“...it is the idea that social media has come to define how we view our lives, the concept that ideas such as Facebook and Twitter shape us far more than we shape ourselves, the sense of being unable to escape, of a sorts. Like we are connected to everyone and everything at every point, and detached to the basic formalities and what it takes to form meaningful human interaction.”
Louis looks up from his papers, catches eyes on him and stares back for a second before biting his lip and looking down. Mr Peters condoles, “Good job, Louis. Very thought inducing.” Louis grins, feels a steady gaze on him, and tries to ignore it, gathering his papers as the small class applauds. “Turn in your final packet to Harry and thank you for your time.”
As Louis makes to walk out, his hand brushes past Harry’s and he isn’t sure what he’s really saying as the world tumble out of his mouth. “You don’t have to get mine, um, because I already...” He trails off and wonders if he’s quite capable of proper English. He nods and hurries out of the classroom, missing Harry’s inquisitive look, like he’s trying to figure something out.
He wrenches the papers out of his bag on his way downstairs, altering his usual route straight to the buses to pass by what he might possibly know to be Harry’s car. It’s a bit shit, and Louis wonders what need anyone could ever have of a vehicle in New York, but all the same.
Louis wonders, on a scale of 1-10, how fucking crazy this will make him seem. He slips it under the wiper, and starts to walk away, but backs up two steps in, grabs it and makes it almost halfway across the parking lot with it. This is stupid, and someone will probably steal it before Harry even gets to his car, and then some random homeless bloke will have his full name and number and he’ll get killed.
He stops his steps and sighs. Turns around and tucks the letters firmly under the wipers, and takes quick, brisk steps away, slinging his bag across the other shoulder and crossing his arms across his chest as he walks back to his flat.
“Mum, yes, I know, I did well enough on it, he said it was thought inducing, is that - no, I don’t think so.” He sets his bag down on his bed, toeing his shoes off and kicking them off to the side. “Yes, I’ll see you for the graduati - ” There’s a beep, and he excuses himself, telling his Mum he’ll call her back.
“Hi, it’s. It’s Harry?”
Louis sucks in a breath and plops backwards on his bed. “Yeah?”
Harry breathes, “yeah,” on the other line. “I got your letters.”
“So did you...?”
“Yeah, they were good. They were great. I liked them a lot.”
They’re at a small cafè next to the uni, and the only thing even remotely reasonably priced is the tea, and that’s only because they’ve got it down perfect, but it’s probably Louis’ favourite place in the city, something he’d found when he’d just moved here, quaint and small and reminiscent of home.
“You’re not freaked out?” he asks, picking apart the flaky parts of his scone, looking straight ahead at Harry. He’s an odd sort of beautiful, like - like nothing makes sense when Louis tries to separate them, his nostrils too large, his mouth too wide, his jaw too sharp. But put it all as they should, connected like strangely formed jigsaw pieces, and it all fits and it’s intense, like the slight curve of his lips as he’s looking at Louis across the table, the amused warmth in his eyes.
“Nah. Don’t think you’re a nutcase, either, don’t worry.”
Louis laughs, high and the slightest bit nervous. “I just wanted to, like, get all the bases down pat, you know? Make sure we had everything covered.”
“Good disclaimer,” Harry laughs, sitting up straighter. His foot bumps against Louis’ ankles under the table, and he leaves it there, leaves Louis flustered and feeling just all out of sorts with himself, God.
Louis brings the outrageously large cup up to his face, tries to hide himself away a bit. He takes a sip and peeks across at Harry over the rim. He gets caught, Harry raising an eyebrow, and Louis grins, fills his mouth up with the tea and sloshes it around as he brings the mug down. He’s going to have horrible teeth one day. Harry’s got brilliant ones, all shiny and white and perfect, and Louis wonders if he’s got a problem, thinking about the fella’s fucking teeth now.
“So you’re a writer, then?” Harry says after a few shockingly comfortable minutes of silence. Louis usually likes filling things up, doesn’t like leaving the spaces in between without any sort of noise, feels prickly and uncomfortable around prolonged silences, but he feels like he just could sort of - be, just be, where he is right now.
“Yes! Yeah, yeah, I am. When the urge hits, I jot shit down and then almost always hate them right after, but I - I don’t know what I’m saying, I’m sorry, wow.” Louis is the eloquent one in his group of friends back home. “What about you, what do you do?”
“I design furniture.”
“Oh,” Louis says.
“Oh,” Harry repeats, smiling and nodding.
The sun's still out even though it’s already 6pm, and Harry leaves his car behind in the cafè parking lot, giving the girl at the counter a twenty to please make sure it doesn’t get towed away. She looks at him like she’d do anything he ever told her to, and Louis narrows his eyes, grabs Harry’s arm and pulls him out. Harry starts to go west, and Louis shakes his head, turning them east, towards the direction of his flat.
“How does one end up in this grand city, the ol’ Big Apple?” Harry asks teasingly, nudging his shoulder as they stroll down the sidewalk.
“I’m actually not sure. I considered LA, I spent like a month there over the summer during sixth form - high school - but I don’t think I could stay there for extended periods. Too much - much. It’s too...” He struggles with trying to find the proper word.
“Too much going on,” Harry tries.
“I guess that would fit? It’s weird, me saying this, because I’m in NYC, of all places, but New York feels likes the type of city you’d wanna get lost in, Los Angeles like the type you’re afraid to lose yourself in. Fuck it, I don’t make any sense.”
“You do! You do, I got what you’re trying to say. So, what, when you graduate, are you planning on going back to London or staying here?”
“I’d love to stay, but I’ve got to get everything sorted out with my visa first.”
“Your parents won’t mind?”
“They understand. I’ll miss them, a lot, but we’re really close so they would get why I might want to stay, they get me. My sisters probably won’t be so understanding.”
“Sisters? I’ve got a sister!” Louis thinks Harry’s strange, all quiet intensity and then random bursts of energy. It’s disconcerting, and Louis can’t help but like it, more than a lot.
“Do you?” Louis asks, turning the corner and fighting a smile when he hears Harry’s steps hurrying up to catch up with him.
They’ve made it to Louis’ flat, now, and they stand a bit awkwardly in front of the entrance, Louis fumbling at the keypad. He can feel the warmth of Harry’s body behind him, and he considers.
He turns around roughly, taking hold of Harry’s wrist and looking up, asking him, “Would you like to come up?”
“Is this where you write?” Harry asks, adjusting and sitting on Louis’ little blue chair. Louis makes a noise of affirmation from his spot on the bed, looking at the strong line of Harry’s back. Harry turns to face Louis, saying, “It’s not very comfortable, is it?”
Louis shrugs and laughs, flopping himself back to stare up at the ceiling. There’s an air of hesitation, and then a dip in the bed as Harry copies his position, the right side of his body a hair’s breadth away from pressing against Louis’ left. Louis considers turning onto his side, but crawls up to the top of the bed instead. He can feel Harry’s eyes on his ass and he smirks.
Harry follows him - it’s something he thinks he could get used to, Harry following him, Harry going where he goes as if almost on instinct - and Louis says, “hey,” poking Harry’s calf with his toes.
Harry doesn’t reply, not right away, rests on his forearm and stares at Louis; his calf presses back against Louis’ feet, and he feels. He feels all hot, both definitions of the term, like he’s something to be appraised, like he’s worth it. Harry licks his lips, and Louis wonders if they’d burn a brand onto his skin.
“Read me something you’ve wrote,” Harry says, voice husky and warm.
Louis’ breath hitches, and he isn’t sure how he does it, but he wrenches his eyes away from Harry’s, turning his body so that he can get a journal from the drawer. “It’s pretty shit. Don’t laugh.”
“I won’t laugh.”
Harry tilts his head. “Promise.”
Louis takes a deep breath. “I thought I understood it, that I could grasp it. But I didn’t, not really. I knew the smudgeness of it; the pink-slippered-all-containered-semi-precious eagerness of it. I didn’t realize it would sometimes be more than whole, that the wholeness was a rather luxurious idea. Because it’s the halves... that halve you in half. I didn’t know, don’t know, about the in between bits - the gory bits of you and gory bits of me.”
Louis chances a glance up through his eyelashes.
“Fuck, Louis,” Harry breathes.
Louis smiles, and grabs a pen, steeling himself and scribbling down onto a blank page, I think I really like you.
I think I really like you, too.
He walks Harry downstairs. The click of the doors signifies the lock setting in place, but Harry doesn’t walk away, and neither does Louis. They stand there, looking at each other through the glass panel. Louis presses his forehead on the door, splaying a hand next to his face. Harry mirrors the action, smiling, and Louis exhales deeply.
He feels empty, sad and lonely and empty, once Harry’s finally left.
That weekend, Harry brings Louis to Coney Island.
“You’ve been in New York for ages and never been to Coney, how the fuck does that work?”
They take Harry’s rackety old car, not so affectionately called Susie. Harry had a girlfriend in high school by the same name who was, in his words, ‘totally fucking psychotic’ and prone to breaking down whenever he even got ideas of enjoying himself. Louis hates this faceless girl on principle, hates the idea of Harry belonging to someone else, anyone else.
“I’m sorry that it hasn’t been my absolute and foremost priority in life,” Louis snarkily remarks.
“I suppose I can forgive you just this time.”
Harry makes him go on the Wonder Wheel first, and the park’s pretty empty, so they don’t have to wait in any lines. But - emphasis on makes. Louis’ done his research, alright, and he’s seen shit he doesn’t like, and he’s only twenty-one, and he’d very much like to make it to his next birthday. Anything older than his great-grandmother is too, too old and shouldn’t still be in service in the first place.
“I’m not going to tempt fate,” he tells Harry, standing firmly in his spot. “And fate destines that I die if I go on that thing.”
“That thing,” Harry repeats, leaning against something behind him and raising an eyebrow. He looks as if he’s laughing at Louis on the inside, his eyes warm with mirth.
“Yes, that thing,” Louis hisses. “It was built in 1918, in case you weren’t aware, and I have a five-year-old desk that can barely support itself as is, so. No.”
Harry pushes himself off whatever had been supporting him and crowds himself into Louis’ space. Louis feels all air exit his body in a loud breath at the concentration of Harry’s scent. Harry tips his chin up and breathes into his face, “what would I have to do to get you to go on the ride?”
Louis thinks his brain has short-circuited, but he manages to speak, low and packed with something they’ve yet to acknowledge. “Anything I tell you to.”
Harry’s eyes flash, and he steps back, taking Louis’ hand and dragging him to the booth, flashing the attendee their admission bracelets and choosing a still cart, rather than a swaying one. He still hasn’t answered Louis, and he doesn’t need to.
Louis focuses on Harry’s hand in his, his thumb rubbing circles on Louis’ knuckles, lets it soothe him as the cart lurches forward. He has to close his eyes when it starts going up, the temperature getting sharper and chillier the higher up they go. The wind plays on his legs, feels comforting on his thighs; he peeks an eye open and sees the Atlantic Ocean looking like nothing more than the old lake in the park behind his house back home and feels a wave of nausea rise up in his throat.
“Harry,” he whines, burying his face into the crook of Harry’s shoulder, “now would probably be a bad time to tell you I’m afraid of heights, right?”
“Louis,” Harry says. “C’mon, look at me.”
“Not too keen on looking at anything right now, to be quite frank with you,” but he still looks up at Harry. They’re at the very top now, and Louis feels his gut performing all sorts of tricks and he thinks to himself, wow, this is it, I’m going to die atop a ferris wheel without ever even having kissed Harry, and then Harry kisses him.
His lips are chapped and cold, and Louis thinks this is already the best kiss he’s ever had in his entire life. Harry kisses deeply and slowly, sensual where it could be nothing more than chaste, and even before he’s got his tongue in Louis’ mouth, Louis has almost completely forgotten where he is. By the time Harry does, Louis is practically twisting in the seat to get at Harry’s mouth. There’s a swoop as the wheel starts turning again, and before he can focus too much on it, Harry bites his bottom lip, quickly soothing the wince over with the gentle swipe of his tongue, and Louis moans, guttural in the back of his throat. They have to pull back to breathe, but that’s only for a quick second, and then they’re back at it again, Harry enticing more and more noises, as many as he physically can. And even though there are two more goes around, Louis can’t be half-assed to give a fuck, because he’s got the solid warmth of Harry’s body, a soft tongue taking apart his restrictions from the inside out, and at this point, this high up, it only feels like he’s flying.
(Louis stops being afraid of heights that day. He stops being afraid of a lot of things.)
Louis goes through too much money and too much time to get Harry a very large and very fluffy bunny from one of the booths. The man in charge keeps urging him on, saying shit like, “is that really all you’re going to get him, come on, man, try bigger and better!” and Louis falls for it, over and over. Harry stands behind Louis with his arms around his waist and his chin on his shoulder, laughing delightedly into Louis’ ear whenever he hands the man another three bucks for two more shots at popping a balloon.
“You’re ridiculous,” Harry murmurs into his neck, pressing a kiss at the junction there.
When Louis finally hands Harry the stuffed animal, though, he beams, all the corners and crevices of his face lighting up, and it’s just - he can feel the difference in weight of his wallet, but with Harry looking at him like that, all proud and fond, he doesn’t regret a fucking thing.
On the Cyclone, Louis is absolutely, one hundred percent positive that he is going to die.
He isn't sure what might have tempted him to go on the roller coaster in the first place, but it's probably demonic possession, when he really thinks about it. Rationally, it was most likely because of Harry's imploring look and the still present fuzzy glow in his chest from the earlier kisses.
The ride is wooden and around 780 years old. There are dozens of turns and loops and drops that remind Louis an odd amount of a horror movie he saw once where an amusement park led the way to hell. He wonders if it's an omen or a premonition, although he thinks they're essentially the same thing, and neither end up too well for him.
"Oh my God!" he tries to shout out, but it ends up sounding more like, "Ahhmmphgar."
There's an upside-down loop, and Louis swears that he hears a creak. He can barely feel the heat of Harry's body next to him this time, but he can feel the Grim's grip on his ankles.
When they finally get down, he stumbles hard into something and there's a sharp ache in his ear where he was hit.
"Lou," Harry gasps out. He looks completely unaffected, his hair beautifully mussed up from the wind, an easy smile on his lips and his eyes bright with adrenaline. "Is your ear bleeding?"
Louis blinks, brings his hand up to his ear, and barely manages to make it to a bin before vomiting.
He's got a rather deep gash in his ear and it's bleeding profusely, the bit of flesh completely gone, but all things considered, he's dealing with it well.
He's made Harry buy him his first ever funnel cake as retribution, and he carries it while Louis holds a bloodied tissue up to his ear. Harry pops a piece into Louis’ mouth, and once Louis has swallowed, he muses, “it’s like you’re my manservant.”
“Jesus,” Harry remarks.
“They call me hell,” Louis sings.
Harry bumps his shoulder and puts his free hand on the small of Louis’ back, guiding him towards the entrance for the karts. Admission to them isn’t included in the money for the all-day wristband, so Louis pays this time, knocking Harry’s hand away before he can take out his wallet after he’s come back from throwing away the rest of the cake.
“Will I die again?”
“No, your feet will have a direct link to concrete earth, so I don’t think so.”
Karting is brilliant. They are the only people there, so they race around the track a few times, Louis winning every time. Louis is grinning when they get down, whereas Harry is pouting and being a very sore loser.
“So,” Louis starts, taking Harry’s hands and walking backwards towards the beach, “what’s my prize?”
“Don’t know. You decide.”
“I want you to kiss me.”
“Oh,” Harry says.
“Oh,” Louis repeats, nodding. “But you’ve got to catch me first.”
He lets go of Harry, turns around and starts running farther away from Harry and towards the water. When he turns around, Harry is still standing there, watching him go. “Well? What’re you waiting for?” he calls out over his shoulder, hoping his voice carries over the seagulls and the waves crashing against the shore. Harry lets out some sort of shout; his legs are so much longer than Louis’ that it’s only an embarrassingly short amount of time before his arms are clasping around Louis’ waist. The momentum is too great, though, and they fall backwards into the sand, Louis using Harry’s body to ease the blow.
“Hello,” Louis greets. Harry grunts.
“I caught you,” he whispers.
Louis isn’t experiencing butterflies. These are bats.
He leans forward, holding Harry’s wrists high above his head, and kisses him. It’s even better than the first time and, God, Louis hadn’t even thought that was possible.
Louis' parents visit mid-May, along with Lottie. He and Harry pick up the rental that had been called for ahead of time, and head for the airport to pick them up.
They’ve talked about their families before, but in a sort of vague, comfortable way, never going too in-depth. Louis knows that Harry’s sister goes to uni in Miami and that he was born and raised in New York and all sorts of weird stuff like his Mum’s (Mom, to him) best dish and the name of Gemma’s first goldfish. To Louis, these seem like the important things. They offer a greater perspective, and Louis feels like he could have an entire conversation with Harry’s family, just from the tiny snippets they distractedly mention in the supermarket, and he really hopes that Harry feels the same.
“Why aren’t the other girls coming with?” he asks. Louis looks at the easy grace of his hands as he turns a sharp corner, the way his fingers tighten around the stick as he changes the shift, and tries to hold in a very frustrated and a very loud breath.
“Mum doesn’t like travelling with them so much. Lottie’s only here because her birthday is coming up and she’s awfully talented at manipulation."
"Wonder who she learned that from," Harry teases.
At the airport, after they've all embraced and Louis has embarrassed Lottie enough with loud exclamations and kisses all over her face, his mum looks at them expectantly, waiting for Louis to properly introduce the tall guy walking too close to just be a friend.
"Mum, Dad, this is Harry. My..." he trails off, not really knowing what to finish it with. He doesn't have to.
"Boyfriend," Harry finishes. He steps forward, shakes Louis’ Dad’s hand and kisses Mum and Lottie on the cheeks. Louis flushes, deep red all the way down to the roots of his feet, and tries not to beam stupidly. He feels ridiculously happy and far younger than he actually is, and it’s nice. “Pleasure to meet you, Mr and Mrs Tomlinson.”
His parents wave him off the formalities, and by the time they’re in the car, have got Harry calling them Mark and Jay. Harry doesn’t speak much on the way home, but when he does, he meshes in perfectly, offering short jokes and bits of input that make Mum smile like this is all she’s ever wanted in life. When they get to the hotel his family will be staying at, Louis gets down to hug them again and promise to pick them up in a bit to show them around.
In front of the hotel’s entrance, Lottie waggles her eyebrows at him.
“Oh, shut up, you,” he tells her, rolling his eyes and ruffling her hair. She ducks and scowls, but refuses to be deterred.
“You’re like a blushing virgin, oh my God, Lou, have you been tamed?”
“I was never wild and I still am a virgin, a role model of perfection and chastity for you to look up to.”
Lottie snorts and adjusts her bag on her shoulder. “He’s really fucking fit, isn’t he, and his mouth.” She smirks and leans in closer to make sure she won’t get overheard and probably grounded for the next fifty years of her life, “and he’s got such very, very big feet.”
“You’re not even sixteen yet, Charlotte, tone it down.” His eyes are sparkling, though, and when he calls out, “but I know, right?” over his shoulder as he walks back to the car, she almost doubles over laughing, and God, but he’s missed her. He’s missed all of them.
They go out to eat their last night in the States, some back alley, low-key place that Harry has been trying to get Louis to try for just about forever. It's dark lit and cozy, and when the waiter comes to get their drink orders, he smiles at Harry with recognition.
"Long time no see," he jokes, and Harry laughs, waving him off and leaning across Louis to help Lottie pick a drink.
"This one's pretty awesome, and it kinda tastes like this one, that one with the vodka, except there's like, negative alcohol."
"That sounds good, yeah.” Harry beams at her and she blushes. Louis thinks, yeah, me too.
He does that for all of them, drinks, dinner, and dessert. Cute little comments like, "Lou said you're, um, working on your cholesterol, so I wouldn't get anything with a star next to it, because all the customer favourites are really unhealthy," to Louis' dad, something about the chocolate cake having nuts in it to his mum and, what the fuck, Louis has only mentioned these things once in passing ages ago.
"Harry, doll, you must eat here an awful lot," Mum says, raising an eyebrow and taking a sip of her cranberry daiquiri. Louis thinks cranberry anything sounds horrid, but Harry had sworn up and down that it’s amazing, and judging by the appreciative look on his Mum’s face whenever she even takes a whiff of it, it must be.
“Um, inadvertently? I work here, sometimes. I’ve taken a break off because of end-of-year exams, but my stepdad owns it so I’m kind of guaranteed a job here.”
“Oh, that’s fantastic!”
“Is he here now, then?” Dad asks. “I’d love to meet him, congratulate him on raising such a nice boy.” Louis suspects that his family might already be absolutely, unironically enamoured with Harry’s very existence, and he can’t blame them, not at all.
By the time their food arrives, he’s positive. Like, he’s always known that Harry is perfect, but he also knew that he’s just the tiniest bit biased, but, God. And Louis’ dated smooth guys before, the kind that could slick up anyone to fall in love with them with the bat of their lashes and an easy smile, but Harry - Harry’s on a whole new level of charming.
Lottie laughs at all his jokes, and his parents ask increasingly invasive questions that have Louis trying to bat them away and Harry only laughing and answering them as best as he can.
“How’d Lou manage to find you, anyway?” Lottie asks. “Did he pine after you for months and months before you finally gave into his advances?”
“Why couldn’t he have been chasing after me?”
Lottie gives him a look, and Louis feels mortally offended, pinching Lottie’s side.
“He wrote me something,” Harry replies. “And I liked it. And him.”
Louis’ stomach hurts, and he takes a bite of his pasta to keep himself from saying something prematurely.
“Can I read it? Was it dirty? I once found a notebook of Lou’s, did you know, and that was probably the day I became corrupt.”
“No, you can’t, Charlotte. Shut up.”
“Don’t be so rude, Louis,” Mum chastises. Louis resists the urge to roll his eyes. Lottie laughs. Louis wishes they still lived together so that he could put body dye in her body wash or report her to the police for drug trafficking.
Dad is giving Harry one of his famous lectures on the grandeur of whiskey and Louis is swallowing down a gulp from his very purple drink when there’s suddenly a large hand on his crotch and he’s choking.
Harry, the shit, pats his back and looks at him with what looks like genuine concern, but Louis knows that it’s everything but. All previous thoughts of Harry being a darling have disappeared and he just wants to punch that stupid face, although fucking him may suffice.
“Sorry,” Louis wheezes when he can catch his breath. “Went down the wrong pipe.”
“You shouldn’t hold it in your mouth, babe. It’s best to just swallow down as it enters your mouth, yeah?” Harry smiles at him, reassuring and helpful, and Louis almost chokes again, on pure disbelief. Harry’s hand is squeezing his cock now, under the table, and Louis can feel himself getting harder with every second he glares up at Harry’s eyes.
The rest of the dinner is torturous. Harry’s hand rubbing circles on Louis’ knee, his palm spread out with his long fingers spanning across Louis’ inner thigh, thumb rough and sure on his dick over the material.
Lottie tries to glance under the table to see what’s going on, what has Louis suspiciously quiet and red, so Louis kicks her in the shins and wordlessly threatens to destroy her life.
They drop off the others at the hotel first and then speed through the streets, cutting through alleys and in front of cars. Louis seriously contemplates roadhead for a few moments except that he suspects that they’d die, and he needs Harry inside of him before that happens.
They don’t even make it up to Louis’ flat. Harry pushes Louis into a semi-concealed crook under the stairs and presses him against the wall, his fingers gripping tight on Louis’ hips, kissing him frantically and without enough oxygen.
“Up, upstairs, we’ve gotta - ” Louis tries to gasp out in between kisses, all the while arching his body forward and digging his fingers into Harry’s shoulders.
“Can’t,” Harry responds simply, and then he’s dropping down onto his knees, pushing Louis’ jeans down under his ass. Louis doesn’t think he’s ever moaned so loudly in his life. Coupled with the way Harry swallows him down to the hilt in one go and the knowledge that shit, fuck, God, anyone could walk past right now and catch them with only the slightest effort, Louis almost feels overstimulated and definitely doesn’t last long enough to find out how the latter would go.
The next day, after Louis’ family has boarded the flight, they’re sat in Harry’s room - their room, now; Louis’ flatmate moved out a month and a half or so ago, and since Louis spent more time at Harry’s flat than he did at his own place, they bunked together to save time and money. It is the best decision Louis has ever made, after coming to America and leaving the letter under Harry’s windshield wiper.
“I have a surprise for you,” Harry tells him.
“Do you, now?”
“Mhmm. Cover your eyes and count down a minute.”
Louis humours him. It only takes half of the minute to hear the door creak, and when he opens his eyes, there’s Harry, and there’s a chair.
Louis’ breath catches.
He moves forward onto the floor to feel the wood, smooth and solid and his. He inhales and means to say, this is your first chair, and you made it just for me, or maybe you’re the best thing that’s ever happened and if I ever lose you I don’t know what I’ll do, but instead he breathes, “Harry,” and that says all that he could and more.
Harry is biting his lips, a nervous air about him. “Check the, the bottom.”
Louis does. Under the chair, carved out in all caps is LIKE CRAZY. Fuck, Louis thinks. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Harry walks closer, joins him on the floor and they just stare at each other for a bit.
Louis licks his lips and whispers, “I love you.” It’s the first time he’s said it, and he feels exhilarated. “Like crazy."
Harry doesn’t say it back, not that very moment, but Louis doesn’t need him to.
Louis graduates in three days.
Naked and post-coital, buried under the covers with their feet tangled, Harry murmurs, “what’re we gonna do once you graduate?”
Louis’ thought about this a lot. It’s something they avoid talking about; Louis knows they can both feel the timer ticking down, another second closer to separation and it hurts, mostly. "I am going to get a work visa and come back as soon as I can.”
“What if that doesn’t work out?”
“I’ll do whatever it takes to always come back to you. I’m not going to leave you.”
Harry blinks. “Promise?”
Louis smiles. “Yeah.”
The ceremony is early in the morning, and after, they go out to the boathouse. A lot of it is a blur; they don’t speak much. They have sex. Harry plays music as Louis writes and runs his fingers through his hair. Harry draws. They sleep. Louis thinks and he thinks and he thinks. It’s tranquil and beautiful, and Louis can feel his bones shattering apart inside of his body.
Harry gives him the bracelet late in the afternoon, while Elvis plays softly in the background. It’s silver and sleek, but the most meaningful thing about it is patience, carved in soft italics across the curved platform. Louis breathes in soft, breathes out slow and Harry continues staring at him throughout.
“Clasp it for me,” he says, voice rough. Harry does. It fits perfectly around the thin bone of his wrist. His throat feels clogged and his tongue feels heavy, and he can only find it in himself to get up to retreive Harry’s gift.
He’s nervous about it, more nervous than he has been about anything in awhile. Harry takes off the wrapping paper and opens it up. Louis watches him bite his lip as he turns over to the second page, watches the small smiles on his face as he skims through the book, the way his eyes water as he bites his knuckles. After a bit, he places the book off to the side and pulls Louis in by the neck, whispers, “I love you,” and kisses him breathless until nothing hurts quite as much.
When Harry comes inside of him for the last time in what could be months and months and months, Louis makes a decision. Harry rolls over to his side, and after catching his breath, Louis says, “I’m staying.”
“I’m going to stay. For the summer. I’ll go home after and get my visa sorted out and then come back after, but for now I’m staying. Don’t try to convince me otherwise because you and I both know it won’t work.”
“Won’t it give you problems with immigration, I. I don’t want this to bite us in the ass later on.”
“It won’t be that serious, Harry. I’ll, we’ll do something, I don’t care, but I’m not leaving you, okay?”
Harry hesitates, but Louis steels his features, and Harry’s never been able to say no to him anyway. He grins, slowly, and replies, “okay.”
Louis stays for the rest of summer, and then he leaves for London. Two months later, he buys plane tickets for JFK, and when he lands, gets put into holding for violations, and it is absolutely not okay.
London is shit.
London is - it's like this: London is where he was raised and where most of his memories are rooted. His friends are here, and he's always expected to want to stay in London for the rest of his life, even if he traveled, because London is classic and energetic and he's never been more in love with a city. There are millenniums of history buried in the concrete, in the arches and domed cathedrals, the geometrics of the mosques and the deafening ring of the Big Ben.
London is brilliant, but London isn't home. Not anymore.
See, Harry is very, very good at pretending like he’s alright.
He’s been doing it for years, almost a decade at this point, since his dad died when he was twelve. Everything turned to shit, then, and everyone worried about him because they’d always been the closest. Gemma occasionally kicked a ball around with him in the backyard, back when soccer was all she cared about, but he and Harry spent the most time together, building birdhouses, painting bright silly things on the garage wall, laughing and smiling and being the absolute best person in Harry’s life. Then he wasn’t in Harry’s life at all.
Harry never really had any sorts of spectacular meltdown. He woke up in the hospital two days after the crash that took his Dad’s life but not his and thought to himself he’s dead and tried not to think much after that. He had to learn how to breathe and how much to breathe and how to force himself not to stop and it hurt.
The morning after Louis is sent back, he wakes up to an overnight text that reads, hey, i’ve landed and he takes a deep breath in, a deep breath out, and tries to teach himself how to breathe again but it’s fucking hard and it fucking hurts.
They’re fervent for the first few months, texting each other every waking second and calling or Skyping when they have the time.
Louis sends him little texts about his day, how his job hunt is going and the odd sorts of people he meets throughout it. Harry’s been trying to set his own business up, and in the evening, when Louis is curled in bed half-asleep and he’s finally gotten home, they call, even if it’s only for a few minutes before Louis dozes off. Sometimes, it’s enough for Harry simply to hear him breathe on the other line, a comforting reminder that, hi, I’m here with you, and I always will be when he can’t occasionally help feeling otherwise.
They Skype the first Friday after, after Lottie recommends it to what she later claims was a very pathetic-looking Louis. The first few seconds are a sort of shock, like - there’s Louis and there’s Louis’ face and there’s Louis’ mouth and his nose and his fringe and beautiful bright blue eyes and it’s been a week, it’s been a week, and Harry feels like he’s grasping at water after a year in the fucking desert and he reaches his hand out to do something, he isn’t sure, maybe to stroke the arch of Louis’ cheek or sweep his hair away where it’s falling into his eyes, and.
There’s a screen.
“Haz.” Louis’ voice manages to crack on that single syllable, and Harry lets his hand fall limp into his lap and can hardly open his mouth to speak the entire time.
They Skype whenever they both have at least an hour of undivided attention to spare in the evenings, which happens less and less as time goes by. Harry both anticipates and dreads them, a bittersweet twist in his gut: the opportunity to get to see Louis through pixelated coverage, but not be able to touch him or let him stroke his hair or kiss him. Louis jokes about all the cybersex they could be having, but Harry finds it a challenge to do anything other than stare and listen to Louis ramble on about his day. He wants to rememorize every freckle on Louis’ neck and the pitch of his laugh and the delicate bone at his wrists.
It’s like Louis knows - Louis always knows - and he makes sure to talk about himself for most of the time, doesn’t make Harry answer any questions or have to ask him how things are going. He goes on and off about everything and anything, all the things that matter and even the things that don’t. Harry listens to the static lilt of his voice and thinks, but, fuck, I’m in love with you.
Three thousand, four hundred and seventy one. There are 3471 miles and an entire ocean between them, but Harry doesn’t even have to get out of bed to find bone-crushing heartache.
Anyway. Time passes.
Louis finds a job three and a half months in, as the assistant at a small but well-to-do theatre.
“Why don’t you, like. Focus on your writing?” Harry asks him a few weeks after he gets the job, voice worn out and tired over the line. Harry wants to give him a massage, rub out the knots below his shoulder blades that he always gets whenever he’s stressed. Kiss him on the soft spot below his neck and feel the tension leave his body. Harry is still trying to come to terms with the fact that he can’t.
“I’ve got to pay the rent somehow, Harry,” Louis sighs. Harry hears the spray of water and some sort of ruckus.
“You’re not exactly wanting for money, Lou.”
“Prefer not to live off my parents ‘til I die. You know I hate being dependent, relying on others.”
Rely on me. “Yeah, I guess.”
“I’ve got to take a shower, I’ll call you back after I’m done.” Harry doesn’t hear his voice for the rest of the week.
Harry opens his shop in mid-January. It’s a bit small, all things considered, but there’s a second floor that he transforms into a sort of living quarters and it’s in a decent area of the city and it’s his. He remembers his dad always talking about how they’d open up their own shop and paint the walls in bright, beautiful colors and make all sorts of funky birdhouses and time machines. He hasn’t had time to finish splatter-painting all the walls yet, and he makes a hell of a lot more chairs than he does time machines, but he hopes that his Dad would be proud of him anyway. Louis says he is and that’s - that’s enough. It’s enough.
He supposes it’s a good start to the year.
For Louis’ birthday, Harry sent him a first-edition copy of Bukowski. For his birthday, Louis mails him a disk with an hour’s footage of him wanking off and fingering himself. Louis might try to modestly disagree, but Harry figures that it’s fairly obvious which gift is the best.
Things become hectic. Harry’s trying to actually get his shop to reach a point where it can sustain his life, and Louis is always, always busy, whether it’s for work or watching his sisters or watching his sisters while working.
Skyping falls far back into the wayside; having the time, energy, or effort to speak on the phone becomes virtually impossible, and even shooting a quick text becomes difficult and rare. When they do text, it feels almost strained, and. And sometimes like a chore, an obstacle. Like he has to send Louis, good morning i love you :) even though he knows he might not get a reply back until two AM that night when he’s finally able to fall back into bed and Louis is just waking up and getting ready for work the next day.
And it’s not that he doesn’t love Louis or that he doesn’t care enough to put the energy in, and in the roots of him, he knows that that’s not the situation for Louis either. But, shit.
Harry knew this wouldn’t be easy, he was never foolish and naive enough to believe that maintaining a relationship across the Atlantic Ocean would be an easy task, but, God, it wasn’t supposed to be this fucking hard.
On June 27th, Harry gets spectacularly wasted with an old friend of his from high school (his only friend from high school; he was never exactly a social butterfly that others gravitated to, not like Louis) and leaves Louis a voicemail that, to this day, he still isn’t sure exactly what it consisted of. Aiden tells him that he was saying really sappy, desperate, pathetic lover shit, but that’s not good enough for Harry; he wants to know just what it was that triggered what happens next.
On the 29th, Louis sends Harry a text, i dont think this is rly working out. Harry doesn’t know what to say, so he doesn’t say anything at all.
The months go by. They always do.
Harry isn’t happy. This much is obvious.
He has nightmares sometimes, where he feels like - like he’s in falling somewhere, maybe into a bottomless pit, and he keeps scrabbling for purchase against the dirt walls and he knows there’s light somewhere, an exit to freedom, but it keeps evading him and every time he thinks he might finally have the strength and will to find it, another unexpected twist comes up and he’s lost and confused and scared in the darkness. He’s running through a desert and there’s an oasis just beyond his reach. He’s being chased by a wild animal and the trees are too dense to find a way out. He’s drowning and forgotten how to swim.
Whatever, shit metaphors. He was never the one with ambitions for writing.
Blunt: his father said he’d be there for all his shining moments. He died. Louis said he’d never leave. He left.
Sometime in September, Harry goes out with Aiden again and gets drunk again. Not drunk enough to, you know, fuck everything up, like he has a habit of doing, but a sort of slow burn that makes calling Louis so late at night seem like a brilliant idea.
It takes a while, but Louis picks up, he actually picks up, and over the line Harry hears, “Hey.”
“Louis,” he starts, almost like he’s announcing or about to command something. Louis repeats his greeting, sounding a bit out of breath and it’s weird, hearing him after so long. Weird and good. Louis’ good. He sounds good. “How’re you?”
“I’m, I’m okay. Kind of surprised to hear from you.” He laughs softly. “How about you, how’re things going?”
“Good! They’re going good. Shop starting to pick up.”
“Yeah.” Harry bites his lips to keep from smiling uncontrollably and paces around in a circle, the fall chill beginning to creep in. Louis told him the twins were meant to start school this year and Harry wonders how they’re doing. He hasn’t heard from Louis’ family even longer than he hasn’t heard from Louis and it's not as painful, definitely not, but it still... sucks, a whole lot. He wants to know what Lottie got on her C-Levels or A-Levels, whatever she said they’re called, and he wants to tell Mark about the horrible whiskey the liquor shop said was their best and he wants. “What about you, how’re. How’re things going for you?”
“Things are... things are going well.” Louis sounds tired, his words trailing off and the usually sharp consonants blurred. “Nice couple of months.”
Harry resists the urge to snort. It’s been pretty bad for him. “That’s good to hear. I, um.”
He bites his lips, running a hand through his hair and then tightening his coat around himself. He feels so much colder all of a sudden, a chill that runs up his spine and causes him to shiver. It’s not the type of chill blankets can fix, is the problem.
“It was good hearing your voice.” I miss you. Harry pauses a second; Louis doesn’t say anything in reply. “I’m sorry for waking you.”
Louis chuckles. “It’s okay. I’ve, you know, got to be going off now, early morning. Have a nice night, Harry.”
“You too, Louis.” Harry’s brows furrow and his mouth sets into a hard line. He wonders how Louis can sound so blasè about any of this, about all of this. The sound of Louis saying his name after so many months of nothing but a dirty video to go by is breathtaking and overwhelming.
They hang up.
Instead of going back into the bar, Harry stops by a kwik store and buys a Monster to sober himself up before hiding out in a small cafè a few buildings down from the bar. He stares at his hands and tries to blank his mind out.
Not ten minutes later, he gets a call from Louis. It sounds like he’s been trying not to cry, loud, panting breaths fogging up the sound waves. “Hey,” he tries, his voice cracking.
“Hi,” Harry says.
“I, it.” Louis lets out a rattling exhale and Harry can count on one hand the amount of time he’s seen Louis cry.
“Lou,” he starts, but there are vague shushing noises across the line, so Harry doesn’t speak, waits through the muffled sounds of Louis attempting to calm down.
It takes Louis a while to regain his breath. “I’m, would you. Do you wanna come over? Like, now?” He laughs breathlessly. “I’ll just, like. Be here. Waiting for you.”
“Yeah,” Harry breathes. “I’ll be right there.” He isn’t sure who starts laughing first, but one of them is, and then they’re almost in a hushed sort of hysterics, Harry trying not to be so loud inside the cafè and Louis still getting over his tears. “Gimme half an hour, okay?”
“Half an hour,” Louis repeats, and Harry can hear his breaths start to even out a bit more, and he feels a tight muscle he didn’t know was there unknot in his back.
There’s a lull, and then Harry says, the same silly tone but with a definite trace of seriousness, “A few days. Three or four days and I’ll be right there. Promise you’ll keep waiting for me, Lou.”
“Fuck. Harry, you know I will.”
That night, Harry has a dream. He’s still in the pit. He turns a corner, and he can hear the chirping of sparrows, a lightening in the darkness around him. He hasn’t found the light. He can’t see the birds. But fuck if he’s not close to reaching them.
Harry doesn’t think it’s normal, not really, the way things go with them.
It’s all so abrupt, sudden changes from one radius to another on paths that usually don’t make any sense. A letter under his windshield and then Louis is all he’s cared about and more, a split decision to stay an extra two months and then no chance to see each other for a year. Part things off through text and fix them over the phone with a few laughs and uncontrollable grins on their faces across the Atlantic.
He thinks it should feel like whiplash, but it doesn’t. Everything with Louis feels so right and so natural all the time, regardless of the circumstance, regardless of how many months have gone by since they’ve actually touched skin. His life’s become a measurement of intervals With Louis and those Without Louis. Time without Louis is blurred, a slow longing burning through his veins, but time with Louis is better and worse; it’s sharp, acute, all the experiences and memories focused to the point that he couldn’t ignore them even if he tried or wanted to. They both hurt, in their own way, and Harry is still trying to figure out which is most painful.
The first few days in London, they don’t leave Louis’ apartment once. Hell, they only exit the bedroom maybe four times, when it’s an absolute emergency like needing the restroom or Harry making Louis eat in order to ensure he doesn’t wither away.
They spend most of that time naked, relearning each other’s bodies.
The second they enter Louis' small apartment, Louis is roughly pushing him back into the wall, leaning up so that he can press his lips to Harry's in a bruising kiss. Harry moans, hands going down to rest at Louis' waist. Louis forcefully licks his way into Harry's mouth, pressing a knee in between Harry's legs, trying to get himself in between every corner and crevice of Harry's body, as close as physically possible. He seems almost desperate about it, his mouth fierce on Harry's own, biting down at Harry's bottom lip and groaning when Harry lets out a low grunt at the pain.
Harry forces himself to pull back, but Louis just tries to follow him, almost knocking their foreheads together. Harry grabs hold of Louis' jaw, softly but surely holding him in place. Louis curves his face into Harry's palm, looking up at him with shiny, wild eyes.
"Eager?" Harry teases, pulling Louis' bottom lip out from where he's worrying it with his teeth. It's swollen and red. Harry gently runs his thumb over it.
"Need you," Louis replies, angling his head up to catch Harry in another searing kiss. "Now."
"Yeah," Harry pants into his mouth. "Yeah." Louis' fingers slip under the low waistband of his pants, and Harry places his palm over Louis' bum, squeezing and trying to get Louis closer, closer, closer. He wonders if closer will ever be enough. He wants to dig himself a place under Louis' skin, a home for him to rest and feel safe. Louis is the only home he's ever felt sure would protect him against all outside forces, his security and defense.
Louis' mouth trails down, sucking a mark onto Harry's collarbones, all intense and focused, like this is something he absolutely has to do. Harry tilts his head to the side to give him better access and tries not to come in his pants right then and there when Louis palms at his dick through the material.
"Bedroom," he manages to croak out, voice even deeper and more gravelly than normal. He feels consumed.
Louis manages to tear himself away from where he'd been littering Harry's neck with bruises to grab his hand and pull them towards the bedroom. Louis' apartment is pretty small, all things considered, but it's comfy and smells like Louis all around, so Harry absolutely loves it. Harry's apartment is solid lines and a lot of white and doesn't hold any memories of Louis like the last one did.
Louis pushes him down on the oversized bed. Harry's head accidentally bangs on the headboard, and Louis' eyes soften when Harry mumbles out a vague complaint, straddling him and then kissing him softly on the lips. The gentleness of his kiss is betrayed by the way he forcefully grinds down.
"God, Louis," Harry moans into the kiss. Louis grins against Harry's mouth and bites down, hard, on his bottom lip.
Harry likes when Louis takes control, likes feeling the weight of Louis' body on top of his, likes the single-minded focus of it all, likes laying back and letting Louis ride him at his own pace, only intent on getting himself off with Harry nothing more than an afterthought.
He likes all of that, loves it even, but sometimes. Sometimes.
Louis makes to pin his arms above his head with his small hands, but Harry flips them over so that he’s hovering over Louis, their mouths never leaving each other once.
Louis looks like he’s still trying to process what’s just happened, pulling back from the kiss to suck in a shaky breath. He looks up from beneath Harry, who’s now got his legs between Louis’ thighs, wondering why they’ve still got so many fucking clothes. Louis’ eyes are dilated beyond belief, the once sparkling blue reduced to a dull ring around the wide navy of his pupils.
“You’re so fucking—” Louis never finishes the sentence, instead letting out a low, frustrated noise from the back of his throat. “Clothes, I need you to, I need.” He’s clawing at Harry’s shirt while his hip ruts insistently against Harry’s cock through two layers of blockage.
“Yeah, fuck,” Harry gasps, sitting up so that he’s straddling Louis, lifting his shirt off his head. He isn’t sure how they manage to get his jeans and boxers off, or any of Louis’ clothes, but they do, and it’s soon after that he’s sitting back on Louis’ thighs, lazily stroking himself while Louis rummages through a bag on the floor, triumphantly holding up an almost empty bottle of lube.
“Not much left, is there,” Harry teases. Louis throws him the lube, and Harry’s a bit put off that he has to let go of his cock to catch it, but Louis’ hand replaces it very soon, swiping a hand over the head and spreading the precome down with a firm grip. Harry has to seal his eyes shut to not get overwhelmed by the feel of Louis’ hands on his cock after a fucking year.
“Can’t help myself when I’m thinking about you,” Louis says, twisting his hand and smirking when Harry’s lashes flutter against his cheeks. Harry slaps his hand away, albeit regrettably, and slides down, spreading Louis' legs and raising them so that the heels of his feet are flat on the bed before fixing himself so that he’s kneeling in between, uncapping the bottle and applying just enough lube on his fingers. Louis’ knees are shaking, although it’s barely noticeable, and Harry leans his head against his thighs, smiling.
“Mine at home’s done. Fingered myself last night when I finished packing, imagining it was your cock inside of me.” He presses a finger past Louis’ entrance, biting his lip and pushing it all the way in when Louis’ back arches off the bed as he lets out a high, filthy moan.
“You can’t just say that,” Louis chokes out, fingers twisting and pulling Harry’s hair. Harry leans his head forward so that he’s mouthing at Louis’ balls, removing his finger so that he can pour some lube onto his other hand, reentering Louis with two fingers this time and pumping his now-slicked free hand on Louis’ cock.
He fingers Louis slowly and surely, a sharp turn from how they’d been earlier; sucking the head of his cock into his mouth, he feels a warm sense of pride and accomplishment at the noises Louis is making. He lifts himself up at his elbows so that he can have a better go at Louis’ cock.
“Haz, I can’t ke - I’m gonna,” Louis pants. Harry takes it in inch by inch, relaxing his muscles and breathing in through his nose until it hits the back of his throat and his eyes are tearing up so much that he can barely see. He loves this, and he’s missed it. Missed closing his eyes and calming his features, letting Louis thrust up incrementally into his throat. Missed the fact that he can tear Louis apart and bring him back together with this alone. It’s freeing, and amazing, and, like. He loves sucking cock, that much has always been obvious, but with Louis it's like a whole other experience.
Louis hardly makes any sense by now, a string of incoherent comments and high-pitched moans. Harry eases in with a third finger, crooking them up until he hits Louis’ prostate; Louis’ hips arch off the bed, and then he’s coming down Harry’s throat. Harry tries to swallow it all down, but he lifts off too soon, and some come ends up streaked across his cheek and somewhat in his eyelashes.
His throat feels sore and overused, and he can barely open his mouth wide enough to speak without a sharp scratch in his esophagus. He laughs, breathless and joyful, removing his fingers.
He crawls up Louis’ body, kissing him lightly on the lips and pushing his hair off his sweaty forehead. His eyes are all soft and sleepy-warm, his features lax as he kisses Harry back slowly with lots of tongue and twice as much comfort.
“Hey,” he grins.
“Hey,” Louis smiles against his mouth. His hands trail down in between their bodies to take hold of Harry’s cock, squeezing lightly and making Harry drop his face onto his neck, groaning. Louis lightly slaps Harry’s thigh. “C’mon, in me.”
Harry doesn’t hesitate, locating the lube from where it’d been buried under the covers and slicking himself up quickly before sliding into Louis.
He has to take a few seconds to breathe harshly through his nose and not come right away, feeling Louis contract around him, blazing hot and tight. It’s been so long, and. Fuck. Louis’ legs come up to wrap around his waist, the heels of his feet digging down into Harry’s ass, meeting him up thrust for thrust when Harry starts to move.
Louis is already half-hard again, insatiable as he is. Harry kisses him, filthy and desperate, replacing Louis’ hands with his own and pumping furiously because God, fuck, he’s not going to last, and he wants Louis to come a second time by his hand.
“Don’t, shit, too much,” Louis whines, even while he thrusts up into the fist Harry’s made around his cock. It’s only a few moments later that Harry is choking out a moan and coming inside of Louis, Louis following a bit after.
Harry feels spent and exhausted and only a blink’s away from passing out altogether. He can barely lift his hips to exit Louis before collapsing with their feet entangled and his face buried in the crook of Louis’ shoulder.
“Hi, sunshine,” Louis whispers, curling a loose hand into his hair and pressing a kiss to his temple. “Missed you.”
“Like crazy,” Harry murmurs sleepily.
Harry awakes to the sound of running water. There are dull thuds coming from what must be the adjacent bathroom, along with muffled swears and hisses. He only vaguely acknowledges them, though, his body heavy and tired. The jet lag is finally catching up to him; it seems to be early morning judging by the dull glow coming from Louis’ windows that are, Louis being Louis, covered with thick black curtains to keep the morning out. Back home - back in New York, it’s probably in the middle of the night, and while Harry’s mind know that he’s no longer in the same longitude, his body doesn’t and he wants to sleep for a century, preferably with Louis curled up around him. Definitely like that.
He hears Louis enter the room, trying very hard not to be loud and failing miserably. Harry slowly shuffles himself so that he's facing Louis and blinks his eyes half-open. He's disappointed to find that Louis is no longer naked, but immediately feels better when he groggily recognizes what he's wearing to be his shirt. It's far too big on Louis, the top hem sliding off his shoulders and exposing his collarbones. The bottom skims to his mid-thigh, and Harry thinks, fuck.
Louis tsks. “You’re hardly awake and you’re still checking me out. Insatiable."
"Come t' bed," Harry murmurs in response.
"I've got work to do," Louis says, all the while inching closer to the bed.
"Got me." Harry turns his body with Louis' movements. Louis goes around to his side, pushed against the wall, and crawls up on hands and knees until he flops down on his stomach under the comforter and next to Harry with a woosh of air. He's resting his face on his palm, looking down at Harry with soft eyes and a soft smile. Harry's pretty, brilliant, soft boy.
"Pretty," Harry repeats aloud.
"Handsome," Louis corrects. Harry hums and tries to press himself as close to Louis as he can get. Louis helps, cuddling closer until they’re aligned from head to where Louis’ cold toes press against Harry’s calf. Harry burrows his face into Louis neck, pulling the blanket farther up to cover all but their faces.
Louis’ hand grips tightly around Harry’s waist, like he’s scared that if he lets go, Harry will disappear. Harry knows the feeling.
Louis’ bed smells like Louis, like vanilla and good cologne. Harry's hand is cupped under Louis' chin, and he uses his thumb to trace over Louis’ thin bottom lip, pulling it out from where Louis had been gnawing it away with his teeth, bringing him in to kiss him sweetly on the mouth, resting their foreheads together.
"What've you been doing?" he asks. He wants to know how Louis feels about his job, if he still has the same job, how the girls are doing and just - everything. He wants to know everything and anything about Louis that he's missed. He hates that he's missed anything.
Instead, Louis throws a leg over Harry's, moving forward to make it so that half of his body is essentially lying on Harry's.
"Waiting for you," he says. Harry feels the cool metal of the bracelet he gave Louis back when against his hipbone and thinks he might understand just what Louis means.
"What about you? What have you been doing?”
“I don’t know. Nothing. I’m engaged with five kids.”
“Hmm, scandalous,” Louis teases. Harry is lying on his side, facing Louis, who’s sitting up with his legs crossed, his hands toying with Harry’s curls.
“Totally,” Harry agrees.
“Totally. God, you’re so... American.” His voice is exaggeratedly disgusted, but his eyes are warm and he’s giving Harry his smile, small and fond.
“Am I?” Harry asks.
Louis nods. “Totally.”
Harry tries not to smile, moaning softly when Louis’ fingers scratch just right at his scalp. “Speaking of scandalous.” He grins up at Louis and asks, “How’ve you survived without me? Have you been sleeping with tons of people?” He doesn’t know if he’s only joking around or not.
Louis rolls his eyes but doesn’t respond, and Harry, like. It’s. He closes his eyes and turns onto his stomach, his face pressed into the pillow.
“Have you?” Louis finally counters.
Harry doesn’t reply, shutting his eyes tighter. He wishes the comforter was over him.
“You’re being an asshole,” Louis whispers.
“I know,” Harry replies, just as softly. He doesn’t open his eyes. He wants to go back to two minutes ago, before he asked that stupid question or at least before he started feeling and acting like a five year old child. And he does know, he really does know that he’s being an asshole, and not being fair about this at all. He’s being a total fucking hypocrite, couldn’t even answer Louis back when he asked because -
He hears shuffling behind him, and then Louis’ small, warm body curled around his, lips pressing an open-mouthed kiss on his spine. “Hey. Stop.”
“I’m mad at you,” Harry starts. “I’m mad at myself. I’m mad at us.” He turns around so that he and Louis are facing each other again, and looks down into Louis’ beautiful blue eyes. “I’m mad that we didn’t try harder.”
“We did,” Louis insists.
“We didn’t.” Harry shakes his head and inhales a broken breath. He wonders if he’s broken. “Why’d you send that text?”
“I don’t know.”
“You do. Why didn’t I fight back?”
“I don’t know,” Louis repeats.
Harry sighs, and scoots his body down so that he and Louis are at equal eye level. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked. It was a stupid question.” He rests his forehead against Louis' and blinks his eyes shut. Louis leans in and kisses him, closed-mouth and dry and at an awkward angle, and it’s stupid and clichè and fairly pathetic, but Harry feels the tension leave his body at that and that alone.
Louis claims to have had previous unbreakable plans to go out for drinks for a friend’s birthday. Harry offers to stay behind so as not to infringe or whatever, but Louis tells him to stop being stupid and get dressed, so he does.
The bar is small and cozy and very packed. “There’s a footie match today!” Louis has to almost yell over the chatter as they navigate through the full tables of people. Harry gets it a lot more now, even though he’s positive that they have different perceptions of football bar meetups. Starting with the actual sport being played itself.
Louis slinks an arm around his waist and guides him to the bar. There’s a pretty bartender who looks harried and stressed, but she grins when she makes sight of Louis.
“Darling!” she proclaims, leaning across the counter to kiss Louis on the cheek. “What’ll we be having? And who’s the beau?”
Louis grins back at her. "Two pints, please. And this is, um, this is Harry. Harry, this is Tasha."
"It's an absolute pleasure, Harry. Watch out for this one, he can be a horrible drunk."
"Can not," Louis complains, pouting. Harry laughs, saying, "I know," and agreeing to indeed watch out for him.
"What’s a pint?" he asks Louis once Tasha has walked away to fetch whatever.
"I would swear that you've asked me this before," Louis muses, hopping up onto a barstool with ease and pulling Harry in between his legs. "It's beer."
"I'm forgetful and uncultured," Harry tells him, exaggeratingly solemn.
"A shame, that. We're only going to do very sophisticated and European things from now on. We'll save you from your unfortunate Yank upbringing yet." He's making his voice all uber posh. Harry resists the urge to smile.
"What types of things?" Harry twists his head to see if the bartender placed their drinks in front of them inconspicuously, but she hasn't, so he turns back to Louis, scooting in. Louis hooks his ankles behind Harry’s bum, and pulls him in even closer, pressing them crotch to crotch. Harry raises an eyebrow and lightly grinds against Louis, watching as Louis' lashes flutter minutely on his sharp cheekbones.
"One thing," Louis starts, glaring at Harry, "is that we're not crude in public." Harry snorts. Louis once got Harry off on a bus to New Jersey where any extra look would get them caught. Harry makes a jerking off motion with his hand, aiming it at Louis’ mouth when it falls open. Louis shuts his mouth quickly, clearly suppressing laughter. Harry smiles widely and pecks him on the mouth. Louis tries to extend the kiss, but there’s an audible plink of glass slamming down on the counter, so Harry pulls away to take both of the very big and very full beers easily.
Louis sighs heavily, untightening his legs and bracing a hand on Harry’s shoulder to jump down from the stool. “Start a tab, would you, Tasha?” Tasha salutes them away, and Louis finally leads them towards a large and rowdy group of people crowded around a table in front of what seems to be the largest television in the place.
The second they notice Louis, more than half of them get up to hug him, loud and voracious greetings that show that Louis is obviously big in this group. Harry isn’t shocked at all, but it makes him feel a bit strange, this clear reminder that Louis has got an entirely different life and different friends and customs on this side of the Atlantic, and none of them include Harry, but. It’s fine.
Louis introduces him to all his friends, taking his beer and wrapping his free arm around Harry’s waist, squeezing tight at the slice of skin there where his shirt has ridden up. “This is my Harry.”
“My Harry,” a girl with bright purple hair coos.
“Harry,” someone with brown hair repeats. “Harry...” Their eyebrows raise dramatically, and Harry hears Louis sigh, feels his entire body moving with it. “As in the Harry?”
“Stop talking, Stan.”
“The Harry?” Harry asks, trying not to grin.
“Louis’ a horrible drunk,” Stan nods.
“Where’s the birthday boy?” Louis asks loudly, clearly trying to steer the conversation away from what he probably considers embarrassing and Harry considers maybe the best news he’s heard his entire life. He must catch sight of the male of honor, because he soon calls out over the bar’s collective groan at something happening on the screen, “Marvin! Remove your hand from down Jesy’s pants and get the fuck over here.”
“Shouldn’t you be nice to me this one day out of the year?” A tall, light-skinned black man walks up and Louis steps forward, letting himself be engulfed into a tight hug.
“Don’t ask dumb questions, I knew you while you were going through puberty, it’s impossible to even consider.” Louis pulls back a bit to kiss him on the cheek and Marvin attempts to turn his head so that their mouths touch and Harry thinks, huh.
Louis moves away, though, slapping him lightly on the cheek and stepping back. "Happy birthday, stud." He takes two small scraps of paper from his jacket and slaps them into Marvin’s palm. “Two tickets for Arsenal versus Chelsea next month. I absolutely expect to be your plus one.”
“You hate both of those teams,” Marvin replies, but he’s grinning broadly and rubbing the tickets between his fingers like they’re some sort of charms.
“I know. But not as much as they hate each other. Anyway,” he says, “this is Harry.”
“The Harry!” Stan calls back.
“Fuck off, Stanley!”
“Ooh, the Harry.” Marvin holds his hand out to shake. Harry takes it, grasping and shaking maybe a bit tighter than mandated. Marvin laughs, pulling his hand back and flexing it out. Harry resists the urge to smirk in triumph. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, I’ve heard many things. Louis reveals a lot when he’s drunk, it’s fascinating and horrible all at once.”
Harry is insanely curious. “Pleasure’s mine." He's mostly serious about that. "And happy birthday, I hope it’s good one."
"Thanks, ma - " He's cut off by a sudden influx of cursing and cheers all at once.
An echo of the TVs shouts, "And that's a goal for United!"
The second beer gets shoved back into his hands as Louis aggressively pushes himself to the front of the TV, Marvin following suit. Harry stands off to the side, feeling awkward and out of place in this bar. In Louis' life.
"Back and better than ever!" Louis exclaims once he's come back to Harry, leaning up on his tiptoes to give Harry a quick, passionate kiss. "My boys are back and better than ever!"
"It's 1-1, Tomlinson, they aren't even in the lead and there are still twenty minutes in the game."
"Bitterness doesn't look good on you, Jade! Did you not just see that, fucking Alonso almost had the ball in, but Lindegaard got the prat away and then Ferdinand, the sweet love of my life - "
"Ferdinand's a fuck," Jade retorts, followed by many agreements from Louis' other friends.
"Ferdinand is a bloody legend, stop interrupting me. Ferdinand is a legend but Vidić, oh my God, that kick went right past Rodríguez, he probably didn't even see the ball coming. Not even Ozil could stop him."
"Probably because ManU's full of dirty cheats," Jade cuts off. "Ozil is ten times better than that entire team altogether."
Louis shakes his head solemnly and turns to acknowledge Harry. "Life is so hard when you're the only one in your entire group who supports a decent team. At least you love me."
Harry does love him. He loves him a whole fucking lot, more than he ever has anyone else, and more than anyone could ever love Louis, ever, but he doesn't feel like he knows Louis most and that's. It makes him feel horrible and alone even with his favorite boy right there, and it sucks and he just. Harry doesn't know. He doesn't know.
The next morning, there’s a knock at the door.
“Ugh,” Louis groans, rolling over in bed. “Go get it.”
“Why not you?” Harry responds, accidentally kneeing Louis in the stomach when he tries to arrange himself.
“Because I can’t walk,” Louis hisses. He peaks an eye open to glare at a giggling Harry.
“I’d say sorry, but—”
“Go open the door, you prat.”
Harry doesn’t have the energy to look for clothing to slip on, so he puts a sheet around his waist and stumbles to the door. He's got a semi, so he sincerely hopes that it isn't Louis' family here to visit or anything embarrassing like that.
"Delivery for Louis Tomlinson?" the mailwoman asks. Harry nods, bringing his hand up to wipe his eyes and cover his yawn. It also accidentally happened to be the hand holding the sheet up; he's left naked with the sheet pooled around his feet and the mailwoman gaping too far below his eyes.
"Jesus," she breathes.
Harry clears his throat.
She blushes and shuffles back to push a large brown box forward. Harry grins sleepily, thanking her and lifting it a bit ways into the apartment and closing the door shut.
"No," Louis calls back.
“I’ll bottom,” Harry tries.
“Who cares?” Harry sighs.
"I'll cook breakfast." No reply. "Naked. Actually, if you don't come now then I won't cook naked."
He hears a thump from the room and then Louis is in front of him, shirt and Harry's boxers clearly put on hastily.
"You drive a hard bargain," Louis tells him, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "You're not wearing any clothing."
Harry smiles. "I'm not."
"And you're hard, um. Cover yourself? That wasn't a question, definitely cover yourself."
"My arse hurts. Be considerate."
Harry breathes out a choked laugh, shaking his head fondly. He feels so fucking in love that his heart might burst. He does as Louis says, going into the room to grab a pair of sweats and slipping them on before rushing back out to the front, where he finds Louis standing in front of the big brown box with his head cocked and eyes narrowed.
“You’ve got a package,” he says, absolutely unnecessarily.
“I see. There’s no sender’s address or name. Have you got anything to do with this?” he asks. Harry’s placed the box directly in front of his desk, for obvious reasons. He hadn’t expected it to get here until maybe right before he had to leave, since he sent it way too late, only about a week ago, but apparently things are shining down for him just this one time.
Harry doesn’t reply, shrugging and motioning towards the box.
Louis gets a scissor from his desk, cutting off the tape across the sides and then pulling the flaps back and apart. Harry watches the way his eyes widen and his mouth falls open once he sees what’s inside.
“My chair,” he gasps. “You brought my fucking chair.”
Harry nods, biting his lip to keep from smiling uncontrollably like a maniac. Louis removes it from the box, kicking whatever dumb chair he’d been using before off to the side and placing the one Harry made for him way back when in front of his desk. He runs his hands over the wood grain, gets down on his knees and checks under the bottom. When he looks back up, Harry thinks his eyes are watery, but he’s sure Louis would deny it, so he keeps mouth shut and watches on.
“You recarved it,” he says, voice thick.
“The wood was smoothing out. Couldn’t let it fade away.”
The front page reads, to you who made me see things I could never see alone. Harry thinks Louis has got it all twisted around, because if anyone is lucky to have found the other, it’s definitely him.
Louis’ family is vacationing in Brighton, so they take the train down, sharing a set of headphones and resisting the urge to do things in the bathroom that are probably illegal.
Harry meets the other girls for the first time outside of a Skype call and can’t help his uncontrollable smile when he sees Lottie, Mark and Jay again after all this time. He’s brought them all little trinkets and stuff from New York: tacky I ♥ NY shirts for Fizz, Phoebe, and Daisy, a fifteen-year-old bottle of whiskey for Mark that his wallet still regrets, jewelry for Jay, and a mixtape and shirt signed by Walk The Moon, her favorite band, that he promised her months ago but never really got a chance to fulfill because - yeah.
Louis complains, "why didn't I get anything big and special from New York?"
Harry waggles his eyebrows suggestively the second Lou's parents look away, resisting the urge to make some sort of lewd action and winking dramatically instead. Louis makes some sort of disbelieving noise and throws a pillow at him. Lottie starts laughing so hard that Jay thinks she's having some sort of asthma fit, so Lou throws one at her too.
After, Louis and Harry go to the nearby park with the girls. They play soccer, Harry, Lottie and Phoebe against Lou, Fizz, and Daisy and it’s brilliant, it’s so fucking brilliant, with the October chill and the leaves falling into their hair. Harry is absolutely horrible at the sport, tripping over his feet, constantly falling over and getting laughed at even more often but he shrugs it all off, making sure to pass the ball to Lot or Phoebe whenever it comes his way instead. He was captain of the basketball and track teams in high school, not soccer.
Louis’ team ends up winning, and therefore get to order what they choose lunch. It starts raining suddenly, though, so they have to rush back to the house, edging beneath the covers of buildings so as not to get soaking wet. Harry holds Daisy and Louis holds Phoebe and thinks he could imagine something like this later on down the line. He wants something like this later on. Harry wonders if Louis might like this too, and then he remembers that he’s leaving for America in three days and instead wonders if they’ll ever have the time to discuss anything like that, ever.
They end up ordering pizza and wings in, to Harry’s contentment, and sitting around the coffee table on the floor to eat. He'd been the slightest bit worried that they would end up ordering from some gourmet restaurant or whatever, and he would spend more time wondering how many months’ meals he could have bought with the money instead of actually eating. He's glad they're so chill about everything.
"How's the business going, Harry?" Mark asks him, popping a fry into his mouth.
"Um, it's going pretty nice, actually. Things are really picking up. I've actually got a commission for this huge law firm waiting for me when I get back, so that's always... nice."
"Good, good. If you ever need anything, let us know, will you?"
Harry nods, taking a bite of his pizza. He isn't sure how he's meant to reply to that; he's never been good at dealing with, like, money.
"When d'ya go back, Haz?" Fizz asks.
Harry feels Louis stiffen next to him. "Three days. Daisy, is there anymore garlic on your side?"
"Nope," she replies, mouth full of food.
“It is such a shame that you have to go back so soon,” Mark continues.
“Yeah, I know. I wish I could, like, stay here in London but everything is so - set up in New York. It’s in too deep for me to have, like. Other options now.”
“I understand completely. If the bloody immigration thing would hurry up and sort itself out - ”
“Mark,” Jay warns, just as Lottie complains, “Dad.”
“Aren’t I right, Harry?” He continues speaking before Harry can muster up some sort of vague reply. Beside him, Louis is very slowly and deliberately chewing and looking straight across with carefully blank eyes. Harry hates that. “Simon assures me he’s working intensely on trying to get everything sorted out, but you know how these sorts of things work.”
“Everyone knows, Dad,” Louis interjects, sounding more than a bit annoyed. “We’ve gone over this plenty of times, so can you please just not?”
“I’m only trying to help you two out, Louis.” Mark shakes his head smartly and takes a sip from his beer. “Do you know, if you two were to - there are much easier solutions, I’m sure that if you two got married - that’s all fine here now, you know - immigration wouldn’t be able to hold Louis back anymore. And it just saves so much time and money, it really does.”
The room is awfully silent for a split second. Harry feels like his head is moving at a million lightyears. He takes the nearest glassful of coke, probably Louis’, and brings it up to his mouth so that he doesn’t have to speak.
“Okay,” Jay says, taking the beer from his hand. “I think you’re done. Go get a glass of water from the kitchen and then you’re going to come back and apologize to Louis and Harry and the girls for being so rude.”
Mark does as much, because he always listens to what Jay says, but it doesn’t make much of a difference in Harry’s comfort level. He can still feel the places where he and Louis aren’t touching more acutely than he can the places they are, and that’s definitely something to think about.
Back in London, the temperatures have gotten to unreasonable levels, especially for October, so they laze around in Louis’ flat all day, bundled under thick comforters and using each other for warmth.
“I feel...” Harry starts, moving down so that his face is pressed against Louis’ heartbeat. It thumps, steady and solid, the best reminder that Louis is here and definitely with him. But. “Like, weird.”
Harry pulls the comforter up so that’s he’s hidden under it entirely and muffles a vague answer into Louis’ chest. Louis pulls the sheet even farther up so that he’s encompassed under it too, and they stare at each other under the dim. Louis’ eyes are so, so blue. Harry feels like he’s warming up too quickly. He feels like - he doesn’t know what he feels like.
“If you really think I understand any of the freaky vibrations you just made, you’ve got another thing coming.”
“It’s fine, really. Doesn’t matter. I don’t know.”
“Harry,” Louis sighs. “Tell me.”
Harry’s shit at not listening to Louis. When he really thinks about it, that’s why they’re stuck in this mess in the first place. Because he was too weak and too selfish to advise Louis against staying for those few extra months, because he wanted Louis to himself for a bit longer and now he’s barely had him for two weeks in the past year. Harry pushes the comforter back and off both of their heads.
“I want to, but. I feel disconnected.” He presses his thumbs into the soft skin of Louis’ hips. Louis automatically and probably unconsciously arches into his touch. Harry feels like he can breathe a little more.
“Disconnected how? You know I hate when you get like this, please just - ”
Harry leans farther down so that his lips are laying an open-mouth kiss on Louis’ stomach. He digs his thumbs in harder. He needs an anchor, or he might disappear into thin air and he doesn’t fucking want that. “It doesn’t feel like I’m actually part of your life. This feels like some sort of vacation. I don’t know, I’m just. I don’t like that. I want it to flow perfectly, I don’t want to have to keep about this twisted cycle.”
Louis is quiet. His hands twist in Harry’s hair, pulling the curls out and pushing his hair from his forehead. “If you want to... be with other people when you’re in the States, then you can.”
Harry’s thumbs press down harder. They’re going to leave an indent, leave a bruise. Good. He wants that. “Do you want to sleep around with other people?”
“That’s not what I said.”
“It might as well have been. Do you want to fuck other people, Louis?”
“Harry, stop, no. I never said that and I don’t. I was just giving an option. Why are you getting so defensive?”
Harry’s jaw feels locked in place. He feels sporadic. “Because I don’t want to sleep around with other people. I don’t want you to. I want to stay yours and I want you to stay mine and I’m so fucking selfish, I know, but it's just so hard sometimes. I don’t know.”
“Haz,” Louis murmurs, his voice slow and sad.
“I don’t know,” Harry repeats. He removes his fingers from where they’re digging into Louis’ hips and splays them flat across his chest. It feels like Louis’ heartbeat is pounding out of his chest.
“Do you think we’ll make it?” Harry isn’t sure why he feels so sad all of a sudden, but he leaves in the morning and it’s cold outside and he’s cold inside and immigration still hasn’t cleared Louis and the girls had hugged him extra long as if they were scared they'd never see him again and he doesn’t know any of Louis’ friends and he doesn’t know how much Louis pays a month for rent or if the organic milk in his fridge is a constant or something he’s trying out and he feels selfish and irrational and inconsolable and so in love and he just needs to know.
Louis doesn’t hesitate to answer, “yes. Always come back to you, remember?" The boathouse feels like so long ago, but Harry remembers. He doesn't know how or if he could ever forget.
"Okay," Harry croaks out. "Okay."
The first morning he wakes up in New York, he makes to curl his body closer to and around Louis', but Louis isn't there.
Time always goes back faster when he's not with Louis. Days, weeks, months. Whatever. Same old song.
This time, it's less of a breakup and more of a hey, we're going to see other people and pretend that the other is okay with it.
Harry meets Amelia at a club he escapes to the very night he and Louis have that conversation.
He gets completely shitfaced and takes home a pretty black girl with wild curls and an enticing grin. He fucks her too hard and imagines her noises to be someone else's and doesn't kiss her or look her in the eyes the entire time, but she feels good around him, warm and wet and tight and. He hasn't had any real source of contact in four months, like. He feels empty.
When Harry leaves her apartment the next morning, quietly so as not to make his hungover walk of shame more awkward than it has to be, he doesn't expect to see her ever again.
He has an appointment that day, someone he's planning on hiring on as an assistant or secretary, or whatever; Louis has been nagging at him about doing so for a while now, to help ease off the load from having to run everything by himself, from the accounting to the design and build.
Harry has to admit that he's not sure if he should laugh or shut the door in her face when he sees who it is and can still feel her nails clawing down his back. He manages to maintain some bit of professionalism while going through everything with her, an Amelia Clarke, but her brown eyes are twinkling and her mouth is twitching with barely contained amusement.
To be honest, Harry feels a bit uncomfortable. But her credentials are perfect - she’s still in college, but she’s majoring in business with a minor in art, certified as an accounting clerk and, as she says jokingly, “I like furniture.” Harry isn’t going to not give her the job just because he mistakenly fucked her when he was drunk.
Amelia shows up somewhat early the next morning, even though Harry’d told her that she doesn’t really have to come in until around noon, when he finally feels almost human and plugs the shop’s phone back in and begins actually doing business rather than just carving wood with half an eye open and frantic fingers. He does his best work when he’s only had an hour’s worth of sleep, anyway.
"You're early," he tells her, rubbing his eyes and bringing his third cup of coffee up to his mouth. He's tried to make tea a bunch of times, after Louis got him hooked on it, but it always gets him irrationally angry because he can never do it good enough and doesn't have anyone to teach him how.
"I sneaked a look through your forms yesterday when you weren't looking and almost had a stroke. I have T-accounts more organized than your checkbook," she tells him.
"Case in point." She places her bag down on the coffee table hardy doesn't remember the point of but is pretty sure was made during his sculpting frenzy back when he and Louis had broken up the first time. "I'm going to need a desk, I don't think I should, like, work on your cutting table?"
"I have one upstairs," he says, already making his way up the stars. It's kind of heavy, but he manages to make it back down without breaking it or breaking himself, the latter of which is definitely an accomplishment. He can feel Amelia's eyes on the flexing expanse of his back when he places it down into a wide corner that isn't being used for anything, turning around when he's down with a smile. "Here we go. You can place everything on here now, I hope it's big enough. Let me know if you need anything, like supplies or food, I guess."
Amelia thanks him, and then they work in silence for a bit, him sharpening the edges for a table that's due tomorrow as he's still got to carve the company's name and logo into, and her scratching away furiously with a pen, a new stack of paper appearing every time Harry so much as glances over.
Out of nowhere, Amelia asks, "how formally you want us to interact with each other? Do you want me to call you boss or sir or whatever?"
"Not at all? Like, you can call me anything you want, I mean, I'm not gonna force you to address me a certain way but I'd prefer just Harry. And you can just treat me like anyone else.” She hums and gets back to work.
Harry has a bad habit of forgetting to eat when he’s working, so when Amelia asks him if she can take a lunch break a few mainly silent hours later, he has to blink long to even remember what she’s talking about.
“Lunch? Can I get it? I’m not going far, there’s a Caribbean place like, two doors down that’s good.” Harry gives some sort of agreement. “Would you like something?”
“Yeah, sure. I’m not allergic to anything. Um, wait, here’s a ten - ”
“It’s fine, you can add it to my check or whatever, I don’t mind.” Harry’s glad that he hasn’t hired an asshole.
Later, with him sitting on a stool at one side of the working table and her at the other and trying not to inhale wood shavings with every other bite, she asks, “so completely casual relationship, right?”
Harry nods, swallowing down a bit of macaroni. He’s eaten from this place before, especially on late nights when they’re the only ones open and his stomach becomes too insistent to ignore. Their food is great and cheap and somewhat fast, and the first time he tasted their macaroni, a lot different and more complex than the type he’s used to, he would swear that he had a religious experience. Louis would love it.
“Okay, since that’s all cleared... You look like shit.”
Harry snorts. "Thanks."
"You don't sound very shocked. When was the last time you had a good night's rest?"
"Two nights ago."
"Ooh, did you get laid? Was it good?"
"Verdict's still out in that one. Gotta see how it'll do me good later on. The girl was loud, though, so it at least helped my ego." Louis says that he’s either too aloof or too flirtatious. Louis also says they’re defense mechanisms, and Harry doesn’t really want to get too deep into that, if he’s being honest.
Amelia laughs, her entire face lighting up. "You're charming. But really. Is it healthy to only sleep when you’ve gotten laid?"
Harry takes a forkful of rice, chewing deliberately and slowly before swallowing down. “I don’t know. I wouldn’t know. I hadn’t had sex in, um, four months before Saturday.”
Amelia’d been taking a sip from her soda, and at this she splutters the liquid out, grabbing a napkin with grease-stained edges and wiping herself quickly before countering, “you? Dude, are you on the lam? Because I actually find that pretty hard to believe. There’s no way you can’t pick up.”
Harry shrugs. He wishes he felt as nonchalant as he’s trying to look. “I was in a relationship.” Was. God.
“And they wouldn’t put out for four months?”
“Not on the same continent.” Aloof or flirtatious.
Amelia’s face has gotten all soft, as if she’s pitying him. Harry hates pity. He’s been personally acquainted with it since his Dad died. He’s seen enough of it in his friend’s face when he told him that, no, Louis hadn’t come back to New York with him, heard enough of it in Gemma’s voice over the phone line at two AM last night with a panic attack rattling at his chest because it’d been more than twenty-four hours and he was so, so sober and he felt like he’d cheated on Louis and. Anyway. Harry’s sick of pity.
“You’ve got a Jersey accent,” he points out, attempting to and successfully managing to change the subject, although he’s almost positive that Amelia knows exactly what he’s doing.
“I do. Made a painstaking two hour relocation. Lived in a stereotypically Italian dominated city, which is like. I can’t have sex with Italians only for the rest of my life, interbreeding will come into play eventually and I’m not too into that.”
Harry raises and eyebrow and grins. Defense mechanism. “I’m Italian.”
“With a last name like Styles?”
“On my Mom’s side. My grandparents are straight from the motherland and all.”
Amelia sighs loudly. “Oh well. Explains the size of your dick. I’m sorry, was that too casual?”
Harry shakes his head, laughing a little in disbelief. “Is that good or bad?” He gets up, taking both their empty cartons and throwing them away.
Amelia stands and stretches, her shirt riding up and revealing a sliver of skin. Harry looks away and feels guilt stirring in the pit of his stomach. “I can still feel it. Definitely good.”
They last a week before Harry’s got her pinned against a wall with her blouse half undone as he thrusts up into her. Takes a month and a half to kiss her, though. Aloof and flirtatious. Harry’s pretty sure he’s figured out how to be both.
It’s like this: Amelia is here and Louis isn’t. Harry’s bed is empty and he's horrible at sleeping alone, but he doesn’t think he had that problem before. Harry’s bed is empty and the cold spot next to the wall where Louis should be feels like an abyss trying to swallow him whole. The nightmares have begun again except he feels like he’s fallen so deep into the hole this time that he definitely, absolutely will never be able to get out. There are bird feathers littering the hard dirt floor and when he picks them up, the sharp points prick him and draw blood.
It’s like this: Amelia is here and Louis is not. She’s funny and beautiful and fucks like she’s dying for it and barely passed English with a C. And to be honest, that’s exactly what Harry needs right now. He knows he’s shit for using her like this. He knows that.
It’s like this: Amelia is in New York and Louis is in fucking London and Harry is so cold and so, so lonely.
There’s a sort of disconnect, between with or without. Harry hates that he has a sort of divider in the first place, that it’s such - He doesn’t know. Time glosses over when he’s not with Louis, and he doesn’t know how to put that into words. He doesn’t want to.
There’s a guy he knew back in college, who was majoring in Design & Architecture, too. He graduated when Harry finished his sophomore year, but he was a cool dude, and they’ve kept in touch since. He’s more into grandscale things like buildings and skyscrapers than he is furniture, and has had the luck to already be part of a dynasty, of sorts, with finding a job as hard as telling his father he needed one.
Whenever clients of his need interior help, he sends them over to Harry and it’s pretty fucking awesome, getting recommended by the son in Horan & Son, one of NYC’s biggest and most successful architecture firms.
He’s getting commissions from New York’s elite every other day, and it’s awe-inspiring, because all things considered, he’s still so new to the situation. It’s nice, watching the lofty, higher-art-thou looks on their faces when they see how young he is, and turning it into something pleased and impressed when he’s finished their work.
So, like. He’s got something going for himself. He’s felt lost and aimless for so long, and after only a short reprieve back when, you know, he feels a bit sure of himself, and almost content. His job is the absolute most important thing to him, a steady factor that he’s almost positive will never fail him or leave him and fuck him up beyond measure and fixation.
Naturally, this all changes the second Louis calls.
He's out at a club with Amy, leaning against the bar and fondly watching her dance as he sips on a beer when his phone vibrates in his pocket. Harry already knows who it is. He takes a long swig from the bottle and tells himself not to take his phone out and read the text, but he’s a fucking idiot, so he does anyway.
Please dont ignore me Harry. He finishes off the beer and places a few singles under the empty bottle, slinking through the thick crowd and slipping out to the back alleyway. He leans back against the wall and stares up at the lights. It only takes a few seconds before his phone buzzes and lights up with Louis’ name.
Harry exhales and pushes his hair off his forehead. “Yeah. Yeah, it’s me.”
“Hi. Thanks for picking up. I know it’s kind of late over there.”
“It’s fine,” Harry says, voice rough. He doesn’t think about why that is, and Louis doesn’t mention it. “I wasn’t sleeping, I’m not home.”
“Oh. Okay. It’s really good hearing your voice. I’ve missed it. I’ve missed you.” Louis sounds so small and vulnerable and Harry feels so small and vulnerable and neither of them are supposed to be this way. What a pair they are. Used to be.
Harry bangs his head back against the rough wall and shuts his eyes tight. “Yeah. It’s nice hearing yours, too.” The unspoken it always is rings loudly in his mind.
“Harry, will you marry me?”
Harry’s eyes snap open just as the door for the club does. It’s Amelia, waving her small black crutch in the air with a proud grin at having managed to locate him. Harry tries to smile back, but it’s a shitty attempt, and he watches as her smile slowly fades off and her eyes suddenly become blank. On the line, Louis is repeating his name to try to regain his attention, but from the way Amelia quietly shuts the door and steps back into the flashing lights to the way he’s still been able to to hear every word, breath, that Louis has said - from just these two things alone, Harry thinks even the stupidest man could see that Louis never even lost it.
“I know this is unexpected and I’m sorry, but I was, um, I was talking to my boss and she had to go through a long-distance, too, but they didn’t give up and now they’ve been together for, like twenty years. I don’t want to give up, and if I didn’t call you tonight, I would be. I want that to be us, in twenty, fifty years. And I’m. I don’t know. I’ve tried and tried, but I can’t shake you off, and it feels like you’ve gotten underneath my bone and solidified yourself a place there and I don’t know how to dig the sad out since you’ve left. Since I’ve left, I don’t know, it’s just - I’m not trying to make this all sound sickly and poetic, I swear I’m not, because we’re not poetic but sometimes we are, like how you kissed all my fears away on a ferris wheel and how much it burns when I see photos of us. When I sleep at night, I feel like I’m missing something to align with my body and I know it’s you. I miss you so damn much all the damn time and I’m fucking sick of it, I’m sick of missing you. I want to have you.”
Harry eyes feel dry and his mouth feels like sandpaper. He wants to say many things, but all that escapes it, “we agreed,” in a desperate croak.
“I know, I know, but I honestly, genuinely believe that we’re - I sound so stupid saying this, but I feel like we were meant to be together, in any situation but especially in this one. There were fifteen kids in our old class, but from the very first day you were the only one I truly knew existed and even that I doubted at times. I don’t think anyone could ever love you as much I do." Louis lets out a staticy breath. "Simon said that if we got married, it would only take six months and then there’d be nothing holding us back.”
Harry slides down to sit on the dirty ground. He can feel the remnants of that morning’s rains on his ass and probably ruining his jeans, but he doesn’t care. The air is warm and humid, even this late at night. “Why now, Louis?”
“I don’t know, I just know that I couldn’t wait any longer. I need you.”
Harry doesn’t regret sending the chair for Louis, but he does miss having it in the apartment. It had been a very solid reminder that he hadn’t dreamt all of it up, that he and Louis really did have something, and that it’d been brilliant. Other than that, all he’s got are photographs, but wood takes so much longer to fade away than paper does. Harry’s a sentimental fool.
He cups his free hand over his mouth to try and keep the words from exiting, but all it succeeds in doing is making it sound muffled and even more pathetic than it would without. “Like crazy?” Harry feels unbearably melancholic. He thinks of Amy waiting for him inside and Louis waiting for him in London and feels a shocking chill settle in his bones.
“Fuck, Harry. Yes. Like crazy.”
The cab ride home is quiet.
A sort of mellow resignation enters Amy's eyes when Harry gives the cabbie her address instead of his. She takes up most of the seat, her back against the door, legs spread out in front of her, feet on Harry's thighs. Harry lightly grips her calf and looks down at the dark expanse of her long legs under her short gray dress.
Harry can feel her looking at him. When he finds the courage to glance back at her, she tells him, "your hands are shaking."
"Amy," Harry starts.
She hushes him. "Shh, not in a taxi, Harry."
Harry always gets the sweet ones, but he's not sure if he's ever been worthy of any of them. "C'mere."
Amelia leans her body forward and her legs back so that she's on her knees. Harry pulls her in by the neck with still shaking hands. The kiss tastes like beer and an apology for something Harry hasn't even done yet.
At her apartment, on her bed, they sit side by side and she rests her head on his shoulder. Her hair brushes his nose as she says, "I know you were talking to him.”
Harry sighs and steels himself. "You are - such a brilliant person, Amy. You're gorgeous and smart and funny and giving. But I'm not. All I do is take and take and. It's not fair for you to have to be with someone who will never be able to give all of himself to you. You deserve so much better than me."
"You don't get to choose what I deserve, Harry."
He rests his head on top of hers, softly says, "I've got to go to London, Amy."
Amy has never been one for crying or overly emotional reactions, but when Harry looks down, there's a damp spot on his jacket. "I love you, you know."
She sniffs, pulling herself away from Harry's touch and wiping her eyes. "Please leave, Harry." And he does.
While he waits to board the plane, Harry calls his mom.
"Ma," he tells her. "I'm getting married."
"To Amelia?" She sounds shocked.
"No. Not to Amy."
When Harry was ten, his Dad told him about the day he got married. They were finishing off painting a birdhouse for the young couple that had just moved in across the street. They'd come in with cans rattling the back of their car, and Harry had watched at the window, enthralled, at the way he'd carried her over the threshold.
"The day I married your mother was the single most stressful day of my life."
"Stress is bad, Dad, are you saying marrying Mom was bad?"
His dad laughed and passed him one of the smaller paintbrushes so that he could start with the more complicated curves on the left side. They were his best. "Definitely not. But her family is - was. Is. Don't tell her I said that. Nana hated me from the very second she met me, Pa didn't trust me, actually, I'm pretty sure he still doesn't. Her cousins and brothers all hackled me even while we were waiting on the altar."
"What does hackled mean?"
"Bothered, messed around with. Use the purple paint instead of white, it's more sensual."
"I'll tell you when you're sixteen, kid. Don't let your mom even know I used that word. Anyway, so half her family hated me because I wasn't Catholic and the other hated me because I was a non-Catholic artsy type who didn't go to college and was going to freeload off your mom for the rest of my life. Am I freeloading off your mom?"
"I don't know what that means, Dad, but probably. Uncle Don says you are."
"Great. Don. Donatello, I always hated his name, so stereotypically Catholic and Italian." His Dad sighed dramatically and gave Harry a look with a grimace. Harry gave the look back even though he had no idea what it was meant for. "Point is. Wedding day was annoying. And leading up to it was even worse. We had a pretty rough relationship sometimes, especially after her family got into the mix. But once I saw her coming down the aisle for me, white dress and smile and all, it was worth it, y'know? And it's still worth it. When you love someone that much, especially so much as to marry them, it's always worth it."
"Am I supposed to be learning something from this? I think I am?"
His dad laughed again. "Definitely. Moral of the story is to never ever marry a European."
"What's a European?"
"Italians, French, Polish. Those kinda people."
"Then doesn't that mean that you married a European? And what if that's who I love?" Harry looked at him exasperatedly. Adults really made no sense sometimes.
"So many questions. When I was Gem's age, Gramps told me not to marry a Catholic. I'd tell you the actual moral, but you'll look at me with judgmental eyes again, I'm afraid to say. Something gross about love. You'll get it when you're older."
"I hate that sentence, everyone uses it. Even Gem, and she's only three years older. You all suck."
"We do, I'm sorry. C'mon, let's finish painting so we can start on the cookies and the womenfolk can have something to pretend they made to bring to the newlyweds."
It's taken fifteen years, but when Louis slides the ring onto his finger and says I do, Harry thinks he finally gets it.
Harry rented a suite at one of the best hotels in the city. He wishes he could've gotten the newlywed special, but he figures he'll probably want to eat sometime in the next decade.
They jump on the bed like idiots while they're still in their tuxes, play dumb games on Louis' computer and read scathing articles on all his most hated celebrities, with a strange mix of top 40 and underground indie in the background. It's the best day Harry's had in a long time. Maybe the best ever.
It feels like they're falling back into something brilliant and classic and easy. It's always been easy falling back into Louis, and he wants to make sure that he stays this time.
"Hi, Mr Tomlinson," Louis says, putting the laptop aside and climbing onto Harry's lap, hands going up to loosen Harry's bow tie.
"Hello, Mr Styles." Harry grins. "Are you trying to get me naked?"
Louis undoes the buttons slowly. "I am succeeding in getting you naked. Stretch out your arms, I've got to get your kit off fast before I do something drastic."
With an inspiring lack of movement, they both end up naked, Louis still straddling him, grinding down with intent and kissing him slowly.
"Gonna make an honest man outta me?" Harry asks, gasping into his mouth when Louis' small hands grip tight at his waist.
Louis rubs his thumb against Harry's hip bone. "Doesn't count til it's consummated."
Louis brings a hand up to curl in Harry's hair, head tilted back to expose his neck, shutting his eyes and biting his lip while he works himself on Harry's lap. Harry watches him with wide and dilated eyes, fascinated by Louis' every moment. He feels stupidly, irrationally, uncontrollably besotted with this beautiful boy. His husband. God, that's.
Louis frees the other hand to grab one of Harry's and bring it up to his mouth, popping one, two, three fingers in and sucking wetly. "Fuck, Lou." Louis tries to smile around the digits, eyes still closed to create a devilishly peaceful appearance. Louis swirls his tongue over, under, in between the gaps and crevices; it creates a sort of ticklish sensation that feels too good to be true and has Harry arching forward to attempt to gain some sort of almost dry friction from Louis' cock rubbing against his.
Deliberately opening his eyes, hooded and dark and all fucking come hither, Louis makes sure Harry is watching him as he puts the ring finger into his mouth, too. It looks positively obscene, saliva trickling out the sides, his lips stretched so wide and pink it could almost be Harry's cock he's sucking on. Harry feels as if he's going out of his mind with want, and they're only his fingers.
Harry has to pull his fingers out. Louis' lips are left red and swollen and thoroughly fucked out. It's like all the blood in Harry's body has traveled straight to his dick; he's left reeling and woozy with need.
"Hey," Louis smirks, voice hoarse.
Harry leans forward and kisses him roughly, so hard he knows it's got to hurt Louis' over-sensitive mouth. Louis doesn't complain though, just moans and pulls at Harry's hair.
After a few frantic minutes, Louis pulls away reluctantly and tips himself to the side so that he can dig through his bag on the floor and come back up with a small tub of oil. Harry's put off for a second, but when Louis resettles himself, he pecks Harry on the mouth and rocks back and forth, even better than before, and Harry can't mind anything in the world while that's happening.
"What's the point of, fuck, God - what you were doing when there's oil?"
"Makes you all wild. Want you to finger me til I've come and it hurts. Missed having you inside me."
"Smooth talker," Harry says, lifting Louis and laying him down on his stomach, grabbing a pillow from behind to prop his hips up.
"I've already got my ring on your finger, I haven't got to charm you anymore." Louis looks over his shoulder to smile at him. Harry presses a finger into him, and Louis moans all prettily, his eyes fluttering. "Forgot how long your fingers are. 'Nother."
Harry curves his body and leans down to suck a mark onto his neck, doing as Louis said and adding a second finger, keeping a steady pace that he knows will drive Louis crazy and take him apart from the inside out. This time, though, Harry fully intends to be right here to piece him back together.
"Lou," he asks after, Louis splayed out like a star on top of his body, "are we impulsive and, like. Crazy about this?"
"Probably," Louis says. "Reckon that's how being in love is s'posed to be, though. Crazy."
Harry can't say the six months go by like lightning, but he can say that they're a lot better than time Without Louis has ever been.
He doesn't get back together with Amy, but she keeps working for him. It's weird at times, but she's never been the type to break car windows or sabotage his checkbooks or whatever, so it's cool. They're cool.
He and Louis try to talk on the phone at least once every other week, and text whenever they have a chance, even if it takes the other a while to finally reply. They're making the long distance thing work, they actually fucking are, and it's just amazing.
At the end of the six months, when Louis picks him up at the airport, Harry, like. He feels like he still knows Louis. That's exhilarating.
"Hey, sweet boy," Louis greets, pulling Harry into a tight hug. Harry grins into his hair, breathing in his scent. It's good to be home.
On the subway, Louis gives him the plan. "Right, I know you can't stay long because you have that really big commission coming up really soon, so three days max. My parents need me to watch the twins tomorrow night, the interview is on Sunday, and your flight leaves that same night. Busy weekend ahead of us, you prepared?"
Harry hums and scoots closer to Louis. "I'll manage. What've we got tonight?"
"My bed and a new bottle of lube." The lady sitting across them looks affronted, covering her son's ears. Louis winks, flashes her a smile and squeezes Harry's thigh suggestively. She gets up and moves to the opposite end of the car. Harry hides his laugh into Louis' neck.
"Are we gonna play checkers?" Harry asks, toying with Louis' fingers.
"You're such a mess," Louis complains, but his eyes are twinkling. "We're going to make biscuits - proper chocolate ones, not the bread thing you guys have - and drink tea and watch documentaries. Fully clothed."
"Yeah," Louis deadpans. "I am."
The interview starts off wonderfully.
The interviewer looks fairly young, mid-thirties or so, and they breeze through the questions. They'd practiced last night, although it's been mainly pointless, as they both already knew all the answers to, well, all the questions.
"Do you two remember your first date?"
"Um, yeah," Harry answers. "It was at this, like, really fancy cafè that Louis used to be obsessed with. They had nice muffins and huge mugs."
She makes an affirmative noise and types away at her computer. It's quiet. Harry squirms in his seat; Louis notices and takes a hand into both of his, rubbing the blunt of his nails across Harry's knuckles. The tension eases out.
"Well, Mr Styles and Tomlinson, I don't doubt the sanctity of your marriage at all, but I'm afraid that, judging by these records, I won't be able to give you the marriage visa."
It feels like all the air has left the room. "I'm sorry?" Louis asks. "We've - you're, that. Doesn't make any sense. If there's obviously nothing fake about our relationship then why can't I get the visa?"
"You have a previously standing violation on a former visa - a student one, is that correct?"
"Yeah, but his lawyer, Louis' lawyer, he said that if we. That's being cleared with, and it was years ago and this is a completely different situation, I don't. It's not like he's some sort of goddamn criminal, it was for three extra months." Three extra fucking months.
"I'm sorry, Mr Styles," she says. "But there's nothing I can do. A violation is a violation regardless of how short it was, and I am not the person to clear it."
"Then who is? Are we supposed to just, to just close our eyes and hope it gets cleared? We've spoken to dozens of people about this, dozens of times, and no one ever has a straight answer. Does anyone even have any clue what they're doing, or is our case some sort of joke to all of you?"
"Like I said, Mr Styles, this is not the office to deal with the student visa violation. I'm sorry," she repeats.
Louis is silent, gathering his things before standing. Harry laughs bitterly, pushing his chair back roughly and getting up. "I'm sure you are."
The walk back to Louis' apartment is tense and quiet. Harry feels like. Antsy. Like things are crawling all over his body.
He wants to punch something.
Louis doesn't talk at all for almost the entire time, which is very uncharacteristic for him. It isn't until they're almost at the complex that he asks, "did you still want to see that movie?"
"Yes or no, Harry. It's a simple question."
"I don't know, Louis. Don't care, doesn't make a difference either way.”
Louis huffs out a breath and quickens his pace away from Harry.
Inside the apartment, Harry immediately goes to the kitchen. Without anything to build, this is the next best way to make sure he doesn't explode. Louis follows him, sitting at the small kitchen table with his laptop open. He types and Harry cuts. They don't really speak.
"Did you move one of my files to another place?" Louis asks, a lull in the clicking. Harry is stirring the noodles to make sure they don't stick to the bottom. "Harry?"
"Why would I move any of your things, Louis? I have my own laptop." The pasta is fine so he goes back to the cutting board, starts in on the bell peppers. It's meticulous. No room for error.
"Oh, I'm well aware that you have plenty of your own things."
Harry stops cutting. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. Are you sure you didn't move anything? It wouldn't be the first time you've misplaced something, and you were using it last night for one of your dumb games."
"I'm positive I didn't move anything on your laptop. Can you stop speaking so cryptically and just tell me what you meant by that?"
"Okay. I'm not being cryptic. And it doesn't mean anything. It's just fact. You have all types of things that belong just to you, like your shop and your laptop and your Amelia. Entirely different life in New York."
"What are you - what does Amy even have to do with any of this? Like, what the fuck are you even saying?"
Louis goes back to typing. "Everything. Don't raise your voice, Harry, I'm right here and I can hear you speaking just fine." None of Harry's defense mechanisms are coming into play, but Louis' definitely are. Feel threatened, bring in all your years of private school speech to try and make the other person feel like a fucking idiot. It's interesting watching Louis use it on other people, but it sure as fuck isn't when it's being used on him. There's nothing interesting or amusing about any of this.
"My voice isn't raised, I'm not yelling. Why did you bring up Amy?"
"Why not bring her up? You've been texting her every second since you've got here."
"Louis, are you - we work together. I've texted her like, literally twice."
"Okay," Louis says, not looking up from his laptop. Harry hates that and Louis knows it.
"Can you at least look at me so we can pretend you're paying attention to what I'm saying?"
"Then don't raise your voice."
"I'm not fucking raising my voice!" Harry yells.
They've never fought before. Not serious fights, with shouting and cursing and belittling. But Harry just feels so, so angry and tired. Tired of all of this, of trying so hard for all these years and nothing ever turning out right.
Louis stares blankly at him. Harry looks back, trying to calm his breathing and get himself under control.
"Harry, while you're here, at my flat, I would really appreciate it if you would not fucking shout and throw tantrums."
Harry feels his blood run cold. "Your flat," he says quietly.
"Yes," Louis snaps. "What else would it be? I'm allowed to have my own things, too." The pasta is burning.
Harry bites his bottom lip, nodding his head slowly. He walks out of the kitchen, going into Louis' room and getting his bag. There isn't much unpacked, and after grabbing his toothbrush from next to Louis' in the bathroom, he hooks it over his shoulder and walks back out.
"Where are you going?" Louis asks when Harry goes into the kitchen to pocket his phone.
He almost doesn't answer. "Airport. I can think of a few people, or at least one, who wouldn't mind having me around."
Louis doesn't say anything until Harry is almost at the door. "That was a low blow, Harry." His voice is soft.
Feels like his chest is constricting. "So was what you said." He slams the door behind him.
Dreams on an airplane: the sun has set. He’s in a pit, there’s a dead bird lying on the floor in front of him, and he tries to feel something, anything about that, but all he can see or feel is the bloody feather in his hand.
There's an overlay, so Harry doesn't get to New York until morning. When he unlocks the door, jetlagged and weary, Amelia is sat at her desk, scribbling something down.
"Hey, boss," she greets, not lifting her head from whatever she's writing.
"Hey," Harry responds quietly, hanging his coat up before heading up the stairs to settle his things down. He wishes he could just get under his bed and sleep for days and days, but he has a big client coming in a few hours, and he can't compromise this, regardless of how much he wants to crawl under a sheet and just. He doesn't know. He wishes he hadn't walked out. He wishes they hadn't fought. He wishes a lot of things.
If Amy notices the state he's in, she doesn't comment. They go through the rest of the day without a hitch. The client is an old friend of Niall's father, so he's due to come in himself with Niall to check it out rather than just sending in a rep like they usually do. It's a good thing, keeps Harry and Amy busy cleaning up and putting out the best display pieces and pictures.
After, when the day is winding down completely, Harry gets a text from Lottie complaining about not getting to see him before he left that leaves him with his head buried in his head, breathing deeply and trying not to think about anything at all, let alone Louis and London. He hears the paper he'd been sketching on pushed aside, and then Amelia is sitting on top of the spot, pushing his hands aside and putting his head on her lap and playing with his hair, humming under her breath to sooth him.
"Amy," he tries to say, but his voice cracks so he takes a rattling breath and tries again. "Amy, I really, really don't deserve you."
"What'd I tell you about that, Styles?"
"M'sorry," he mumbles against her hip.
"Shh. I'm going to do something stupid later, probably, like act like some sort of idiotic teenager and fall back into your bed, so just don't speak now and let me seem like the wise one, okay?" He nods his agreement against her thigh.
When Harry wakes up the next morning, he's got a text from Louis: i’m sorry.
He texts back almost immediately, I'm sorry too, shouldn't have walked out.
Problem with Louis and Harry is that they're too caught up with each other to ever properly let go. Whenever Harry tries to get Louis out of his system, he's only left thinking about all the hows and whys he got there in the first place. It's a bitter fucking cycle that he doesn't see stopping any time soon. He wishes he could say it's because Louis was his first love, but he knows that's not true. Louis wasn't. Louis wasn't his first anything, but he wasthe first time any of those things mattered, so maybe that's why.
So they try the cordial thing.
In late December, after a lot of fretting and wondering if he should, he sends Louis birthday tickets for a band he knows is a sort of guilty pleasure and that he probably wouldn't have told any of his friends about and a container of Christmas cookies Harry might have made himself. The day after, on the 23rd, he gets one of those silly singing cards in the mail that he loves, along with a CD. Harry spends the entire day opening/closing it and smiling to himself like an idiot.
Big holidays, then. Christmas, birthdays (the girls included). They never really acknowledge it outside of thank-you texts and when the girls call for the same thing, but it’s there and Harry can’t say it’s what he expected them to get to, but it’s something.
On April ninth, Harry gets a call from an unknown number. He doesn’t pick up, because it’s a pretty bad day for him, to be short. It’s a Saturday, so he thankfully doesn’t have to worry about the shop at all; he’s curled up in bed under his comforters in nothing but his boxers, watching trashy soaps and stupid sitcoms on TV with varying caffeinated drinks to keep himself from having to sleep. He hasn’t eaten since the afternoon before, but he can’t be fucked to actually put in any sort of effort into fixing that. It’s two PM.
When he checks his inbox later on, after his phone bothering him about it for the past three hours, it’s - it’s Louis’ voice.
“Hi! Ignore the noises in the background, I’m kinda on a balcony. Sorry I didn’t call earlier, but I forgot my phone at my parents, so I’m using my, um, a friend’s mobile. That might have been why you didn’t pick up, or maybe it’s because you tend not to pick up phone calls on this day, which is. Why I’m calling, actually. About this day. I just wanted to remind you that no matter what you think, the accident was absolutely, 100% not your fault. It was the asshole driver who did the damage, okay, Harry, not your Dad having to pick you up from practice. I also want you to remember that you’re honestly a good person, even if you don’t always think so, and that there are lots and lots of people who lo - who love and care about you and want you to be happy. And I can say I’m one of them. So, yeah, that’s. Please remember that. Stuff.”
So there’s that.
“Harry,” Amy starts, turning his chair around so that she can get on and straddle him, holding herself steady with her arms on his thighs, “I'm breaking up with you.”
Harry’s brow furrows. “Why? Don’t do that.”
“S’cause you’re terrible in bed. You’re not satisfying my needs.” Harry raises an eyebrow. She only manages a straight face for a few extra seconds before cracking up and laughing into his shoulder. "I forced it, I'm sorry." She lifts her head, "but really. I am. For a few reasons."
"Care to tell me why?" He doesn't want to break up with her, but it doesn't feel like the other times. He doesn't feel absolutely wrecked by it. Harry wonders what that says about certain previous relationships and the one he has with Amelia.
"Well, for one, I'm breaking up with you and you seem upset but you're not denying it. Which I’m actually hurt by, as far as my ego is concerned, because I'm used to destroying the hearts of boys I dump. But I could never ruin you because you've already been ruined by someone else and that hurts my ego, too, the whole thing where you're hung over him and probably always will be."
"I'm not hung over him," Harry tries to argue. It's a weak argument, and they both know it.
"You are. And, I don't know, sometimes I feel like I'm the other woman, and I'm not too down for that, dude. Also. I got offered this pretty big internship thing so this is also my two week notice."
Harry stares at her in disbelief. "Where?"
She lays her palm on his cheek and replies, "England. It's ironic, probably."
"Fucking - " Harry starts, tilting his head back and rubbing a hand over his face. He tries not to, but then a snort escapes and he's full on laughing like a maniac. "Shit. Wow. Please tell me you're joking," he says, sobering up.
"Not really. You're losing your girlfriend and best employee all in one."
"And best friend," he adds, leaning in, forehead onto her shoulder. Her hands suddenly squeeze tight on his thighs.
"Hey, not allowed to make this sad. You've got Niall, and sometimes Aiden."
"Aiden is... Aiden, and Horan doesn't give me orgasms."
She laughs, "you're problematic."
He presses his lips against her collarbones, shutting his eyes. "Love you, Amy."
"I know. But not in the way either of us want it to be, Harry."
Three months later, when he's finally looking for another assistant, someone to replace Amelia - or at least try - he gets a phone call.
He picks up without looking at the caller id, holding the cell with his shoulder and bounding up the stairs. He thinks he left a few of the resumés at Aiden's apartment, but he can't remember. It's hard to imagine how he made it so far in his business without having Amelia around when he can't even manage a few papers. "Hello, Harry Styles of Anne's Build and Design speaking, how can I help you?”
Harry freezes, still bent over the stack he was rummaging through. “Louis?”
“Yes. Hi. How’re you?”
Harry stands up fully, staring across at the white of his walls. It’s been more than a year. “I’m... okay. What about you, how’re, how’re things with you?”
“Good! I’m travelling a bit, I guess you could say. Trying to fix some things with some people that were - are, I don’t know, like - pretty important in my life.”
Harry feels something twist in his gut. Like, it’s been fucking years and he knows he should be over it, and he just feels so stupid and pathetic sometimes. It’s ridiculous, and he almost wishes he could regret ever knowing Louis, just for making him feel like this for so long and never being able to remove it. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” He hears some shuffling on the other line, and then a steady knock downstairs. “Could you. Fuck, oh my God, could you come open the door, please?”