Actions

Work Header

Got My Hand in My Pocket and My Head in a Cloud

Work Text:

The first time he sees Louis Tomlinson in person, they're at a stuffy awards show and Harry would genuinely rather be anywhere else in the world. Nick is at a table with his radio co-workers over there. Ed is way over on the opposite side with his team. Harry is here with his crew and he hates every single one of them at the moment.

He has, of course, seen One Direction in photos and on television. Everyone has seen One Direction in photos and on television. Thousands have seen them in concert and on the internet. They're manufactured and synthesized but harmless and fun enough, all bright smiles and wide eyes, styled within an inch of their lives.

There's nothing wrong with them exactly, but Harry is dive bars and touring in a second-hand van with songs he wrote himself. He's industry credibility and respect, with a moody pout and an apathetic hair flick. Their worlds don't exactly collide on a normal basis.

Things like this aren't normal, though. One Direction is at the table directly in front of him, Louis' severely-quiffed hair catching the lights occasionally and, at the very least, giving Harry something more interesting to look at than, well, anything else in this room at the moment.

They don't speak, but Louis turns at one point, narrowed gaze searching somewhere over Harry's shoulder. He never seems to find what he's looking for but when his eyes make their way back around to Harry, his smile is automatic, blinding, and gone so quickly that Harry thinks maybe he imagined it.

If Harry shoots a glance at their table, at Louis, during one of his three acceptance speeches, he apathetically flips his hair to hide it. And if he claps when One Direction wins an award toward the end of the night, his moody pout makes it look as though he's just trying to be polite.

It's not a big deal. It's just more entertaining than watching behind-the-scenes deals and industry bullshit is all.

*

Between touring and recording his second album, Harry doesn't really think about One Direction again for awhile. Someone sends him a link of a thirty-second YouTube clip where Louis shouts out Harry's album as one he's listening to at the moment, so Harry favorites the tweet and heads back into the booth to record the bridge of a song he wrote with Ed twenty minutes ago.

He doesn't really think about One Direction again, not much.

*

He's promoting the new album in North America, head spinning over the attention it's receiving and the positive response he's getting in each city. It was weird enough when people started showing up to his gigs in the UK. It's fucking surreal when they pack out clubs in the US and Canada, where he's never done so much as a radio interview until now.

Now he's doing television and magazines, photo shoots with Rolling Stone and The New York Times, performances on early morning and late night chat shows. It's just so fucking surreal.

The questions are sometimes ridiculous, more often than not invasive, and occasionally offensive. It's not so different than back home, just annoying. He started making music to escape the banality of being a teenager, not to wear makeup and talk about his sex life with complete strangers. At least it only takes a couple of interviews to build up a tolerance, to stop flinching in surprise and school his moody pout into place before anyone can notice he's uncomfortable.

Then a woman in impossibly high heels squeezes his arm and conspiratorially asks, “Do you know who I heard has a gigantic crush on you?” Harry braces himself for another supermodel shout, or maybe some American actress he's never heard of before, and is in no way prepared for the photo she takes from her cameraman and shoves toward him.

Louis is wearing the most ridiculous green trousers and a thin, white tee shirt with an obscenely wide neckline. It's an old photo – Harry only knows because Louis' hair isn't that long anymore, his fringe doesn't reach his eyebrows these days, not that he's looked at recent pictures on the internet or anything – but the smile that crinkles the corners of Louis' eyes is still the same.

He stutters for a moment, hopes it's only seconds instead of the unending hour it seems to be in his head, and then smirks. “I've heard he's a fan of the album,” he says, proud of himself for sounding somewhat ambiguous and unaffected.

Of course, she refuses to let it go at that. “What do you think about that? And is it a mutual crush?” she asks playfully.

For a brief moment, Harry's fingers itch against the insides of his pockets. He aches to launch into a diatribe about the assumption that two men who happen to hail from the same country and also happen to coincidentally refuse to shy away from what appears to be a fluid sexuality would obviously be into each other. Nick is right, though, when he says that Harry needs to reserve his political statements for his own forums – his music and website or YouTube channel - where he has control over them and can present them in his own words. Recorded interviews can, and will be, manipulated and edited.

Clearing his throat, Harry shrugs and pushes his hair from his face. “He's pretty hot. I'm certainly not complaining about it.”

They move on to rumors of Harry pursuing acting – he's not going to, doesn't know why on earth everyone seems to want him to – and he assumes that's the end of it.

*

Someone tweets Louis and tells him, in caps, that Harry Styles called him hot in an interview. Louis responds with a smiley face and someone else tweets that interaction to Harry. He shakes his head, pockets his phone, and takes the stage for the last show of his American tour.

It's the crowd, the energy and adrenaline, not a stupid :) from Louis Tomlinson, that makes it the best show of the tour.

*

Harry's first performance upon returning home, nearly a year after that awards ceremony, is at a televised charity event. He's agreed to play but refuses to do anything embarrassing on the grounds that his personal humiliation does nothing to help the needy. Nick insists that it's all in good fun, but Nick spent his morning in a bath of worms and now has bubblegum pink hair, so it's impossible to take his opinion seriously at the moment.

He's wandering the halls, looking for a bathroom in an attempt to calm his ever-present pre-show nerves when a shock of red hair catches his eye. He turns his head to find Louis and his bandmate, Zayn, chatting outside their dressing room door.

“Hey,” Zayn greets with a smile and a nod.

Harry nods, his eyes darting again to the top of Louis' crimson quiff. “I like it,” he says, as though that's any sort of proper greeting.

Louis' eyes crinkle in the corners, his teeth catching his lower lip to hide the smile Harry can tell is threatening to break free of his control. “Thanks, mate,” he says, softer than Harry expected his voice to be.

Not that he's been expecting Louis' voice to sound like anything, really.

“It's just for tonight,” Louis explains quickly, raising one arm to run his hand over the top of his styled hair.

Harry should keep going, just walk on by like he has somewhere to go, but he doesn't actually do it. Leaning against the wall, stuffing his hands into his pockets, he refuses to think about how the butterflies in his stomach feel different now than they normally do before a performance. He focuses instead on the myriad of random tattoos adorning Louis' right arm, thinks it's ironic that someone as polished and pop-shined and plastic-haired as Louis Tomlinson has such a nonsensical smattering of art against his skin, a collection not unlike Harry's own.

The slow smirk that spreads across his lips is instinct, playful and flirtatious and only marginally unintentional when he drags his focus from Louis' arms to his chest and then his face, flicking another glance to his hair before he says, “Think you should keep it. Suits you.”

Zayn outright laughs, shakes his head and says, “I'm gonna go before the sexual tension suffocates me.”

Louis rolls his eyes, aims a punch somewhere in the vicinity of Zayn's crotch but misses completely, as Zayn escapes to the dressing room only to slam the door directly in Louis' face. When he returns his attention to Harry, he's still chuckling.

“I didn’t think this was your kind of thing,” he says.

Harry nods, rests his right foot against the wall and lets himself breathe easier than he has all night. “I like to do my part,” he answers sarcastically. “Nothin' says let's help the needy like a song about sweaty random sex in a dirty toilet stall, I think.”

The laughter punches from Louis' throat, explosive and pleased, filling the hall between them and resonating all the way to Harry's toes.

Before Harry can revel in the feeling of it, though, footsteps echo around the corner and his agent appears with a pinched, irritated look. It's pretty bog standard, really.

“There you are! Jesus Christ, Harry, you have four minutes until you have to be out there. Let's go!”

“Guess that’s me,” Harry says, ignoring his agent completely in favor of winking at Louis when he pushes off the wall. “Break a leg out there, yeah?”

Louis throws a hand out, waits for Harry to give it a short, firm shake, and says, “You, too, mate.”

It's maybe not as short as Harry would like to assume that it is. The smile Louis gives him lingers even longer than the tingle in his fingers.

On his way to the stage, he's thinking of Louis' red hair and growing tat collection as he passes a prop table. His eyes fall on a delicate wreath of white flowers, I wish I was a punk rocker with flowers in my hair flashes through his brain, and he stuffs it on his head with ten seconds to go until stage time. It looks ridiculous, but what the hell, right? It's all in good fun, after all.

Nobody's going to know what it actually means anyway.

*

As it turns out, Harry grossly underestimates the power of the internet.

It's after noon the day after the charity show when he awakens on Ed's couch with a hangover and a sock stuck to his cheek.

Once he blinks enough to keep his eyes open and struggles to rest his head against the arm of the couch – it's as close to sitting up as he's going to get right now – he reaches for his phone and opens Twitter. It's less about checking the reaction to his performance, as he barely remembers what he did last night, but more an automatic action. Wake up, have a lazy wank, piss, check twitter, sometimes in that order but not always.

Maybe it's the hangover, but Harry is completely unprepared for the explosion of at-mentions and tumblr links he's been sent overnight. If he thought he was clever last night, Harry was sorely mistaken. There are so many photoshopped edits of him in that stupid flower wreath and Louis with his bright red hair, that stupid line splattered over and over in every possible font.

He vaguely remembers being on the same stage as One Direction for about thirty seconds, long enough for the hosts of the show to make an impassioned plea to the country for more donations. He remembers shaking Louis' hand, bending his head to hear something Louis was trying to say off-mic, but he's entirely certain their miniscule interaction did not warrant this kind of attention.

His face flushes as he clicks out of Twitter as quickly as he can. Ed is still snoring in his room, so there is absolutely no one around to catch him but his hands are still shaking when he opens his text messages. It wouldn't matter if there was anyone around to see it, though. Really, it's just fan stuff. There's nothing to be so shaken about. He's just hungover. Yeah, that's it.

You should send that Tomlinson kid a fruit basket. Or give him a blow job. Congrats, kid.

It's the weirdest text Harry has ever received from his agent, the same man who once sent him a picture of a drag queen in nothing but a feather boa and an ill-fitting g-string. He has no idea what it means as he opens the next message, a screenshot of the iTunes charts, where Harry's album is sitting in the number three position. He vaguely remembers someone congratulating him for it cracking the top ten last night. Holy shit.

The next message is another screenshot, this time of Louis' twitter. A response to someone that simply says, Yes , he looked great and sounded even better . Buy that album now !

It occurs to Harry, as he opens Twitter again, that he should be recoiling against the very idea of gaining album sales through the endorsement of the poppiest of popstars. He doesn't actually care as he searches Louis' name, gives him a quick follow, and then responds to the tweet with a simple, You're a legend.

*

Everything seems to change immediately.

It’s been there in internet whispers for a while now, but the papers begin speculating on the budding relationship between One Direction's Louis Tomlinson and indie's darling Harry Styles, though it's downplayed by the fact that they haven't been seen together since the charity event. UK and American blogs pick up the scent, start piecing together online interactions and moments when they were in the same place at the same time, creating timelines and conspiracy theories and all sorts of stupid assumptions, pictures of them allegedly sneaking into or out of clubs or restaurants.

Harry's always had his fair share of female followers, waiting outside venues for pictures and autographs, but there are more now. There are also tears and screeches that he's not quite sure how to handle, girls who are just old enough to be in his reasonable age bracket but just young enough to get him arrested. He humors them, answers questions about Louis with sly smirks and playful innuendo, rides the wave of the attention for what it's worth, and tries to remember that humanity is fickle. This is a passing phase, so he figures he might as well have fun with it while he can.

*

When Harry visits one of Ed's shows a couple of months later, someone snaps a picture of him backstage. He's alone, sat on an old equipment case and toying with an electric guitar, waiting for Ed to finish his sound check. Harry didn't even know who took it until it showed up on Instagram. In a month's time, it's been shared a hundred thousand times.

A week later, a friend of Louis' posts a similar photo to her own account. He's looking uncharacteristically disheveled and playing a guitar. Harry's eye is immediately drawn to the tattoo scrawled over his chest, just barely peeking out from beneath the neckline of the tank top he’s wearing with a pair of track suit bottoms. If Harry recognizes the ink as new, he doesn't admit it, but he does think that Louis certainly doesn't look like a polished pop star.

It's the caption - This looks familiar. - and Louis' reply - Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - that sends Harry crying into a bottle.

“The craziest thing, right,” he slurs over drinks in a dirty, hipster club, “The craziest thing is that I haven't even seen him since that charity thing. Haven't talked to him. We have practically zero contact with each other outside of social media. It's insane.”

Nick rolls his eyes and leans back in his chair. His disdain for all things Louis Tomlinson doesn't often go unsaid. “Yet you can't stop talking about him,” he says, bored and probably a little jealous, though trying his best to seem unaffected.

“Well, he's fucking hot,” Harry declares loudly, flailing his arms as though this is a grand proclamation. Or perhaps as though he's drunk off of his ass and about to fall off of his stool.

“So bloody call him, Harold.”

With a moody pout, Harry falls forward, dropping his chin hard into his hands. “I don't have his number.”

Nick huffs, as though this is the dumbest excuse he's ever heard. “I'm sure you could find it.”

The thing is, Nick is right. Of course Harry could get Louis' number. He could easily just send him a DM and ask for it. It wouldn't be hard at all.

But it might also ruin everything. He's not going to admit it aloud, being as he has a reputation to uphold and all, but he's enjoying the subtle flirtation with Louis, this crafted, imagination-fueled thing that they've become on paper. Reality could so easily ruin that.

In Harry's experience, it usually does.

*

“You'll never guess who I just worked with.”

Harry stops cruising aimlessly on the internet long enough to raise an eyebrow at his friend, Lou, over the top of his phone. “Am I even going to care?” he asks.

She flips her platinum hair over her shoulder and nibbles coyly at her bottom lip, looking not unlike a small child with a juicy secret. “I'm sure you'll pretend not to,” she answers finally.

Suddenly, Harry knows. He doesn't lurch forward like he wants to, but he does lower his phone just a bit. “And how was it?” He does a brilliant job of keeping his interest to a minimum, thanks.

“Delightful,” Lou answers with a smile that can only be described as embarrassingly dreamy. She falls onto the couch at Harry's side and nudges him with a shoulder. “His hair is very soft, in case you were wondering what it might be like to run your fingers through it.”

“I wasn't,” he insists.

He's never wondered what it would feel like to have the spray-sticky strands of Louis Tomlinson's sweaty hair between his fingers while Louis looks up at him through lowered lashes, his mouth stuffed full of … he's never wondered about Louis' hair at all.

Lou pats his thigh when she says, “You've always been a shit liar, Harry. Always.” Resting her head against his shoulder, she sighs and says, “I got his number for you. Hope that's alright.”

YOU WHAT? a voice screams in the back of Harry's head. He swallows it down in favor of shrugging his shoulder into her chin and droning, “Wonderful,” as though it's anything but.

It's not like he's going to use it or anything.

*

The thing is, the song is good. It's really fucking good. It's just not exactly Harry. Sure, he wrote it and everything, but it's just so innocent. At least, it's more innocent than Harry has been in a very long time. He's not even sure where it came from, if he's honest. He long ago learned to stop questioning things like muses and inspiration, to go where the music takes him and all that artistic drivel, so he wrote it and recorded it in his own bedroom. He's never going to take it into a studio or anything, but it's still a really good song.

Someone should release it to the world, really.

Heard you’re working on your next album. I have a thing you might like.

Harry fires the text to the number Lou gave him weeks ago and tries to forget about it as he goes back to work on something he can actually use for his own third album.

The reply comes almost instantly. Is this that guy from that club last night? Are you sexting me right now?

Harry's face flushes hot, but he can't help laughing. If I was sexting, you'd know it. It's Harry Styles and I was actually talking about a song, not my cock.

It takes longer to get a reply this time, long enough that Harry starts to wonder if he's made a hideous mistake, if he should have played the song for Ed. Ed might be able to pull this off.

Finally, he can breathe after Louis returns, Liam nearly fell off his chair. We absolutely want it. We're in the studio now. Bring it. It's followed immediately by another message that simply reads, The song I mean. And your cock. I suppose you can also bring that.

Harry sits back in his chair and exhales a deep breath of relief that he didn't realize he was holding. He'd meant that he would send the file over, but if they want to hear it now, he can take it. It's not like he has anything pressing to do.

*

While he can’t honestly say he’s ever given much thought one way or the other to working with One Direction, Harry enjoys his time in the studio with them more than he would have once imagined. They’re carefree in a way that his indie friends can’t be, focused in a way that mirrors his own determination while recording.

Once their team hears the song, musicians and vocalists picking it apart and rebuilding it to fit their voices and sound, Harry knows he’s made the right choice in offering it up in the first place. Ed wouldn’t have done this with it. Harry couldn’t do this with it. It’s a perfect fit.

He’s sitting on an overstuffed, overused couch in the back of the studio, lazily sprawled and blinking at the ceiling as he listens to Zayn smashing the final chorus for the third time. He’s still getting chills when his phone buzzes in his hands.

The text directs him to check his email, where he finds a strongly worded message from one of the reps at his record label. They’ve heard rumors that he’s giving songs away to One Direction now and they would like to remind him that, per his contract, they own his creative property and don’t want him farming it out to lesser talent for fear of how the association will affect his credibility. They mostly certainly don’t want him doing so for free. This is a business, after all.

Harry doesn’t realize he’s groaning until Louis asks, “You alright?” at his side. Rolling his head along the back of the couch, Harry flips his phone around so Louis can see the message and just smiles when he asks, “May I?”

Brow knitted, Louis taps furiously on the screen, stopping occasionally to consider his next thought before continuing. Finally, he drops the phone back into Harry’s lap and stretches his legs out, ankles and arms crossed and face the picture of serene satisfaction.

Returning his gaze to the ceiling, Harry pretends not to notice the way Louis’ fingers brush against Harry’s hip under the protection of his own arm, but he can’t deny the pleasant buzz in his belly that the contact brings.

It’s not until he gets another email, a response, that he bothers to read what Louis sent in the first place.

It is a reminder not only of the total number of records One Direction have sold, but also the power of a global fanbase, one with disposable income and an interest in everything tangentially associated with the band they love. It's far more formal than this guy Harry has come to know as a loud-mouth with little-to-no care for social protocol, for sure.

It’s loads of business-speak, an assurance that the band will also be paying for the rights to the song, and some other bullshit that equally impresses and annoys Harry, but the bottom line, he supposes, is the response from his label: Though I’m well aware you didn’t actually write this yourself, it’s a convincing argument. We’ll allow it on an experimental basis. Let the band know that we will be in touch to negotiate an appropriate price for the use of our intellectual property.

“I thought you indie types had all this creative freedom,” Louis teases when Harry shows him the email. He seems completely unsurprised that he was able to get his own way in this scenario.

Harry laughs, shifts in his seat until he can hunch forward and stuff his phone into his pocket. With his elbows on his knees, hands clasped between them, he zeroes in on the sight of Louis’ tanned leg pressed against the black denim of Harry’s jeans.

“I did,” he says, angling himself to see Louis’ face over his own shoulder, feeling his smile widen when he catches Louis’ eye. “And I was playing to maybe a hundred people at a time, selling a few burnt cd’s out of my car, and living on friends' couches.” He leans back again, not even trying to hide the way his arm covers Louis’ now. “I like having my own place and running water. Costs a bit of creative freedom, that, but it’s not all bad.” Winking, he nudges his knee against Louis’ and says, “Sometimes you get to work with really fit boy bands.”

Louis laughs, that uncontrollable punch of sound that pops out of his throat and disrupts everything in the best possible way. He claps his hands over his mouth and then punches Harry’s arm. He opens his mouth to speak and then retreats as the producer swivels in his chair and narrows his eyes.

“Take it outside, you two,” he orders, pointing to the door as though they can’t find it on their own.

In the hall, Harry stops short of following Louis to the back door. Something is happening here, the tension that's been simmering between them for months working its way to a boil, and Harry is unsure of it for the first time. More accurately, he's unsure of his own ability to keep it in check, should the situation call for that.

“If you need to go, it's fine,” Louis says, his hand on the door knob when Harry looks up. “I promise I won't let them ruin your song.”

“I don't need to-,” Harry starts and then stops himself, shaking his head and stalking toward Louis because, dammit, it's not as complicated as he's making it out to be. It doesn't have to be so dramatic.

Louis flattens himself to the door, eyes wide as Harry crowds against him and grabs the back of his neck with one hand. He can't help chuckling as he runs his thumb along the base of Louis' hairline.

“What?” Louis finally asks, confused and possibly a little startled by this sudden move. He drops his hand from the door knob to Harry's waist, fingers twisting in the thin fabric of Harry's shirt. “You can't just move in like you're going to kiss someone and then start laughing at them. What kind of absolute asshole does that?”

“Your hair is really soft,” is all Harry says because, well, Lou was right. It's a stupid thing to be thinking right now, when his face is so close to Louis' that he can smell the faintest hint of the prawn sandwiches they had for lunch mingling with his expensive cologne.

“Oh, for god's sake,” Louis groans, pulling Harry's hips flush to his own and surging forward to press their lips together.

It's sudden and shocking, but feels as though it's always been inevitable. Harry's shoulders relax, his hips rolling forward as he tightens his grip on Louis' neck and steadies himself with another hand on the door above Louis' head. When Louis moans into Harry's mouth, Harry trails his thumb to Louis' jaw and prods him to open, slipping his tongue inside and licking as slowly and deeply as he can.

As far as first kisses go, it's alright.

He can't say which of them pulls back first, but the lazy, hazy grin on Louis' face is enough to make Harry stop caring. Aimless fingers trail his sides, under his shirt, drawing pointless shapes against his skin. They just stare at each other for awhile, smiling like the idiots in songs written by people who are certainly not Harry. It's so silly and he absolutely can't stop it from happening.

He cards his fingers through the back of Louis’ hair, grinning again when he says, “I liked it better red.”

Louis lifts his own hand to Harry’s head to wind a curl around his finger. “I liked yours better with flowers in it.”

His eyes are playful, mischievous and hooded, just that side of naughty like bedroom eyes should be. It’s too much to handle in a semi-public place where any random member of Louis’ entourage could burst in at any moment, so Harry leans forward, presses himself fully against Louis’ tight little body, and dips his head to suck a wet kiss into the space behind his ear.

He doesn’t stop until Louis whimpers a helpless, Holy fuck, his fingertips digging into Harry’s shoulders and waist as though he’s struggling to keep himself from dropping off a ledge.

“Alright, you,” Louis finally gasps, pushing at Harry’s chest until Harry gives him enough room to at least breathe his own air for a second. “I can’t just,” he stammers again, flexing his thighs. He glances down and then to the side to see that he’s now straddling Harry’s leg. “Jesus,” he breathes, grinding down experimentally, causing both he and Harry to groan involuntarily. “I didn’t know what I was asking for when I asked you to bring that thing along with you.”

It’s such a terrible joke that Harry just buries his face in the top of Louis’ hair to hide his laughter. “Awful,” he teases, finally taking a step back when he feels the sweat beginning to bead along his hairline. They’re still in a recording studio, Louis’ right. He can’t just disappear if they let themselves get worked up. “Right, okay. Time to be professional.”

After one exaggerated breath, Louis nods and gently moves his fringe away from his eyes. He shoves through the door just as Niall tosses an orange into the air and Liam swings at it with a very large, very dangerous-looking knife. Time to be professional indeed.

It is absolutely not time to ask what the hell they’re doing or where this is going or if Louis would like to come back to Harry’s flat after they finish recording. No, the timing is all off, but timing has never really been Harry's strong suit.

While Louis is watching his bandmates at a safe distance, so as not to lose a finger or limb or ear or something else vitally important, Harry steps up behind him and watches his breath hitch in his throat. He touches only Louis’ shoulder with only one of his hands and whispers, “You should come to mine later.”

With a wicked glint and a devilish smile, Louis says, “Yeah. Yeah, I definitely should.”

*

“Ya know,” Harry says, nudging Louis' thigh with his toe, “When I said you should come by, this isn't exactly what I had in mind.”

Louis' eyes crinkle at the corners when he looks up from his phone to feign complete innocence. He's leaned against the arm of the couch, legs sprawled wide to occupy all of the space Harry has left him. “What kind of boy do you take me for, Styles?”

The laughter that forces itself from Harry's chest is loud and sudden, a little hysterical and foreign. He's not an unhappy guy, not at all, but he's so used to appearing unaffected these days, pretending he doesn't care about anything enough to show an emotion one way or the other. Clapping his hands together and allowing an actual belly laugh of surprise to propel him backward on the couch feels new and, well, good. It feels really good.

He doesn't hear a shutter, but when he looks back up, Louis is lowering his phone again, focused on the screen. “You've got a really good face,” he says, distracted.

It strikes Harry as funny, the absurdity of the compliment, but also as incredibly fond. He figures it must be the fondness that makes his belly swoop like this, that makes his brain think words like 'belly swoop' in the first place.

“Too bad I'm contractually obligated to be an apathetic indie hipster.” He nods toward the phone and says, “Guess you'll have to keep that one for yourself.”

The mood shifts, Louis' grin fading and his posture drawing in immediately.

Fix that, make it go away, fix it now! Harry's brain starts chanting.

“Hey,” he says, rough voice barely above a whisper when he nudges Louis again. He's not actually contractually prohibited from smiling in public. “I was kidding. You can do what you want with it, Lou.”

But Louis just sighs and tosses the phone onto the coffee table, scrubbing his hands over his face and blinking toward the ceiling. “I really can't,” he finally says, a supreme sadness in his eyes when he ventures a look to Harry again. “Flirting and joking is fine in theory. Being,” he stops and gestures to himself in a wide, sweeping motion, “gay or bisexual or whatever is alright, but when it comes down to it, I actually am contractually obligated to keep that to myself.”

Harry blinks, something sinking low and heavy in his gut as he tries to make sense of what he's hearing. “What do you mean?” he finally asks when he just can't quite work it out for himself.

“I mean that I can say I fancy your music in interviews and hint that you're quite fit on Twitter, but I can't actually do anything about it, as I have so lovingly been reminded by about forty-three text messages since we left the studio.”

So that's why Louis suggested they have a drink and watch some stupid reality show when they got here. Harry was assuming the mood had been broken, that Louis was a little tired after recording all day, but that they were building back up to something slowly.

“And now I've made it awkward,” Louis finally sighs, standing beside the couch and wiping his hands on his thighs.

Harry is surprised when he steps closer instead of backing away. He's downright gobsmacked when Louis lifts one leg and straddles Harry's hips, lowering himself onto Harry's lap and winding his fingers into the long curls Harry's been thinking about cutting recently.

“Um,” he says because it's literally all his brain can process at the moment. His hands seem to have no trouble finding Louis' hips and digging in until Louis whimpers, though.

“What I mean is that I can't do anything about it publicly,” Louis finally says, lowering his chest until their foreheads meet. “Behind closed doors, there are a million filthy things I can't wait to do with you, but you have to understand that it can't be.” He stops and sighs, a heavy weight of burden that seems bigger than his slight frame. “It can't be more than that.”

A flash of indignation flares through Harry's chest, anger at the audacity of anyone who would dare negotiate part of a man's identity away with clauses and contracts. Louis is a human being, complete and whole, not some ridiculous toy made of gears and replaceable pieces, not some thing to be market researched and readjusted and packaged more appropriately.

This is why he hates pop music. It's not the sound, but the commodity trading that itches like fire ants under Harry's skin.

“Hey,” Louis interrupts his ranting inner monologue with soft fingers against Harry's cheek. “It's okay, yeah?” His smile is soft, sweet and reassuring. “It sucks, I know, but I guess we all make a few sacrifices for our dreams.”

Harry remembers their earlier conversation, remembers saying that he didn't mind sacrificing a little creative freedom in order to pursue his career. It's not even close to the same thing.

But Louis is gently rocking his ass against Harry's thigh, his fingers pressing tighter into Harry's chest, and all of his self-righteous, spot-on arguments, and thoughts in general are fading away, lost on a wave of sensation that causes Harry to gasp and arch his back off of the couch. Ethical discussions are no longer on the table.

While his eyes are twinkling, the teasing hints of ink beneath the neckline of his shirt washed under a flush of pink, Louis bites his lip, uncertain, as though he's waiting for Harry to make the call, to decide whether this is an arrangement he can live with, whether whatever this might be is worth everything else that comes with Louis' life.

“Every song I write is about random sex and an aversion to commitment. It's who I am,” Harry manage to say, breath catching when Louis shifts slightly lower.

“Not true,” Louis counters, raking his fingers down to Harry's belly before pressing a kiss to the side of his neck. “You've got a few about being blind drunk and questioning your life choices.”

Laughing when Louis gives him the most impish of grins, Harry presses his fingers into Louis' sides and holds on while Louis squirms against him. “The point is that we are nowhere near the going public stage anyway. We may not ever get there, I don't know. You may be a terrible lay.”

“How very dare you!” Louis squawks, poking at Harry's dimple when Harry laughs at his appalled expression.

“Well, I don't know, mate,” he says when he's composed himself enough to speak again. “You mention these filthy things you wanna do, but all I see is soppy conversations about business and feelings.”

For a second, Harry thinks he's pushed the wrong buttons, what with the way Louis darts off of him and grabs his bicep, pulling Harry off the couch with more strength than it appears he should possess. It's a brief concern, though, as Louis drags him down the hall to his own bedroom, shoving him back onto the bed and scampering on top of him like an animal wasting no time devouring its prey.

There's something new about this, something unexpected and exhilarating. He's seen himself described as jaded or apathetic, sometimes disillusioned and aloof, in a lot of articles and interviews and he's always just assumed that it's some rubbish borne of their perception of his public image.

Maybe they're right, though. He's rolling around his bed, still fully clothed, playfully fighting for dominance with a guy who keeps nipping at the ink on Harry's collarbones and then pulling silly faces or cracking goofy voices, and Harry finds it more arousing and exciting than anyone he's pulled in ages, than anyone he's bothered spending even a moment's time with if he's honest.

From the beginning, Louis has kept him on his toes, off his game, tugging him out of his head for a few minutes, even if it's just enough time to send a tweet or watch a video or think about the way Louis' whole face opens up and brightens when he laughs. He reminds Harry that he's nineteen and it's okay to be a little carefree on occasion, that the weight of the world, all of it's problems and angst, don't reside squarely on his hunched shoulders.

“Hey,” Louis says, pinching Harry's nipple when he gets a little too lost in his thoughts. When Harry blinks at him, Louis crosses his eyes and then immediately bites hard on Harry's jugular. Even here, half-hard and flushed, he goes from sarcastic to domineering to wanton in a flash of seconds.

Harry arches, bites off a sharp, “Fuck,” and lets his introspective bullshit go, his laughter genuine instead of the pleasant and amused chuckle he's known for these days. Somewhere along the way, it's becoming increasingly harder to do, dropping the pretenses and being himself, with all of the attention and the pressure and the business of his music and his life, but Louis makes it easier.

Maybe it means something or maybe it's just fun. Harry figures that's all it has to be right now.

*

It's not that he expects Louis to stay the night or anything, but they didn't actually fall asleep until the sun was starting to rise so Harry is a little surprised to find himself alone in the bed the next morning. There's no note on the pillow so he reaches for his phone, wondering if Louis sent him a text or something instead. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy to just cut and run.

While there is no text, he does notice that Louis has already tweeted this morning.

Great day in the studio yesterday . Great night out last night . Great view of the sunrise this morning .

It could mean anything, really. Harry tries to keep his own tweet vague, as well, just in case Louis isn't referring to him at all.

Woke up sore, but the sun is lovely. x.

It's a little more chipper than he tends to be most mornings, but what the hell? He can have a good mood on occasion.

“Oh, bloody hell!”

Harry bolts out of bed, heart pounding against his ribs, before he realizes that he knows that voice. The accompanying crash isn't so encouraging, but Louis is still here.

After taking a moment to breathe, he finds a pair of sweatpants on the floor and wrestles his tingling legs into them before setting off for the kitchen, where he finds Louis in nothing but his trousers, scowling at the tea kettle as though it's offended his mother.

Harry rubs the sleep from his eyes as he blinks and says, “Morning,” with as little enthusiasm as possible.

Louis cringes, motioning to the mess of canned goods on the counter when he says, “I would apologize, but your shelves are too goddamn high up there.”

Crossing to him, Harry rests one hand on Louis' waist and reaches over him to grab a box of tea from the top of the cupboard. “You're just tiny,” he teases, wiggling his fingers just to feel Louis squirm.

Louis narrows his eyes when he turns, trapped between the counter and Harry's body now. “So, no tea for you then?”

“It's my kitchen,” Harry reminds him, easily pinning Louis in with his hands on either side.

“Alright, fair enough,” Louis finally concedes, pressing a quick kiss to the corner of Harry's mouth before pulling back to push the hair from Harry's eyes.

They stand in silence, caught up in staring at each other again, until Harry realizes what's playing from the dock at the corner of the counter. “Are you listening to your own fucking music?”

“I am,” Louis answers with confidence, nudging Harry with his hip to create enough space to finish his tea. “Because I turned this iPod on and, what do you know, there it was.”

“But I don't,” Harry starts to protest and then lets it die because, hell, who is he kidding? So he bought the album. He was curious and Louis was hot and he was, oh fuck it. “It's catchy.”

“Hey, I'm not slaggin' ya off,” Louis insists, carrying the kettle to the sink as Harry busies himself with deciding what to cook a guy he kind of really likes a lot for their breakfast together. “I'm a fan.”

Eggs and bacon in hand, Harry shrugs. “It's growing on me, I guess.”

“We're awful like that,” Louis agrees, watching with gleeful interest as Harry finds a pan in one of the lower cupboards. “Like a fungus.”

Harry stands, balancing all of the items in his arms as he bends to kiss Louis in passing. “Sexy,” he teases.

The banter is playful, fun and easy, while Harry tosses together a quick fry up for them to share. Louis has to go back to the studio today and Harry really should get some writing of his own finished, but for now, he's content to forget about work all together. Louis is more alert, more cheerful than Ed of a morning, less talkative than Nick, and better looking than just about anyone Harry's woken up beside in the last year or more.

He's disappointed when Louis pushes back from the table and says, “I really should get going before they send someone out to find me.”

Harry just nods and sets about clearing the table while Louis showers. When he reappears in a tee shirt of Harry's, one that drapes just big enough to show most of his tattoos, Harry has to remind himself that this is casual and it is absolutely not yet okay for him to shove Louis against a wall and use his teeth to mark the delicate column of his tanned throat, no matter how badly he'd really, really like to.

Finally, when Harry follows him to the door, things go from too-easy-to-believe to just-this-side-of-awkward. He's not sure if he should say that he'll call soon or ask Louis to do the same. Should they make plans to see each other again? Should Harry just casually mention that he's going to be in town for awhile, so he's open to whatever Louis' schedule allows? Is that too much, too soon?

“I should be done around the same time as last night, I think,” Louis finally says when Harry's thought too much and said too little for too long. He rises onto his toes and rests one hand against Harry's shoulder, leaning into him for a kiss that starts slow and familiar. “I'll let you know and you can come to mine this time, yeah?”

“Yeah.” Another kiss, another slow press of lips that threaten to float Harry right out of his head, and he breathlessly answers, “Yeah, I definitely should do that.”

*

As far as the rest of the world is concerned, absolutely nothing changes. They're still not photographed together because they don't step out in public together. Harry still gives the same evasive non-answers, winks and smiles, to the fans who ask him about Louis. Eventually, without concrete evidence to the contrary, the interest wanes a bit and sneaking to one house or the other when they've finished working for the day becomes almost mechanical, automatic and even simple.

Harry knows it won't always be this way. One Direction's new album will be released in a couple of weeks and the world will know that Harry wrote one of the songs. The smoldering embers will flame up again and seeing Louis before he leaves on a world tour will become more difficult. He knows it, but at the moment, he doesn't like it very much.

Because at the moment, Louis is singing a children's nursery rhyme into an empty beer bottle whilst wearing only his pants and a sombrero he brought home from a video shoot this afternoon, something for the band's upcoming tour. He tried to explain it away, but the alcohol and Harry's inexperience with gigantic arena tours is making it difficult to process anything more than the sway of Louis' hips and the reflection of the living room light against his rapidly-falling quiff.

“You are most ridiculous human person I have ever seen,” Harry declares suddenly, pointing toward Louis with his own nearly-empty bottle. The words slur together but Louis' laughter indicates that he understood at least the sentiment, if not the exact phrasing.

He moves slowly, liquid oozing across the floor, until he reaches Harry and climbs onto his lap. Straddling his thighs, Louis plants one hand on the back of the couch and falls gracelessly against Harry's chest with another clattering laugh.

“You,” he finally says, pulling back just enough to meet Harry's eyes, “make me very happy.”

Harry grips Louis' hip with one hand and leans forward until they're balanced precariously by the press of their foreheads against one another. He goes a little cross-eyed as he licks his lips, tastes the beer on Louis', and smiles. “Feeling's mutual.”

It's inconvenient, really. Harry is used to weighing the good things in his life against their cost, focusing on the sacrifice rather than the reward. That's always been the key to his success, he thinks, the underlying misery that makes his music what it is. If he's honest, it's probably why he's struggling to write songs for his new album, but he'll worry about that later.

Louis makes him happy. For now, he's having trouble seeing that as a bad thing.