whole world has gone and fucked itself up in new and beautiful ways. It's all the same stuff, all the same rubbish dirtying the floors (clothes, empty cans, balled up receipts and empty shoeboxes,) it's the same watery lager that they like to buy, it's the same boy, the same kid who has cluttered up Louis' life for almost a year, but Louis can't help but feel like he has never been here before, not here, not like this. It's like Dorothy landing in Oz, the black and white world changing suddenly into Glorious Technicolor.

"You naked under that blanket?" Louis asks, rounding the couch but not sitting yet.

Harry raises an eyebrow. "Of course."

Louis has to take a deep breath, because holy fuck and all that. He's seen Harry naked more times than he can count, he's even caught the odd glance of Harry jerking off when he doesn't quite shut the door properly or when he just doesn't give a shit that someone might walk in. Seeing that is fine, but actually being able to stand there and look down at Harry and know that if he asked Harry to take the blanket off, that he would is something Louis has to get a hold of. It's like a whole new game, a whole new set of rules for wickedness he gets to use. Well, then.

"About your text," Louis says, raising his chin just so. "The spelling, Harry. Come does not have a u in it."

"My come has a you in it," Harry says, throwing his arm over the back of the couch and raising his eyebrows.

"Je-sus," Louis hisses, letting out a single burst of giddy what-the-fuck-is-happening laughter. "How did you manage to get any girls at all?"

"I've got a nine inch tongue and can breathe through me ears," Harry says, giving a quick snap of a nod to draw Louis closer. "I wasn't kidding," Harry says quietly. "I want you. If you'd like, I mean. If it pleases you. Come over here."

Louis can't really move from where he's standing. And he wants to, he really wants to, God he wants to – and he can think of a thousand other things he wants, too – but it's just so strange. It's not like Louis isn't a stranger to getting what he wants – the X-Factor and the band and the tour and the album have all made him feel luckier than any one person ought to be – it's just that the surprise of it is always so fucking real. No matter what happens, or how much Louis ought to be used to it by now, it always hits him like a punch to the gut that he can, if he'd like to, take something he really desperately wants.

Harry nods, seems to get the way Louis looks at him, smiling with something between caution and want, and moves towards him. Harry's blanket slips as he climbs off the couch and lands on his knees in front of Louis. Naked and half-hard, Harry rubs the flat of his palm over Louis' briefs, pressing against the curve of Louis' hardening cock. Harry looks up at Louis and, fuck, his hair is a tangled mess, his eyes a little sleepy and narrowed with want, and he's biting down on his tongue like concentrating on the task at hand. Hooking his fingers under the elastic of Louis' briefs, Harry slides them down to his ankles, Louis carefully stepping out of them.

"Some first date," Louis just manages to say.

"You don't know," Harry says, taking Louis' cock in his hand and running a thumb over the head, working in a gentle push the skin on the underside of his dick, "how long I've wanted it like this."

"I've got some idea, actually," Louis murmurs.

"Hm, so you have," Harry says, smirking a little as he jerks Louis off slowly, mostly working the head, cupping his palm around it, drawing a little buck from Louis' hips every time he twists his wrist. "For how loud and forceful you can get, you're being awfully calm about this, Louis."

"I've just never – I mean, not with – fuck, man –"

"I'm yours, Louis," Harry says. It's a bit of a leer, a bit of a devilish wink, but there's red high in Harry's cheeks and a grin like he means more than just the sex.

Harry grabs Louis' hand and drags him on over to the couch, falling back on his ass and guiding Louis on top. Louis straddles Harry's thighs, his knees sinking into the couch either side of Harry's legs as he presses close to him. Louis puts a hand carefully into Harry's curls as Harry wraps a hand around Louis' cock again, slinks down low on their couch and licks a long path along the shaft to the head as slow, as slow, as fucking slow as he can.

"Oh, fuck me," Louis groans, shuffling closer to Harry, pushing his hips towards Harry's mouth. Harry laughs a little and then he's actually doing it, wrapping his lips around the head of Louis' cock, the slight and sharp, the fucking wonderful shear of his teeth, Harry's tongue flicking against the underside. Louis forces himself to hold on, trying not to just fuck right into him, to fuck Harry's mouth like Harry seems to want so much. Harry's hands are against Louis' ass, the tips of his fingers sliding down the cleft, pressing there with just a bit of pressure, and –

– and then a lot of stuff happens all at once: a smash at the door, someone wrenching it open, and "OH MY GOD –" Liam shouts, slamming the door closed behind him. "I'M SORRY, I'M SORRY," Liam screams hoarsely, like he's trying to keep his voice down while simultaneously freaking out, "I DIDN'T SEE ANYTHING, I SWEAR, BUT LISA IS COMING."

Louis clambers off Harry, not even sure – how the fuck – what is even happening. He cups his dick in two hands standing awkward and naked and just staring at Liam like the gates of hell have blown open. Louis glances at Harry, who's glaring at Liam with a rare kind of hatred. "What the fuck are you doing?" Louis gasps.

"SHE WAS JUST AT MY FLAT AND I THOUGHT – SHE IS ACTUALLY COMING NOW, GET – JUST, HIDE – HIDE, NOW," Liam shouts, back slammed up against the door like he's trying to stop a murderer in hot pursuit.

Louis looks wildly to Harry, who no longer looks angry so much as confused. "Liam, if you're having a go –"

"FUCKING HIDE," Liam says, his eyes wide, panting desperately, the last survivor in a horror movie.

After a sharp moment of awed silence (did Liam seriously just say fucking like a proper adult human?), there's a knock at the door and fucking Jesus Christ and it's all Louis can do to leap over the couch, Harry following him with a stumble and a shout as they collapse behind it, a tangle of naked limbs and bitten-back curses and trying to hide from view as best they can.

A third barrage of knocking and finally Liam, taking deep breaths to calm himself down, opens the door. "Hey, Lisa," he says in a trembling alto.

"Oh – Liam, didn't we just –"

"Yes, it's a – a very funny story, I think you'll like it. You see, I left my – my telephone charger here and I thought I should. Pick it up. Because of how my telephone has no power in it anymore." Liam's breathing is still catching up with him, and Louis buries his head in his knees because oh my God he's saying telephone and he really shouldn't laugh considering he's naked and still rather hard, but he's only flesh and blood, after all.

"I – see. Well, are Louis and Harry in?"

"In?" Liam asks, his voice going higher with each question.

"At... home? Here? Right now?"

"Oh. No. I mean, yes. They are. But they are sleeping. In their own rooms. Wanted an early night to prepare for tour. You – you know how they are. Very. Very responsible about this kind of thing. Definitely."

Louis and Harry each wrap their arms around their knees, curling themselves up tight, and even now, even in this truly and deeply fucked up turn of events, Harry is having a hard time keeping quiet, snickering as Liam flings himself on the grenade like a war hero. Louis jabs him hard in the ribs but this just makes Harry laugh harder, clapping his hands over his mouth just to stop, tears forming at the corners of his eyes.

"Well. Could you pass along to them what I just told you? And Louis' mum wants him to call her, but she doesn't have her mobile, so she said she'll be at Roger's, and that Louis will know what that means."

"Right, good, information received," Liam says with a blinding amount of good cheer.

"You want me to write that down?"

"Oh no, it's fine, got it all up here, in the old brain box," Liam says, his voice climbing in pitch. "No worries."

"All – all right then. Goodnight, Liam."

"Ta," Liam says, closing the door carefully behind her and slamming the deadbolt across.

There's a very, very long time where they don't talk because Harry can't stop howling with laughter, actually crying as Louis pulls his briefs back on and Harry throws the blanket around his shoulders like a robe. Liam, however, is sitting at the foot of the front door, looking out with a thousand yard stare.

"Liam?" Louis tries gently, crouching next to him. "Liam, mate?"

Harry stands a few feet away, just pointing at Liam and laughing. "Seriously? Your telephone?"

"I think he's in shock," Louis says, patting Liam's head jauntily. "We should give him one of those tinfoil blankets, like they do in films."

"You really ought to lock your doors," Liam says in a whisper. "I mean. From now on. Just. Lock everything. Forever."

"Poor lad's had a fright," Louis murmurs, scritching the back of Liam's neck like a pup and looking up at Harry. "Ought to make him some tea, shouldn't we?"

"I'm big, aren't I?" Harry says, waggling his eyebrows at Liam. "I don't think you've ever seen me hard before, have you? Pretty big, huh?"

"Help," Liam whispers.

"Harry," Louis says sharply, but he's having a hard time keeping a straight face, having a hard time not just grinning a fool because, dammit, this feels right. More than that, it feels better than it ever did. Whatever worries Louis might have had about fucking something up by telling Harry, how he might somehow ruin that perfect rhythm of them if he told Harry the truth, have all kind of vanished in that moment. "A biscuit? A back-rub?" Louis offers.

"I'll just go, I think," Liam says, Louis helping him off the floor. "I – yeah, I think I'll go home now. I think I will do that."

"Am I bigger than you imagined?" Harry asks again.

"Harry –"

"What about girth?"

"Harry –"

"What about shape? You must admit, as far as cocks go it's one of the prettier ones, isn't it?"

"Very fetching, Harry. Now let's let the poor boy go home, yeah?"

*

It's seven in the morning when Louis wakes up. He knows that because Niall is shaking his shoulder and Zayn is jumping on his legs and they're both singing – screaming, actually – a tuneless song about seven o'clock and the sun and something about good boys bring their friends tea. There might be tea, and there might be friends, but being woken up just after dawn on a day off by a shirtless Irish monster is plain treason.

"I will ruin you," Louis says, crawling under the blankets, trying to find Harry next to him, resisting the urge to punch anyone he likes. His blanket is trapped under Zayn's knees and Louis can't even kick, pinned under the covers as he struggles against the bodies writhing on top of him. Louis growls as loud as he can and he digs deeper under the covers like a mole. Zayn is unmoveable, and Niall is wriggling between Harry and Louis, shoving them apart. With one last struggle, Louis ends up rolling himself right off the bed, totally naked as he hits the floor with a thud and a groan.

"How is Harry still asleep?" Zayn says, crawling on top of Harry next. "Is he dead?"

"Leave me alone," Harry mumbles, twisting to dig his head under the pillows. "Fight Louis, not me."

"Honestly, fuck you all," Louis murmurs into the carpet, directed at everyone. "I hope terrible things happen to your family."

"Aw, bless," Niall says, crawling out of Louis' bed and crouching down next to him, ruffling his hair. "Me family's fine. How do you feel though, Lou?"

"Hateful," Louis replies. "Did Liam send you? Because I will have his guts for garters."

"He didn't," Niall replies. "He's here, though, making you tea. It was our idea, after he told us this morning, about you guys being all, well, I mean, about how it was all official-like now. We all sot of knew. Well, we all definitely knew. Can I just say, right now, that I knew all along? Like the whole time? And I was going mad because you were being idiots and we all knew but now it's all great, mate. Great mate," Niall says again, laughing at himself.

"Why are you here?" Louis asks, finally giving it up, grabbing the loose sheet and wrapping it around his shoulders as he sits up. "Is there a plan beyond ruining my morning?"

"Liam wanted to talk," Zayn says, still crouching on Harry, now playing with his hair and trying to tie it into knots. "He had his serious voice on and then he started to make tea in silence. What did you do?"

And Louis has to smile, a crooked and private little grin. "Oh, nothing much."

"Liam saw my cock," Harry says, muffled under the covers.

"We've all seen your cock," Zayn says. "More than we ever wanted to."

"He saw my cock," Louis says, standing grandly and sweeping the sheets around him like Batman's cape.

"In my mouth," Harry adds thoughtfully, poking his head out from under the blankets.

*

Niall is still laughing as Harry tugs on a pair of Louis' briefs. He's still laughing as they head to the kitchen together. By the time Liam is handing out tea and a plastic box of blueberry muffins, Niall is reduced to helpless hiccups every time he so much as looks at Harry or Louis.

"Well," Liam says, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of Louis and Harry while everyone else flops about the living room, sipping at too-hot brews and picking at the muffins in a cluttered kind of silence. "I think we should talk about last night."

Niall has to clap his hands over his mouth, and Zayn slaps him upside the head, but they settle down again. Louis can't help but smirk a little, even as his stomach gives an uncomfortable tug. He knows Liam, Louis knows it's not going to be anything bad, but talking about it always comes like a slap, forgetting that they know now, that it even properly exists now.

"Do we," Harry says over the lip of his mug, and it doesn't sound like a question. "Do we really?"

"After I told the lads this morning, we decided that we'd kind of be your – I don't know, we just thought. You want to keep this private, right?" Liam says, his brow furrowing slightly.

Louis winces. It's only been ten hours since this whole thing started, half a day since Harry pressed Louis up against a wall and kissed him, half a day since he bit Louis' earlobe and muttered let's do it, then, yeah? and Louis hasn't even had a chance to tell his mum never mind think of a plan. Besides, the whole notion of having Harry is still this side of impossible, even now, even though Harry is resting his head on Louis' shoulder, the tickle of his curls on the crook of Louis' neck, the warmth of his hand resting under the blankets on Louis' thigh.

"For now," Harry says quietly. He looks up at Louis then, a flash of something passing through his eyes, a softening maybe, the twitch of his lips friendly, a little dare to push the boundaries. "Just while we figure things out."

"Right, then, good," Liam says, setting his mug down in the circle of his legs, rubbing his hands together and rolling up the sleeves of his hoodie. "Well. This is how I see it. We're on tour in a week, and it's not going to be the same out there as it is at home. It will be close quarters; a crammed tour bus, security everywhere, weird wake-up times and they'll have keys to our rooms. We don't want anything like yesterday happening again." (Niall laughs; Zayn slaps him.) "So, us three," Liam says, gesturing to Niall and Zayn, "are going to work on keeping you guys a secret. We'll set up guard watches, we'll make distractions, we'll smuggle you away so you can have some time to yourselves. It's gonna be hard for you to get alone time, so we'll do things like muck up whose room is whose and we'll stuff pillows under blankets and all that James Bond kind of stuff to throw them off the trail."

"James Bond never pretended to be asleep by stuffing his bed with pillows," Zayn says.

Liam doesn't even turn to look at him. "Because obviously it's important you two get some time to – you know. Have time alone."

"To discover each others' bodies," Zayn says, not even slapping Niall when he bursts out laughing. "Discover hidden freckles."

Liam goes pink, but he stays focused on Harry and Louis. Even Harry's having a hard time keeping a straight face now; Louis can feel him squeeze his thigh, his body shaking a little with pent-up laughter. God, he wishes someone were filming Liam right now, this whole speech is something Louis wants to play over and over again. Mostly because it's hilarious, but a little because of the little swoop of joy in the pit of his stomach, the feeling he gets when he realises how much he loves the people nearest him. "So whenever you two want some – you know, time to –"

" – jerk," Niall says.

" – blow," Zayn says.

" – kiss," Liam says sharply, "you come and ask, and we'll sort it all out. Make it work. Make sure you're covered. All right?"

Harry looks at Louis, and it's a smirk, the same playful let's fuck with him smirk Harry gets on the subject of Liam Payne, but for once Louis can't really give one back. It's a strange feeling, this, being spoken to about his relationship and to just see these arms thrown wide open. It's not like Louis ever thought everything would self-destruct if he and Harry got together, it's just that Louis never expected this to happen so obviously, so cheerfully adopted into the lives of his boys without so much as a hiccup. Louis cocks an eyebrow, resting his head against Harry's, and he says: "Why?"

"Because it's – your thing," Liam says, frowning a little. "And if you want it to be private then it ought to be private. That's not so odd, is it? It's how it should be, I think."

"No, no," Louis says. "Why are you doing this? You don't need to do it, and it's going to – put you all out. Why do you want to do this?"

Liam gives him a weird kind of smile, a flash of disbelief like he hadn't even considered needing to answer that. "It's obvious, isn't it? Because it's you two." Niall and Zayn nod in agreement. "Because we've seen the both of you go through this dance for months. Because we've seen it all right from the start, I guess. Of course we want to do it, are you mad? We'd do pretty much anything, I think."

Louis doesn't even know how to make sense of that, looking between the three of them. Louis is used to Liam being sincere, sickeningly sincere even, but not like this. Since last night, since this actually fell into place, Louis has had to pinch himself a half-dozen times. Even today, waking up next to Harry (and Zayn and Niall, but that's another story) still had the shaky feeling of uncertainty, foggy with sleep and the red-fleshed memory of the night before, immutably strange like it can't quite be right. But now, here's Liam with his calm explanation and casual smile, making it all sound so easy, the kind of simple that Louis has craved for months. And just like that, just with the shrug of Liam's shoulder like it was all so very obvious, it actually feels real for the first time.

"Oh God," Louis says, clutching Harry's arm and throwing his head back with a groan. "They knew from the very start. They knew the whole time. All our carefully kept secrets, Harry. All our secret meetings. Do you think they know about the kids?"

"What he means is thank you," Harry says, patting Louis' belly gently, a little touch to turn him down a bit. "Cheers, Liam," Harry ends up adding quietly, for the both of them, as sincere as he can be with Liam without cracking a grin. Harry squeezes Louis' thigh again, less flirty and more reassuring. "But I'm still going to hit you in the dick."

Liam sighs. "Yes, well, no surprises there."

"But when I do, I'll hit it fondly," Harry continues, thumb brushing the inside of Louis' thigh. "With great tenderness."

"Nice to see that love has changed you," Liam says, though he's smiling a bit now.

"I think we might need tonight," Harry says, clearing his throat abruptly. He glances significantly at Louis, brimming with the bland kind of innocence he can't help turn a little wicked. "Can you do that?"

Niall laughs, and Zayn slaps him, and Liam grins. "Course," Liam says. "Of course. I haven't worked it all out yet, but I'll sleep on your couch, answer the door, handle any of the goings on, those kinds of things. If they wonder why I'm over here, I'll tell them – I don't know, bed bugs or something. It won't be that odd, we've all kipped over at someone else's from time to time. Just, uh, so – so long as you keep it down, yeah?"

"I've got some earplugs," Harry says helpfully.

"Well, yes," Liam says, swallowing tightly. "That might help."

"Christ," Niall says to Liam suddenly. "You've not thought this through at all, have you?"

Liam frowns. "I have."

"I can be rather loud," Harry says evenly, drawing the words out languidly. "In times of – crisis."

Liam's frown is tightly held. Louis really has to give him points for that. No one commits themselves to inevitable failure like Liam. "Well, a promise is a promise."

"You'll wish you hadn't," Zayn says.

"You're on tomorrow," Liam says, smiling at Zayn. "Mate."

"Fuck," Zayn mutters.

"Good," Harry says. "I've earplugs for all of you. I dip into my naughty vocabulary sometimes, it's better for all of us if you don't listen in."

Niall glances at Zayn who is glaring at Liam. "Well," Liam says, clearing his throat quickly. "This is fun, isn't it?"

*

Liam was right about being on tour; whatever minimums of privacy they had at their flat has all but vanished since they packed up and left. It's probably just because he's conscious of them getting in the way now, but Louis doesn't remember there being this many people on their last tour. There are people, constantly, always around them, all the time, with itineraries and checklists and walkie talkies and clip board schedules, dozens and dozens of eyes searching for anything out of the ordinary. It goes beyond cockblocking; it's a total cockembargo.

It gets to the point that, after a few disastrous make out sessions frantically transformed into innocent play-wrestling, pretty much anything is difficult to do. If they're traveling overnight in the bus, kissing Harry goodnight requires Zayn and Liam forming a human wall, holding up sheets as they pretend to make up their bunks while Louis finally gets fifteen whole seconds to kiss Harry. The bathroom on the bus is too small, their press tours too tightly scheduled, and any hotel room they manage to pinch for the night seems to be guarded round the clock making it physically impossible to sneak between rooms.

Taking to the stage after a month away makes up for it, at first. Louis wonders how he ever got on without it; without their songs, without the crowd, without the adrenaline making him feel drunk and giddy when he hasn't touched a drop. And the nights, too, the fucking nights sitting at a bar until one in the morning with the lads and a few pints, laughing until they cry, a constant reminder of how much Louis loves them, loves them so much it's a little stupid, loves them so much he wants to punch them all right in the chest and bury his face in their necks and howl at the night sky. It's almost enough for Louis at first; sweat drying his hair curly, the five of them (even Liam, politely sipping on a Diet Coke) tipsy and tired and singing a hoarse chorus of whatever song is playing at the bar, where arms can be held around waists and kisses pressed to cheeks without too much of a fuss. But that doesn't last for long, because there's always the taste of more lingering in his mouth

Most days begin with Harry stopping by Louis' hotel room for BBC Morning and tea, the two of them sharing a little quiet space for half an hour, getting dressed and doing their hair and eating chocolate from the minibar. It's the morning of their eighth day when Harry shows up shuffling and moody, a teenage slouch, his eyes dark with insomnia. As Harry and Louis brush their teeth together at the sink, Harry can't seem to look away from Louis, carefully studying Louis' face in the mirror's reflection.

"I want to suck you off," Harry says, spitting into the sink and rinsing his mouth out. "Right here. I want you to grab my hair and make me gag."

Louis raises an eyebrow. "Sounds like a plan. I want to fuck you on a yacht in a thunderstorm while listening to La Roux."

Harry runs his fingertips over his cheeks, deciding if he needs a shave. "I'm not kidding," Harry says calmly, taking Louis' electric razor and running it under his chin, tracing the line of his jaw. "Right now. Get you up against that wall, suck you off, swallow all of it and make you taste it in my mouth."

"Gosh, well, should I tell Paul so he doesn't pop in and interrupt us? Would be awfully embarrassing if he did," Louis says. He likes teasing Harry, especially about this, but he can tell from the way Harry glares at him – not angry so much as solidly determined – that the eight days without anything more than a peck on the lips and a frantic little wank at two in the morning is beginning to touch on a raw nerve. Louis thought he'd have a bit more patience than Harry, but to be honest it's starting to get where he can't really fall asleep for a couple of hours after he gets back to his room, where he just finds the empty time cluttered up with wanting Harry, just wanting him, his company, his mouth, his cock, still trying to figure out how he got so close but still feels so damn far away. If it's bothering Louis this much, Harry must be pathetic with it.

And then, Paul walks into their room. "Lads, ten minutes."

Harry leaves the bathroom to avoid Louis' I-told-you-so eye roll.

*

"You too, huh?" Harry says, picking up on the third ring.

"I figured it out. We're on the same floor but different sides of the building," Louis mutters, sitting cross-legged on the cold tile of his hotel terrace at three in the morning. The air is whip-crack sharp, full of early-spring smells of rain and mud and trees, a cool wind whipping at his hair and stinging his eyes. From this high up, the city has become a switchboard of lights in white and red and green, colours swapping places every so often, the flickering sparks of cars like a changing constellation. Louis is wearing a hoodie he stole from Harry, sleeves tugged up to his knuckles, wriggling a thumb into the hole Harry slowly worked into the cuff. Louis keeps trying to smell Harry in the cotton, but he's had it so long it doesn't smell much like him anymore. "Means we can't even see each other from our balconies."

"Dammit," Harry says quietly. "What's on your mind?"

"I thought it would be easier than this," Louis says, tugging his hood in tighter, hiding in it as deep as he can. Harry's a bit bigger in the shoulders, in the body, and Louis lets himself get buried in it. "I thought it wouldn't be this difficult, getting to see you."

"Nobody said it was easy, nobody said it would be this hard," Harry half-sings, though never straying too far from his monotone, "take me back to the start."

"Really?" Louis says flatly. "Were you just guessing? Numbers and figures?"

"You started it," Harry says.

"I'm going to steal one of your jumpers tomorrow," Louis says, sniffing from the cold night and pulling up the sleeves of the sweatshirt. "And you take one of mine."

"Sisterhood," Harry says, making Louis laugh. "I want to see you," he adds into the silence, as quiet and solid as a promise, like he really would march past security and into Louis' room at three in the morning and have him right here. Louis shivers, a little cold but mostly the good kind.

"This is all so messed up," Louis says. "If you shouted I could hear you, I bet. It's driving me mad. It makes me want to say things like, look at the moon because it's the same moon I'm looking at and rubbish like that, and you're only down the hall."

"I could talk you off," Harry says. He sounds half-asleep, his voice drifting in and out of focus like a badly tuned radio. "Tell you everything I want you to do to me. I've got a lot of things I would like you to do with me. I can see the moon, by the way, since you asked."

"Nah, you're all right," Louis says. "It's not one of those calls. This is one of those terrible calls about wanting to hear your awful voice." Louis groans, because he never wanted to be one of those people, but goddammit, it's been two weeks and somehow Louis has only managed to kiss Harry twelve fucking times. He knew it would be hard keeping it quiet when he said yes, but there's still a part of him that's been quiet for so long, a part that wants and wants and wants because he never got the chance before. Louis always thought he was the patient one, but this need for Harry is starting to make him ache.

"I like those calls too," Harry murmurs, voice exhausted and rough like vodka and honey. "I like those calls." There's a beat of silence and then Harry adds: "I think we should take Liam up on his offer."

"What's he going to do that we haven't tried?" Louis asks. "He doesn't even own any lube."

"It's two weeks and you haven't even properly fucked me," Harry says, and Louis can almost hear the wicked little smile through the phone. "Come on, rude boy. Besides, I told him to buy some lube. Flavoured, huh?"

Louis bites back his own smile. "I'm sorry. I've been a bad boyfriend," Louis says, and he doesn't think he'll ever get over that, the electric jolt of letting himself say it and having it be true. "I don't want you going hungry, Harry."

Harry laughs, sighs a little too. "It's his own fault. He volunteered."

"I'll ask him," Louis says. "Yeah. I'll do that."

"So this is where we hang up?" Harry asks.

"I guess so."

"You want me to say that thing?" Harry asks quietly, a slight tease there too. "If you want, I mean."

Louis bites his bottom lip. "No, I'm okay," he says, and oh, he smiles all the same.

"Right then. There we are."

"You too," Louis says. "You too, Harry. You too."

"Night, Louis."

"This entire phone call is pathetic," Louis says, hearing Harry's bark of a laugh. "Fuck off, Harry."

"Mm-hm."

*

It feels a lot like a secret operation, like Louis is waking up the sleeper cells in the dormant Underground Resistance, ferrying along secret information in an Artoo droid. Help me, One Direction, you're my only hope.

Louis is sure he's being paranoid, but he waits until the end of their most recent show before he gets Liam aside. There's a bar on the first floor of their hotel, and Louis manages to persuade Liam to come down for virgin piña colada and a bit of a laugh. He's sure Liam only says yes because of the way Louis asks; a pathetic tug at his shirt sleeve as he whispers in his ear. Liam seems startled but he agrees, of course he'll come down, a sympathetic little smile on his lips. Good, Louis thought that might work.

Niall is already four pints in and making Harry and Zayn join him in singing along to Rihanna as Louis sidles up to Liam, cupping a hand next to his ear. "Tomorrow? Like, thirty minutes. That's all we need."

Liam bites his bottom lip in concentration and nods, obviously expecting this. "Right. I think we have some radio interviews in the morning before soundcheck, so it will have to be in the afternoon. We should have some time at lunch, but we'll be in the arena." Liam frowns to himself, thinking. "I'll skip lunch and find you a good secluded space. I've got an idea."

"Anyone ever tell you that you're too nice, Liam?"

Liam frowns slightly, thinking it over. "Yes, actually. A few times."

And, okay, Louis might have had a few quick gin and tonics himself, and he throws an arm over Liam's shoulders, knocking their heads together. "You are a hero, Liam Payne."

Liam gives a shallow shrug, and he smiles warmly at Louis. "Just doing my bit, mate."

Louis pinches a nipple for that. "No one likes modesty, Liam. Repeat after me: I am a hero."

Liam hisses, tries to wriggle away from Louis. "Aw, pinching even when I'm being nice to you?"

"Especially when you're being nice to me," Louis says, going for the other nipple just because he can.

*

Liam keeps his promise. The next day, shortly after soundcheck, he disappears into the endless concrete tunnels beneath the arena, inconspicuously missing their lunch. Louis packs up a few sandwiches in napkins before the food is taken away, for when Liam gets back, and he knows it's disgustingly nice but it just seems fair, really. Good lord, being with Harry is ruining him.

Twenty minutes later, Liam walks into the greenroom and right up to Louis. With a tug at Louis' sleeve and a nod to Harry, he leads them down to the basement. They follow Liam's lead, acting casual, poking and prodding and laughing at each other, hooting and howling like they're on a mission of mischief, which isn't that much of a lie. No one gives them a second glance. They wind through a half-dozen different hallways, concrete paths that echo the squeak of their trainers, thick with exposed pipes and ducts like the nervous system of the arena.

"Here," Liam says, stopping at a set of metal double doors. "You'll be fine for a bit. I'll hold them off upstairs, say you went out for lunch. I wouldn't push it more than half an hour. No one will think you're down here."

Louis opens the door carefully, peers inside. There is a clutter of stacked chairs, folding tables propped up against the walls, some collapsible bleachers at the far end of the room. "I think it will work."

"How do we get back?" Harry says. "Was I meant to be paying attention?"

"Oh, right," Liam says. He pulls out a napkin from his pocket, drawn over in ball point pen. "The star is the greenroom, the circle is where we are now. Good?"

"Liam," Harry says quietly, putting his hands on both of his shoulders. "Thank you."

Liam shrugs, but he's blushing a little. "Go on," he says. "Time's wasting."

"Actually," Harry says, looking straight into Liam's eyes, "now that you mention it. Louis and I have been thinking about it lately. And we've decided we want you to be our third."

Liam stares at Harry for a beat. "Your what?"

"We've talked about it," Harry says calmly. "And we'd like you to have sex with us, here, in this room in a basement next to some chairs."

Liam blinks rapidly, glances up at Louis. "I – Harry, you're not –"

"I want to see if I can take two cocks at once," Harry says, nodding slowly. "I would like one of those cocks to be you."

"You're – you're kidding, right?" Liam asks quietly, his eyes darting back and forth. Louis tries not to laugh, but Liam's helpless little look is so beautiful, and Harry's deadpan sincerity doesn't flinch, and it's nice knowing some things just cannot change. "He's kidding, right?" Liam asks, glancing at Louis.

"I've brought flavoured lube," Louis says. "You like strawberry, don't you, Liam?"

Liam chews on his bottom lip and forces a smile. "I'm – I'm flattered, but –"

"Oh, man," Harry says, finally splitting a grin. He smashes a kiss on Liam's cheek and then pushes him away. "It's not even funny anymore. I miss when you spluttered with indignation.

Liam smiles, actually proud of himself for calling their bluff. "Yes, well, I've been around you for too long."

And then Harry leans forward quickly and whispers loud enough for Louis to hear as well: "You're the last person we'll see before we come."

Louis bursts out laughing while Harry smugly watches Liam take a few steps away, eyes wide and cheeks beautifully pink.

Harry crosses his arms over his chest. "Ah, yeah, that's it. That's the look I've missed."

*

Harry is on Louis the moment Liam closes the door behind them. Pulling off his own shirt in an easy motion, Harry grabs Louis by the shoulders and pushes him roughly down onto one of the chairs, immediately climbing on top of him and straddling Louis' hips. Harry's dick is already a hard outline against his jenas as he adjusts himself on Louis' lap, pushing against him a few times to find the right place, the right friction between them.

Louis grins. Oh fuck, yes. "Hello, Harry Styles." Louis shifts his hips, jutting up against Harry.

"Yes yes yes," is all Harry manages to whisper before he bites a harsh and painful kiss onto Louis' bottom lip. Harry tugs back a bit, canine sharp and tugging Louis' lip a bit, sucking it red and raw. "Need this so bad, finally, finally, need you so bad." Harry doesn't even sound like he knows what he's saying, just frantically grabbing at the hem of Louis' shirt, the two of them working together to pull it off.

"Tell me," Louis says quickly, trying not to seem as wide-eyed and dumb as he feels. "Tell me all of it, all the stuff you want me to do to you. Here's your chance."

"Grab my hair," Harry says sharply, leaning down to bite, suck out a blunt red mark on Louis' collarbone. "Make me suck you off."

Louis isn't sure if Harry's directing him because he knows Louis has never done this with a boy before or if he's just like this when he's turned on, demanding to be dominated, but Louis obeys immediately. He takes a fistful of Harry's curls and yanks him away, Harry's pleased whimper like a spark lighting fire. Louis goes with his gut, doesn't need to be told to dart in and bite at Harry's Adam's apple, sucking out a bruise as he hold Harry's head back, exposing the whole length of his throat while Harry's hips grind slowly up on Louis' cock.

Harry's gasp slides quickly into a growl, and Louis can feel it humming against his mouth. It's fucked up, because Louis has always been the one to give love bites, it's always been his easy and dumb thing to do to get a rise out of his friends, but this is totally new. All at once Louis wants to see it so bad, marking a spot on Harry's throat with his mouth, going a little mad with how much he wants to make Harry's skin red and to admire it, admire it as his, the mark he leaves on Harry for everyone else to see.

The grinding slows down slightly as Harry starts to work nimbly at Louis' belt buckle. Their mouths crash back together, Louis getting his hands up at the back of Harry's head, slipping into his curls, keeping them flush together. Harry tips his head to the side and Louis can feel the wet and warm flick of his tongue parting Louis' lips, the taste of beer in his mouth, honey and sweet in the hollows under his tongue. Teeth clash against teeth which makes Louis laugh, but then Harry's got his flies open and lifts the elastic of Louis' briefs over his cock and, fuck.

Harry grins down at Louis, watching him gleefully, so proud of the expressions he gets Louis to make. "I'm sorry this is gonna be so quick," Harry says, close to Louis' ear. "We'll find more time later. More and more."

Louis groans again as Harry rubs his thumb on the underside of his cock. "Don't care, don't care at all," Louis says. Of course, the slow burn is beautiful, the coals and embers, the long nights of slowly getting each other off over and over, but honestly, fuck that right now. Fuck that right off; Louis wants to come, he wants Harry to make him come. Harry's got red marks on his throat and he's got Louis' cock in his fist and he's got the grin that comes before the chaos and Louis just wants, wants as much as he can get, wants Harry and his mouth and his come and all of it all at once.

Harry climbs off Louis (a slight gasp as the heat and weight disappears) and takes off his own trsouers and briefs, sinking to his knees naked between Louis' legs. He bobs over Louis' cock and takes him all at once, all the way down the shaft, his nose just bumping the brush of hair at Louis' crotch. Harry pulls away smooth and slow, making sure to look up at Louis through his eyelashes as he does, like he's proving the inches he can take.

There's no need to ask him this time, Louis grabs Harry's hair and pushes him down over his cock again. Harry moans a little in appreciation as Louis tightens his grip on Harry's curls and eases him down and keeping him low, keeping Harry fully around his cock before letting him back up again, just as slowly. Louis can feel the flick of Harry's tongue curling around the head of his cock, and that makes Louis buck into his mouth involuntarily, these blind starbursting little flashes behind his eyes.

Louis can see Harry working his cock with one hand, jerking off in rhythm to the blowjob he's giving, and there's something just so hot and disarming about it, watching Harry so damn turned on just from sucking Louis' dick. It's not going to last much longer, Louis can feel the edge getting sharper, the heat building in the pit of his stomach as Harry starts to dip shallow and quickly around his cock, the flat of his tongue shielded along the underside, the slightest scrape of his teeth as painful as it is amazing.

"A bit rougher," Louis grunts, and Harry obliges with more teeth, rasping along the sensitive skin and making Louis jerk into his mouth again. Harry keeps eye contact the whole time, smug and pleased, like he's making sure it's all working the way it should, the right tics, the right gasps when he swirls his tongue just so. "Okay, fuck, okay," Louis says, staring at Harry helplessly, feeling himself hit the edge, the razor edge, the edge of what he can stand before Harry pushes him right over. "I'm going to – I'm gonna –"

Louis comes with Harry's mouth still slick around his cock and it's like nothing else he's ever felt, thought he could ever fucking feel. It's a brilliant blinding flash, a collapsed star, a blackness as Louis squeezes his eyes shut and comes hard into Harry's mouth, feeling the bob, the gentle suck as Harry swallows it down with a hitched moan. Louis keeps his eyes closed for a minute, a solid minute as Harry cleans him up with gentle licks, the brush of his curly hair on Louis' bare stomach, his thumb smearing the last of the come over the head of Louis' dick.

"I owe you," Louis finally says, opening his eyes and wincing at the white fluorescent lights. Harry's still kneeling between his legs, his left hand sticky with his own come, come that he wipes absently on the rough carpet. Harry's mouth is shining and wet and red, a winter-flush high in his cheeks like he's just come in from the cold. He looks at Louis, eyese wide and curious, and he seems incredibly pleased with himself. "I don't think I've ever come like that in my life. I thought I was going to pass out."

"The French call it little death," Harry says. "My language teacher told me that."

Louis laughs, and he realises he's still got a hand in Harry's hair, a hand he loosens, stroking Harry's head a little, thumb brushing the angle of Harry's cheekbone. "I don't even want to know why she told you that, probably."

"You wanna taste yourself?" Harry asks, smirking a little.

Louis nods tightly, hating that he blushes about that. Harry stands then, shadowing over Louis. He kisses Louis, slow, liquid warmth, his tongue flitting into his mouth, and Louis actually fucking tastes himself on Harry's lips. Salty, a little sweet, a brackish tang like chlorine and seawater.

"That's so strange," Louis says, but he runs a thumb over his bottom lip all the same, feeling where Harry's mouth was, soft and red and sticky. "I thought I might be sweeter."

"Oh," Harry says, a mocking kind of laugh. "You are, Louis. You are."

Louis smiles despite himself. "Shut up."

Harry nods, not even trying to hide his smugness. "How long was that, then?"

Louis glances at his watch. "Twelve minutes," he says, laughing.

"So, about, like, eight minutes to get back," Harry says, counting on his fingers as he sits on the carpet, still naked, his lips still so flush and raw. Harry tugs Louis out of the chair as he lies fully on his back, guiding Louis to straddle his hips. "I say we've got ten minutes left to ourselves."

*

On their single day off in two weeks, Liam is the first down to breakfast. He finds a quiet little clump of easy chairs in the corner of the dining room by the fake fireplace. The band come down one by one, each of them wandering tired and hungry in sweatpants and ratty old t-shirts, collecting together in their own little circle of chairs, lazy slaps and fist bumps instead of words.

The hotel only offers a continental breakfast and a late checkout. By ten o'clock the five of them are sharing slices of watermelon and cold muffins and PG Tips in a circle of exhaustion, not saying much, just passing danishes around to make sure they each get a bite of everything. Sleep rings their eyes, purple and black like bruises, and this kind of drawn out, dopey, sweet tea and pastries morning reminds Louis so much of the bungalow that he actually kind of aches. Louis hugs Harry, and he plants his lips on Harry's neck. No one else but them around, why the hell not.

"Plans, then?" Zayn asks, after he's finished his tea.

"Golf, right?" Harry says, slapping Niall's shoulder. "We still on?"

"Course," Niall says. He adjusts his snapback, pushing it up his forehead. "Louis?"

"It's the world's worst game," Louis says.

"So?" Niall says easily. "Come along. Watch us. It'll be good fun." He raises his eyebrows suggestively. "It'll just be us, y'know? Bit of private time."

Louis looks to Harry, who blinks passively at him, just the hint of a smirk. "Couldn't we just stay here?" Louis asks.

"Can't, we'll be checking out of the hotel," Liam says. He punches Louis' knee gently. "Go on. I doubt if you go along there will be much golf."

"There will," Niall says, glaring at Liam. "I'm not fiddling about in the grass while they get each other off on the golfcart."

"Well, if you put it that way," Louis says, smirking at Niall. "That does sound fun. Think of all the puns we could make about balls and clubs and –"

"Holes," Zayn offers.

"Flags?" Liam says, frowning at himself. "Tees?"

"Sand traps," Harry says.

"Ow."

"All right, here, eighteen holes and as much snogging as you want while I'm taking my shots," Niall says brightly. "And I'll beat any paparazzi with me clubs if they get a snap."

"Strokes!" Liam shouts. "There, I thought of a funny one, too."

"And," Niall says, poking a finger against Harry's chest, "no handicaps, Harry."

"Shut up," Harry says, brushing his hair forward, and then flipping it back. "I don't need a handicap. I'm brilliant at golf."

*

"I hate golf," Harry says as he sits down next to Louis on the cart. They're only on the fifth hole but Harry's already eight over par. Niall is all smug smiles now, spinning his club around like Gene Kelly; he gives Harry a friendly wink as he takes his next shot. It's a clean slice into the summer, arcing wide into the cloudless sky and landing on the green. "You still like me, right?" Harry asks, rubbing his face on Louis' shoulder.

"I do, actually," Louis says, sitting on the back of the golf cart with a small cooler full of Stella, lounging in bare feet and the popped collar of a polo shirt he stole from Harry's suitcase, a little too big for him and tucked into (ironically, he swears) plaid shorts. "But not for much longer, cause Niall is on the green. I only like winners."

"Sip," Harry says, and Louis passes him the can. Harry's in full gear: long pants and sensible shoes and a single white glove like he actually knows what the hell he's doing. As Harry brings the beer to his mouth, he's grinning, a bright-eyed and genuine grin, a grin that says everything about how he feels right now. Louis smirks at him, his idiot boy, his dumb little manchild playing a boring and endless game on their one day off, and somehow so happy about it, too. Louis can see the sheen of sweat on the back of Harry's neck, the little gap of skin under his open collar where the sun has pricked out a few soft freckles, the bop of his Adam's apple as he drinks the beer down. Harry hands the can back to Louis. "Cheers."

Niall gives Harry a little nod before climbing up into his own golf cart to chase down his ball.

Harry takes a wedge from his clubs and starts to walk to the sandtrap he very neatly deposited his ball into on the last shot. It's a compulsion, a sudden jerk in the pit of his stomach like something needs to be said right now, watching as Harry walks away. Louis has no idea why he wants to say it now, all of a sudden, on this boring old day watching friends play golf. Maybe it's just how relaxed Harry is right now, out in the middle of neat green lawns, the only three people around, or the way he leans against Louis' shoulder smelling of his morning shower and clean leather, or the way he claims a congratulatory kiss every time he sinks his ball. Maybe it's because it's been building up and building up and it just comes out now, in a moment where it might have a chance to breathe. Maybe there's no fucking reason at all and he doesn't actually need to say anything, but just as Harry starts out towards the rough Louis shouts out: "Hey, Harry, I love you."

Harry stops suddenly, turns to Louis with a smile. A momentary pause. "I know."

Louis laughs on a sigh, shaking his head. Of fucking course. "How long've you wanted to say that, then?"

Harry swings his club across his shoulders like a yoke, stretching his arms about it like a lazy crucifix. "Since we got drunk and stayed up all night watching Star Wars during X Factor. Third week, I think."

Louis bites down on his bottom lip, shaking his head slightly in feigned disgust. Really though, his chest gets tight, really tight, and it feels like the breath has been shucked from his lungs. It's no surprise, this time Louis definitely knows why he's a little lightheaded and blushing and just struggling to keep it together, but it doesn't make it any less embarrassing. Jesus, they didn't even know each other two months at that point.

Harry starts to walk back towards Louis, this know-it-all smile in the corner of his mouth as he steps between Louis' legs and leans over him, looking down with a very obvious satisfaction. "Love you too," Harry says, dropping to this maddeningly husky tone.

Harry tilts his head in closer, daring the kiss, half an inch from Louis' mouth but not quite touching. Harry hovers there, soft little nods towards Louis just brushing the tips of their noses. A little, c'mon, yeah, lingering so close.

Louis slides his hands up under Harry's shirt and rests them on his stomach. "You're all warm."

Harry just barely licks his lips. "Niall's going to kill me, I'm in the middle of my stroke."

"Ha," Louis says, tilting his head to the side but keeping that fragile gap between them. There's something impossibly hungry about that little distance, so close but not quite kissing him, letting it linger there like a tease, a space that sparks jump between, shared electrons. "Week three, huh?"

"I'm good at waiting," Harry says calmly.

"You're really fucking not," Louis says, laughing.

Harry has a think. "Aren't I?" He pauses, licking his lips again. "Maybe that's why I'm terrible at golf."

Louis laughs, and there's a moment, another little fragile moment and then the gap breaks and Louis leans up and kisses Harry. Harry sighs, warm against Louis' lips, and he drops his club to put his arms around Louis' neck. Louis grabs a gentle fistful of Harry's curls, just eases the kiss a little deeper. He can taste sweat and beer, that sweet kind of tang, that taste that's starting to remind him painfully of Harry.

Louis can hear the quiet thrum of a golf cart, but it's only when Niall starts screaming that Louis actually registers something beyond the way.

"INCOMING!" Niall almost hits their own cart with his own before he comes slamming to a stop, his clubs falling over and clanging together on the ground. Harry laughs against Louis' mouth, mumbles something that sounds like told you, and Louis opens his eyes just fast enough to see Niall running towards them.

Niall takes Harry round the middle and slams him down in a full on rugby tackle. Harry hits the ground with a grunt and Louis can only stare at them blankly, Niall pinning Harry on the lawn, red-faced and glancing around quickly like a meerkat scouting for danger.

"Hello, Niall," Louis says, raising an eyebrow.

Just over the same ridge Niall came charging down, Louis can hear the sound of another golf cart. After a few moments the greenskeeper crests the hill and drives past them mildly, giving Louis a quick salute as he does. The pieces lock into place.

Louis squeezes the bridge of his nose and exhales deeply. It's amazing how the sparks in his chest, that wild bird beating against the cage of his ribs can so quickly turn to vinegar and spit. "Thanks, Niall."

"S'my pleasure, really," Niall says breathlessly, finally looking down at Harry. Niall has him pinned down at waist and bicep, and Harry glares up at him. "To be fair, you were taking too long with your shot."

Harry narrows his eyes.

"Eh, that your phone in your pocket or you happy to see me?" Niall asks.

Harry's lip twitches at that. "I was very happy to see Louis, actually."

Niall jumps off him quickly, grabbing Harry's hand to help him up. "You're pretty big then, aren't ya?"

Harry grins hugely. "I like to think so."

"Liam mentioned it to me the other day, that time he got a look at it hard," Niall says, cleaning his hands on his shorts. "I think he meant to warn me."

"Oh, for the love of fuck," Louis says, sitting down on the back of the golf cart again. "You won't stop, will you?"

Harry shrugs, still grinning. "Not until this whole band learns to appreciate my cock. It's kind of my mission."

"I'm sure that won't take long," Louis says archly. "I feel like this is going to happen a lot."

*

"NO!" Louis can hear Zayn's panicked yell from outside the changerooms. "THAT ONE'S BROKEN OR SOMETHING. IN FACT, ALL OF THEM ARE BROKEN. THIS STORE IS RUBBISH ANYWAY."

There's some muffled noises, talking, and then Zayn cuts in again: "I'LL GET SECURITY. I'M A CELBRITY IN SOME COUNTRIES."

Louis can't help but laugh, clapping a hand over his mouth to stop the noise. They wait for a couple minutes, and then Zayn raps twice on the door, the all clear. "Fucking wankers," Zayn mumbles, and he's close but not quite right.

"Go on," Harry says, bumping his thigh against Louis' cheek. "I'm almost there, Louis."

*

"Oh for the love of Christ –" Louis hears Niall say. "This is my fucking room." Niall storms out, slamming the door behind him.

"Occupied," Harry shouts.

"You fuckin' think?" they hear, muffled, from the hallway.

Harry glances over his shoulder, shrugs, and pulls Louis' briefs a bit lower down his hips.

*

Liam and Zayn are laughing and talking about Bridesmaids when they walk into the hotel room, flicking on the lights. Louis knows this because the last word Liam says is "I quite fancy Chris O'Dowd" before he shuts up.

"Hello," Harry says, holding one of Liam's snapbacks over his crotch. It's actually probably one of Niall's. He won't like that, Louis thinks. And he will also make the funniest face when he finds out.

"Hi," Louis says, lying in Liam's bed, naked but covered to the waist in a blanket, leaning up against the headboard and flicking through the channels on the TV. "Is it a sixth sense? Knowing when to walk in on us at possibly the most embarrassing moment? You all seem to share that superpower."

"It's my room," Liam says blankly.

"We locked it," Louis offers.

"But I've got the key," Liam says.

"True, true," Louis says, tapping his chin.

Zayn and Liam are dressed only in their bathing suits, clinging to their legs with wet, their hair mussed up where it isn't plastered against their heads. They stare at Harry, and it's really lovely how the stares have transformed over the weeks, from shocked silence to a withering, eye-rolling sigh. "What are you –" Liam says, before swallowing and shaking his head. "Best not to know, I think."

"I was proving to Louis that I can suck my own cock," Harry says, a big cheeky grin.

There's a beat of silence. "Can you?" Zayn asks.

"Just the tip, but yeah," Harry says.

Zayn looks over at Liam, gives an appreciative kind of shrug. "I mean, that is impressive, isn't it? I've tried but I'm not flexible enough."

"Want to see?" Harry offers.

"Right, out." Liam guides Zayn by the shoulders back out the door, pushing him into the hallway again. "Bye. Please change the sheets when you're done."

"Did you – did you come in for something?" Harry asks, still holding the hat over his crotch.

"We were going to have a shower and watch a film," Liam says. "Sitting by the pool sounds fun though."

"A shower together?"

"Bye, Harry."

*

The door opens, but the chain stops it at four inches with a clang.

"All right, fair enough," Niall says into the gap. "You're learning, at least."

"We're only cuddling," Harry yells.

"I don't fucking believe you," Niall sing-songs as he closes the door on them again.

*

"You know," Liam says, covering his face with his hands as Louis tugs up his jeans, Harry rummaging behind the couch for his briefs. "I'm becoming far too familiar with the general – size and shape of your – um, business."

"Bit jealous?" Harry says, wriggling on the ground into his trousers.

"Only observing," Liam says. "Same with the – general noises. I've actually worked out a system with Zayn. We know to the minute when it's safe to knock on the door just by the noises you make."

"Bless," Louis says, catching the shirt Harry throws at him and tugging it on.

"Zayn actually wants to make an iPhone app," Liam says, still obediently covering his eyes like a see no evil monkey, twisting a bit about his hips in a bored wiggle as he waits for them to dress. "So we can know for sure."

"Why not just barge in on us without knocking first?" Louis asks. "I'm starting to think you all rather like watching. That is very naughty, Liam. You should ask first."

"We're getting used to it," Liam says. "If we don't see you around now, we just assume you're off having noisy sex in our beds, on our clothes, in our showers. You know, just a normal friendship between five nice lads on the road making music."

"You can look now," Louis says, slapping Liam's bum just because he gets the chance.

"Your shirt is inside out," Liam says, picking a thread on Louis' shoulder. "And backwards. And – Harry's."

"Setting trends, Liam," Louis says, cocking an eyebrow. He makes to pull off his shirt but he suddenly notices Paul leaning into the room. Louis freezes. Paul couldn't have been looking long because Liam just came in and besides he was already wearing his trousers by then, but, oh god, oh shit. "Paul," Louis says blankly.

"So that's where you've been," Paul says, smiling even as he shakes his head. "Honestly. You're wanted. And put your shirt on right, Louis, looks like you've been shagging someone."

Paul closes the door behind him and a pall of silence settles over the three of them. Liam is staring blankly at Louis, that same kind of far-away frozen panic he gets when there's too much to process at once and he just reverts to stuttering and apologizing over and over. Harry slouches where he stands, glaring at the door, and then at Liam, and then back at the door. The silence stretches for the good part of a minute, the three of them standing and glancing from one another like a wild west standoff of emotion.

"Well," Louis says, breaking the silence hesitantly."If you think about it. That – could have been worse."

"True," Harry says slowly. "I was wearing pants at least."

Liam slowly turns his gaze to Harry, a small frown, a look of silent misery. "You've got," Liam says quietly, gesturing limply with one hand. "A bit of – in your hair."

Harry bites his bottom lip and looks like he's about to laugh or cry, or both, really.

"I mean, much worse. It could have gone much, much worse," Louis says again.

*

It's not perfect, but their backstage rooms have always been a kind of sanctuary for the five of them. No matter what venue they're at, no matter where in the world, every greenroom looks so similar it's almost like coming home every night to the very same place. It's a space like a familiar thread sewing the discordant days together, a place that seems to exist outside the regular universe. Like the inside of the TARDIS, it's a private little moment that follows them around the world faithfully. It becomes a place where they can have a long talks about quiet things, or short talks about loud things; an electric kettle and awful tea and underripe fruit, and comfort and quick naps and stupid games. And for Louis – four weeks into the tour and five into Harry – it's beginning to feel like the last place he can actually breathe for a minute or two.

Harry slides towards Louis on the sofa, nuzzling against his shoulder. "Hey."

Louis grins, bumps his forehead against Harry's temple. "Hello." Niall smiles at them briefly, Zayn nudging him back to their game of bloody knuckles on the coffee table. Liam still looks a little smug about the whole thing, winking at Louis but still not quite saying I told you so. Louis knows it's dumb, but it still kind of gets him, the little reminders that he's got an army at his back.

"You know how sometimes you get so tired you, like, forget you're tired?" Harry asks, resting his head on Louis' shoulder as Louis (lovingly, obviously, sure) starts to shove the mass of Harry's hair in front of his face, messing with those fancy curls.

"It's your second wind," Louis says, combing down Harry's fringe, laughing as it's puffed up and sucked in with every breath Harry takes. "I don't know why they call it that."

"Sailing," Liam offers.

"Farting," Niall adds, while Zayn hisses in pain as the pound coin cuts a neat little crescent moon into his middle knuckle.

"Too tired to snog until Liam gets uncomfortable and does that polite throat clearing noise and leaves the room like a dad watching his daughter go out on her first date?" Louis asks.

"No," Harry says, brushing his hair forward with his hands and flicking it back in a single practiced motion. "I'm never too tired for that."

"I've seen you giving Louis a blowjob," Liam says levelly, not even looking up from his phone. "You really do underestimate me."

"Look," Louis says, his hand sliding around Harry's back, his fingers just dipping under the elastic of his briefs, "he can even say blowjob now."

"I'm so proud of him," Harry says, climbing onto Louis' lap. He leans down, kisses Louis sharply on the mouth.

Niall laughs, half-mocking and half-kind. He nods to Liam and Zayn, raising his eyebrows quickly in some kind of signal, and just like that the three of them spread to the far corners of the room, one to each of the three entrances. They slide down to sit by the foot of the door with slouched shoulders and knees drawn up to their chests, playing Angry Birds on their phones, becoming a human blockade against marauding publicists.

"What are you doing?" Louis says, glancing at Liam and then back at Harry.

Harry shrugs, amused and baffled. "New game, I guess?"

"Shut up," Niall says. "Take advantage, yeah? I'm not going to look and I'm going to pretend I've gone deaf."

"Me too," Zayn says, from the far door. "Eyes closed, men."

"Roger," Liam says, leaning up against his own door, the room sealed tight by laughing boys. "Brace yourselves."

"Right," Niall says, tucking himself into his drawn knees. "Braced."

"Done," Zayn says, crawling up against his door. "Ready."

"Right," Liam says, burying his face in his knees. "All boys are go."

Harry looks at Louis, away, and then back with a grin like mischief. He leans down and kisses Louis, lets them all see, lets them hear the slight smack of lip and lip. Louis draws his arms around Harry's neck, and he tilts his head, and he tastes Harry.

It's the moments like these that really wake Louis up to the joyful fucking shambles his life has become. The last year has been more than getting four best mates; it's getting four people who let him be what he wants, who carve out a space in the world for him to live, who let him fuck everything up and help him do it, too. And when Harry smiles down at him, shadowed by his mess of curls, and when Louis leans up and kisses him, it really does feel like sometimes there needs to be more than two people in this relationship to make it work. As Harry leans in and draws out this one slow kiss, teeth and tongue and blood-red lips, it only happens because there are people around who love it too.

"I love you," Louis manages to say, sharp and loud and obvious in the greenroom. He knows that Liam and Niall and Zayn can hear him. Fuck that, he hopes they can hear him.

"Love you too," Harry says, marking a kiss on Louis' neck.

"They're not going to actually screw with us in the room, are they?" Niall stage whispers to Zayn.

"Have you met Harry?" Zayn whispers back. Louis can feel Harry laugh in the middle of their kiss, can feel his lips move to a smile.

"You've never actually seen how bad it can get," Liam whispers back.

"I sat on Harry's dick once," Niall replies.

"Shut up," Louis says, sliding his hands up the back of Harry's shirt. "I honestly think Harry is getting off on having an audience, you know."

"A little," Harry offers, leaning down to nip at Louis' throat.

"Perfect –" Liam starts to say, but stops as they hear muffled voices from beyond the door. His eyes light up wide and open in full bewildered panic, and Louis swears his ears almost prick up too. "Oh God."

From either sides of the room Niall and Zayn jump up and run towards Harry and Louis, dodging over chairs and bags and tables to make flying leaps towards the couch. Louis just manages to see Harry give a resigned sigh before Zayn and Niall crash on top of them, screaming and howling in a writhing pile just as Lisa gets the door open enough to glance in. Liam is late to the party but the throws himself on too, a shout like a wrestler as he lands on Zayn and Louis and drags them laughing and yelling and punching to the ground.

"Honestly," Lisa says, standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips. They get that look a lot, that mix of automatic adult disapproval tempered under a barely hidden smile. "I can't with you lot, sometimes. Twenty minutes until soundcheck. Honestly," she says again, closing the door behind her.

The five of them lie there on the ground for a while, breathing heavily and taking a slow register of every bruise and aching limb.

"Harry, is that your phone or are you happy to –"

"Shut up, Niall. It's my phone."

"Zayn, is your mouth on the back of my neck."

"Might be, Liam."

"It's wet."

"It's a mouth."

Louis breathes deeply and just lies there, aching and under the weight of four other boys, knees and elbows jammed into his ribs and thighs, laughter echoing through the pile, reverberating in the hollow of Louis' chest. Harry's still close enough to touch, and he rubs a thumb over Harry's bicep, just little and small and close. Liam is on Louis' other side, smiling at him, laughing as he nuzzles against Louis' shoulder.

"You know," Louis says. "I've never noticed how often people walk into rooms without knocking until I started trying to make Harry come. It's getting very tiring to be this horny and have so few doors with locks."

"I'm sorry about that. Really, I am," Liam says, resting there for a moment, his laugh warm on Louis' skin. "I've got an idea, though."

"Does it involve bruising more of my ribs?"

"Depends how vigorous Harry is as a lover," Liam says, raising one eyebrow.

"Oh my God," Louis says, laughing and rubbing Liam's stomach fondly. "What have I done to you, Liam?"

*

"You know, if you think about it," Liam says, scuffing his shoes as he follows them inside the take away, bell jingling to welcome them in. "I'm kind of the anti-chaperone." They find an out of the way place, the kind of Chinese restaurant with heating lamps and peeling wallpaper and an enormous backsplash of misspelled dishes and combo deals. There are few teenagers in front of them, the dreadlocked and tattooed kind that Louis mentally sorts into the Will Not Recognize Us column. "Like, I'm only here with you to make sure that you actually get the chance to snog, you know?"

"And you're paying, don't forget that," Louis adds, elbowing him in the ribs.

"What? I haven't got my wallet," Liam says, patting the sides of his silky basketball shorts pathetically. "I'm not even wearing boxers. Or socks. This is Niall's tank top. I haven't even got anything I own on me."

"But this was your idea," Louis says, cocking an eyebrow.

"Yes, and I've written down what the others lads want to eat." Liam raises his right palm sheepishly, notes scribbled there in sharpie. "That was my job, wasn't it?"

Louis crosses his arms over his chest. "Then we will be forced to sell your body for Chinese food."

"Don't you have anything?" Liam asks.

"Nowt," Louis says, picking at the pocketless sides of his sweatpants. "Harry?"

"It's the last time I wear trousers going out with you," Harry says, frowning at Liam.

"Well done, Harry," Louis says, throwing an arm over Harry's shoulder, kissing him sharply on the side of the head. "Not only do you get to pay for dinner, but you take over the role as most sensible."

"No," Harry says, frowning at Louis now. "You can't call me that. You can't call me Liam. I'm warning you."

"You're Liam now," Louis says, nodding appreciatively. "Liam's not even wearing underwear. I bet you're wearing underwear, aren't you?" Louis picks at the hem of Harry's shirt, Harry squirming away from him too late. "Calvin Klein!"

"Last warning," Harry says calmly, reaching up to hold the hand Louis has round his shoulders, squeezing it at first and then just letting it stay.

"I bet you don't even drink," Louis says, goading him again. "I bet you love twitter more than going out." That should do it, Louis thinks to himself.

Harry glares at Louis. He stands there, unmoving, waiting, his expression unchanging as the teenagers in front of them pick up their bag of food and pay, the bell twinkling as they leave. There's another beat, and then, very slowly indeed, Harry's smile turns wicked.

Harry launches forward like a snake, grabbing at Louis to pull him in, a sharp kissing bite at his throat, his jaw, his ear. Louis shouts and tries to pull away but Harry pushes him up against the wall, bites down hard on Louis' Adam's apple. Louis bumps his head against Harry's as he tries to jab the spots on his sides he knows work best, trying to make Harry squirm away.

Distantly, Louis can hear Liam start to order their food in a very weary tone of voice.

"No biting," Louis says as Harry goes back to his throat, snapping at him playfully, laughing and trying to keep Louis' hands away from his sides.

"Take it back, then," Harry growls.

"Sensible, sensible boy," Louis says, as Harry growls and bites his shoulder, laughing as Louis gets a hand away and starts to poke at his ribs.

"Hey! Hey, you can't do that in here!"

Louis stops, looks over Harry's shoulder. Liam's standing kind of helplessly by the till, and the teller – a spotty-faced man in his early twenties with a hairnet and a scowl – is waving them away. "What?" Louis says.

"I don't want that kind of shit in here," the cashier says.

"We're just messing about," Louis says, raising an eyebrow. He can feel Harry breathing hard against him. They aren't even that close together, and there's more stabbing and yelling than anything else, and they're only the customers here, and Louis has just had enough. A couple weeks ago he would have shied away, even a week ago he would have found some excuse, but today he's burned out from – from too many days of travelling and too little love. It's late, and he's tired, and he's got Harry here, and Liam, and he just wants this to be okay without being interrupted every single time. He just wants a night, he really just wants a fucking night.

"I don't give a fuck," the guy says again. "I don't want that shit in here."

"Mate," Liam says, turning to the cashier, and Louis can see the way his shoulders broaden, his posture goes straighter, like a cat with its fur up, and if Louis wasn't so angry he'd laugh. "They're just horsing about. No need for that kind of talk, huh?"

"You pay, they get out," the cashier says, pointing to the door.

"I think we're just going to leave," Liam says, his fists balled at his sides. "To be honest with you, mate, I'm not paying you after that display."

Harry lets go of Louis then, walks up to Liam. Louis sees Harry give Liam the credit card, whisper something and pat his shoulder before walking back to Louis. Putting a hand on Louis' back, Harry leads them stoically outside.

"What was that about?" Louis says, stopping when they hit the sidewalk.

Harry shrugs, sits down on the kerb by the road. "I'm just tired," Harry says, his voice gathering low and raspy in his chest. "I haven't slept well and I'm just tired. I'm hungry. I want some food and to go back to the hotel and chill with the boys. I don't want to have to think about other people all the time. Just the ones I like. 'S'all."

Louis sits a few feet away from Harry on the kerb, not sure if he should or not. "Me too."

Harry lets out one breathy chuckle that he sucks back in suddenly. "You're still worth it, by the way. Always worth it," Harry says quietly, his head towards the ground, his hair in front of his face, his voice bruised and sincere. "I'm just really tired, Louis."

Louis bites down on his lower lip. He reaches across the short space between them on the kerb and he grabs Harry's hand. Cars flash by as the last of the day's sunlight fades for good and the sky is made all purple and black, the city done up with buttons of bronze lights, and it's pretty in a way that Louis stares at but doesn't really notice. They wait like that until Liam comes out with a paper bag full of food.

Liam sits on the kerb on Louis' other side, putting the bag of food between his knees. He rests his head on Louis' shoulder and says nothing at all. Louis can feel him sigh.

"Come on," Harry says, after a bit, letting go of Louis' hand and wiping his palms off on his trousers. He helps Louis up, and Liam next. They all stand around each other for a bit, dodging glances, Liam's lips quirked into a half-frown like he's looking for the right thing to say. "Niall will kill us if it's cold."

"Right," Louis says, raising his eyebrows at Liam humourlessly.

"Louis –" Liam starts, hugging the food to his chest.

"You're all right," Louis says, patting Liam's back as they set off towards the hotel. "Nothing to be done, Liam."

*

Dinner is quiet, the five of them piled up in Zayn's room. Niall and Zayn are observant enough to get the vibe when the three of them walk in – that, and Louis catches Liam frantically shaking his head at Niall when he crawls over the couch and looks to fling himself at Harry – and they stay pretty quiet. Zayn mixes rum and cokes and Niall plugs his iPod into the external speakers, his Springsteen mix that he keeps uncharacteristically quiet.

Zayn's been blasting the air conditioner since they left, and the room feels comfortably like midwinter Scotland. They rip scratchy comforters from Zayn's bed, fleece blankets from his closets are coiled up on couches like a nest. Liam doles the food out, heaping piles of chow mein and General Tso and chicken balls with electric orange sauce. Louis sits next to Harry on the couch, messing with his hair a little bit and then just resting next to him, side pressed to side. Although Niall doesn't quite know what's going on, he takes the hint and sits on Harry's other side, punching his shoulder gently, curling up next to him. Even Liam takes one of Zayn's drinks, a rum and coke that he handles like a glass of nitroglycerin.

That's when Louis realises that the rest of them think something has gone very, terribly wrong; Liam would never drink unless it was to please Louis, a little gesture of solidarity that comes with a shrug and a smile. Liam takes a sip of his drink after he settles down next to Zayn, wincing slightly, and then lifting the glass to Louis. Louis would laugh if it the whole thing didn't make him feel so pathetic.

"All right, okay," Louis says finally, setting his plate of food on the coffee table. "You can all stop acting like you're all so fucking sad. It's not that big a deal."

"Really," Harry says, frowning finally. "No one died."

"I don't even know what's fuckin' going on," Niall says. "I'm only here to steal food off your plate." Niall rests his head on Harry's shoulder, looking up at him. "You do look a bit like a sad – a sad lion, though."

"What happened, then?" Zayn asks, turning to look at Liam, playing with his hair absently.

"There was just this guy," Liam says. "He was being a dickhead to Harry and Louis." He glances at Louis like asking for permission to expand on it, and Louis shrugs. There's not much to say really; dickhead pretty much covers it. Louis' been trying for weeks not to give up the ghost of himself, not to resign himself to the niggling thoughts cluttered like a poison at the back of his mind, but tonight it just feels easy to throw in the towel, drawn out and exhausted, too much has happened and too little of it Harry. Louis pinches the bridge of his nose. "Just a dickhead," Liam says, glancing at Louis with a worried little frown. "One big. Head of a dick."

Zayn nods. "Pricks, man."

"Proper bell end," Niall adds.

Harry starts to laugh, nudges Louis gently. "Dicks."

Louis smiles thinly, and slides deeper into the couch, against Harry's side. It's warm tucked up against him, and he's not that hungry, and he really just wants to fall asleep here where things are kind of okay. Louis drains his rum and coke in one. This is okay, being in this room with the four of them. Why can't it be like this most of the time, all of the time; a big house, a big dumb house full of Chinese food and steady drinking and games of bloody knuckles and slap fighting and making fun of Liam. Niall refills his drink, and Louis downs that one too. Harry laughs and his kiss tastes like rye and ginger.

Louis watches as Liam gets in close to Zayn, whispering something quickly in his ear. Zayn grins, and nods, patting Liam's shoulder.

"Excuse me," Liam says soon after. "Going to go call mum."

It's an obvious lie, but Louis doesn't call him out on it. Louis doesn't fall asleep, he's not that kind of tired, but he zones out, barely paying attention to the movie Niall puts on – Ocean's 11 for the thirtieth damn time. Louis mostly spends it with his head on Harry's lap, absently counting the stitches in the seam of Harry's trousers, thinking distant pointless thoughts, making Harry laugh by purring when he starts to play with Louis' hair.

Liam's back in forty minutes, and he settles himself in next to Zayn again, a quick conference of bowed heads and whispers, and then Liam nods.

Whatever it is he's planning, Liam waits until the credits roll. Niall jumps up to make himself another drink, and Zayn stretches and finds a new movie for them to watch. In the momentary intermission, Liam walks over to Harry and Louis with a pleased little grin. Without a word, he grabs Louis' hand and closes his fingers over a keycard. With a quick ruffle of Harry's curls, Liam walks over to the minibar, taking a bottle of water out of the fridge and fighting with Zayn over which Fast and the Furious movie they should watch next.

"What is it?" Harry whispers.

It's different than their regular keys. The card is black and, flipping it over in his hands, PENTHOUSE is written in neat white script along one side. "Shit," Louis says.

"Wow," Harry says. "I think this might cost more than his share of dinner."

Louis shakes his head slowly, staring at Liam's back. It's sickening, really, to have someone so decent and kind and disgusting in your life, but the thought of it hitches in Louis' chest like a sob out of nowhere. As Louis turns the key over and over in his hands, he shifts into a chuckle of disbelief. He thought he'd be past it by now, that giddy and grateful feeling he gets when someone goes out of their way to make this work, but it's there again, flooding through him like a full-body shiver after a shot of tequila. He's really starting to feel like an idiot for thinking it wouldn't be like this, for thinking that Liam, or Niall, or Zayn would somehow turn their backs. Louis has never felt so grateful to be so obviously, thoroughly wrong.

Liam glances over his shoulder, and nods to the door with a smile, mouthing go on as Niall tries to get him into a headlock. Louis isn't sure if he wants to punch or kiss him. Both, probably. It always tends to be both with Liam.

"Let's go," Louis says, poking Harry in the side. "I can't watch Tokyo Drift again. I'll throw myself off the balcony."

"Should we –"

"I'm sure they'll get the picture," Louis says. He helps Harry off the couch, throws an arm over his shoulder as they leave the room together. Louis closes the door quietly behind them, just as Niall starts to yell about how Fast & Furious is the unappreciated gem of the series. Louis laughs, and mentally salutes Liam for the grenade he is throwing himself on.

*

The first thing Harry does when they get into the hotel is undress completely, because of course he does. He stands there naked, long slim body, his knees a bit roughed up from the past few days – Louis smirks to himself – and very much a shower rather than a grower. Louis' seen him naked more times than he cares to count, but it finally sinks in with a sharp kind of satisfaction that it's his now, it's for him.

"Shower, booze, sex," Harry says, counting on his fingers. "In that order."

Louis wanders around the suite while Harry showers. It's one of those dark wood and glass and iron kind of rooms, minimalist and strange with long-necked orchids and precise square shapes and amoeba-like lamps that Louis can't find the switches to. The king-size bed has black sheets, the TV slides down from a hidden recess in the wall, the air smells strongly of sandalwood, and one whole wall of the room is made of glass, leading out to a wide zen-garden of a balcony. Louis rolls his eyes, and he owes Liam at least five punches right into his last functioning kidney. It's the kind of room you reserve for an ambassador and his three closest wives, not the friends he only yesterday called amazingly immature. Louis is immediately filled with the desire to steal everything that isn't nailed down and bill it straight to Liam's credit card.

Harry comes back freshly scrubbed and rosy cheeked in a fluffy white bathrobe. His hair is half-dry and crazy with curls, the hair on his legs coarse with damp, his eyelashes thick and dark. Harry leans in to bite a kiss against Louis' bottom lip and he smells of mint and lime.

"You gonna have one?" Harry asks, playing with the knot of his belt, his robe already so loose it's falling down one of his shoulders.

"I will after," Louis says, looking Harry in the eyes. "I'll be sweatier then."

Harry opens his mouth with a huge, silent ha, and he slaps Louis on the bum. "Sex!"

"Alcohol," Louis says, toeing off his shoes and pulling his socks off next. "Let's go outside. We've got some kind of vegetable garden on our balcony with sculptures and art and stuff. I want to piss in it."

Harry looks around the suite quickly, like he hadn't noticed the gently trickling water of a wall mounted fountain, the modern art carpets on black hardwood floors, or the chrome espresso maker when he first walked in. "Liam."

"Maybe it was the only room they had left," Louis says, shrugging as he pulls off his t-shirt, tossing it with Harry's on the bed.

"No," Harry murmurs, turning in a full, slow circle. "I bet you he thought it looked cool. I bet he thought it looked really, really cool."

"We need to have a talk with him after," Louis says. "I think he bought some gold trainers the other day."

"Oh, yeah, he did," Harry says. "I got a pair too."

"Get me drunk," Louis says, sighing.

Harry finds the champagne; he's got a bloodhound's nose for it. He snatches it from the fridge, ignoring the champagne flutes, and Louis follows him outside. The glass doors sound exactly like the original Star Trek Enterprise when they slide open, bathing them suddenly in the rich heat and the insect buzz of the city. Harry digs his thumbs under the champagne cork and shoots it out off the balcony railing, a pathetic meteor he sends tumbling into streets. Looking a lot like the cat that got the cream, Harry takes a big mouthful from the bottle before handing it off to Louis.

They sit on the balcony floor, ignoring the twisted metal skeletons that bear only a passing resemblance to chairs. Louis is only wearing his rolled up jeans, and Harry in that cotton puff of a bathrobe, but the night is perfect and dry and the wind smells like summer coming on, grass and heat. Louis takes the champagne from Harry and chugs down a fifth of the bottle in one.

"I'm already kind of drunk, from before," Louis says, passing the bottle back. "I swear, Zayn mixes fifty-fifty."

"Me too," Harry says, pushing his hair back only to have it flop in front of his face again. "That good kinda drunk, you know. The kind that makes you think you can jump off the roof."

"We're on the thirty-third floor," Louis says, trying hard not to just constantly laugh, this hiccup kind of drunken high, this love of everything that he holds down in his chest. "But I bet you could. Go on, give it a go. Birds do it all the time."

"Don't like birds," Harry says, his face scrunching up. "Don't trust them. They're the last of the dinosaurs."

"You are such an idiot," Louis says, at least mostly fond.

"Proudly so," Harry says, punching Louis' shoulder but losing his balance, toppling over awkwardly that he saves just in time, crawling over to rest his head in Louis' lap and flopping out on his back, his robe opening from collar to navel and only just protecting his modesty. "You know it's almost been two months?" he asks, looking up at Louis, his eyes wide and green and electric. "You don't seem like the kind of person who anniversaries."

"Hey," Louis says, pinching Harry's cheek. "I might be that kind of person. I could buy you a cake with a lady inside. Not baked inside. She jumps out. She's alive inside the cake."

Harry is quiet for a while, and when he talks again his voice is low and he looks up at Louis through his lashes. "The last – the last few months haven't been easy for you, have they?"

Louis shrugs, one-shouldered, and he starts to play with Harry's curls, a tight little braid he remembers his sisters teaching him. He hates it, he hates that there's still a little black bruise, a bloody spot that hasn't properly healed inside him. And sure, he told Liam, and then finally told Harry, and made the first trembling kicks off the coast and into the water, but he wishes he do this thing like it ought to be done, like Harry deserves. Christ, like they both deserve. But even so, even after the brave words and back slaps and swagger of sex, there's still that stupid knot of shame calcifying in his chest, sinking Louis slowly with every breath he takes.

"Yeah," Harry murmurs thoughtfully, inching into Louis' touch, his smile lazy and drunk and pleased like a pup getting its ears scratched. "I knew it would be hard for you. So I waited until you were – well, uh, I tried to wait."

Louis slaps his cheek, a friendly kind of slap. "You pushed me up against the wall of our flat, snuck a hand under my shirt, and told me you loved me into my mouth." Louis slaps his cheek gently again. "You said you needed me and I've never heard anyone sound so serious about that in my life."

"Hey, I did wait for, like, a whole year after the bungalow. Which is when I first meant to tell you, by the way," Harry says quietly, flinching a little but taking the next slap in stride. "That deserves some praise, I think."

"You never thought they'd hate us?" Louis asks, biting his tongue as he moves back to the tight little plait he left half-woven, studiously ignoring Harry's glance. "You never thought they'd – I don't know, worry about the band? You never thought they'd try and talk us out of – you know, for fucking with the dream?"

"I did," Harry murmurs. "I did think that once. Not for long. I just thought they'd love us more."

"They do," Louis says, shaking his head. "They actually do. I feel really stupid thinking that maybe they wouldn't."

"So, we were right," Harry says.

Louis leaves the braid to take another long drink of the champagne. "You – do you think we deserve it?" Louis says, his voice clipped, hitting a note lower than he wanted. "Do you think we deserve that?"

Harry sighs, his eyes half-opened, his smile half-faded on wet lips. "I – I don't know. I like to think so. I think we do."

Louis runs his fingers in Harry's hair, scratches his scalp like he knows Harry likes best. Louis takes a deep breath, and he knows he deserves a lot of things but he's still not sure unconditional is one of them. With things like these though, the self-confident and loud and physical and emotional, it's always better to trust Harry and run with it.

"Even after that time I pushed Zayn into that river even though I knew he couldn't swim?" Louis asks

Harry laughs, dimples deep in his cheeks. "That was hilarious, though. Doesn't count."

"Or that time I stole all of Liam's clothes while he was showering and made him wander through the hotel naked?"

"I don't get it," Harry says, his voice hovering just above laughter, "are you just telling me amazing things you should never regret?"

"How about when I made a Grindr account on Niall's phone when he was napping?"

Harry finally bursts out laughing, looking up delightedly at Louis. "Are you serious? And he hasn't noticed?"

"It's been a week. Maybe he likes it," Louis says, unknotting the clump of a braid he seriously messed up. "He must know it's there though. He gets notifications sent to his phone, and I checked yesterday and he hasn't deleted it. His profile still says Needy Twink Seeks Discipline Daddy for God's sake."

Harry laughs for a solid minute, his head back, his smile huge with glee. Louis loves that, loves doing that, loves this so much it aches in his chest. "I don't know, Louis," Harry says, wiping a finger at the corner of his eye, his body still shaking like an echo of laughter as he looks up at Louis, dopey and high. "I'm completely shitfaced. I don't know, Louis. You're an awful bastard. So'm I. But we're – their bastards, you know? We're their bastards. They claimed us."

"Damn right," Louis says, his fingertips tingling with the wine, brushing a thumb over Harry's cheek which he just – can't help it, really – turns into a pinch. "I never had – anyone like that before. I had mates, I even had mates who liked me proper. But I never knew guys like this."

"Y'do now," Harry says simply.

"This is very weird foreplay," Louis says. "Talking about our boys before I fuck your brains out."

"Need m'brains," Harry says. "It's not that weird. My dick has kind of become the band's mascot. Hey, okay, gimme some champagne."

"Sit up," Louis says.

"Pour it in my mouth," Harry says.

"You'll drown."

"I saw it in a film once. It's dead sexy. Do it." Harry grins.

"Okay, fine, it's your funeral," Louis says, holding the champagne aloft. "In your mouth?"

"Yes," Harry says.

Louis pours a steady stream of champagne in Harry's mouth. Harry drinks at first, sucking it down, and then he can't help but laugh, and he chokes and sprays them both with expensive wine. Harry is laughing and coughing, and Louis has a face full of champagne and this is exactly what he knew would happen and he glares bloody loving murder down at Harry. Louis really wants to punch him. He kisses Harry instead, vicious and hungry, tasting the champagne on Harry's skin, the sugar in his mouth.

"I saw it in a movie!" Harry yells, wiping his mouth as Louis pulls away. "It was sexy!"

"Seems like it," Louis says, wiping the champagne off his cheeks. "You are such a colossal, astounding asshole. And I ought to know."

"Love me?" Harry says, sitting up quickly, champagne on his eyelashes, dripping down his chin, a drop hanging on the tip of his nose. He sits up and grins, his big, cheeky grin that he knows wins everyone over. "Won't you?"

"Fuck," Louis says, pushing Harry's face away. "I guess so. No one would. No one loves you like I do. Not after that."

"I know," Harry says quietly, sitting up properly now, his head out of Louis' lap and his legs crossed under him. A sudden flicker passes through his eyes, like a switch being turned, like a surge of something else. Louis knows what it is before Harry says so, because it hits him too, in just the same way, a growling and strange kind of violence, beautiful violence. Maybe it was the stupid champagne, or maybe it was just how unbelievably right the night has felt, every slap and every kiss. Doesn't matter; Louis has had enough of the interruptions and the waiting and the sickness and now he's going to take what he wants, just like Harry said. "All right. Okay," Harry says, his lips set in a straight line, staring intently at Louis. "Just, fucking fuck me. Please. Right now. Fuck me until I hurt. Fuck me until I can only remember how you feel."

Louis sweeps his hair to one side, can feel champagne in it, sticky and plastering stray hair to his forehead. He watches Harry levelly, dragging the moment out, still loving the sudden and blindingly helpless way Harry is looking at him. Louis takes a gentle fistful of Harry's curls, tugs him over a bit closer, nodding slowly. "I think I will do that, Harry."

Harry's look is dark and glorious, somehow both hungry and deeply satisfied. "Inside," he says, little pink tongue darting out to lick his bottom lip. Harry leads the way to the bed, through the Star Trek doors as his robe spreads open and he spins the length of the cotton belt in a wide circle. He's so obviously a bundle of nervous energy, with a want so strong Louis can almost smell it on him.

Harry lets the robe slide to the floor and he falls back on the bed, shoves himself up towards the headboard. Louis smirks as he unbuttons his jeans, kicks them off. He crawls over Harry, up his long legs and onto his hips. "Hey there, rockstar," Louis says.

Harry laughs, his hand cupping Louis' cock, against his briefs. "Okay, I want you to –"

"Oh, I know exactly what I'm going to do to you," Louis says, smirking. Harry pulls the elastic of Louis' briefs over his cock, running his hand over the shaft. "No need to tell me," Louis says as Harry runs his thumb over the head of Louis' dick, smearing precome over it. "I think I know what you're like."

Harry smiles, his cheekiest smile. "Let's be having you, then."

Louis fumbles in Harry's leather toilet bag, picks out the small bottle of lube and lets Harry run it over his dick with two hands. It's a blind kind of want, the same kind of desperate need Harry has about being fucked, the same feeling but in reverse. Louis wants to fuck him, Louis wants to feel it in heat and friction, Louis wants to make real the last few weeks in ways that can't be done in words. He wants to fuck him because it's the best kind of promise he's got to give right now.

Harry lies flat on his back, his knees crooked and legs spread, inching himself naked and closer to Louis. With one hand on Harry's shoulder, and one on his waist, Louis guides himself between Harry's legs, lifts Harry's hips up a bit, and – swallowing once – pushes into him on a long and shuddering breath.

Harry scrunches his face, grunts in pain as Louis' fills him, his head thrown back and the long line of his throat exposed and soft as cream. As Louis pushes deeper, Harry relaxes into it, into a sharp and sudden bliss, a painful grunt turning into a wide oh as Louis fucks slowly into him.

"Okay?" Louis asks, leaning over Harry, watching him intently.

"Oh – fucking – yes," Harry says, his eyes squeezed tight. "More, more," Harry says, and his cheeks flood bright with red, like he's embarrassed, like he's suddenly brightly aware of actually how much he loves being fucked. He writhes under Louis a little, shoving himself onto Louis' cock with these whimpering little gasps that sound lost between pain and want. Louis finds it so beautifully strange to be craved like this, to actually see someone so blushing and needing. It's not just that Harry loves being fucked, but Louis knows it's because Harry loves being fucked by him. His cheeks slashed winter red, his eyes screwed shut, his mouth so pink and wet. "Louis, more, right now."

Louis fucks into Harry, drawing out slowly, but fucking him again, harder with each push. Harry is so tight, and so alive under him, bucking against his cock, wanting and begging to be fucked harder. Actually pushing against him and demanding him deeper, all while his cheeks flush red, while his moans shift from pain to want.

A steady rhythm builds, faster and harder, Louis fucking Harry and Harry wants more wants all of him, almost begging. Louis can't help but groan, how tight Harry is around him, how much he wants to fuck him, how much Harry wants to be fucked. It becomes wordless, it becomes noises exchanged, it becomes the same steady build up in the both of them, a give and a take like a hunger. Harry cock is so hard and totally untouched, bouncing up against his bellybutton with every push, and he's grips the sheets until his knuckles shine bone-white.

In the heat of it, Louis leans down over Harry, presses their foreheads together. He's exhausted and he keeps going, and Harry keeps taking, and a sheen of sweat covers their cheeks and lips. Harry lets go of the bed and just wraps his arms around Louis, bringing him close as Louis pushes into him again, deeper, with a gasp of that good pain. They're close, so close, and Harry tugs him nearer and kisses Louis, grabs him and kisses him, demands it. It's not like any other kiss; it's so fragile, so fucking needy, so demanding and pitiless. Louis has never kissed anyone like this before, fire reds and an ache, almost pathetic and sweet, like a fucking promise. Harry curls his body up against him, arms around Louis' neck, and lips as hot as a fever.

"I'm gonna –" Harry says, his voice going breathy. He's still got his hands around Louis' neck, and he comes, his cock untouched. Louis fucks the come out of him, Harry shooting his load onto his stomach, his chest, onto Louis' hips too. Harry tightens up, all his muscles, his whole body like a clenched fist of lines and electricity as he fucks himself deeper on Louis' cock, as his eyes flutter open and his mouth rounds in a rough gasp.

Louis can't – he can't take more – he can't see Harry like that and not – and he fucks into Harry and feels the nova in his gut turn super, just pushes into Harry again and loses himself over the edge. Louis comes in Harry with a gasp, a pulsing shout, a groan as he tucks his head into Harry's shoulder and bites the skin he finds.

They stay that way for what feels like hours; Harry still curled around Louis and keeping him close, Louis still inside him as he slowly goes soft. It actually takes work to find himself, sorting through the wreckage of his mind and the cluttered cloudy fizz of the after, Louis only slowly coming round to it. He breathes out a long, crumpled sigh and opens his eyes.

Harry is smiling up at him, and it's like nothing else. Harry is so tired, so totally fucked out and sleepy and happy, his smile so disarming and pleased that Louis can't help but mirror it himself. He wants to quip, wants to slap him maybe, get a bit of his old self back, but he can't. He just lies there on top of Harry, feeling his chest breathe out as Harry breathes in; sticky with champagne and come, the both of them exhausted, Louis smelling sweat and shampoo in Harry's curls, pressing his face against the red and purple marks Louis left when he bit him.

"Finally," Harry whispers, only breaking into a breathy laugh at the end. "Thank you, God, I needed that."

"Like a glass of water in the desert," Louis murmurs.

"A loaf of bread when you're starving," Harry says, wriggling a little to get a bit more comfortable under Louis.

"A – working SCUBA gear and a harpoon when you get dragged to the bottom of the sea by a giant squid," Louis says, finding his little smirk again.

Harry laughs and leans up to kiss him, falling back in a dead weight once he pecks Louis on the lips. "Time for bed. Definitely time for bed."

"All right," Louis says, leaning down to kiss Harry this time. "If I tell you I love you, do you promise not to reply like Han Solo?"

"I was replying like Leia, actually," Harry says. "I do cross my heart, though."

"I love you, Harry Styles," Louis says, with as straight a face as he can manage. He buries the chuckle that rises in his lungs deep, he buries it very deep. This is a serious moment. Very serious. Not the time to laugh at himself for saying it, nor at Harry for his floppy hair and dimpled cheeks and teasing smile.

"I –" Harry focuses very hard for moment. "I know."

"Ruined it," Louis says, rolling off Harry and falling against his side. "Totally ruined it."

"Ah, well," Harry says, absently running his thumb against the back of Louis' neck, his voice sounding sleepy and further away. "It wouldn't be the first time."

"Shameful," Louis says.

"You too," Harry says quietly, on the edge of it all. "Very much so."

*

Harry and Louis sneak down to their own hotel rooms at a quarter to nine in the morning. It's not much of a lie in (especially considering the frantic handjob they gave each other just after Harry's phone woke them up at eight o'clock) but it's something, at least, a half-hour of rest. Thirty minutes spent half-dozing in bed, the tickle of Harry's curls on Louis' chest, the warm pink of Harry's tongue as they kiss lazily, tangled legs and fingers jabbed into stomachs and a knee pressed gently against Louis' crotch. And then the bubble snaps, and they kiss quickly in the elevator one last time before going to their separate rooms.

Louis spends a few minutes mucking up his unused bed, tossing the comforter and sheets around, he strips and has a quick shower and shave. Louis is brushing his teeth when Zayn knocks on his door.

"Hiya," Zayn says, smirk dancing in the corner of his mouth. "Sleep well?"

Louis narrows his eyes, points at the toothbrush he's chewing on.

"Right," Zayn says, slapping his shoulder. "Well, Liam sent me over to see if you were down yet. Which you are, obviously. We're all having breakfast in my room. Come on –" a slight snicker " – when you're ready, yeah?"

Louis glares at him until Zayn leaves laughing.

Niall and Harry are watching football in sweatpants when Louis walks in, each of them waving hello without looking away from the television. Louis leans down over Harry, eclipsing him on the couch. Harry grins like a child and leans back, Louis planting a Spiderman kiss on his mouth, more of a bite to the lips, really. Harry laughs at him, and Louis slaps him upside the head in retaliation. Louis ruffles Niall's hair next, which earns Louis a hard slap on the bum.

The blinds have been thrown wide and the windows cranked open, flooding the room with that perfect yellow early summer sunshine and the buzzing rush of early morning traffic. The balcony door has been left open, a sharp breeze fluttering through curtains and lifting them like flags, whipping at the table cloth and scattering loose papers around the floor. There's a room service tray of scrambled egg whites and fruit that Zayn is standing by, ignoring as he types out a text.

"Where's Liam?" Louis asks, juggling a plum from hand to hand.

Zayn rolls his eyes, not even looking up from his phone. "Running a marathon, probably."

"If you see him, I'm gonna be sitting outside," Louis says. He stares at Zayn for a moment, then punches him in the shoulder, hard. "Hey. Liam. I'm outside. Tell him."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Zayn says. "Have a fucking apple, man."

The balcony is narrow, just a couple of chairs and a side table with an ashtray, Zayn's pack of Marlboros and his silver Zippo lying there. The railing is divided into vertical slats and Louis sits down between them, threading his legs between the bars so he can kick childishly against the wall, his feet dangling out twenty stories up. The sky is a cloudless cornflower blue and the sun is all over him, east-facing and flooding Louis in warmth, goosepimples running up his arms and legs. He finishes his plum, and then his apple, and he's debating if he could throw the core into the swimming pool from here when he finally hears Liam walk in. Niall and Zayn raise their voices in a cheery welcome a loud hello. There's some muffled talking, some noises that sounds like bare slaps of skin on skin – yeah, that's definitely Harry laughing and yelling about trying to get the perfect handprint on Liam's bare back – and then Louis hears the sound of sneakers squeaking on the tile floor and Liam clearing his throat behind him.

"Hey," Louis says, staring straight ahead.

"Everything okay?" Liam asks, sitting cross legged next to Louis, taking out his earbuds and wrapping them around his iPod. He obviously hasn't been exercising long, only a light sweat beading on his forehead and a slight flush of pink rising on his bare chest. He's only wearing some ratty black trackpants rolled up to the knees, the logo of an American college they've never been to shiny and white on his thigh. He seems like he was halfway towards taking a shower, but Liam doesn't move from the spot, just takes a cue from Louis and stretches his legs between the metal slats of the railing, kicking his bare feet out over open air.

"Yeah," Louis says. "Were you actually exercising during the, what, two hours we have to ourselves today? Are you really that kind of asshole?"

"Yep." Liam smiles. Louis really regrets the day that Liam figured out that his insults were affection in disguise. "So, was the room okay?" he asks, and Louis actually detects a hint of teasing, a waggle of the eyebrows in the way he says it.

"It was –" Louis thinks of a hundred things he could call it. Tacky. Hilarious. Absurd. Literally the stupidest room to ever exist. "– really great."

Liam absolutely beams. "Aw, Louis," he says, knocking his head gently against Louis' own. "What'd you want to talk to me about, anyway?"

"Actually, yeah, about that. Right, right, wanted to talk to you," Louis says, his voice shifting down to somewhere quiet and private. He knows he must sound serious because Liam looks at him curiously, a hair's breadth away from worry. Louis knows exactly what he wants to say, but in the hundreds of times he tried to phrase it the night before, he still has no idea how to put it together in words. He just looks at Liam then, at his broad shoulders, at the exercise flush in his cheeks all pink, at his body curled forward and the flick of hair in the middle of his chest, at the way he kicks his legs out between the bars of the railing just like Louis is doing. Louis takes a deep breath, and, fuck it all, he says what he thinks: "Okay, well. I was just thinking, last night. I don't know, man. When we first met, I didn't really like you that much."

Liam puffs a little sigh and shrugs. "I know. It's okay."

Louis takes a deep breath, blowing it out slowly. "And now I really don't know what I'd do without you."

Liam is quiet for a bit, just rubs the back of Louis' neck, ruffling the hair there. "I get worried when you get all sincere with me," Liam says gently, and Louis laughs. "It makes me think something's gone seriously wrong. You make it sound like the last thing you're gonna say before you go on a suicide mission over the top of the trench."

Louis bumps his shoulder against Liam. "I'm trying to have a moment right now, if you'd let me."

"Sorry, sorry," Liam says. "I like having a moment."

Louis sighs. "I just know it's not going to last much longer," Louis says. It's not sharp, or bitter, or lonely. It's just the truth, and with all things like this, like the promise he made last night, it's better to trust Harry and run with it. "I mean, it can't, I know it can't. We're going to have to tell someone eventually, we can't keep nicking into broom closets to snog."

Liam nods slowly, his smile sympathetic. "Yeah, I figured."

"And, you know what, I want more people to know. I want them to know. So I'm going to tell someone," Louis says, looking out there and shrugging simply, the sun hitting him warm and Liam rubbing his back absently. "I mean, we've already told all the mums and sisters and all. Maybe Paul. I bet Paul will get a kick out of it."

"What about Simon," Liam adds, smiling slightly like he's trying to test the waters.

Louis grins, and Liam smiles wider. "He always goes on and on about our chemistry, how well we fit together, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise, after all. I can already see his smug I told you so face. Looks a lot like yours, actually."

This time, Liam bumps his shoulder up against Louis'. "If any of them try to – you know, if anyone tries to make it stop, I won't let them," Liam says, his nose scrunching a bit like he's focusing his determination. "None of us will. We won't let them. We've got your back. And your front. And all the other bits I've seen too much of in the last eight weeks."

"Oh, God," Louis says, bending forward like he's about to throw up off the railing. "This is why I don't like having moments with you." Liam is laughing now, wrapping his arm around Louis' shoulder. "I take the time to sort of say thank you in a roundabout way where I don't actually have to say it, and then you go and make it gentle and emotional and kind and sweet because you don't know how to have a proper conversation without turning it into true love and best friends."

The shrug Liam gives is beautifully done, so clearly full of disinterest, so perfectly communicating the message that I don't care what you think, and so obviously stolen from a page of Louis' book that Louis can't help but swell with pride. "I'm not even a little sorry," Liam says sweetly, fluttering his eyelashes. And honestly, Louis is about one pint of lager and six shots of tequila from totally turning Liam over to the dark side. "Sorry."

Louis looks at him, shaking his head slightly in arch disapproval. He holds it for a long time; and the whole while wanting to punch Liam, and wanting to kiss him too. "The fuck have you got on your iPod, then," Louis says, giving up and poking the square in Liam's trackpants' pocket. "Let's have some tunes."

"Working out to Fatboy Slim," Liam says, digging it out and unwrapping the earbuds from around the white body of his mp3 player. Louis nods appreciatively. "But something nice and cool, bright lights big city, a little class to start to the day," he says, his tongue poking out from between his lips as he flicks through his playlist. "A little Frankie Sinatra maybe?" He pauses, and then his grin turns mischievous. "They Can't Take That Away From Me?"

"I actually hate you," Louis says.

"My Way?"

"Do you want to feel your last name, Liam?"

Liam is snickering as he passes one earbud to Louis and puts in his own. Liam flicks through a few albums, and soon Frank Sinatra is crooning to them and promising that the best is yet to come. It's a little too on the nose, even for Liam, but Louis doesn't stop him. It is a classic, after all. He just follows Liam's lead and snaps his fingers in time to the song, childishly kicking his feet out against the wall, maybe throwing in a swish and flick because it makes Liam laugh.

Zayn finds them next, wandering out onto the balcony and laughing as Liam hums out the chorus like karaoke. Zayn slaps Louis' cheeks as he finds his place right next to them, settling next to Liam and tucking his head in against Liam's shoulder. Zayn slings his legs between the railing, setting up camp with his heels bouncing against the balcony too.

Harry is next, wandering out after Zayn. He sits next to Louis, close and warm and pressed up against the single earbud, listening through vibrations and proximity. He kisses Louis on the cheek, and then his jaw, and then the corner of his mouth. "Hello," he says silently, mouthing the words in private.

"Heya," Louis says noiselessly, kissing Harry on the mouth. Harry slides his legs between the railing, barefoot and bouncing his heels against concrete, looking out then at the bare sky and the sun splashing against his face and catching his hair in bronze and gold.

Niall is last, finding them chained together with their legs kicking out to nowhere. He squeezes Louis' shoulders, pats the top of Harry's head, and sets himself down next to Zayn. Legs through the railings, following their lead, his sneakers kicking out back and forth, the five of them like a secret society linked together on the twentieth storey of a towering hotel.

They end up sitting out there for a while, through half of a Greatest Hits album shared in earbuds, the volume as loud as it goes so it can be heard between ears. Their stomachs rumble, and the morning is long, and they end up – five people, acting as one – lying on their backs on the concrete balcony, the odd squeeze of a hand exchanged with a sharp poke in the ribs in return, squirming and finding tender spots and laughing together. Louis closes his eyes then, drawn out and half-dreaming as he feels the wind tickle hair against his nose and Harry nuzzles against his shoulder. It's a private little smile but it's sincere, and quietly Louis tries to memorize the exact feeling of these tired mornings, and of the little victories, and of the long line of his friends as solid as a red brick wall.

End.