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The Moments When My Good Times Start to Fade

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When Louis is young, younger than he is now and younger than he’ll ever be again, he is a bit of a fickle child. He frustrates his parents with his lack of ability to make up his mind; he wants the scooter, no wait, the skateboard. He wants the bebe gun, wait, wait, no, a PlayStation. He is almost impossible to keep up with, and his mum thinks it might be ADD.

He gets tested when he’s 12 and the results come back fine. His step-dad tells his mum Louis just has a difficult time making up his mind, and his mum worries that it might transcend his adolescence and continue into his adulthood, when decision-making becomes most crucial. Louis is unsure what she means when he’s 15 and she tells him he needs more direction in his life, that he can’t continue smoking pot with his friends and skipping school if he wants to go somewhere in life.

“Is there anything you really want?” She asks.

There is. He wants a Gibson SG vintage electric guitar, solid black just like Tony Iommi. Louis’ obsession with punk and heavy metal begins when he’s 14 and continues long past the teenage angst years, and he’s one hundred percent sure he’s going to be a rockstar one day. His step-dad is supportive, buying him the guitar for Christmas one year, and although it’s not solid black like Tony Iommi, it’s good enough for Louis. For all his fickleness, Louis is not a picky child. Mark offers to pay for lessons, but Louis insists upon learning on his own, wanting to choose his own material and learn to play the songs he’ll one day play.

“I don’t want any of that ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Smoke on the Water’ crap,” he says.

When he’s 17, he wants tattoos. Jay tells him no, he’s going to regret them one day, and do you know how hard it is to get a job when you’re covered in tattoos? She refuses to pay for them, and when Louis tells Mark he wants sleeves, Mark informs him he can’t afford as many as he’s getting, but he can help him along if that’s what he really wants. For someone who isn’t even related to him by blood, Mark is a lot more considerate of his happiness than those who are.

He gets a job working at a local supermarket, which means he’s no longer able to watch his sisters 24/7, his parents need to find a babysitter, and Mark can no longer contribute to Louis’ tattoo bank. That’s okay, Louis decides, he’ll just pick up some more shifts, because he’s found the only thing he’s wanted since his music and guitar and he’s not going to let it slip between his fingers without holding tight.

The first sleeve is done gradually over the span of several months. The main focus is a grim reaper that extends from his shoulder to the centre of his arm, and it’s surrounded by hollow skulls and vines and blooming white flowers. The lower half is a mixture of musical anecdotes, from Eddie of Iron Maiden to the Ramones symbol to a Zeppelin airship, and Louis is giddy with joy. When the other sleeve is finished, he is 18, and he hugs his grimacing mum with his intricately inked arms, exclaiming, “I have everything I’ve ever wanted!”

Piercings come next, then black hair dye, which Louis discovers after a disastrous home dye job is not his colour. He opts to let it fade, only to discover it never truly will because the pigments in home hair-colour are like ink, staining the hair and drying it out to the point of permanent damage. Louis’ mum rolls her eyes, while Louis requests the stylist return his hair to its natural colour. After a few long hours, they do, and Louis tells his mum she needs to relax.

When his parents are finally divorced after a long struggle of trying to make it work, Louis is given a rude awakening regarding his reckless behaviour. his mum becomes stressed. Louis is always off with Zayn, Niall and Liam, who he meets at a Maiden concert when he’s 16 and immediately joins forces with, in their little band playing their music, and she is, for the most part, solely responsible of taking care of 4 growing girls, supporting a household of 5 children, and working full-time. One day she snaps, and tells Louis he can’t get by in life by seeking material possessions, and that he actually needs to find some motivation to do something other than play guitar and get tattoos. He’s nearing 20 and it’s about time he found some focus.

It takes almost no time at all for Louis to realize she’s right.

*

Unfortunately, it takes a bit more time for that realization to fully sink in.

By the time Louis is 19, he’s enrolled in University, majoring in English Literature because he can’t for the life of him think of anything else he’d be willing to study. He skipped far too much school in his teenage years to possibly discover any hidden academic passions. He moves into a flat with Niall, not because he’s closest with him, although he does love the bloke. He rooms with him simply because Liam and Zayn are far too uptight about money to have Louis as a roommate. Niall is lucky like that; he gets to do what he wants to do every day, and he gets fucking paid for it. He’s a bartender four days a week, a popular DJ on the weekends, and spends most of his money on weed, booze, and tattoos, yet still manages to pay his rent. Louis would punch the fucker if he wasn’t just so goddamn carefree and pleasant to be around.

They’ve all remained good friends throughout the years, and they still play music together every now and again, but while Louis is still stuck in his lax, unmotivated, uncertain teenage years, the other lads have grown up. Liam is studying marine biology, the weirdo, and while Zayn works part-time with Louis at a record store 15 minutes away from the university, he keeps his head level with his studies in business, and he, the Bradford Bad Boy himself, has the audacity to tell Louis it’s time he actually got himself motivated and did something useful with his time.

The problem is, while they’ve grown up and levelled their heads out a bit, Louis is still living in a teenage dream.

Even as he leaves his teens and settles into what is supposed to be a life of responsibility, living on his own and attending university and moulding himself into the person he’s meant to be, Louis has maintained the same mindset, the mindset that he can get along in life whilst relying on material possessions such as his guitar and his music and his friends and expect to get exactly where he wants without putting in any effort.

It isn’t until he realizes he hasn’t written a song in three years, that you can’t get anywhere in life simply by wanting something, and that he’s wasting his time grasping at straws that are quickly becoming more and more unreachable with every passing day.

It isn’t until then that it finally sinks in, and Louis realizes, for the first time in his life, he is well and truly stuck.

*

Louis is 20 when he finds the only non-material thing he’s ever really wanted, and if you asked him when he was just a boy with a guitar if that thing was a boy with a smile too wide for his face and rainbow-coloured flowers scattered atop his unruly mop of curls, he would’ve told you that you were off your rocker.

Now, he just kind of wants to say thank you.

*

The boy is named Harry Styles, and he works in a bakery around the corner from Louis’ flat.

And he’s just about the strangest person Louis has ever encountered.

He meets him on a chilly day in March when he’s walking, no, more like moping around the streets, lamenting his lack of focus in life and cursing his inability to do anything productive, when he discovers the bakery. He’s not sure why he goes in; he’s walked past it several times in his commute to the university (because, of course, he still hasn’t been able to muster up the motivation to get his licence), but nothing about it has ever particularly caught his eye.

This time, his eyes flit across the shiny glass windows of the bakery, and he spots a boy behind the counter. There is red on his face so garishly bright Louis misses the crown resting atop his head, and he appears to be wiping his eyes.

He finds himself a bit concerned for the boy, despite having never seen him before, and wants to make sure he’s okay, so he opens the door and strolls in as nonchalantly as he can. He sticks his hands in his pockets and eyes the meticulously organized display of pastries that surround the boy, who Louis realizes, from the closer distance, is a lot taller than he looks.

When the boy realizes he has company and lifts his head with a beaming smile, the first thing Louis notices is the crown of green flowers perched atop his wild, messy curly hair.

“Hi!” The boy says brightly, dragging out the ‘I’ as if it’s the longest word in the dictionary. It takes Louis a second to realize he is staring at the flower crown. He shakes himself, diverting his eyes to the boy’s smiling face. The red staining his face. when taken into consideration along with the pale flakes littered around the boy’s halo of curls, appears to be strawberry jam. When his eyes drop to the counter, where there is a mangled strawberry danish resting on the surface, his suspicions are confirmed, and the boy lets out a boisterous laugh. “Oh, right. Sorry about this.” He picks up the pastry and moves to discard it in the garbage bin standing in the corner.

“What’s this all about? Did you get overly excited and miss your mouth?” Louis quips, leaning forward on his elbow.

The way the boy shakes his head is akin to the way a puppy instinctively shakes the dampness from its fur after being unwittingly doused in water, and it’s almost sickeningly adorable. “Oh, no,” he laughs again. “Just the usual shenanigans. A few skaters came in to buy a pastry. I should’ve known from the way they were snickering to each other but I guess it was just my lion-hearted optimism blinding me as usual.” He gives a small shrug, reaching down to retrieve a wet rag and wiping the mess from atop the counter. “Anyway, yeah. As soon as they paid they threw it in my face and called me a faggot then ran out. Seems a bit of a waste to buy something just to throw it in someone’s face, but maybe my life just isn’t as thrilling as theirs.”

“Does this happen often?” Louis asks, suddenly extremely interested. There’s something about the boy that Louis finds somehow alluring, and he can’t quite put his finger on what it is. It may or may not be the way his cheeks dent inward as he smiles, revealing a boyish, rather charming pair of dimples. Louis decides he likes them.

“A couple times a week,” he says, shaking the flakes of pastry from his hair. “My guess? It’s the flowers.”

Louis bites back the question that hovers over his tongue, the desire to ask why the hell are you wearing a flower crown to begin with, and instead opts for something more appropriate in regards to the topic at hand. “Why don’t you do something about it?”

“Like what?” He says with a cheery laugh, moving to grab the broom resting against the garbage bin. Louis watches him as he sweeps the flakes scattered across the floor. He’s sort of amazed at how unfazed the boy seems to be. Judging upon the boy’s soft, delicate, pretty features and boyishly youthful face, Louis would’ve assumed the boy a lot more sensitive. “There’s nothing I can do about it. Except smile and show them it doesn’t bother me.” He flashes his teeth in a wide, manic grin, and Jesus, is there anything this kid does that isn’t adorable?

“Well, you have a lot more patience than me, then. The lightest consequences that’s come out of calling me a faggot was a fist fight.”

The boy winces visibly, his wide eyes squinting and mouth pulling into a grimace. “Ooh, wouldn’t that hurt?” He says, raising his hand to his own lip then gesturing toward Louis’ piercing.

“Well, I guess it wasn’t really a fight since a fight typically involves two equally strong parties. There’s no way I’d let anyone damage this image of perfection,” Louis says, dragging a finger slowly down his face from his temple to his jaw.

The boy throws back his head and laughs, the sound so loud it travels throughout the entire room, forcing him to cover his mouth. Although Louis usually considers himself hilarious, that was probably one of his weaker jokes, yet somehow the boy laughs as if it’s the funniest thing in the entire world. It’s not cloying, though, because there’s just something genuine about the way his eyes crinkle and the sound escapes his throat as if he wasn’t expecting it, and somehow, it’s one of the most charming things Louis has ever heard.

“Oi!” Calls a distant voice, and Louis diverts his eyes from the laughing boy to see a head poking out of what appears to be the kitchen. “Is that laughter I hear?” It’s a woman, middle-aged with fine lines across her forehead and crimped auburn hair, and while her voice is stern, there is a smile lurking at the corners of her lips. “Enough being happy and get back to work!”

The boy turns to face her and actually salutes. “Yes, ma’am! Returning to my duty this instant!” The woman nods and retreats into the willowy depths from which she arose, and the boy spins back around on his heel, spinning around once more in what appears to be just for the hell of it. He manages to salvage his flower crown from tumbling out his hair, holding it in place as he regains his balance. “Don’t worry about Martha, she’s a real lovely lady when you get to know her.”

Louis nods but can’t bring himself to say anything, still mystified by the absolute otherworldly eccentricity that colours the nameless boy standing before him. When the silence threatens to become awkward, Louis realizes he’s staring and collects himself, clearing his throat and tugging his shirt down, for whatever reason. “Right, well. Should let you back to work before the cupcake Nazi opts to use brute force this time.”

The boy does that awful booming, mouth-clasping laugh of his again (it’s not awful at all, actually), and skips toward Louis. Skips. “Well, then, it was lovely meeting you…” He trails off, prompting Louis to give his name.

Louis gets a bit lost in the gleaming trust of the boy’s green eyes and takes a moment to respond. “Louis,” he says.

“Harry,” the boy says. Louis reaches out to shake his hand and isn’t quite sure why. The boy simply laughs and grasps Louis’ shoulder gently, leaning forward and kissing him on the cheek. Louis’ mouth falls open in surprise. “Sorry,” Harry says, blushing a bit, “I’m more a kisser than a hand-shaker.”

It takes Louis a moment to grasp the situation, and he realizes it’s the second time since he’s met this kid that he’s had to collect himself. “Um,” he says with a shaky laugh, and he better not be fucking blushing, “it’s fine. Just not really used to that.”

“Well, if you’re gonna be coming back here often, you‘re definitely gonna have to,” he says with a smile.

Louis’ insides are definitely not turning to mush. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he replies, walking backwards toward the door. “Pleasure to meet you, Harry.” He is very, very tempted to call him “flower boy”, but holds his tongue.

“Charmed,” Harry says, and lifts the bottom corners of his apron as he bows his head and fucking curtsies.

*

Louis has plenty of things he could be doing with his time, countless things to keep him occupied during the day. He has class in the morning, work in the afternoon till the evening, and at home he’s got FIFA, Niall, his guitar and speakers that go up to 100.

Yet somehow, Louis finds himself back in the bakery every day that week, and the week after, chatting idly with Harry behind the counter, texting and making Harry laugh behind the customers as he serves them, attempting to knick free pastries while Harry swats his hand away only to give him a free bag of them before he leaves.

He has other things he probably should be doing, like homework, or working on his music, but that’s all boring and trivial in comparison to hanging out with Harry.

“I have never heard of any of these bands in my life,” Louis says as Harry reveals to him to contents of his iPod.

“Kinda hard to when you waste all your time with mainstream stuff, innit?” Harry winks at him, retreating behind the counter when a customer enters.

The customer is a petite woman with a rather sizable bosom, and Louis stands behind her, imitating the size of her breasts with cupped hands and a twisted expression, causing Harry to crack up as he serves her requested blueberry muffin.

“Anyways,” Louis says as the woman exits, “regarding your egregiously ignorant mainstream comment, do I really look mainstream to you?” He holds his arms out, gesturing to his all black attire and inked arms, then circling a finger around his face, pointing to each of his piercings.

“I suppose not,” Harry says with a laugh.

“And what’s wrong with mainstream anyway? You’re not one of those hipsters, are you? Oh god, you totally are. That’s what all the flowers are about then. That’s the new hipster trend, innit?”

Harry throws his head back in a wild laugh, covering his mouth in an action Louis has begun to call ‘the Harry laugh’. “I don’t think I’ve seen any hipsters wearing flowers. Not yet anyway. It’s not a trend yet but who knows, maybe I’ll inspire it. I’m not a hipster though, not really. I love Katy Perry and Lady Gaga as much as the next person. Not a hipster. Just Harry,” he says with a toothy grin.

“Quoting Harry Potter now, are we? How very mainstream of you, Harold.”

Another Harry laugh. Louis hopes one day it’ll stop being so fucking charming so his heart will no longer melt every time he sees it, but he can’t really see that happening. “Already told you. Not a hipster. I‘d rather be like you honestly.”

“What’s that? Hopeless and awkward and desperate for love?”

“Friends!” Harry exclaims, catching the reference and clapping gleefully when Louis points at him in confirmation. “I’ve always wanted to be a punk rocker with flowers in my hair. I figured I couldn’t pull off the punk rocker thing so I just opted for the next best thing.”

Louis smirks at him. “Sandi Thom?”

“Yes!” Harry bends over the counter and pulls Louis into a one-armed hug. “So you have heard of one artist on my play list!” He looks proud of himself, adjusting his flower crown with a crinkly-eyed smile, and Louis wonders if there’s anything this kid does that’s not utterly fucking genuine and endearing. He really hopes there isn’t.

“Christ, I’d hate to see what you’d do if I knew two.”

“I think you’d rather love it, actually,” Harry says with a cheeky smile and a wink, averting his attention to the door as it chimes and another customer strolls in.

Well, that was unexpected.

*

“Hey, Lou,” Niall says as he enters the flat, throwing his keys on the coffee table.

Louis is fixing a sandwich in the kitchen. “Hey, mate. Working tonight?”

“Nah, I got the night off,” he replies, plopping down on the couch with a sigh and flicking on the telly. “I was talking to my boss at the pub, and he says they’re doing an open mic night next Friday.”

“Well, doesn’t that sound delightful,” Louis deadpans, licking a slab of peanut butter from his finger. “And you’re telling me this because?”

“Dunno,” he shrugs. “Thought you might be interested. You know, instead of just playing in your room all the time.”

He sits down next to him, crossing his feet on the table and taking an exaggerated bite of his sandwich. “Thanks but no thanks mate, think I’ll stick to the deafeningly loud applause situated in my room. What?”

“I’m always offering to help you out and you always shut me down.”

“Because I haven’t got anything to play, Niall,” he says with a laugh. “Besides I doubt any of your clientele would be interested in anything I’ve got to offer.”

“You don’t need to write your own stuff, man. And I’m pretty sure most of the people there would be too pissed to even give a shit.”

“Exactly. So it’s not even worth it then.”

“That’s your excuse for everything. ‘It’s not worth it’. You’re actually the laziest sod I’ve met in my damn life, and I’ve met Zayn.”

“Well, I’m flattered my lethargy has managed to surpass even the most legendary of lazy bastards. It’s an honour, truly,” he says, dramatically bowing his head.

“When was the last time you picked up your axe, man? I haven’t seen you with it in ages. When was the last time you even wrote a song?”

“Guitar? Dunno, a few weeks. Song? Kinda hard to write when you haven’t got any inspiration.”

“Well, that’s cause you don’t fucking do anything. How do you expect to get inspired when you just sit on your lazy arse all day and do nothing?”

“Can always count on you to skip the sugar and go straight for the spice, Nialler,” Louis says with a thin smile. “Thanks, mate.”

“I’m serious though, Lou. Music’s the only thing you’ve ever cared about. If you give up on that what else have you got?”

“Three pains in my arse that no medication could possibly fix. Actually, scratch that, two pains in my arse. Liam’s too nice to be lumped with you two tossers.”

“You need to get out more, Lou. Do shit, you know.”

“Well,” Louis says reflectively, licking a bit of peanut butter from his fingers, “the last time I wrote a song was when I was angsting over my parents getting a divorce, and that was no fault of my own.”

“What’s your point?”

“My point is I didn’t do anything about it, so I shouldn’t have to do things to write music.”

Niall rolls his eyes. “Don’t be a cunt. It affected you and that’s why you wrote about it. Nothing affects you if you don’t do anything.”

“Christ, you’re comparing me to Zayn, look at you. Going all deep, philosophical stoner on me.” Louis gives him a once-over and shakes his head. “Doesn’t suit you.”

“Yeah, and lazy bastard doesn’t suit you. You have way too much talent to let it go to waste.”

“So what exactly is it you want from me then, Nialler?” Louis asks patronizingly, leaning closer to Niall and fluttering his eyelashes expectantly.

“Go out. Do stuff,” Niall emphasises, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “Fucking talk to people, I don’t know. Stop using lazy as an excuse and actually do what you want.”

He isn‘t exactly wrong, actually he‘s completely right. But Louis doesn‘t want to give him the satisfaction, so he just shrugs. “Well, if you must know,” he says through the last bite of his sandwich, “I have been doing things.”

“With what? And don’t tell me homework because I haven’t seen you touch a fucking book since sixth form, and that doesn‘t count as anything anyway.”

“You’ve probably noticed I haven’t been home as much lately,” he says vaguely, which perks Niall’s interest.

“Like what?”

“Just… stuff.” He knows he’s being an arsehole, but so is Niall, so to Louis it’s completely justified. And if he’s referencing going to the bakery with Harry, he won’t confirm it, because Niall would have a field day and then he’d tell Zayn and Liam and Louis isn’t quite ready for that kind of exposure just yet.

Mostly, though, he just doesn’t want to give the prick the satisfaction.

“Are you keeping secrets from me, Tommo? Because no secrets is definitely apart of the roommate agreement.”

Yeah. He probably walked right into that one.

“All right, calm down there, Sheldon. And there are no secrets. I always tell you when I’m getting a new tattoo and that.”

“So you’re telling me you’ve been sneaking off every day to get new tattoos? That’s a bit extreme for one, and another, you haven’t told me that either, so it would be a secret.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “It’s nothing for you to concern yourself with.”

“Okay, I see how it is. But mark my words, Tommo, I’m gonna be watching you from now on. I’ll find out what you’ve been hiding from me.”

“And I’ll be shaking in my boots from here on out.”

“I’m not joking, you know.”

“I know.”

“Good.”

*

It isn’t that Louis doesn’t want his friends to know about Harry.

It’s just. It’s new. He’s new. And Louis just wants to keep it to himself for a while.

Well. That and his friends are the biggest bunch of idiots in the entire world and if they knew he fancied someone they’d make it their job to make Louis’ life miserable and take the absolute piss out of him any chance they could get and demand to meet him and make sure when they did to tell as many embarrassing stories about Louis as possible.

That definitely has something to do with it, and Louis isn’t ready to take any chances just yet.

*

It’s May now, two months since his first encounter with Harry, and somehow he’s managed to visit the bakery almost every single day since then.

Louis learns a lot about Harry from their conversations in the warm, aromatic, pastel-coloured confines of the bakery, and most of the knowledge he acquires isn’t exactly unexpected.

He learns that Harry seldom goes anywhere without his camera, which of course is one of those ancient Polaroid contraptions that develops the photos instantly and dispenses them from the bottom because, despite Harry’s hesitancy to admit it, the kid is a fucking hipster. It isn’t surprising that he uses it to take pictures of ‘beautiful things’, because Harry is not just a hipster but a bit of a hippie, and the walls of his room are apparently covered from ceiling to floorboard with endless photos of random objects, plants, people, animals, etc., because Harry is just quirky like that.

He’s a bit surprised when he learns that Harry’s dream job, aside from photography, is travel journalism, but it makes sense when Harry explains it. He says he wants to travel the world and experience everything it has to offer, he wants to write about it and document how it makes him feel and how connected he is to it all. He wants to experience, he wants to feel, he wants to see beauty in all its forms and incarnations.

It makes sense that Harry is so irrevocably enamoured with things he considers to be beautiful, because, well, Harry is rather beautiful himself. Not just because of his dimples, or his ridiculously curly hair, or the way his bright, impossibly wide green eyes light up at pretty much anything that crosses his line of vision. Harry is just beautiful, in every way, and Louis feels like a right fucking sap for thinking that, but he finds he doesn’t really care.

The other things Louis learns of aren’t as surprising. He learns his favourite pastries are cupcakes, his favourite flavour is vanilla, he charms the pants off of everyone he meets but is largely avoided at school for his quirky personality and rather interesting headgear, but of course that does nothing to falter his smile. He learns that his favourite time of the year is Christmas because it is one of the only times almost everyone in the world is happy and the best Christmas present he ever received was his camera and his iPod.

He learns that embarrassment is completely foreign to Harry and he will do absolutely anything, including allowing his older sister to apply make-up to his face and post pictures all over the internet, just to make someone smile. This is made abundantly clear when Harry whips out his phone one day and shows Louis, in succession, photos of him dressed in a fluffy pink tutu, goth make-up and leather attire, and one of him just in a white T-shirt and a glittery gold thong, and Louis nearly knocks over an entire row of pastries in his burst of hysterical laughter.

Louis figures you’re far past the point of worrying about embarrassment when you wear a crown of pink flowers in your hair every day of the week, and Louis finds that surprisingly admirable.

He’s always considered himself fairly comfortable with whom and what he is, but he had never seen true security and comfortableness in one’s own skin before he met Harry.

And that’s sort of really amazing.

The final thing Louis discovers, that may be the most important and least surprising of them all, or most surprising, depending on how you look at it, is that he’s completely and utterly mad for the boy.

Because Harry is. Well, it’s hard to explain in words what Harry is. Louis doesn’t think he’s ever met anyone like him. He’s got this odd, sort of gangly look to him; his features are far too big for his soft, baby face, the sharp curve of his jaw startlingly masculine in contrast with the wide, innocent depths of his bright green eyes and the soft, feminine fullness of his plush pink lips. His body is long and lean, muscled in all the right areas and soft in all the most tempting, yet he has this vibrant, child-like energy about him, that is so startling and bizarre when it is emanating from such a large, broad-shouldered body, and then there’s his face again. Soft, sweet, dimples denting the corners of his cheeks where his skin meets his lips, he hardly looks his 17 years.

The funniest thing about Harry, Louis thinks, is the flowers in his hair. It isn’t that he just wears them for fun sometimes, or for special occasions, although Louis’ not quite sure what special occasion would require such accessories. Harry wears flowers in his hair so often Louis doesn’t think he has ever seen him without them. The petals are typically pink and white with a sunny yellow centre, scattered around his halo of curls sporadically as if he sprinkled them onto his head without bothering to look into a mirror. Given that Harry was a wee bit of a loon whose head seemed to be perpetually surrounded by a flurry of clouds, Louis certainly wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case.

Funny and sarcastic yet in no way obnoxious, silly and childish and utterly eccentric yet somehow one of the most intelligent and articulate people Louis had ever come across. Somehow, Harry, the boy who tried to balance an apple strudel at a 90 degree angle atop his nose, and the boy who told Louis coming out and wearing flowers in his hair was one of the most liberating experience he’d ever been through because in a way he was no longer colour blind, as he finally saw the truth in what people thought of him and learned to accept it, are one and the same. It still boggles Louis’ mind how such a person, someone so pure and sweet and full of wonder can even exist, and he finds himself a little more in awe of him every day.

He is still easily the strangest person Louis has ever met, and most of the time Louis’ mind is caught in a war between, “I really, really want to kiss you” and, “God, how the fuck are you even real?” There are so many layers to Harry that examining him would be like pulling the leaves of an artichoke from the core one by one (an analogy which Niall would greatly appreciate; the boy had a strange, insatiable fondness for spinach artichoke dip), only 10 times more exhausting. Harry wears his heart on his sleeves and his soul in his eyes, yet somehow he is still a total enigma.

Louis is completely and utterly mad for the boy, and he has absolutely no idea what to do about it.

*

Louis comes home from the bakery one day, smiling from ear to ear, to find Niall, Zayn and Liam sitting in a tight row on the couch, staring up at him sternly.

It looks as if they’ve been waiting.

“Uh, guys…?”

“Louis,” Niall sighs, “this is an intervention.”

“Are you really sure that’s what we should be calling it, Niall? That doesn’t really fit, does it?” Liam inquires, scratching the back of his newly shaved head.

“Yeah, Niall, we’re not busting him for crack or heroin, or anything,” Zayn adds.

“Fine!” Niall seethes. “Then we’ll call it a you-better-tell-us-what-you’ve-been-doing-or-who-you’ve-been-seeing-or-we’ll-stalk-you-everywhere-you-go… ervention.”

“I’m sorry but what the fuck are you guys talking about?”

“We think you’ve been keeping secrets from us, Louis. And it needs to stop,” Liam says, standing up to approach Louis and placing a hand on his shoulder.

“Jesus, from the sound of your voice, Liam, you’d think you really were busting me for crack,” Louis says, shrugging off his jacket.

“Or heroin,” Zayn adds with a snicker.

“So who is it then?” Niall asks anxiously. “Who’ve you been seeing?”

“I’ve not been seeing anyone, Niall…”

“Don’t bullshit us, Tommo, we know you.”

“And when have you ever known me to ‘see’ someone?”

“Never,” Liam says, sitting back on the couch. “That’s why we know something’s up.”

“If you’re not working, you’re here. And you’ve barely been here at all lately. What else could you possibly be doing?” Zayn adds.

“You don’t even live here -”

“Louis…”

“All right, fine!” Louis exclaims, quickly growing tired of their furrowed brows and questioning looks. He hasn’t got anything to hide anyway. “Look, I haven’t been seeing anyone. Not technically. But I’ve met someone.” He shrugs, keeping his voice nonchalant. “And I’ve been going to see them. A lot. But I haven’t been seeing them, like the way you’re implying. He’s just a mate.”

“And does this mate have a name?” Liam says eagerly.

“It’s Harry. He works at the bakery by the flat.”

Niall’s eyebrows narrow. Oh dear. “The one with the flowers in his hair?”

“Um, yes. Him.”

“Wait a second,” Zayn says, “he wears flowers in his hair? What?”

“Yeah,” Niall says, snapping his fingers as if collecting his thoughts, “I’ve walked past the place a couple o’ times. Think I even went in once to get a bagel or summat. Yeah, he’s a right weirdo. Wouldn’t quit smiling at me and he had this like, crown on his head. It was made of roses. Fucking roses, for Christ sake, Louis, that’s where you’ve been sneaking off to?”

“I haven’t been sneaking off, you bloody lunatic. Stop being so dramatic. And he’s a nice guy. Nicer than you lot, definitely,” Louis says with a disdainful glare, feeling an odd bubble of defensiveness toward Harry rising in his chest.

“Oh, I’m sure he’s nice,” Zayn says suggestively, lighting a cigarette. “Very nice.”

“Oh, piss off. I haven’t been fucking him, if that’s what you’re implying.”

“Of course that’s what I’m implying…”

“Yeah, well, you’re wrong. I’ve just been hanging out there. Haven’t got much else to do during the day so why shouldn’t I?”

“So you like him then?” Liam grins, and it’s moments like this that Louis is grateful for the sappy sod’s presence. He’s the only one with enough courtesy not to take the piss.

“Sure,” Louis shrugs. “Yeah, I do.” Niall makes a face, one that seems to be a mix of distaste and confusion. “What is it, Niall? Do you have a problem with that?”

“Nah, I mean, you like what you like, but… him? Just wouldn’t have pegged him as your type, you know?”

“And what is my type, exactly? Blokes I pull when we go out? Because I wouldn’t exactly peg those types as ideal mates, you know.”

“I believe the word you’re searching for is ‘boyfriends’, Louis. You can say the word you know, it’s not gonna kill you,” Zayn says through a puff of smoke.

Louis rolls his eyes. “I know, you bloody tosser, I’m not afraid of the word.”

“Then how come you’ve never had one?”

“I dunno, just never found anyone I liked enough, I suppose.”

“And the bloke you do is a fucking flower child?” Niall says, his mouth twisting at the words, as if it’s a concept that’s impossible for him to grasp.

Louis is annoyed now, and suddenly wants to hide nothing. “Yes!” He bellows. “Yeah, okay? I fancy a fucking flower child. What’s so wrong with that? Nothing, all right? ‘Cause you know what, Harry’s nice. He’s nice, and he’s funny, and he’s smart, and he’s not just a fucking crown of flowers for you to make fun of. He wears it because he likes it, and he doesn’t care what arseholes like you think, and I think that’s pretty fucking great, to be honest. And why should I have to question who or what I like just because you guys didn’t expect it to happen?”

Everyone, including Louis, is completely still following his unexpected outburst. Louis stands there, chest heaving, eyes flitting back and forth between the three as they stare up at him. Zayn drums his fingers on his thighs, the ash of the cigarette in his hand growing longer in the continuing silence, while Niall chews his fingernail as his eyes flicker around awkwardly, his mouth twisted inward. Liam, on the other hand, simply smiles brightly.

He is the first to break the silence

“Well then. Now that that’s settled. When are we meeting him?”

*

The boys finally meet Harry after exams in June, and Louis is both excited and extremely nervous.

Excited, because this will be the first time he’s ever hung out with Harry outside of the bakery, and now that it’s summer and they’re both off school, they’ll have a lot more time to spend together outside of work hours.

He’s not particularly nervous that Harry’s coming to his flat, because he’s been friends with Harry for 3 months now and, despite fancying him, they’ve come to be very good friends, and he’s accustomed to spending long amounts of time with him.

No, he’s nervous because this long amount of time won’t be spent alone.

Instead, they’ll be joined by three annoying, stupid, nosy tossers by the names of Niall, Zayn and Liam.

It isn’t that the lads are particularly judgmental people. They’re just very skeptical, and when they hear “teenage boy with flowers in his hair”, the thing that comes to their mind first is weirdo. But, to their credit, they’re pretty open-minded guys, so when Louis advises them to be on their best behaviour when Harry arrives, they oblige without much hassle. When Niall makes a deflowering joke upon Harry knocking on the door, Louis shoves a pillow in his face and warns him the flat won’t be such a peaceful place for pulling girls if he keeps it up, which leaves the boys howling with laughter as he rises to let Harry in.

Harry enters with a wide smile and a sizable bag of pastries, which he shakes in front of the lads’ faces as if they’re his dogs anticipating their treats. The boys give woops of approval as Harry tosses the bag onto the coffee table.

“He’s definitely a keeper, Lou,” Niall says through a mouthful of apple strudel.

“Why didn’t you tell us he would come bearing gifts?” Zayn says, pulling apart a blueberry muffin. “We would’ve cleaned up the place for him. Maybe even stolen Louis’ throne for him to sit on.”

The grin on Harry’s face stretches further than the Nile River, his green eyes gleaming even in the dull light of the flat. “I’m surprised he didn’t mention it,” Harry says through his teeth, “I give him free pastries almost every day.”

“Do we all get a family discount?” Niall says, red staining his grin.

When Harry turns around to give him a thumbs up, his smile still firmly in place, Louis realizes he’s never seen Harry out of his apron before. He checks him out quickly, eyes flitting over the white Henley draped along his torso and the tight black jeans painted across his hips. He looks good enough to eat, his crown of choice for the day an assortment of red and white carnations, and Louis has to clear his throat to dislodge the words caught between his vocal chords.

“That’s a rite of passage you have to earn, lads,” he says, moving closer to Harry and clapping him on the shoulder. Harry beams at him, and Louis doesn’t have enough strength not to smile back. When he turns his attention back to the boys, they’re smirking at him, taking the piss with their mischievously twinkling eyes. Louis resists the temptation to tell them all to fuck themselves.

“All right. So what’s on the agenda then?” Liam breaks the silence. “FIFA?”

Louis prompts Harry with his eyebrows.

“Sounds lovely.”

*

Thankfully, the boys like Harry.

In fact, they like him so much they insist he return as soon as possible, and every time he does, decide to stick their noses in and demand to know why the fuck they aren’t dating yet.

Louis is less than impressed.

*

The summer passes quickly.

Louis visits Harry in the bakery when he’s working, and Harry visits him at the music shop, joking around with him and Zayn during their break. Harry comes to the flat a few times a week to hang out with the boys. Without fail, he walks in each and every time with a smile and a bag of pastries, which get tossed to the side for later when the munchies settle in.

They smoke weed with the boys, and go out to eat, and Louis laughs and shakes his head at the way Harry eats his pizza starting from the crust because is there anything Harry does that isn’t quirky? They go for walks when the weather is nice, and Harry is never without his camera, always snapping pictures and staring at them giddily for a moment before sticking them in his messenger bag, which he is also never without, and they make up stories about the people they pass along the way. It’s stupid, and silly, and feels a lot like a high school romance (only with a lot less kissing than Louis would like, or rather, no kissing at all), but Louis finds he doesn’t really mind.

In fact, it sort of feels like he’s making up for lost time.

Louis starts calling him ‘Curly’, and Harry starts calling him ‘Lou’, and it feels a lot like best friends, which is the opposite of what Louis wants but is still pretty fucking great. Harry is so amazing; he’s funny and warm and sweet and bursting with positive energy that’s hard for Louis to not feed off of, and Louis begins questioning, as he grows fonder and fonder of Harry every single day, when he became such a fucking sap.

They play football a few times, which is brilliant, because Louis hasn’t picked up a ball in years, having abandoned the sport when he’d discovered the guitar, and he’s a bit slower now, lungs weaker and more prone to exhaustion due to his tobacco abuse, but he’s still better than Harry, who’s quite rubbish but doesn’t let it hinder his enthusiasm. He hits Louis in the face with the ball once, and it hits him right in his lip piercing, which results in a mess of blood and groaning and a plethora of disinfectant when he gets home. Harry gasps as Louis goes down, and crouches down to grasp Louis’ face and inspect it frantically, and as he mutters ‘sorry, sorry, sorry, god, I’m sorry,’ over and over, Louis stares up at him, taking in the way his cheeks are flushed deep pink from exertion, his lips a sinful shade of red that stands out against the fairness of his skin, and he wants to kiss him, momentarily forgetting about the pain.

Louis wants to kiss him, but of course he doesn’t, because he always wants to kiss Harry and he never does. It’s okay though, because Louis doesn’t need to kiss Harry to enjoy his time with him.

When Harry demands they go swimming at the public pool, Louis protests, because people like Louis only end up on the receiving end of dirty looks in places like that, but Harry drags him along anyway. Louis keeps his clothes on, although he’s wearing a t-shirt and most of his tattoos are on display, which, as he predicted, renders him on the receiving end of various dirty glares from the worried mothers and old folk around him, and rolls up his trousers to sit at the edge of the pool and stick his feet in. He watches as Harry swims all by his lonesome, splashing water at Louis every now and again and demanding Louis time how long he can hold his breath underwater. Louis rolls his eyes but obliges, and the highest count is 26 seconds, which Louis deems is in thanks to his smoke-free lungs.

Harry comments that his sister tells him he looks like baby Tarzan when he emerges from underwater, and Louis can’t help but smile when he notices that is very much true. Harry looks adorable as his head rises from beneath the water, his curls sticking to his face and mouth falling open to catch his breath, and Louis just really wants to kiss him on the nose.

It’s brilliant, being with Harry, and Louis is happier than he’s been in a long time, and the boys must notice, because they’re constantly asking if he and Harry are dating yet, which Louis always responds with a roll of his eyes and a stern ‘no’. They grow more disappointed each time they ask, and tell Louis he should just write the bloody boy a love song already, get both things off his chest, and Louis thinks they may be right, yet he still can’t bring himself to write anything.

Even with Harry around, making him feel things and inspiring him to see the good things in life, he’s still stuck in the frustrating state of writer’s block. There are fleeting moments where he’ll be lazing around, watching re-runs of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, or half-heartedly attempting to do homework, where he’ll feel a sudden burst of inspiration and make a mad-dash to his room to get started on something, but as soon as he reaches his closet door and grasps his guitar between his fingers, the moment is gone.

It makes him angry, and frustrated, and he feels useless, because he’s never fucking been good at anything and it isn’t likely he’s going to start now,

On the bright side, at least he has Harry to think about now, rather than dwelling on what a failure he is, because even though things aren’t exactly where he wants them to be, he has the power to change that at any time, unlike his stupid inability to make use of his passion for music. There are many ways he can change his relationship with Harry to become more of what he wants it to be.

Unfortunately, changing that requires just as much motivation as writing does, and, well, Louis has never really had an abundance of that.

*

“Dude, seriously,” Zayn says one afternoon, “if you don’t swallow your fucking pride and kiss him soon, I will.”

“Yeah, man,” Niall adds, “the kid’s a fucking miracle. You’re a fucking idiot if you don’t.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “This coming from the people who laughed at me when I told you who he was.”

“Hey, I didn’t laugh,” Liam says defensively.

“That’s because we didn’t know him,” Niall shrugs. “You know how we can be sometimes.”

“Hence, why I didn’t let you meet him for the longest time,” Louis snarks, licking a stripe along the rolling paper in his hand and sealing it shut.

“Look, mate, how long has it been?” Zayn asks. “Like… five months?”

“Five months of burning, pining and perishing,” Liam says in a rare moment of sarcasm. Niall snickers, and Louis flips them the bird.

“Don’t even deny it, Lou,” Niall says. “I live with you. You think I don’t hear you in your room listening to Courtney Love and shouting, “One day you will ache like I ache!” Zayn and Liam burst into laughter at Niall’s dramatic shout, and Louis, for what is probably the millionth time, questions why he’s even friends with them.

“Fuck you. Fuck every single one of you,” he groans, slumping in his chair and lighting the joint. “You’re just a bunch of fucking cunts. And for the record, I have not been listening to Courtney Love. He’s full of shit.”

“Maybe not,” Niall acquiesces, “but don’t think I don’t see pictures of curly hair and flower crowns floating around in your eyes at breakfast, and when you’re in the shower wanking…”

“Shut the fuck up!” Louis half-yells, but there is laughter in his voice. “I’m not that pathetic.” It isn’t really convincing, because he really is that pathetic. He has been pining and he knows it; he just doesn’t want to admit that the only reason he hasn’t done anything is because he’s a fucking coward.

“It’s not pathetic,” Liam says, “I’d say it’s about time, actually.”

“You already told us your fancy him, Lou,” Zayn says, “no point going back on it now.”

“I’m not going back on it,” Louis says, because he never once denied his feelings for Harry. He knows they’re there, and that they grow every single day. It doesn’t mean he has any clue what to do about them. “I never said I didn’t.”

“Then what the fuck are you waiting for? Kiss him already. Then maybe you’ll quit being such a miserable twat.”

“I am not being a miserable twat. And I’m not gonna kiss him. I’m not gonna do anything. We’re too good of friends to go and ruin it. I‘m not that far gone that I can‘t just be friends with him.” When he looks up, he is met with three pairs of raised eyebrows. “What? It’s true.”

“All right, Lou. Whatever you say,” Zayn says with a smirk, reaching over to knick the joint between his fingers.

“Yes, it is whatever I say. Because I am the maker of my own destiny, and destiny says Harry and I are just friends.”

“Right,” Niall says sarcastically, smirking at Zayn, “sure. Very convincing.”

Louis growls at them. Fucking twats.

He really needs to find new friends.

*

When Louis does kiss Harry, a week and a half later, there is a crown of small green flowers perched atop his curls and flecks of flour blotched across his pale skin.

They are icing cupcakes in the kitchen and Harry is swatting Louis’ hand away each time he attempts to sneak a bite of one of them. Louis pouts and mutters ‘Just one bite’ in an over-the-top chipmunk voice, and Harry giggles at him and tells him he’s provided him with enough free pastries to feed an entire homeless shelter.

“What have I done that is so horrible you will no longer agree to spoil me?” He whines, but he doesn’t really care, because as good as the cupcakes are they are nowhere near as sweet as Harry.

“You’ve taken advantage of my trusting nature and good intentions to fulfill your gluttonous temptations,” Harry says dramatically, slamming the piping bag on the counter for effect. He giggles afterward, which ruins any chance the action had of being intimidating. Not that Harry was even capable of being intimidating with his innocent, dimpled smiles and fucking flower crowns.

Louis snickers, turning around to lean against the counter. “But you make it so easy.”

“Blame it on my flower child optimism,” Harry says with a pop of his foot and a flick of his hair which sends his crown tumbling to the floor. It falls into a small pile of flour, and Harry shakes it off as he picks it up, placing it atop his head with concentrated precision. There is flour on his palm as he lifts it to rub at his face, leaving a ghostly streak of powder smeared across his cheek and nose, but he doesn’t appear to notice. When he looks at Louis, his eyes and teeth sparkle as he smiles at him, and he looks completely ridiculous, yet for some reason Louis can’t take his eyes off of him.

“Harry,” Louis says, clearing his throat. “You’ve got a bit of flour…” He pokes his nose in indication.

His smile doesn’t falter as he reaches to wipe his nose but seems to think better of it, his eyes taking on a mysterious glint as he looks at Louis again.

What he does next catches Louis completely off-guard.

He leans forward, eyes squinting and teeth disappearing behind pursed lips as he rubs his nose against Louis’ in an Eskimo kiss. Louis’ breath hitches at the contact, remaining stuck in his throat as Harry pulls back and flicks his cheek gently. He can feel himself flushing as Harry speaks, “So do you.” Their faces are inches apart now but their eyes remain locked, Harry smiling serenely at him while every single one of Louis’ nerves travels to the bit of skin Harry’s previously occupied.

Louis is so overwhelmed by the pureness of the gesture, the unabashed sweetness and innocence in the brush of Harry’s nose and the twinkle in his eyes, that he can’t control the impulse that overcomes him. His eyes close as he surges forward, missing the way Harry’s flutter shut as Louis rests his hand on his shoulder and captures his lips in a kiss. Harry’s lips are still beneath his but not unresponsive, and he tastes like cupcakes and surprise and innocence. He tastes as sweet as Louis knew he would, and Louis is helpless to keep tongue at bay as it softly flicks between their lips, parting them so they mould together more artfully, desperate to finally taste him.

The kiss lasts longer than he intends it to - he’s not sure he even intended to do it in the first place - and his hand remains in place on Harry’s shoulder, though he itches to slide it into the silky curls at the back of Harry’s head and slip his tongue deeper inside, but he doesn’t. He still isn’t sure if this is what Harry wants and he doesn’t want to push it any farther than he already has. Harry’s hands remain limp sticks of jelly against his own hips, but he doesn’t push Louis away, and Louis can feel Harry’s lips move softly beneath his.

His heart is in his throat as he finally pulls back, pressing a gentle, feather light kiss to the bow of Harry’s lip. He feels his insides twist as he takes in Harry’s face, pupils blown as wide as his eyes, red, slick lips parted and still so inviting. Neither says a word as they stare at each other, and Louis is so tempted to kiss him again he thinks he might die. But Harry isn’t asking him to, he is simply staring at him in confusion, and Louis decides, for the sake of his sanity, to go with what he considers the only other option.

So he bolts. He retrieves his jacket from atop the counter and bolts, leaving Harry staring after him.

He doesn’t look back, and he doesn’t see the way Harry reaches up to brush his fingers across his lips, a shy smile slowly forming as his cheeks bloom as pink as the flowers resting in his hair.

*

The boys are over when Louis arrives home, and Louis doesn’t even bother to respond to their greeting, simply falling against the couch between Niall and Liam and burying his face in a pillow to stifle a groan.

“Rough day then, I take it?” Niall quips uselessly in that stupid accent of his.

“You really are a very keen observer, Niall,” Louis snaps, throwing the pillow in his face.

“Did something happen with Harry?” Liam asks, as if he already knows the answer.

“Why do you guys always assume everything has to do with Harry? I have a life outside of wooing him, you know.”

Liam and Niall exchange a knowing look, which turns into a laugh as they glance at Zayn in unison. Louis wants to hurl them all through a 20-story window. “Well, he seems to be all you care about these days,” Niall says matter-of-factly. “You know you haven’t even picked up your guitar since you started going around with him?”

“We’re not going around, Niall,” Louis protests, “we’re just friends. And I have so picked it up. Just… not as much as I used to.” He cowers at the last sentence, realizing that Niall is, as usual, spot-on with his observations, as Louis can’t even remember the last time he played and he always remembers.

“So…” Liam says slowly, scratching the back of his head. “Is this about Harry then?”

Louis sighs, too drained from the day’s events to even carry on a fight anymore, and slumps back down against the couch. He sighs again, running his fingers through his fringe. The boys watch him intently. “I kissed him today.”

Before the last words even slip from his lips the boys are heaving upward with a shared, boisterous “HURAH!!”, high fiving each other before cornering Louis’ cocooned figure on the couch and punching him in any area they can reach. Louis kicks his feet in protest, shoving them off of him and crossing his arms petulantly, blowing his tousled fringe from his eyes. The boys laugh as they sit once again, and Niall claps him on the shoulder.

“Good on ya, mate,” he says good-naturedly. “It’s about time. Your sexual frustration was starting to stink up the place.”

Zayn scoffs, shaking his head in disgust. “Real nice choice of words, Niall. That definitely doesn‘t send any unfortunate implications through my mind.” He turns back to Louis. “So what are you so up in arms about? Did he shove you off and yell rape or summat?”

“No, Harry’s way too sweet for that. He didn’t do anything, actually.” Louis says for what may be the seventeenth time in 5 minutes. “He even kissed back, I think.” Louis’ stomach flutters as he remembers the way his soft, plush lips felt moving beneath his own, soaking in the warmth of the memory and keeping it lodged in the back of his mind for more trying times.

“So… what’s the problem then?”

“The problem is,” Louis says, voice miffed with frustration, “I’m bloody incompetent. I ran off after it was over. Like I literally bolted.”

“Why?” Zayn asks sympathetically. “Did he not taste as good as you imagined? Did he taste like blowjobs and booze and hookers are things that are decidedly not sweet and innocent?”

Louis groans but can’t even muster the energy or motivation to throw a pillow at Zayn’s stupid mug. “No,” he grumbles, sinking lower into the couch. “He tasted like everything that’s fucking good in this world, and it was good. Kissing him was so good. I just didn’t know what to fucking do after.” The boys continue to watch him, waiting for him to continue, and Louis begins to feel claustrophobic under their scrutiny.

He pushes himself off the couch and turns away from them so they stare into his back instead of his face as he speaks. It’s less intimidating that way, Louis justifies. “It’s just, like. I’ve never just kissed anyone before you know?” Louis explains. “Like I’ve never just kissed someone because I wanted to. It always leads up to something, and I always want it to lead up to something. With Harry, I didn’t. I just really, really wanted to kiss him.”

“Aww,” Niall coos, bounding off the couch to embrace Louis from behind. “Tommo’s in love!”

Louis scoffs and shrugs out of Niall’s arms, turning back around to face them and crossing his arms over his chest. “Shut the fuck up.”

“I don’t get it, Louis,” Zayn says honestly. “You had no problem saying you liked him before, and we even told you we think he‘s great. Even if he is a bit of a nutter.”

“Because,” Louis replies petulantly, “I didn’t have to do anything before. I could just say I liked him and that was that. Now I’ve messed it up and I actually have to explain it to him. I actually have to fucking do something about it now.”

“Well, Louis, that is generally what you do when you like someone, you know,” Liam says.

“You can’t just snog them and expect them to ‘catch your drift’, yeah?” Zayn adds.

Louis glares at them, annoyed by their thinly-veiled patronization. “God,” he groans, “life was so much easier when I didn’t like anyone. I could snog them and expect them to catch my fucking drift or whatever. Now it’s like I actually have to make an effort.”

“Well,” Zayn sighs, “it’s not like you ever make an effort at anything else, so this could be a good start for you.” Louis trudges back to the couch and slumps against it, while Zayn stands to sit on the arm. “What is it, Lou? Are you scared, or? Because, I mean, the kid wears fucking flowers in his hair, he really isn’t that intimidating.”

“He’s not. And I’m not fucking scared. I’m just not used to this. I’ve never let myself like anyone before.”

“Correction,” Liam supplies, “you’ve just never found anyone to meet your ridiculously high standards.”

“Standards which remain dubious to all of us and even to yourself I’d assume,” Zayn says, eliciting a snort from Niall.

“Can we put the jokes aside for a moment please?” Louis says sternly. “First of all, that’s my thing. Second of all, I’m in a real fucking crisis right now and could use your, excuse me but it’s the truth, dubious expertise.”

“I don’t really understand the crisis,” Niall says. “You like a bloke, he probably likes you, you made the first move but ran off and kind of looked like a twat, but that’s fixable.”

“That’s the thing though. I don’t fucking know if he feels the same or whatever. The thing with Harry is…” Louis’ mind draws a blank suddenly, unable to find any words to adequately describe Harry. “He’s in love with everything. He looks at everything the same. He’s so fucking,” he struggles with the words again, pressing the tip of his thumb against his nose, “open with everything but I can’t read him. It’s fucking annoying. He’s so frustrating, he drives me mad.”

“In a good way?” One of the boys asks, though Louis isn’t sure who.

“I don’t know!” Louis exclaims in frustration. “I have no fucking clue. I just know that I want him. I know that I want him,” he repeats, and the sound is final.

“All right,” Zayn says, and the sound is certain. “You’re just gonna have to learn what that means.”

*

It’s been two weeks since Louis’ been to the bakery. Two weeks since he kissed Harry in the kitchen under the heated lights and bolted out of the front door like a twat. Harry hasn’t texted him, and Louis can’t bring himself to wonder why, but he figures it probably has something to do with that. And it’s okay, Louis understands, because he probably would have done the same thing if he were the one put on the spot like Harry was, and he’s almost grateful the boy has allowed him his distance.

It isn’t that Louis is consciously avoiding Harry, because he’s not. Not really. He wants to see him, good or bad, rejection or not, because he doesn’t want to lose Harry from his life. Somehow, despite being all but total opposites, mostly in appearance, in some strange, inexplicable way, the two of them worked. Louis thinks maybe it’s because, for all their differences, they are very similar. Harry can go from manic and energetic one minute to calm and sated the next, just like Louis, and both share a bone-deep, transcendent love for music elevated beyond the everyday person’s casual love. They make each other laugh, they make each other think and for the life of him Louis can’t figure out why but they just work. Louis doesn’t want to stop being friends with him, even if he doesn’t get the snogging he wishes for, but he’s okay with that, because Harry is good for much more than snogging.

The issue is, Louis has always been severely unmotivated. When the task at hand requires actual effort and methodical thinking, Louis will back out not because he’s intimidated but because he’s simply unwilling to make the effort. And telling Harry how he feels will require a lot of effort, which Louis is not sure he’s ready for. So he stalls, he stalls for as long as he can until the need to hear Harry’s slow, soft voice and see his smiling, dimpled cheeks overpowers his desire to avoid, avoid, avoid, and he is suddenly desperate to find him.

He is surprised when Harry contacts him first, texting Louis to ask him to meet him at the football pitch near his school.

It’s half past midnight and cold as a bugger outside, and the pads of Louis’ calloused fingers ache from where they pressed against the cold, rough metal of his guitar strings (he’d been playing more since he’d last seen Harry, finding himself with a lot of free time and only then realizing what a large portion of his day Harry really did take up), but he says yes anyway. He says yes because it’s Harry and there’s really no place he’d rather be, and because there is a slight pleading tone in the text he sounds, something strangely distant about the lack of silly smiley faces and dead proper punctuation that typically litters Harry’s texts, that informs Louis that Harry is just as desperate to talk to him as Louis is.

When he finds Harry, sitting in the centre of the field with his legs crossed and hands perched behind him, there is a serene smile tugging at his features as he stares up at the starry night sky, and Louis wonders if he’s ever seen Harry not smiling. It’s sort of funny, Louis thinks, because Harry spends so much time alone, and sometimes Louis forgets Harry doesn’t really have too many friends, because he’s somehow always smiling.

It almost makes Louis smile when he thinks about it, because he can’t imagine Harry gets very lonely, despite the lack of people in his life; there is far too little space in that curly head of his to allow such feelings. Louis was under the impression that Harry could keep himself entertained for hours simply thinking about stuff. Louis felt he was somewhat privy to this, as Harry didn’t have a very good brain-to-mouth censor, and often blurted out what he was thinking at random moments, and they were never anything short of interesting, and maybe a bit cuckoo.

One time Harry wondered how the first woman to ever get pregnant figured out she was carrying a baby inside her, and pondered that she must have tried to go on a diet when she noticed her belly was expanding, and must have had an absolute mental breakdown when the weight kept coming despite her reduced food intake. His eyes then took on an even more confused expression, as he wondered how the first two humans to ever have sex even figured out how to do it. Louis still can’t remember a time he’s ever laughed so hard.

That is the joy of being around Harry, and the reason Louis can’t be bothered to feel fear as he approaches him on the field so they can, presumably, have ‘the talk’. Harry is so easy-going, so honest and kind and sweet and straightforward, he will be understanding no matter what it is that Louis tells him, even if he says the kiss was a mistake (although he would never say such a thing).

So when he sits next to Harry, who simply hums to acknowledge him and continues to stare up at the sky, Louis isn’t worried about what comes next.

“You probably think I told you to come here so we could talk about what happened the other week,” Harry says after a few moments of comfortable silence. “And I kind of got the feeling you didn’t want to talk about it, since you haven’t been around in a while.”

“No, Harry, it’s not that -,” Louis starts, before Harry cuts him off.

“It’s okay, Louis,” Harry says, smiling softly at him. “You don’t have to explain. I get it. You probably felt really awkward. I just want you to know that you don’t have to. Not with me.” Louis is puzzled, and he swears he had something to say but can’t seem to remember what it was now that Harry has spoken. So he just listens. “I know I can seem kind of insincere sometimes, since I’m always smiling and all that, and it’s probably hard to figure out what’s going on in my head. I’ve had people tell me I’m far too happy all the time to not be hiding something.”

“The thing is, Louis,” he continues, sitting up straighter and tucking his hands in his lap, “I feel like I see the world a lot differently than most people do, and that’s why most people don’t understand me. Or you know, want to be my friend.” Such a statement should be heartbreaking, but somehow, coming from Harry, it sounds much more like a statement, like it’s just something he knows and accepts without much fret or thought. “Most people just think I’m weird, and I guess they’re right. I am pretty weird, you know? After all, I do wear flowers in my hair and talk like a bit of a hippie sometimes,” he says with a self-deprecating chuckle. Louis laughs in agreement. “And well, I guess I brought you here to maybe help you understand me a little better, if that’s okay.”

“Sure, Harry, of course,” Louis says softly, shifting closer to him on the grass. “I think I’d like that.”

Harry pauses for a moment, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, sucking in the cold, brittle air and exhaling with a gentle smile. He looks at Louis as he begins to speak. “I fall in love with things every day,” he says, voice barely above a whisper. “People, things, food, music, everything. That’s why I’m always smiling. Most people, and you probably do too, think I’m just silly and that I see everything as just hunky dory all the time. But I don’t.”

Louis nods imperceptibly, and he wants to tell Harry he’s wrong, that he doesn’t think that about him, he actually thinks he’s one of the smartest people he’s ever met, but Harry barrels on before he can.

“The way I see things… I know there’s bad stuff in the world. I’m not oblivious to it. I’ve seen the bad stuff that goes on. I haven’t exactly had the easiest life you know. My dad left when I was really young, I got picked on when I came out. I’m practically asking to get picked on with all of these,” he says, gesturing to the flowers. “And there are two things I can do with this knowledge. I can let it bring me down and make life not worth living and cry about it, and that would be the easy thing to do, wouldn’t it?” Louis’ eyes never leave Harry’s face as he nods and wills him to continue, deeply engrossed in Harry’s words.

“But it would be a waste of time,” Harry continues, “and I have way too much energy to waste being negative. So I just ignore all the big stuff that happens, because it’s usually bad. And I focus on the small things, because isn’t it the small things that help brighten up people’s day? A compliment, a nice conversation, even just a smile. So even if they had a crappy day they have something nice to think about. So even if I have a pastry thrown in my face or someone calls me a faggot, I can remember the way someone’s eyes lit up when they were ordering their favourite dessert, or the way they smiled back at me when I smiled at them. I like watching people light up, Louis. It reminds me there are still lovely things out there, even when a lot of things are, well. Fucking shit.”

They both laugh at Harry’s uncharacteristically extreme curse, and Louis looks at Harry as he allows the boy’s words to sink in. He feels an overwhelming tide of affection for him filling him from top to bottom, and when he meets Harry’s eyes, Harry is looking at him with a similar fondness.

“It’s different with you,” he says after a pause, leaning back on his palms again and observing Louis, whose head snaps up as he thinks, Oh, here it comes. “Because I always felt like I was really good at reading people. I always knew what made them happy and all that, what would make them happy and what wouldn’t, you know? It was easy for me. Like, it was so easy that a lot of girls actually thought I was flirting with them.”

“You? Flirting with girls?” Louis guffaws, looking up at Harry beneath his eyelashes as he pulls tufts of grass from the earth anxiously. He wants - no, needs to know what Harry will say next.

Harry laughs wildly in that precious way of his, throwing his head back and covering his mouth when the sound becomes too loud. “Yeah. One of them told me they’d never met a straight bloke comfortable enough to wear flowers in their hair.” They both laugh again, eyes meeting as they giggle, followed by a short silence. Harry coughs before he continues, “You were my biggest challenge, you know? Because I couldn’t make you smile just by smiling at you, or starting a conversation. You were so much trickier. And I wanted to make you happy so much more because of it. So I started giving you free pastries.”

“Is that so?” Louis snorts, shaking his head at the poor, innocent little bugger, doing whatever it takes just to make him smile. “I’m not an unhappy person, Harry.” The words especially not when I’m with you linger on his tongue, and he’s torn between letting them out and just kissing the absolute breath out of him.

“I know,” Harry nods, looking down at the grass in an uncharacteristic moment of self-consciousness. “But you don’t smile easy. It took me a while to make you really smile.” When he looks up at Louis again, his smile is wide and bright and somewhat sheepish, and Louis stares at his mouth as he continues to speak. “So when I finally did, I felt like the luckiest person in the whole word, because you don’t smile at much but you smiled at me.”

Louis is speechless as he looks at Harry, any words he was prepared to speak now forever lost on his tongue and, thankfully, redundant. He feels like everything he ever needed to say is out in the open, every feeling he’s ever felt toward Harry wholly understood by both of them, and Louis thinks maybe that was Harry’s intention. Maybe he was letting Louis off the hook, by letting him know he knew how he felt and didn’t need Louis to explain it to him, because maybe there were more important things for him to do.

‘Maybe there are,‘ Louis thinks as he stares at the side of Harry’s face, so overwhelmed by the way Harry’s smooth, pale skin seems to glow in the moonlight, accentuating the sharp yet still soft curves of his cheekbones and the delicate tilt of his cupid’s bow. He wants to kiss him more than he’s ever wanted to kiss anyone in his entire life, but he doesn’t, not yet, because he has to know something first. “Why do you wear flowers in your hair?” He says softly, eyes boring into Harry’s temple. He doesn’t know why he wants to know, figures the answer is something simple, because Harry really is just weird like that, but he asks anyway, eyes flickering down to Harry’s cherry red mouth briefly as he opens it to speak.

When Louis meets his eyes again, they’re glassy dark green, as bright and shining as his gleaming white teeth as his lips spread into a soft, delicate smile. Louis’ breath hitches when Harry says, “They make me feel beautiful.” His smile doesn’t grow, it doesn’t fade, it simply stays in place as his eyes lock with Louis and he heaves a still, gentle sigh.

Something about the honesty and simplicity of Harry’s answer ignites a blazing, inextinguishable fire within Louis’ heart, and the only thing that stands a chance at dampening the flames rising in his chest is the feeling of Harry’s soft-looking, invitingly plush lips beneath his, and no fleeting inquiry of ‘Is this okay? Does he even want this?’ is enough to stop Louis from surging forward and capturing Harry’s mouth in a soft kiss. He inhales deeply through his nose as he presses their lips together briefly, a low hum of surprise escaping Harry’s as they part. Louis drags his mouth away slowly, eyes still hooded as they befall Harry’s face. His eyes are closed, gorgeous, thick lashes fanning across his cheeks and casting shadows in the brightness of the sky, his parted lips spreading into a wide grin.

There is a churning deep within Louis’ stomach, liquefying his insides and sending his mind into a haze of blurry delirium, as Harry opens his eyes and lifts his hand to sink into the hair at the back of his head. Louis’ eyes fall closed again, waiting for something as Harry continues to card his fingers through the thin, feathery strands. His heart pounds against his ribcage, the fire spreading to his neck and ears and no doubt tinting his face the softest of pinks, and he expects to feel a renewed sense of ease with what comes next, but all he feels is heat.

Harry pulls him in by his neck, gently and slowly, guiding their lips back together and grazing his other hand down Louis’ cheek, his fingertips brushing along his cheekbone down to his jaw. Louis’ heart feels so heavy he’s sure it’s going to drop into his stomach any minute, so he reaches forward to clutch at Harry and steady himself. He slides his hands forward, his palms brushing Harry’s arms, eliciting a soft shiver from the boy, as he reaches to grasp Harry’s face between his hands. He deepens the kiss as he holds on, the soft gasp Harry breathes into his mouth travelling straight to his cock, and Louis jerks against him, stroking his fingers across Harry’s soft skin.

He falls forward, maintaining his grip on Harry’s face and positioning them so Harry is lying back against the grass and Louis is on top of him. They kiss, slow and deep and passionate, and Louis is so lost in his want and desire and need for this boy that it’s hard not to just ravage him right there. Louis isn’t used to just sticking to second base; he’s used to kissing being a means to an end, the lead-up to the big event, which typically ended in both parties coming hard and fast and retreating to opposite sides of the bed in cold silence.

With Harry it’s different, because he doesn’t know how much to give and how much to take. He doesn’t know if Harry has done this before, if he’s ever had sex or even kissed anyone, really. It’s all a big mystery to Louis, so he stays content with kissing him like they’ve got all the time in the world and finds he really doesn’t mind it all. Harry’s moans are soft and his fingers remain tangled in Louis’ hair, tugging softly when Louis’ tongue retreats past the barrier between their lips, while the others trace tentatively at the skin beneath Louis’ shirt. Louis’ hands roam his chest and brush across his forehead even as he lifts himself to observe Harry, who is wrecked and panting below him, lips moist as his slick tongue swipes across them to renew moisture.

Louis doesn’t bridge the gap yet, simply stares down at Harry as he catches his breath, fingers scraping gently against Louis’ scalp. Louis is neither smiling nor frowning, he’s just staring at the boy below him, the boy he wants so, so badly, watching the way he lights up, his smile wet and bright, and Louis is so entranced he barely notices Harry reach into his hair, pulling out a soft pink flower and reaching up to tuck it behind Louis’ ear.

He shifts his eyes as the cold petals tickle his ear and Harry’s fingers graze through his hair down to his jaw. Harry giggles beneath him, winding his arms around Louis’ neck and raising himself a bit to rub their noses together briefly, before sinking back against the ground.

“Now you can be beautiful too.”

*

“So are you and Harry like, proper dating now, then?” Liam asks over beer and pizza one night in Louis and Niall’s flat.

“What do you mean?” Louis asks, setting aside his guitar he’d been absently strumming.

“Do you want him to get a dictionary or summat?” Niall quips, quickly reaching over to nab the guitar and fetching the pick from between Louis’ fingers. “Pretty sure you know what dating is.”

“Yeah, but like. Does anybody even do that anymore?”

Zayn scoffs, taking a swig of his beer and placing it on the table with a shake of his head. “Why are you always so concerned about what other people are doing?”

“I’m not,” Louis says defensively. “I just didn’t think dating really existed anymore.”

“Well,” Liam says, stroking his chin thoughtfully, “it’s been a month. You guys go out together, he comes round here all the time, he brings you pastries and music, you kiss each other goodbye and all that. Sounds like dating to me.” Zayn and Niall nod in agreement.

“Well, yeah, but we don’t like, hold hands or anything. And we’re not really getting to know each other. We already do. Isn’t that what dating is? We just hang out all the time. And, you know. Snog,” he finishes with a shrug.

“So you’re like, boyfriends then?” Niall says, chuckling a bit at the words.

Louis shrugs and takes a large gulp of his beer. “We haven’t really discussed it.”

“Well, maybe you fucking should,” Zayn practically barks.

Narrowing his eyebrows at the urgency in Zayn’s tone, Louis sinks backward in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. “Not everyone feels the need to conform to the rigid labels of society, Zayn.”

“Come on, Lou,” Liam says, extending his hand to rest comfortingly on Louis’ knee. “Do you want him to be your boyfriend?”

Louis sighs in defeat. “I guess.”

“Then do something about it.”

*

The first time Louis calls Harry his boyfriend, Harry is waiting for him outside the bakery after his shift, on a freezing cold day in December.

They’re going to meet the boys at the pub where Niall works, even though Harry doesn’t turn 18 for another two months, but it’s no matter because the place is really chill and usually doesn’t demand IDs.

Louis’ eyes narrow as he approaches the bakery, about 10 metres away when sees a group of guys huddled out front around Harry. Harry has his arms crossed, attempting to back away, but one is grabbing him by the arm while another flicks Harry’s purple crown from off his head, sending it floating toward the ground. Another one of the guys picks it up off the ground and holds it tightly between his fingers, dangling it in front of Harry’s face as he attempts to snap it in half.

“Hey!” Louis shouts as he gets closer, jogging toward them. The guys don’t acknowledge him, simply continue to hassle Harry and shout ‘Faggot!’ in his face, while Harry attempts to shove them off, to no avail. “Hey!”

He wastes no time with gentleness as he reaches the group and wrenches one of them away from Harry, using his other arm to shove the others away and throw a protective arm around Harry’s shoulder. Harry looks at him and shakes his head, leaning over to whisper in Louis’ ear, “Thank you.”

“What’s this?” One of the boys, with spiky hair and a scally accent, says obnoxiously. “Another faggot?”

“Yes, if you must know,” Louis says nonchalantly, pulling Harry closer and resting his hand on the small of his back, “I am another faggot. Which, I’m sure you know, means I am very, very good with my fists.” Normally he would smirk at such a delightfully witty comment, but he’s far too angry and fed up with these stupid, ignorant bastards messing with Harry for no reason to really care.

“So?” Another one pipes up, accent just as incomprehensible, teeth even more jagged and unpleasant.

“So I am well-equipped to shove them inside small, tightly-contained areas, meaning I could easily shove one or both of them down your throat if you ever fuck with my boyfriend again. Got it?” He isn’t even aware the word has slipped out of his mouth; it’s so natural and easy it’s almost as if he’s been saying it for months.

“Ugh, do whatever you want with your fists, queer, we have better things to do,” Jagged Teeth says, clapping his friend, a short bloke with carrot-coloured hair and freckles, on the back and turning to walk away.

“Clearly you must lead very thrilling lives, as evidenced by you running around dressed like twats and throwing eggs at people you supposedly hate. Yes, very fruitful,” Louis calls after them, hand rubbing comforting circles in Harry’s back. “Have fun when one of your friends realizes one day he loves cock!”

He scoffs and rolls his eyes as they all turn around and flip him the bird, then turns back to see Harry beaming at him, his eyes soft and cheeks blooming pink. Louis feels a bit frustrated.

“Christ, Harry,” he says, “how does that not bother you? You need to start standing up for yourself.” Harry just keeps smiling at him like a crazy person. “Earth to Harry?” Louis waves a hand in front of his face.

“You called me your boyfriend,” Harry says dreamily, stepping closer to Louis and resting his hands on Louis’ hips.

“Oh,” Louis says, the realization sinking in, way less of a big deal than he’d anticipated. “Yeah, I suppose I did.”

“Did you mean it?” Harry asks bashfully, flush growing deeper with every word.

God, he’s adorable. “’Course I did. As long as you want to be.”

“Of course I do, you knob!” He cries, wrapping his arms around Louis’ waist and squeezing him tight. “I’ve been waiting for you to ask for ages. Why didn’t you?”

Louis sighs and twines his fingers in Harry’s curls, sifting through them and stroking his scalp softly. They’re hugging in the wake of a busy sidewalk, with people staring as they walk past, but neither can bring themselves to care. “I’m a lazy bastard,” Louis explains. “I’ve never done this before. Been with someone for real, you know?” He pulls back and rests his hands on Harry’s shoulders. “I just didn’t know what to say.”

“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Harry exclaims. “You could’ve just asked me you know.”

“Yeah, well,” Louis shrugs, “not everyone is as flagrant and skilled with words as you are, flower boy. Some of us actually struggle with words sometimes.”

“You make it sound like I’m perfect,” Harry grins.

“If that’s your way of fishing for a compliment and attempting to get me to admit you’re perfect, you might wanna try to be more subtle next time, you arrogant sod.”

They kiss, soft and slow and held close, arms around each other’s waists as Harry rocks them back and forth gently.

There they are, standing in front of the place they met all those long months ago, holding and kissing each other and basking in the glory of their new-found relationship status.

And somehow, it really doesn’t scare Louis at all.

“You know if our sordid love affair is to continue gracefully,” Harry says with a coy smirk, his hands massaging Louis’ shoulders, “I may need you to quit smoking.”

Louis scoffs, playfully pinching Harry’s hips, causing the boy to squirm. “I’d hardly call snogging in the streets in front of a bakery sordid, Harry.” Harry hums thoughtfully, smiling as he closes the gap between them once again and kisses Louis slowly. Louis huffs a breath into Harry’s mouth, curling his fingers in Harry’s shirt and using his grip to pull Harry closer, then moving his arms to wrap tightly around his waist. They’re both breathless as they part. “You really don’t seem to mind all that much,” Louis says with a wheezy chuckle.

Harry giggles, in that shamelessly cute, silly way of his. He buries his laugh in Louis’ neck, dipping his head down to fit in the crook and nosing at the skin gently. He wraps his arms around Louis’ shoulders, sighing as Louis lifts his arms to spread across his back. Louis has never been a hugger, not really, but Harry is, and he’s just so warm against him that Louis can’t even bring himself to protest. It just feels so good, to finally be able to hold Harry in his arms and call him his.

His Harry.

His charming, clumsy, flower-haired, childish yet so wise beyond his years Harry.

He doesn’t know how he could possibly get so lucky, but standing there, holding him in front of the place Harry liked to call home, he’s content never discovering the answer as long he gets to keep him.

*

Louis’ birthday comes on Christmas Eve, and he plans on spending it with the boys, since Harry has plans with family that he can’t cancel, and apologizes profusely for it.

Louis doesn’t mind, not really, because Harry invites him over during the day before his family arrives for dinner, and Louis is hit with the realization that this is the first time he’s ever been inside Harry’s house.

He’s seen it from the outside countless times, from walking Harry home after work to dropping him off after what he begrudgingly refers to as a date (he just really doesn’t like the word, is all), or picking Harry up on the odd occasion they don’t decide to meet somewhere.

Harry’s been to the flat even more times. He’s occupied every single room and left his mark on each of them, with a stray flower or a forgotten sweater, most often a discarded bag of pastries with crumbs sliding out, yet somehow, Louis has never been inside his.

It seems rather backwards, as Harry is the one who is open about almost everything in his life and Louis is the one who finds himself holding back more often than not, but it is what it is, and Louis doesn’t question it.

Harry greets Louis’ chill bitten lips with a kiss and pulls him inside with a warm smile, guiding him into the kitchen where his mum stands preparing Christmas dinner. Surprisingly, she doesn’t even bat an eyelash when she sees Louis, all messy hair and face metal and tattoos peeking through the collar of his shirt, and simply nods at him, telling him, “I’ve heard a lot about you, Louis,” after Harry introduces them, and sends them on their way with a warning of, “Behave yourselves.”

Louis can’t help but smile to himself as Harry leads him up the stairs, as his mother was clearly the source of Harry’s sincere, open-minded lack of judgement. Most parents would squirm at the sight of Louis, deem him a bad influence and warn their child to stay away based simply on the difference of his appearance, but Harry’s mum did no such thing.

It makes his heart feel warm and his head go fuzzy.

Harry stops in front of his door, turning around and pressing his back against it while taking Louis’ hands in his.

“Lou,” he says, clearing his throat, “I, um. I couldn’t really afford to get you a present. It’s just, like, the bakery doesn’t pay that much, and my mom’s on her own so I try to help out as much I can, and… with all the stuff for Christmas I couldn’t really buy anyone presents, so…”

“Harry,” Louis says with a laugh, shaking his head, “it’s fine. You didn’t have to get me anything. It’s not like, required or anything.”

“I know, I know. But I am your boyfriend, and you’re mine,” Harry smiles at the words, like he’s still not totally used to saying them, “and I wanted to give you something at least. If not something you can take with you physically… Just. Come in, you’ll see what I mean.”

With a shake of his head, he opens the door and pulls Louis inside, and Louis almost gasps as he takes in the décor.

Harry’s room is simple, standard for the most part. His walls are a no fuss shade of beige, the curtains and drapes around his windows a light, seashell shade of pink. His floor is grey carpet, bed fairly custom with white pillow cases and blankets, and there’s a bookcase in line with the computer desk sitting in the corner. The room is small and cozy, a typical bedroom, though very unlike a teenager’s because this is Harry, after all,

What takes Louis’ breath away is the collage of photos organized in the shape of a butterfly scrawled across the nonchalant pale beige walls.

There are dozens and dozens of them, small, square snapshots all lined together in the intricate shape, and Louis finds himself approaching them blindly, absolutely in awe of the meticulous detail and methodical placement of each of the photos, bright and bold and leaping to life from the tiny, barely 6 by 6 inch of the square film.

The room is silent as Louis inspects them; he feels Harry’s eyes on him but says nothing, so engrossed in the utter focus and skill and passion displayed before his eyes. Each shot is carefully taken, no angle clumsy or lop-sided, each photo exactly what it is meant to be. There’s pictures of everything, from smiling animals to sparkling, crystal clear lakes with the sunlight reflecting across the surface of the water, to people’s faces, with stories buried deep within the lines across their foreheads and the curves of their lips.

Every picture, every single one of them, even the ones Louis is far too small to see, and each one is perfect. They’re perfect because Harry took them, and the passion Harry feels for each and every one of them shines from each frame and reflects in the smile that spreads across his face as Louis finally looks at him, eyes wide and bright and mouth fallen open.

“You did all of this yourself?” Is all Louis can say as he continues to soak in the images, brushing his fingers along the edges of the photographs, tracing the curves of the butterfly.

“Yeah,” Harry says with a bashful laugh, as if this isn’t something he should be proud of, “I started it when I was 15. So it’s going on three years now.” Louis turns his head back to the wall, allowing the images to soak him in as Harry continues to speak in his low, soothing voice. “This is my passion, Louis. This is what I love to do. It‘s what keeps me going, knowing that there’s all this beautiful stuff out there I haven‘t been able to capture yet and can only hope to when I finally get the chance. If I didn’t have my pictures I don’t know where I’d be.”

Louis frowns, because he suddenly feels like a fraud in Harry’s company. Here is this boy, so self-assured at barely 18-years-old, with his passion spread all across his walls and pulsing through his entire being, so strong that it lives in his veins, pumping the blood to his heart and willing him to make it through the day, and Louis, Louis can barely manage to pick up his guitar and concentrate long enough to release his passion. It’s there, bundled up inside him like a wilting flower, while Harry’s and everyone else’s around him is blooming and living and withstanding even the harshest of heat and coldest of winter.

Harry is judged every single day of his life, he’s called a faggot and a loser and has his entire being ridiculed by scum with nothing better to do with their time on a basis that is far too regular, yet he still manages to shine like the brightest star. He flourishes, because he motivates himself, and he’s strong, and he knows what he wants, and he’s focused enough to obtain it. Louis, on the other hand, is not.

Because Louis hasn’t even written a song in 3 years, has allowed the emptiness in his life swallow him whole, and he suddenly feels inexplicably small, standing in the wide vastness of Harry’s passion, hiding in the shadow of Harry himself.

Harry must sense his doubt, because he pulls on his hand and drags him toward the bed, pressing him down to sit by his shoulders and clasping their hands together as he sits next to him. Louis smiles at him self-consciously, and Harry reaches over to brush a stray hair from his face, sliding his palm down to rest on his cheek.

“Louis,” he says softly, “I know you probably think I’m showing off -”

“No, Harry, I don’t. I know you’d never do that,” Louis assures him, but his voice is tense. He doesn’t want Harry to think any of his bitterness is directed toward him, because it isn’t, so he musters up the best smile he can and rubs soothing circles into Harry’s wrists, keeping his eyes focused on the contrast between the caramel tan of his skin and the soft, milky paleness of Harry’s.

“I just… I wanted to give you something that couldn’t be bought, you know? It was about more than just the money. Because I could buy you anything really but it’d never be what you really want.” His voice is muted by the dip of Louis’ head, but it’s soft and clear, reassuring, and Louis lets him speak. “I know what you really care about is your music, and you’ve been muting that. I don’t know why, you haven’t told me, and don’t think I’m trying to make you feel bad about that because I’m not.”

“I know,” Louis says, chuckling and looking up at him finally. Harry’s eyes are wide and glassy and achingly sincere, and Louis just wants to kiss him.

There is love reflecting in Harry’s eyes, honesty and compassion and understanding spilling from his pores, and Harry wants him to listen, so he does. Because it’s Harry, and he’ll do whatever it is he asks of him, no matter how uncomfortable he may feel.

“I know that… I can’t fix whatever holds you back from going for it. But I thought maybe, I can give you a little piece of me to take with you, should you decide to. This is me, Louis,” he says, gesturing toward the wall, “and I want to share that with you more than anything. If I can help you in anyway, by showing you that all you need to do is let yourself see things the way you want to, and find that inspiration within yourself, I thought that’d be a much better gift than any money could ever by.” Louis is staring at him, blinking rapidly as his jaw falls slack and his mouth gapes open, Harry shakes his head with a helpless chuckle, running a finger through his hair and saying, “I know I probably sound really, I don’t know, preachy, but -”

Louis kisses him. He grips him by the face and kisses him hard, and Harry responds immediately, resting his hands on Louis’ hips and humming into Louis’ mouth. Louis kisses him because he’s speechless, so utterly amazed by the beauty and humanity and raw, unabbreviated passion that exists inside Harry’s long, far too skinny body, to even form words to describe how he’s feeling.

So he kisses him, he kisses him and just keeps kissing him until they’re both breathless and falling against Harry’s bed, which Louis realizes with a chuckle against Harry’s lips is too small for him, as his socked feet dangle over the edge and his curls nearly knock into the headboard.

“Is this okay?” Harry asks. “Did you like it?”

Louis doesn’t just like what Harry has shown him; it has given him an entirely new perspective on everything. On Harry, on his music, on himself, on something as simple and straight-forward as photography. Because Harry understands him, understands his struggles and helplessness and even if he can’t relate, he feels, he understands, he has compassion. Louis feels everything in this one small moment, held close to Harry on his bed with his fingers threaded through Harry’s hair, and he still can’t find the words to even describe it, so he responds to Harry in the best way he knows how.

Through his fingers, and his lips, and the strong, sturdy grip of his hands, and kisses him again, attempting to give Harry everything he’ll ever be able to give in just one touch.

*

Harry comes over on Christmas during the evening, bringing some leftovers from his family’s second dinner and greeting them all with a kiss on the cheek and a one-armed hug. They laze around on the sofa, watching old Christmas movies on TV,

Louis doesn’t get Harry a present either, simply because he’s absolutely terrible with presents and is too broke to even get anything good, so he blows Harry under the Christmas tree when the boys are all passed out in food comas in separate rooms, and Harry doesn’t stop giggling the whole time.

*

He isn’t surprised when he discovers Harry is a virgin, nor is he particularly bothered by it. He always knew Harry was the type of person to make sure it really meant something when he finally did it, and it’s one of the things he loves most about him.

Harry had been in one relationship before Louis, with a bloke named Nick who Harry is still very close friends with. The split was amicable, and Louis isn’t surprised by this either; Harry is far too sweet for a bad break-up.

He isn’t exactly surprised either when he meets Nick and discovers he’s quite a bit older than Harry, older than Louis even. In fact all of Harry’s friends are older than him, and if it makes Louis sad that Harry is ostracized to the point where he doesn’t have any friends his own age, he doesn’t say anything, because at least Harry isn’t totally alone.

He never discovers exactly what happened, because it’s none of his business and he doesn’t particularly want to know, but he gathers from the glaze of Nick’s eyes and the curve of his smile when it’s directed toward Harry, that there may be some lingering feelings there, and Louis can’t exactly blame him, really, because once Harry has you, really has you, he has you forever.

Nick is much like Harry in the sense that he’s a hipster who refuses to acknowledge he is one. Instead of flower crowns, he wears square, black-rimmed spectacles out of fashion rather than necessity, and is quite an interesting mix of masculine and flamboyant. He looks older than his 24-years, in stark contrast with Harry who looks much younger than he is, and he’s also rather fond of photography, as well as privy to the startling plethora of indie folk bands Harry has such extensive knowledge of. Louis is not surprised at all that they’re friends.

He’s a cheeky bloke, much like Louis in his sarcasm and deadpan refusal to take anything seriously. A bit too much like Louis for his liking. They clash a bit, and Louis can’t help but clutch Harry tighter and kiss him a bit more in his presence, because Louis is a possessive guy and knowing he’s around someone who has touched Harry before him renders him a bit territorial, but he can tell Nick cares deeply for Harry and wants what’s best for him, despite his slightly manic teasing of the boy, and Louis can’t really hate him.

“Be careful with him,” Nick tells him once, when they’re eating in a local diner and Harry’s using the loo. “He’s a strong lad but he’s quite sensitive.”

Louis looks at him pointedly from across the booth. “Don’t have to tell me, mate. I’d never hurt Harry.”

“I only want the best for him,” he says, in a rare moment of honesty.

“So do I.”

Nick nods at him and says nothing else, and Harry returns from the loo, wrapping his arms around Louis’ neck and nuzzling him with a kiss on the cheek.

Louis nuzzles back with a soft smile but doesn’t take his eyes off of Nick, and a silent understanding seems to pass between them.

Harry wants them to get along, because Harry wants everyone to get along, and even if Nick is a bit of a waffly twat, Louis is willing to put aside his inhibitions for Harry. It’s worth it.

And when he discovers Harry wants to wait to have sex, isn’t quite ready for it yet and wants to make sure it’s perfect when it does happen, Louis decides that’s worth it as well.

It’s worth it, because in the end, everything is worth it when it comes to Harry.

*

“Louis?” Harry says softly as they’re laying on Louis’ bed, Harry’s head tucked softly under his chin, his arms wrapped tight around Harry’s waist. There is a film on the telly neither have been paying attention to, too wrapped up in each other’s warmth to pay it any mind.

“Mmm,” Louis mumbles, his voice muffled by Harry’s hair.

“Can I ask you something?”

“You just did.”

Harry lifts his head slightly and pinches Louis’ hip, causing him to squirm and release his tight grip on Harry slightly. “Come on now, be serious,” Harry says, but his smile is warm. Louis just tightens his hold on Harry’s waist again and nods. Harry shifts so his cheek is pressed against Louis’, his unruly curls tickling Louis’ face. “How come you’ve never let me hear you play?” His voice is barely above a whisper, his flat palm rubbing soothing circles across the exposed dip of Louis’ collarbones, where his sparrow tattoos lay.

“Why are you worrying about this now?” Louis says with a chuckle, pulling Harry’s wrist from his chest and lacing their fingers together.

“I don’t know,” Harry says, head shaking against Louis’ cheek. “It’s just… we’ve been together for like, 6 months now. And I’ve shown you my pictures, and the bakery, and everything there is inside me, really. And I feel like music is such a big part of you but you won’t show it to me.” He lifts his head again, eyes glassy and pleading as he looks up at Louis. “I want to see all of you, Louis,” he whispers, “even the parts of yourself you’re not totally happy with.”

Louis sighs heavily, threading his fingers through Harry’s hair as he looks into his searching green eyes and smiles thinly. He plays with a few curls at the back of Harry’s head, then pulls Harry in for a soft kiss, his other hand stroking softly against Harry’s exposed hipbone. “Harry,” he says as they part, “I don’t want you to think I’m hiding things from you. Especially not that. I’m just… I’m a perfectionist, you know? If I’m not 100 % happy with it, I don’t show it to anybody.”

“But you don’t have to be perfect for me, Lou. I don’t want you to be.”

“I know,” Louis sighs, pressing his palm flat against Harry’s head and pressing it back against his chest. Harry sighs into his skin, pressure barely there as he presses his mouth softly against Louis’ collarbones. “I just haven’t written any original material in a long time, Harry. I haven’t had any inspiration.”

Harry’s response is barely there, tucked into the crevice of Louis’ neck like a secret. “I wish I could inspire you.”

His voice is quiet, but Louis hears it anyway. He always hears it. He pushes himself up so his back is flat against the headboard, and Harry responds to the movement immediately, sitting up so he’s sitting cross-legged in front of Louis. “You do inspire me, Harry,” Louis says firmly. “A lot. Don’t ever think you don’t. Just because I’m not really that good at putting it to words doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

“I know,” Harry says with a soft smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

“I wish I could show you that,” Louis frowns, feeling as though he’s let Harry down in some way. There is a lingering silence as Louis bows his head and plucks at the mattress, and Harry simply sits in front of him, unmoving.

When Louis looks up, Harry is beaming at him. Louis’ eyebrows furrow in confusion as Harry reaches to the bedside table to retrieve his flower crown, today’s piece a beautiful wreath of full, fluffy pink and red roses, and perches it atop his curls. He leans forward and pecks Louis on the lips, then hops off the bed, bounding toward Louis’ closet. Louis watches in confusion as Harry pulls his guitar out and drags it toward the bed, placing it in Louis’ hand.

“What are you doing?”

Harry jumps onto the bed on his stomach, kicking his legs back and forth as he beams up at Louis. “Show me now,” he says.

“But Harry, I haven’t got anything…”

“I don’t care.” He gets on his knees and crawls over to Louis, pressing a sweet kiss to the corner of his lips. “You don’t need to give me words, Lou. All I want is whatever you’re able to give me.”

Harry’s eyes are so soft, his smile so pure and trusting and innocent, that Louis wouldn’t be able to bring himself to refuse him even if he did understand what he was asking of him. Harry’s expression is encouraging, and Louis doesn’t ask, simply leans forward and brushes his lips against Harry’s, pushing himself off the bed and carrying his guitar with him.

He grabs the chair from his computer desk and sets it in front of the bed, where Harry sits with his legs crossed in front of him. He sighs, watching Harry as he carefully tunes his guitar, pulling each knob slowly and plucking the corresponding string efficiently. Looking over at Harry then, sitting quietly with his rosy cheeks and beautiful pink lips pulled into a gentle smile, his favourite crown of roses framing his beautiful, chocolate curls, Louis suddenly realizes what Harry is asking of him.

Because looking at Harry he is reminded of all the things the boy makes him feel, of all the things he’d never felt before he’d walked into the bakery that day, and of all the things he continues to make him feel even after nearly a year of knowing him. He is reminded that Harry has never asked him for words to describe how he feels, has never demanded more than Louis has been willing to give, and that is exactly what Harry wants him to. He wants Louis to show him how he feels, not in words, not in practiced melodies and riffs he’s gone over a thousand times before, but from the top of his head, the tips and strokes of his fingers, all the ways in which he showed Harry how he felt every single day.

He wants him to open the last chamber of himself he has left to open to Harry, the final trench in the ocean of Louis’ mind and feelings, and that trench is his music.

Louis understands.

Once again Louis shows Harry how he feels using his fingers, only this time it is no longer Harry’s body that is his canvas, but his guitar. The chords start out soft and slow, the pick barely plucking the strings and creating gentle sounds that convey the softness Harry makes Louis feel, the security and comfort and fondness that wraps him up tight and keeps him warm at all times. They represent the softness in Harry’s smiles, the gentle brushes of his lips and fingers, the low breaths he whispers at night when he thinks Louis is sleeping. The gentle sweetness that is Harry, the soft kindness that runs through his veins and lights up his eyes and lips and shines on his porcelain skin, all pulled together with the strumming of a few simple chords.

Louis’ eyes never leave Harry’s, his expression becoming more intense and focused as notes and chords grow heavier, communicating the fiery passion Harry has ignited within Louis, the fierce love and devotion he has mustered within Louis, strong and gripping and never fading even as Louis takes his fingers away. He’s playing random chords that make no sense in succession with each other, would sound absolutely rubbish if played together, side by side in a track, but the lack of focus is appropriate and feeling, because Harry makes Louis feel so many different things at once, so many unfocused and blurry and crazy things, that it’s almost impossible to remain cohesive.

Harry’s eyes are watery as Louis finishes with more softer, echoing chords, just the barely grazing pluck of the strings vibrating off the walls and resonating in Louis’ ears. They’re the sounds that say I love you, you’re everything to me, as long as you’re by my side I know I’ll be okay, and Harry must feel that, must hear the words that are echoing along with the soft music, as when Louis sets his guitar down and floats toward the bed, Harry is rising up on his knees and kissing him.

The kiss is soft and wet as a few stray tears slip between their mouths, and Louis wraps his arms around Harry, pivoting their bodies as they fall back against the bed so he is resting on top of Harry, warm and pliant beneath him, tossing his crown to the side and clutching at Louis’ shoulders. They kiss the same but different, deep and slow and their lips moving together with gentle passion, different only in the soft, unspoken words drifting in the slow slide of their lips and tongues.

Harry’s legs wrap around his waist, his hands moving frantically up his back and clutching at his loose shirt as their kisses grow frantic. Louis can feel Harry’s erection pressing against his thigh, and there’s something about this that feels right. It feels like a barrier has been crossed, the floodgates were opened but nothing came crashing down.

There is no eruption of water or shattering of dams, no groundbreaking moment of clarity. It’s just him and Harry, pressed together and gripping each other tight like they’re the only people in the world, like a meteor could crash outside the flat right now and not even that could break them apart.

“Thank you,” Harry breathes as they finally part and Louis begins to lick and suck at his neck.

“Anything, Harry.” He lifts himself to throw his top to the side, dropping down against Harry once again and moulding their lips together. “I’d do anything for you,” he murmurs against his lips.

Harry stills then, everything going in slow motion as he presses his palms against Louis’ face and pulls him up so their eyes are locked. Something is lingering in the air, and Louis isn’t quite sure what it is, watching Harry carefully as his eyes flicker across Louis’ face. His gaze is questioning, and Louis realizes, as Harry shifts backwards and removes his hands from Louis’ cheeks to discard his shirt, that he is asking for permission.

“Do you want to, Harry?” Louis whispers. Harry doesn’t answer, doesn’t break eye contact as his hands slip to the belt of Louis’ jeans, unbuckling them slowly. “You want this?”

His jeans are around his ankles when Harry nods, and Louis kicks them off the bed, resting his hand on Harry’s cheek. “You sure?”

Harry’s eyes are spacey and distant, as he brushes his hands up and down Louis’ ink-covered arms, his fingers curving around Louis’ shoulders and coming to rest on the birds perched atop his collarbones. He leans forward and presses a soft kiss to each bird, his tongue licking a languid strip in the space between them. He nods again, his forehead hitting Louis’ chin, and then Louis is unbuttoning Harry’s own jeans, slowly sliding them down his hips and pulling his boxers along with them.

Their eyes finally meet as they lay naked against each other, their hearts beating frantically in unison as they press their chests together. Harry’s gaze is vulnerable but not weak, and it suddenly registers with Louis that this is the first time Harry has ever done this. This doesn’t scare Louis at all. He is not intimidated by Harry’s virginity. In fact, he is glad it’s in his hands, because he can control the gentleness, the slowness, and give it the magic Harry truly deserves.

Carefully, Louis dips down so their cocks are touching, and Harry’s soft gasp is swallowed by Louis’ lips as he kisses him and presses him back against the bed. They fall together, Harry’s hand reaching up to sink into Louis’ hair. They kiss for a long time, as Louis slowly ruts their cocks together, the friction sending jolts of electricity through his spine and fingertips. They rock back and forth slowly, Louis’ grip on Harry’s waist protective as he continues to kiss him. Harry whimpers into his mouth, his nails digging into Louis’ shoulders and falling slack simultaneously, continuously, as Louis eases him into it.

“Please, Lou,” Harry moans finally, “I need you. Now.”

Louis nods dutifully, wanting to give Harry absolutely everything, and doesn’t stop kissing Harry as he blindly reaches into the top drawer of his bedside table, pulling out the lube and a condom. He detaches their mouths finally to slick his fingers with lube, while Harry leans up with him and presses soft kisses to his neck and jaw.

“This is gonna be cold, Harry. I need you to relax,” Louis says softly as he lies on top of him again. Harry nods, tracing the tattoos on Louis’ biceps with the pads of his fingers. “Are you ready?” Harry nods again, and Louis begins working.

He slowly presses the first finger in, and Harry flinches only slightly, his gasp muffled by Louis’ neck. By the time he adds the second and third finger, Harry is practically begging for it, moaning Louis’ name against his lips and dragging his nails softly down his back. When Louis feels Harry is ready, he rolls the condom onto his cock, making sure to slick himself with lube, before whispering, “Okay”, lowly in Harry’s ear and pressing into him.

The gasp and moan that escapes Harry’s lips at the fullness is silenced by Louis’ lips, and Harry sinks back into the mattress, lips twisting and contorting against Louis’ as he adjusts to the pain. He continues to whimper softly into Louis’ mouth, while Louis keeps his thrusts slow and methodical, sliding his hands beneath Harry’s thighs and hooking his legs around his waist, so the angle is better and more satisfying. Harry is on his back, because it is first time, and Louis wants to make it as personal as possible.

There is something uncomfortably distant about being fucked on your stomach the first time, and Louis doesn’t want that for Harry. He doesn’t want him to feel uncomfortable or distant, wants to give the first time he absolutely deserves. And he intends to do so.

It feels so good, being inside Harry, feeling his warm body pressed against his and his hard cock rested against his stomach, and Louis is so overwhelmed he can’t even bring himself to kiss Harry anymore. Their mouths hover over each other, noses and foreheads pressed together, as Louis continues to thrust into Harry slowly. Louis grunts, his mouth falling open every now and again in a silent moan, while Harry’s moans remain soft and whiny, his hot breath huffing against Louis’ nose. Louis’ stomach is fluttering, his mouth is dry, there is sweat prickling his heated skin as his body becomes overwhelmingly aware of Harry, Harry, Harry.

In the process of wanting to give Harry everything, Harry had given him even more. He is the one inside Harry, but it feels like Harry is the one inside him now, filling him deeper and deeper with every laboured shudder of his breath.

Louis is close, so close as his pace quickens just slightly, Harry’s deep, breathy whimpers going straight to his cock and sending him closer and closer to the edge. He knows Harry is close too, can tell from the way his head has fallen to the side, his lips kiss-bitten and deep red, his cheeks a sinfully gorgeous shade of pink. Harry looks beautiful even when he’s being fucked, and Louis can barely handle it. He’s ready to come when he grabs Harry’s cock to finish him off, and within four quick strokes, Harry is letting out a strangled cry and spilling all over Louis’ stomach, his forehead falling against his neck. Louis comes with him, collapsing on top of him with a full-bodied shudder and curling around him as he rides out the aftershocks.

When they’ve caught most of their breath, Louis pulls out of him slowly, tossing the condom to the side and picking up his shirt to wipe the cum from Harry’s stomach. Harry makes a wrinkled face of disgust but says nothing, looks far too spent, and Louis laughs, tossing the shirt to the side and settling back onto the bed with a kiss to Harry’s lips.

They’re both still naked as Harry rolls over and tucks himself against Louis’ side, his mouth falling open in a loud yawn. He shakes himself as his mouth closes, his eyes squinting shut as if about to sneeze, and he looks like the sweetest little kitten Louis has ever seen. Louis presses a kiss to Harry’s forehead, letting the boy cuddle into his side and tangle their legs together.

“’M tired,” Harry says around another yawn.

“That’s usually what happens after sex,” Louis laughs, feeling a bit tired himself.

It’s quiet for a few minutes, Louis absently stroking his fingers through Harry’s hair, smiling fondly down at him. He thinks Harry might have fallen asleep already, and he’s about to go himself when he hears Harry’s soft but deep voice break through the silence.

“Louis?”

“Yes?”

“I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but I think I’m in love with you.” His voice is low, and when he lifts his head his eyes are glassy and questioning. He keeps his eyes open as he brushes his lips against Louis’, chasing his eyes in search for any kind of visible reaction.

Louis’ face is blank until he smiles. He brushes a hand across Harry’s forehead and whispers, “I don’t mind at all.”

Harry nods and smiles, settling back into the crook of Louis’ neck and sighing contently.

“For the record,” he whispers, his cheek resting against Harry’s, “I’m pretty sure I love you too.”

*

“Hey, guys,” Harry says, “Guess what Louis showed me the other day?”

They’re all gathered in the bakery; it’s a slow day, with only about a handful of customers every hour, so Martha doesn’t really mind them all hanging around. It is a rather funny sight, three punks sitting around in a sweet-smelling bakery talking to a boy with flowers in his hair behind the counter, but all they get is a few confused stares and the occasional snicker from a ruder customer.

“He let me hear him play,” he adds dreamily.

“No, way, really?” Niall says, jumping up in his chair. Harry nods enthusiastically.

“So does that mean you’re finally swallowing your pride and following your dreams?” Zayn says, though his voice is sarcastic. Louis rolls his eyes.

“Does this mean you’ll finally accept one of the countless fucking gig offers I give you?” Niall asks.

“As always I’m flattered by your countless offers, Nialler, but that’s a no-go. For now, at least, I’ve got exams coming up, you know,” Louis says. “Sorry, lads.”

“Fuck exams,” Niall says disdainfully.

“Yeah, fuck school!” Harry exclaims, and the boys look at him and laugh. It isn’t that Harry doesn’t curse; he does, just usually not so boldly, although there is laughter and mirth in his face.

“Aren’t you lot, as my mates, and my boyfriend,” he emphasizes, pointing at Harry, “supposed to support my schoolwork, not condemn it?”

“Yeah,” Niall starts, “but not when it makes you fucking miserable.”

“Yeah, mate,” Zayn adds, “I mean, English Lit? Really? When have you ever liked reading books?”

“I do now!” Louis defends, though it’s crystal clear he’s full of shit. “I have learned a lot about the importance of great literature from those classes.”

“How many times a week did you even go?” Liam asks,

“No matter,” Louis says, waving them off. “Point is, I’ve got exams to worry about. Can’t be worried about writing music for a gig as well.”

“How many times have I got to tell you, Lou?” Niall says in exasperation. “You haven’t got to write your own shit.”

“Lou’s a perfectionist,” Harry says, his voice small from behind the counter. It’s the first time he’s spoken since he initiated the entire conversation, and he looks troubled. “He doesn’t want to do something if he’s not gonna be 100 % happy with it.”

“Thank you, darling Harold,” he says, bounding toward the counter to give Harry a sloppy kiss on the cheek. “See, he gets it.”

“He’s your boyfriend, he has to get it or you won’t suck him off,” Zayn snarks, and Harry’s cheeks flare as red as the roses in his hair.

“Look, lads, Nialler, you especially,” Louis sighs, “thank you for your persisting faith in me, really. But I’ve got enough of my plate right now, all right? Maybe another time.”

Niall rolls his eyes and scoffs. “It’s always another time. One day, there’s not gonna be another time, Lou. You’re gonna run out eventually.”

“Well, let’s just hope these exams don’t kill me so I don’t run out prematurely.”

It’s apparent the three of them are unsatisfied with his answer, and Harry looks trepidatious, chewing on his fingernail with his tongue sticking out, but the subject is dropped.

The room is tense for a few moments afterward, until Zayn appears to be stifling a smile and a muffled chuckle escapes his lips. “What?” Louis asks, as Zayn begins to crack up.

“I think Harry’s the one who’ll have to worry should you ever run out prematurely.”

Before any of them can even process the innuendo behind Zayn’s comment, a flying strawberry danish smacks him across the head, and his eyes widen as pale flakes scatter around his tall black hair while the pastry falls to the ground. Four pairs of eyes dart toward Harry immediately, who is struggling to hold back his laughter.

The process is futile, and suddenly they’re all laughing, clutching their stomachs and falling back in the chairs, and any trace of tension or awkwardness is zapped from the room immediately.

*

Louis is sitting at his kitchen table, attempting to study for his exams. His eyes flit across the papers splayed before him, looking but not quite seeing, the words failing to soak into his apathetic subconscious. He sighs heavily, slumping in his chair and tossing the pen across the table in defeat. It hits the floor with a soft plonk, and Louis rubs exhaustion from his eyes with the edge of his palm. He’s about to say fuck the whole ordeal and shove the papers from the slippery surface in frustration when he hears a pair of feet padding into the kitchen, a pair of warm arms wrapping around his neck.

“Morning, babe,” Harry’s drawling, raspy morning voice mutters in his ear. He nuzzles the side of Louis’ neck, rubbing the curve of his jaw with his nose, and Louis sighs into the touch. “Where’s Niall?”

“Morning. Niall‘s out getting groceries, I think,” he says, reaching behind to scrape his fingers lightly on Harry’s scalp. Harry purrs at the touch, pressing gentle kisses onto his neck in a line toward Louis’ mouth. When their lips meet, syrup-slow in the laziness of the early morning, Harry tastes like warmth and sunrise and morning breath. It’s still surprising even now, despite all the months they’ve been together, that even Harry’s morning breath is sweet.

“Whatchu working on?” He asks, tightening his arms around Louis’ shoulders.

Louis cranes his neck to press a gentle kiss on Harry’s cheek. “Exams soon,” he says with a yawn, “gotta study.”

“Funny that,” Harry comments, “I didn’t think you were capable of studying.” He laughs, giving Louis a pat on the back as he turns into the kitchen to open the fridge.

Louis gives his bum a firm smack as he retreats. “Smartass,” he mumbles, eliciting a giggle from Harry. He sighs again, sounding even more exasperated.

“What’s wrong?” Harry asks. “You sound stressed.”

“It’s not that, really,” Louis says, shifting in his chair so his back is no longer facing Harry. He tracks Harry’s movements as he moves from one end of the kitchen to the other, sticking two slices of bread in the toaster. “It’s just… Ugh, I just can’t for the life of me figure out why the fuck I chose English Lit as my major. I haven’t read a single book from the curriculum this whole term, and it’s not even like I fucking planned to from the start. I literally chose it because it was the major I hated least out of the entire selection.”

“Well, that’s kinda silly, innit?” Harry says with his head tilted to the side curiously. He takes a gulp of the orange juice he’d poured during Louis’ monologue and swallows slowly, his expression thoughtful. “What’s the point in taking it if you think it’s rubbish?”

“Because,” Louis groans, spinning back around with hunched shoulders, “what the fuck else was I supposed to do? Everyone was signing up for uni, I didn’t know what else to do, there was nothing else for me to do, so I signed up last minute. Didn’t really think it through.”

“Babe,” Harry sighs, the clink of glass against marble indicating he had placed his orange juice down. Louis hears soft footsteps then feels large, warm hands kneading into his shoulders, relaxing him immediately. He drops his head against Harry’s soft stomach and closes his eyes as Harry continues to massage his tense back. Harry really is a miracle worker with those soft, big hands of his. “You can’t just do stuff because it’s expected of you and everyone else is doing it.”

“Sounds like peer pressure,” Louis murmurs softly.

“It is,” Harry says, tightening his grip on Harry’s shoulders. He bends down so his face is next to Louis’, large green eyes boring into his temple, his expression a mix of concern and prodding. “You’ve got to do something you like. What do you like, Lou?”

Louis opens his eyes and turns to look at Harry, his face spreading into a soft smile. He lifts himself up slightly to extend his arms, wrapping them around Harry’s torso and pulling him onto his lap. Harry falls with a slight oof, giggling as Louis tightens his grip and pecks Harry’s lips gently. “I like you.”

Harry smiles, but there are no diamonds in his eyes. He brings his hands up to frame Louis’ face and kisses Louis softly, swiping his tongue across his lower lip. When he pulls back, his face is more serious. “I can’t be the only thing you like, Lou.”

“I know,” Louis sighs deeply, relinquishing his hold on Harry’s waist and dropping his hands onto his thighs. Harry drapes his arms across Louis’ neck to steady himself. “I do like things. I like music. I like my guitar. I like playing my guitar. But like. That’s not gonna get me anywhere in life, is it?”

“You don’t know that.”

“Right,” Louis scoffs, “not even you are that naïve, Harry.” Harry looks offended, and Louis attempts to lift himself and push Harry off of his lip, but Harry won’t budge, pressing his arse down hard on Louis’ knees, gluing him to the chair. For once, Louis is very resentful of Harry’s size advantage.

The toaster pops from the other side of the kitchen, but Harry pays it no mind, staring into Louis intently. “First of all,” Harry says, “I’m not naïve. Just because I see the world as full of opportunities and not a giant shit show made of mistakes and regrets doesn’t mean I’m naïve.”

“I know that, Harry,” Louis reassures him, swiping his thumb against Harry’s cheekbone briefly.

“All right, then take me seriously.” Louis is frowning but he nods, giving Harry the benefit of the doubt, as always. Harry senses the doubt there, and leans forward to peck him on the lips for reassurance. “I love you,” he says matter-of-factly, “so obviously I’m gonna believe in you no matter what. That’s a given.”

“So what you’re saying is… if you didn’t love me then you wouldn’t believe in me? You’d just see me as hopele - Ow!” Louis groans, hand shielding the area of his bicep Harry just swatted. “What was that for?”

“Stop putting words in my mouth, you tosser,” he snaps, but there is a smile hiding in his voice. Louis pouts at him and Harry’s face softens immediately. He sighs, sliding off of Louis’ lap to kneel in front of him on the floor. He places his hands on Louis’ thighs and strokes his fingers across his jeans soothingly. “Look, Lou… I’m not saying you’re gonna become a punk rock sensation overnight, or ever, really. I know how rare that is. But that doesn’t mean you have to torture yourself by doing stuff you don’t want, just ‘cause you can’t get what you really do. Maybe you just haven’t found your calling yet.”

“Well, not everyone can be as lucky as you. Not everyone knows what they want to do before they’re even old enough to do it,” Louis says. He immediately regrets the disdain that colours his voice as Harry’s face falls and he stands up to walk away. “Harry, wait,” he says, softening as he clutches Harry’s wrist and turns him around. Harry is frowning, looking extremely small with his wide, shiny eyes and oversized t-shirt, and Louis cups his face to kiss him. Harry’s hand seems to shrink as it rests on his hip, and Louis hates himself for ever being the reason to cause this beautiful boy to frown. “I’m sorry. I just. It bothers me, you know? That I’m 21-years-old and my 18-year-old boyfriend knows what he wants to do with his life better than I do. And don’t think that means I resent you, because I don’t. Not at all. It just means I‘m a miserable twat.”

“I know, Louis,” Harry says with a wan smile, stroking Louis’ stomach beneath his t-shirt. “And you’re not a miserable twat. You can be, but you’re wonderful.”

“I just wish I could be as driven as you. I mean, you’re always taking pictures, you’re always trying to perfect your technique, and you’re constantly editing to make them look their best. I wish I had that passion, you know?”

“But you do have that passion, Lou. You‘re just not doing anything about it. You‘re wasting time doing things you don‘t want to do instead.”

“Yeah, but…”

“Louis,” Harry says assertively, lifting his hands to grasp Louis’ face firmly between his palms, his eyes gleaming with imploring, yet gentle forcefulness. “I’m not saying you have to have a plan right away, okay? You don’t. What I’m saying is you have to sort the things you don’t want from the things you do. Do you want to keep studying boring books you don’t want to read at uni?” Louis pauses for a moment, staring into Harry’s eyes, and then shakes his head. “Then why are you? You don’t have to go to university just because everyone else does, Louis. If it’s not your thing it’s not your thing.”

“So what are you saying?” Louis asks, curling his fingers around Harry’s wrists and guiding his hands downward, keeping them clasped between them. “I should drop out?”

“I’m not saying anything, Lou. I’m saying the choice is yours. You’ve gotta do what’s gonna make you happy. And if dropping out is what’s gonna do that, then go for it. Your happiness comes first, especially to me.” Harry strokes his thumb across Louis’ hand gently, communicating a lifetime of support in one simple gesture, and Louis thinks he may be staring into the eyes of a miracle.

“You’ll support me no matter what?” Louis asks hopefully, peeking up at Harry beneath his fringe.

Harry thumbs at Louis’ lip piercing, lacing their hands together. “I just want you to believe in yourself as much as I believe in you.”

“You make me believe more and more every day, Harry,” Louis says, sliding his hand into Harry’s curls and pulling him into a hug. “I may just need a few more.”

“Or a dozen,” Harry mutters into his temple after a minute, and Louis laughs loudly.

“Yeah. Maybe a dozen.”

*

When Louis calls his mum in the summer to inform her he flunked his exams and has dropped out of uni, she sounds disappointed, but she assures him it’s okay, because he’s her son and she’ll support him no matter what he does. She apologizes that she didn’t realize that sooner.

Louis accepts her apology, because it is okay.

It’s okay because Harry’s arms are wrapped around his middle the entire time he speaks, warm reassurance pressing against his back as Harry rocks them back and forth and presses soft kisses against his neck.

It’s okay because he speaks to his sisters and they all crowd around the receiver all at once and tell them they love their big brother like crazy, and it makes Louis smile. He tells them he loves them as well, and that maybe, if they’re good to mum, they’ll get to meet his boyfriend soon. He feels Harry smile against his neck and press a soft kiss there. When they ask Louis if he loves him, he presses his cheek against Harry’s and says, “Yes, I do.”

It’s okay because Louis is happy, and maybe he’s slowly figuring out what he really wants, and he’s no longer content with just going along with the crowd, just because it’s easier.

When he hangs up the phone, he turns in Harry’s arms and allows Harry to wrap him up securely, for once letting Harry be the holder. It makes more sense because Harry is about a head taller than Louis and loves the way Louis is able to tuck his head right underneath his chin and bury his head against his shoulder. It’s nice, and comforting, but Louis is stubborn and indignant about being small, so he will always prefer to be the big spoon even if Harry miraculously grows to be 7-feet tall, which, at the rate he’s growing now, wouldn’t really be that surprising.

“I’m proud of you,” Harry says, kissing his cheek.

“Be proud of yourself,” Louis says, rubbing Harry’s back and pulling back so they’re looking at each other. “Don’t know if I’d have been able to do it without you.” He flicks the pink and purple crown resting atop his head. “You and your silly little flower crowns.”

Harry giggles and hugs Louis again, rocking them from side-to-side and breathing in contently. “You love them.”

“I love you.”

“Sap,” he says cheekily, squeaking when Louis jabs a finger into his ribs. “Okay, okay. I love you too.”

So maybe he doesn’t know exactly what he wants to do with his life yet. Maybe it’s all one big, gigantic mystery, kind of like the universe Harry happens to be so infatuated with.

Maybe that’s okay too, because he’s only 21 going on 22, and he’s got Harry, and his guitar, and Niall, Zayn and Liam too, no matter how much of a pain in the arse they can be, and he’s happy.

Even in his moments of uncertainty, the days when he has absolutely no idea where he wants to go, he’ll always have these things, and these people, there to guide him through, guide him to the place he’s meant to be when the time is right and he’s certain he’s ready.

And that’s definitely more than okay.

Fin