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Alongside You

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Part 1

“Where are you going?” Louis asked, grabbing Harry’s arm.

Harry looked down at Louis’ fingers digging into his bicep and his nostrils flared. “For a walk,” he snapped, jerking his arm out of Louis’ grasp.

“A walk where? Up and down the corridor?” They both knew Harry wouldn’t be allowed outside the hotel, not with the hordes of fans still camped outside.

“The gym, then. I don’t know. Just not here.”

“Fine then. Go.” His voice was hard. Brittle.

Harry gave Louis a long look, then he turned without saying another word and left their suite. He didn’t slam the door, just let it go as he exited. It slowly swung closed until the soft click of the lock slipping into place sounded loud as a gunshot in the now quiet room.

Louis sank onto the edge of the bed and dropped his face into his hands, leaning over with his elbows resting on his knees. He rubbed his hands over his face, digging the heels into his eyes, then ran his fingers through his hair in agitated motions.

They were fighting more and more these days. Honestly, he couldn’t even remember what had started the argument tonight. Something to do with Eleanor, he knew that much. Even the sound of her name caused Harry to go tense. Louis tried to not bring her up when Harry was around; the situation was difficult enough as it was. But they’d been spending so much time together this tour, occasionally it just slipped out.

And that was another thing, Louis thought, growing angry again. As much time as he and Eleanor did spend together, would Harry really rather they remain uncomfortable and distant? Wasn’t it better that they were actually friends now? Better that Louis wasn’t completely miserable every second he was forced to spend with her?

No, he though bitterly, Harry probably did wish they didn’t enjoy their time together, the jealous prick. He probably wished Louis was completely miserable, desperately unhappy, every second they were apart. Wished Louis was only happy when he was with Harry.

Well too fucking bad. He’d just been trying to make the best of a bad situation, and it wasn’t Eleanor’s fault. Once he’d got over his resentment and gave her half a chance, he’d discovered she could be quite good company. Harry didn’t like to shop anyway, so why should he care if Louis and Eleanor did? Harry had other friends. Why was it such a big deal if Louis did too?

Louis pushed away the twinge at his conscience that told him he wasn’t being fair. Deep down he knew it wasn’t the same situation at all. But right now he wanted to be angry, wanted to stew in the unfairness of it all. For once, he wanted to be the aggrieved party. It wasn’t always about Harry. Harry, who couldn’t lie to save his life. Harry, the baby of the group whom everyone bent over backward to protect, Louis included. And he’d been happy to do it. Happy to carry the load, to be the strong one of the two, to tuck everything he felt away while they were in public. To wear the mask, play the role of the devoted boyfriend so they could reap the rewards of this incredible opportunity they’d been handed.

It wasn’t as if he’d made the decision alone. They’d all agreed; they’d all decided this was for the best.

It was unfair of Harry to get angry with him, when everything he was doing was for them, for their success, for their future. It wasn’t fair.

Louis let out a huff and stood up, walking over to the mini fridge. He needed a drink.

Hours later, Harry still hadn’t returned. The anger had worn off and the melancholy had set in. Louis lay on the bed, drink in one hand, pillows propped up behind his back, the room illuminated by the flickering light of the television while he mindlessly flipped through the channels, stopping occasionally to watch a few minutes of a programme before becoming bored and moving to the next one. Right now a demonstration of a fancy apple peeler was playing on some shopping network—the kind that attached with a suction base to the counter and you turned a handle round and round to remove the peel. Idly, Louis wondered if Harry would like something like that. He ate a lot of fruit.

He checked his phone again, for the millionth time, but still no text from Harry. It was late, must be after midnight. He was starting to wonder if Harry was even coming back. It wouldn’t be the first time, he thought with a tight downward twist of his mouth. There had been a time when they hadn’t been able to go to sleep angry. One of them would always find the other and they’d make up, words of apology warm against the other’s lips, hands clinging tightly, desperate to hold on, to assure the other of their love. Neither of them had been able to stand how much it hurt to do otherwise.

When had things changed? How had things got so bad that one of them could storm out in anger, leaving the other behind? Alone for an entire night.

Finally, he couldn’t stand the worry, the uncertainty. He didn’t like putting the other boys in the middle of their fights, but he needed to know where Harry was, if he was all right. He sent a text to Zayn, guessing he’d be the most likely to know.

U seen Harry? Hes not back.

After a few moments he received an alert.

Here with me, mate. Think he’s going to crash here tonight.

Louis stared down at the text and tried to ignore the tightness in his throat, the ache in his chest. If the text started swimming in front of his eyes, it wasn’t because of the dampness beginning to pool under his lids; he’d just had a little too much to drink. And if his hands shook a bit as he typed out a response, it was just that he was tired. They’d been on the road a long time. They could all use a rest.

Yeah ok. Thanks.

Louis put his drink on the night table along with his phone. He pulled his t-shirt over his head and shimmied out of his jogging bottoms and pants. Then he slid under the covers and found the remote, clicking off the telly and plunging the room into darkness. Only then did he allow the tears to fall, slipping like secrets down his cheeks, evidence soaking into the fabric of his pillow.

A noise woke him sometime during the night. He lay blinking in the darkness, disoriented, his brain a little groggy from the alcohol he’d drank earlier. At first he couldn’t even remember where he was, the hotels and cities blurring one into the other after months on the road. He felt the bed dip and then a waft of cool air as the covers were lifted, then a body was sliding in behind him, warm arm draping over his waist, pulling him back against a broad chest. He felt a nose nuzzling into the hair at the back of his head, soft lips pressing against his neck. Louis covered the arm over his side with his own and laced their fingers together. Moving backward into the embrace, fitting their bodies together familiarly, he slid his toes between the calves against his feet and hooked an ankle around one. “Harry?” he asked, memories of their earlier fight rushing back.

“I’m sorry,” Harry mouthed against the back of his neck. “I’m sorry.”

Louis gave a little nod, not yet trusting himself to speak. He tugged Harry’s arm closer around him and squeezed his hand tightly.

They lay quietly, not speaking, the beat of Harry’s heart strong against Louis’ back. Eventually, Louis pulled Harry’s hand to his face and kissed his fingers, one after the other, the closest part of Harry’s body he could reach without moving out of the embrace. When he was done, he unwound their fingers so he could kiss the palm of Harry’s hand.

“I love you,” Louis whispered against his skin, chest aching, so thankful Harry had returned to their room. Then he wound their fingers back together, pressing their joined hands over his heart. His pulse was racing.

Harry’s entire body seemed to pull Louis closer, enveloping him, one leg hitching over his hip, arm wrapping tightly around his waist. “Love you too,” Harry murmured against his neck.

As tired and as tipsy as Louis was, he couldn’t fall back asleep; even as his body relaxed against the comfort of Harry’s embrace, his mind refused to still. He wondered if they should talk, say more than quiet apologies. He worried if they spoke, they’d fall back into old arguments, ones that seemed to go nowhere and have no resolution. Instead, he lay silently, trying not to let the growing fear—that somehow things were slipping away—take root.

He felt Harry’s face nuzzling into the back of his neck again, moving back and forth slowly, lips lightly brushing, touch whisper-soft. Louis’ eyelids fluttered shut and goosepimples broke out on his flesh.

“Do you remember that first night in Leeds?” Harry asked, his voice a quiet rumble against Louis’ skin.

Louis squeezed Harry’s hand and he swallowed, throat suddenly tight.

“Course I do.”

They had lain, just like this, one spooning the other, but with Louis as the big spoon, having zipped their sleeping bags together under the pretence of sharing body heat for warmth, both of them buzzing from the tension that had been building between them all day—high on life, the music, cheap booze and flirty glances, dancing drunkenly and falling on each other, grabbing at any excuse to touch.

Outside the tent the party still raged, the dull beat of a band pulsing in the background, muted conversation and laughter all around. The air smelled of damp grass and the occasional waft of smoke from weed. Inside the thin nylon walls existed their own protected bubble, just the two of them, wrapped around each other, bodies held close.

They’d been physical from the start, instantly attracted to each other in a way Louis had never experienced. Being with Harry was overwhelming. Playful touches took only days to escalate to frantic handjobs and sloppy blowjobs. They’d spent hours kissing, rubbing off on one another, sucking marks into the other’s skin. They couldn’t get enough of each another. Louis knew Harry was young and inexperienced, only sixteen. Just a boy. As the older of the two by a few years, he tried to be the responsible one and respect Harry’s innocence. His resolve, however, crumbled almost immediately under the intense gazes Harry sent his way, the single-minded focus he’d train on Louis, all heat and want and unrelenting persistence. To round out the destruction of Louis’ resistance, the unwavering attention was wrapped up in a package of lethal charm—a curly-haired cherub with big green eyes and a devastating dimpled smile.

Really, looking back on those early days, Louis never stood a chance.

The other boys, surprisingly, took the relationship in their stride. There’d been teasing, exasperated cries of “get a room” when they’d start making out in their presence, but the annoyance was tinged with fondness and they never once expressed anything but complete support. Perhaps they saw what Louis realised early on: what was between him and Harry was as unstoppable as it had been inevitable.

They’d slept curled up with each other almost every night since they met, but in their tent at Leeds Festival, everything was different. For all the times they’d been intimate, for everything they’d shared—secrets, fears, hopes, dreams—for all the openness they’d had with one another about mutual crushes, the pet names, the affection, they’d never once really talked about what was going on between them, what they meant to each other. Louis knew exactly what Harry meant to him. He’d come to the realization early on, swept up by emotions and hormones and lust. And when the swirling chaos of those early days began to settle into something less like a tsunami, though still a raging storm, he began to sort it all out in his head, sifting through the layers of attraction to one basic truth: soul mates. He’d always believed in fate and the knowledge slowly crystalised into shining clarity.

He’d never said anything to Harry, had at times wondered if they were too young to know their minds, if Harry’s crush would eventually fade. But the longer things went on, the stronger his feelings became. Nervous as Louis was to speak the truth aloud, he was almost certain Harry felt the same.

Lying in the dark, nestled in the cocoon of their tent, wrapped around his perfect boy at the end of a perfect day, Louis couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“Harry?” he whispered, heart hammering in his chest.

“Yeah?”

Louis took a deep breath and hoped his voice wouldn’t shake. “I’m in love with you,” he said. He waited a beat, then repeated, voice growing stronger, “I love you.”

Terror and relief coursed through his veins in the quiet second after the words left his lips. As the moment dragged on and Harry didn’t respond, Louis felt his adrenaline spike and the edge of panic creep in. Then Harry was turning in his arms, surging toward him and kissing him frantically, crawling over his body and straddling him, hands sinking into Louis’ hair, hips grinding down against Louis’ own.

“Lou,” he moaned against his lips. “God, Lou, me too… me too. I love you too.” His hands were everywhere, shaking, stroking Louis’ skin clumsily, as if too overwhelmed for finesse. “So much… I love you so much.” Louis composure was no better, the rush of emotion from Harry’s reaction causing him to feel as if he couldn’t breathe, as if his heart would beat out of his chest. He opened his lips to Harry’s, mouths fusing as their tongues tangled. His head was spinning; he felt as if he were falling, light-headed and woozy, almost disconnected from his body, as if the fragile human shell was too small to contain the enormity of this moment.

They kissed and held each other, laughing, taking in shaky breaths as their bodies rocked together, limbs entwined, both of them hard, but neither of them chasing anything more than the touch of the other’s skin, as much as they could possibly reach. Harry buried his face in Louis’ neck, breath warm and real, and Louis stroked his back with long, loving caresses, palms flat, pressing him near. He felt something then, a drop of wetness, the slightest tickle as it slid down his skin.

His hands stilled. “Are you crying?”

Harry let out a small laugh with a huff. “Yeah. A little, I guess.” He sounded embarrassed. He lifted his head for a moment and brought a hand up to his face, wiping at his eyes before tucking his head back under Louis’ chin. “I’m just really really happy.”

Louis’ heart swelled and he felt his own eyes sting. He squeezed Harry closer, burying his face in Harry’s hair.

“Me too,” he whispered.

The hotel room in—what city were they in, anyway?—seemed far removed from the magic of their tent in Leeds, the air thick with the stale remnants of their earlier argument. The arms surrounding him, however, were the same. A bit longer, of course, more muscular, marked with tattoos. But they still felt like home. The voice, too, bridged the span of time. It was deeper now, slightly raspy. And when Harry said, “I’m still in love with you,” Louis had to bite his lip to keep from crying, wishing they could transport themselves back to that perfect evening when anything seemed possible.

Instead, he lay motionless, his emotions a confusing mix of heartache and loneliness, loss and regret, even with Harry plastered right next to him, holding him close. Everything was different now.

Harry continued speaking in a low voice, vibrations humming on the back of Louis’ neck. His foot moved up and down, slowly rubbing against Louis’ calf. “I really am sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have left like that.” Interspersing his words with soft kisses, his mouth travelled until it was right by Louis’ ear. Louis shivered when Harry’s tongue traced along the shell, his hot breath spreading a corresponding warmth to Louis’ gut. He shifted minutely, pressing back against Harry, feeling Harry’s cock against the crevice of his arse, the beginnings of an erection evident. Harry’s hand drifted too, untangling itself from Louis' fingers and sliding down to his stomach where he stroked gently back and forth before moving to his hip. Fingers gripped tightly while Harry’s hips tilted forward, pressing more firmly against his backside. Louis’ own cock was filling with blood, arousal sweeping through him from the seductive assault against his senses.

Harry’s hand travelled across his stomach again, up his chest, stopping at his nipples, rubbing the pads of his fingers across them, then sliding back down to his groin, scratching lightly at the trail of hair below his belly button. Louis arched back into Harry’s cock, feeling him slowly rutting against his rear.

“Do you want…?” Louis started to ask. He was tired, emotionally wrung out, but if Harry wanted to fuck him, he’d let him.

Harry shook his head no against the back of Louis’ neck. “Don’t want to move,” he said. “Don’t want to let you go.” He continued with the movement of his hips, rubbing his hardening cock against Louis while reaching for Louis’ dick. “Is this okay?” he asked, stroking it in a loose grip. “Like this?”

Louis shuddered at the touch, taking in a deep breath. “Yeah,” he answered. “This is good.”

He shut his eyes and lost himself in sensation, Harry’s warm body surrounding him, his hand on his cock, hot breath in his ear. Louis reached behind his head and sunk his fingers into Harry’s soft curls, tugging gently and scratching lightly at his scalp. A low moan left Harry’s mouth and the grip on Louis’ cock tightened, Harry’s thumb rubbing over the head, smearing the pre-come all around.

Fully hard now, Louis resisted the urge to thrust into Harry’s fist, relaxing instead and letting Harry set the pace. The rhythmic movement of Harry frotting against his backside and the slide of his fist around Louis’ cock was slow and sensuous, building inexorably toward climax. He let himself be carried along, tried to empty his mind and concentrate on his body’s reaction. Harry had always known how to touch him, how to bring him straight to the edge. When Harry’s fingers squeezed over the ridge at the head of his cock on the next upward stroke, Louis didn’t even try to hold back; his dick pulsed in Harry’s hand, come coating Harry’s fingers. A soft gasping cry left his mouth and chills rushed up his spine as Harry continued to stroke him through his orgasm, hand now slick with Louis’ come.

“So hot,” Harry rumbled in his ear, the pressure of his hips continuing steady and slow. “Gonna come on your back, Lou. Yeah? Gonna come all over you.”

Louis nodded, body still trembling from his release. He liked the idea of Harry splashing him with come, painting his skin with his seed. He wanted to feel that Harry was somehow claiming him, that Harry was still his. Baring his neck and tilting it to the side, Louis urged, “Use your teeth.”

A strangled noise left Harry’s throat and Louis felt his body tensing behind him, hot splashes searing his skin, hips jerking against him. Harry’s open mouth latched onto the spot Louis had exposed and he sucked hard, teeth biting down in a sharp nip. Louis shuddered again, overwhelmed, and he brought his hand down to rest on Harry’s wrist, stilling its attentions on his over-sensitive cock.

Body spent, Harry collapsed, slumping so he was draped partly over Louis. He was heavy, but the weight felt good. Solid and real. As Louis’ own pulse quieted, he could feel Harry’s deep breathing against his back. The earlier feeling of alienation had all but disappeared and Louis felt sated, content, and if he didn’t think too hard, could almost imagine they were still those two young boys in that tent in Leeds—crazy, stupidly in love.

Beginning to drift off, Louis heard Harry slur, “I’ll get us cleaned up in minute. Just want to lie here a few.”

He gave a small grunt in acknowledgment, too tired to do anything more. Drifting off to sleep, surrounded by the boy he loved, Louis’ earlier fears seemed far away. They were going to be okay.

-o-

Except things weren’t okay. If Louis had to pinpoint when it all started going wrong he’d say California. Or maybe Chicago. Or maybe it was as early as New York when Eleanor first flew out to join them on tour. For that matter, maybe it was as far back as when they signed with Columbia Records. They’d agreed to tone everything down, to play it straight in order to crack the U.S. market. He tried hard not to look at it as a deal with the devil but with Harry clearly not coping under the strain, Louis couldn’t help but wonder if they’d traded in happiness for fleeting success.

Not that the success was anything to take for granted. None of them could still wrap their heads around how quickly they’d rocketed to global stardom. When people mentioned One Direction and the Beatles in the same breath, it was almost too surreal to believe. They had more money than they could have ever dreamed. Thousands of fans screaming just for a glimpse of them. And they were doing what they all loved—singing and performing as a career. If it wasn’t for what it meant for him and Harry, he’d be on top of the world.

The root of the problem, he thought, was the way he and Harry viewed their situation differently. Louis had no problem separating their public personas from their private lives. The fans were ravenous—gaping maws with insatiable appetites, always trying to devour pieces of them, whatever they could get, no matter how infinitesimal. He’d realised a long time ago they’d never get enough; they’d always want more and more and more, no matter how much they’d already been given. And fans were fickle as well. They’d love you one moment and turn on you the next.

Zayn was the one who helped put things in perspective. Intensely private, he’d had a much harder time adjusting to their fame than any of the rest of them. Eventually, he’d learned to compartmentalise, to separate who he was from whom he was expected to be.

“Out there we’re on a stage, yeah?” he’d said. “Playing a role. And that don’t mean we’re not being ourselves, but that also doesn’t mean we owe them more than we want to give. Our relationships, our families, all that’s private. They don’t get that part of us unless we decide to share. That’s ours and they’ve got no right to it.”

Louis had immediately latched onto this tactic of dealing with their crazy life. He still let fan speculation and comments upset him far more easily than, say, Liam or Niall, but he wholeheartedly adopted the idea of ‘Louis of One Direction’ being a completely different entity than Louis Tomlinson of Doncaster who was madly in love with his curly haired boy. ‘Louis of One Direction’ was the funny one, the mischief maker, devoted boyfriend to Eleanor and best friend of Harry Styles. In his mind, it was the truth. He saw no contradiction. It worked for him.

Harry, though… he couldn’t separate himself like that. Everything about him was open and honest. The person he presented to the world was exactly who he was. That openness, his generous heart were why Louis fell in love with Harry in the first place. The way he’d fearlessly let himself fall, going all-in from the start. Niall was similar in some respects—particularly the “what you see is what you get.” But with Niall it didn’t matter in the same way; he had nothing to hide.

Therein lay another problem; Harry didn’t think they should have to hide. He’d like nothing better than to stand up on stage and kiss Louis in front of everyone, declare to the world he would never be ashamed.

In an ideal world, Louis would love the same. But he was more business minded. Practical. He’d listened to the execs at the label, studied the numbers, absorbed the data on the life cycle of boy bands. Their success was unprecedented, yet he sometimes still didn’t feel it was real. The thought was always with him that it’d all be gone one day. Louis felt a responsibility to the band, to the crew, to the huge number of people whose jobs depended on their success. The choice had been up to them on how they’d handle the American market, where being out would be a huge risk. They could easily have decided to pass up the deal and enjoy limited success at home. But they had decided together. They agreed to try and make the most of these couple of years.

For that reason, Louis resented when Harry got such an attitude whenever Eleanor was around. Maybe they hadn’t realised how difficult it would be, having to pretend, for Harry to watch Louis publicly giving someone else the affection that belonged to him. At times when the guilt started getting to him, Louis wondered if maybe Harry only agreed because he thought it’s what Louis wanted. But the fact remained that he had agreed. For him to blame Louis, to be constantly angry, was the height of unfairness.

“Again? She just left!”

“That was almost two weeks ago.”

“Oh, almost two whole weeks.” His tone was sarcastic with an edge it never used to have.

“Harry—”

Harry gave an angry shake of his head, cutting off what else Louis had to say. “Well how long is she staying this time?”

“Not sure. They want us to go to Disneyland. Get some pics snapped.”

“’Course they do.” Harry turned his back, the set of his shoulders tense. Louis walked over to him and put his hands on his upper arms, but Harry only stiffened further and gave a slight movement, shrugging him off.

Louis stepped back, unsure, stomach twisting. Increasingly, he didn’t know how to deal with Harry when he got like this. From experience, he knew if he spoke, tried to reason with Harry why this was all a necessity, Harry would simply become angrier. Then they’d both say hurtful things and Harry would storm out, or Louis would throw something against the wall, and they’d both feel like shit until one of them apologised.

“It’s not my fault.” He regretted the words the second they left his mouth. Could have kicked himself.

Harry rounded on him. “So you’re saying it’s mine?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You were thinking it.”

“Oh, here we go.” Louis’ nostrils flared and he crossed his arms across his chest.

“You were. Admit it.” Harry started pacing, winding himself up. “What was it this time? The bus in Chicago? Too much flirting on stage? I’m sorry I can’t hide my feelings like you can. I’m not as good an actor as you.” He practically spit the words. “If you’re even acting anymore,” he added under his breath.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I think you know exactly what I mean.”

If I’m even acting,” he repeated with incredulity. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“You just seem like you’re getting a little too good at this ‘pretend’ boyfriend thing.” He held up his hands to make little quotation movements with his fingers.

“Fuck you, Harry. At least I fucking try. It’s like you won’t even bother to.”

“Why should I?”

“Why should you? Are you serious?”

“You’re the one with the girlfriend.”

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“She will be at Disneyland.”

“That’s different.”

“Is it?”

“Christ. Listen to you.” Louis threw up his hands. “Do we really have to fucking go through this every fucking time?”

“So now I’m not even supposed to be upset when my boyfriend spends all his free time with someone else.”

“I don’t spend all my free time with Eleanor. I’m with you every single night. Every night. Unless you’re being an immature wanker and storming off in a huff.”

“So now I’m immature. I suppose a teenager’s too young for you now that you’re closing in on twenty-one.”

“What’s got into you?”

“Into me? Oh, that’s right. Because this is all my fault. See? I knew that’s what you were thinking.”

“Fuck this.” Louis felt his simmering anger heat up closer to rage. He needed to get out of there before he said something he couldn’t take back. “I’m fucking sick of this. I’m not doing this with you today. You act like this is easy for me. Like you’re the only one who suffers. And instead of doing your part, or really anything at all to make things easier, you seem determined to do everything in your power to make things harder. Well, screw you.”

He stormed toward the door and kicked his foot out in frustration when it got caught on a piece of clothing lying on the floor. After shaking it off with a few more curse words, he flung open the door and left without another look back.

Breathing heavily, heart pounding, he stalked down the corridor until he’d turned the corner, out of sight from their suite. Then he leaned back against the wall, tilted his head back with eyes closed and took a few deep breaths trying to calm down. He knew better; he really did. Louis had no idea why he’d even opened his mouth in the first place. The outcome was entirely predictable.

Fishing out his phone from the pocket of his jeans, Louis sent Zayn a text.

You around?

The reply came almost immediately.

What’s up?

Me and Harry had a fight. Can I come by?

Room 638

Zayn opened the door almost immediately after Louis knocked, obviously waiting for him to arrive. He pulled Louis into a strong hug, arms wrapping around and holding him tightly for a few minutes.

“You wanna talk about it?”

“Not really,” Louis answered into Zayn’s shoulder.

“Same old, same old?”

“Yeah.”

Zayn nodded then let Louis go, giving one last pat on his back. Louis gave him a nod of thanks, then walked over to one of the beds, flopping down.

“Mind if I just hang out here for a while?”

“No worries.”

“What were you doing?”

“Nothing. Being bored. Playing FIFA.”

“Well don’t let me interrupt.”

Zayn laughed and flopped down on the other bed, picking up his PS3. Louis took out his phone again and started scrolling through twitter. He tried to put the fight out of his mind. He’d drive himself crazy if he replayed the argument in his head. It wasn’t as if he could change anything.

“Hey Zayn,” Louis said after some time had passed.

“Yeah?”

“You think you could go check on Harry? Make sure he’s all right?”

Zayn looked over at Louis then gave a nod of his head. He tossed the game controller onto the bed where it bounced gently on the mattress. “Sure, I can do that.”

Louis lifted his arse up from the bed to reach in his back pocket. “Here, take this,” he said, handing Zayn his key card. “Just in case.”

Zayn took the proffered card. “Yeah, okay. Be back in a bit.”

Louis’ attention appeared to be back to his phone. “Thanks,” he said, not looking up.

He could feel Zayn staring at him for a long moment before he finally heard the click of the door. The minute he was alone, he tossed the phone down on the bed and rolled over on his side, pulling a pillow over his head.

-o-

A noise woke Louis. He blinked, disoriented then realised he must have fallen asleep while Zayn was gone. Pushing the pillow off his face, he rubbed his eyes and sat up, leaning against the head rest.

“Hey.”

“Hey,” Zayn said, sitting down on the edge of the bed so he was facing Louis.

“You talk to Harry?”

“I did.”

“He doing okay?”

Zayn shrugged. “You planning to go back to your room tonight?” he asked.

“Why? Does he not want me there?” The thought made Louis feel a little queasy.

His face must have shown at least a little of how he was feeling because Zayn placed a reassuring hand on his leg and said, “That’s not it at all. I think that you should.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I think the two of you need to talk.” He held up his hand when Louis started to reply. “Hear me out first.”

“Okay.”

“All these fights you two’ve been having. I think a lot of it comes down to him being afraid he’s losing you.”

“What?” That was the last thing Louis expected to hear. He sat up straighter. “That’s crazy.”

“Not to him.”

“But how could he think that? I mean, I know we’ve been fighting a lot lately, but he could never lose me. Would I go through all this stuff with Eleanor if it weren’t for him? He’s the whole reason I’m doing this. Well, for all of us.”

“I’m not sure he sees it that way.”

“Well how does he see it?”

“He’s jealous, yeah?”

Louis raised his eyebrows. “I think that much is obvious.”

Zayn gave a little laugh. “Yeah. But he feels stupid and really young. Like, he should be better able to control his reactions to you and El, but he can’t. And then you call him immature and it just kind of reinforces that he’s not good at this.”

“He isn’t good at this.”

Zayn laughed again. “He’s really not.”

“The absolute worst, if we’re being honest.”

“I have to agree.” They laughed again.

“So he’s jealous and feels stupid for feeling jealous. He should feel stupid.”

“Lou…”

“What? I’m just trying to understand. It’s every fucking time we go through this. He doesn’t have anything to be jealous of. I don’t know how to make him believe that if he doesn’t know already.”

Zayn shook his head no. “But he does have plenty to be jealous of. You get to hold El’s hand in public. You get to talk about her in interviews. You get to go get coffee. You get all those normal everyday things that couples get.”

“But it’s not real. He knows that.”

“Yeah, but he wants that stuff so badly, but with you. And because he wants it so much, he assumes that you must want it too.”

‘Well, of course I want that. One day. But it’s not the right time. There’s too much at stake.”

“I understand that, and Harry on some level does too, but he wants it so much that he worries you’ll get tired of waiting for him when you can have all that right now with someone else.”

“Like with who?”

Zayn rolled his eyes, giving Louis a look that meant he thought he was being incredibly stupid.

“With Eleanor? That’s crazy.” He could only imagine the look that must be on his face.

“Not to Harry. You have to remember you were seeing Hannah when the two of you first got together.”

“What? Because I cheated on Hannah he thinks I’m going to cheat on him?” The thought made Louis sick. He still felt guilty about the way things had ended with her. He’d been young and stupid and handled things the worst way possible, but he and Hannah never would have worked. Not once he’d met Harry and had to confront everything about himself he’d tried so hard to hide. “That was completely different.”

“It’s because she’s a girl.”

“What?”

“It’s because Eleanor’s a girl. Harry’s only ever been with you. But you were seeing a girl before you got together with him. He worries he’s not enough for you. Or that you’ll decide being with a boy is too much trouble. Or that you’ll decide he’s too young for you. Or something. I’m not exactly sure what’s going through that head of his, but he’s got it stuck there that you’re going to get tired of him and move on.”

Louis slouched down on the bed and draped his arm over his eyes. “Christ.” After mulling over Zayn’s words he spoke up. “The reason I fell for Harry and broke it off with Hannah is because I’m gay. And the reason nothing is ever going to happen with Eleanor is for the exact same reason: I’m gay. And, obviously, because I’m in love with him.”

“I’m not the person you need to be telling this to.”

“How on God’s green earth does he not know this already?”

Zayn laughed. “You want your key card back?”

Louis sighed and sat up. “Yeah.”

After fishing it from his pocket and handing it over Zayn said, “Now can you two please work your shit out? I’m tired of being in the middle.”

“Sorry mate,” Louis said, although he could tell from Zayn’s expression he was only joking. “And thanks,” he added as he scooted off the bed.

“You’re welcome.”

-o-

Louis stood outside the door to their suite, gathering himself. He wasn’t sure what kind of mood would greet him on the other side. Letting out a deep breath, he gave a soft knock, making Harry aware he was about to come in, then he slid the key card in the slot.

Harry was scooting up on the bed as Louis entered, moving into a sitting position. He had obviously been lying down. His eyes looked puffy and his hair was a mess, sticking out in all directions. Making an impulsive decision, Louis crawled onto the bed and right up Harry’s body until he was straddling his hips and settled onto Harry’s lap. Then he took Harry’s face between his hands and leaned in to kiss him soundly, coaxing Harry’s lips open with his own, sliding his tongue into his mouth. A small broken noise left Harry’s throat and his hands reached out to Louis’ sides, gripping his shirt in his fists.

They kissed for several long minutes, slow languid kisses. Louis’ hands moved from the sides of Harry’s face back to his hair and he sunk his fingers deep, loving the feel of the soft curls against his skin. He tugged at it a bit, tilting Harry’s head back farther and Harry made another noise, hands clenching the fabric of Louis shirt, and he opened his mouth wider. Louis explored every inch, tickling the roof of his mouth with his tongue, sliding over his teeth, tangling his tongue with Harry’s again and again. After a thorough snogging, he pulled back, scraping his teeth lightly across Harry’s bottom lip and pressed their foreheads together, looking into Harry’s eyes.

“I’m sorry about earlier,” he said. At least they were still able to voice their apologies straight off.

“I’m sorry too.”

Louis leaned back on Harry’s thighs and reached for the hands that were still clutched at his waist. He wound their fingers together.

“I asked Zayn to come check on you.”

“I figured.”

“He told me what you talked about.”

Harry turned his head away and wouldn’t look Louis in the eye.

“Babe, c’mon. Look at me,” Louis coaxed.

Harry did, eyes wide, his face full of emotion, and Louis noted how young he looked. In many ways, he was still a boy.

“You’re never going to lose me, Haz,” he said, staring straight into his eyes, trying to convey the sincerity of his words. “I know we’re young, but I know what I want. You’re it for me, and I’m not sure why you don’t seem to know that.” He gave a small rueful shake of his head. “I guess I haven’t been doing a good enough job telling you.”

Harry’s big green eyes began to well up with tears. A drop of moisture tipped over the lower lid and slid down his face. Louis slipped his fingers out of one of Harry’s hands and moved his other hand to hook two of his fingers over Harry’s, holding both of Harry’s hands in one of his own. Then he reached up to gently wipe the tear from his cheek.

“Don’t cry, love,” he whispered, cupping Harry’s jaw in his palm, stroking his face with his thumb. Another tear welled over.

“I know we’re going through a rough spot,” Louis continued, “but we’ll get through it.” He continued his gentle motions, heart aching as more tears spilled over, one after the other. Harry’s chest heaved and he took a deep shuddering breath. Louis waited, letting Harry try to collect himself before saying anything more. When he looked as if he was getting himself under control, Louis spoke again.

“Zayn seems to think I need to make sure you know that I’m gay.” He smiled as he said it.

Harry let out a little laugh. Louis’ spirits were buoyed to hear it. “What?”

“I’m gay, Harry, in case you hadn’t figured it out. I’m not going to go running off with Eleanor. It’s never going to happen. And I wasn’t confused when I was going out with Hannah; I was hiding. Until I met you.”

Harry’s face looked more hopeful; however, what he said was, “But you’re still hiding. We both are.”

Louis sighed, an edge of frustration creeping back in. “It’s not the same thing.”

“Isn’t it?”

“No, it’s not. And you know it’s not.”

Harry was silent and looked away again. His teeth clenched and Louis could see the muscle move in his jaw. Eventually, he let out a deep sigh. “I know.” He shook his head. “I do know. It’s just really hard to see you with her like that.” His eyes were welling up again.

Louis released Harry’s hands and scooted forward, wrapping his arms around Harry’s back, pulling his head against his chest. When Harry let out a little sob, his back heaving, Louis had a fleeting moment of panic, wondering again if they’d made a huge mistake. How long could they keep doing this if it was hurting Harry so much? He pushed those thoughts aside; they wouldn’t help anything right now.

“It’s just for a few more weeks, love, and then we’ll be home,” he said, rubbing Harry’s back soothingly. “Back in our flat, just you and me. Watching telly, being lazy, getting fat. I’ll make you tea and keep you company while you cook eggs for me.” He felt Harry laugh and a little of the tension he was holding released.

“All this stuff is just a show. What you and me have… that’s real. And everyone important knows the truth.” He stroked Harry’s back, leaned his head to bury his face in Harry’s hair.

“I want the unimportant people to know too,” Harry mumbled.

Louis kissed the top of Harry’s head. “I know you do.” After a stretch of silence where he just held Harry close, he said, “It won’t be like this forever. I promise.”

-o-

Louis could tell how hard Harry was trying over the next few days. He still did his best to make Harry smile, even going so far as to reach over to press a thumb against his thigh during a radio interview, whilst knowing they were being filmed. “You all right?” he whispered. He received a stern look from off-camera, but decided it was worth it when Harry nodded yes then pressed a knuckle into his thigh right back and gave him a goofy little grin. He reached for Harry again when they were sat next to each other for the song performance portion of the taping, but at the last minute pulled his hand back, remembering the reminder he’d got to tone it down. Harry had been looking so sad, though. Fuck it, Louis thought and made faces at him anyway until he smiled again.

At another media appearance, when they were arranged with Zayn between so they weren’t standing side by side, Harry put his hand on Zayn’s shoulder, and Louis propped his arm on top of it, staying in contact the entire interview. Zayn cooperated without protest, completely aware of what they were doing, and Louis felt a surge of gratitude for their bandmates. There’d be a price to pay, he was sure of it, but with Harry starting to unravel at the seams, Louis had to do what he could to help hold him together.

The growing question was whether he could hold himself together; even he had his limits.

The worst day, by far, was in Dallas. They’d fought again, no surprise. Where once it’d been days where fighting was the exception, it now appeared they were the rule. The argument never changed. The constant cycle of fighting, making up, fighting, making up desperately needed to stop, but neither of them seemed to be able to break the pattern.

The strain was getting to Louis too. Needing sleep, increasingly homesick, he was short on patience and snapping at everyone. Spending days with Eleanor, keeping up the act, then coming back to Harry, having to placate and reassure, he felt like he was being stretched paper thin. That afternoon he was still angry from the morning’s argument. About Eleanor. Again. Even seeing Harry actually cry during a radio interview—on air tears which he failed to blink away—couldn’t soften Louis’ mood. Because of course what had prompted Harry’s tears was his reputation with the ladies and the perpetuation of the cute story management had concocted about Harry introducing El to Lou.

It wasn’t news that Harry couldn’t lie to save his life and normally Louis would be sympathetic, but he was roiling with a confusing mix of emotions—guilt at what Harry was going through, anger at Harry for not being able to pull it off, anger at himself for being angry with Harry, anger at the world for shitting on couples like them. Underneath it all, a chilling fear that they were cracking apart into something that couldn’t be fixed.

What he craved was a place to hide away, to shut everything out for a while. He was tired of doing the heavy lifting, tired of carrying the entire load. Maybe he had days where he wanted to be held and told everything was going to be okay. Maybe he’d like reassurances that they’d made the right decision and were going to come through to the other side just fine. Always the caretaker, a role he’d assumed as the eldest in the group, maybe sometimes he wanted someone to take care of him.

The other boys were aware he was starting to fray. His laughter got a little too loud; there was little more bite to his wit. And Liam’s look of disappointment when he cosied up to Eleanor right before Harry’s eyes was impossible to miss. He couldn’t seem to stop himself, though. Any time he felt vulnerable, his instincts led him to lash out. Still, knowing what was happening didn’t mean he could rein it in.

Eventually, it all came to head.

The tension between them was starting to affect everyone in the group. Not just the boys, but the band and the crew. Everyone was on edge. To head off disaster, Simon Cowell was flown in. They all respected him, as a businessman, and also as a friend. He was practical, guiding them in ways that would protect his investment, but also that he hoped would be good for them long term; he’d never pushed them into something they weren’t willing to do. On everything important, the final decision had always been theirs.

All five of them met with him separately, catching up and checking in. When Louis was sat in front of him after a warm greeting and a strong hug, Simon wasted no time getting right to the point.

“I’m hearing you and Harry are having problems?”

Louis looked down and fidgeted, starting to pick at his nails. “Things are a little rough right now.”

“I hear more than a little.”

“You’ve heard a lot, apparently,” Louis said, an edge of sarcasm in his tone.

Simon ignored it. “Remember all those talks we had at the beginning? You know there were grave reservations about the two of you being in a relationship within the band. You both assured me you’d never let it cause problems for the group. That you were professionals.”

Louis turned his head away. “I remember.”

“Then it’s time to be professionals.” Simon spoke matter-of-factly, without disapproval or judgment.

Louis didn’t answer.

“I’ve been to a few meetings to discuss the situation…”

“The situation,” Louis muttered under his breath. He accompanied his words with a small roll of his eyes.

“And we’ve decided it would do you both some good to spend some time apart.”

Louis head whipped around to stare at Simon with incredulity. “What?”

“We’ve arranged for you to take Eleanor to France on a cruise. Ten days. A little romantic getaway at the end of the tour.”

“Ten days? What about my family? I haven’t seen my mum in forever.”

“We can arrange to have your mum join you after a few days. It’s probably not a bad idea to have her there for this anyway. Your sisters too, if you like.”

“Harry will never agree to it.”

“I think you need to convince him that he should.”

“But why? Eleanor is the problem. It’s just going to make things worse.”

“She’s not the problem.” Simon paused, elbows propped on the arm rest of his chair, fingers steepled in front of his mouth. He stared at Louis thoughtfully. “The problem is that you two need to learn how to work together when you’re having issues, without them carrying over to everyone else. And you also need to think long and hard about how you’re going to handle things if the two of you break up.”

“We’re not breaking up.”

Simon was nonplussed. He waved Louis’ words away. “Be that as it may. What’s happening right now needs to stop. We want you both to take a little time away from each other to give some serious thought to the future. We’re all in this for the long haul. Obviously, something isn’t working. Figure it out.” He shifted, leaning back in the chair and placing his hands on his thighs. A kind smile appeared on his face. “A little advice from an old man, if you’ll allow me.”

Louis was wary, but gave a curt nod.

“Regardless of how this affects the group, the two of you have barely spent more than a day or two apart from each other since you first met. I think it’d be good for you both to start to develop interests and friendships apart from each other. You work together; you live together. You’re in each other’s pockets twenty-four/seven.”

Louis gave a little shrug. It was true enough.

“That’s unsustainable for the long term. Healthy relationships need for each partner to have their own life, completely separate from the other. Their own friends. Interests. Hobbies.”

“I spend a lot of time with Zayn.”

Simon raised his eyebrow.

“Fine. I understand the point. But I don’t want a completely separate life. I like spending all my time with Harry.”

“Do you? Because from what I hear, the time you’re spending together hasn’t been all that pleasant.”

Louis huffed in frustration. “What do you expect? We’ve been on the road for months. Eleanor’s been there constantly. How about you send me and Harry on a romantic getaway to France? I think that’s a much better idea.” He crossed his arms over his chest, the angle of his jaw defiant.

Simon shook his head no. “Not this time. You know we could cut down on the Eleanor appearances if Harry—”

Louis cut him off. “No. Absolutely not.”

“Hear me out.”

“I said no.”

“But if—”

“Stop.” Louis broke in again. “It’s not happening. First of all, even if Harry could pull it off—which he couldn’t. I’m sure you already heard what happened when he tried to talk about that ridiculous story of him introducing us—he shouldn’t have to. That’s my job. It doesn’t bother me. I can handle it. But you know Harry.” Louis voice softened and a fond expression crossed his face. “I think it’d, like, destroy his soul or something if he had to do something so blatantly dishonest.” He paused, and when he spoke next, his voice had taken on a hardened edge. “You’re not doing that to him. I won’t let you. And I guarantee the rest of the lads wouldn’t agree to it either.” He added one last plea. “Besides, he’s only eighteen.”

Simon threw up his hands. “Fine. It was just a suggestion. It really doesn’t leave us much choice then. They’re going to insist on this trip to France.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Is it fair that you two have got everyone around you worrying about their jobs? Their futures? Wondering what would happen if One Direction imploded from the inside because you two lads can’t work it out?”

Louis was silent for a long moment, face resentful. Then with a heavy sigh, he leaned over, putting his elbows on his knees and the heels of his hands on his forehead, gripping at his hair. After another long silence he said, “Harry is going to lose it. I’m warning you now. This is not going to make things better.”

“Just think about what I said. You may not see it, but the time apart will do you both some good. Give you some perspective. If your relationship is as strong as you’ve been telling me, you’ll be fine. And if it can’t withstand a week or so apart, well, isn’t it best to find that on the break, before you both have to get back to work?”

“Me and Harry are the real thing. We can withstand a week just fine.”

“Then you’ve got nothing to worry about, right?”

-o-

I fackkinggg miss London!!!

-o-

“Ten days? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me?” Harry immediately stood from where he was sat on the sofa with Louis and ran his hands through his hair, starting to pace.

Louis had taken some time to get his thoughts in order after meeting with Simon, then went to find Harry. Best to get the conversation out of the way.

“They think we should take a break from each other, have a little time apart.”

“A break?” Harry whipped around to face Louis, staring at him with incredulity.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Louis hastily assured. “And they don’t either. Just… some time to sort things out, get past all this fighting. Simon said we’re being unprofessional, getting everyone anxious.” He gave a small lift to his shoulders, as if he didn’t disagree.

“Ten days is bullshit. That’s supposed to be our time. We’ve been working non-stop for months.”

Louis didn’t say anything, thinking it would be better to let Harry get it all out. Then they could talk.

“I’m not sure how they think making you spend even more time with her is going to help the two of us. That’s like the opposite of helping.” After another bout of pacing he added, “They should be sending the two of us on a holiday to France.”

“That’s what I said.”

“Well, of course. It makes more sense than their stupid idea. We haven’t been on a proper holiday in… a long time.”

Harry stopped pacing and gave Louis a hard stare. The stubborn expression crossing his face was one Louis knew well. His stomach sank; he wasn’t up for another fight, but he could see that’s what he was going to get. “No,” Harry said. “We’re not doing it. It’s too much.”

“Hazza—”

Eyes widening, Harry asked, “You already agreed?”

Louis’ face scrunched up and he gave Harry a look. “What? No. I wouldn’t agree to something like that without talking to you first.”

“But you’re going to agree.”

“I’m...”

“Lou! What the fuck are you thinking?” Harry was growing visibly more upset, shoulders tensing, hands wringing. “Are you serious?”

Louis tilted his head and moved the fringe off his face, a nervous habit that always gave away when he was upset. “Can you… sit down, so we can talk about this?”

“What the fuck is there to talk about? You’d rather spend ten days, our first time off in months, with her instead of me.”

“That’s not fair. Simon said—”

“I don’t give a fuck what Simon said. This is bullshit. I can’t even believe you’re seriously considering it.”

“They think we’re jeopardising the group with our fighting and want us to have some time to think things through, figure out how to deal with our problems, so we can stay professional at work.”

“I don’t need to work things through. I already know what our problems are.”

Louis rolled his eyes, giving his fringe another flip. “Right. It’s all my fault, isn’t it? My fault for spending time with Eleanor, even though you agreed, my fault every time you get upset, my fault for thinking a little time apart might not actually be a bad idea.” His voice got louder with each word.

When he was done with his rant, his heart almost broke at the look on Harry’s face; it had gone from angry to crumpled and hurt. Shit.

“Not a bad idea? You really think that?”

“I… I don’t know.”

“You’d rather go spend time on a boat with Eleanor than at home with me?” Louis could barely stand the sound of Harry’s wounded voice. It hit him right in the gut.

Louis felt exhausted, wrung out. Wishing he had taken more time to think through how he would talk about this with Harry before coming back to the room, he simply said, “No. You don’t understand. That’s not what I mean.”

“What did you mean?”

Louis put his elbows on his knees and started rubbing his forehead with his fingertips. This was going a lot worse than he anticipated.

“Lou, what did you mean?”

Louis didn’t answer.

Harry stalked toward him and knelt at his feet, pushing Louis’ knees apart, pulling Louis’ hands away from his face.

“Lou?” His voice was barely a whisper, cracked and broken. Louis looked into his eyes and could see the desperation.

Harry surged forward and pressed his lips to Louis’ pushing him back on the sofa, plunging his tongue into his mouth. Louis, taken by surprise, grasped onto Harry’s shoulders to steady himself. After another rough kiss, Louis pushed him back with a shove, saying, “Haz, what the hell?”

Instead of answering, Harry lunged again, giving Louis another bruising kiss, biting down on his lip when Louis tried to turn his head away. Louis slammed the heel of his hand into Harry’s shoulder until Harry let go. Fingers pressing against his lip, dabbing to check for blood, Louis glared at Harry. “Ouch, you fucker. That hurt.”

Harry was staring at him, eyes dark and intense. Predatory. Possessive. Louis felt a curl of arousal in his belly and was suddenly short of breath. Sometimes he hated how Harry could do this to him, make him want above all else.

“We need to talk.” He didn’t even sound convincing to himself.

“We’ll talk later,” Harry said before diving back in for another kiss. Louis’ mouth opened to him immediately and he moaned, feeling Harry’s fingers digging into his sides at the sound. The harsh pressure against his already sore lips hurt, but Louis almost craved the pain. They’d always got off on marking each other, leaving physical reminders of what they shared.

As Harry continued with his relentless assault, devouring his mouth, kneading at his flesh, Louis felt rational thought leaving him almost entirely. The rushing of his blood through his veins felt like the roaring of the ocean, the heavy pounding of his pulse, the unrelenting beat of a primal drum. He felt himself going under, swamped by the overpowering pull of his body’s craving for Harry, a constant need that never seemed to abate, was always waiting just under the surface.

Grasping at the last remaining shreds of coherency, he tried once again to push Harry back. Wresting himself away, Louis tilted his head backwards, freeing his lips. In response, Harry simply latched onto his now exposed neck, sucking hard where his collar bone met the hollow of his throat.

“Wait,” Louis gasped out, pushing ineffectively at Harry’s shoulders. “We really need to discuss this.”

Harry lifted his head up from Louis’ neck and growled, “Later.” Then he moved his hands, sliding them under Louis’ knees and jerked his body forward so that his arse was flush with the edge of the sofa, Louis’ body falling backwards.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Louis asked, torn between anger and arousal. Harry was rarely the aggressor in their relationship, but when he was, Louis always found it extremely hot, even if this time it was coloured by his agitation at Harry’s avoidance.

Instead of answering, Harry went for the waistband of Louis’ tracksuit bottoms, tugging them down his hips. Louis tried to push his hands away and they wrestled a little back and forth, Louis kicking out with one of his legs, Harry trapping it against his side while he struggled to get his pants down one-handed; Louis continued to try and push his hands away.

“Hold… still,” Harry ground out, grabbing both Louis’ wrists in his own large hand, scooting to trap his Louis’ errant leg between his knees. “I’m going to suck you off.”

“Maybe I don’t want to be sucked off,” Louis spat back.

“Oh, I think you do,” Harry retorted, having successfully freed Louis’ prick, one leg now liberated from his pants. It lay thick and heavy against Louis’ stomach, the tip glistening wet peeking out from his foreskin.

Harry released Louis’ hands, but before Louis could react, Harry was hooking his own under Louis’ knees again, giving his body one more jerk, moving it even closer. Louis’ hands flew back to steady himself against the cushions of the sofa. Then Harry shoved Louis’ knees farther apart, slotting himself between them, and giving him one last hot and hungry look before leaning over to take Louis’ prick between his lips—pink and kiss-swollen and looking like sin.

Louis’ hips bucked up and his head flew back as Harry’s hot wet mouth closed around him. He let out a ragged cry and his hands, now free, instead of pushing Harry away, sunk deep into his curls. God, it felt incredible. Harry’s head bobbed up and down, his tongue working along Louis’ shaft, wet and slick and amazing.

Pushing Harry’s hair back, so he could get a better look, Louis stared rapt at the sight before him—Harry’s flushed face, cheeks hollowed out, those lips wrapped round his cock, and his eyes... Louis couldn’t look away. Harry’s eyes were dark, almost black, pupils so dilated there was just the slightest ring of celadon at the edges. Louis slid one hand down Harry’s cheek, fingertips lightly brushing across his skin, and brought his index finger to the corner of Harry’s mouth, touching it where his cock slid in and out. Harry moaned, fingers digging into Louis’ hips, eyelids fluttering shut. Louis’ stomach swooped at the reaction, chills dancing over his skin. A helpless feeling washed over him and he became unsettled at how in thrall his body was to Harry’s.

Seeking to gain back a little control, he brought his hand back to Harry’s hair and gripped the soft curls in both his fists, holding Harry steady while he lifted his hips off the sofa, thrusting into his mouth. Harry let him at first, giving a satisfied grunt. Louis thrust again, deeper this time, making Harry moan. The sound triggered something in Louis, a desire to wreck him, destroy his equilibrium the way Harry was doing to him. All his anger and frustration rose to the surface and he grew bolder, fucking deeper and harder to the back of Harry’s throat, feeling him choke around his dick. Harry’s eyes flew open, watering a little, and Louis barely had time to enjoy his satisfaction before the lids slitted in anger, Harry’s nostrils flaring.

Harry gave him a hard slap against the side of his arse, the loud smack of skin against skin echoing in the room. Taking advantage of Louis’ momentary distraction, Harry pulled off Louis’ dick and ground out, “You little shit.”

Then he flipped Louis over in one deft move, manhandling him like he was a child, so that his chest was over the edge of the sofa, arse in the air. Harry’s palm came down again in another hard slap and Louis gasped, feeling the sting. That would leave a print.

Before he could even react, the hand came down twice more and Louis moaned into the cushions, the heat from his arse spreading over his body. Boneless, he pliantly let Harry pull the shirt off his body.

“Stay right there,” Harry demanded and Louis heard him get up and head to the bathroom, rifling through his overnight bag. Louis’ prick was hard and aching and he reached between his legs, giving it a few hard strokes. When Harry came back, already naked, he saw what Louis was doing and batted his hand away, saying, “No you don’t.” He grabbed Louis’ wrist and moved his hand to the cushion by Louis’ head. Then his own hand was on Louis’ backside, thumb spreading his cheeks apart, and his fingers were sliding over his hole, slick and covered with lube. As he pressed them slowly in, he leaned over Louis’ back to say, “I’m going to fuck you now.” Louis moaned again.

He worked his fingers in and out, twisting them a bit, getting Louis ready. Then he lined up his cock and pushed, slowly and steadily in one long movement until he was all the way in. He leaned over Louis’ back, panting a little bit, and asked, “Okay?” The stretch burned, but Louis didn’t care. Harry felt so good inside him; he always did with his huge cock filling him up.

Louis didn’t speak, but moved his head in an approximation of a nod. He barely had time to get used to the feel of Harry’s cock before Harry was pulling back and slamming into him again and again, fucking him hard and rough. His fingers dug into Louis’ hips and he grunted with each thrust. Moving his hands so the palms were flat against the back of the sofa, Louis braced himself, knowing he would feel this tomorrow. Thinking about Harry fucking him so hard he’d have trouble walking was overwhelming and he felt his cock jerk in response. He reached down between his legs again, gripping his dick.

This time Harry didn’t stop him and Louis buried his face in the sofa, stripping himself off, motions quick and rough. Harry draped himself over his back again, thrusts becoming erratic, hot mouth open against his shoulder. “You’re mine,” he growled. “Mine,” he said again before biting down hard, body going taut as he shuddered against him.

Back arching, Louis yelped, simultaneously overcome with pleasure and pain—the sharp burn on his shoulder, Harry coming inside him, his own hand bringing him to the edge. He tipped over, cock spasming as he splashed come against the side of the sofa, body trembling all over.

As he came down from his orgasm, panting and spent, Harry’s weight began to grow heavier. “Get off me,” he mumbled, face still pressed into the sofa cushion. He felt Harry reach out with his left hand, bracing it on the edge of the sofa, while his right moved to his cock, pulling out of Louis. They both moaned at the sensitivity. Then Harry rolled off, flopping down on the floor. Louis hoisted himself up and did the same, not even caring he was probably making a mess. From the look in Harry’s eye, he was certain he must look thoroughly debauched.

Harry leaned over, nuzzling his face in Louis’ neck, licking at his skin, tasting the salt of his sweat. Louis closed his eyes and tipped his head back, bringing a hand up to paw clumsily at Harry’s head. He barely had the energy to move.

“Feel better now?” Louis asked, a tinge of sarcasm in his voice.

Instead of answering, Harry just kept mouthing at his throat, sucking and kissing at his skin. Then he increased the pressure to the point of pain, biting down again, pinching Louis’ skin between his teeth.

Swatting at his head, Louis exclaimed, “Ow! What the fuck, Harold?”

Harry leaned back, expression defiant as he stared at the dark red mark that was sure to bruise. “Now I feel better,” he said.

Growing angry again, Louis bit out, “This can’t be solved with sex. Or you… acting like a vampire or something and putting teeth marks all over me. We need to talk. Really talk.”

“Talk about what? That you’re planning to choose her over me?”

“I’m not choosing her over you. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“That’s exactly what you’re doing. It’s supposed to be you and me, back home in our flat, drinking tea and getting fat. That’s exactly what you said.”

“Yeah, but that was before. They—”

“Fuck them! It’s our time off. Our time. This is about us. You and me.”

“France is about us too. Just listen to me. Let me explain.” Louis rubbed his forehead. He felt vulnerable, come dripping between his thighs, his pants still tangled around one of his legs. Coming to a decision he said, “I need to get cleaned up.” His emotions were running too high. He’d already screwed things up by not taking more time to think it all through before talking to Harry. He needed to get his head together. Struggling to his feet, Louis kicked his pants off his foot. He leaned over and grabbed his discarded T-shirt and wiped at the come on the sofa. “I’m gonna have a quick shower. Then we’re going to sit down and talk.” Harry simply stared at him as he walked to the bathroom.

When he finished his shower and came out for fresh clothing, Harry was gone from the room.

-o-

“You can’t mean that.”

“I do mean it.” Harry’s jaw was clenched, arms crossed over his chest. “I’m done always coming in second. And I know what you’re going to say. Yes, I agreed. But this is taking it too far. This is our time off. I may have agreed to be the dirty little secret while we’re on tour and out in public, but there’s got to be some part of our lives that’s actually ours.”

Louis was silent. What could he say to something like that? Harry was right, of course. Where exactly was the line when it stopped becoming a role and simply became their actual lives? He wasn’t sure he knew anymore.

He put his head in his hands. “I need to think.”

“What the fuck is there to think about? Pick up the phone, call Simon and tell him you’re not doing it.”

“It’s not that fucking easy,” Louis yelled.

Harry looked taken aback. “What? Why isn’t it easy? This choice, Lou, should be very fucking easy, as far as I’m concerned.”

“I already tried to talk to them about it. They said no.”

“Too fucking bad. We’re putting our foot down. It’s too much.”

It was too much. This fight, the ongoing arguments, the entire situation, the way Harry looked like he was about to fall to pieces. Overwhelming anxiety started to settle in and Louis felt as if his chest was weighted with a stone, as if he couldn’t breathe. He needed to get out of there.

“I can’t do this right now,” he said, getting up and twisting his hands together. “I can’t fucking do this right now.”

He fled the room, trying not to notice the shattered expression on Harry’s face.

Maybe it was the heat, unlike anything they had in England. Maybe it was the stress of being gone so long from home. Whatever the reason, Louis and Harry hadn’t had a single conversation about the impending separation without it ending in shouting and recriminations, though tonight’s might have been their worst fight to date. Harry had finally given an ultimatum. If Louis went with Eleanor to France, they were through. He would move out; he’d already talked to Tom and their stylist Lou who would let him crash with them until he could find a place of his own. No matter how many times Louis tried to explain Simon’s reasoning, Harry saw it as choice between him and Eleanor. Or, rather, everything she represented. Louis had called Simon and begged him to reconsider, but Simon said it was out of his hands.

They both made it through the show that night, but Louis’ stress was at an all-time high. Instead of trying to talk to Harry again, he chose to ride on the other bus with the band and proceeded to get wasted, drinking far too much, trying to let off some steam. What was the point of yet another conversation, after all? They were unlikely to say anything new. They’d gone round and round in circles, never getting anywhere, stuck at an insurmountable impasse. At least he’d avoided saying something he’d live to regret.

An evening of letting loose gave little relief, however, and the hangover the next day was brutal. They were in Florida, hot sun overhead making everything far too bright, and Louis wanted to do nothing more than to draw the curtains and sleep all day. After spending some time by the pool, Harry had returned to the room and convinced him to at least come out onto the balcony. Louis dragged on some shorts, and grabbed his shades. The heat hit him like a furnace blast as he left the air-conditioned room and he thought sweating the toxins out of his bloodstream might do some good. He settled himself on his stomach on a chaise, face resting on his folded arms.

Gentle pressure against his shoulder blades woke him up and he realised he must have dozed off some time ago.

“Sorry,” said Harry. “I didn’t mean to wake you. I’m putting some lotion on your back. Didn’t want you to get burned.”

Louis sat up with a groan, still feeling the effects from the night before, and said, “Thanks.” Reaching over his shoulder to press a finger into his pinkening skin he said, “Maybe I should put a shirt on.”

“Here,” Harry said, handing him a water bottle and a few pain killers. “Got these out for you. Figure you’d need them.”

“Thanks,” Louis said again, taking them both. He drank the water down thirstily, popping the pills in his mouth. Then he went inside to grab a t-shirt. When he came back out, he leaned over the balcony, taking a look around. A pap was already stationed nearby, trying to catch a glimpse. Pap this, he thought to himself as he flipped a bird, then he sat back down on the chaise.

“You look hot,” Harry said.

“What do you expect? It’s like a thousand degrees here. This heat is insane.”

Harry gave a little laugh and shook his head. “No, I mean you look sexy. Not sure how you manage that hungover as shit, but you do.”

Louis snorted. “I feel like crap.”

“Yeah.”

The sat quietly, both lost in thought. A heaviness stole over Louis, a sense of dread inevitability. When they started this tour, exhilarated, high on their good fortune, he never expected it to be ending like this. His throat was tight, but the words had to be said.

“I’m going to France after the tour’s over.”

Harry’s nostrils flared and he exhaled a small puff of air as he shook his head. “I can’t believe that’s the choice you’ve decided to make.”

“I don’t feel as if I really have a choice.”

The silence settled between them like lead. Finally, Harry spoke, “So that’s it then.”

Louis’ chest ached; his mind felt numb. There was nothing left he could possibly say.

“I guess it is.”

He lay back down on the chaise longue, burying his face in his arms, and tried not to think about how heartbreak really did feel like you were dying.

-End of Part 1-