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we're gonna conquer dragons

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Harry thinks he’ll never see the blue-eyed boy from the bathroom ever again. That their interaction will limited to a hi and a nervous and surprised jerk of the wrist and then an oops and then some tentative smiles and introductions. And the boy, Louis is his name, claps Harry on the back and tells Harry to remember him when he’s selling out the O2. He asks for a picture with Harry with a disposable camera that he pulls out of his back pocket, and tells Harry he’s been going around taking pictures with all the people he thought would make it big, so that when he was a struggling singer playing in shitty pubs in downtown London, he’ll have all these famous people as his friends that he could call on for getting him into exclusive clubs.

“You think I’m gonna be famous?” Harry asks Louis, shyly, and Louis just scoffs and laughs loudly and says he thinks Harry will be the biggest star out of the show that year, that he’d been watching Harry’s audition and considered taking himself out of the competition because what was the point of going up against something like that. Harry thinks his blush can probably be seen from outer space, and he kicks his toe against the yellowing tile and mumbles that Louis had probably seen someone else’s audition and thought it was Harry.

“Maybe that boy who was here two years ago?” He suggests, staring down at the ground, at the toes of Louis’s bright red Toms.

“Liam? Christ, that kid’s a star too, but he doesn’t have these curls,” Louis reaches out and tugs gently on Harry’s hair, “so I know for a fact he won’t make it as far as you.”

Harry just smiles down at his feet.

But then Harry is eliminated and his first thought is that he’ll have to go back to school and everyone would look at him pityingly, but his second thought is that he’s failed Louis’s prophetic statement, and that realization hurts almost as much as the elimination itself.

He’s standing out on the step, with his small bag packed and his pride bleeding away inside of him, beside him a blonde boy sniffling back tears that Harry pretends to ignore and clumsily texting on his phone while chomping away on a Mars bar, when a stage hand comes out and tells them they’re wanted for post-elimination interviews. Harry thinks it’s sort of cruel, because his eyes are probably red and who wants to stare into a camera after just being told his dreams were going down the drain?

But then they’re on stage, and Simon is saying these words that sound like hope and a chance and Louis, Louis the boy with the eyes and the smile and the camera, he’s standing on the other side of the blonde boy, who has a small chocolate smear on his mouth. And Harry’s heart is in his throat and his lungs are aching and filling up and he feels like he can’t breathe and then there it is, a lifeline is being thrown out. And before Harry knows it, he’s saying yes, yes absolutely, we’ll take it, and he has this bundle of wiggling boy in his arms, and a warm weight of thighs around his skinny hips and his arms thrown around Louis who’s yelling hoarsely into Harry’s neck, and Harry thinks maybe he can fly.

**

“What about strip poker?” Louis exclaims “I’ve got a deck of cards in my bag, I’ll grab it!” He jumps up, limbs flailing around, but Liam catches his ankle.

“No, absolutely not,” he says firmly, and Louis pouts and heavily plops back down onto the floor where they’re sitting in a circle.

The floor is kind of cold, and they all have warm socks on, knees overlapping as they sit in a tight circle on the floor of the living room of Harry’s stepdad’s bungalow. Niall has a blanket draped over his head and a bag of popcorn in his lap and he keeps tossing popcorn into Harry’s mouth for him to catch.

There’s this warm ball in the pit of Harry’s stomach, and he’s pretty sure it has to do with the boy sitting across the circle from him. It’s just, Louis’s brighter than anyone Harry has ever seen. He’s got this laugh that Harry wants to wrap himself in, and his eyes twinkle when he looks at Harry and Harry just wants to be near him, wants to have his knee touching Louis’s.

“We could play hide and go seek!” Louis’s face is open and joyful, as if he’s suggested the most brilliant game they could possibly play. His feet are tapping in a beat Harry can’t figure out, and he resists the urge to reach over and pull them into his lap.

“No, wait, what about going outside and playing lightning tag!” His face lights up.

At that, Zayn shakes his head violently. “No way, mate, ‘m not going out there, it’s dark.”

Louis laughs raucously and launches himself at Zayn, digging his fingers into Zayn’s sides. “Aw, is ickle Zayney scared of the dark!?” He shrieks in Zayn’s ear, and Harry just rolls his eyes because it’s not like any of the rest of them would ever go outside at 11 pm, not when they’d heard that strange moaning sound when they’d been outside earlier, sitting around the bonfire.

Zayn just lifts Louis out of his lap, with his hands wrapped around Louis’s wrists, and plops him back down on the floor, and Louis drops dramatically into the middle of the circle, arms flailing about and smacking into Harry’s knee, and a tingle goes up his leg.

“What shall we do?” Louis moans. “I’m positively dying of boredom!”

There’s a small silence, during which the only noise is the cracking of Niall chewing his popcorn, and Harry thinks he doesn’t care what game they play, as long as he gets to sit next to Louis. It’s a weird thought, but not one he gives much attention to, because Harry’s always been abnormally tactile with his friends, leaning in for a head cuddle while watching a movie or something. Louis seems to be the same way, from the way he’d been jumping into everyone’s laps at any given moment. When they were standing in the kitchen, Harry on the phone assuring his mum they would go to bed at a proper time, Louis had wrapped an arm around him and patiently waited, fingers scratching Harry’s hip while he bobbed his head to some beat that only he could hear. His hip knocked against Harry’s, their sides lined up, and it seemed like he was this way with everybody.

“We could practice?” Liam says slowly, not really looking at anybody, and Harry scoffs inside his head. As if anyone was going to want to practice late at night.

Louis slowly turns his head from where he’d been lying with his face smushed against the carpet, and stares at Liam.

“Liam, who the fuck would want to practice late at night?”

Liam blushes and picks at the carpet and shrugs, and Harry hides a grin into his arm.

There’s another silence.

“We could play truth or dare!” Niall pipes up, stuffing a handful of popcorn into his mouth, dropping pieces into his lap and totally ignoring the fact that he already had a full mouth.

“Yes!” Louis cries, jumping up from his spot and pounces on Niall, grabbing a handful of popcorn out of the bag, throwing up in the air, and smacking a loud, wet kiss on Niall’s cheek. “Niall is the best, Niall has the best ideas, Niall is my favorite, Niall, Niall!” He cheers loudly.

Harry fights the urge to pout. He wants to be Louis’s favorite.

Niall’s face is bright red as he picks up the scattered pieces of popcorn, dusts them off and pops them into his mouth. “Jesus, Lou, you’re wasting good popcorn.”

“My dear fellow, popcorn does not matter in the grand scheme of the world,” Louis intones solemnly, sweeping his hand in a grand arc as he stands in the middle of the circle. Harry’s eyes are at level with Louis’s arse, and well, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying something if it’s right in front of you. “We are going to play truth or dare and I am going to be ringleader and I will pull all your secrets out of all of you!”

“I think ringleaders are at circuses,” Zayn says quietly, a small grin at the corner of his mouth.

Louis looks at him. “Well, you are all circus animals, so it’s quite fitting,” he sniffs. “Right, Harry?” he turns and looks down at Harry, his hands on his hips, and Harry wants to pull him in by his skinny hips and gather him in his arms, but instead he just nods, and Louis smiles big and wide at him.

“Right, now you lot stay here and I will gather the ingredients for this game!” Louis points at them all in turn, and Harry pretends like Louis’s gaze lingers on him, but then Louis is running out of the room, slipping in his socks on the wood floor. His flailing hand smacks into the door frame and he swears loudly, “fuck!”, and then his feet are stomping down the hallway.

The four remaining boys look at each other.

“Why do we need ingredients for truth or dare?” Liam asks with trepidation.

Zayn shrugs and plays with the bracelet on his wrist, twisting it back and forth.

When Louis prances back into the room, he’s waving an unopened bottle of vodka above his head, smile stretched across his face like he’s presenting the boys with the Holy Grail.

“Louis, we can’t drink!” Liam gasps as Louis stands above them.

“And why not?” Louis asks indignantly, planting a hand on his hip and pushing it out.

“Because we – we have to practice tomorrow!” Liam splutters.

Louis rolls his eyes and walks around the circle and plops down into his previously vacated spot, on the other side of Zayn from Harry. Harry wishes Louis had squeezed himself into the small open space between his knee and Zayn’s knee, but then again, he’s not sure he could deal with having alcohol in his system and Louis’s warm leg lined up against his, so maybe it’s for the better.

“You gotta live a little, Paynester,” Louis says loudly, ripping the seal off the bottle. “We’re about to become the biggest international popstars in the world, have some fun!”

There’s a small silence.

“You think we’ll really make it?” Zayn asks quietly. Liam stares down at the floor, picking at the hem of his plaid pajama pants, and Niall’s hand stops on its journey from the bag of popcorn to his mouth. Louis stops picking at the cap.

He looks up at the boys, and Harry’s insides turn warm at the determined look on Louis’s face as he looks around the circle. Harry had forgotten that Louis is 18, that he’s not a stupid little 16 year old like Harry, and it makes him feel better that Louis apparently believes they’ll actually make it in the competition.

“Course we will!” Louis says brightly. “We’ve got Liam’s perseverance.” he points at Liam. “Who the fuck comes back two years later and shows Simon Cowell up?”

Liam blushes, but there’s a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

Louis continues, “and we’ve got Zayn’s killer dance moves,” he claps Zayn on the knee and grins.

 Zayn scowls. “Fuck off.”

Louis just laughs loudly. “We’ve got Niall’s Irish heart!” He kicks out a toe towards Niall and nudges the bag of popcorn and Niall grins widely.

“What about Harry?” Zayn asks, nudging his shoulder into Harry’s, and Harry can’t look away from Louis’s eyes, bright and piercing and blue and trained on Harry’s face.

He smiles. “Well, we’ve got Harry’s curls! Nobody will be able to resist us with those sausages hanging from his head!”

Harry feels his face turn red, and Niall reaches over with a greasy hand and tugs on Harry’s hair while the other boys laugh, and Louis just keeps looking at Harry, just keeps smiling that dumb goofy smile and Harry’s heart is so big he feels like he never wants to let Louis of his sight.

“What about all the other groups?” Liam asks, hesitantly. “Some of them are really good.”

Louis waves a dismissing hand and dramatically twists the cap off and tosses it behind him. “They don’t have anything on us! We have heart! We have courage!” He jumps up, towering over all the other boys. “We will conquer this competition!” He screams, and the sound echoes around the room and the boys cheer wildly, Zayn clapping like Louis has made a declaration of war, and Niall tips backwards, popcorn spilling over him as he laughs hysterically and even Liam smiles, reaching out to poke Louis in the kneecap.

Harry’s not really sure what they’d do without Louis. Not even a full week into this endeavor and he’s already their born leader, already their captain, their chief, and he thinks they’d be totally lost without him. Louis twirls around in a pirouette, coming dangerously close to kicking Zayn’s laughing face, and gives a big sweeping bow, before sinking back down into his spot. He smiles at Harry, from underneath his fringe and through those stupidly long eyelashes, and Harry’s heart gives an extra thump. He’s so fucked.

The first questions are tame as they pass around the bottle. Harry watches as Liam pretends to take a drink and then passes it on to Niall without having swallowed any of the vodka. He smiles at him and Liam blushes, but Harry doesn’t say anything. It’s Liam’s problem if he doesn’t want to have fun.

 Liam appoints himself the judge on dares, because Louis’s first dare to Niall was to run around the outside of the bungalow naked, and Niall’s face had slowly turned white at the idea of going out in the dark by himself. Liam had kicked Louis in the shin and told him to give Niall an easier one, stating that the dares had to stay inside the bungalow, which is how Niall ended up eating half a bottle of ketchup before rushing down the hall to throw up in the toilet while Louis rolled around screaming with laughter.

As the level of the vodka in the bottle dropped, Niall’s laugh gets louder and Zayn’s smiles stop being so tight and he makes more jokes, and Louis’s eyes get bluer and he keeps reaching over and trying to pinch Liam’s nipple until finally Liam gathers his small hands and keeps them locked in one of his. Harry tries not to hate Liam for getting to hold Louis’s hands, because as Harry gets tipsier and more giggly, all he can concentrate on was Louis’s face and his mouth and his thin ankles poking out from underneath his pajama pants, and he wants nothing more than to hold Louis’s hand. 

“Alright, alright,” Louis waves his arms around after they’ve recovered from the last dare, consisting of Zayn singing God Save Our Queen with his pants around his ankles. That was Harry’s idea for Zayn, and he was quite proud of himself for it, since it made Louis screech with laughter at the bewildered look on Zayn’s face as he stood above them, his boxers with small frogs on them hanging off his chicken legs. “Zayn, your turn!”

Zayn scowls at Harry, still laughing behind his hand, and plants his chin in his hand, eyebrows knit together as he thinks of a truth or a dare.

“Can I ask one for the whole group?”

“Go for it,” Louis says.

“Alright, if you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?” Zayn looks around curiously at the circle, which had gotten tighter and tighter until their knees were smashed up against each other, elbows knocking together. “This is a serious question.”

The boys all sit in silence as they think over their answers.

Liam makes a small noise and they all look at him. His eyes are downcast, knees jiggling. He clears his throat. “I wish I could take jokes better,” he says quietly. “I always, like, - ” he pauses. “I dunno, I never, like, get the joke at the same time as other people?” His eyebrows are like little caterpillars, furrowed together as he determinedly avoids eyes. “Wish I could lighten up a bit.”

Louis’s smile gets soft and he pats Liam’s knee. “You’re alright, Payner,” he declares. “By the end of this week, we’ll have you making more jokes than Curly over there.” He nods his head at Harry, and Liam smiles shyly. He nods once and nudges his shoulder against Louis’s.

Louis grins brightly around at the group. “Well, I, for one, wish I was a bit smarter. Failed my first round of A-levels, I did.” He tilts his head thoughtfully. “Although now that we’re about to become the next N’Sync, I guess my smarts don’t matter as much!” He snorts to himself. “Hazza, what about you?”

Harry scratches his head and pulls at the neckline of his shirt. What would he change? Harry’s not full of himself, but he knows he’s good at what he does, good at singing, he knows he’s smart. His half-tipsy brain tells him to say that he wishes he could have Louis’s attention on him all the time, but he kicks that thought away before it substantiates itself into the air.

“I think, maybe,” he clears his throat noisily, “people don’t really take me seriously? I wish they would.” The room is silent and he can feel Louis’s eyes on him but he stares down at the wood grain of the floor and traces his nail through a groove. “People just look at me and say oh, he’s such a kid.”

Niall snorts. “Mate, you are a kid.”

Harry rolls his eyes and kicks out at Niall. “Yes, I know that. I just wish people wouldn’t underestimate me.”

He can feel them looking at him and his face feels warm, but when he looks up, all he sees is small smiles from the boys, and blue blue blue eyes looking at him from across the circle.

“More to you than just a head of curls, isn’t there?” Louis says, seriously. Harry nods, and there’s another small pause.

“I wish my stomach was bigger,” Niall blurts out into the silence, and the moment is broken and all the boys are rolling around, clutching their stomachs laughing at Niall’s declaration.

At some point they traipse into the kitchen and make heaping sundaes, getting chocolate syrup all over the counter as they tussle over the sprinkles and Louis takes it upon himself to try and empty the caramel sauce bottle into Niall’s face while he’s talking, causing him to splutter and choke and spew sprinkles and sauce everywhere.

When they’re seated back in their circle, Louis grins evilly and rubs his hands together. “Time to get serious, boys, this is where all the secrets come out,” he cackles. Harry feels slightly apprehensive at the wicked look in Louis’s eyes but he shrugs and chomps on his vanilla ice cream.

“Harry, truth or dare,” Louis asks him, eyes glinting.

“Truth.”

“Are you a virgin?”

Liam chokes on his ice cream and Niall laughs loudly, spoon clacking against his teeth.

Harry squirms on the spot. “That was fast. Um, yes.”

“Gotta start somewhere,” Louis says thoughtfully, and strokes his chin in a villainous way. “Interesting, very interesting.”

Harry blushes, can feel Louis’s eyes on him but he avoids his gaze and knocks his knee against Zayn. “Zayn, truth or dare.”

“Truth.”

“Who’s the hottest person in this room, not counting yourself?”

Zayn chuckles and looks thoughtfully around the room, gazing at each boy in turn. Liam wiggles under Zayn’s attention, his face red, and Harry files that information away for later.

He hums. “Think I’m gonna have to go with Louis, I think.”

Louis shrieks gleefully and leans over to smack a wet and sticky kiss to Zayn’s jaw, and Harry’s stomach twists itself up, because of all the people in the room who Zayn was allowed to choose from, Louis was definitely not on that list, because Louis is off-limits, Louis is mine, Harry drunkenly thinks.

“It’s the arse, isn’t it?!” Louis exclaims joyfully, standing up and turning so the boys have a side view of his admittedly round and voluptuous and lovely and perfect and firm arse, and Harry has to turn his head away before he’s too tempted to reach out and just touch Louis, barely hard enough for Louis to feel through his pajama pants but Harry just wants to see if he’s as warm if he looks.

Zayn rolls his eyes and reaches out to slap Louis’s arse and Harry’s hands twitch, because no, mine. He pulls his hands into his lap.

“Liam, truth or dare,” Zayn says, leaning back on his hands as Louis sits back down in his spot, a self-satisfied smirk on his face.

“Um, truth?”

“Why is no one doing dares?” Niall asks loudly and bangs his spoon against his bowl angrily. “I want to see dares!”

Zayn ignores him. “Okay, Liam, favorite superhero?” He smiles gently at Liam and pushes his toe towards him, nudging his shin, pushing up Liam’s pajama pants and scratching with his socked toes.

“What?” Louis cries. “Zayn, it’s secret time! We want to know interesting things about Liam, we want to know his dirty secrets!”

Liam blushes furiously, reaching out and punching Louis on the knee.

“Well, I want to know Liam’s favorite superhero, you can find out his dirty secrets later,” Zayn says haughtily. “Liam?”

“Um, I think Batman?” Liam says carefully, as if he wants to make sure he’s saying the right answer. Zayn smiles at him and nods, like he’s satisfied with Liam’s answer, and Liam’s shoulders relax and his smile gets a little bigger. Harry decides Zayn and Liam would look very pretty next to each other.

“God, you guys are children,” Louis chides loudly. “Truth or dare is not mean to be this tame, damnit!” He pounds his fist on the ground, and then winces as if the floor is harder than he thought. He takes a big swig of the vodka bottle and wipes his mouth and Harry follows the motion of his fingers as they wipe across his red red lips and Harry wonders how Louis’s lips taste. Probably like caramel and vodka. Harry likes caramel. And vodka. Harry is very drunk and Louis is too far away but there’s not really anything he can do about it.

“Harry, truth or dare,” Liam asks him hesitantly.

“Dare!” Harry crows loudly. He wants someone to dare him to sit next to Louis, that would be the greatest dare ever, he would be so good at that dare, he hopes and hopes that’s the dare Liam has in mind.

“I dare you to,” Liam trails off and looks around the room, as if he’s looking for ideas. “do a handstand against the wall over there.” He points over to the wall near the kitchen.

“Li, he’s drunk,” Zayn laughs. “He couldn’t even do that sober.”

Well, that’s just not fair. “Heeeeyyyy,” Harry whines, pouting. He thinks he could probably have been in the circus in another life. Louis did say they were circus animals and Harry wants desperately to show Louis that he can do this, because maybe if Harry shows Louis that he can do a hand stand, Louis will want to sit next to him and maybe he’ll hold his hand because he’s so proud of Harry. Harry likes that idea, so he shakes his curls out of his eyes and shakily stands up, holding on to Zayn’s shoulder for balance.

“Don’t kill yourself, Hazza,” Louis says loudly. “If you fall and crack open your skull and they have to give you stitches, they’ll have to cut off your curly hair! And then where will we be?”

Harry grins widely around the circle. “You’d be fucked!” He exclaims, drawing out the –ck sound of the curse, wiggling his eyebrows around, and then he trots off to the wall.

He considers the wall. It is very imposing looking, but he can feel the boys’ eyes burning holes in his back and he is determined to do this dare, if only so that Louis will look at him, as impressed as he was when Niall managed to drunkenly dance what was apparently an Irish jig.

Harry tips himself over, landing with a thunk against the wall, his feet waving in the air and his elbows straining as the boys cheer themselves hoarse and he grins wildly at them, upside down, his curls hanging in his face. Before he topples over, he can see Louis jumping up and down, clapping madly and cheering with his head thrown back, and right before Harry’s face hits the ground, he thinks happily that Louis will definitely want to hold his hand now.

He stumbles back over to the circle, dropping down clumsily into the circle, his knee banging against Niall’s, causing his spoon to flip ice cream onto the floor. Niall stares at his ice cream, shrugs, and then leans down to lick it up off the floor, and Louis screams that Niall will die of dust poisoning. Harry’s smile is so wide it hurts his cheeks, and Louis reaches over and ruffles Harry’s hair, praising his prowess and proclaims him an acrobat. Harry tries not to preen under the attention.

“Okay, Lou, truth or dare?” Harry throws at Louis as he wiggles around, finding his nest in the blankets he’d vacated to complete his dare.

“Truth!” Louis grins wickedly. “Plunder me, Harry, learn my dirty secrets.” He winks at Harry and Harry chokes on his ice cream, turning red as Niall laughs uproariously at Louis’s completely un-subtle innuendo. Harry hastily swallows his ice cream and tilts his head at Louis. He pauses and firmly sets his ice cream bowl down on the floor in front of him.

“Have you ever been with a boy?”

The room is completely silent. You could hear a pin drop. Niall drops his spoon and Louis jumps.

“Define be with,” Louis says solemnly, eyes narrowed at Harry. Liam’s eyes are wide as he looks between Louis and Harry.

Harry waves his hands around. “You know, like-” he tosses his hair out of his eyes and stares at Louis, “done stuff with a boy.”

“Define stuff.”

“Have you ever kissed a boy?”

Louis looks at him curiously, and there’re small red spots of color high on his cheekbones and Harry’s stomach feels like it’s jumping around inside of him. He feels Zayn shift next to him, but doesn’t take his eyes from Louis.

“No, I haven’t,” Louis says, after a pause. His eyes are totally impenetrable.

Well. Harry hums and nods.

Liam clears his throat.

“Have you?” Louis asks suddenly.

“Gotta ask it like a truth or dare, Lou,” Harry winks at Louis, and his palms are tingly and he can feel tiny drips of sweat on his forehead. The air in the room is thick. He hears Niall’s stomach grumble and randomly wonders how Niall could possibly be hungry.

“Truth or dare, Styles,” Louis commands loudly, his forehead scrunched down. His hands are flitting over his knees.

Harry stares at Louis. He could say dare. He wonders what Louis’s dare would be for him if he said dare.

“Truth.”

“You ever been with a boy?” Louis asks, and his voice is quiet, curious, and he’s not moving anymore, hands stilled on his knees.

Harry nods, tries not to smile at the surprised look in Louis’s eyes. He can feel Zayn moving uncomfortably next to him, and he puts a hand on Zayn’s knee to keep from bumping into his. Harry watches as Louis’s eyes track the movement of his hand.

“Well, then,” Niall says loudly, breaking the silence. “You two broke the rules of the game.”

Harry tears his gaze away from Louis’s blue eyes. “What?”

“No ask-backs!” Niall insists. “You asked Lou a question, Lou wasn’t allowed to ask you a question back!”

“That’s a rule?” Zayn asks skeptically. “Why’d you let Louis ask it then?”

Niall grins. “Wanted to know the answer meself, to be honest.” He pops his spoon in his mouth and laughs around his ice cream. “My turn now. Liam, truth or dare?”

“Cmon, Li, be brave,” Zayn hisses from across the circle, his lips wide in a grin.

“Um, dare?” Louis claps energetically, avoiding Harry’s eyes. Harry shifts closer to Zayn and tilts his head on his shoulder, watching Louis’s profile. Zayn doesn’t really react, pats Harry’s knee once or twice and moves his neck so Harry fits comfortably. Zayn is so comfy, Harry thinks, like a pillow. He bets Louis is really comfy too. Maybe Harry shouldn’t have asked Louis that question, now Louis won’t look at him, and he feels kind of cold now without Louis’s eyes on him.

“Dare ya to give Harry a proper lap dance, Li,” Niall grins wickedly and points his spoon at Harry. If Harry wasn’t so drunk and hung up on Louis avoiding his gaze, he’d be worried about why Liam’s eyes look like they’re about to bug out of his head. As it is, Harry’s just realized he’s about to receive a lap dance from a very reluctant looking Liam.  And now Louis is staring at him. Well, that’s okay then.

Liam gets up and walks over to Harry. He sighs heavily. “I’m not nearly drunk enough for this.”

Harry leers up at him and pats his lap and Liam blushes as red as a tomato. Between Liam’s legs, Harry can see Louis’s eyes trained on the two of them and he gives Louis a little smirk, at which Louis twitches and looks away.

“Li, you’re not drunk at all,” Zayn pats Liam’s thigh from next to Harry. “We all saw you pretending to drink.”

At that, Louis cries out and whips his head around. “What?!” he shrieks, kicking his leg out and banging his foot against Liam’s ankle. “Liam, you traitor!”

Zayn reaches around the two of them and grabs the almost empty bottle of vodka. He hands it up to Liam. “Chug the rest of this.” Liam looks askance at the bottle that Zayn holds out to him and shakes his head.

“I can do this without alcohol!” He insists.

“Nah, Li, you definitely can’t,” Niall cackles next to them.

Liam stares down at Harry. Harry wonders if Liam even knows what a lap dance is supposed to be like. Harry wonders what a lap dance from Louis would be like. He has to banish that thought pretty quickly, because it wouldn’t be very funny for him to get hard while his new bandmate is giving him a drunken lap dance. Well. A sober lap dance.

Liam grabs the bottle, brings it to his lips, and they all watch closely as his throat bobs. He finishes it, gasps, wipes his hand across his mouth and blearily looks at Zayn. “Happy?” Zayn nods gleefully. Well, a drunken lap dance.

Liam sighs. “Alright.” Harry feels as though Liam is preparing himself for years of this kind of thing, and the thought that Liam is anticipating this kind of thing continuing makes his insides so warm he almost wants to kiss Liam right on the face. He doesn’t though. Louis is sitting less than three feet away and Harry doesn’t see the point of kissing someone else when Louis is right there.

The lap dance is more a bunch of hip-wiggling than an actual lap dance, but the four boys shriek hysterically while Liam pathetically rotates his hips in front of Harry’s face, his cheeks so red he looks like he’s on fire. Niall chokes on his ice cream he’s laughing so hard and then Zayn has to pound him on the back, and Liam takes the opportunity to step away from Harry and trips back over to his side of the circle, blushing furiously.

“Never again,” he says severely, pointing his finger at Niall. His eyes are dazed.

“That was great, mate, you’re never living that down,” Louis yells and slaps Liam hard on the back, hiccupping on his laughter, tears gathered in the corners of his eyes. Liam shakes his head furiously.

Harry smiles at him. “You were on point, Li, could make a living out of that kind of thing!”

Liam glares at him. “Truth or dare, Harry!” he barks.

Harry grin peacefully at him. “Dare, please, Li-Li. Lay it on me thick,” he winks.

“Snog Zayn,” Liam says firmly. His eyes are determined. “Thirty seconds.” He smirks at Harry.

Well, Harry’s not about to back down from a dare. Louis’s eyes focus on Harry, narrowed and glinting with something like a challenge.

Zayn chuckles lowly. “This game has got quite frisky, hasn’t it?” he says. “Well, babe, hop on over here.” He nudges Harry’s arm with his. Harry sees him look at Louis out of the corner of his eye and well, if that’s how it’s going to be, Harry knows more than anyone how to put on a show. Harry smirks at Louis, watches as Louis’s face tightens and his lips get thin and his shoulders tense up.

 Harry stands up, plops himself back down in Zayn’s lap, and locks his hands around Zayn’s neck. “Hey, darling,” he says cheekily, and rolls his hips a few time and watches as Zayn’s eyes get wider, and he hears a choked off noise behind him and he hopes desperately that it’s Louis. Zayn sets his hands at Harry’s hips, the only natural place for them, and there’s that choking noise again, like someone wants to say something, and Harry can definitely hear the rasp of Louis’s tipsy voice.

Zayn’s mouth is wet, warm. Kinda boring, Harry thinks. He can feel the slight rub of stubble across Zayn’s upper lip, scratching against Harry’s lip, and he wonders if Louis has stubble on his lip.

Harry settles further into Zayn’s lap, shifting his hips against Zayn’s and Zayn makes a small squeaking noise into Harry’s mouth, and then all of a sudden Harry is desperate, absolutely desperate to make Louis watch him do this, wants to prove to Louis that he’s good enough for Louis to want him. Harry rolls his hips against Zayn’s, opens his mouth wider, slides his tongue against the other boy’s and feels hands tighten against his hips. Harry grins into Zayn’s mouth, catches his tongue on his teeth and tastes the chocolate from his sundae, the slight sting of the vodka that still sits at the back of Zayn’s tongue. There’s heat in the bottom of Harry’s belly and he doesn’t know if it’s because he’s sitting on top of a very attractive boy and has his tongue in his mouth, or because he can feel the burn of Louis’s gaze in his back, but he crowds in closer to Zayn, tips his head back and sucks on his tongue, just to hear the slight squeak that emanates from behind him.

“Alright that was more than thirty seconds,” a voice says behind him, and Harry easily recognizes the scratch of Louis’s voice, hoarse and dry. He grins into Zayn’s mouth, feels Zayn smile back into his, bite his lip a little bit, gives one last upwards thrust of his hips, and then Zayn leans back, laughing. His eyes are bright, mouth red and shiny and Harry can’t resist leaning back in and pressing one more kiss against his wet mouth.

“Hey!” Louis barks from behind him. “Thirty seconds! Time’s up!”

Zayn smiles at him softly, nods his head imperceptibly at Louis, and Harry just smiles, shrugs, and rolls off Zayn’s lap, sprawling across the middle of the circle, landing with his head right by Louis’s knee. He stares at up at Louis, at the straight line of his nose, the curve of his thin upper lip, and his blue blue blue eyes (like the ocean, Harry thinks) staring down at him, something indistinguishable swimming in them. He can feel Louis staring at his mouth, red and wet and probably swollen from Zayn’s mouth. He bites his lip carefully and hears Louis’s breath catch.

“Hi,” he smiles up at Louis and nudges his nose into Louis’s shin. “Hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, I can see up your nose.”

Louis snorts loudly and the walls in his eyes melt away and he runs a hand through Harry’s hair, making Harry purr. If Harry weren’t born as a human, he’d quite like to be a cat. He tells Louis so, and Louis’s chuckles, pulling on Harry’s hair, scratches his scalp.

“Alright, mister, get back to your side of the circle. This game isn’t over yet,” Louis says, pushing Harry away from him. Harry crawls on his hands and knees to his side of the circle, hoping Louis is looking at his arse. He’s sure he is.

“Who’s turn is it?” Liam asks.

“Mine,” Harry cries gleefully. He peers around the circle, choosing his victim. His obvious choice is Louis, maybe just so he can hear Louis’s voice again, but he makes a show of considering each boy before his gaze lands back on Louis’s. “Louis.”

Louis sighs heavily. “Truth.”

Harry thinks over his question carefully, asks himself what he wants to know most about Louis. He wants to surprise Louis. Wants to see his eyebrows disappear into his hairline. Harry maybe also wants to shock Liam a little bit.

“Ever had your fingers in yourself?”

And once again, the air in the room feels like it could be set on fire and would explode. Everyone is tense, Liam’s jaw hanging open and Niall’s eyes are whipping between Harry and Louis, spoon hanging out of the side of his mouth. Zayn makes a small noise and nudges Harry with his knee.

Louis’s mouth is a round O. His eyebrows are screwed up together, lines in his golden forehead that Harry wants to reach over and smooth out with his thumb. Louis runs a finger along his lips, stares at Harry. He wraps his arms around his knees and plants his chin on his kneecaps. And then he nods slowly and carefully.

Well, then. Harry smiles serenely at Louis, watches as Louis’s mouth pinches. Then he opens his mouth again, but before he can say anything, Niall interrupts.

“Remember, lads, no ask-backs.”

Louis snaps his jaw shut with a loud click. “Zayn, truth or dare,” he barks, still staring at Harry and Harry grins back at him. God, he just wants to crawl across the circle and bite Louis’s neck.

“Um, dare,” Zayn says quietly.

“I dare you to ask Harry if he’s ever had his fingers in himself,” Louis says loudly, and Liam audibly gasps from across the circle, looking like he wants to kick Louis and tell him that’s not fair. But he doesn’t, and Louis continues to stare at Harry and Harry looks back and Zayn slowly turns his head to look at Harry.

“Haz?”

Harry beams happily at Louis and nods energetically. Louis’s eyes close briefly and he shifts in his spot. Harry wonders if he’s hard. Harry is. Actually, he’s hot too, so he whips off his shirt and settles his chin into his hands on his legs, feeling the cold draft cool his warm belly. He doesn’t have much in the way of muscles on his stomach, not like Liam, but he can feel Louis’s eyes on his bare chest and he likes the way that feels.

“Zayn, I think it’s your turn,” Niall says, and taps his spoon against the side of his empty bowl.

Zayn looks thoughtfully around the circle. He looks between Harry and Louis a few times, and everybody notices but nobody says anything.

“Harry, truth or dare.”

“Dare, Zayney old boy,” Harry cackles. That ball in his belly is burning, heat pooling as he watches Louis, the flush in his cheeks and his slightly red-rimmed eyes, his sweaty fringe across his forehead. Louis shifts awkwardly under Harry’s gaze.

“Snog Louis, one minute,” Zayn pokes Harry in the ribs and Harry grins so widely he thinks he wonders if his face is going to split wide open. Fuck, Zayn is the best.

“Um, maybe it’s time-” Liam starts, but Zayn cuts him off.

“Shut up, Li”, he says still carefully watching Louis. Liam’s eyes are flickering between Louis and Harry, at Harry getting up on his knees and waddling over to Louis, at Louis’s chest moving rapidly up and down underneath his thin Pokémon tshirt.

Harry sits in front of Louis, knees touching just barely. Louis’s hands are curled in his pajama pants and Harry reaches out and uncurls them, holding them carefully in his hands. Indistinctly, he takes notice of the fact that even though he’s younger, his hands dwarf Louis’s, and the thought shouldn’t be so hot, but it is.

Harry sits up, drops down carefully into Louis’s lap. He can almost hear Louis’s heartbeat slamming in his chest and wonders if Louis can hear his own, wonders if Louis can maybe feel the slight hardness in Harry’s thin pants.

“Hi,” he whispers. Louis doesn’t blink, his eyes so blue Harry thinks he could drown in them. The other boys fade away and all he can focus on is the feel of Louis’s soft tshirt under his fingers, the shaking of Louis’s legs under him, the way Harry’s legs wrap so easily around Louis’s waist.

“Hi,” Louis whispers back, and his hands come up to clutch Harry’s hips, the exact same position Zayn’s were. Harry tipsily thinks he’s getting a lot of action tonight and he giggles to himself at the thought, and at Harry’s small laugh, Louis face softens and his hands tighten on Harry’s bony hips, thumbs tucking into the waistband of his pants.

When Harry presses his mouth against Louis’s, it’s so different from Zayn that he almost jerks back in surprise. Louis’s mouth is dry, lips chapped, but it sends shocks down through Harry’s limbs, fingers tingling and his mind a swirl of Louis, Louis, Louis and he sighs happily. He knew it, he knew there was something here, and he pushes in closer to Louis, presses his thumbs into Louis’s collarbones, showing where his shirt is pulled over. He bites gently at Louis’s mouth, swallows his whimper and snakes his tongue into Louis’s mouth, stroking against his. He rolls his hips down against Louis’s, and at Louis’s squeak he knows he can feel the hard length of Harry against his leg. Louis pauses slightly, mouth not moving, and Harry whines because no, don’t stop now, fuck, Harry doesn’t even think he could stop if he wants to, he just presses into Louis, pushing into him. He pulls away from Louis’s mouth, bites sharply on his jaw, and at that he can hear Liam make an aborted noise behind him, cut off by a sharp slap and Harry grins against Louis’s neck, imagining that one of the other two boys shut him up. It’s alarming how quickly he already loves these boys.

Harry moves his hands around Louis’s neck, scratches the soft hairs gathered at his hairline, and brings his mouth back to Louis’s. Louis sighs breathily into Harry’s mouth and then they’re both smiling into each other’s mouths, teeth clacking together, and he can feel Louis’s hands bunch in his pants.

Suddenly, Harry remembers that Louis had never kissed another boy, and a shot of heat is sent up his spine as he realizes he’s Louis’s first kiss with another boy, and he groans sharply, pulling one hand away from Louis’s neck and reaching between them to palm Louis through his pants, hard under his hand. At that, Louis jerks sharply, mouth ripping away from Harry’s and he pants heavily into the air.

“Alright, time for bed,” Liam says firmly, this time getting all the words out. Louis nods frantically, giving Harry a slight shove that makes Harry sprawl backwards, flinging himself across the circle until his head knocks into Niall’s knee.

He smiles up at him, up into Niall’s eyes, blue but not really blue compared to the eyes of the person Harry was just snogging. Niall grins at him, reaches out and pats down his messy hair.

“Mate, that was smokin’. If I was into that kind of shit, I’d be over here with my dick out,” Niall chortles. “As it is.” He pats his crotch delicately and Harry laughs loudly, nuzzling into Niall’s leg.

“Love you,” He mumbles into the soft fabric of Niall’s pants.

“Yeah, yeah,” Niall snorts. “Let’s get you to bed.”

Louis won’t look at him when they all trudge out of the room, Harry stumbling slightly, drunk from the alcohol and the feel of Louis’s mouth against his, and Zayn catches him, sends him into his room.

Harry lies in his bed, listens to the sounds of the other boys going to the bathroom and closing their doors. He hears the water go on in the bathroom, stay on for a little bit, and then go off again, and he wonders if Liam is brushing his teeth. Probably, Liam seems like the type of person that would brush his teeth even if he was drunk. Or maybe it’s Louis, brushing his teeth to get the taste of Harry out of his mouth. Harry pouts into the dark and rolls onto his stomach.

He wasn’t imagining things, knows that Louis’s pointed questions and his stares and his hand on Harry’s hip, that all means something. He wonders if maybe Louis is scared. Well that isn’t so hard to believe, Harry was scared himself once, that time when he was at a party and an older boy had steered him into an empty room and pressed them up against the door. And then it was fun, and Harry had decided maybe boys were just as pretty as girls, and that was okay. He’d had time to reconcile that with himself. But Louis hadn’t, so Harry feels maybe a little spot of guilt in his lust-filled heart, that maybe he didn’t go about this the best way. But Louis’s eyes and his mouth and the way he smiled at Harry and the way he calmed Liam down and the way he teased Niall, god there was just so many things about him, and Harry, he just wanted to be in his orbit, just wanted to be near him. Like, if Louis is the sun, Harry just wants to soak up his warmth.

He rolls over onto his back, stares up the ceiling. He wonders what Louis is doing. If he’s fast asleep. Maybe he’s lying awake. A small part of Harry’s brain hopes that Louis is lying in the dark with his hand down his pants. Alright, maybe it’s not such a small part. It’s a pretty big part. Alright, fuck, it’s his whole brain.

Fuck, he’s so hungry. He swings his legs out of bed, thinks of dirty socks and jumping into an ice cold lake, to get his dick to go down, and pads out of the room and down the dark hallway.

He flicks the kitchen light on, gets the ingredients for a cheese toastie out, and starts slicing up cheese.

“What are you doing?”

Harry spins around, almost slicing his finger off and gasps at the surprise. Louis’s standing in the door way, slightly in shadow, his hands twisting anxiously in front of him.

“Cheese toastie,” Harry holds up the slice of cheese. “Want one?”

Louis nods and hesitantly comes into the kitchen and stands next to Harry, leaning into the counter. Harry lets them stand in silence, slices up more cheese and starts the bread toasting in the pan.

“So, I wanted to-”, they both start at the same time, and then pause, and then laugh sheepishly. Louis’s eyes are downcast, his long eyelashes brushing under his eyes.

“Go ahead,” he says, nudging Harry with his hip.

“Um, I wanted to apologize for-” Harry stutters. “Um, for earlier. With like, the questions. It was, um, invasive?” It was, probably, but Louis did answer and he had to have known that he could’ve begged off answering.

Louis looks up at him and smiles softly. “It’s okay. I wanted to apologize for being a little crazy.”

“Crazy?”

“Yeah, like…” he trails off. “I get weird around people, I just, I get like,” he flails his hands around. “I try too hard, I guess, when I’m trying to impress someone.”

Harry sets down the knife and turns to face Louis. They’re the same height, he notices. That’s nice. Makes it easy.

“Who were you trying to impress?” He asks carefully, knowing the answer is him, but wanting to hear Louis say it.

Louis rolls his eyes and bumps Harry’s hip with his own again, His smile is shy as he picks at the wrapper of the cheese package. “You’re dumb.”

“Yeah, I am,” Harry agrees. “I also kinda like you.”

Louis’s head whips up so fast that he winces like he’s cracked it and Harry smiles at him, nervous, but god, if he doesn’t do it now, when is he going to?

“Yeah?” Louis’s voice is soft, scratchy, and god, Harry is so fucked for him. He nods, watches as the corners of Louis’s mouth pull up in a sweet smile. “Okay,” is all he says.

“Okay? That’s all you’re going to say?” Harry pokes him in the stomach.

“Okay, I kinda like you too,” Louis whispers into the silence between them, staring at the bottom of Harry’s chin, anywhere but his eyes.

Harry thinks his heart has taken flight in his chest, flying around and bumping into his lungs and his liver and his kidney, wherever that is. Liam’s kidney doesn’t work, he thinks wildly, before he pulls Louis into him, hands at the small of his back. His throat is tight, tongue feels too big, and god he can hear the thumping of Louis’s heartbeat in the silent kitchen.

Harry leans in, doesn’t have to lean down, and presses his lips against Louis’s. Thin, chapped, warm, moving against his, and they smile into each other’s mouths, Louis’s hand petting softly at Harry’s bare hip. Harry pulls away. “Okay,” he smiles.

They eat their cheese toasties sitting up on the counter, arms bumping into each other. Louis swings his feet and bangs them against the counter, once, twice, and then wraps his ankle around Harry’s, and Harry grins at him with a mouth full of cheese.

They finish eating, put their plates in the sink, (Louis whispers that Liam will probably do the dishes tomorrow), and Harry grabs Louis’s hand.

“Stay in my room tonight?” He mumbles against Louis’s jaw. He watches as Louis swallows sharply, and then nods.

They flick off the light, bumping into each other as they walk down the hall. Louis’s fingers slip into Harry’s waistband and he can’t help the giant grin that spreads across his face.

When they crawl into the bed, Louis sleepily curls into Harry, as tactile as Harry suspected. He slots their legs together, puts his forehead to Louis’s and fists his hands into Louis’s thin shirt.

Louis hums, scratches Harry’s hip, and lazily presses his mouth against Harry’s upper lip. The ball of warmth in Harry’s belly expands, floating out in little tendrils that go from the top of his head all the way to his toes, and he buries his smile in Louis’s hair, smelling his fruity shampoo (strawberries), and breathing in that distinct Louis-scent that he hopes will become as familiar to him as the smell of his house, of his bed at home. The way Louis hooks his ankle around his, he thinks it won’t be long until he and Louis fit together like puzzle pieces, their edges sliding together and slotting into place, and as they drift to sleep, Harry sleepily thinks that Louis is just as warm as he thought he would be.

**

Someone’s knocking loudly on Harry’s door, blasting through his headache.

“Harry! Wake up! Can’t find Lou,” Niall’s voice comes through the door, sleepy and scratchy.

Harry clears his throat, and Niall must take that as the cue to come in, because the door bangs open and Niall stand there, his baggy pants hanging off him and his skinny chest pale in the morning sunshine.

“Haz, Lou’s not in-” he starts, and then Louis’s head pops up over the blanket, level with Harry’s elbow where he’s sitting up, blanket pooled around his waist.

“Ho, ho, what’s this?” Niall chuckles. He smiles knowingly, softly, at Harry, winking quickly, and then pokes his head around the door back into the hallway.

“Lads! He’s in here! These two bastards made sweet nasty love last night!” He yells, the sound echoing around the hallway, and then there’re footsteps and Liam and Zayn poke their heads in the door. Zayn rolls his eyes and Liam looks askance at Harry’s bare chest. Harry and Louis just grin at the boys, until Niall suddenly yells, runs into the room, and takes a flying leap onto the bed, landing heavily on Louis’s crotch. Louis shouts in pain, and it’s like a floodgate bursts, and the other two boys launch themselves at the bed, landing in a heap on top of the two boys in bed and there’s flailing arms and legs and Harry gets a fist in the face and he hears the groan of somebody getting an elbow in the stomach. Through the space between Niall grabbing Zayn in a headlock, Harry sees Louis’s small little face grinning wildly at him, eyes bright and sleepy at the same time, blue blue blue, and Harry smiles quietly at him, small and secretive. Whatever this is, whatever it’s going to be, whatever’s hanging out there in the future for these five boys lying in a heap on the bed, Harry thinks he could do whatever it is, could fight dragons, could conquer the world, if he has Louis clinging to his fingers, if he’s got Niall’s arm around his neck and Liam’s admonishing smile beaming down at him, if he’s got Zayn’s knowing eyes trained on him.

Harry flops back in the bed, pulls Niall down against his side, Louis plopping next to him and dancing his fingers across Harry’s stomach like he’s playing the piano. Liam lies with his chin digging into Harry’s waist, and it should hurt but it doesn’t. Zayn sits cross-legged, his hair a soft flop against his forehead as he watches, with a small smile on his face, the way Louis’s fingers tap lightly against Harry’s stomach.

“Alright, lads, this is it,” Louis declares solemnly, still tapping away at Harry’s hips.

“This is what?” Niall says, his jaw digging into Harry’s collarbone. His breath smells terrible and Harry loves it.

“Here and now, we are making a pact,” Louis sits tall, clasps his hands in front of him, and Harry immediately misses the warmth of his fingers.

“Is it a blood pact?” Liam asks worriedly. They ignore him.

“I hereby promise that I, Louis William Tomlinson, will do everything within my power to make this competition the best thing that has ever happened to us, to insure that we win this fucking thing, and I promise you guys that at this time next year, we’ll sell out America!” Louis states. He waves his hands at the other boys. “You boys have to promise the same.”

They all do, going in a circle and quietly promising each other that no matter what, no matter how this turns out, how judge’s house goes, they’re going to give it their all, they’re going to make it work.

“And with that, I hereby declare this marriage to be official!” Louis crows, as soon as Zayn has finished uttering his promise. “I may now kiss the bride!” He leans over, licks up Harry’s cheek and plants a fat kiss on his eyebrow.

Harry grins up at him.  He’s so gone for this boy.

“What are we gonna name ourselves?” Zayn asks thoughtfully.

“The Willies,” Louis immediately declares. They all shoot him down.

“I was thinking, like-” Harry stutters, and Louis imperiously waves his arm for Harry to continue. “I mean, the only place we can go is forward right? It’s the only direction we can go in.”

“I like this, I like it a lot,” Liam says, his jaw shifting back and forth. His brown eyes are excited, sparkling, and Zayn reaches over pats him on the head like a dog.

“I was thinking, like, One Direction?” Harry says, four pairs of eyes trained on him, one pair so blue that Harry feels like he can’t even look at him.

“I like it,” Niall says.

“Me too,” Zayn agrees. “Gives us a purpose, like we’re driven.”

Louis nods. He pats Harry’s cheek tenderly. “Well done, sweetheart.”

Zayn makes a retching noise, leans over and pinches Harry’s leg, and slides down so he too is lying on the bed, chin on Louis’s knee. Louis pats his head too.

They lay there, all five of them, grinning at each other. Louis the leader, loud voice and happy grin, Zayn and his quiet smile and comforting fingers on Louis’s ankle, Liam with his careful eyes and his desperate want to be included, to be needed, Harry with his secret desire to prove himself, Niall with his sunny appreciation of anything and everything. Harry thinks if anyone could conquer the world, it’s them. He says so, and they all nod at him, big eyes and hopeful smiles, totally scared shitless of what’s to come.

Harry smiles, watching the sun pan across Liam’s bare back and illuminating Louis’s eyes so bright it hurts to look at him. Louis grins at him, mouth stretched wide, and with the warmth of the other four boys piled on top of him, Harry proclaims, “I hereby declare the birth of One Direction.”