He remembers first seeing Louis Tomlinson on the TV screen, years back. Harry and his mum had sat down to watch X Factor over a roast and conversation and right away, even in lines and auditions, the cameras loved Louis. They focused on him, close up on his face, the light and the angles always perfect no matter where or how he was standing, and Harry remembers thinking that this much focus meant he was going to be amazing or laughably horrible.
He was amazing; it turned out, his rendition of Hey There Delilah by the Plain White Tees impressing even Simon. His voice soared over the notes and as the camera panned over the smiling and standing audience, Harry burned to be there. He looked kind of like a fairy, sparkling and magical and delicate and Harry's heart thumped and his mouth went dry and twelve year old Harry thought that he might just be gay.
"He'll go far, that kid," his mum told him, superior, brandishing the price of chicken on her fork in the general direction of the boy’s angelic face on the TV.
Simon agreed with her, and unanimous yesses sent Louis Tomlinson through to boot camp, 2006. He was 14. Harry was 12 and he thought that Louis Tomlinson was maybe the prettiest person he'd ever seen.
Louis Tomlinson, 14 year old wonder was a, if not the favourite of the competition. His cheeky grin and his flicky hair and his angel voice melted England's hearts and Harry turned on the TV religiously every episode and his mum teased him about his crush. His cheeks would go bright red when Louis came on screen and sometimes it seemed Louis' bright blue eyes were staring back at the little boy curled on the couch next to his mum in slightly too small pyjamas because he "grew like a weed" his mum said.
Week after week Louis Tomlinson was put through the competition and though Harry had never met him or seen him in real life, he felt proud and like he had some kind of claim on him because Harry had been a fan since Louis' face was shown in the line for X Factor Auditions.
Old ladies loved him, young girls loved him, the judges loved him and Harry wasn't ashamed to tell people he loved Louis Tomlinson, even if it was a bit weird because he was a boy.
One week he sang You and Me by Lifehouse and Harry was reasonably sure that Louis was singing straight through a camera to him. He had a photo from the Internet of Louis stuck up on his wall now, and despite his mums teasing and Gemma laughing at him, he maybe kissed it goodnight every night.
Time passed and it was measured in weeks and X Factor episodes. Harry was aware that he was acting like one of the annoying girls in his class who kept flicking their hair and giggling too loudly and making loud and deliberate comments about bras and how they wore them now but as Harry earnestly told his mum and sister:
"He's just a really good singer!" And if his mum and Gemma shared a slightly too knowing look Harry didn't really mind because they were his mum and sister and they were meant to tease him.
It was reasonably obvious by now that Louis Tomlinson would be winning The X Factor UK 2006, and Harry begged for tickets to the final to see Louis live, told his mum that they could be his birthday present and Christmas present combined and he wouldn't even complain in February and he insisted that he would just die without them. His mum smiled sadly and promised she'd try and that was as good as a yes for him.
He had a smile on his face all week and even when Gemma laughed at him he couldn't wipe it off.
The final was going to be in December sometime, and Harry was sure that it was going to be the best Christmas ever. But then his mum sat him down and gently explained to him that tickets were expensive and money was a bit tight and she was really sorry.
He smiled at her even as his bottom lip was wobbling because he didn't want him mum to feel bad but it was hard when his eyes were burning and it felt like the world was ending. He gave his mum an extra big hug because he knew she felt bad and then he went to bed and he cried.
It didn't matter that he was a boy and boys weren't meant to cry or that he was too old to cry regardless, because he wasn't going to meet Louis Tomlinson and he wasn't going to go to the X Factor final and his pillow was so wet he had to flip it over before he could go to sleep that night.
He didn't want to be angry at his mum, but it seemed like money was always tight and he never got anything his friends got and it sucked. He hated being poor, he hated it, and he hated his dad for dying and leaving them poor and then he hated himself for such horrible thoughts. He said sorry, in the morning, by making his mum bacon and eggs and being extra nice and quiet and she gave him a big hug and he knew he was forgiven for his mean thoughts, even if she never knew he’d thought them. His mum was good like that.
December rolled around slowly and Louis Tomlinson was still singing amazingly each week but watching him now through a TV screen and knowing that was all he would ever be able to see was like biting into a peach pit. It was still warm and fuzzy and juicy and Harry would get distracted listening to Louis sing and then he would remember that he would probably never see him live and it was biting too far and jarring his teeth, it was cold and round and hard and it settled heavily in the bottom of his stomach.
It was the semi-finals and Louis was still there, smiling cheekily and pointily and angly and Harry thought that disappointment was a lot like when it doesn't quite snow on Christmas.
Two days before the finals, his mum comes home from work beaming, and Gemma dances excitedly beside her.
"Guess what, baby?" His mum asks him and he would've protested at her use of baby because he wasn't a baby but he really wanted to know what was in the envelope she was holding.
"What?!" He asks, having no clue what it could be and jumping to his feet excitedly and when his mum tells him she won tickets to go to the X Factor finals Harry feels like crying and dancing and yelling and so he ends up doing a mad kick punctuated with a strangled shout as he runs to hug his mum.
If disappointment is when the rain chases away snow on Christmas Eve, delight is buckets of snow, white shooting stars spiralling down and twirling around and sparkling outside his window and Harry feels like twirling with it, arms outstretched and head thrown back because he quite likes snow.
He dresses in his nicest shirt and his best jeans which fit him the most and even if you can see a little bit of ankle it's okay because his mum just tells him it means he gets to show his socks. It must be a hard life being a pair of socks, he thinks, because you spend your whole life doing an important job and protecting from bad things like smell and blisters and looking nice but you never get seen or appreciated. Harry is quite glad he isn’t a sock and he thinks his mum was pretty nice for giving him jeans that show them off. Harry finds it ironic that Louis Tomlinson never wore socks and that his jeans always fit perfectly and he might have been slightly self-conscious about his old, slightly too short jeans but his mum tries so hard so he wears them proudly anyway.
The night is cold and it's dark already and Harry's breaths are dragon puffs on the way to the car. The show doesn't finish until well late and Harry is pretty sure that it was going to be the best night of his life.
His mum warns him not to get too excited because he could just be disappointed and he thinks that's the stupidest advice ever because if you're not going to ever get excited for anything life would be pretty boring. He thinks he would rather have a bit of disappointment than a boring life and tells his mum so. She smiles sadly and takes his hand as they walk into the arena, and even though he's not a baby he squeezes her hand back.
"You won't think that one day," she tells him and he doesn't believe her because he'll always hope for snow on Christmas, even if year after year they get none. And then they're inside and every thought of disappointment and the future leaves his head because wow, they're really here and he forgets her words for years.
They get there an hour before the show even starts, and even though they are right up the front and could see the whole stage, Harry is quickly restless and whining and wanting it to start already.
The area around them quickly fills with people and he yells wordlessly along with them, grinning at his mum and Gemma and he thinks he can see tears in his mum’s eyes.
The hour passes quicker than he thought it would, the air bubbling around them, festive and excited and everything is fizzing.
The host walks out on stage and introduces the acts and Harry only has eyes for one small sliver of a boy, and he makes a high pitched squeak in his throat when he spots him, quickly coughing deep and manly, looking around to see if anyone heard his undignified noise. He ignores the smirk on his sister’s face and turns to the front again, gulping in a gasp when he sees him again. He drinks Louis Tomlinson in, breathes him in, sucks him in through his pores and it’s like he’s not really standing there, but floating, spiralling, flying.
He looks just the same as on TV, all angles and shiny and like the sun shone from inside his eyes.
Harry thinks that Louis can see him, could see right into his soul and his heart and Harry blushes and looks down and thinks again that Louis is probably the prettiest person on the planet.
The songs are uplifting and happy, people are standing and clapping along and it’s such a rush, a buzz, a tidal wave and Harry is dragged along with it, fighting to keep his eyes on Louis. He never wants to come down from this high, he wishes he could stay in this moment forever, and it fills up his chest until he's almost sure his heart is going to burst.
Standing in the mosh pit with his mum and sister either side of him and Louis Tomlinson up on stage Harry feels invisible and invincible and infinite and a thousand other words that could never even come close to describing the moment.
The crowd is cheering wildly and the host has just announced a commercial break and the judges are taking drinks and fixing coats and dresses and Harry thinks that it might be a good time to tell his mum and sister that he’s gay.
The look his sister gives him conveys everything from "well, duh," to "obviously" to "no shit" and he thinks that that might have been one of the more unnecessary announcements of his life.
But it’s out now, and so is he, and his mum hugs him close and tells him she loves him and his sister wipes a suspicious tear from under her eye and smacks him upside the head when he notices her doing it but it's more of a tousle of his hair than a slap and he turns, light and laughing to yell his head off again.
To no one’s surprise and everyone's delight, Louis Tomlinson is named the winner of X Factor UK 2006. A beaming Simon shakes his hand and the small boy disappears in hugs and congratulations on stage.
Harry likes to think he cheered the loudest and smiled the widest and cried the happiest.
What his mum and sister hadn't told him was that their tickets weren't just for the show and he feels like his heart is going to burst, his intestines are going to spill out, his body is too small to hold the feeling when they tell him they get to go meet the judges and contestants. He panics, quickly and quietly and completely and he wipes his sweaty hands on his jeans and he is ready to go. It feels like he's walking towards both a carnival and his own execution and his excitement and nerves war within his stomach, butterflies with guns and machetes.
He meets Simon Cowell, and that shouldn't have been as big as it was but it was because he shook Simon Cowells hand and that was actually a big deal. He meets the other judges, shaking their hands from politeness and awe but really there was only one person he wanted to meet, the person who seemed to be buried almost constantly in hugs and arms and people and Harry is terrified. When all the other meet and greeters have gone over, and the number of people in the room is dwindling, Harry feels as though he had to actually go over or he would miss his chance.
He forgets how to walk momentarily but after a shove from his sister his normal motor control is restored and he stumbles over to his idol, realising far too late he has no idea what he was going to say.
He stands in front of the table Louis is sitting behind, looking happy and exhausted and flawless and he opens his mouth a few times but nothing comes out.
He panics and he flusters and he fumbles in his mouth, normal thought processes and word forming capabilities deserting him and he stares for an uncomfortably long moment.
"You're Louis Tomlinson!" He blurts out, as if Louis didn't know his own name, and physically resists the urge to punch himself in the forehead.
"Am I?" Louis asks, and he looks playfully shocked and slightly amused but not mean or cruel, it was a kind laughter in his eyes and Harry falls a little bit harder.
"Um," Harry states eloquently and he can feel his face burning.
"Well if I'm Louis Tomlinson, who are you then?" Louis asks and his voice is so familiar to Harry and yet so new, not diluted through miles of TV.
"I'm Harry," Harry mutters, still blushing madly. "Harry Styles."
"Well Harry, Harry Styles," Louis says, grinning up at him, "It's very nice to meet you." Louis’ eyes are bluer than the TV ever showed, his cheekbones even more angular, his lips pale and full and gorgeous and he had just the tiniest smattering of freckles across his nose, like pixie dust.
"I'm a huge fan," Harry says to him, words tripping over each other and he feels like a right fool but Louis is still smiling kindly.
"Well, thank you so much," Louis says and Harry knows he means every word. "Here-," Louis exclaims, loud and excited and random and he pulls a piece of paper out from under a pile of confetti. "I'll sign you an autograph and so when I'm super rich and famous and successful you can say you got Louis Tomlinson’s first autograph because you were one of his first fans!"
He doesn't say it like he's up himself, he says it more like a joke but Harry knows he can be all those things, he can be rich and famous and successful and Harry tells him so.
Louis looks touched and he stares at Harry for a long moment with an intense stare, burning with an emotion that Harry can't identify or hold, and he looks down at the scuffed toes of his shoes and his socks peeking out from under the edge of his jeans and bites his lip.
"Thank you Harry, Harry styles." Louis says finally, voice quiet and intense and almost but not quite something, and he stands and hands him a plain piece of paper with a name scrawled across it and when their fingers touch transferring the slip of paper Harry thinks the hairs on the back of his head stand up and the world stops.
There is a long moment and the noise from behind them and in the room floats away, and Harry's world narrows to deep blue eyes and warm fingertips on his.
Then Louis has to go and his eyes are tired and he has places to be and he nearly yells a goodbye at Harry and skips off and Harry wanders back over to Gemma and his mum with a dazed smile on his face. He rants and raves about Louis the whole way home and his mum and sister give him indulgent looks and he falls asleep in the back seat.
That night Harry dreams of his and Louis' wedding and he sleeps with the memory of Louis' fingers on his and his autograph tucked under his pillow and tingles up his spine.
Louis Tomlinson is forgotten by most of the country for a while, lost in the rush of Christmas and the New Year and Harry likes to think he was the only one thinking about Louis and the only one kissing a photo of him goodnight. The hastily, messily written autograph was lovingly placed in pride of place on Harry's wall, framed and marked with lip stains which Harry desperately tried to rub off before his mum could see.
He goes to sleep on Christmas Eve with snow twirling prettily outside his window and when he wakes up on Christmas morning it’s still falling.
He doesn't get much for Christmas, as always, but he gets socks and he gets a small, chunky cell phone because he's nearly 13 and he gets a whole lot of cuddles and love from his mum and sister and a lot of yummy food and he eats three whole pancakes.
He goes to bed happy and content and he only misses his dad a little bit because he can't really remember him and he has Gemma and his mum anyway but he hears his mum crying with Gemma when they think he's asleep. His mum isn't there the next morning, she had to be back at work and the spell is broken and the snow is melted but Harry is still pretty sure it was the best Christmas ever.
The New Year passes slow and boring at school, once Harry's "Louis" signature has become old news. Still, time ticks past and Harry's birthday nears. He gushes with anyone who will listen about Louis Tomlinson and as a result he gets teased a bit by the bigger boys in the class, who call him names and hide his lunch and mess up his hair all because they think he's gay and so one day he asks them:
"So what if I am?" and they have no answer for him. From then on it was generally accepted in Holmes Chapel that Harry Styles was gay and no one ever really said anything about it again.
England has remembered about Louis Tomlinson, and there are rumours that the 15 year old winner of X Factor would be releasing an album that year.
Harry's 13th birthday passes remarkably unremarkably, and school drags on. Gemma is 16 and pretty and has boyfriends now, which Harry finds hilarious until his mum points out that in 3 years he could be bringing home boyfriends too and Harry thinks of blue eyes and pixie dust freckles.
The year seems to fly and it seems that 13 was no different than 12. This year’s X Factor doesn't have anyone on it that Harry particularly likes, and he only really watched the auditions and the episode where Louis Tomlinson had made a guest appearance and announced a single and when he sung it Harry felt his world spin backwards and his chest expand until surely there was enough air in his lungs that he was about to float away.
There was a strange feeling in Harry's chest as he watched Louis back on X Factor but so much more than X Factor and it wasn't until Gemma asked him what was wrong with his face that he got up and went to his room.
The album (“In Your Eyes”) is released and it was everything Harry had expected and everything he wanted. He buys the album with his hard saved pocket money and he falls asleep to Louis' voice for three months solid.
It seems more people know about Louis now and Harry wants to clutch him to his chest and tell everyone that he liked Louis first and so Louis was his and everyone could go find someone else to love.
"Well, I've known about him since his X Factor days," Harry often says possessively, and his mum laughs and calls him jealous and tells him to share with the other children.
The rest of the year passes in a blur of new posters and new photo-shoots and a tour around England that Harry doesn’t have the money for and doesn't win tickets to. He reads about Louis and watches him on the news and hears the stories in class of people who went to concerts and his gut twists jealously.
Being in love is a lot like spring, Harry thinks. Sometimes it snows and sometimes it doesn't but mostly you don't know and it just rains a lot.
Louis Tomlinson has a big 16th birthday party in December and every famous person in England is invited. David Beckham is rumoured to be going and the magazines told him that it is going to be a million pound affair.
Harry hadn’t realised how famous the little boy that looked kind of like a fairy from X Factor, and had lived not too far away from him had really become and it hits him like a freight train and he cries to one of Louis' songs.
2007 fades out behind them and Harry watches the ball drop and held his mums hand in his left and Gemma’s in his right and imagines Louis watching the ball drop at the same moment, wherever he was.
2008 is promised to be a big year but Harry only sees an hour of it before he falls asleep over his hot chocolate and the next morning he wakes up in his bed, tucked in tight. He wants to protest that he's not a baby because hello, he's nearly fourteen but he finds he can't quite muster up the appropriate anger at his mum and finds himself warm and snuggly and safe, not that he would ever admit it.
The start of the New Year is cold and wet and there's no hint of snow. The magazines start the New Year with grainy photos of someone who could possibly have been Louis Tomlinson, drunk and staggering and still very much 16 and the tabloids eat it up.
Harry denies that it was him, sure that the tabloids were making up rumours and stories and even when the photos become so HD that even Harry can clearly see it was Louis, he refuses to believe it. Because Louis Tomlinson, his hero, the one with the cheeky smile and the few freckles and who kind of looked like a fairy, he couldn't be leaving a house at three in the morning, drunk off his face and with a black eye. That is reserved for celebrities and train wrecks and Louis is neither and Harry hates it.
He is 14 the next time the papers run a scandal of Louis Tomlinson and he scoffs at it while reading desperately. The papers are blaming the people Louis is with, his friends and his managers as bad influences and suggests ever so innocently that if nothing was done Louis Tomlinson would become yet another child star with dreams too big for him and cocaine in his nostrils.
Zayn Malik is his name, and Harry hates him. He is the boy that is always photographed with Louis, the one that the tabloids use as a scapegoat and Harry can see how the dark boy with his piercings and tattoos and dangerous sparkle in his eye could be leading Louis into bad situations. Zayn almost has better cheekbones than Louis and Harry isn't sure how much of his dislike for Zayn Malik is tabloid-fed worry for the younger, seemingly more innocent Louis and how much of it is jealousy because Zayn is gorgeous and exotic and his eyes are deep and mysterious and he is beautiful and available for Louis and he is everything Harry would never be.
Harry is still scrawny and small and pokes at his belly experimentally, sighing heavily and flopping on his bed, listening sullenly to Louis' voice, the song that tells him Louis loves him despite never loving his own stomach or his thighs and he sulks and mooches and maybe cries a little bit, his tears falling in time with the words “you’ll never love yourself half as much as I love you.”
There is another album coming out soon (“Sex and Paradise”) , and from what Harry had heard, Louis' songs have changed from love songs and romance to songs about sex and drugs and well, rock and roll and Harry can't decide how he feels about that.
He had fallen in love with the sweet, innocent, sharp, delicate fourteen year old on his Telly two years ago but he couldn't deny that as he got older he discovered more of the sexual aspect of his attraction to Louis and men in general and the songs that Louis was writing and crooning now seemed to be reading into his soul and plucking out feelings and lyrics and strumming them into a guitar.
He feels as though he knows Louis personally, and at least he'd met him, spoken to him, unlike some of his new fans, and would like to think he was more entitled to love him than some of the others but it seems Louis is growing away from him, growing up into a man and entering a world that Harry only lets himself think about late at night with his lips bitten silent and his hand ghosting over his dick.
He is fast approaching 15, the year sliding past him and he was starting to get the impression that his mother thought he should be leaving his obsession with Louis Tomlinson behind. Louis, nearly 17 now, enters the tabloids more and more often for sleazy hook ups and drunken partying and England tuts and shakes their heads and pretends they hadn't seen it coming from the moment a 14 year old had been handed a five million dollar check and shoved into the limelight.
Louis' 17th came and went and Harry kissed the old signature, messy and scrawly and young, just like Louis had been when he scribbled it, the paper still pristine, covered in glass and surrounded by a frame and two years of kisses.
Gemma’s birthday and Christmas and New Year’s whoosh past and it feels as though Harry blinked and it was January 2009 and he's grown four inches and gained Christmas dinner in weight.
He is 15, and it constantly surprised him that one day you could wake up and be considered a whole year older than twelve hours before and yet feel no different and look no different and if he thought about it too much it made his head hurt. Fifteen meant he was nearly a grow up, halfway through his teens and three quarters of the way through his childhood and if he lived to be 100, a sixth of the way through his life. He was in year 11 and he had exams and for the first time, he feels as though he was starting to really grow up, to really match his height now, towering over Gemma and his mum and he gets a job at their local bakery.
He comes home smelling of cinnamon and fresh bread and he contributes to the house bills and he feels truly and fully responsible. He is proud that he could contribute something, that he could ease some of the stress on his mum and Gemmas shoulders, that he could smooth out the worry lines in his mums much too young forehead. He was brought up with the upmost respect for women, and it wasn't a patriarchal or sexist need to protect the women, to provide for them, but a basic instinct to love and care for his family and his mum and he is gratified he can help.
Life is busy and grown up and maybe he was growing out of his childhood obsession, maturing, letting go of a hopeless fantasy that maybe had represented all his dreams that he didn't even dare to acknowledge. But then blue eyes and fairy features and pixie dust freckles dance behind his eyelids as his fingers dance over his cock in a by now long-learned routine.
So maybe he wasn't growing up completely, maybe every time he left his room he still brushed a kiss onto the smooth glass covering the signature from a young Louis, a good luck talisman. It was his horseshoe, his rabbit’s foot, his four leaf clover. But he was grown up enough to realise impossibility and reality and he takes down his Louis posters and packs them up and pretends to move on. He only allows thoughts of Louis in his mind when the house is dark and silent and even then, once he finishes and his climax covers his fingers, he reminds himself he has responsibilities now and the reality was that more often than not, snow never settled.
15 passes quickly, work and school and exams and everything making him work harder than he ever had in his life and making him fall into bed, occasionally bringing himself off hurriedly, not dwelling on any thoughts in particular, just hard planes of skin and muscles and sweat and sex and then his head would hit the pillow and he would be gone until his alarm woke him early in the morning.
And so when news, as it so often was, of Louis Tomlinson was filling the papers, he barely has time to glance at it, eating his toast and rushing out the door.
It was life, and maybe it was true, that saying of how childhood being over isn't defined by age, but rather when a child puts away childish things.
He was more focused on English and To Kill a Mockingbird that Louis' drunken antics, more focused on biology and the functions of a kidney than Louis' partying ways or his new album coming out, even when it was delayed for a year for reasons unknown.
It was sad maybe, and a little bit melancholy and a little bit wistful when Harry thinks sadly that he isn't excited by snow anymore.
It was winter again, the skies grey and boots hurrying along the wet sidewalk, in that way of adults having no time and too much to do and Harry wonders when he became just another set of fast clicking boots.
It's only because Harry spent most of his teenage years reading and living and loving the name Louis Tomlinson that it jumps out at him in the newspaper a week before the singers eighteenth birthday.
"LOUIS TOMLINSON: GAY!" The headline screams at him, buried deep on the third page under news of tragedies and deaths and holiday road tolls and Harry feels his heart flip in his chest.
His heart stutters and thumps and he feels a little bit like he is about to vomit and he realises he really isn't over his childhood crush.
He sits, reading the article and daring to believe and cursing when he realises he's late for work and he hurries out the door, jamming feet into boots and arms into jackets and hands into gloves and he runs the three blocks to work.
Elsie, the little lady who owns the place just smiles at him as he rushes in the door twenty minutes late and he's sure she felt like winking or telling him he'd be paid anyway. He had a feeling that she gave him more work than he was needed to do, paid him a little bit more than he was probably worth and it stung his pride a little to think that she knew of his home situation and that she thought he needed pity but he always swallowed his pride because if it meant he could get his mum a Christmas present or two that year, his pride wasn't worth anything to him.
"Oh look," she says in her dreamy, knowing way. "It's starting to snow."
Christmas, as always, passes quickly and the build-up always seems to be in excess for one day of eating too much and drinking too much and making far too much mess but he can't say that he didn't enjoy Christmas, because he did. He loved his mum and Gemma to absolute bits and their faces when he surprised them with presents were worth the world to him. What money he didn't give to his mum for the bills and food and for her to work less than 80 hours a week, he had been rabbiting away himself, unoriginally in a sock shoved under the mattress. And when Christmas rolled lazily around, as it always seemed to do around this time of the year, he had enough cash to get them both small necklaces from the jewellers. They weren't big or fancy or much, but they were hearts and they were real and they opened and a tiny picture of him and Gemma and his mum, smiling and happy and loving was squeezed into both of their lockets.
Harry's heart swells to three times the size when he sees their faces, and he isn't ashamed to cry with them that day.
This is the first Christmas in years that the snow has stuck to the ground for the better part of the morning and into the afternoon before the weak sun melts it, and Harry is sure that was meant to mean something. He flips a chocolate chip pancake in the pan (because pancakes at dinner on Christmas had started the first Christmas after their dad had died and Gemma was old enough to understand and Harry just liked presents and they were full from Christmas lunch and when Harry was asked what he wanted for dinner, he had said pancakes. No one ever mentioned that their dads favourite were pancakes, but they could always feel his ghost in the room. His breath tickling their necks, his presence. It was reassuring and it was hopeful and while they both hoped their mum would move on and find someone, they knew that pancakes for dinner on Christmas would always be a tradition, a way to stay connected to the gaping loss only death can bring to a family, even when it's mostly healed and they make do) and informs Gemma that it’s ready.
The new year follows quickly after, his mum and Gemma beside him, holding his hands on the couch as always, their other hands fingering their lockets and they watch the ball drop in reflective, companionable silence, murmuring Happy New Year’s to each other. Hot chocolate is a tradition as well, and Harry's mum still makes the best cocoa he's ever had.
2009 was gone and 2010 seems huge and empty and waiting to be filled. It seems to stretch out in front of them, as New Year’s always did, and Harry wonders how the time always flew by. He works, a lot, and Elsie, the old lady who owned the bakery came over to visit his mum, who was lonely now that Gemma had moved out and down to London and he works a lot. He was about to turn 16, and Harry can't believe how much he's grown in a year. It seemed his mum and Elsie and regular customers never stopped commenting on it, how big he'd gotten and how tall he'd gotten and how they remembered him yay high and cute as a button.
It's been his birthday, and he received a cake from Elsie and a letter and love and kisses from Gemma and from his mum, he got a silver heart, much like the ones he'd gotten her and Gemma, just a bit larger and slightly more masculine and on a leather cord rather than a delicate silver chain. She told him that she and Gemma halved it and that now he had one too and he kissed her on the cheek and he told her just how much he loved her. He noticed then, how soft her cheek felt under his lips, how her eyes were lined with laugh lines from years of smiles and kindness, how her forehead was permanently creased now, years of worry and anxiety burrowing into her skin and staying there. He held her close, feeling how thin she was and he noticed for the first time how old his mum looked.
Something was tight in his chest as he left the house to go to work the next morning and he ignored it, responsibilities and reality and as much as he wanted to stay home and cuddle up on the couch with his mum with soup and bad TV, which was just the kind of day it happened to be, they both needed to be at work and he especially, so he could take care of her and stop worrying about her so much and he wished, as he stepped out of the cold air and into the warm inviting bakery, that there was more time in the day, and that the world was fair so his mum could be pampered like she deserved.
2010 was milestones. He turned 16, he got a tattoo. A small one, mind, of an 'A' inked just below the crease of his elbow for his mum.
He got drunk, staying for a weekend with Gemma in her grotty flat that she was so proud of.
He went on a date, with a boy who came into the bakery every day for two weeks before managing to tell Harry his name was Nick and sorry if this seems incredibly forward but I really like you and I think I'd like to take you out on a date.
He lost his virginity, three weeks later, in the back of Nick’s car, slightly drunk and slightly scared and slightly wishing Nick wasn't so dark haired and dark eyed and so nice about everything.
He picked up an extra job, rushing home from school to start working at the bakery from 4pm until 10pm before hurrying home and changing and running to the grocery store, smelling of cinnamon and slightly not-so-fresh bread and he picked up a torch and sat in an office, watching security tapes until 3am. It also happened to be the supermarket where Nick worked and they spent a lot more time making out in the creaky wheely chair than watching security footage.
He had his first break up, and just like Nick it was entirely too nice and entirely too dispassionate and entirely too happy and he and Nick stayed good friends.
It wasn't just milestones for him either. Louis Tomlinson, the name that Harry had always kept just one eye half on, just in case, was releasing another album, finally, the one that had been delayed the previous year, and he did a radio interview while Harry was on security and could listen in.
"...really about a lot of more personal issues for me," Louis was telling the interviewer and Harry's skin prickles.
"Like being outed as gay," the interviewer says, not unkindly, and Louis makes a noise of agreement.
"Yeah, that was really hard for me, you know? I was going through a really rough time and it just couldn't have come at a worse moment." Louis sounds tired. Harry aches to see him as well as hear his voice.
"Well, I'm glad, and I'm sure everyone else is, that you're out and proud now."
"Definitely," Louis' voice grins and Harry can see a cheeky fourteen year old.
"So, folks, Louis Tomlinson's new album, 'Shame' is out this Friday. Louis, would you introduce the single?"
"Certainly," Louis agrees amiably, "This is Radio One, I'm Louis Tomlinson and you're about to hear my new single, The Way it Shone!" Harry imagines he could hear the grin sliding off Louis' face as he finished speaking. He leans back in the chair, closing his eyes as the start of Louis' song played. He's gone from pop and cheese and three-minute-microwave music to an album about sex and drugs and rock and partying to this, sad and slow and sweet, somehow, and Harry wonders how it had come to this.
"I want to get drunk with you
Stare at the stars
Maybe we'll name them all"
Louis' voice croons at him, slightly static but still beautiful, matured and deepened slightly since X Factor, but still purely him and his voice and it still sends shivers up Harry's spine.
"I used to shine bright like the stars,
We used to fly so high,"
The song sounds regretful, and Harry wonders what Louis Tomlinson regretted. Regretting his "partying ways" was what the newspaper articles about the song said, but Harry thinks it was slightly too sad for that, too beautiful, too painful. It’s as though the song is a window into Louis’ soul and Harry wishes to understand.
Milestones continue, and Louis Tomlinson's single reaches number one.
Harry's best friend, Ed writes his notes in class for him so that he can occasionally let his mind drift and his eyes close and get more than three hours sleep.
Ed talks him into more tattoos, and he keeps them small and meaningful and he thinks they are beautiful.
Nick, his ex-boyfriend turned good friend moves away to London, sometimes calling, sometimes texting, but mainly forgetting.
Louis Tomlinson's friend, Zayn Malik, the one that everyone knew was "trouble" is admitted to rehab, and everyone clucks and pretended they knew it and pretended they knew the pretty dark skinned boy at all.
He was asked what he wanted for Christmas, and he told his mum honestly that he didn't want anything and that his present money should be spent on herself and Gemma this year.
All he wanted was snow and hot chocolate and Christmas lunch and pancakes and Anne and Gemma and he would be complete.
He buys spa days for his mum and Gemma with the Christmas bonus he'd received and was pretty sure had been made up on the spot by Elsie, who caught him looking sadly at the spa website. His mum and sister deserved to be pampered. His mum had been working twelve or more hours a day for as long as he could remember, working at least six days a week. When he asked her why once, why she did that, why she didn't use Dad’s life insurance money and live comfortably she told him that that money was for him and Gemma to go to Uni and that only.
Gemma had been studying hard and sending back what she could, money wise to help out from her weekend shifts at a coffee shop.
Gemma was eighteen and on break now, and her thick work books looking terrifying and Harry teases her gently about the fact that she was getting old. She teases him about being young and their dimples match, as they always have.
It doesn't snow on Christmas, but it snows on New Year's Eve and Harry sits by his window, watching it fall for hours. He is nearly 17, and he was entering his last year of high school and Ed and Gemma are going to take him to clubs and bars down in London for his birthday early, Ed being 18 already and having friends that could create fake ids. His mum presses a kiss to his cheek and one more surprise into his hand as a combined Christmas and birthday present she says, and when he looks it’s tickets to Louis' London show that night.
"Mum," he whispers, unsure if he was going to tell her it was too much or too big or he'd grown out of that phase anyway but his mum knows everything, and he knows she’d see right through him. So he hugs her tight and runs out the door to get in the car with Ed and Gemma and he blows a kiss to his mum, standing framed in the light of the doorway, silhouetted against the cool night.
The concert is amazing, and Harry cries more than once and pretends to not notice the tears on Gemma’s face and in Ed's eyes. Louis’ songs are mournful, meaningful, and his soul aches for him. For the second time in his life, the tickets have a meet and greet after the show, and Harry feels like an earthquake was rumbling through the room, blocking out any other sound and making his hands and knees shake.
The line to get to the small table where Louis is signing things is long, and Gemma tells him she'd wait outside. Ed goes off somewhere and never resurfaces in line and Harry thinks maybe that it was better this way. Finally, agonizingly, he inches forwards and then Louis is visible. He looks tired and defeated and flawless and he smiles at people as they walk past his desk.
Harry's hands tremble.
"Thanks, love." Three more to go.
"Thanks, love." Two more to go.
"Thanks, love." One more after this one.
"Thanks, love." It was him.
"Hi!" He squeaks and Louis barely looks up, scrawling a professional looking signature over a photo of himself.
"Hey, kid," Louis says when he does look up and his eyes are still magical and his cheekbones are still razor sharp and he still has fairy dust freckles and he still looks amazing and Harry's heart squeezes painfully.
"Do you remember me?" He asks, hopeful, terrified, nervous.
"Should I?" Louis asks him, pausing to scrutinize his face.
There is a flicker in his eyes that could be something like recognition, amazement, remembrance, wistfulness, but it’s nearly instantly chased away by bitter coldness and a blank nothing that almost scares Harry and Harry isn't sure if he even saw it at all.
"You gave me your first ever signature, just after you'd won X factor ages ago." Harry tells him, palms sweaty with hope.
Louis laughs, and it was mean.
"C'mon kid," He drawls, his honey sweet voice cold and sickly patronizing. "I'd been telling everyone that since two days after boot camp."
Harry's world shatters and it’s no longer even his world because Louis Tomlinson is being horrible and his eyes are cruel and laughing and this doesn't happen in his world, this cruel version of an angel doesn't exist and Harry doesn't know what's happening. He feels like falling, retching maybe, the room spinning and crashing and burning.
"You didn't really believe me, did you?" Louis asks, mocking.
"You mean-?" His voice catches on a lump in his throat and he wills it away.
"I lied to you, sweetheart. What are you gonna do? Cry about it?" Louis is taunting now, his high, beautiful voice twisted and mean. His face is angry, bitter and Harry thinks that he shouldn't still be beautiful, not like this.
"What is wrong with you?" Harry bursts, confusion and horror and something a little bit like disgust in his tone, "You're not like this! You're not-"
Louis cuts him off coldly, challenging.
"I'm not an asshole? Well guess what, sunshine. People change."
Louis' tone flatly tells him the conversation is over, and he feels angry, disappointed, pathetic tears in his eyes.
"What is wrong with you?" He repeats, a whispered beg, bitter in his mouth and he feels the fragments of his heart stabbing into his ribs and lungs and making it hard to breathe properly.
"Oh, sweet cheeks," Louis sneers, patronizing. "The things I could list for you."
The smell of booze on his breath hits Harry in the face like a slap and he reels backwards, his world churning sickly.
Harry opens his mouth, unsure of what he was going to say but Louis shoves a signed photo in his hand, smiles at him meanly and cheesily and sarcastically and says,
"Thanks, love." And he knows it's over.
Bitter disappointment burns him and dimly in his ears he hears his mother telling him, all those years ago, that getting too excited for something just leads to disappointment and he hates Louis for finally making that true. He glares at Louis before storming off, wiping furiously at his eyes, anger making them well up.
He finds Gemma standing next to Ed, who was having a fag, and walks straight past them towards the car, hearing them shout and run after him.
"Harry!" They call. He doesn't turn until he reaches the car and his eyes still burned.
"What's wrong?" Gemma asks him, breathless and concerned.
He shakes his head, lips pressed together tightly and he refuses to let a tear fall.
"Oh, baby," Gemma hums, stepping closer and wrapping him up in a hug. "Was he horrible?"
Harry is sure she can feel his nod against her shoulder, and she holds him tighter.
"I'm sorry, baby." She tells him, and he smiles weakly.
"Not a baby," he protests, and they both chuckle half-heartedly from the routine.
Disappointment is strange and strong and Harry wishes he'd stopped hoping for snow on Christmas Day.
He gets shit faced, absolutely wasted. Ed is right there with him, and Gemma only marginally behind and he dances and drinks and has a great time. They are probably too far gone but the bouncers keep letting them into new bars and Ed drags them to a new one that has just opened up and they walk inside and it is dark and stroby and everything Harry needs to drink more.
“You’re gonna be so hung over in the morning, Haz,” Ed tells him, laughing and hiccupping and acting like he wasn’t going to be just as bad.
“I know!” Harry yells and it's hilarious.
He and Ed go over to the bar again, fighting against the throng of people and leaving Gemma dancing with a law student on the dance floor.
There is a figure, sitting half alone at the end of the bar, nursing a drink and Harry isn’t really surprised to see that it was Louis Tomlinson because life likes to shit on him like that.
“Louis Tomlinson?” he asks, slurring and incredulous. Louis seems to sigh, as if the last thing he wanted was to face a fan and Harry is keen to assure him that he's not a fan, not anymore.
“You pissed on my dreams and crushed my soul, did you know that?” He gestures grandly at Louis, just in case anyone was unsure of whom he was talking about, and some of his drink slops over the side of his glass.
“Oops,” he adds blurrily, watching the liquid splash on the floor.
“Add your name to the list, precious.” Louis says and it was the same sneering, defeated tone as before. It was like Louis couldn’t decide whether to be angry or bitter or give up and Harry narrows his eyes to focus on him.
“What list?” Harry asks suspiciously, half looking around to see if there was a list anywhere.
“The list of people that hate me,” Louis says, and he half smiles, a wry twist of his lips before adding, “You’ll be right before my manager and right after me.”
He raises his glass in an ironic parody of a toast, to whom or what Harry doesn’t know but he feels some of the anger drain away, even if he doesn’t understand entirely what Louis meant.
He walks over to Louis, plopping down next to him, and notices belatedly Ed has gone.
“Cheer up, buttercup.” He murmurs, slapping a comforting arm on Louis’ angular shoulders.
“What can be so bad?” Harry asks, his face probably too close to Louis’ to see in the dark club and through the drunken film in his eyes and he sees Louis’ eyes flick down and his lips press tight.
“Well?” Harry asks again, adding a little bitterly, “What’s so bad about your life, Louis Tomlinson?” He emphasizes his name, Louis Tomlinson, pop sensation and it insinuates everything that his name stands for. It was maybe a bit challenging and a little bit angry and a lot unfair and Harry wishes he could take it back the moment it hits Louis in the face like a slap and he recoils.
“You don't know me, okay,” And there is true anger in Louis’ voice now, muttering low and fast and direct, glaring into Harry’s blurry eyes. “You don't know me at all and you don’t know what I’ve been through and you are just like everyone else. You have no fucking clue and you don’t care.”
“That’s not true!” Harry protests, hurt and still confused. “I care!”
“What about ‘pissing on your dreams and crushing your soul’?” Louis asks him sourly, and Harry can hear the air quotes around his angry words.
“I was angry,” Harry defends himself, and he thinks that maybe Louis’ bright, deep blue eyes are quite close to his face and maybe he doesn’t mind as much as he would have two hours ago.
“Yeah, well, maybe I’m fucking angry too,” Louis says, turning his face away and downing the last of his drink. “Join the fucking club.” He adds, slamming his glass down on the bar. Harry flinches.
“Can I help?” Harry asks politely, drunkenly, and slightly sarcastically and Louis snorts again and lets out a small, mean laugh.
“You're just a fan kid. You're wasting your time.” Louis is back to bitter, gesturing the barman to bring him another drink and he is acting like he can’t see what his words are doing to Harry’s stomach. “No one can fucking help. Go home to your perfect fucking life, okay. I don't need to fuck up anyone else.”
And Harry’s already blurry vision blurs more, red and anger and he feels like grabbing those small, pointy shoulders shaking the self-pity out of Louis.
“No.” Harry says, too loud and too angry and Louis pauses, puts down his drink and focuses on his face, bewildered. “You don't know me either.” Harry continues, and he's angry.
“You don't know a goddamn thing about me. You think you have it so hard? My father died when I was so young I can't remember him. Not all of us are fucking lavishing in wealth; I work and work to put food on the table for my mum and sister, and then I have to find time to study to pass my exams so I have any hope of going anywhere!” He is breathing hard, angry and upset and maybe too drunk to realise what he's saying and to who.
“Yeah?” Louis was saying, challenging. Louis’ face was definitely much too close now, and Harry thinks he might be able to count each pixie dust freckle if he tried. “Yeah?”
“My parents divorced right after I got famous.” Louis states, testy. “Check. My fault.” He adds angrily, taking a swig. Harry decides that it's unfair that Louis is incredibly attractive angry. Is incredibly attractive always, he mentally corrects himself and he wants to touch his face to see if it’s really real.
“My friend Zayn got addicted to drugs.” He twists his lips in a mockery of a smile and Harry thinks that it really shouldn’t still be such a pretty face. “Check. My fault.” Each sentence is punctuated with a drink.
“My little sisters get bullied every day at school.” His face is bitter, far away, even only inches from Harry's and Harry feels bad now, that he’d brought this up. “Check. My fault.” Two swallows.
“My life is a mess.” He snorts, holding up his drink. “Check. My fault.”
“My fans hate me.” He looks pointedly at Harry, and Harry counts seventeen freckles. “Check. My fault.” He swallows the last of his drink, and starts to gesture for another one.
“No,” Harry says, tugging his arm down. “You don’t need anymore.”
Louis stares at him, lip curling derisively.
“You don’t know me, and you don’t know what I need. What I need,” He pauses, blinking and holding a hand on the bar to keep himself steady. “Is another drink.”
“No,” Harry repeats, and he stands, swaying slightly but basically okay on his feet and he pulls Louis up by the arm. “You’re going home.”
“I don’t have a home,” Louis tells him, drunk and honest and sounding confused. “I live in hotels and they're fucking shit.”
“Back to the hotel then,” Harry informs him and together, arms around each other for support, they make their way to the exit, leaving the music blaring behind them and drinks on the counter and Harry thinks that whatever reason he was so angry is left behind too, left in the bass and the vodka and the slowly spinning room.
Louis is stumbling, Harry is stumbling and somehow they manage to get to Louis’ hotel through the cold January streets of London and Louis’ room and Louis sits heavily on the plush carpet.
Harry has no idea what had happened, how he'd gone from angry and drunk to angrier and drunker and now he's here and Louis is angry again and Louis is really attractive angry. Louis is really attractive always, he corrects himself again and he wonders what Louis' freckles taste like.
Louis plaintively asks why Harry cared, why Harry brought him home and looked after him and Harry, drunk and being far too honest replies truthfully before he can think it through.
“Because I’ve been in love with you since you were on my TV and I was 12 and you were gorgeous.” He says and Louis sniffs. There is a long moment where Louis says nothing and Harry drunkenly wonders if it’s appropriate to tell someone you love them when you've met a total of three times and for at least one and a half of those you actually rather felt like hating them.
“Kiss me,” Louis pleads suddenly and it's plaintive and childlike and drunk and Harry ignores every warning in his own drunken head and leans forward and presses his lips to Louis' like he'd kissed his signature for years.
"Thank you," Louis murmurs as Harry leans back, and then a heartbeat later: “Again?”
Harry ducks forward and his lips are on Louis' and it isn't just a gentle press any more. Louis had long tugged Harry down to floor level with him and Harry’s knees are starting to hurt but he can't focus on shifting when his lips are on Louis' and his breath is hot and sweet and bitter all at the same time.
"Why are you so nice to me?" Louis asks, and Harry tells him again of a little boy who looked like a fairy that had captured his heart. They sit in silence for a moment, lost in thought and drunken musings and Harry shifts slightly on his knees.
"Kiss me again," Louis demands and Harry complies, and this time Louis opens his mouth. The feel of Louis' tongue, wet and strong and insistent on his makes him feel dizzy and he clutches at Louis' hair as if it will anchor him.
Sitting on the floor, Louis cross legged and Harry kneeling in front of him they kiss for what feels like hours and Harry's head is spinning and he can see stars and he doesn't know if it was Louis and his kisses or the large amount of alcohol he'd consumed that night.
"Do you love me?" Louis whispers against his lips and Harry tells him he does.
“Why?” And Harry tells him of a little boy who was nice to him even though he'd just won X factor and who had pixie dust freckles.
“Love me,” Louis commands and Harry is kissing down his neck and tugging at the hem of his shirt and he'd only done this with Nick before and that had felt nice but this is fireworks and explosions and racing fire through his veins.
Louis is clutching into his shoulders as Harry places open mouthed kisses on his neck and shoulders and chest and Louis pulls Harry's top off.
"You got tattoos," Louis murmurs into his skin and it gets lost there, sticking to Harry's overheated chest and disappearing into the sensory haze Harry was losing himself in.
Harry feels hot and flushed and overheated, feels like his hands are shaking but are disconnected from his body and his toes curl as Louis kisses down his neck.
"Louis," he moans, pleading, begging for something, anything and his voice sounds broken.
And then Louis is taking charge, like a switch has been flipped and he pushes Harry back, onto his back and kisses down his chest and pulls down his jeans and boxers, tossing them to the side and licks Harry's straining dick into his mouth and Harry can only grit his teeth and try not to fuck up into Louis’ mouth. Louis mouth is amazing and hot and wet and filthily, sinfully good and Harry wonders how his angelic voice comes out of a mouth this talented in sucking cock.
He's swirling his tongue around Harry, warm heat, liquid fire around him, and he's not going to last. Louis takes him deeper, deeper than Nick ever did in hurried blowjobs in the back of his beat up car or at 3am on a school night. He wants to buck his hips up, to hold Louis' head with his hands and thrust up into him but he doesn't want to do anything Louis doesn't want him to and so his hands dig deep into the carpet beside him, and his mouth falls open in pleasure and concentration.
There is white behind Harry's eyelids and he is sure he is about to explode or die and then Louis eases off his cock and kisses his way back up to his lips.
“Do you love me?” Louis asks and Harry tells him of a boy who was so sweet and innocent and happy and a boy who he watched breaking through years of newspaper articles and Louis takes the rest of his clothes off and Harry's mouth somehow waters and becomes dry in the same instant.
"Do you love me?” Louis asks and Harry tells him about a boy who was hurting and alone and misunderstood and a boy who has seventeen freckles on his cheeks and Louis rolls on a condom, a question, a promise and Harry doesn't need to nod to agree.
“Do you love me?” Louis asks and Harry tells him of a boy who had reminded him of a fairy and of snow and a boy who has the voice of an angel and Louis slicks his fingers, loud and obscene and ridiculously erotic and Harry finds his hips shifting unconsciously, searching.
“Do you love me?” Louis asks and Harry tells him of a boy who makes him see white behind his eyelids and a boy who makes him feel fireworks and a boy who currently has three fingers inside him and Harry tells him he needs more and he whines desperately and raises his hips and Louis asks no more questions.
He pushes in slowly and fills Harry completely and Harry isn't sure how much of this he'd remember in the morning but he can't imagine ever forgetting this feeling and he moans, too loud and too clumsy and still much too drunk.
They have somehow shifted to the bed, at some point and time is distorted in Harry's mind and it feels like hours that Louis is inside him. Louis peppers his chest and neck with small kisses until his thrusts become days and minutes and heavy and he stops kissing Harry and lets his head fall to Harry's shoulder and he fills the condom deep inside Harry and Harry gasps and it is blue eyes and freckles and sweat and sex and hard skin and he explodes into white.
Harry is woken by birds singing and light coming through the windows and the cold January morning screaming in his head. He rolls over to bury himself deeper in his covers, maybe so deep he never had to leave again and the suffocation would save him from being killed by the headache and the taste in his mouth. He rolls straight into a warm body and the shock forces him to crack open one eye, hissing at the pain in his head.
“Oh my god,” Harry says, because the warm, naked back he’s cuddling into is definitely Louis Tomlinson’s and he definitely isn’t at his house and he definitely has no idea what is happening.
No one reacts, and Harry repeats himself, just in case. No one is around, he decides and he throws an arm over his clenched eyes and tries to think. He remembers bars and clubs and Ed and Gemma – shit, Ed and Gemma – and getting wasted. He remembers arguing with Louis Tomlinson and then being in his hotel room and Louis asking him to kiss him. Okay.
“Oh my god,” Harry says again, because he feels like the situation calls for it. He slowly rolls over to the other side of the huge bed, and tiptoes out when he reaches it, hurriedly looking around for his clothes. Following the trail strewn across the floor, he picks them up, yanking them on and leaving the bedroom, Louis still sleeping obliviously.
Harry tries incredibly hard not to panic, ignoring the sharp pain in his ass and the pounding pain in his head and the pain everywhere, and he makes one last look around before leaving the room.
He finds his cell in his jeans pocket, quickly dialling Gemma and having her come pick him up from outside the hotel that knows too much and seems to be watching him as he waits on the cold footpath.
“Oh my god,” she says, looking at him and she knows and he gets in the car, shamefaced and embarrassed and he hisses as he sits down, ass tender and sore and he ignores Gemma's raised eyebrow.
There is snow on the streets, and Harry can’t remember if there had been last night or not. The sun reflects off it, bright white and painful and Harry shuts his eyes against it and goes to sleep.
Life goes back to normal, as normal as it could be now that everything was different, and Harry turns seventeen. He works and he works and school drags in days of propping his eyes open and Ed ribbing him about his birthday. Harry tries to erase that night from his mind, tries to pretend it never happened, tries to forget the way Louis Tomlinson tastes.
Sense memory is fleeting. You can remember an entire night or day in vivid detail, but once you wake up the next day you won't be able to remember exactly how the moment smelt, how it tasted in your mouth, how it felt beneath your feet and between your toes.
Harry knows this. And yet he can still taste Louis on his tongue, can still feel phantom fingers stroking him. He still feels the ghost of Louis' breath tickling his skin and the way he filled Harry so completely, the hot, wet open mouthed kisses Louis had placed on his neck. He still hears the broken desperation in Louis' voice when he begged him to kiss him, to love him and Harry's heart breaks again each time. He still feels the way Louis' fingers splayed out on his back, warm and soft and solid and pressing just slightly and he allows himself to remember only when the house is quiet and he strokes himself off to the thought of Louis inside of him.
His nights are long and filled with memories and senses.
The snow melts and winter fades into spring. It rains a lot, and Harry still hates rain. School slips past him, days lost in the haze of tired eyes and memories. No one knows, of course no one knows, but he can feel eyes on him and he wonders if it's as obvious on the outside that something's changed in him as it is in his own mind.
Summer rolls around and it is hot and dry and long and all the lawns go brown. Elsie knows, because Elsie knows everything, and she sat him down over hot milk and leftover cookies after a shift one night and forced him to tell her what had happened. And through stammers and blushes he told her everything, and she hugged him close.
"You'll always have that memory," she told him. "It's up to you whether it's a good one or a bad one."
And then the trees are changing gold and orange and red and the sky is darkening and Harry wonders how another year of his life had slipped through his fingers like grains of sand. He feels raw, new, like he's a completely different person somehow, and he half hates Louis Tomlinson for having this power over him. But he can't quite hate him, not once he'd seen how broken, how vulnerable, how childlike and innocent he really was. Thinking of his self-loathing, his anger, his shame breaks Harry's heart, and he wishes he could have made it better somehow.
"Not even you can fix everything," his sister tells him. "You can't fix something that wants to be broken."
He ignores her, he keeps dreaming about holding Louis' small form close, pulling him away from the mean stares and judgemental looks that the world gives him. They hold him up on a pedastal, force him to dance for their entertainment, and then when he falls, they jeer and laugh and point and force him right back up. Harry wants to snatch him up, to run away, keep him safe.
It's his every waking thought.
He graduates high school, passing with good enough grades to get into the English course at Uni, and he plans on moving in with Gemma and her friends the next year. Christmas is close, and it seems that in no time at all the shops are flashing with neon and decorations are up and there is entirely too much tinsel.
It's late on Christmas Eve when Harry's cell phone rings, and he picks it up sluggishly, turning down the volume of the bad Christmas movie he was watching.
“Hey Gemma,” he answers, swallowing his mouthful of popcorn.
“Look outside,” she tells him, and she sounds breathless with excitement. He flicks his gaze over to the window, and he sees the dark sky and the shadows of houses.
“What?” He asks his sister, confused.
“Go out the front door,” She tells him, sounding quickly frustrated with him. “Go have a look!”
Sighing heavily, he clambers to his feet, and trudges out the hall, grumbling at Gemma through the phone. Pulling open the door he sees the same street as always, the same houses as always, the same pools of streetlight and – oh.
Standing on the footpath in front of his house is a beanie-clad, jacket wearing boy, with angular cheekbones and bright blue eyes and pixie dust freckles and Harry blinks, the phone dropping from his fingers.
“Louis?” He asks hesitantly, confused and unsure and a little bit unable to think past the raging of blood in his ears and the pounding of his heart.
“Harry, Harry Styles,” Louis greets slowly and meaningfully and Harry's heart constricts painfully and he wonders if Louis remembered the whole time.
“What are you doing here?” Harry asks him, and he watches as Louis swallows heavily.
“Well,” Louis says, hesitating. “I actually, uh, came to see you?” It was a question, and Harry isn’t sure if he has the answer.
“Did Gemma have anything to do with this?” He asks suspiciously, and Louis shakes his head firmly and says,
“Absolutely not,” and Harry doesn’t believe him at all and he isn’t sure if he wants to murder or kiss his sister.
He stares at Louis for a long minute, saying nothing and trying to understand and he shivers.
Harry realises that he's still standing half in his house and half in the cold, staring blankly at Louis and he starts.
“Well, uh, come in?” He invites hesitantly and Louis smiles and seems to breathe out, walking up the path with the frozen pebbles crunching under his boots.
Harry holds the door open for Louis and his fingers tremble. He catches a whiff of Louis as he passes, a deep, musky cologne mixed with a light, soft fruity scent that could only be Louis. He didn't stink of booze this time, only soap and cologne and cold.
Harry takes a long moment to close the door, breathing heavily and deeply and preparing himself to turn around and face Louis. He sucks in a quick breath and flashes Louis a quick smile, who had paused before entering the living room. Reassured that Harry was following, Louis turns.
Louis removes his jacket and gloves and beanie and stands in Harry’s living room, wearing a black turtleneck and looking like he belongs somehow, ethereal beauty notwithstanding. His porcelain skin and deep blue eyes and soft, flicky hair are illuminated softly by the lights of the Christmas tree and the TV playing quietly and the damp light of the streetlights outside and Harry's heart thumps and his throat goes dry and he fees twelve again.
The silence stretches, and Louis Tomlinson, Harry's once childhood crush turned bitter disappointment turned one night stand waits, for what, Harry doesn't know. He has no idea what he can say, what there is to say but he realises he's desperate to talk to him.
“So,” Harry says brilliantly and he has no idea how he was going to finish the sentence, and so when Louis speaks he gladly shuts up.
“So, I just wanted to thank you,” Louis says, and his eyes are soft and not at all mean. “The start of this year, I mean,” he clarifies, as if Harry hadn’t immediately burst into flames at the memory.
They stand, eyes locked for a long moment. The grandfather clock in the corner counts out Harry's heartbeats, ticking them out for the room to hear. The silence isn't awkward, it’s a whole conversation, a novel being written and Harry isn't entirely sure if he's catching everything being said. Green eyes meet deep, beautiful blue and Harry thinks again that Louis Tomlinson is definitely the prettiest person on the planet.
A car drives past outside, and Harry's fingers shake. He tucks them into a fist, knowing that he shouldn't be nervous to talk to Louis but realising he can't blame the sweat slowly trickling down his neck entirely on memories of the last time they were together.
“I was, er, I was a mess. And you helped me fix that. So thank you.” Louis nods decisively, and he turns, as if to leave. Like he'd said what he came for and that was all and Harry's heart tugs as he walks away, as if to tell him ‘that most certainly is not all!’
“Wait!” Harry calls, catching his arm as he brushes past him. Louis turns expectantly to him, and Harry has nothing to say and his heart is thumping in his chest and his hands are sweating and he has a wild, mad idea of what he wants to do and he bends his head and presses his lips swiftly and firmly to Louis’.
Louis moans into it, kissing him back instantly and Harry feels the anxiety disappear. Louis’ arms twine around his neck, fingers playing in the curls at the base of his head, and Harry’s arms slip around Louis’ thin waist.
He tastes the same as last time, just less boozy, and Harry's head isn’t spinning sickly now. He opens his lips, craving more and Louis reciprocates, his hips gently and insistently pressing against Harry's. He sways slightly, and Louis moves with him, standing in Harry's small living room, the TV still playing some cheesy Christmas music, the light soft and yellow and red and blue from the lights on the Christmas tree, the windows dark, and outside, snow starts to fall.
Louis ends up staying for Christmas day, and neither Gemma or Anne are the slightest bit surprised when he walks out of Harry's bedroom the next morning, only half jokingly hiding their eyes when he's clad only in a pair of Harry's boxers and bright purple marks up and down his throat. Harry thinks maybe he really was the only one who wasn’t in on this, whatever this was.
The yard is covered with snow, and the small tree in the corner is surrounded by presents. The day passes lazily, Harry not getting out of his pyjamas until lunchtime, as usual. This year, presents take longer than five minutes and it turned out Louis had brought everyone gifts. Harry wonders how he knew what to buy everyone and after some coaxing and kissing and a lot of champagne, Louis bashfully admits that after he woke up, hungover and alone he started to think. He talked to people and he slept on it and he couldn't figure out why he felt empty. After finding himself at the bar where Harry and Louis had met last time again and again, he used his bodyguard and his dubious access to background checks and "not creepily, I promise" did one on Harry and found his sister who he recognized from the bar that night. His sister tells him they've been meeting and plotting and planning for months - after she gave him a good slap of course, and that yes, Anne knew. Harry finds he can't quite be offended that his family had conspired without him and he kisses Louis on the lips softly, promising him he doesn't find it creepy.
Louis gives Anne nice chocolates and some smelly stuff and Gemma a bunch of stationary stuff and Harry is glad he isn't flaunting his incredible wealth.
Then Louis picks up a small rectangular package and passes it to Harry with a small kiss. Harry ignores his mum and Gemma's aww’s and catcalls and tears into it with excitement and anticipation. His eyes well up when he sees a framed photo of two incredibly young boys, one sitting behind a desk and one in front of it. They are both unaware the photo was being taken and they both look tired and exhausted and incredibly excited. The one standing is looking at the sitting one with adoration, with admiration and the sitting one looks at the other with an indecipherable look that's something between intrigue and sadness and wonder and Louis whispers in Harry's ear that "even then, I knew there was something about you."
The photo is beautiful and somehow it makes the two of them look like the only ones in the room.
"How?" Harry asks, incredulous and tender and Louis just smiles and won't tell him how he got the photo.
"Why the photo?" Harry's asks later that night, fingers intertwined lazily and toes touching on their bed.
"To show you." Louis answers simply.
"Show me what?"
"That even then you were changing my world view." Louis voice is soft and far away.
"You were knock-kneed and shy and pigeon-toed and raw and honest," Louis tells him.
"You didn't give a shit that I'd just won, you didn't want anything from me. Not like everyone else. You weren't telling me to make an album or go on tour or demanding a photo. I was exhausted with all the demands already, and your jeans were slightly too short and you were just so real. You were so happy when I gave you that stupid signature and it hit me then that if I went into the industry I would never see people like you; honest, easily pleased. But I had no choice, even then and I always used to think of your shaking fingers touching mine and it always felt like I'd given up so much more than I'd gotten."
Harry kisses him, wanting to kiss away the pain and the invisible scars of alcohol and unhappiness and Louis pushes him back gently.
"Hey," he says, looking deep at Harry. "I'm done with all that, with those people. I'm doing things for me now." It's a promise and a reassurance and it lingers between his lips when he kisses Harry.
Harry thinks on that conversation often, brushes his fingers over the glass covering two young boys and their excitement and thinks that the conversation that Christmas night was the start of something beautiful.
Louis stands behind Harry, kissing his back as Harry made Christmas dinner pancakes and Harry finds out that Louis’ favourite is blueberry, just like his.
The snow doesn’t melt all day, and as Harry and Louis stay up, cuddled on his single bed and talking until four in the morning on Boxing Day, more shooting stars made of ice and white flutter past the window.
2012 was going to be a big year, and for once Harry believed it.
Harry had a boyfriend, a famous, pop star boyfriend, whom he happened to have had a crush on since he was twelve years old. It was crazy how close they had become, how much Harry knew about Louis and how closely Louis knew Harry in the short time since Louis had stood on a dark doorstep on Christmas Eve. They fit so perfectly, melting into life together and melding in every way.
"Soulmates," his mum says, watching the two of them together and Louis smiles and kisses the top of his head as he walks past the couch.
Louis had asked him to be his boyfriend, unnecessarily, one night, cuddled close and warm and sweaty after sex, toes touching and chests close and eyes closed, and Harry just murmured his soft yes into Louis' soft hair and they both slept smiling.
He introduced Louis to Elsie as his boyfriend, and she winked at them before giving them both muffins, and told them both to look after each other.
He was heading to Uni, and instead of living with Gemma, he was going to move in with Louis, in the apartment he’d just brought in London.
"Doing things for me," he says, putting down the lease. "For us," he'd corrected, making Harry sign the co-owner line. It was big and luxurious and everything Harry thought he'd never have and he kisses Louis' fingertips and wonders how he can ever repay him. Louis tells him he's repaying Harry for living in their house since Christmas Eve and Anne shushes him and Harry jokes that his mum likes Louis better than him.
"Why pick one," his mum says, carefully watching their reactions, "When I could have both of you as sons?" Harry blushes to the tips of his hair and tells his mum they've been dating for two weeks and to stop being ridiculous and Louis pulls Harry close and drops a kiss on top of his hair, hiding a smile in the curls and they both try to pretend they haven’t thought about it. They shouldn't have, it was ridiculous, a teenager's fantasy: marry a popstar, live happily ever after. But it lingered in the looks they gave each other, in the way Louis held him as if he were a precious object about to fall. He was falling.
Louis is going to be recording another album, and he plays Harry some of the songs in Harry's-which-had-become-their small room, acoustic and quiet and they are loving and pining and Louis tells him he'd written them during last year.
"I'm in a snow globe, snow spins so slow," he sings, weaving images and stories with just his voice and a guitar and the meaning swirling in the air like snowflakes.
"I want to kiss you, you spun my world upside down, the snow is falling up, snow is falling up and my tears don't fall down."
The fact it was written for him makes tears spring up in Harry's eyes and he pounces Louis to the bed and much later, makes Louis sing it again as he falls asleep, naked and sated and incredibly happy.
Louis was going to dump his asshole manager, and he already had two other record labels that wanted to sign him. One, Modest! Management wanted him to be straight and single, despite having been out for years, and the other wanted Louis to be happy and himself and he chooses that one.
"Doing things for me," Louis says and it becomes their mantra, replacing Harry's old talisman of kissing Louis' signature. Louis lets Harry kiss him every morning anyway, and it’s a million times better and Louis lips are gold and strawberries and snowflakes on rose petals.
Louis and Harry were going to stay low key while Harry was studying, and once Harry had gotten his degree and was ready, Harry was going to be introduced as the mysterious boyfriend that Louis had talked about but no one had seen for the past three years and they were going to travel the world. They put pins in a map and coins in a jar and dreams into words and they wait.
"I want to kiss you on top of the Eiffel Tower," Louis says absentmindedly, and Harry hums and smiles and puts a pin in Paris, thinking of Paris below them and lights around them and snowflakes swirling down beside them and Louis' lips on his. Maybe that's all he'd ever wanted, all he ever needed.
Harry is introduced to Louis’ mum and sisters sometime during January, and while he adores Louis’ gorgeous sisters, he can’t help but dislike his mum because of the stories of sorrow and wishing for a hug that never came that Louis had shared with him. Louis and his money was a catalyst and a bargaining chip in the messy divorce of his parents, and he had hated every second of it and so Harry hates the woman who had put him through that.
"Are you gonna get married?" One of the precious younger sisters asks innocently and Harry and Louis um and ah and Louis gently tells her they've only been dating for a month or so and when she says "so what?" Neither of them really have an answer. She is patted on the head and sent off to bed and the moment stays in the room with them, thick and warm and comforting like a woolly blanket. Harry's toes are toasty and it almost scares him how little the idea bothers him even after a month of living with Louis.
His friend Zayn is out of rehab, long clean and healthy and he is introduced to Harry, and to Harry's surprise he immediately likes him. He is fun and calm and easy going and friendly, and he ignores Louis’ elbow to the ribs when he tells him later that night.
"I was jealous," Harry explains somewhat petulantly.
"Of Zayn?" Louis is incredulous, laughter in his voice in the dark room.
"Shut up," Harry vaguely aims a smack at his shoulder on the bed that their legs were entwined on. "I was like, thirteen."
"Zayn is like my brother." Louis sounds vaguely disgusted and yet he's very entertained by Harry's old jealousy and Harry mentally sighs and adds another thing to his "Stuff I’ll Never be Allowed to Forget" list. He grins though, when Louis pushes his cold toes against his shin and his cold lips against Harry's shoulder and mumbles quietly into his skin, asking if this means they can have jealous sex now and Harry rolls him over and kisses his yes into Louis' collarbones.
They talk, for hours, days, about anything and everything and hours float away soaked in revelations and secrets.
"I've given everyone I know a good reason to go," Louis tells him early one morning.
Harry tells Louis he's sticking around, no matter what and Louis kisses him, quick and quiet and deep and later, when Louis is slick and hard and Harry is ready he pushes in slow and steady and completely and tells Harry he's going to try to never give him a reason to leave and it feels like so much more than a pretty promise.
They fight, over stupid things and dumb, petty things and they both get annoyed with each other and slam the door of their room so hard that Louis' old signature falls off the wall. But they both believe in Anne's advice to never go to bed angry and they kiss and make up and apologize and promise to be better and not get as angry as easily and they both enjoy the makeup sex anyway. Harry wonders at how seamlessly Louis has slotted into his life and finds it hard to think about life without him now.
"You spun my world upside down," Harry quotes Louis' song cheesily to him and Louis grins and tells him its mutual and they discuss abstract like "forever".
He introduces Louis to Ed, again, properly this time, and Ed glares at him, shaking his hand firmly and slightly too hard and tells Louis that;
“Famous or not, you break his heart and I’ll break your face. Clear?” And Louis nods solemnly and Ed grins half sadistically and half friendly and everything is fine and they drink and play Xbox together.
"...so he puts the jocks on his head again, smiling innocently as you please and just calmly walks out of the room!" Ed joins in the daily "Embarrassing Stories of Harry's Childhood" trading, and Louis finds them hilarious. He sits beside Harry or curled in his lap and a hand is always playing in Harry’s hair and the way his face lights up with laughter means Harry can never be entirely angry at the stories and laughter filling the room.
It’s two months in; in February of the New Year that Louis tells Harry he loves him.
"I'm not expecting you to say it back," Louis assures him, "I know you've only ever loved me as a celebrity and it’s probably too early to be feeling this let alone saying it because we've only been dating for like a month, I know, but you know, I need to say what I feel and right now I'm feeling like I love you and I think I might have since a little boy with too short jeans came up to me years ago and you know if you don't feel the same that's-"
Harry stops his words with a kiss and tells him he loves him too.
Smiling kisses have slightly too much teeth, Harry thinks, but they're pretty perfect anyway.
Harry and Gemma and his mum and Louis all drive down to London together to move Harry and Louis into their new apartment, and Harry and Louis unashamedly have uncontrolled and ridiculously loud sex in every room when they leave.
Harry knows it's going to be hard and people won't understand and they will have to keep it as much of a secret as they can but they'll do it, and they'll do it with their heads held high. He still doesn’t understand why, sometimes, why Louis was in love with him or why Louis chose him or why Louis even remembered him and then Louis tells him of a small boy with slightly too short jeans and a slightly too big smile and shaking fingers and Harry starts to understand.
Louis tells him of a boy who still loved him even when he threw bitter words at his face, and a boy who comforted a near stranger and a boy who never gave up hope and Harry starts to realize that yes, Louis really does love him.
Every time Harry kisses Louis he thinks that even Times Square couldn’t shine as bright as Louis’ eyes and Harry is busy with school work and Louis is busy recording “This Moment, Right Now” but they still make time for each other. Louis brings him breakfast in bed and kisses him softly and sings him to sleep and promises to do it forever and to never give him a reason to go Harry thinks that none of that other stuff matters because life is going to be pretty perfect from now on.