Gearing up for tour, they'd had to hit the gym to get in shape. It wasn't a vanity play. It was meant to serve more functional purposes like making sure they didn't drop dead during their grueling tour schedule, but it turns out that exercise has pretty good side effects.
Harry's body is changing, both in how he keeps getting taller, but also how quickly he tones up, arms stronger, belly tighter. At first he's nervous when his clothes start getting snug, remembering his baby fat issues, but then Gemma tells him how all of her friends keep going on about how fit he looks, and he checks it out on tumblr and twitter and yeah, that seems to be the consensus, so he keeps it up.
He tells himself he's continuing to work out while they tour because he enjoys the health benefits - he's definitely got more energy and stamina - but the validation is oddly addictive. He likes the feedback he gets from fans and the media, but most notably, he likes catching Louis's eyes on his body in unguarded moments, the way Louis glances away when Harry busts him checking out the goods.
It's been months of Louis ignoring him, which is apparently how Louis chooses to deal with having had what he won't let himself want. Cold tension is the new normal between them, but Harry likes to think it's mostly optics. They've basically moved on, unless you count this hulking mess of unease between them, this inability to smile at each other or throw a casual arm around one another. Aside from that, it's great. They're mates. Everything else is water under the bridge. Or at least it seems that way for Louis.
It's not quite that simple for Harry. Louis is like a walking, breathing bruise for Harry. He can't look at him, listen to him, smell him without randomly remembering things best forgotten, if they're going to survive as friends and co-workers. Louis laughs, and Harry gets a flash of Louis holding him down and tickling him, teasing his soft belly and hips with deft fingers. Louis coughs, and a film plays in Harry's mind of Louis with Harry's come on his chin, sputtering and frowning because Harry didn't - couldn't warn him before he shot off. Even when Louis is doing nothing at all, Harry can't stop remembering when they'd do that together, feet tangled on the couch in their shared flat, phones or laptops out, not talking but not - not ignoring each other like they are now.
Now it's like Louis tries to put wedges between them. His disinterest is pointed and obvious. If silence could be loud, Louis's would be louder than all the girls at all of their concerts combined.
Harry doesn't have the ability to ignore Louis, so he's at a disadvantage. He can't pull off indifference; even when he tries he'll catch himself turning his head to follow Louis across the stage, or smiling at something only marginally funny that Louis has said to someone, anyone, but not him. Harry doesn't have an Eleanor either, doesn't have some lovely, sweet, soft-spoken needle to poke Louis with, so he works with what he's got. He stretches and feels the new muscles of his shoulders pulling at his t-shirt, he leans over and feels his jeans slide down low. He sees how Louis will clench his jaw when an interviewer asks about the latest person Harry's rumored to be dating, or mentions a celebrity who's said Harry's his or her favorite. He catches Louis watching him as he does his pre-show push-ups, when he tugs up his shirt to scratch at his belly or when he winks at girls (and boys) from the stage. He can't help feeling smug as hell, because Louis was the one who did this. It shouldn't just be hard for Harry.
It's petty and childish, but Harry doggedly does his best to force any kind of reaction out of Louis, any way to get Louis's eyes back on him. And it - well. It works, is the thing. It's like Louis can't stop noticing how Harry is filling out and Harry can't stop noticing Louis noticing, although while the whole thing makes Harry sort of guiltily pleased, it really makes Louis quite grumpy.
It makes Louis lash out, lobbing harsh comments in Harry's direction more often than usual. At first it hurt, left Harry stung and confused. But now that Harry's started noticing the things that set Louis off, well. Now each barb feels like a tiny prize for all of his efforts.
* * *
Liam and Niall are both well fit and stood closer to Louis than Harry, but Louis seems to only be glancing in Harry's direction, again and again, as if he hasn't seen Harry in less clothing than this a hundred thousand times. Harry scratches idly at his chest, watching Louis watch him, and then slides his hand down, tucks his fingers in the waistband of his trunks just to see Louis track the movement. Thrilling at finally having the upper hand, Harry uses his free hand to snap loudly in Louis's direction, grinning when Louis startles.
Louis looks away, flushing, but then looks back, right at Harry. He gives Harry a purposeful once over, cheeks pink but eyes narrowed. He cocks his head and waves a hand towards Harry's neck and chest. "Looks like your spots are coming back again," he says, like this is what he's been thinking when his eyes are feasting on Harry's skin. "Shall we send out for some of that acne wash?"
It's hurtful enough to dampen the smile on Harry's face, but only for a moment. When Louis turns away to get his own kit off, Harry sticks out his tongue at Louis, forcing a surprised laugh out of Niall.
Louis looks up at Niall, raises an eyebrow, but Niall just shakes his head and smiles.
Later, Harry will think of better responses. He'll spend long minutes in front of the mirror, checking his skin and imagining himself telling Louis that his arse looked bigger, and had he put on a few?
But then he's thinking about Louis and his really very lovely bum, and it's all rather counterproductive.
* * *
Michael doesn't shrink away when Harry sidles up close to him on the sofa. Michael lets Harry give him cuddles and lovebites and is happy about it, not weird like Louis. Harry appreciates that. More than appreciates it, he requires uncomplicated cuddles to thrive, so he insinuates himself into Michael's orbit pretty aggressively, or as relentlessly as he can get away with without anyone noticing.
Louis notices. When Louis walks into the lounge and catches Harry carding his fingers through Michael's hair, he looks away and snorts. He busies himself doing whatever it was he came in to do, but Harry can feel Louis's awareness of them, even as he chats with Niall and Ashton. "Hope Grimshaw’s alright with his pet getting a pet of his own," he says to nobody in particular, his tone casual as he heads out of the room.
Michael, bless him, makes a soft meowing noise, nudging his head into Harry's chest. Harry can't help but grin when Michael whispers, "Catty, isn't he?"
* * *
"Liam, mate, twenty more seconds and you'll beat your record," Louis says excitedly, and Harry blinks, shocked at how unrestrained Louis is. As afraid of appearances as Louis is sometimes, there are other times where he's such a dork.
Harry loves him so much it makes him sick.
Liam is shaking and making these horribly masculine grunting sounds, but he stays up for the required amount of time, or longer than, because when he finally drops back down to his feet Louis is clapping and Harry is somehow clapping as well, caught up in Louis's enthusiasm and wanting so much to be in on the joke.
Liam's rubbing his arms, but he smiles widely when he sees Harry. "Oi, it's Harry Styles!" Liam says happily. "Hey, hey, Harry you should have a go!" He stumbles towards Harry as the bus lurches slightly, but then he rubs Harry's shoulders and yeah, that's nice. Harry likes touches from all of the boys, but it's been quite a while since he's had much opportunity with Liam.
"What're you up to, then?" Harry asks, leaning back into Liam's touch, and trying not to notice how Louis frowns.
"Arm-hang," Liam says. "S'like a chin-up, only you don't go up. Or rather you don't go down. You just keep your head above the bar for as long as you can." He looks over at Louis, swats at him. "Let's time Harry. We've never timed Harry, have we?"
Louis shrugs, and settles back down, like all of a sudden he has no interest in this dumb game he'd been cheering and clapping for mere minutes ago. His disinterest is so forced and sudden that even Liam looks baffled. It only eggs Harry on. "Okay, yeah," he says, reaching behind his head to pull his shirt off. He tosses it at Louis, who bats it away and rolls his eyes.
Harry hauls himself up on the bar. He struggles on the first few tries, not able to get the proper grip, but then Liam shows him how to position his hands and he's got it.
He doesn't manage to stay up quite as long as Liam, but he does pretty well, apparently. Liam is all laddy fistbumps and encouragement, talking animatedly to Harry about which types of exercises will help him to build his upper body strength, and which will stabilize his core. "I've seen you at the gym," he says while Harry shakes out his wrists and his hair. "You've been working really hard."
Harry smiles proudly, because he has been working hard, and it's wonderful when anyone notices but especially Liam, because Liam's not saying he looks fit or anything, Liam's saying he admires something that Harry's done, which is really not an everyday occurrence.
"I mean, you beat Tommo's time and that was just your first try!"
Harry grins and sneaks a glance over at Louis, but Louis is pointedly not looking at him, instead glaring down at something in his hands. And when Liam says something about Harry's time being impressive because he's so tall, something about his center of gravity being higher, Harry can't stop himself from asking, "So is it easier for Louis, for example, because he's so small?"
"Oh fuck right off," Louis bites out. "You never-" he starts, then bites his lip and looks away, focuses hard at the window.
Harry sucks in a sharp breath when he hears the words that Louis didn't say: you never complained about me being small when you had my cock in your arse, but Liam musses Louis's hair, pokes him in the cheek and calls him a sore loser, so Harry forces himself to laugh along with everyone except for Louis, who curls up, defensive even as he lets Liam scoop him up in his arms.
Harry tries not to ache at the way Louis allows it, how he sinks back into Liam the way he only ever used to do with Harry.
They settle down eventually, and Liam's basically snuggling Louis on the couch when he says, "Hey, I could spot you in the gym, if you like? We can check it out in the next hotel."
It takes Harry a moment to realize that Liam's talking to him, but when he does, he grins widely and nods. Liam knows a lot about exercise and also it's the first time in a long while that he's not felt like this big weirdo around Liam. It feels nice to have something in common with the most normal lad in the bunch, for once.
"Have you tried jump squats?" Liam asks, and Harry shakes his head, still smiling because maybe this is what it feels like to just chat with Liam and be pals. "Oh," Liam says, rubbing his hands together like some sort of puppy-criminal-mastermind, jostling an increasingly grumpy Louis in the process. "That's going to be fun. It'll burn the first few times but it's such a great measure of your core body strength. I'll show you how to do it."
"Cool, cool," Harry says, feeling anything but, but still giddy for the attention.
"Oh, goodie," Louis says. "Maybe after that you can crush beer cans on your foreheads and wank each other off."
It's so- so bitchy that Harry can't hold back a loud, barking laugh. Liam just scrunches up his face and says, "Well that sounds unpleasant. And painful."
Louis huffs, but then Liam boops him on the nose and says, "You're rather kinky, aren't you?"
Harry laughs again, but he hates the way Louis smiles for Liam.
* * *
As much as he wants Louis all the time, he'll admit that getting some distance feels good every now and then. Especially if it means he can have a few drinks and talk to, like, normal people. Whenever they're in a town where he knows someone, Harry will slip out at night, go to a party or a club and just let go.
The first few times he did it, went out and got pissed with a bunch of uni kids, he did it to spite Louis, because it's something Louis would never do. Harry's not proud of it, but there is a persistent, low beat of Louis Louis Louis under his skin, a steady thrum of want that colors his choices. Even when he's getting away from Louis, it's still Louis that's motivating him.
Tonight he's particularly wound up, frustrated by Louis's obvious interest and the way it manifests in Louis being a complete twat to him, and even more frustrated by his own thrill over the whole thing. It's disgusting the way he eats it up, wants to push Louis for more, seeking any attention he can get, even if it's just pissing Louis off.
So he decides to go out, hit a club, and more than that, he's going to go to a gay club and he's going to look fucking great. He pulls on a black vest that shows off his arms and shoulders nicely, checks himself out in the mirror. He makes sure to pass by Liam's room, where he knows Louis is hanging out, and asks Liam if he can use his dumbbells for a few arm curls before he leaves. Liam laughs because he knows that trick, and he tells Harry to clench his fists when he's out, to keep his muscles taut. Louis just clenches his jaw and looks mutinous.
Harry does a few reps on each arm, just enough to bring out the definition a bit more. Liam checks his form while Louis watches, like he's unable to look away and cross about it at the same time. Harry doesn't call him out, but keeps his eyes fixed on Louis the whole time. When he stops, Louis swallows thickly but glances back at the telly as if he'd been engrossed in the program.
"You're a little under-dressed for delivering pizza to the homeless,” he says, without looking up. “You'll freeze your bollocks off."
Harry snorts, but Liam's face crumples into a frown. "You're not going out like that, are you? It's springtime. In Northern England."
Harry grins at Liam and shrugs. "I've got a jumper," he says, pulling on a sheer black jumper that drapes over his torso like a net.
Liam laughs and shakes his head. "Oh, okay, that's better. You'll be proper toasty in that."
Harry grins and lingers a bit, even though he's got no reason to stay other than to make sure Louis sees him. But Louis isn't looking. In fact, he's concentrating so hard on not looking that it makes Harry want to provoke him just that much more. "I love that you still care for my bollocks," he says airily, but clearly to Louis as he heads to the door. "Even after all this time."
Liam laughs good-naturedly, but Louis keeps his eyes fixed on the tv.
It's a joke, but they all know there's a gritty truth just beneath the surface. There's a history between them that Louis wants to ignore, maybe even erase entirely, but Harry won't let him. Too bad if Louis feels differently now. It doesn't mean he gets to make up a reality where it didn't happen, some fake fucking reality where Louis didn't choose to be with Harry above everyone else, where he didn't cry on Harry's shoulder when the pressure got too much to bear, where Louis didn't tremble under him, overwhelmed and- sod it all- in love, because he fucking was. That all happened, and now Louis is fucking jealous and Harry fucking knows it, but there's nothing he can do about it, and it's so dumb and --
It's time for a drink.
* * *
"I need you to fucking stop," Louis is saying. Louis is shouting.
Harry blinks at him, tries to hold his head up and focus because he's made Louis unhappy and he doesn't want Louis to be unhappy. He loves Louis.
"Love you," he says, trying his best not to slur.
"STOP," Louis says harshly, shoving Harry back against the wall again. "Just stop."
Harry has to close his eyes then, because that's just it, isn't it? He can't stop. He can accept things as they are. He can live without Louis. But he can't stop wanting him. He can't change the fact that he would drop everything to be with Louis if Louis wanted that. If Louis wanted him.
"Sorry," he says, because that's the best way to describe how he's feeling.
Louis must take pity on him, because his grip on Harry's shoulders loosens, and that's when Harry notices he's lost his jumper. He can feel Louis's fingers on his bare skin, and when he looks down blearily he realizes he's also lost his vest.
"My shirt," he mumbles, wondering where it's gone, and why he suddenly wants to cry about it. It's just a shirt.
"Yeah and your shoes as well," Louis says, and Harry peeks down at his bare toes on the carpet, feet a little dirty.
"Sorry," Harry says again, keeping his eyes on the ground because if he looks at Louis, if he looks at Louis and sees that same look Louis has been giving him for the past several months, he'll cry, and it's dumb. It's not like he can't buy another pair of shoes.
"Harry," Louis says, voice finally quieted. "Could you just," he starts, and then pauses, shakes his head. "Could you just leave Liam alone?"
At that Harry has to look up, because he's lost the fucking thread of this conversation and he's trying so hard but what does Liam have to do with anything?
"Just let me have one thing," Louis says, voice wavering a bit, and that's new. "I just need one person," he says, holding his index finger up in front of Harry. "Yeah? I need one person who likes me best."
Harry shakes his head because no, this doesn't make any sense at all. "But," he says, confused, "I like you best?" Louis is already shaking his head, but Harry needs to make sure he's clear. "I like you more than anyone? Ever?"
Louis is clenching his jaw, and shit, Harry's fucked it up again and made Louis angry. He just wanted to say you ARE loved to Louis, to say you don't need Liam for that, you have me, when all of a sudden he remembers. Louis doesn't have him anymore. Louis doesn't want him anymore.
"Oh," Harry says tiredly. "Fine."
Everything's swirling, and somehow he feels both drunker and depressingly sober all at once. He closes his eyes and lets his head thunk back against the wall, feeling Louis's hands slip away.
"It's late," Louis says, sounding weary. "Do you have your room key?"
Harry shrugs, keeping his eyes squeezed shut.
"Even remember which room is yours?"
He's not certain he does, knows he always pays more attention to Louis's room number out of habit, but he also knows he can't stay here. "Yeah, Lou," he finally breathes out, shoulders slumping. "I'll go."
He opens his eyes slowly, sees Louis watching him with a twisted, sad expression. He wipes at his eyes and straightens up off the wall. "Sorry," he says one more time. "I know I keep-" his voice fades, and he has to clear his throat to make it come back. "But I am. Truly."
Louis sucks in a shuddery breath and says, "You don't have to be sorry. Just --"
"Stop, I know," Harry says quietly. He looks at Louis then, straight in the eyes and says, "I'll- I'll try." He can feel his eyes going watery but he doesn't look away. He's drunk and he's emotional and his heart is breaking again and yeah, it sucks, but he's not ashamed of it. Even this, even as shitty as he feels right in this moment, is so much better than when Louis doesn't talk to him at all.
"I mean, I've been trying," Harry says, enunciating carefully because he's still slurring a bit and he wants Louis to really know. "But I'll try harder, I suppose. It's- not easy for me. You-" he whispers as he reaches out and puts a tentative hand on Louis's chest, praying that Louis will see that he's trying so hard to be good, will stop hating him for being weak. "You aren't easy for me, you know?"
Louis's expression crumples then, and he's taking a step closer, pressing his cool hand to Harry's flushed cheek. Harry can't help but lean into it, and then Louis is slipping his hand around Harry's neck, pulling him down by the back of his skull to press their foreheads together. It's cruel, because now Harry can feel Louis's breath on his lips, addling his brain until he can't think of anything other than dipping in just that tiny bit more for a kiss.
"Christ, you're so wrong," Louis chuckles sadly, fingers dug into the nape of Harry's neck, holding him still. And then Louis is leaning up for a kiss, Louis is pressing his mouth against Harry's and Harry thinks he must have passed out and this is all a dream because Louis's lips are dry and warm and kissing him all soft and hungry and fast - it's over so quickly that Harry wants to cry. "I am so bloody easy for you, love," Louis whispers into Harry's skin before he pulls away.
Harry can't help tipping forward, chasing Louis's mouth with his own, but he's too pissed and he stumbles, knocks Louis back by accident. "Shit," he mutters. "Come back."
But Louis has already closed off again, like Harry's three seconds too late for the lift, and then he's patting Harry on the shoulder, shuffling him to the door and saying, "Get some rest."
* * *
When he slinks into the lounge, Liam says, "Hey, Harry! We're just about to do a push-up contest, see who can do the most. You in?"
Harry shrugs, says, "Feeling a bit rough this morning, mate," and then darts a glance over at Louis, hoping for some small sign of approval or gratitude, but Louis is just laughing at whatever Liam said next, not even noticing Harry at all.
So everything's back to fucking normal, apparently.
* * *
He almost forgets that there's a third outcome from being around Louis, one where Louis makes him smile, makes him feel warm and fluttery and loved. Almost, until he finds Louis sprawled out in the back lounge, asleep next to his computer.
Harry sits next to him and watches, letting the flashes of memory wash over him. He remembers what it was like to curl up next to Louis and nap together, marvels at how foreign it seems now that there was ever a time when Louis would not only allow Harry to stroke his hair, trace fingertips down his spine, but would ask for it, wanting cuddles from Harry as they were shuttled from city to city.
So many things about Louis are unfamiliar now, his disinterest chief among them, but Harry can see the way Louis's hair swirls soft at the crown of his head when he isn't wearing product, and it's so familiar that it makes Harry feel a physical ache.
Louis blinks awake and Harry panics, frozen in place while his pulse races. Louis notices him slowly, gives Harry a soft smile that makes Harry go dumb in an instant. It’s an intimate smile, also foreign and familiar. He's not sure if Louis just hasn't realized that he's not - that he doesn't look at Harry like that anymore, or if he's changed his mind, but that seems too much to hope for.
"Did you need something?" Louis asks then, voice raspy and sleep-hoarse, just like Harry remembers him sounding when they used to wake up together.
Yes, Harry thinks. I need you. Come back.
Louis watches him sleepily for a moment, then curls back over onto his side, muttering, "S'a bit creepy, Hazza," and pretending to fall back asleep.
* * *
"Get dressed, you slag," he hears, and it's Louis. Louis slapping at his bare thigh. Louis standing over him, wearing loose gray trackies and a t-shirt that Harry recognizes as an old one of his, hair soft and shoved into a beanie. "We've arrived. The lads are inside, waiting."
Harry blearily throws the covers aside and gets to his feet, not saying a word because he needs to be more awake to deal with Louis. He figures if he's quiet, and naked, Louis will leave. Instead, Louis leans against the wall, munching casually on a snack bag of miniaturized Oreos and watches him, not saying anything. Harry's never felt even the slightest bit concerned about being naked in front of anyone, but now he can feel Louis's eyes all over him, and it makes him inexplicably angry, because why should Louis get to look if he's not going to touch?
"Christ," he complains, voice hoarse from sleep. "Make up your fucking mind."
"About what?" Louis asks, breezily. He delicately wipes a biscuit crumb away from the side of his mouth.
"About what you want," Harry snaps back, frustrated.
"Oh, well, I suppose I'd like you to get dressed?" Louis says, scrunching his nose. "So that you can join the rest of us out there, and don't accidentally stumble out while you're starkers." Louis gives him a quick eye-roll, like he thinks Harry's being silly.
"So today I exist, then?" Harry mutters, wiping at his face.
Louis raises his eyebrows. “Are you drunk?”
Harry frowns. He’s not coherent enough yet, not quick enough on his feet to spar with Louis. He needs coffee. “I meant,” he says slowly, “you’re not ignoring me today.”
It’s almost comical the way Louis's expression closes down so quickly and absolutely. "Not drunk, just dumb, then. I came in here just now specifically to get you. How is that ignoring you?"
Harry sighs, scratches his belly and looks around for his pants. “I don’t know, Louis.” He’s about to ask Louis to bring him some clothes when he looks up, catches Louis’s eyes on him again. Louis looks- different, somehow. Soft. Vulnerable. There’s a fondness in his eyes that Harry only catches by accident, too rarely. “See,” Harry says quietly, trying not to wake the butterflies in his belly. “There,” he says, pointing at Louis. “The way you look at me.”
Louis blinks up at him, eyes dragging up Harry’s torso. His cheeks are turning pink and he’s wearing Harry’s shirt and his feet are bare and Harry’s heart is pounding, punching at his ribs.
“You look at me like that, sometimes, and I see you doing it, but then- other times you- you just- pretend I’m not there.” Harry swallows thickly and looks away for a moment. “Or like you wish I weren’t there, anyway.”
Louis frowns. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he announces, adjusting his fringe in a move that Harry knows means he’s nervous.
Harry just watches him. He waits.
Louis pops another biscuit in his mouth and raises his eyebrows as if surprised how tasty they are. He’s being a twat and purposefully obtuse, but he’s not running away, so Harry takes a chance.
"I know you don’t-“ he says quietly, looking down, not able to say it out loud, not sober, not in the daylight. “But,” he inhales shakily, “are we not even mates any more?"
Louis scoffs and rolls his eyes. "I didn’t realize there was a sensitive side of the bed, but I think you’ve woken up on it.” Harry looks up at him, willing himself to hold Louis’s gaze even though it makes him flush with humiliation that he’s making such a big deal out of something that is clearly not an issue for Louis. After the silence stretches a beat longer than is comfortable, Louis huffs and says, “Of course we're mates."
Harry blinks. "Are we? Not mates like you are with Liam, though, otherwise you wouldn’t tell me to leave him alone.” Louis drops his head and sighs, like Harry is so thick for not getting it. “I don’t understand,” Harry says, because he bloody doesn’t, and Louis needs to know that. “You don’t want to hang out with me, but you don’t want me to hang out with anyone else?”
“When did I ever say that?” Louis says quickly, defensive.
“I spend time with Nick, and you’ve got something to say about it,” Harry points out, trying to be reasonable. “I spend time with Michael, and that’s not good either.”
“You can do what you like, Harry,” Louis says, voice clipped.
“I can’t, though,” Harry says, pushing away from the wall so he can step closer to Louis. “I don’t understand,” he settles on, “what I’ve done to make you- feel so differently. You used to want me around all the time,” he says weakly. “Now you act like I'm not even here.”
Louis gives him a face, and Harry knows, he knows he's not expressing himself properly, knows that his brain is going faster than his mouth and he's not good with words the way Louis is.
"It must be nice," Louis says then, voice casual but eyes cold. "To live in a world where everything revolves around you."
It's the kind of offhand remark that Louis wields like a blade, slicing right into Harry's soft underbelly. "Fuck you," Harry says quietly.
"No really," Louis says. "Did you ever think it was possible that I don't ignore you so much as I sometimes genuinely don't notice when you're there? Or do you just default to the assumption that every thought in my head is about what you're doing and who you’re doing it with?"
"Bullshit," Harry says, bullet fast. Louis flinches. "I know what you look like when you're 'not noticing' someone. I watched you not notice anyone but me for two years." He can feel how Louis tenses at that, caught out. "I know you, Lou," Harry says, hoping it will sink in. Harry's not sure what else he can do to trigger Louis's memory. He doesn't know how to be the person that Louis used to want all the time anymore.
Louis seems to deflate then, shoulders slumping. He looks down at the bag of Oreos and chucks it on the table. "Harry," he says, after a moment, drawing in a breath. "Look. People change. You- I know you're still young, but-"
"Shit," Harry whispers, throat closing up. He knows Louis, but Louis knows him, too. Louis knows exactly how to hurt him. "Don't do that."
Louis stops talking then. He swallows and wipes his hands on his thighs. "Right,” he says, so softly it’s nearly a whisper. “Sorry.”
Harry nods, and crosses his hands over his bare chest, if only to keep from wiping at his eyes.
“It’s just,” Louis says after a moment. “I know it was- it was good between us," he says, clearly uncomfortable. "I know it was, love. It was great, even. But, Harry. It's over, yeah?"
And there it is, the cruelest thing Louis has ever said to him. It takes everything Harry’s got not to double over, the words like a punch to his gut. It’s not like Harry doesn’t know it’s over, he feels that every day. He’d just thought it would be better if Louis were nicer to him, but now Louis is being so nice that it’s horrible. He’d prefer a million rotten comments to Louis’s pity.
"It's not your fault," Louis says, and now he’s closer, too close, sliding his hand up to pat Harry gently on the shoulder. "It was just- something I had to go through. And it was lovely.” Louis’s voice breaks. “You were lovely. But that's not something I want anymore."
Harry takes a step backwards. He feels dizzy. It's not the first or even twentieth time Louis has broken his heart. Why is it still so fucking painful?
"I don't-" Harry tries, frowning. He wants to say I don't believe you, but that's not entirely true. Louis is telling him he doesn't love him, maybe never loved him, and his pity is too easy to believe.
"I'm sorry you got hurt," Louis says. He truly looks sorry. Harry wants to punch him.
Instead, he takes another step back. He swallows thickly, wonders for a moment why his eyes haven't started to water yet. "No," Harry says, voice no more than a croak. "I'm sorry. I'm always so-" he trails off, unable to push any more words past the lump in his throat.
For a fleeting moment, Louis looks anguished. And Harry's sorry for that, too, sorry that he can't ever make Louis smile at him the way he used to. "Aw, please don't be sorry, babe," Louis says, and it makes something in Harry just split apart.
"You're always telling me that," he says, hurt turning to frustration. Louis has no right to tell him how to feel. "But I am sorry. I'm sorry that I- I've been so fucking mistaken about everything. I'm sorry that I fucking believed you when you said- fuck." He shakes his hair into his face, not wanting Louis to see his eyes.
He feels Louis stepping even closer, feels Louis’s hand slide around his neck, and fuck fuck fuck he’ll lose it if Louis tries to hug him now. He puts a hand on Louis’s chest to keep him back.
"What happened to you being 'so fucking easy for me'?" Harry chokes out. "What happened to-"
Harry freezes, mouth falling open. His eyes go wide. He hears Louis saying, babe, don’t, like he wants to comfort Harry but he’s a fucking liar.
"You kissed me," Harry says, startled with the realization. "You- you fucking kissed me."
Louis just looks at him blankly.
Harry laughs then, loud and surprised. "You're a brilliant actor," he says, impressed.
Louis frowns. "Sorry?"
"You're a liar,” Harry says, simply. “If you've changed. If you're- If I'm not something you want any more, then why did you kiss me?"
Louis gives him another one of those pitying faces. "Babe, that was ages ago. It's not-"
"Three days,” Harry murmurs. “It was three days ago, Lou."
Louis's mouth clicks shut. A flash of panic in his eyes and then cool confidence takes over. "What, when you woke me up in the middle of the night and you'd lost your clothes? That's not what happened. You were pissed off your arse, you couldn't possibly-"
"No, you did," Harry says, shaking his head against Louis's denial. "Just because I was pissed doesn't mean I wouldn't remember that." Now Harry’s balling his fist in Louis’s soft t-shirt, in his soft t-shirt, tugging him closer. He wants to say that he remembers every single time Louis has ever kissed him, that he'd never forget any of them, but it'll make him sound too much like a lovesick tit. "You kissed me," he says quietly. "Like you meant it, even." He spreads his hand out then, opening it over Louis’s chest so that he can feel Louis's heart thumping under his palm.
"Didn't," Louis says, but it comes out breathy. He curls his fingers into Harry's forearms, not pulling him in, but not pushing him away.
He's definitely not pushing Harry away.
"Did," Harry insists, slouching down so that he can push his face into Louis’s neck, pressing the word into Louis's skin. "And I- please," he says quietly, trying to keep his voice from faltering. "I want you to do it again."
He can feel Louis breathe in, a long inhale and hitching, shuddery exhale. "Harry," he tries, fails, to sound firm. He ducks his head to the side, pulling away from Harry's mouth, then catches Harry's eye, looks at him steadily. "No," he says. "That's not going to happen."
"But why?" Harry asks, trying his hardest not to sound whiny. It's just that Louis is here, and he's so close, and he feels so warm and right under Harry's hands. He wants Louis so much and pretending otherwise isn't really working for either of them.
Louis huffs out a breath, frustrated. "Because I- I can't. All right?"
Harry feels his stomach flip, because I can't isn't the same as I don't want to. It isn't the same as you were a phase or it was lovely but it's over. He slides his hands down from Louis's shoulders, down around his back, trailing down his sides. He lets them rest on Louis's hips, on those curves that have been driving him wild since the first time Louis let him touch. He leans in, presses his hips against Louis's, says, "You can," and presses his lips to Louis's, hoping to tempt him into responding. "You really, really can."
Louis is tough, makes him fight for it, like everything else. It takes an ego-shriveling minute before he responds, waits until Harry is mouthing at his lips, whispering c'mon babe and all but pleading for it, desperate to be validated. Desperate to be kissed.
When Louis does respond, though, it's with toe-curling, knee-weakening fervor. His mouth is warm and soft and relentless, tongue flickering out to taste everywhere he can. “Oh god,” he says, whispering it into Harry’s mouth. Harry wraps his arms around Louis's waist, pulling him in tighter, possessive with it.
They kiss like a freefall, no regard for safety, all adrenalin and butterflies. Harry nearly weeps when Louis grabs him by the back of the neck, steadying him so that Louis can snog him breathless, controlling the kiss the way he used to. He feels himself getting hard, dick gone heavy and fat between his legs, but he doesn’t care. Louis is all soft and warm and rubbing and the fucking best that Harry’s ever had. Nobody else has ever come close.
Harry pushes one hand into the back of Louis’s sweats, down his pants so that he can feel him, get his hand on the round of Louis’s arse. He slides his other hand up, curling it gently around the base of Louis’s ribs, reminding his fingers that this is his spot, his place to hold. He can feel Louis's dick pressing into his hip, hard and thick and it's making his mouth water, so hungry for it that he has to suck Louis's tongue into his mouth just to keep it occupied. He wants to suck Louis, right here, right now. He wants to drop to his knees and rub his face against the poke of Louis’s cock through his worn sweatpants, but Louis is kissing him, and he’s never going to be the one to pull away from that.
Louis claws at his back, pulls him so close Harry actually has trouble breathing, but then whispers, “Shit, we need to stop.” His voice is nothing more than a raspy whimper, pleading. His mouth and hips are both begging, but for different things, and Harry's too riled up, can't make sense of any of it.
“You want to stop?” Harry breathes between kisses. He needs Louis to be crystal clear with him, because Harry's a smart lad but he doesn't have the expertise to deal with Louis Tomlinson. Just when he thinks he's found a balance, a way to cope with wanting Louis but not being allowed to have him, then Louis kisses him. Louis says please, don't, stop but it sounds like please don't stop to Harry's ears.
"Lou?" he asks again, shakily, because he has to know why Louis is kissing him right now, if he wants him to stop. "Stop?" he asks before snugging his hips just so, just the right spot to slide their cocks together. Each thrust is sweeter than the last, driving him nearly out of control with want. Louis clings to him fiercely, moans into Harry's skin every time Harry rocks up against him. "What do you want?" Harry says, voice breaking and breath hot against Louis's sweaty temple.
"Oh god," Louis breathes, but he’s not answering the question, so Harry figures he’ll go first.
"I wanna fuck you," Harry says before he can think better of it. "God, it's been so long since we - and I - you feel so. Can we do that? Can I fuck you now?" He shoves both hands down into Louis’s pants, cupping his arse and hiking it up so that he can get closer to where he wants to be.
"Fucking don't, Harry," Louis hisses, but he's wiggling his hand between them, frantically trying to get at Harry's cock.
“Or you could fuck me,” Harry tries, nuzzling against Louis’s face, groaning when Louis grabs him and starts tugging. “Hands and knees or- ah, god-“
“Jesus, Harry,” Louis hisses, even as he wanks Harry off, “for fuck’s sake, stop.”
"Stop what," Harry asks, confused and desperate and so, so horny as he kneads roughly at Louis’s bum. "Tell me what you want. Just say it. Whatever it is- I’ll-“ he sucks in a breath when Louis twists his hand, stomach trembling, “I’ll want it, too.”
Louis bites his lip and looks down, concentrates on pulling Harry off. “I want you to come, god dammit,” Louis says, choking on the words. “And then I want you to let me be, Harry, Christ.”
It’s brutal, the combination of Louis touching him, working him just the way Harry loves, making Harry feel like it’s their first time all over again, desperate and panicked and tumbling over a cliff, and the words he’s saying. It’s too late, is the thing, too much stimulation, so even as Harry feels his heart break again he’s coming, past the point of controlling it. Harry closes his eyes as it beats through him, making his legs wobbly. It’s the worst orgasm he’s ever had.
He feels Louis’s head drop to his shoulder, feels Louis’s sticky hand slide around to grab his hip, feels how his come smears into his skin. Louis is with him but not with him. Louis’s cock is pressing into his thigh but Louis doesn’t want him.
"Why are you-" Louis starts, then shakes his head, rubbing his sweat damp forehead against Harry’s skin. He’s lost his beanie. He sounds defeated. "Why do you keep making me want this?”
Harry very nearly laughs at that. Maybe he would, if he didn’t feel like crying instead. “I can’t-“ he says shakily. “I can’t make you want it, Lou.” He tries to swallow past the lump in his throat, but his voice still breaks when he says, “God, if I could, I would though.”
He feels Louis’s teeth then, nipping at his collarbone. “You can,” Louis murmurs. “You do it every day, you fucking menace.”
"So you do," Harry says, hoping it doesn't sound like a question as he slides his thigh up to press against Louis's dick. "Want it, yeah?" He can’t bring himself to say want me, too afraid of the answer.
Louis grabs at his leg, presses in tight. His stomach clenches as he feels Louis nodding against his chest.
“Shit,” he breathes, unsteady like he’s just off a rollercoaster. “Louis.” He slides one hand up into Louis’s soft hair, holding him close.
"Someone's going to come in-" Louis starts to say, but Harry cuts him off.
"Maybe they fucking will," Harry says quietly "And then what'll they think?"
Louis doesn't say anything, but they're both immediately aware of Louis’s wet hand curled around Harry’s hip, of the trail of come on Harry’s skin.
“Let me suck you,” Harry says as he strokes Louis’s neck. “I wanna-“
“I can’t,” Louis rasps, not letting him finish.
There's something about the tone in Louis's voice, something sad and desperate and honest that makes Harry pause. "Yeah, okay," he mutters as he pulls back, releasing Louis. Louis blinks up at him, visibly trying to rein it all in. Instinctively he feels like he should push, like Louis wants him to push, but he can’t do that. He needs Louis to choose him, not to want him and hate it, like Harry’s some cross to bear.
Harry pulls away even though it kills him to do so. He scratches at his neck. “I’ll see you inside, I guess.”
Louis closes his eyes and lets his head fall backwards. He’s still hard, Harry notices, but Harry’s not going to force anything on him.
Harry heads towards his bunk to find some clothes, and by the time he’s pulled a shirt and jeans on, Louis is gone.
* * *
“Not fucking fair,” Michael is saying. “I’ve gotta get my revenge.”
“Oooh,” Liam says, smiling. “Tickle fight?”
“Nah,” Niall says, grabbing for Harry’s flailing elbow. “Harry’s given him a wicked lovebite. We’re just helping Mikey here carry out justice.”
Harry squirms and laughs because it’s all in good fun, but he’s putting up a good fight. He can still feel the ghost of Louis’s teeth on his neck, even though there aren’t any marks.
Louis snorts and grimaces, but he meets Harry’s eyes just for a second and clicks his mouth shut, swallowing down whatever hurtful jab that had been on the tip of his tongue. Harry wants to kiss him so badly his head spins.
“Ah, Harry,” Liam tuts and wags a finger in Harry's direction. “Get what you get and you don’t get upset.”
Louis furrows his brows at Liam, gives him a little shove. “You are such an incredible dork, Liam Payne.”
Liam giggles, and shoves him back. “Oi! Who’s side are you on, here?”
Louis doesn’t answer, just fiddles with his fringe and announces that he has to wee.
Harry gets a knee tucked in against his chest so he can shove Michael off long enough to pop up, cackling. “Better luck next time,” he yells, but his heart is still racing, and he’s not sure he’s going to be able to sing if Louis gets anywhere near him tonight.
* * *
The crowd screams for Zayn, but there’s also a loud aww of sympathy for Harry, and Louis groans. “Don’t feel sorry for him,” he says. “All he has to do is stand there and look pretty. And he’s rather good at that, isn’t he?”
Seventeen thousand girls agree, and Louis is flirting so Harry pulls a silly face, bats his eyelashes and cocks his hip in Louis’s direction. Louis presses his lips together, unhappy, and turns his back on Harry. “Alright, Zayn. Don’t let me down.”
Harry stands on the corner of the stage, love and stuffed animals and undergarments being hurled at him from all around. He’s never felt more alone.
* * *
“Oh,” Harry says, looking down at his key, confused. “Sorry, I-“ He leans back out, checks the number on the door. He steps back in. “Is this my room?”
Louis nods, drawing his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around them.
“Oh,” Harry says again, and lets the door snick shut behind him.
“You’re the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” Louis says without preamble, voice low. “In my entire life.”
Harry lets his bag drop. He pushes a hand through his hair, fingers snarling in his drooping quiff. He swallows down the urge to apologize again, to say, I’m sorry that you feel that way, and leave, because hell. This is his damned room. He’s not going to pretend that Louis’s words don’t hurt, but he’s not going to play any more games. “I feel the opposite,” he says, simply.
Louis doesn’t respond, doesn’t say anything at all for several long minutes, and Harry is exhausted, so he just strips off, grabs his things and goes to brush his teeth in the bathroom. He’s half expecting Louis to be gone when he’s done washing his face, but he’s still there, still curled up on the bed, still not talking.
“I’m knackered, Lou,” Harry sighs. “I love you, and you’re welcome to stay, but I’m going to sleep.”
He crawls onto the other side of the bed, stretching out on top of the sheets, and shuts the light off.
After a minute passes, he feels Louis lie down beside him.
He wakes up a few hours later, the dim blue dawn just starting to filter into the room. Louis is hovering over him, whispering his name, stroking his cheek. Harry’s hands fit automatically on Louis’s hips. Louis’s skin is soft. It burns the tips of Harry’s fingers.
Louis kisses him then, on his face, his cheeks, then down to his jaw, his neck. Harry closes his eyes and lets himself feel it, this gorgeous dream.
Louis’s hair is damp, and he’s naked, legs parted over Harry’s hips. Harry’s hard, they both are, and he groans when Louis reaches down and pumps him with a slick hand. “Okay?” Louis murmurs into Harry’s skin, tongue dipping out to taste a nipple.
Harry can’t answer, can only slide a clumsy hand into Louis’s hair and pull him closer, nodding.
Louis’s hand goes slack, and then he’s lowering himself down so that Harry’s cock slides up in between the cheeks of his arse. He rocks back and forth for a moment, sliding forward so that Harry snubs right up against his hole. He lifts slightly then drops again, shuffling his knees higher up on the mattress so that he’s spread open for Harry, so that Harry can’t help but breach him the tiniest bit when Louis moves.
Harry’s hands fly down, squeeze at Louis’s hips again, desperate and confused. “Louis,” he breathes, and it’s a question.
“Still okay?” Louis asks, lifting his head so that he’s looking right into Harry’s eyes. He strokes Harry’s hair back from his face, and Harry can barely see his expression. Harry nods, overwhelmed.
Louis kisses him then, reaches under his shoulders and pulls Harry up off the bed until he’s sitting upright, arms around Louis and heart in his teeth. “Oh, god,” he chokes out when Louis sinks down on him, slick and open and bare.
Louis goes down slowly, taking his time with every inch. When he’s seated on Harry’s lap, he leans forward, rests his head on Harry’s shoulder and trembles.
Harry can’t bear it, waiting for Louis to get comfortable enough to move. It’s agony, so he flits his hands up and down Louis’s spine, trails his fingers down Louis’s chest, wraps himself around Louis’s waist and clutches him with all the desperation he feels. He looks down between them, feels at Louis’s cock and shudders out a breath when he finds it only half hard. “S’it hurt?”
Louis nods and says, “Yeah, you’re-“ but he trails off, lifting himself up slowly and then dropping back down, trying to get a better angle.
“Lemme-“ Harry starts, but Louis leans forward and catches his mouth in a rough kiss. A beat later and he’s starting to ride Harry in earnest, tiny snaps of his hips making Harry’s eyes roll back in his head. “Fuck,” Harry breathes, nearly incoherent. “Fuck I love you.”
“You should- hate me,” Louis whispers, voice breaking with each rock back down onto Harry’s dick, lips tickling at the shell of Harry’s ear. “I’m such a twat- to you. Why- why don’t you hate me?”
Harry hitches him up then, settling Louis more fully on his cock, filling Louis up properly and making him moan with the feeling of it. Louis feels so good on him, all strong legs and arms and lovely, lovely bum. The way his skin smells, the sounds he makes, all of it is conspiring to drive Harry mad, desperate to have him all the time. “Why don’t you hate me?” Harry argues, breathing hard as he shoves his hips up, knocking a grunt out of Louis.
Louis bites at his lip, trying to keep quiet but he can’t. Can’t when Harry is pressing up into him like this, can’t when he bounces up and down on Harry’s cock, chasing the friction. “I do,” Louis sobs after a particularly rough thrust. “So much.”
They don’t talk much after that, just claw at each other while Harry tips Louis backwards, rearranges him on his back so that he can hoist Louis’s legs over his shoulders and pound him into the bed.
Louis clings to Harry, pretty hands feeling out the places where Harry's muscles bunch and flex as he fucks. Harry wants to ruin him. He folds Louis up, knees to his chest, and watches the way Louis's arse bounces each time he slams in. He slows once, after a particularly vicious fuck makes Louis cry out, but Louis grabs his shoulders, frantic, and pleads with him to keep going. "Make me-," he pants, "take it."
Harry frowns and says, "You fucking started it," because there's no way he's letting Louis off the hook for that. It works though, Louis riling him up, pissing him off. He presses down on Louis, pinning him to the bed and fucks him hard, long, slow, deep presses of his cock in Louis's hungry arse.
Louis comes messily on his stomach, blurts of it reaching his chest. He sags into the bed but doesn’t let go of Harry, clinging to his neck and pleading filthily in Harry’s ear. “Wanna feel you,” Louis says into Harry’s burning skin. Harry watches as sweat drips from his hair onto Louis’s skin, enough light in the room now for him to see everything. He knocks Louis up the bed again and Louis coos at him, tells him how good it feels, how nobody’s ever made him feel this good. “Give it to me,” Louis says. "Fill me up."
Harry groans and thumps into Louis again and again and again until he can’t any longer, muscles straining as he comes, promising Louis everything. He keeps thrusting until Louis shushes him, pushing Harry's damp hair away from his face. Harry pulls out eventually, come slipping out with him and dribbling onto the sheets.
After, they lay in bed, quiet. Harry’s eyes are drooping, and Louis smiles, drags a finger down his nose. If either of them notice how Louis's hands are shaking, they don't acknowledge it.
When Harry's phone rings with his wake-up call in the morning, Louis is gone.
* * *
On cue, the fans yell together, one big awwww. Louis smiles, but Harry can tell he’s surprised, and not happy about it. “You are rather shit at impressions, to be fair,” Louis says, and then waves his hands at the girls when they scream in Harry’s defense. “Alright, alright, are you going to prove me wrong then, Harold?”
Harry smiles widely, crouches down a little, hitches his voice up so that it’s as high and reedy as it can go, and says, “ARE YOU QUITE FINISHED?” as haughtily as he can manage.
The crowd goes wild. Liam bursts out into giggles and runs over to give Harry a high-five. Louis lets his mouth fall open in mock indignation.
“Very funny,” he says. “Now if you’re quite finished,” he says, dragging it out. “I believe the request was for Niall.”
As Niall delivers his best Welsh, Harry makes his way over to Louis, nudging him with his shoulder, big grin still splitting his face. Louis looks over his shoulder at Harry and then quickly glances away, shaking his head. It doesn’t sting this time, doesn’t make Harry feel even one bit less. In fact, he’s feeling so giddy that he winds up and slaps Louis in the bum, not too hard, but enough to make Louis wince, still sore from the vigorous shag.
“Wanker,” Louis blurts out, startled.
“If you like,” Harry says into Louis’s ear, and gives him a little kiss high on the cheek before darting away.
Louis is stunned, it seems, but he’s smiling despite himself. He holds his mic up but doesn’t say anything for a moment, and then, “Ow.”
“Payno,” Niall yells, dancing over to where Liam is standing. “Section four thirteen, row E wants to know your favorite sandwich filler.”
“That,” Liam says, “is an excellent and very important question. I’ll have to think that one over.”
Louis doesn’t look at him the rest of the night, but Harry doesn’t stop smiling.