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Truly, Madly, Deeply (10 Things I Hate About You)

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The day Harry came back to school only to be greeted by every girl from year seven to year thirteen screaming his name, Louis skipped English and hid out in the music room with Miss McClusky.

"Haven't you got lessons you're supposed to be in?" she asked, coming into the music room cupboard where Louis was sorting out the sheet music shelves into alphabetical order. "Or, you know, somewhere else to be that isn't hiding in my cupboard?"

"No," Louis lied. He poked at the kettle. "Can I have a cup of tea?"

Miss McClusky rolled her eyes. She'd been Louis' favourite teacher since year eight, when she'd let him sit in the music room over break the day after his mum had been in a car crash, and even though his mum hadn't been hurt, Louis hadn't been able to stop crying. He'd started to hang out in the music room more often after that, and over time he'd dragged his friends with him. "Can't you make your own tea? In the sixth form common room, perhaps? I know for a fact there's a kettle in there."

"No," Louis said. "I'm doing a very important job here."

"Well, maybe—maybe—you could turn down the music? There are thirty-two year eight pupils about five feet away from you, and they're supposed to be listening to Pictures at an Exhibition. Not that I can get any of them to concentrate on anything except your friend returning to the fold, but it might potentially be a little easier if they didn't have to battle with Green Day."

"You're not supposed to be able to recognise Green Day." Louis flipped the switch on the kettle anyway.

"I'm thirty-eight, not a hundred and five, Louis. And I remember that term you and Harry listened to nothing but Dookie on repeat. Actually, how could I forget? It's burned indelibly onto my mind. Every single lunchtime. For weeks."

Louis turned the music off. "Don't like them anyway."

"Louis," Miss McClusky said.

"The children are revolting," Louis said.

Miss McClusky made a face.

"No, look, they're actually revolting." Louis pointed over to where Miss McClusky's entire class were running over to the windows and looking like they'd just seen a pop star. Whatever. "Can you close the door on the way out?" He looked down at the stacks of choir sheets and didn't look up, not once, not even when an over-excited twelve year old yelled, oh my god, I've just seen Harry Styles at about a million decibels right outside the door.

So what if Harry Styles was back to perform for them after totally failing to win X Factor and scoring a number one single and album anyway. So what.

Louis didn't care. They weren't even friends any more, anyway. He didn't care at all.

—//—

"You're a git," Zayn said, two hours later.

"I'm busy," Louis said, surrounded by a sea of music pages. He was sure that there had been some order to these at some point. Miss McClusky was going to kill him.

Zayn leaned over and hit him in the arm. "I was going to copy your homework."

"Yes," Louis said. There appeared to be copies of California Dreamin' everywhere he looked. That wasn't right. "You were."

"For maths," Zayn said. "Maths, like the lesson we just had. That you didn't show up to."

"Ah," Louis said. "Um?"

"Well," Zayn said. "At least you won't have a clue how to differentiate parametric equations either. That's what we did. Mr Partington said if you've recovered from your death plague by registration this afternoon, you can hand your homework in then. I told him you had my homework too."

"Slight problem," Louis said.

"Oh, Louis. You said you'd done it. That's why I didn't do it. It was your turn."

Louis suspected that he and Zayn taking it in turns to do their maths homework wasn't going to get them an A level any time soon, but whatever. It was ages until the exams. Or weeks, at least. "Not that. It's just that I'm in the middle of this, and I've got to get it finished before choir tonight, so I'm probably not going to registration. You can have mine, though."

Zayn raised an eyebrow. "You been here all day?"

"No," Louis lied.

"Did you go to English?"

Louis busily flicked through another stack of California Dreamin' music.

"General Studies?"

"See if Miss McClusky's got a cereal bar in her desk, will you? I'm starving."

"What about this special assembly this afternoon? We're going to get there early and steal the front row from the year sevens. Niall's making a sign."

Louis coughed. "Coming down with something," he said. "Tell Mr Partington I've gone home sick."

"You seen Harry at all since he's been back?"

"I've been busy," Louis said shortly. The notes were starting to swim on the page in front of him, all blending into one. He didn't look up.

"Lou—"

"It's nothing. It doesn't matter. I just don't want to do lessons today, okay? Leave me alone."

"Fine," Zayn said. "Whatever."

It was a while before Louis trusted himself to look up, but by then he was alone in the music cupboard, and Zayn was gone.

—//—

"This is the least helpful thing you've ever done," Miss McClusky said, whilst she was drinking her cup of tea. "Have you any idea how long it's going to take me to fix this mess you've made?"

"Not long," Louis said. He'd taken to just shovelling piles of sheet music back onto the shelves and hoping for the best. Four hours in the music cupboard and he was starting to go insane. If he could just hang on another fifteen minutes until assembly started, he could sneak out of school and go down to the shops. He had twenty quid left over, just burning a hole in his pocket. He could buy a t-shirt or something. Maybe some vodka. Maybe a lot of vodka.

Miss McClusky gave him a hard look. "Anything you want to talk about?"

"Nope," Louis said, shoving a hundred million copies of California Dreamin' onto the bottom shelf. Given time, every song sheet in the cupboard turned into California Dreamin', it was the only explanation.

"Zayn left here pretty sharpish, did you two have an argument?"

"Nope. Everything's fine."

"So there's a perfectly reasonable explanation why you're not going to the assembly with everyone else this afternoon, then? That isn't anything to do with Harry singing? Because it's starting in five minutes, and I'm going in a minute. You could come with me."

"I don't want to spend my free period in an assembly. It's not a crime, is it?" Louis grabbed his jacket and his bag from the floor by the door. He'd tidied all the papers up; he was off home. Stuff school. He brushed past Miss McClusky and into the music classroom. "And it's nothing to do with Harry. I couldn't give a shit about Harry. Why does everything in this stupid school revolve around Harry Styles? He can't even sing."

"Oh," Harry Styles said, from the classroom door. Louis hadn't seen him in person for months. That was the best thing about him leaving, that. Not seeing him. Not seeing him wearing stupid clothes, like today. He was wearing a v-neck t-shirt, scooped low enough that a tattoo peeked out from under the collar, and a blazer, and the stupidest knitted turquoise bobble hat Louis had ever seen. He looked awkward and uneasy and—hurt. "I was just—I didn't mean to hear."

The hat made Louis irrationally furious.

"Oh, fuck off," Louis said, totally ignoring Miss McClusky. She was pretty lenient about their language now they were in sixth form, but this was probably pushing it. Anyway, this was just his fucking luck, tripping over the one person he'd be happy never seeing again in his whole entire life. "Don't you have a million screaming girls to sing in front of or something?"

"Zayn said you were here," Harry said.

"Zayn's an idiot. And don't you have more important things to do than come back here, anyway? Album not doing so well, huh?"

"Louis," Miss McClusky said sharply. "That's enough. Not another word. Harry, shouldn't you be in the hall?"

"I just—I wanted to see—to say hi. I've got a couple of minutes. They'll wait a couple of minutes."

"Yeah, now that you're famous, you can be as much of a dick as you want to and get away with it. Fits."

"Louis," Miss McClusky said. "Detention. Go and sit down, I don't want to hear another word from you. Harry, you should get going. You don't want to hold the assembly up. The year eights were dying of excitement before lunch, so by now they've probably expired."

Harry looked uncertainly from Miss McClusky to Louis—who was staring at him fiercely, arms crossed—then switched his attention back to Miss McClusky. "Okay," he said. "Louis—I just wanted to—it's been—I haven't seen you in ages."

Louis didn't say anything. He was taking Miss McClusky exactly at her word.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Fine. Be like that." He sighed. "I mean—I came here to talk to you."

Louis just folded his arms again.

Miss McClusky shot Louis a look. "Stay there," she said, and then she left to walk Harry out into the corridor.

Louis slumped in his seat, hugging his bag to his chest, and started to list in his head all the ways he hated Harry Styles.

—//—

The first Louis had heard of Harry auditioning for X Factor was the night he'd turned up on Louis' doorstep the day before leaving for Boot Camp, with a High School Musical 3 DVD and an illicit bottle of vodka.

Thing was, Louis hated secrets, and he really hated being made a fool of, and he really, really hated Harry Styles.

—//—

Detention meant staying on for junior choir, and handing out the words to California Dreamin' and having to put up with forty over-excited year seven to nines who'd just seen their favourite pop star in the flesh. Again.

"You've seen him before," Louis said, when a year eight girl with Harry on her forehead in red pen tried to tell him that she'd almost died when he came on stage in the school hall. "He did used to actually, you know, go here. Like. Last year. It's not that big a deal."

She—and her friends—looked at him like he'd sprouted another head. "He's Harry Styles. He's the biggest deal ever. And we were only, like, year sevens last year. We were just kids."

Louis had sisters. He understood things. He just didn't get why everyone loved Harry, and nobody else could see that he was the kind of dickhead who'd fuck you over as soon as look at you. "He's not that big a deal," he said instead. "And his songs are shit."

"You're just jealous," her friend said. "Because you're not a pop star, and you're not Harry Styles."

That wasn't it at all, but whatever. It would do.

—//—

Harry was on the local news when Louis got home, his homecoming apparently so important that he deserved second billing on the headlines after the news about the council reducing bin collections. Fitting.

"How was Harry?" his mum asked, sticking her head around the door from the kitchen as he came in. She was clearly just in from work, and making tea, and the girls were shouting, and the TV was loud, and the house was as cramped and full as it always was. "He's on the telly, look. They've had Mr Henderson on, talking about how proud they all are of him. He's gone a bit bald since he was your teacher. And they've spruced the school up a bit. Have they painted the entrance hall?"

"I don't know, and I don't care," Louis said, battling the remote away from Lottie and switching the TV off. "We're not watching this."

"Louis," his mum said. "What's got into you? We were watching that. Give your sister back the remote."

"Fine." Louis dropped the remote back into Lottie's lap so that she yelped. "Whatever. I'm going upstairs to do my homework."

"It's Friday, Lou. Surely you don't want to make a start on homework until Sunday night at the earliest."

His mum was such a joker. He ignored her in favour of grabbing his bag and going upstairs to his bedroom, slamming the door behind him. He dumped his bag on the floor, his coat on the chair, and covered his face with his hands.

"Fuck," he said. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."

—//—

When his phone buzzed with a text twenty minutes later, just for the briefest of seconds he thought it might be Harry.

It wasn't—obviously, because Harry wasn't his friend anymore—but just for that briefest of seconds, he forgot it all.

Remembering was a rubbish feeling.

The text was from Zayn. If you've finished being a knobhead then come to nialls and hang out with us. Friday night party!

The good thing about Zayn was that he didn't hold that much of a grudge, even when Louis was being a dickhead. Which was good, considering that Louis had spent the last few months steadily avoiding every single attempt at talking about Harry, and how he'd left, and the times his friends had figured out that he very deliberately wasn't talking about it, they'd never pushed to ask why. His mates were the best.

His phone buzzed again, but it was Niall this time. If you get here soon there might be some weed left.

Louis grabbed his coat off from the floor and his mp3 player from his rucksack. It wasn't an iPod because his mum couldn't afford one, and his replica had been stupidly cheap and tended to resort to playing the same few songs over and over again. One terrible day it had jammed and insisted on playing Harry's single at him on repeat for the whole of the bus ride into town, which had left him alternating between wanting to punch something and wanting to cry. That night he'd gone down the pub with the others. He'd badgered them all into going into town afterwards, and then he'd met a girl called Sara and kissed her all night, just to prove to himself that he could.

He was still gay, but at least nobody else had figured that out yet. Well, apart from Harry, but Harry didn't count.

"I'm going to Niall's," he called as he took the steps two at a time, not turning around just in case Harry was on the TV again. At least he couldn't be at Niall's; he was performing tonight, and approximately three quarters of the school were going to see him. The others were all going tomorrow night, or Sunday night, but Louis had faked a family thing after Liam had got him a ticket for tomorrow, and sold it to Liam's sister instead. He was a fucking master at avoiding anything and everything that had anything to do with Harry. A master.

"What about your tea?" Mum called after him. "It's shepherd's pie. You love shepherd's pie."

"I'll warm it up later," Louis said. The TV was off, so it was safe to stick his head around the door. "I'll be late, though."

"Midnight," Mum said, reprovingly. She was clearly in a mood with him, as even though his sisters were all being brats and making faces at him over the table, she wasn't telling them off.

"It's Friday, Mum."

"Hmm," she said. "All right. Call me if you get into any difficulties. But you and I need to talk, Lou. Come and do the big shop with me in the morning. We'll drop the twins off at ballet and then go to Asda."

Louis wanted to say no, but he really loved his mum, and they'd been so close before everything with Harry had made talking to her about anything difficult. Not that he was planning on telling her about the inside of his head, but it was just them now, him and his sisters and Mum, and he couldn't help but feel responsible when she looked so tired. He missed her. "Okay."

"Don't sound so happy about it."

"Okay, I'm happy about it."

"Good," she said, and then she turned her attention to the girls. "How about homemade pizzas for lunch tomorrow? Louis as head chef?"

Louis planned on having a hangover the size of Wales tomorrow, but whatever. He made amazing pizzas. He could make hair out of cheese and eyes out of olives. And nostrils out of mushrooms and pretend it looked like the twins. He managed a grin. "I'm in," he said, and his sisters cheered.

At least he'd done one thing right today.

He jogged all the way to Niall's, trying to clear his head. Whether it worked or not was a different story, but at least when he rang the doorbell he wasn't quite as close to punching something as he had been fifteen minutes earlier.

Liam answered the door, cupping his elbow and dragging him inside. He smelled like weed and Friday nights. Louis loved that smell.

"You've been hiding," Liam said reprovingly. Liam was the best entertainment when he was stoned, honestly. The best. He frowned a lot and made his eyebrows into little u-shapes and tried to hug people a lot to see if they were all right. "We were worried."

"You were not," Louis said, but he let himself be dragged into a hug anyway. After a day of nothing but California fucking Dreamin' he really needed at least a pretence at human contact. He slapped Liam on the back a couple of times in an attempt at re-asserting his heterosexuality. He usually did that a couple of times a day, just in case.

Because the thing was, it wasn't that Louis wasn't okay with gay people—he was, being one of them—but there were only two people in the world that knew about Louis being gay, and one of them had upped and left Louis and his family, and the other one had upped and left him and all of his friends, and quite frankly, Louis was doing maths for A level and could pick out a trend. He wasn't stupid.

He was, however, scared shitless.

Things were just easier when you were straight, that was all. Less people left you.

"Where's the beer?" Louis asked, when the hug had stretched out from acceptable into stoned-acceptable, which Louis wasn't. "And the weed. I was promised weed."

"You can only have it if you're over being a knobhead," Zayn said. The patio doors were open, and Zayn was sitting inside with his feet outside, joint in his hand.

"I'm over it," Louis lied. Niall was outside, lying on his back with his feet on a patio chair. Liam stepped over him and passed Louis a can of Carlsberg from a trug full of cold water and cans of beer. "You drinking tonight?"

Liam barely drank, but apparently weed was okay. Kidneys were fucked up. Sometimes he got drunk and then spent the next three days off school sick, necking pain killers, so they'd stopped pushing him. Anyway, he made an adorable stoned guy, so it wasn't like they were missing out. Liam held up a bottle of Becks Blue, which Niall's dad apparently kept in just for him. He didn't keep beer in for Louis. Everyone loved Liam, though. Louis' sisters adored him.

Louis dropped down onto the step next to Zayn, and reached for the joint.

"Keep that outside," Niall said, like the two inches between inside and outside actually counted, and his dad was going to be completely unaware of what they'd been up to when he got in. Logic wasn't a strong point. Louis shifted forward two inches, resting his elbows on his knees, and took another drag. It wasn't the good stuff, but then there was only one good place you could get weed round here, and since Harry had gone, they didn't have a way in anymore. Harry had always known the best people.

Louis passed the joint on to Niall, and downed half his can of beer in one go. Fuck everything, for real.

Liam kicked him. "Did you really spend the whole day hiding in the music room?"

"I was helping Miss McClusky," Louis said.

"She shouldn't let you just miss lessons."

"She didn't know I had them," Louis lied. Miss McClusky let them do mostly what they wanted, within reason. In return they'd all stayed in the senior choir even though most people quit after GCSEs. Admittedly the four of them were the senior choir, but whatever. Zayn's girlfriend and her friends sang too, but they did it at the youth club, and not at school. Miss McClusky still hadn't quite forgiven them. "Told her I had free periods."

"Nobody has a whole day of free periods, Louis," Liam said.

"Whatever, it's fine. I was helping her."

The others exchanged glances, and Louis pretended not to notice. "How was the assembly?" he asked, since he tended to at least try and be able to say Harry's name without wincing, and this was close enough.

"Weird as fuck," Niall said. "It was a pop concert, in the school hall. But with Harry. If you thought the screaming was loud when we did West Side Story in year eleven, then this was insane."

"You should have been there," Zayn said, elbowing him. There was something sharp in his gaze. Weed should have softened that, Louis thought. "He wanted to see you."

"Nah," Louis said. He finished his can, and reached for another one. "Pull the other one. Probably didn't even notice I wasn't there. I'll see him next time. He'll tour again."

He wasn't ever going to see Harry in concert if he could help it.

Except he couldn't stop thinking about the low v-neck of Harry's shirt when he'd come into the music room, and the tattoo creeping out across his skin from underneath, and how he'd still wanted to run his fingertips over Harry's skin, just like he always had.

"You sure you can't get out of your family thing tomorrow? Ruth would give you your ticket back. She's going again on Sunday, with her mates. Can't you tell your mum it's important?"

"Sorry," Louis lied. "I totally would if I could. But I promised."

"What if we went to your mum and begged for you?" Niall suggested. "We could do that. Like, for Harry. She always liked Harry." Everyone had always liked Harry. That was the problem.

"Sorry," Louis said again. "You know my mum would let me if she could. I'll just catch him next time. He'll have a new album by then, more songs, you know."

"I'm sorry," Liam said, leaning over and patting Louis' knee. "That's a pain in the arse."

"Yeah," Zayn said, but he didn't sound like he meant it. He was looking at Louis too shrewdly for that. He was too perceptive by half.

"Let's play X Box," Louis said, because the joint was almost done and okay, he was starting to feel like he didn't exactly want to move from where he was sitting, but there had to be something that wasn't sitting here and getting closer to the truth.

"Nah," Niall said. "You can. I'm just going to lie here."

"Me too," Zayn said, shifting back so that he was lying on the carpet with his feet out the door. "Is there more weed? Let's just stay here and get fucked up. When is your dad back?"

"First thing," Niall said. "We've got hours."

"Save it for later, then," Liam said. "Anyone for cards?"

"Okay," Louis said, even though their attempts at learning to play cards had mostly been a failure so far because they never tried going through the poker rules when they were sober. He wasn't drunk yet though, so maybe tonight would be easier. Liam was sober too, and Liam was excellent at a lot of things, but things like poker weren't his strong point. Why they still tried Louis had no idea, but it had a lot to do with Niall's brother buying a brand new poker set and gifting his old one to Niall. Plus, there was a lot to be said for each of them secretly wanting to be James Bond. "We trying poker again?"

"Let's build up to it," Niall suggested. "Start small."

"Snap?" Zayn smirked. Zayn was cleverer than all of them, the git.

"Stop making fun," Louis said, poking Zayn in the side. "Just because you're secretly clever."

"Not so secretly," Zayn said. "Five A*s, three As, and a B, thank you very much."

"A feat only equalled by our one and only Harry Styles," Liam said.

Louis looked down at his feet. He had 8 Cs at GCSE and one B in drama. He'd only done that well because you needed Cs to get into sixth form, and Louis hadn't wanted to do A levels somewhere that wasn't with his friends. He should have failed everything and gone to the building college or something, and then none of this would have happened. Harry shouldn't have helped him with his fucking coursework, and that was a fact.

Fuck everything.

"You got anything stronger than beer, or do I have to go to the shop?"

"There's whisky under my bed; let's drink that first," Niall said. "You sure you're all right?"

"Fine," Louis said. "I'll get the poker stuff whilst I'm upstairs, too."

If he took a shot—or two—whilst he was upstairs, well. What the others didn't know wouldn't hurt them.

—//—

Louis was fucked. He was totally fucking fucked, and his feet were hot, and he needed to take off his shoes. "Shoes are rubbish," he said, rubbing his nose against Niall's sleeve. "Free all ankles."

He tried to kick off his shoes, but they were being annoying.

"My shoes," he said. "I hate them."

"Here," Liam said, rolling his eyes. "Let me."

Liam got down on his knees by the sofa and started to undo Louis' shoelaces. Louis had forgotten there were shoelaces. He didn't remember shoelaces.

He remembered whisky. He loved whisky.

"I love whisky," he said, as Liam took his shoes off. "There should be more whisky."

"We drank it all," Zayn told him. "It's your turn."

"Snap," Louis said, without turning over a card. "I win. At everything."

"We win at everything," Niall agreed. He was trying to take his shoes off too, but with more success than Louis had had. Niall had three feet though. Had he always had three feet?

"You've got three feet," Louis said. "Where'd you get the other one from?"

"He keeps it as a spare," Zayn said. His hair was a mess. Louis liked it when his hair got all messy. He reached over to run his fingers through it and play with his quiff. "What are you doing?"

"Making you all pretty," Louis said, sitting up so that he could reach over and twirl Zayn's hair between his fingers. "Look."

"You're totally fucking wasted," Zayn pointed out. "And I'm already pretty."

"Like you're not drunk too."

"Oh, I am," Zayn said. "But you're about seven times as drunk as me."

"Eight," Louis said in satisfaction. "Do I win?"

"Not at cards."

"Snap!" Louis said again.

Liam just laughed. "We're still playing poker, Tommo. Snap was hours ago."

"When there was booze," Louis added sadly. "I remember the booze. Let's play strip poker."

"We can't play actual poker," Niall said. "And none of us listen when Liam reads the rules out."

"I totally do," Louis said sulkily. He curled into Liam's side. "I listen."

"I know you do," Liam said. He picked up his phone. "Are we really up for strip poker?" He scrolled through Google, and then started to read—a little laboriously—from a webpage. "Before you think about introducing strip poker to your evening's entertainment, make sure you're with other like-minded adults."

"I'm like-minded," Niall said, before dissolving into giggles.

Louis rolled his eyes. "We're all up for it, Payne." He let his attention wander for the rest of the instructions, opening his eyes again only when he'd been dealt five cards. At least, Liam said there were five. Louis could see more than that. Or less. Sometimes both. He had drunk a lot. And they'd been to the shop for more beer and another bottle of whisky. His twenty quid had totally gone, as had all the rest of their cash. Part of him had meant to keep that twenty quid for food shopping with Mum tomorrow. "I'm doing the big shop with Mum tomorrow."

"Good," Zayn said. "Look at your cards."

Louis didn't bother. "I've already taken my socks off. Everyone should take their socks off. Then we're equal."

"You're a fuckhead," Zayn said helpfully, but they all took their shoes off anyway. Niall threw his sock at Louis' head. Louis hit him in the side.

"Now look at your cards," Liam said. How many do you want to swap?"

"All of them," Louis said, without looking.

"Christ, Louis," Niall said. "Look at your fucking cards."

"I'm magic," Louis said, but he looked at his cards. There were three cards there that looked the same. He closed one eye just to make sure, then discarded the other two. "Give me two of your finest cards, fair dealer. And a shot."

"A shot of what, exactly?" Liam sounded amused. "You've drunk everything in the house."

"My dad is going to kill me," Niall said, but he didn't sound unhappy about it. "He's going to hang, draw and quarter me. We've drunk everything."

"And now we're getting naked," Louis said. "We really are magic."

"Does anyone actually know who has to take their clothes off, and when?" Zayn asked. "Like, do we all have to do it if someone else wins? What about upping the bets?"

"I don't care," Louis said, flopping down so that he could pillow his cheek on Niall's thigh. He considered taking his t-shirt off now, just to get ahead. It was possible that might require more co-ordination than he had right now, though.

"Did nobody listen when I read the rules out?" Liam asked.

"No," Louis said. "But you have very nice hair. Can I touch it?" He was touching it anyway. Liam looked amused.

"You're so drunk."

"Yes," he said patiently. "That was the plan. Drink until I pass out."

"Louis—" Liam said.

Louis was not interested in anyone's concern right now. "Shut up," he said, as pleasantly as he could manage when his head was spinning. "I have a three of a kind, does that mean I win?"

"Louis," Zayn said. "For fuck's sake."

"I'll take my top off," Louis said. Helpfully. "Although my hands don't work."

"I'll help you," Niall said, and Louis grinned at that, trying to sit up.

"Okay." He held his hands up, and Niall laughed, reaching for his shirt.

When the doorbell rang, they all ignored it.

"I'll go, shall I?" Liam said finally. Louis was all caught up in his t-shirt.

"If it's the neighbours, tell them we'll turn the music down," Niall said.

Except it wasn't the neighbours, it was Harry. Pop star Harry Styles. From the magazines, but formerly of Agnes Dunnett High School, just like the rest of them. Poor old Agnes. Nobody had ever told Louis who she was. Or maybe he hadn't listened in assembly. Ever. That was also a possibility.

Also: Harry Styles was here. Louis blinked a bit just to make sure he wasn't making nightmares up with the power of his brain, but no, he really was here, in Niall's living room, like the last few months hadn't happened and it was just another epic Friday night.

"Hazza," Zayn said, dragging him into a hug. He went easily, all wide smile and damp hair. A different shirt to earlier. The same tattoo peeking out from under his collar. A leather jacket with the collar up. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

"You invited me, idiot," Harry said.

"No, not what are you doing here, but, like, aren't you supposed to be on stage?" Niall asked, launching himself at Harry, and knocking him backwards into the mantelpiece. A picture frame ended up on the floor. Louis kicked it under the sofa, just because. "I didn't think you'd actually come!"

"I was onstage up until about two hours ago," Harry said, laughing. "It's almost one. I almost didn't come, I thought it was too late. Also, you lot are wasted."

"I'm not," Liam said. "Even being stoned's worn off."

"Come here," Harry said, and pulled Liam into a hug. "I've missed this."

"Sure you have," Louis said, without standing up. His t-shirt was still hanging off his wrist. "Like you'd miss this now that you're rich and famous."

"Lou—" Harry said. He looked at Louis' bare chest rather than at Louis' face. Louis wanted to tilt his chin up and say, my face is up here.

"He's been a knobhead all day," Zayn said. "Ignore him."

"I haven't," Louis said. He had, and he knew it.

"Of course I miss you," Harry said. He was still looking at Louis, but Louis wasn't looking at him. Much. He picked at a thread on his jeans. "It's just that everything's been so busy, what with the album, and the touring, and the single and everything. Doesn't mean I wouldn't rather be here, with you. You all."

"Yeah, yeah," Louis said. He was behaving like a twat, and he knew it. "Tell us more about your amazing life, Harry Styles. We can't wait to hear all about it."

"Stop being a twat," Zayn said sharply.

"It's fine," Harry said. "He's drunk."

"Yeah," Louis echoed, meeting Harry's gaze. "I'm just drunk. It doesn't matter if you're drunk."

Harry looked away first.

"So, how was the concert tonight?" Liam asked hurriedly.

"It was fine," Harry said. "Good, you know? Loud. Are you all still coming tomorrow? I've put your names on the list so you can all come backstage first. You should all come hang out with me in the afternoon, I never get a chance to see you properly."

"I'm not coming," Louis said, running his thumbnail over the zip on the edge of the sofa cover. Someone had put it on backwards so that the zip was at the front.

"Oh," Harry said.

"Family thing," Louis lied, still not looking up.

"What about Sunday? You could come Sunday."

"Can't," Louis said.

Niall kicked him. "Louis," he said. "Stop being a dick."

"He was a dick first."

"Not tonight he wasn't," Liam said. Even Liam sounded pissed off with him, and Liam didn't get pissed off, not like Zayn. Zayn snapped at him for being a dick all the time. Liam didn't.

"It's fine," Harry said.

For fuck's sake. "It's not fucking fine," Louis snapped. "It's never been fucking fine, dickhead. Stop pretending this is all my fault, Jesus." He stopped and looked back down at the table.

"I put your name on the guest list," Harry said, like that changed anything.

"Brilliant," Louis said. "I'm still not going." He kicked at his cards. The room was starting to spin, and he felt sick. All of the alcohol was slowly settling in his stomach. Couldn't be that long until the hangover kicked in. Throwing up would probably come first. It usually did. He didn't feel very well. "Suppose we're not playing strip poker anymore."

"You were playing strip poker?" Harry asked.

"Not really," Liam said. "We'd only just started."

"And now we're finished." Louis rolled his eyes, and tried to stand up. Things swam for a while, and he made a grab for the arm of the sofa. Nausea rolled in his belly. "Glad everything's still my fault."

"Maybe sleeping it off might help?" Liam suggested.

Sleeping sounded like a good idea. Louis wanted to do it right here in the middle of Niall's living room. The problem with sleeping was that things were always just the same in the morning. You just kept having to wake the fuck up again. "Fine," he said.

"I'll walk you home," Liam said.

Louis shook his head. "No, you stay here. I'm good." He wasn't good. There was a pretty good chance he was going to throw up in about two minutes time, and he wasn't wearing his shoes. Who needed shoes anyway? He could just go without them. He tried for the end of the couch without falling over.

So far, so good.

In the end, he made it to the end of Niall's road before he threw up behind the road sign outside number 2. He tried not to get it on his bare feet, but he didn't know if he managed it or not. His feet hurt, and his head hurt, and he'd made the stupid fucking life choice of falling in love with someone who didn't love him back, and everything was wrong and upside down and painful and bad, and sometimes he missed Harry so much it actually hurt.

He threw up again, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand and trying not to cry. He couldn't remember which way to walk to get home. He wanted his mum. He felt sick again.

"Hey," Liam said, jogging up the street with Louis' jacket and his shoes and his stuff. "You forgot your stuff—" he stopped. "Oh, Lou."

"Don't," Louis said, wiping his mouth again, and spitting onto the grass. Everything was spinning, and his head hurt, and his throat felt raw. His voice caught. "Please don't."

"Louis," Liam said softly, and then he was reaching over and rubbing Louis' back like that was going to make everything better. But it wouldn't, and it didn't, and all of a sudden Louis was crying, and he couldn't stop. He couldn't stop, and when Liam pulled him into a hug, he hid his face in Liam's neck and tried to wish it all away.

—//—

He woke up to his mum walking into his bedroom, and sunlight streaming through the curtains. "Harry's here," she said shortly. "And you and I need to talk."

"Wha—" Louis managed, trying to sit up. He didn't really remember getting in last night, and he didn't remember getting undressed, and he didn't remember getting into bed. Everything after Liam getting him home was a blur. "God, my head."

"You woke the whole house up last night, Louis," she said.

"Sorry," he managed, still trying to sit up. His head pounded. He wasn't wearing a t-shirt. He was fairly sure he was quite close to throwing up. Again.

"You should be," she said, and she held his bedroom door open. "Come in, Harry. Were you as disgustingly drunk as he was last night?"

Harry shook his head. "I had a concert. I didn't get there until late."

"Hmm," Mum said. "Bet your mum didn't have to clean up vomit in the middle of the night."

Oh god. "Sorry," Louis said. He buried his face in his hands. He vaguely remembered sitting on the bathroom floor and crying. There was a fainter, even more embarrassing memory of his mum wiping his face with a flannel. "Go away, Harry."

"Don't be rude, Louis." His mum sighed. "I'll make you a cup of tea. I'll ground you once you can make full sentences again."

Harry looked fresh, and clean, and handsome, and like a pop star. He leaned against the wall of Louis' bedroom in pop star jeans that probably cost as much as Louis' whole house, with a checked shirt open over a white t-shirt. A necklace hung down in the v of his shirt, and underneath his cuff was a wrist full of bracelets. He'd taken his shoes off, just like the other hundred million times he'd come over to Louis'. He dropped his jacket down on the end of Louis' bed.

"Hi," he said, once Louis' mum was gone.

"Fuck off," Louis said, hiding his face in his hands. His head ached and he felt sick, and everything was awful and wrong. His hangover crept over his skin and behind his eyes.

"You're avoiding me," Harry said. "And I, um, I know why, but I just—I wanted to talk to you. So that you can stop avoiding me. Because that would be good."

"I'm not avoiding you; I just don't like you." Louis pulled the duvet up over his head. If he pretended Harry wasn't there, then there was a pretty good chance that he'd be gone when he came out again. There was always the possibility of hope, anyway.

"I really missed you."

"Didn't miss you," Louis said, from under the covers. He took a few deep breaths so that he didn't throw up again. "Go the fuck away."

He didn't hear Harry leave, but after a minute of silence, he ventured out from under the covers again, just in case he'd been lucky. His luck wasn't in. Harry was standing at Louis' desk, and the top drawer was open, and the envelope that Louis kept stuck to the inside top of the drawers was in his hand. Louis' mouth went dry. "Put that down."

"No," Harry said.

"That's private," Louis said, shoving down the covers and clambering out of the bed. He steadied himself with a hand to the wall. Fuck, how much had he drunk last night? He'd clearly thrown up approximately nineteen million times already, surely he didn't need to add another time to the mix.

"I put it there in the first place," Harry pointed out, which might be true, but wasn't exactly nice of him. He opened the envelope, and pulled out the pictures inside. "You kept them."

"I forgot they were there."

Harry looked at him. "Liar," he said, and held out the passport pictures. "Remember that day?"

Louis didn't look at the pictures. Of course he remembered that day. He'd had his first kiss that day. He'd had his first kiss in those pictures, him and Harry hanging out in town on a Thursday afternoon when they should have been in an English lesson, bunging a fiver in pound coins into a photo booth in Superdrug and both trying to fit onto the same tiny stool. The first flash going as they mugged for the camera, Harry's cheek flush against Louis', one hand around Louis' shoulder to steady himself.

His breath warm against Louis' cheek.

The second flash going as they'd looked at each other, Harry's eyes bright. Louis' chin tilting up. A breath away from each other. A moment that went on for what seemed like forever before Harry pressed his mouth to Louis'.

A third flash; a fourth.

Louis' hand tightening around Harry's waist, holding him close. Harry kissing him again. Another five pound coins going into the slot, one after the other. Not waiting for the flash this time, just kissing again, and again, Louis' hand in Harry's hair, Harry cupping his cheek. The touch of Harry's tongue to his. A cough from outside when they'd been in there too long.

Five more pounds, this time made up of all the change they had between them in their wallets, a stream of five pence pieces to make it up to five pounds.

Four more pictures. Their skin flushing as the flashes went off.

Twelve pictures in all; Louis had kept them all.

"I meant to throw them away," he said, and tried not to throw up. "You can chuck them if you want."

Harry didn't look up. The passport pictures weren't the only ones in the envelope, Louis knew that. The others were ones they'd taken of themselves, in this room, or in Harry's. Together, kissing, one of them shirtless, breathless, the two of them together. They'd printed them off and then deleted them from their phones. Hidden them in an envelope in Louis' drawer and not told anyone.

Louis always had hated secrets.

They'd had sex together the night before Harry left for boot camp, their first time, Louis oblivious to the fact Harry had even auditioned. Harry had waited until afterwards, until they were most of the way through the bottle of vodka he'd brought with him, until it was just the two of them in Louis' bed, naked and sweaty and sticky and drunk, and then Harry had leaned over and told him he was leaving in the morning, and that he'd auditioned without him. Louis had been gearing up to tell Harry he loved him, and that he wanted to come out.

It hadn't gone quite like Louis had wanted it to.

"I'm really sorry," Harry said, still looking at the pictures. "I wanted to tell you how sorry I was. For everything. So we can fix this."

"I don't care," Louis said. His head hurt, and his heart hurt, and his feet were killing him. Fuck, he'd tried to walk home barefoot. He had the decision-making skills of a doughnut. "I don't care, and I don't want to see you, and you should really fuck the fuck off right now."

"I'm trying to make this better."

"You're not doing a very good job of it. Try fucking off."

"I made a huge mistake, and I want to make it up to you."

"Really don't care," Louis lied. His head hurt. "Go away."

"No, really," Harry said. "I really cocked up, and I know that I haven't exactly been around, and I've been a giant dick, but I want to fix this. You and me."

Louis tilted his head to one side, and gave into it. "What about Caroline Flack?" He'd seen the newspapers.

Harry flushed.

"Right, yes. The window for apologies has closed. You and me, Harry, we're done. We're not messing around anymore, and we're not friends anymore, and it doesn't matter how hard you try, we're never, ever going to be friends—or anything else—ever again. Got it?" He fumbled for the paracetamol on the bedside table, neatly propped up against a glass of water, and took two tablets. Thanks, Mum. "I think I'm going to die from this hangover, so do you think maybe you could just leave me to it?"

"Your mum's making me tea," Harry said stubbornly. "And I really want us to talk."

"Fine," Louis said, climbing back into bed a little gingerly because his head hurt so much. "Do what you like, you always did anyway. But I'm not talking back."

Harry sat down on the end of his bed. Louis kicked him, just because. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about the X Factor auditions."

They had once talked about going together, all five of them. Stupid dreams, whatever. Louis pulled the covers up and tried to concentrate on anything other than Harry.

"It wasn't that I meant to keep it a secret, I just—didn't want to go and not get anywhere, and tell everyone I failed."

"Since when was I everyone?" Louis found himself saying. He hadn't meant to engage. He pulled the covers over his head instead.

"I couldn't tell you more than I couldn't tell anyone else."

"Makes sense," Louis said, from underneath the covers. The pounding in his head just got worse every time he tried to move, and if he just stayed here, right here, then maybe he wouldn't throw up again. It was worth a try, at least. "You're a fucking idiot."

"Yeah," Harry said. "I know. I'm sorry."

It still didn't explain why Harry had started ignoring him. Louis half wanted to ask, and half wanted never to know the answer. He settled for staying completely still and wishing for death instead.

"Can't you get out of this family thing tonight? Your name's still on the guest list. I really want you to come and see me. Please, Lou. You've no idea how much I want to fix this."

"Knock knock," Mum said, from the door. "Tea's up."

"Thanks," Harry said. Louis fought bravely and didn't kick him.

"Louis," Mum said. "Louis, sit up and be polite to your guest, otherwise I'll send the girls in here to get you up for real. I've already had to put homemade pizzas off until this evening because I don't want you throwing up over their food."

"Mum," Louis complained.

"No, seriously," Mum said sharply. "I'm furious with you, Louis. Have you any idea how much fun it was to sit up with you in the middle of the night whilst you puked your guts up? I expected better from you. You're my responsible one. You were supposed to help me with the shopping this morning, and make lunch for your sisters. And instead I'm even more exhausted than I was yesterday, I've got the girls all day, the bathroom smells like sick, and you're being rude to your friend. I've had it up to about here with you recently. What's happened to you? It's like I don't even know you anymore."

Louis felt awful. He tried so hard to be there for his mum now that his step-dad was gone, and there was just the six of them. He was the oldest, and it was his job to look after them. But he was so angry all the time, and bad-tempered and so, so hurt.

"Bet you haven't missed him, have you Harry? Not when he's so bad-tempered and rude all the time."

Harry put his hand on Louis' ankle through the covers.

Louis quivered. He was two seconds away from flipping and kicking Harry off his bed, but his mum would kill him.

"He's my best friend," Harry said, and Louis did kick him then. Seriously, fuck the fuck off.

"I don't know why," Mum said. She put a mug down on Louis' bedside table. "You and me have to get to the bottom of this, Lou. I'm not kidding. This isn't going to continue."

"Are you sure that you can't get Louis out of this family thing tonight, Jay?" Harry asked. "I've put him on the guest list for my concert tonight, and I really want him to come, but he doesn't want to let you down."

Louis froze.

"He, uh—didn't want to let me down?"

"Mum," Louis said. He pushed the duvet down. "You need me tonight."

She stared at him. "I think we can move some things around. You should have asked."

"Mum."

"He can go to your concert tonight, Harry. It's very nice of you to put him on the guest list. You should let us know when you're next touring, and I'll take all the girls. They wanted to go this time, but we couldn't get ourselves organised in time to get tickets."

Truth was, his mum couldn't afford to take them all, no matter how much they'd all begged, but Louis wasn't going to say that.

"I'll send you some," Harry said. "For next time."

"We can get our own tickets," Louis snapped, reaching for his tea. Tea would help, surely.

"Louis. Stop this. Hangover or not, your behaviour is disgraceful."

"It's all right," Harry said. He put his tea down on the desk. "I've got to go anyway. I should be at soundcheck, but I made the car come here first. They're probably waiting for me. I'll tell the others that you're coming tonight, right? Louis? And I'll see you after the show. We haven't, like—there hasn't been a chance for us to talk."

Louis looked down at his tea and blinked away something that felt suspiciously like tears. This wasn't fair. Harry had fucked off to X Factor, totally failed to win, ended up on the front cover of every newspaper and magazine anyway, shagged Caroline Flack, had a number one single, started his first sell-out tour, and during all of that, he'd managed to text Louis a total of five times. It wasn't Louis' fault that Harry had broken his stupid heart and left him to pick up the pieces by himself.

"I'll see you later."

Louis nodded, but didn't look up. Sometimes his heart felt like it was on its way back towards being whole again, but there were moments like this where it felt like a million fractured shards he was trying to keep bundled up in his fist.

Afterwards, his mum came back into his room. "Your dad's coming to pick the girls up tomorrow. He'd like to see you too, Louis."

"He's not my dad," Louis said automatically. He had been, right up until the day he'd left. Louis firmly believed that the good ones were the ones that stayed.

"Louis, he loves you. He'd like to see you. "

"I don't want to go," Louis said.

Mum sighed. "Okay, just this once I'm not going to push it. I think it might be good for you and me to spend some time together, anyway. Tomorrow, you and me, huh? See if we can't figure out what's making you so upset."

On the list of things that Louis wanted to do this weekend, coming out was startlingly low down the list. He'd find another excuse. "Fine."

"I'm not having you drinking yourself stupid just because things aren't going well. Is it school?"

"Mum, my head's killing me. Can we just—I'll talk to you tomorrow. Promise."

"Okay. Why don't you get up and have a shower, see if that doesn't make you feel better. I'll bring you a glass of water. Get your hydration levels back up."

Louis waited until she was gone before he pulled the covers up over his head again, and squeezed his eyes tight shut.

—//—

He woke up to Liam banging on his door and barging into his room.

"Hi," Liam said. "Your mum just made me promise to never let you drink again. I'm not sure that's fair, making me the boss of you. You never listen when I tell you to do anything."

"I think I'm dying," Louis said miserably. He tentatively tried moving, but actually, he didn't feel quite so close to breaking into pieces as he had done before. The urge to continually vomit had passed, too. Or at least lessened a bit. Thankfully. "Don't ever let me drink again."

"You're all as bad as each other," Liam said. He grinned, and sat down in Louis' computer chair. Not that there was a computer, but whatever. They shared the laptop downstairs. "You sleep okay? I wanted to make sure you weren't dead, but your phone's still off."

"I threw up all over the bathroom and Mum had to put me to bed," Louis said. The memories were coming back now. That was nice. Or not.

"You drank everything in Niall's house. Everything."

"Score," Louis said. "High five."

Liam obediently held his hand up for a high five. Liam was an excellent best mate.

"Urgh, my mouth tastes like something died in it." Louis did actually feel a bit more like a human being again though. That was good. "Hang on whilst I go clean my teeth, back in a minute."

He brushed his teeth twice, and gargled with mouthwash, and washed his face, and when he looked in the mirror he at least vaguely recognised himself again, which was a step in the right direction. What he needed right now was a cup of tea and—he tentatively tested the suggestion—some food. His stomach rumbled. The wave of nausea that came with it wasn't quite as awful as it could have been.

"Have you had lunch?" he asked, going back into the bedroom. He grabbed a t-shirt from the pile of clean washing by the door, and tugged it over his head. "Because I think I can stomach toast. Do you want—" he stopped, because Liam was holding the pictures of Louis and Harry kissing in his hand. "Fuck."

"I didn't mean to—they were just out, they were on the desk. I thought they were just pictures of us I hadn't seen." Liam looked stricken. "I'm sorry."

Louis' hands were sweating. He pulled down the t-shirt and tried not to freak out too loudly or too long. "Is it—um. I don't know. Are you—"

"I didn't know," Liam said, still staring down at the pictures. There was one where Louis and Harry were topless, and they were sitting on Harry's bed, Louis behind Harry with his arm around his waist and his chin on Harry's shoulder, and Harry was trying to kiss his cheek and take the picture all at the same time. "I had no idea."

"We kept it secret," Louis said. He took the pictures off Liam, and spread them out on his desk, on top of his maths homework. The passport pictures, and the ones printed off from the computer of the two of them together. It was just picture after picture of Harry's bright, wide smile and Louis looking happy, and the two of them wrapped around each other like they were boyfriends, or some such shit. Like, Louis could practically see the moment he fell in love with him, in the stupid selfies they took where Louis was cupping Harry's cheek and licking his way into Harry's mouth.

"But why?" Liam said stupidly. "I don't get why you didn't tell us. Why didn't you tell me?"

Louis shrugged. "Because I didn't know what to say. Or how to say it."

"You could have told me." Liam sounded hurt. He reached over to take Louis' hand. Louis found himself looking down at Liam's fingers around his, and blinking away tears for the fiftieth time in twenty four hours. "Fuck, Louis, you should have told me. Are you both—are you still keeping it secret now?"

"Fuck, no." Louis shook his head, turning around. He let go of Liam's hand. "I told him I loved him, he told me he loved me back, and then he fucked off to X Factor and never spoke to me again. All that bollocks about losing your virginity to the right person is true, by the way. Don't pick someone who's going to fuck you over. It's rubbish."

"Did you think I was going to pick sides, or something? Because I love you both, but you're my best mate. I wasn't ever going to go anywhere."

"No, I—" Louis didn't know what to say. He sat down on the edge of his bed and tried to untangle a pair of tracky bottoms from the floor to pull them on. "I've just never said I'm gay, okay. The only people who know are Harry and my step-dad, and he only knew because he walked in on me and Harry kissing once."

"What did your dad say?"

"He's not my dad," Louis said. "And he was probably okay about it, but he left anyway, so it doesn't matter."

"Lou—"

"I'm gay, okay. I'm gay, and I made a stupid fucking life choice, and I hate secrets, and I can't get over him and I've tried. I've tried so hard, and he's everywhere, and everyone's buying his album, and everyone wants to sleep with him. And I've slept with him, and I thought—I thought he loved me, but clearly he didn't, because he dumped me without even telling me, and disappeared for god knows how long. And I don't have anything to say about any of it, because there's nothing to say except for how much of an idiot I've been, because I loved him, and I still love him, and I can't stop." He looked at Liam. "I can't make it go away, Liam."

Liam looked a bit like he was going to cry. "Why didn't you tell me? I could have—you wouldn't have had to do this by yourself. Why did you do it by yourself?"

"I've just told you I'm gay," Louis said, because surely that was the most important part, and not whether he was alone or not.

"Yeah, I know. Do you want me to be, like, I don't know, pissed off or something? Because that's stupid."

"But, like—" Louis looked down at his hands. "I thought it might make a difference."

"To what?"

"I don't know." He shrugged. "To the way you look at me, I don't know. If we could all get changed in the same room anymore."

Liam really did cry at that. He wiped his eyes on his sleeve. Liam cried at a lot of things, but it was still fucking disconcerting. "What did I ever do, what did any of us ever do to make you think you had to keep this a secret? Because if you tell us, then none of us will ever do it again. God, how long have you been keeping this secret?" He thumbed through the photos again. "That's your My Chemical Romance t-shirt. Niall ripped that when we were in Bridlington last summer."

"On that stupid wooden chip fork."

"Last summer, Lou." Liam looked appalled. "That's like—over a year ago. You've kissed girls since then. I've seen you. Did you even want to?"

Louis thought about lying. "No," he said softly.

"Oh god," Liam said. "You—you idiot."

"Thanks."

Liam rolled the computer chair over to the bed and wrapped an arm around Louis' shoulders, pulling him into a hug. "You should have trusted us. You should have trusted me." He paused. "You smell awful."

"Thanks," Louis said again.

"Are you going to tell the others?"

Louis wrapped his arms around Liam and held on. "No," he said, because he couldn't bear it if they looked at him differently. He just couldn't. "Don't tell them."

Liam didn't say anything to that. He just hugged Louis closer, and for the first time in forever, Louis let out a breath and thought, someone knows.

—//—

"You don't have to actually go in, you know," Liam said, once they were outside the venue. The queue snaked around the block, a million teenage girls with Harry's name on their faces or their t-shirts or their signs. Louis had had actual nightmares that looked like this.

"It's fine," Louis said. Zayn and Niall were in the Nando's opposite, buying them all chicken to take backstage to eat with Harry. "This is easier than explaining it to them. It's easier this way."

Liam looked like he was about to disagree, but Louis wasn't having any of it. He was fighting off the last bit of his hangover, everything was falling down around him, and Harry had sent him three text messages that all said approximately the same thing:

I really do want to make this up to you. Please come tonight x

Your name is still on the list for tonight. Let me fix this. x

Really want you to see the show and come backstage. Want to say sorry properly x

Louis hadn't texted back die fucker die so in general he was counting today as a win. He still felt like shit, he'd come out once already today, and most of his friends thought he was being a twat, so sitting through Harry's pop star concert was the least of his worries. "Let's just get through it, go home, and Harry can go back to being a fucking pop star and forget the rest of us existed, like before."

Liam's brow furrowed. "Louis—" he stopped. "All this time, did you—Harry emails and texts us all the time. We all talk to him. A lot. You and him don't do that?"

Louis looked down at the ground, determined not to show even for a second how hurt he suddenly felt. "No," he said. "Not a word. Whatever, hey? Soon you can all go back to being pen pals, and I can go back to being ignored, and normal service will be resumed. Perfection."

"Oh, Lou."

"Don't," he said. "I only cry when I'm knackered or I'm hungover, and I'm both. Leave it."

"Next weekend," Liam said, "do you want to come to mine and watch films? We can go out and get chips. I'll tell Mum to leave us alone. You can sleep over if you want."

"Okay. If my mum will let me. She's really sick of me."

Liam rolled his shoulders. "I think," he started carefully, "I think she's probably just worried about why you've been behaving like a bit of a twat. If you tell her what's been going on, she might get off your back a bit."

Louis looked down at the ground. It wasn't like he didn't know he'd been a twat. It's just that it's hurt, the past few months. His heart and his head and everything else, too. It wasn't like he didn't know that he had to come out at some point in the future, but why did it have to be now? "Maybe."

"We could watch gay films if you want. Danielle's got Brokeback Mountain. I could borrow it off her."

"Oh my god," Louis said. "No. We're not watching anything with a sad fucking ending. And we don't need to watch gay films. I'm fine with what we normally watch. You don't need to go out of your way."

"I'll find ones with happy endings then," he said stubbornly. "There's got to be some."

"Shhh. They're coming back."

"I got pineapple on everything," Niall said, darting out of the path of a Ford Focus that dared to drive in his way. "Harry's record company are paying, so we just thought, fuck it, we're all having pineapple."

"Yeah," Zayn added, following Niall across the road with more of an attempt at following the road rules and waiting for cars to get out of the way first. He stuck two fingers up at a cyclist who thought red lights didn't apply to him. "We didn't go for the posh mash, though. Just the normal kind."

"We got two sides with everything though," Niall confided. "You don't think he'll get in trouble, will he?"

Louis made a face. "For getting two sides each from Nandos? Probably not."

Liam changed the subject. "Come on, let's go inside. Apparently there's like an X box and everything."

"Hours of entertainment," Louis muttered under his breath.

"Come on," Liam said again. "I think the entrance is down here."

There was one thing knowing that Harry was a famous pop star with his face on the front of a hundred gossip magazines, but it was another thing actually seeing it. Backstage at the venue was a maze of corridors and wires and people with clipboards and right in the middle of it all was Harry's dressing room. There were sofas, and a TV, and snacks on a trestle table with a table cloth and everything. Harry was sprawled full length on one of the settees with his headphones on, fucking around with his iPad, but when security showed them in, he jumped up, dumped his stuff on the table, and came over to hug them all.

Louis stepped back and kept a hold of the Nandos order. His hands were sweating and he didn't know where to look; on the one hand he was still so angry with Harry for everything. For not telling him about auditioning for X Factor without them all, for telling Louis he loved him, for leaving and not looking back. For talking to the others but never to him. For smiling at Louis like he was right now, hopeful and apologetic and stupidly, desperately hot.

Because the thing was, it didn't matter how much Louis hated him, because he couldn't stop having feelings for him either.

"You came," Harry said, smiling at him.

"Yep," Louis said. He hugged the Nandos bag a little closer, to stop Harry trying to hug him. "Thought I'd come to see how the other half lived."

Harry's smile dropped at that.

Good, Louis thought savagely. Fuck off.

Liam stepped in front of him. "How's your day been?"

"Full of interviews," Harry said, glancing over Liam's shoulder at Louis. "Do you know they ask the same questions over and over again?"

"Diddums," Louis said. "It must be really shit, being a mega-famous pop star. Do you want us to feel sorry for you?"

"Stop being a twat," Zayn said, but he at least sounded good-natured about it. Louis didn't know whether to be sad or angry that apparently him behaving like a knob was something everyone was getting used to.

Louis dumped the Nandos down on the table and reached for a beer. He still wasn't exactly over his hangover from last night, but there was no way he was getting through the next few hours without it. All he had to do was get through the concert, go the fuck home, wait for Harry to leave, and then everything could go back to normal, and he could stop feeling like he was on the verge of breaking down every three seconds.

That would be nice.

"Seriously," Harry said. "Every single interview, it's all, do you have a girlfriend, and have you got your eye on anyone, and a million other questions that all sound the same, and everyone is obsessed with my sex life. Imagine what it would be like if there actually was anyone I was going out with, it would just be hassle all the time."

Louis wasn't particularly interested in anything Harry had to say. He opened a bag of Haribo instead, and started picking out all the sour cherries. "Yeah, it must be really hard," he said. "All those girls throwing themselves at you."

"Yeah," Harry said. Louis could feel him looking at him. "It is."

"Come on," Niall said. "There's are four controllers, let's play Mario Kart. It's been fucking ages since we had a tournament. Pass us a beer, Lou."

Louis passed everyone a beer, and then pretended he had a missed call from his mum. "Back in a minute," he said, waving his phone in the air, and ducked out into the corridor. He could do this. He could. He could pretend he was okay for just a couple of days more, and then Harry would be gone, and he would be. He would be.

His phone pinged to let him know he had a text. It was from Harry, and it just said, you don't know the whole story. Was trying to protect you. Please let me explain. xx

Just fuck off, Louis texted back. I don't want anything to do with you. The night he'd slept with Harry, he'd been so happy. He'd been so in love, and with one of his best friends, and for the briefest moment it had seemed like the whole world was theirs for the taking. He'd wanted to tell everyone, and be out, and be with Harry for real. He'd wanted to be boyfriends, and not just in secret, and to tell his mum and his sisters, and have them know he'd found someone he loved, and who loved him back. He'd thought he could have it, too.

That had been his first mistake.

I want to come out, Harry's next message said. Tell everyone I'm bisexual. x

brilliant. Do you want me to make you a cake?

I want you to understand why I kept us secret before. And that I was wrong and I should never have treated you like that and I'm sorry x

Louis didn't reply to that. What was the point? He was so fucking tired of secrets and lies. He just wanted it all to be over. He went back inside and pretended that Harry wasn't even there.

—//—

The concert seemed to go on forever. It was so loud, and the screams of the crowd were endless. Louis stood up because everyone around him was standing too, but he just—he couldn't find any way to react. Part of him was so jealous of what Harry had achieved, and wanted to be up there on stage too, performing to a crowd that knew every word of every single song, and loved him. Part of him wanted to know what that felt like more than anything in the world. The performances that he and Zayn and Liam and Niall did as part of the school concerts were one thing, but it was a world away from this. It seemed stupid that back when Harry was still a part of it, a part of them, they'd all talked about doing it together. About being a group. If Harry had cared so much, why had he auditioned for X Factor by himself in the first place? Why had he gone without them? Why hadn't he even told them he was going? Why hadn't he told him? By that time, he'd been blowing Harry as often as he could, and they'd been kissing every spare second, and it had felt like the beginning of something real. Something they both cared about. They'd even talked about auditioning for X Factor together, but none of them had bothered looking up anything like when the auditions were. Or where.

Nobody apart from Harry, apparently, and he hadn't bothered to share the information with the rest of them.

Harry didn't really seem to care about dancing, which looked a bit weird up there on the stage by himself, walking or running from one side to the other and waving at everyone. He sang all of the songs on his album, even the shit ones, even the three quarters of the tracks that were clearly just dreck. And the audience loved it, loved him, and Louis stood there and watched as Harry looked over to where they were sitting, and waved right at them. At him.

Fuck off, Louis thought. Just fuck off.

Or come over here and kiss me. He tried not to think it. He tried never to think it, but sometimes he just—he couldn't not.

Harry looked right at him for the longest moment, whilst all around Louis people screamed, and then he turned around and walked over to the other side of the stage, and that was that.

Just get the fuck over him and move on, he told himself, hands clenching into fists.

Harry Styles wasn't fucking worth it, and he never fucking had been.

—//—

"Hey," Niall said, foot up on the table in Harry's dressing room after the end of the show. He cradled his beer. "Remember that time we hid yogurt in the roof in the business studies classroom after GCSEs?"

Zayn snorted and stole the bowl of Haribo and M&Ms. "When do you think they found it?"

"September, I hope," Harry said. He was just out of the shower, hair damp and t-shirt sticking to his chest. He sat down on the edge of the sofa, and swung his foot so that it bumped into Louis' ankle. "That was sick. It must have stunk. Do you think that cress we planted ever grew?"

Liam laughed. "Imagine if it just sprouted over the summer, and we'd come back after the holidays to cress on all the theatre seats."

"Probably needed more water than we gave them," Zayn said. "We could have sneaked in over the holidays and watered them."

"Subtle," Harry said, laughing. He kept looking at Louis. "We were bloody brilliant, back then."

Louis ran his thumb over the neck of his beer bottle. "Hey," he said. "Remember that time I blew you in the toilets after senior choir, Hazza?"

Harry stilled. Niall, Liam and Zayn went suddenly, abruptly quiet.

"Or that time you wanked me off in the cinema? Remember that? How about all those times we were late because we were getting off behind the science block?"

"Louis," Liam said.

"Shut up, Liam," Louis said. "We're reminiscing. Remembering all the fun times, right, Harry? Remember how we had sex and you told me you loved me, and then you fucked off to get famous and never spoke to me again?"

"Louis," Liam said again. "Don't—"

Zayn and Niall didn't move.

"You remember, Harry? Don't tell me you forgot. My blow jobs aren't that forgettable, right? You did keep coming back for more."

"I remember," Harry said. He kept looking at Louis, and didn't look at the others. "And I wasn't lying when I told you I loved you."

"Funny way of showing it." Louis tried to keep his voice from wobbling.

"I'm trying to make it up to you. I'm trying to explain."

"Not doing a bang-up job of that," Louis said. "I get it, you know. Probably had loads of people in London who'd go down on you, you didn't need to keep sneaking around with me for months behind everyone's backs."

"I'm really sorry," Harry said, still ignoring the others. "I screwed up, and I want to make it up to you. I've been trying to explain all weekend, but you won't listen to me."

"Sorry." Louis took a long gulp of his beer. His hand was shaking. "This has been like, so much fun. I'm really glad I came tonight, it was great. But I'm just going to fuck off now, right? And go back to pretending you don't exist."

He stood up, not looking at any of the others, and almost ran out into the corridor. Where the fuck was the exit? Backstage at the arena was a fucking maze. He was probably going to be stuck here forever, trapped. God. His hands were shaking; he'd just come out to Niall and Zayn. He'd just fucked everything up. Fuck. Everything was going to change. He hated when things changed.

"Louis—" Harry called after him.

Louis didn't look back. He sped up instead, because there had to be an exit around here somewhere. Why hadn't he paid more attention when they were being taken backstage?

"Louis," Harry said, running after him, catching Louis' elbow, stopping him just as he turned down a corridor he hoped led somewhere other than back to the dressing room.

"Leave me alone," Louis said, but Harry just pushed closer anyway, pushed Louis back against the wall and kissed him.

Louis spluttered a protest but all he could taste was Harry's desperation, his mouth rough, his tongue sliding its way into Louis' mouth.

And then—then Louis couldn't help but kiss back, all of his anger and frustration bleeding its way into the kiss. Harry's hands fisted in Louis' shirt, the wall hard and implacable against Louis' back, and—what the fuck were they doing? What the fuck was he doing?

Louis pushed him away. "Fuck the fuck off," he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. They were in a public corridor, and Liam and Zayn and Niall were all watching them from the corner. Louis hadn't even noticed them coming after them. He didn't look to see if anyone else had seen them. He just wanted to cry.

Behind Harry was a fire escape, the green exit sign illuminated. He barrelled past Harry and through the door, taking the steps down two at a time as he ran for the exit, not stopping until he was outside the venue, and it was dark and cold and he was alone.

And everything was just the same as before, everything, but it had all changed for him.

—//—

Zayn found him in the end, sitting on a bench by the bridge over the inner ring road.

Louis shoved his hands in his pockets, and didn't say anything.

Zayn climbed onto the bench so that he was sitting on the back, his feet on the seat. "So," he said finally, when Louis still didn't say anything.

"So," Louis said. "I'm a poof."

"Yep," Zayn said. "I think we've all got that now."

Louis was freezing. He'd been sat out here for half an hour, not really knowing what to do. He'd put his phone on silent and just sat here, thinking. "If it makes things weird, um. Well. Tell me."

Zayn waited a minute before replying. "I think what makes things weird is the fact that you and Harry were shagging, and neither of you ever told us. I don't really—I don't like—it feels weird, looking back and knowing you were lying to us that whole time."

"I know, I'm sorry." He hadn't really thought about it like that. "I didn't mean to, you know. Like, um. Fall for him."

"I don't care who you fall for, dickhead. Hang on, I have to text the others and let them know we found you. Liam was about five seconds away from calling your mum. I think he thinks you're about to have a breakdown or something."

"I'm not having a breakdown."

"You've been behaving like a twat." He finished sending his message, and shoved his phone back in his pocket. "You know how weird it is when you behave like a total fucking twat? Like, you've always been a dick, but the twat thing is pretty recent. I just—you could have told us, okay?"

"It was Harry's secret too."

"Not about you being a poof, Lou. That bit's all yours."

Louis swallowed. "I didn't know—I didn't want everything to be strange. Like, I didn't want you to make me get changed in another room or whatever."

Zayn hit him in the shoulder. "That was for not telling us." He gave Louis a lopsided grin. "Don't think I've ever known anyone who was gay before."

"You probably have," Louis said. "Mr Martin, for a start."

"Who?"

"Mr Martin? From infants? He was proper gay."

"What, really?" Zayn laughed. "Fuck."

"We weren't really shagging. Me and Harry. It was just that once. Before he left."

"Depends if you count blow jobs as shagging, doesn't it?"

Louis didn't count the blow jobs. They'd been fun and stupid and hot and great and secret, but his first time had been so much more than that. It had been sweet, and slow, and intimate, and quiet. It had been perfect, really, apart from the giant volcano of lies that had been bubbling just under the surface, waiting to spurt up and ruin everything. "I wanted to tell you, you know. Like, at the beginning, when we didn't know what the fuck we were doing, that was different. But at the end—when I knew I fancied boys, I didn't want to keep it a secret anymore."

"But Harry did?"

"I don't know. Harry fucked off. Harry auditioned without us. He didn't come back after boot camp. I don't have a fucking clue what was going on in his head."

Zayn slid off the back of the bench and down onto the seat next to Louis. "You know his mum applied for him, right? Sent the application form off and everything. Harry didn't do it. He didn't even know about it."

Louis looked up at that. He hadn't known. Not that it made any difference. "Whatever," he said.

"Did he really just leave and never contact you again?"

Louis nodded. "Yeah," he said, and his voice caught. He tried to cover it with a cough, but it didn't work. He couldn't cry again, he just couldn't. "Fucked me and left me."

"Urgh, do not want to think about you two fucking."

"See," Louis said miserably. He wiped his eyes on his sleeve. "It does make a difference."

"Does not. I don't want to think about Liam and Danielle naked either. Well, Danielle, maybe. Just not with Liam."

"Dick."

"Red-blooded teenage boy," Zayn pointed out. "And she is hot."

"Don't let Perrie hear you say that."

"Anyway, I don't want to think about my mates naked, that doesn't mean I mind you and Harry. Cos I don't. Mind, I mean."

"Not that it matters," Louis said. "There is no me and Harry."

"You did just snog in a corridor."

"He kissed me."

Zayn shrugged. "Looked like you kissed back to me."

"Accidental response. I didn't mean to."

Neither of them said anything for a while. After a minute, Zayn elbowed him. "I'm sorry things have been really shit for you. Maybe you've been a justifiable twat."

"Put that on my gravestone," Louis said, as a car pulled up.

Harry climbed out, followed by Liam and Niall.

"You okay?" Liam asked.

"Perfectly," Louis lied.

Niall shoved his hands in his pockets. "Harry's going to give us a lift home. If I'm not home in fifteen minutes I'm even more grounded than I am right now."

Louis hadn't even looked at the time. He was grounded to high fuck anyway, what did missing a curfew really matter, anyway? He wasn't getting in a car with Harry. He wasn't doing anything with Harry, never again. "I'm getting the bus."

"Last bus has gone, mate," Liam said apologetically. "Have you seen the time? The only other option's a taxi."

Louis didn't have the money for a taxi. It was fifteen quid out to his house from the centre of town. His mum was going to kill him. Actually kill him. "I'll walk."

He wouldn't be home until morning, but whatever. He had nothing else to do with his life but be grounded for the next three months anyway.

Harry came over to the bench. "I'm sorry," he said.

"What for?"

"Everything, actually. But kissing you, specifically. That was a bit unfair."

"Yeah," Louis said, looking down at his feet. His ankles were cold.

"It's just a lift home, Lou. Come on. I'll even get Mike to drop you off first so that you don't have to be alone with me, okay? I get it. You don't want anything to do with me. I finally get it."

"Mike?" Louis realised that the engine on the Range Rover was still running. Harry had a driver, apparently. It was a really fucking different world Harry was living in now.

"My driver," Harry said. "Just for the record, I really am sorry about everything. And if I could take back any of the stuff that hurt you, I would."

"Pity you really can't turn back time then, isn't it?"

"Lou, come on." Liam held his hand out, beckoning him closer. "Let's just all go home, eh?"

Louis waited a minute before nodding. "Okay," he said, and made sure he was sitting as far away from Harry as possible when he got in the car.

—//—

Harry walked him to his front door. "Liam really laid into me, you know. And Niall. Before."

Louis glanced back towards the car, and their friends, all watching them out of the open door. He didn't say anything. If he looked at Harry he'd find himself drawn to Harry's mouth, and he didn't want that. He just wanted everything to stop. What was so wrong with that?

"I really, really loved you," Louis said finally. "I wanted to be your boyfriend and for everyone to know. But you broke my heart, and it's not fixed, and I don't know if it ever will be fixed, and I have no idea what you think you can say that is going to make me feel any better about any of it. And you haven't talked to me in months, and then you come back here and keep trying to force yourself back into my life, and my friends, and my school, and my bedroom, and it's not fair. You do all of this stuff, and you never ask. You just do, and you want everyone to immediately accept that you're sorry and to let you back in, and I don't get why you think that's okay, and that it's going to work. Because you left, Harry, and you left us, and you left me, and I trusted you. I trusted you, and I loved you, and you left." He knew he was crying, but he couldn't stop.

Harry's voice caught. "I didn't mean to. I never wanted to go to that stupid audition without you, but my mum applied, and none of you lot did, and I couldn't tell you I was going. I couldn't, but it wouldn't matter because I wasn't going to get through anyway. But I kept getting through. They kept putting me through, and I didn't want to tell you I was doing it by myself, because I wanted to be doing it with you."

"You should have told me," Louis said. "You still should have told me."

"I know." He wiped his eyes. "I didn't want to come out on TV, Lou. I didn't want to come out in the newspapers or the magazines. It was fucking terrifying, the thought of that. Why is who I fancy news? Why is who I'm in love with news?"

"I don't know."

"I don't know, but it is, and it's not fair. I don't want to come out to the whole stupid world. Nobody else has to do it. Just me. And anyone else who's famous and fancies boys. I was so scared, Lou. I didn't want the papers talking about me. I didn't want them talking about you."

The light flicked on in the living room, inside. Someone was waiting up for him. "I've got to go," Louis said. He tried to stop crying, but it just felt like—it felt like months and months building up to this.

"Okay," Harry said. He didn't move, though. "Can't you see even a little bit how scary it was?"

Louis shrugged. "I don't know," he said, although maybe he could. Maybe he—maybe he hadn't thought of it like that. Of any of it like that. It didn't make any of it okay, though.

"I'm not scared any more, though."

"Good for you." He fumbled for his door keys. "It's a pity it's too late."

He got the door open and went inside without looking back, shutting the door behind him with a decisive click. And then he ran up the stairs and into his bedroom, threw himself on the bed, covered his face with his hands, and cried.

"Louis," Mum said, following him upstairs at a run. She sat down onto the bed next to him, and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "Louis, sweetheart, what's wrong? Did something happen? Come on, Lou, tell me what's happened. It'll be okay, I promise."

"I had sex with Harry," he said, without even stopping to think about what he was saying.

Her hand on his shoulder stilled. "What?"

"Me and Harry. We had sex." He was snotty and blotchy and he couldn't catch his breath. What the fuck was he doing? Was Harry still standing outside? He didn't care about any of it. He just wanted to crawl under the covers and pull them over his head and wake up when it was all over and nothing hurt anymore.

"Tonight?"

He shook his head, but still didn't take his hands away from his eyes. He couldn't stop crying. "Before."

"Before...this weekend, or before he left?"

"Before before."

His mum's voice caught. "Oh, baby."

"Don't cry, Mum. Not you as well."

She smoothed his hair away from his face. "What's been going on tonight? What's got you into this much of a state?"

He shrugged. "Everyone found out about me and Harry. I hate him, Mum. I hate him."

"Oh, sweetheart. Come here and give me a hug."

Louis let himself be pulled into a hug, and then he hid his face in his mum's neck and cried his eyes out.

It was a while before he could bring himself to pull away. When he finally sat back, Lottie was standing in the doorway. "Are you all right?" she asked, as if Louis wasn't in floods of tears in the middle of the night.

"Not now, Lottie," Mum said. "Go and put the kettle on, there's a love."

She bit her lip, wide-eyed as she looked at Louis.

"I'm okay," Louis lied.

"Go on, Lotts. Go make me and your brother a cup of tea."

Lottie nodded and darted down the stairs. It was a good thing they'd all been taught to make tea from the age of four. Excellent learning curve.

Louis rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands. His throat felt all caught up and raspy, and his eyes hurt.

"Do you want to tell me what's been going on?" Mum asked. "I won't get angry."

Louis looked down at his hands, and then pulled open the drawer in his bedside table. There was just one strip of passport pictures in there, nestled in amongst all the junk he normally kept in there. It was the strip of pictures of him and Harry, the one with their first kiss.

He handed it to his mum.

She looked down at it for a long time without saying anything.

"Oh," she said finally. "You haven't had that hair cut for a while."

"Don't really think it's the haircut that's important, Mum."

Her voice sounded choked. "No, it's just—this was a while ago, Louis. I'm just sad you didn't come to me earlier."

"I didn't—" he stopped. He didn't want to talk about the inside of his head right now. He was tired, and felt rubbish, and sick, and it was the middle of the night, and nothing made sense. "He left me, Mum. I thought he loved me, and he left me and didn't come back."

"I know, sweetheart." She wrapped an arm around his shoulders, and kissed the top of his head. "They don't tell you about the urge to go and yell at your children's boyfriends for being idiots in the parenting manual, you know."

"They should do."

"They really should," Mum agreed. She kissed the top of his head again. "I didn't mean to cry on you."

"Doesn't matter," Louis said, and it was the truth. "I'm sorry I've been a twat."

"Language, Louis."

Louis didn't say anything to that, curling into her side like he was a little kid again.

"Why don't you go and wash your face, kid. Put your 'jamas on, then come downstairs and me and you will watch something on the telly for a bit. We'll have a cup of tea, and you can tell me about Harry if you want. How's that sound?"

"All right."

"Okay. Come down in a minute, then. I'll go and see if I can find some biscuits."

Louis nodded. He went and washed his face in the bathroom and stared at himself in the mirror for a bit. Harry had kissed him tonight. He couldn't tell if that showed on his face or not. Probably not. Not that it mattered, because everyone knew now. No more keeping it a secret.

He went back in the bedroom to put his pyjamas on, before going downstairs to watch Miranda on DVD with his mum until he fell asleep.

—//—

In the morning, his dad came upstairs and knocked on his door. "Your mum tells me you're not coming out with us today," he said.

Louis sat up. "No," he said, rubbing his eyes.

"She said you were a bit upset last night. That boy of yours been messing you around?"

Louis managed a smile at that. "Something like that," he said.

"Okay," Dad said. "Anything I can do?"

"Not really."

"You haven't come over and seen my new place yet."

"I know." Louis hadn't.

"Maybe you and me could get together sometime, do something, just the two of us."

Louis picked at his duvet cover. "Maybe."

"Okay." He didn't say anything else, but he didn't leave, either. It was really weird, his dad standing in his doorway, like he hadn't moved out and moved on and left them behind. His dad obviously felt the same, because he held himself awkwardly, like he was trying not to touch anything that didn't belong to him anymore. "I'll see you, then."

"Yeah," Louis said, not watching him leave. He reached for his phone instead. Seven new messages, including four from Harry. "See you."

The last message from Harry just said, don't worry no one can see that it's you.

Louis scrambled out of bed and called Liam.

"What the hell?" he said, as soon as Liam answered his phone.

"Have you seen it?" Liam asked.

"Seen what?"

"Go switch your computer on. Someone got a picture of you and Harry in the corridor last night. It's on SugarScape."

"What the fuck is SugarScape?"

"I don't know, some website. Ruth knew what it was. You can't see it's you at all. Don't get upset."

That advice was fairly redundant, Louis was sure. He went to try and find the family laptop and not hyperventilate, both at the same time. He was only partially successful.

"What do I need to Google for?"

"Go to sugarscape.com. It's on the front page."

The page took forever to load; they needed a new fucking laptop.

Exclusive: Is this Harry Styles kissing a bloke? Apparently Harry Styles likes to go both ways, who knew? But this picture, snapped backstage last night by someone with nothing better to do than rove the corridors with their camera ready in case they catch Harry Styles at it, suggests very strongly that Hazza likes snogging at least the odd bloke. So the questions are, is it serious? And who is it? Who's the lucky lad that's captured Our Hazza's heart? And can we watch?

"You can't tell it's you," Liam said.

The photo was extremely grainy, badly lit, and taken from right the other end of the corridor, but it was also very clearly Harry, and he was very clearly snogging Louis. In the background, Louis could see Liam and Zayn and Niall watching from the corner. They were so pixelated that it was impossible to make out their faces unless you knew who they were. His face was obscured too, by Harry's hair, his body covered by Harry's, but you could see his checked shirt and his jeans and his bare ankles and his trainers.

"I can tell it's me," Louis said.

"Yeah, but no one else will. You can't see your face. It's okay, Louis."

"It's not really okay, though, is it?" Louis said. "Like on a scale of things that are okay, this isn't on it."

"To be fair," Liam said, after a long moment, "the only person who's outed on that site is Harry. No one knows it's you, apart from us. And we're not going to tell."

"To be fair," Louis said, "I don't really care."

"Don't be a twat," Liam said. "Harry's just been outed. At least you only had to come out to us."

"And my mum. I came out to my mum last night."

There was a pause. "You okay?"

"My eyes hurt." He let out a breath. "Are you going to his show tonight?"

"Yeah, with Ruth and Danielle. Zayn's going with Perrie and her friends. We're all going to hang out first. I think he's got Niall a ticket too."

"That'll be nice," Louis lied. He didn't want to hang out with Harry—he never wanted to see him again—but he really fucking hated it when his friends did things without him.

"If you wanted, I'm sure Harry could—"

"I don't want to," Louis said quickly. "Me and Harry are through."

"You okay though? For real?"

Louis looked at the picture on the screen, at the grainy shot of Harry kissing him, and him kissing Harry back. "I'm not going to lob myself off a building, if that's what you're worried about."

"You're not secretly beefing or anything, are you?"

"Nope, not secretly. At the moment I'm only crying in public, to maximize the potential for humiliation. Works better that way."

"Mum says I've got to go and help her with lunch. Do you want me to tell her I can't?"

Louis didn't know what he wanted. "No," he said. "Say hi to your mum for me."

"I've told her you're sleeping over next weekend. No backing out now."

"Wouldn't," Louis said.

"And I asked Danielle, and she's borrowing Beautiful Thing off her friend, so we can watch a gay film with a happy ending."

"For fuck's sake."

"I'm being supportive, stop being a dick."

Louis rolled his eyes. "All right." He waited a beat. "Thanks."

"Okay. And no one can tell it's you. You're okay."

After he hung up, he looked at the picture on the screen a bit more, and then thumbed through his messages. There was a new one from Harry that just said, I suppose coming out just got easier. :'(

Louis went and made a cup of tea, and put some toast under the grill, and then he picked his phone up and texted, you ok? and pressed send before he could talk himself out of it.

The answer came back immediately. No :'(((( crying all over my mum like an idiot. So sorry. Never meant to put you through this.

Louis put his phone down on the counter and rooted through the cupboards for something to put on his toast. There was no peanut butter, and no marmite, so he ended up with his head in the fridge trying to find the jam.

"What are you looking for?" Mum asked, coming into the kitchen. Outside he could hear his dad's car drive off, probably with all of his sisters still making a racket.

"Jam," Louis said, coming back out with half a jar of apricot jam. He hated apricot jam. "So, on the plus side, there's a picture of me and Harry kissing on the front page of some website. Do you want tea?"

"What?"

"Me and Harry. Snogging. Website. Tea?"

"Which website? Where's the picture from?"

"Mum. Tea."

His mum blinked. "Are you all right?"

"Why wouldn't I be just fine?" Louis dumped two mugs down on the counter, and flicked the switch on the kettle. "My ex-boyfriend—who I was completely in love with—kissed me last night, and some dickhead with a phone got a picture and now it's on the web, so everything's just bloody fantastic. Harry's crying on his mum, you can't see my face so nobody knows it's me, Dad wants me to see him, I think I still love Harry, and everything's fucking shit. And I hate apricot jam."

"There's raspberry in the bag by the door," Mum said. "Bought it yesterday." She sounded kind of dazed. Louis didn't blame her. His head felt like it was on inside out and back to front. The fact that he was on the front of some website—luckily with his face obscured, but still—felt kind of like it was by the by. "Have you spoken to Harry?"

"What about? We haven't got anything to say to each other." That was a lie. Louis had about nine million things he wanted to say to Harry, but they were all variants of what the fuck did I do to deserve the way you treated me, and why didn't you love me enough, so it would be a fairly pointless experience to actually say them out loud.

His mum got a couple of teabags out of the tin on the counter, and dropped them into the mugs Louis had got out. She waited until the kettle had finished boiling, and then poured the water on the teabags. "Now, forgive me for interfering, but are you sure? If there was kissing last night, Lou—well. Maybe there's still something between you." She sounded awkward, and Louis couldn't exactly blame her for that. He'd come out and ended up online and outed one of his oldest best friends all in the course of a few hours; it was amazing she'd dealt with it all so well so far.

"I don't know." Louis finished spreading jam on his toast. He cut a corner off for his mum, and kept the rest for himself. "I don't—I'm so angry, Mum. I've been angry for months, and it's rubbish, and I'm pissing everyone off, and I'm pissing myself off. It's not surprising everyone's pissed off at me. I've been a total twat—"

"Louis."

"—a total wanker, then. I don't like being this mad, Mum, but I don't know how not to be. And I don't think just forgiving Harry because he's finally decided to come home and want something to do with me again is going to fix everything. And I couldn't just forgive him even if I tried, because him saying sorry just isn't good enough. Do you know what I mean?"

"Yes," she said, after a minute. "I know what you mean."

Louis wondered if she was thinking about his dad. Step-dad. Whatever.

Sometimes people left because there wasn't a way back, and sometimes they just left.

His mum got the milk out whilst Louis fished out the teabags and dumped them in the bin. Then she leaned back against the counter and hugged her cup of tea. "This picture. The one on the internet—"

"It's on the laptop," Louis interrupted. "If you want to see."

He loaded it up for her, and then they sat back on the settee and looked at it for a bit.

"The parenting manual doesn't really prepare you for your kids growing up," Mum said after a bit. "And you've grown up a lot."

"I'd grown up before."

"I know. You've always been so responsible, and the best big brother. You've always done more than a kid should. Don't think I don't know that."

"Mum—"

"They don't prepare you for your kids getting hurt. And I think you forget, sometimes, that your kids are going to have the same rubbish relationship traumas as you do." She put her mug down on the coffee table. "It's not that I'm going to yell at you for not talking to me before you chose to start having sex, Louis. But I wish you had."

Louis blushed. "What were you going to tell me? It would have been proper embarrassing, Mum."

"Course it would," she said. "I think that's supposed to be the point. But you and Harry, you're so young."

"Doesn't feel like it. And I waited until I felt ready. I didn't do it too early or anything. It's not my fault he turned out to be a prat."

"I'm not blaming you for not being able to see the future. I just—I thought you taught you that secrets weren't good. Secrets hurt people, and you got hurt. And now you're on the internet."

"Coming out just got easier," Louis said, not meaning to echo Harry's text, but doing it anyway. "At least it saves having to tell everyone individually."

"Maybe." His mum was taking this remarkably calmly. If his kid just got pictured snogging on the internet, he'd be throwing plates. "But I don't know how many people are going to know it's you, unless you tell them. You can't see anything of you. It could be anybody."

It could be anybody, but it isn't. It's him and Harry. "You can see Harry, though."

His mum looked at him. "He must be having a rubbish day."

"Deserves it."

"Hey. He might have been a little shit to you—stop looking at me like that, I'm allowed to be defensive of you—but he's just been outed on the internet, and that's horrible even if I do want to give him a good talking to for treating you badly."

"I suppose. Why aren't you mad? I thought you'd be chucking plates."

"All that divorce counselling I had when your dad and I split up is finally starting to pay off, I suppose." She bumped her knee into his. "And don't think I'm not furious that someone took a picture of you and made money off it. I'd wring his neck if I could. But I also think that this is all really sad. Harry's only your age, and who he wants to kiss is on the front page of a website. It might even be in the newspapers tomorrow."

"Harry said he didn't want to come out for the newspapers and the magazines. He said it terrified him."

"Well, that's hardly surprising, is it? Imagine if you could see your face in that picture, and you had to go in to school on Monday and have everyone know who you'd been kissing at the weekend. That would be rubbish, and it's only school. Harry has to go on stage knowing that everyone's been talking about him, and if it's in the paper, he has to go about his daily life knowing that everyone's talking about him. I'm not surprised he's terrified. I'd be crying my eyes out."

"It's not fair," Louis said. He wasn't sure which of the many things on his list he was referring to anymore. "None of it's fair."

"I know," Mum said. "I agree."

Louis rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands, and wondered when any of this would start to make sense in his head. He just wanted a way out, but he couldn't find a way through. Everything was such a mess.

—//—

His phone rang mid-afternoon, just after he and his mum were back from doing the big shop at Tesco. It was Harry.

"You going to answer that?" Mum asked.

"Don't know," Louis said, honestly. He hovered his finger over the reject button, before choosing accept instead. He picked the phone up. "Hi."

"Hi," Harry said. He sounded like he had a cold. "So, today's rubbish."

Louis didn't say anything to that. He went upstairs instead, ignoring his mum watching him. "This doesn't change anything," he said finally.

"I know." There was silence for a while, and when Harry spoke again, he spoke uncharacteristically fast, tripping over his words. "Look—I know this is like, the final nail in the coffin for us. I know I've fucked everything up so badly. I've messed everything up. I should have never of—when I left I was so scared of being made to come out and have everyone know I liked guys as well as girls. I was so scared, and I didn't want everyone to know, and then I kept going through to the next week, and it just kept getting harder. I kept telling myself it was for the best, not being with you."

"It wasn't, though." Louis' broken heart wasn't for the best, and it never had been. He'd tried to be okay all day, but talking to Harry again was making him feel like he wanted to cry again. He needed some actual sleep and for Harry not to be around. All of this was Harry's fucking fault.

"Yeah, I know. If I'd just been braver from the start—"

"I don't get why it's anyone's business but ours who we fancy."

"Yeah." Harry didn't say anything for a bit. "Just so you know, I really did mean it when I said I wanted to make things better this weekend. You and me—we worked. Even though I was too late."

Louis knew that. "I don't know how to forgive you. I don't know how to make any of this okay. It just—it still hurts. I still hurt."

"I really did love you, you know."

Did. "I know. Me too."

"Me and you against the world, that's what we were."

"Yeah," Louis said. Back when they'd been hiding and kissing and laughing and trying to touch as often as possible, that's what it had felt like. But now his heart just felt all caught up and trapped in his throat. This was really it. This was what he wanted, wasn't it? This is what he'd been dreaming of. Harry finally leaving him alone. "I'll see you, then."

"Yeah," Harry said, and neither of them hung up for the longest time.

Afterwards, Louis sat down on his bed, and looked at his feet. He didn't get up. It was really over.

He felt empty.

—//—

Niall's phone call came half way through Call The Midwife.

"Aren't you supposed to be watching Harry?" Louis asked, trying to extricate himself from the twins, who had engineered a late bedtime by virtue of the fact this game of Ludo wouldn't fucking end.

"I am," Niall said, and okay, he sounded like he was in the middle of a swimming pool. That said, Louis had been there the night before, and the screaming had been incredible. This did not sound like that. "I just came outside to call you."

"Fizz, come take over for me, I'll only be a minute." He handed over the shaker to Fizzy, who neatly slid into his seat as Louis went to hide in the hall to speak to Niall. "What's up?"

"Harry just came out on stage."

Louis sat down on the stairs with a bump. "What the fuck?"

"Yeah, like, just now. Liam made me come out to tell you. He's trying to record it, but someone will have it, I bet it'll be on YouTube soon."

"Um," Louis said. "What makes you think I'd be interested?"

"Shut up, dickhead. You know as well as I do that you're interested."

"I don't care about anything to do with Harry Styles."

"I'll tell you what," Niall said. "Let's just pretend you've said all this stuff about how you don't give a fuck about Harry, and you can pretend I've agreed with you, and then we'll just skip to the part where I give you the details, how's that sound?"

Louis made a face. "Okay," he said quietly.

"Basically he just stood up and said that the song he'd just sung was for anyone who'd come out, or who'd fucked up a relationship because they were scared of coming out, and that he knew what that was like."

"Oh," Louis said, after a minute of trying to figure out what the hell he was supposed to say. "Right."

"Yeah, so," Niall said. "Liam said I should tell you."

"Liam did, did he?"

"Yeah." There was a pause. "He also told me to tell you that I'm a supportive friend who is totally accepting of you being a giant poofter, because apparently I've forgotten to say that."

"Thanks," Louis said. "That's a big weight off my mind."

"I thought so. When you and Harry had sex, who did who up the arse?"

"Oh my god," Louis said. "This is—I can't believe you asked that."

"Sure you can," Niall said. "If I hadn't, you would have thought something was wrong. I asked Liam about shagging Danielle."

"They haven't done it yet," Louis said automatically. Or they hadn't. Liam got decidedly pink when they made fun of him and Danielle for not getting it on yet. "They haven't, have they?"

"Liam's big V, still firmly in place," Niall said. "Go on then, who did what to who?"

"Ask Harry," Louis said, going red. "Jesus."

"I will, you know."

Louis did know. He just didn't know what to feel about it. "Me and Harry—we're not friends anymore."

"I know. Doesn't mean you're not stupid over him, though. And that he's not stupid over you right back. You have no idea how much more things make sense now you've stopped lying to us. You're stupid about each other."

He wished it was that simple. There was just too much hurt in the way. "You should get back inside. You're missing the show."

"I've seen it before," Niall said. "He'd be better if we were all up there with him. Remember when we did Teenage Dirtbag? All those year tens got up and screamed the place down. Better than sex."

It hadn't been better than sex for Louis. Sex was better. Harry had been better. He pushed that thought away. "Tell Liam thanks, will you?"

"Yeah, yeah. Don't go and cry in your room or anything." He paused. "I'll see you in the common room before registration tomorrow, yeah?"

"Yeah," Louis said softly. "All right."

He looked at his phone for a while before sliding it into his pocket and going back to finish his game of Ludo. It didn't matter what Harry did or didn't do; he wasn't in Louis' life any more, and that's the way Louis wanted it.

—//—

The thing was: life went on. Monday turned up and vomited Louis back into sixth form, like the weekend had never happened. The whole school was talking about Harry coming out, and Louis had never seen so many copies of The Sun or The Mirror on school property before. He didn't read either of them, but he stole two copies from the sixth form common room and hid them inside his rucksack next to his maths folder. Liam stuck by his side all day, and Niall kept talking to him, and Zayn pinged elastic bands at his neck for the whole of their free period, and Danielle and Perrie made him a cup of tea at lunchtime.

And the world kept on turning. He handed in his maths homework and tried to understand differentiation when he'd missed Mr Partington's lesson on Friday. He didn't read the chapter he was supposed to for English. Miss McClusky yelled at him for the state of the music room cupboard, and Louis lied and promised he'd sort all the mess out. She looked at his rolled up trousers and his trainers, and Louis knew that she'd figured it out, but neither of them said anything. She didn't talk to him about Harry.

Nobody talked about Harry in front of him, which was exactly what Louis had been wishing for for months. Everything was exactly as he wanted it to be.

It didn't explain why it felt like he was walking through treacle the whole fucking day, and even though he tried to focus, he couldn't concentrate on anything. It didn't explain why he kept checking his phone for messages, even though his friends were all right there in front of him. It didn't explain why he kept looking at the door, when Harry had dropped out of sixth form and their lives months ago.

It didn't explain anything.

"Here, come on," Liam said, after lunch. "Let's go to the shop."

"I've got general studies," Louis said.

Liam rolled his eyes. "Like you have ever, for one second, paid attention in general studies."

"I so have. Remember when we had that debate about whether private schools were okay or not, and I said everyone who went to one was called Roger and liked rugby and said yah a lot."

"I'm not entirely sure that's going to get you an A level, Lou."

"Whatever, it's ages until exams." Lie, but whatever. Louis could catch up later. Probably. "Rrrrrrr-oger." He rolled his r's, trying to get Liam to laugh.

Liam just raised his eyebrows. "How long have I known you?"

"Years and years," Louis said airily. "Since infants. Since you wouldn't stop bringing your blankie to school."

Liam went red. "Shut up about blankie. Anyway, I'm trying to make a point. And the point is, that I'm not stupid."

"I know," Louis said. "You are very intelligent and ever so clever. At least, that's what your mum thinks."

Liam punched him in the arm. "Stop trying to change the subject. I'm trying to tell you that you can talk about Harry if you want. With me. And it'll stay secret. But I'm here."

Louis looked away. "I'm fine," he said. "I got everything I wanted."

"Come to the shop," Liam persisted. "I've got enough money for one of those value Swiss rolls if you want to share one."

"Pushing that boat right out," Louis said, but he couldn't bring himself to look Liam in the face. "All right. I'll come. If you insist."

They ended up sharing the Swiss roll in the kids' play area outside the pub by the school. At a pinch, if you were in the geography block and looking out of the windows in the right direction, you could see into the pub beer garden, but Louis couldn't bring himself to care all that much.

"Have you seen what Harry said on stage?" Liam asked, after a while.

Louis shook his head. He peeled the plastic wrapping further down the Swiss roll. It probably wasn't the healthiest plan, sharing a whole Swiss roll between the two of them, but it was only thirty pence and neither he nor Liam had all that much money to spare. Plus, they tasted pretty good. He licked cream off his thumb.

"Do you want to?"

"Whatever," Louis said. Yes.

Liam rolled his eyes, and pulled his camera out of the pocket of his hoodie. "I videoed it," he said. "Quality's pretty bad, but you can hear him, I think."

"All right."

Liam's camera was about four years old and so battered that the paint had come off the corners. His stuff was always falling apart, just like Louis'. Harry had never got that. He watched as Liam thumbed through his pictures, until he came to the video.

"Sound's a bit fucked," Liam said. "And you have to watch the song before first, because I can't fast forward."

"Whatever," Louis said again. He'd squeezed finger prints into the Swiss roll.

"Don't be a twat all your life, Lou."

Louis ducked his head and didn't say anything. The song that Liam had been recording was an Ed Sheeran song, Moments, that Louis pretended he didn't know because that would mean he'd heard the extended version of Harry's album. He tried to pretend that, if we could only have this life for one more day, if we could only turn back time, didn't make him want to cry. He looked away, scuffing his foot against the floor. Harry should have found a different song to come out after, he really should have.

"Here it comes," Liam said, angling the screen towards him. It was only a little screen, and Louis couldn't see properly. He took the camera from Liam, holding it up so he could see better. "There's the cheers, right, and then I was going to press stop, but then—"

But then Harry waved down the cheers, and stood in the middle of the stage, one hand up in the air. He had his mouth open, ready to speak, but he waited until it was quieter. Louis' heart was in his mouth. Then Harry said, "So, that last song was for everyone out there who's ever had to come out, and for everyone who's ever messed up a relationship that they loved because they were scared to come out, and it was for everyone who's planning to come out at some point in the future. Because—well, I know what that's like. So that song was for you. It was for us."

And then he held his arm up in the air, mic outstretched, and the screams went on, and on, and on.

Louis pressed the power button on the camera and dropped it back into Liam's lap.

"Oh," he said softly, after a while.

"Yeah," Liam said. "You okay?"

"No," Louis said. "But you already knew that."

Liam didn't say anything to that, and they sat there in silence until the sun went in and Louis gave up thinking he was going to go back to school, and went home instead.

—//—

I hate being on stage by myself. Hate it. Remember when we used to perform all together at school? I loved that.

Louis rolled his eyes, and pressed reply. You're the one who auditioned by yourself dickhead.

He threw his phone onto the bed and tried to make head or tail of his maths homework.

—//—

"You seen this?" Zayn said, coming into his bedroom on Wednesday with a magazine without knocking. The cover said, Harry Styles Exclusive Interview: I'm Not Straight.

"Don't care," Louis said, looking down at his book. He was so behind on all his work. He had coursework to hand in and everything. "It's amazing how busy I am with my English homework right now. And I hate Harry. And knock next time, I could have been having a wank or anything."

"Yeah, yeah," Zayn said. "Your sisters are like, next door. And we all know that you hate Harry, you won't shut up about it. Here, let me read you a bit. When asked about the boy in the photograph, Harry gets cagey. He won't answer our question about whether he's someone special or not, but Harry does tell us that he was in a relationship before X Factor. Was it love? Harry's yes is decisive. 'It was love,' he tells us. 'I was in love. He was brilliant.'

"So what went wrong? 'I did,' Harry says. 'I was scared about what the newspapers and the magazines might say if I did well in the competition, and people started to know my name, but also knew I was in love with a boy. I wasn't ready to come out, and because of that, I lost him.' We don't like to think about Harry Styles being heartbroken, and we tell him so. He's not having any of it. 'It was my fault,' he tells us. 'I fucked up. I didn't try hard enough to keep him, and then I left it too long before I was brave enough to try and fix things. None of it was his fault. He was great just the way he was.'"

Zayn threw the magazine at Louis' head.

"That doesn't change anything," Louis said, even though his heart was beating fast enough to fly right out of his chest. "It doesn't change what he did."

"Nope," Zayn agreed. He poked Louis in the leg until he budged over, and then lay down on the bed next to him. "Is this where you and Harry did it? How did you both fit?"

"We managed," Louis said. He'd only ever had sex that one time, in his single bed, so he didn't know what it was like somewhere bigger. He just kept thinking, he was great just the way he was.

"Well, yes," Zayn said. "Obviously. But how, that's the thing. Me and Pezza fell out of bed once, and she's got a fucking ma-hoosive bed. It's totally fucking sick how big that bed is."

"Seriously, Malik, do I look like I want to know about what you and Perrie get up to?"

"We all have to think about you and Harry all the time at the moment, you could at least try and imagine me and Perrie naked as some kind of fair exchange."

Louis wrinkled his nose. "I don't really think that's the way these things work."

"I do. Anyway, I've been thinking, and I reckon we should probably start trying to do the maths homework by ourselves, if we want any chance of actually passing. What do you think?"

"I think I'm going to fail," Louis said, not without just cause. He only passed his GCSEs because of Harry's help. This differentiation shit was way too hard. Who needed A levels, anyway?

"Maybe we should just do our homework at the same time, together," Zayn suggested, poking Louis in the leg with the lid of Louis' pen. It wasn't the worst idea anyone had ever had. "And just whilst we're on the subject of you and Harry, you do know that neither of you can actually go back and change what happened, right?"

"That's kind of the point."

Zayn rolled onto his side, and butted his nose against Louis' arm. "I'm just saying, right, and don't kill me for this, but have you ever thought about just trying to forget about it and move on?"

"All the fucking time," Louis said. "Like, on average, once every ten minutes. But it still hurts."

"Like, less than before? Or just about the same?"

Louis gingerly tested his heart, poking it gently. "I don't know. Less. Maybe."

"Progress," Zayn said lightly. "Lend us a pen and a bit of paper, will you? Let's do this fucking maths."

—//—

Louis watched his digital clock flicker past two thirty am. He unlocked his phone and opened up a text. Saw your magazine article.

The reply was almost instantaneous. And?

It was brave, he texted. You ok?

A longer pause this time. Not really.

Louis didn't know what to say to that. He ran his thumb over the screen. He settled for, Why aren't you asleep?

Because I can't stop twitter searching for harry styles gay.

That's a shit idea haz. stop it and go to sleep.

You're awake too

Yeah, Louis texted. Can't sleep.

Wish you were here.

Louis looked down at his phone for the longest time.

In the end he texted, go to sleep, and then turned the light off and rolled over to face the wall.

—//—

The first kid that Louis overheard saying Harry Styles is a fucking queer shirtlifter ended up being punched in the face.

The headmistress had no choice but to phone his mum to come and take him home, as if punching homophobic year eleven kids wasn't worth getting suspended for.

Louis suspected that Miss Limehouse agreed with him, because the dickhead year eleven got suspended too, for his language. Louis smirked at him when his mum and dad came to get him, but the kid just yelled at him and said that he was probably gay too, and that he was probably Harry Styles' queer boyfriend.

Admittedly if he'd wanted to keep that part secret, yelling, "So what if I was?" right in the middle of the corridor probably wasn't his best move.

—//—

"Well," Niall said, sneaking into the school office just before Louis' mum arrived. "That went well."

Louis threw his maths book at Niall's head.

—//—

"Louis, you idiot. You fucking idiot. I didn't say your name for a reason, god. We should probably talk, so, uh, um, call me back."

Louis looked down at his phone. He wondered which of their friends had told him. His mum stood in front of him with her hands on her hips.

"Put the phone down, Louis."

"It was Harry."

"I know. That's the glory of speakerphone. What did you expect me to do, turn my ears off?"

Louis shrugged. It had been about three hours since he'd accidentally outed himself at school, and every few seconds, the horror would visit again, crawling over his skin like a cold sweat. After he'd said it—and picking the moment just after the bell went so there people everywhere was just the beautiful cherry on the top of a great big cake of what the fucking fuck—he'd frozen, and the dickhead year eleven had spat gay boy at him.

On the plus side, that had got the dickhead year eleven another day's suspension, but it had taken Miss Limehouse actually guiding Louis into her office with a hand to his shoulder to remind him that he was actually still alive and breathing and not dead of embarrassment.

Anyway, it turned out his mum could get really furious about homophobia at school, and even though Louis had punched the dickhead year eleven in the first place, by the time Mum had finished with her, Miss Limehouse was almost apologising to him. Which was weird. And then he and his mum had come home, and sat in the living room for a bit not saying anything.

"What were you thinking, Louis?"

"I don't know, it just came out." He looked miserably down at his hands. "He was just—he was being a prick. And I, I don't know. I'm just sick of lying. I'm sick of hiding how I feel like it's something I should be ashamed of. I'm not ashamed, Mum. Not anymore."

Mum sighed. "I know. I'd be more worried if you were ashamed. But I've brought you up not to hit. Not ever, Louis. Not if you have provocation, not if you're in a bad mood, not if you've had your heart broken by a pop star."

"He wasn't a pop star when he broke my heart."

"Not the point. All of this bad behaviour, Louis. Getting paralytic, missing your curfew, throwing up all over Liam and me and the bathroom, your language, your attitude, and now hitting someone? Someone younger than you. You're technically an adult. It's not good enough."

Louis wanted to say, but it hurts. I miss him. He looked down at his hands instead.

"I know it hurts, baby. I know you're having a tough time of it, and you've never had your heart broken before, but if I went around hitting people or being rude to you and your sisters just because your dad's gone, well—that wouldn't be very nice of me, would it?"

Louis hadn't thought about it like that. "No," he said, after a while.

"I know how hard it is at the moment, what with your dad gone."

"He's not my dad."

"He brought you up, Louis. He loves you."

When his mum said it like that, it made Louis felt about an inch tall. But it wasn't his fault that his dad had left. He was still going to blame him for leaving. It didn't make everything magically fix itself if he stopped.

"That kid called Harry a queer shirtlifter."

Mum twitched. "He deserved to be suspended, then. And the school needs to do some work about acceptable language, which I will bug them about until they do. You should have told a teacher. Or me. What you shouldn't have done is lamp him one, do you understand? You were older than him, regardless of the rubbish he was coming out with, and the very last thing you should have done is resort to your fists, do you understand?"

Louis didn't say anything.

"Louis. Do you understand."

"Yes," Louis said, nodding. "I get it."

"Good, because you will therefore understand why you are grounded for the next two weeks, and why you will spend the next weekend out in the garden doing all the weeding and tidying and work that needs doing. I'm disappointed in you, Louis, and I hate that. You're my responsible boy, and I barely recognise you right now."

Louis nodded again. "Yes," he said. "I'm sorry."

"Apology accepted." Mum dropped a hand to his shoulder. "And I'm going to go in to school to talk to Miss Limehouse about what we can do about the language in school, because that was unacceptable."

"Okay. Do I get to keep my phone?"

Mum didn't say anything for a while. "Under normal circumstances, this would be something I would confiscate your phone for. But I'm aware that you've just come out, and things are weird, and that you might actually need your friends right now. But I'm trusting you to make the distinction between things you need to use your phone for, and things you just want to. Is that fair?"

Louis really, really hated it when his mum stopped being his friend and just had to be his mum. He hated it. "Yeah," he said. "That's fair."

Mum leaned in to kiss the top of his head. "We'll get through this," she said. "I promise."

Louis couldn't bring himself to believe her.

—//—

"Um," Liam said, as soon as Louis picked up the phone. "Don't freak out, but—"

"Oh, god, what now?" Louis stopped trying to catch up on his homework, not that he was concentrating all that well anyway. Everything was just a giant mess in his head, tangled up and upside down and mixed up. There was coming out to his friends, and his mum, and then there was coming out to everyone at school, and everyone knowing about him and Harry. It wasn't like he didn't like being the centre of attention, but being the focus because of his thing for dick was something else entirely. And everyone knew that Harry had left him. The constant feeling of dread he felt every time someone rang him could go away any time it wanted, too.

"Have you got the laptop?"

"What now?" Louis said, heartbeat loud in his chest. "Tell me. The computer's downstairs."

"I'll read it out," Liam said. "It's on SugarScape. Hang on. Ready? Okay. Is this Hazza's boyfriend? The one that got away? We've all been mopping up our tears all week at the idea of poor broken-hearted Harry Styles and the tragically early end of his relationship with his secret, pre-X Factor boyfriend. Who wouldn't take Harry Styles back in a heartbeat? Well, sixth former Louis Tomlinson might just be the one person in the country who wouldn't take Hazza up on an invitation to share a wrap at Nandos on a Friday night."

"I hate everything," Louis said. "Like, every single fucking thing in the universe."

"Not done yet, Lou."

"Oh, god."

"According to our secret source (sounds like something you'd have with pasta!) our boy Hazza and Louis Tomlinson were inseparable right up until Harry found success on X Factor. Not enough evidence for you to think this is the one that got away? Apparently Louis isn't denying it. And let's face it, look at him. He looks like a boy who's got sass, and look at that smile. If we were Harry Styles, we'd want to go out with him too."

"I'm going to take down the internet with the power of my mind alone," Louis said. "That's possible, right?"

"There's more. Not only that, but Louis has more of a claim on our hearts. He was in a band with Hazza and three of their mates. Take a look at this video of them from Harry's pre-X Factor days, performing Teenage Dirtbag. Makes us at SugarScape towers sad they didn't audition for X Factor together, because there's a boy band we could have got behind. Louis Tomlinson is the one in the pink trousers, by the way. Not that we're saying anything either way, but do those ankles bear more than a passing resemblance to the chap Harry's snogging the face off in this picture from last weekend?"

"Would you say we were a band?" Louis asked. "Wasn't it just that no one else wanted to be in senior choir with us?"

"Not really the point," Liam said. "But we could have been a band."

"Hey," Louis said. "Do you think if we figured out who their secret source was, we could beat them up?" He was fairly sure that the feeling he had in his chest right now was desperate hysteria. It made sense, after all. He was on a website as Harry's ex-boyfriend, nestled alongside a video from a school concert of them singing Teenage Dirtbag, with bad hair and an out of tune guitarist. Not only that, but he'd just had a day off school because he'd been suspended for fighting, and quite frankly he was due some kind of a breakdown. It was only fitting.

"I think if you try and hit anyone you'll be excluded again, and then you won't get your A levels. And you'll be grounded forever."

"I'm grounded forever now, so it won't make that much of a difference."

"You're grounded for two weeks."

"Feels like forever," Louis grumbled. Oh well, being off school for a day at least put off the horror of having to go back into lessons where every single person in the place knew that he used to go out with Harry Styles, pop star extraordinaire. At least it was Friday. He was looking forward to Monday morning with all the burning horror of a thousand suns.

"It's still just two weeks though. Well. One and three quarters, now."

"Don't know why you're not doing A level maths with me and Zayn, Payne."

"My natural talents lie elsewhere," Liam said easily. Liam was the only person predicted to get lower grades in his exams than Louis, but Louis suspected that Liam actually tried at school, so he didn't push it. His spelling was fucking awful. "Like geography. I am a natural geographist."

"Geographer, Liam."

"Shut up, I knew that."

"Let's drop out of sixth form and go join the building college."

"Louis."

"What?" Louis pushed open his bedroom window, just for something to do. He was sure he was supposed to be reacting to all of this somehow, but nobody had told him how. He'd even read Lottie's Mizz magazine from cover to cover that lunch time—which she totally wasn't old enough to read, by the way—but the lads section just told him that boys were from another planet, and gave him seven signs to tell if his crush dug him. It was just down to chance that he could answer yes to each of the signs if he thought about Harry. Whatever. It was totally normal for someone to take the mickey out of you in an affectionate way, or to text you back straight away if you texted him. Mizz magazine was stupid, anyway.

"Are you—are you okay?"

"Why would I be anything other than perfect, Liam."

"Well, because everyone at school knows you're gay, and you and Harry are all messed up, and you're on the internet, and—"

"It was a rhetorical question." He rolled his eyes. He loved Liam. "Um, how was school, anyway?"

"Same as usual, except every lower school kid kept asking where you were and if you were Harry Styles' boyfriend."

"I hope you told them all we were bum buddies of the highest order."

"We told them to go away."

"Probably for the best."

"Anyway, so you know what was weird? After school there were all these girls outside, with cameras and stuff, asking about you."

Louis made a face. "What kind of girls? Why were they asking for me?"

"I have no idea. Zayn said they were from the internet, but I think he was making that up."

Louis flopped back down on his bed. "You know, this is not how I imagined my life turning out. Think all those journalists who are writing about Harry Styles bonking blokes will be interested that I just got suspended for hitting someone?"

"Um," Liam said. Helpfully.

"You're right, let's not talk about that. Ever." He let out a breath and examined his cuticles.

"So, uh, don't be a twat about this or anything, but you seem happier than last week." Liam cleared his throat. "You're crying less, for a start. Which is good. I like it when you don't cry."

Louis paused for a moment. He had, in fact, not cried in about six days. Well, five days if you counted the fact that crying on his mum after Harry's show had carried on after midnight into Sunday. "Oh."

"That's good, right? That you're not so upset." Liam sounded hopeful, and Louis hadn't really thought about his friends being worried about him. Maybe he should have done.

"Maybe it's because I'm not keeping it all a secret anymore."

"Maybe," Liam said. "But, I've been thinking, and maybe it's because you're getting over it. Which is great, right?"

Louis wasn't so sure. He tried poking at his heart a bit, choosing a memory—Harry bursting into his bedroom when all Louis' sisters were downstairs, and pushing him backwards onto the bed and kissing him until they were both breathless; Harry's school shirt had come all untucked—as a test. "I don't think I can get over Harry in a week, Liam."

"Get over it, I said. Not get over him."

Oh, Louis thought. Maybe it did hurt just a little bit less than it had this time last week. Maybe Liam was right. He didn't say anything to that, still gingerly testing his heart out.

"I suppose you can't come over to mine to sleep over tomorrow, if you're grounded."

"Sorry," Louis said. He was still a little distracted. Was he getting over everything that had happened with Harry? Last week he'd still been so angry and so hurt and just so mad about everything. It wasn't like he was suddenly not any of those things, but the force of the feelings he'd had did seem a bit further away than maybe they had done before. He'd never have texted Harry or considered talking to him last week, and he'd done both of those things this week. "Can we do it next week instead?"

"Won't you still be grounded by then?"

Louis shrugged. "I think Mum will probably have forgiven me by next week."

"Good, because Danielle's got this film called Shelter, it's about these two guys—"

"Oh my god," Louis cut him off, rolling his eyes. "You are the worst best friend in the world. Stop trying to be supportive."

"I'm just doing my best to show you that the way that you feel is totally fine, Lou. And that you're accepted for being gay—"

"Oh my god. I want to fuck Harry, for fuck's sake, I don't need to be accepted for liking dick."

There was a long pause.

"Um," Louis said. "I meant I wanted to fuck Harry. Like, past tense. I used to want to. Before."

"Have you spoken to him?"

"Not for a couple of days. Liam, I—"

"Shut up. You're talking bollocks, and let's just face it: whatever comes out of your mouth next is going to be a giant fib. You love him, don't pretend you don't. And I think you'd like that film, you should just give it a chance. I was just trying to do something nice."

"We can watch the stupid film, but I don't love Harry."

"Fibber."

"I'm watching the film. I'm so excited about watching this film, you have no idea. This is going to be the best sleepover ever."

Liam snorted. "I'm not saying you have to forgive him, okay. I'm just saying that maybe—you might already have. And also, you want to kiss him."

"Do not."

"Do."

"I hate you."

"You love me. Just not like you love Harry. Thankfully. I like you a lot but I don't want to go near your dick."

"Well," Louis said. "Good. Oh god, I'm on the internet as Harry Styles' boyfriend. What if I meet his mum in Asda?"

"That's a pretty specific worry."

"Yeah, and pointless too. I reckon they shop in Sainsbury's."

"Seriously, you are handling this so much better than you were last week."

"I am at one with my emotions," Louis said serenely. He picked at his bedspread for a minute, and dropped the Zen-pose. "Do you really think I want Harry back?"

"Don't really matter what I think, does it?"

Louis hummed. That was true, at least. Although this would be easier if Louis could figure out what the hell he was thinking, instead of this muffled confusion he was currently wading through and calling a brain. "What are you up to, anyway?"

"Going over to Danielle's in a bit."

"Are you two still top half only?"

"I can put my hand up her skirt so long as she's wearing underwear," Liam said. "And if you tell anyone I said that, I swear to god I'll kill you. I only told you that because you're on a website. She'd kill me, and I love her, so keep it secret."

"Swear to god and hope to die." He tried not to think about kissing Harry, but it was hard. It was like Pringles; once he'd popped he just couldn't stop. He tried to focus on Liam instead. "You know when you go top half only, does she let you take off her top? Or is it just more of a, you know, fumble underneath?"

"I'm never telling you anything, ever again. Ever, ever again. And I have to go. Mum's made spag bol for tea."

"I love your mum's spag bol."

"Yeah, well, if you ever want any again, you won't tell anyone about Danielle."

"Danielle's knickers stay firmly between us two," Louis promised, although he couldn't swear he'd remember the next time he was drunk. He'd at least try, though. Liam was the best.

"All right. Think about talking to Harry, will you? He sounds fucked up."

There was a pause. "Okay," Louis said finally. "See you."

"See you," Liam said and rang off.

Louis looked at his phone, and thumbed to a new message to Harry. You on stage tonight?

The reply was almost instantaneous, and in no way at all was Louis reminded of Lottie's Mizz article on whether a boy was into you. Yeah. You ok?

I don't know anymore. Do you want to talk later? Maybe?

There was a longer wait for a reply this time, and Louis tried to make a start on putting his washing away instead of staring at his phone. He never normally put his clean clothes away, because what was the point? You'd only have to get them out again to wear them. But he paired his socks up and stuffed them into his underwear drawer until his phone beeped with a message.

I could phone you when I get back to the hotel? It might be late.

Louis thought about the video Liam had showed him on his camera, of Harry singing if we could only turn back time. He swallowed and texted back, I'll wait up.

Afterwards, he went downstairs and watched The Curse of the Were Rabbit for the nine hundredth time with his sisters, and didn't look at the clock once.

—//—

It was midnight before the call came, by which point Mum had given up asking him why he was stopping up with her, and instead just let him curl into her side and pick the channel.

"I'm off to bed," she said pointedly, once his phone started to ring and she'd looked to see who was calling him so late. She acted as if she wasn't half way through watching an old episode of Friends, and didn't have a cup of tea on the go. "I'll read for a bit, though. If you want me for anything. Don't stay up too late talking. Remember you're grounded."

Louis nodded, even though he wasn't really listening. Harry's face was just there on his call screen, grinning up at him like they were still friends. And maybe they were. Maybe.

He answered his phone.

"Hey," Harry said, and his voice sounded rough. Louis supposed it might, after singing on stage in front of a massive crowd all night. "You okay?"

"All right, I think. You?"

"It's been a bit rubbish, really." Harry trailed off, and didn't say anything for a moment. "I didn't mean for you to get dragged into all of this, with the papers and everything. That wasn't—I didn't mean for that."

"It was probably my fault," Louis admitted. "I got suspended."

"Niall told me. Did you really hit some kid who called you names?"

"He called you a shirtlifter," Louis said, almost without thinking. "He didn't call me anything."

"Louis—"

"Don't," Louis said. "I don't understand it any more than you do. I just lost it, okay. I heard him call you it, and I didn't even think. I didn't even stop, I just lamped him."

"I've been called a lot worse than that. You shouldn't have hit anyone over me."

Louis tried to tamp down the irrational rage at the idea of Harry being called worse things. "I couldn't help it. I don't think I even stopped to think."

Harry let out a long breath. "What about the rest of it? After that?"

"I don't know. He said something like, I bet you're Harry Styles' boyfriend, and I just said, so what if I am. Didn't really think about it. Stupid, probably."

"Stupid, definitely," Harry said. "Did you really say I was your boyfriend?"

"What?" Louis realised what he'd said. "Fuck, I don't know." He tried to replay what he'd said in his head, and try as he might, he couldn't remember what that dickhead year eleven had actually said, and what he'd said in response.

"'Cause that sounded like you said I was your boyfriend."

"I can't remember." Fuck, why couldn't he be more careful with what he said? He hadn't meant to say that. He hadn't meant to say any of it. What if he had said he was Harry's boyfriend now to that kid, instead of back then, before he'd left? He was sure he hadn't. Ninety-five per-cent sure. Maybe.

"It doesn't matter. Don't worry about it."

"Liam thinks I'm still in love with you."

Harry didn't say anything for a while. "I'm still in love with you, if that helps. Not that it really makes any difference, but I never actually stopped."

Louis sighed. "Do you remember that time in year eleven, when the police came into school? And they took us out in the police car and showed us safe fast driving or whatever bollocks they were trying to teach us?"

"Yeah," Harry said. "Me and you and Zayn went together."

"Zayn in the front and me and you in the back."

"I remember. You held my hand under Zayn's coat."

"You held my hand under Zayn's coat. But whatever, that's not the point. Do you remember how brilliant it felt, having that secret?"

"Yeah. I remember."

"It stopped feeling brilliant, Haz. It stopped being a good secret."

"I know." He coughed. "I swore to myself I wouldn't beg, but—I don't know, okay. I can't—I want to be with you. Is there any way you'd give me another chance? I promise I won't mess up again. I swear I won't."

Louis shook his head. He couldn't. He just—he couldn't. "Harry—"

"Don't say no, please don't just say no. Think about it, at least."

"I got suspended," Louis said. "I'm so fucking grounded right now, you have no idea. My photo is up on some gossip website, and your face is in all the fucking newspapers, and you're on stage and you hate it? Like, I just don't get how you and me makes any of that better. My mum is so disappointed in me right now, and I fucking hate that. I hate that. The only good things in my life are my friends, and my mum and my sisters. Everything else is crap, and I'm going to fail all my fucking A levels at this rate, and half the school probably hates my guts, and I can't stop feeling this way about you. I've tried, and I've tried, and it won't go away. I just want it to stop. I want it to stop hurting, because I still love you, and I have no idea what I'm supposed to do about it. I have no idea what to do."

Harry let out a breath. "I wish I was there."

"Yeah," Louis said, because wishing couldn't hurt. "Me too."

"Oh," Harry said. "Okay. I can get a car."

"Harry—"

"Tell me not to come, and I won't."

Louis couldn't find the words to say no. He let the silence stretch out between them, quiet and long.

After a minute, Harry hung up.

—//—

He stayed up watching Friends in the almost-dark, the only light coming from the lamp in the corner of the living room. He didn't tell his mum that Harry was coming, and he didn't tell anyone else, either. The only thing he did was remember to text Harry after a while to tell him not to ring the doorbell and wake everyone up.

Harry replied after a while. Ok b there soon. Just stopped for a piss.

Louis dropped his phone down on the settee beside him and tried to concentrate on the TV.

It didn't really work.

He heard the car pull up before his phone beeped with a text, in the end. He went to the front door and unlocked it quietly, standing on the doorstep in his socked feet, hands in the pockets of his tracksuit bottoms to keep them from shaking. It was chilly outside, and he'd pulled his hood up against the wind, elbows pressed in close to his sides to stop himself from shivering in the cold.

Harry's car was a black Range Rover, like the one that had picked Louis and the others up after Harry's show last weekend. He parked it on the road, just next to Louis' drive, and when he climbed out of the front seat, he stopped to look at Louis on the step before leaning back in the car to grab his coat from the passenger seat.

He locked the car without looking back at it, key held in the air as he walked up the drive, coming to a stop just by the front door.

"Hi," he said softly. His hair was a mess, sticking up on end. He was in black jeans and a black t-shirt, his grey hoodie unzipped. He held a hand out, awkward and unsure. He looked exhausted. After a moment where neither of them moved, he stuffed his hands in the pockets of his hoodie instead, coat hooked over his arm.

Louis itched to touch him. He stepped back instead. "Do you want tea?" He kept his voice low, just in case he woke his mum or his sisters up.

Harry waited a moment before nodding. "Okay," he said, and when Louis went back inside, Harry stopped just inside the door to take his shoes off, and hang his coat over the bannister, on top of the pile already there. Just like he'd done a thousand times before.

It felt different this time.

Louis leaned past him to shut the door as quietly as he could manage before going into the kitchen. He didn't look back to see if Harry was following, but he could hear him still taking his shoes off.

He filled the kettle and flicked the switch as he reattached the lead. The house was silent, apart from the slow rumble of the kettle starting to boil, and the loud beat of his heart.

He still didn't know what the fuck he was doing.

Harry came in to the kitchen and quietly closed the door behind him. It was just the two of them.

"Louis," Harry said.

Louis didn't look round. His fingers twitched. He stared at the little light on the kettle instead, bright red and blinking.

Harry moved to stand behind him, close enough to touch. Louis couldn't move; he didn't know what to do.

"Lou," Harry said again, softer this time. Barely a whisper.

"Yeah?" Louis managed, and then Harry reached out and touched his hand to Louis' hip, and Louis trembled.

Harry stroked his thumb over Louis' shirt, underneath his hoodie, and Louis couldn't do this anymore, he just couldn't. He couldn't hold out. He turned around, still not able to meet Harry's gaze. Harry's arm wrapped around his waist, and his touch was familiar, even now. Even after so long. Even after everything.

Louis touched his hand to Harry's throat, thumb pressed to Harry's jaw.

"God—" Harry's voice caught, and then he pulled Louis closer, into a hug. His hair tickled against Louis' skin, and Louis stumbled over his breath as he wrapped his arms around Harry's neck. He let Harry push him back against the counter, hugging him so hard he could barely breathe.

Louis buried his face in Harry's neck, and didn't let go.

"You're growing a quiff," he said finally, pulling away just far enough so that he could run his fingers through Harry's hair.

Harry managed half a smile. "It just keeps growing upwards," he said.

"I like it."

Harry looked down at Louis' mouth for a moment, before flicking his gaze up to Louis' hair. "I'll keep it, then. Anyway, your hair's growing upwards too. Look at this." He touched his thumb to Louis' forehead, fingers in Louis' hair. His smile dropped. "I missed you."

"Don't," Louis said, looking away.

"No, seriously. We have to talk about this."

"I'm so tired," Louis said. "I've just been going over and over and over it all in my head for days. Just all the fucking time. And it's the middle of the night."

"I know." Harry cupped Louis' face in his hand. He leaned in and rested his forehead against Louis'. "But this feels right, though? Doesn't it? You and me?"

Louis couldn't say no. He just didn't have it in him. He wanted all of this and more, wanted forgiveness to be there, and all of the hurt to have just disappeared. "We've got to take it slow," he said finally. "I don't think I've completely forgiven you yet."

Harry nodded. His mouth was a breath away from Louis'.

Louis tilted his chin up, just a little. Just enough. Harry brushed his thumb over Louis' cheek, down to the corner of his mouth, along his jaw.

When Louis kissed him, Harry sucked in a ragged breath, thumb stuttering over Louis' skin, and then he was kissing Louis back, tongue sliding over his.

Louis tried to stifle a whimper, but Harry just shook his head and kept on kissing him, and it felt like all the conversations they'd been trying to have for days and days were just leading to this.

"I love you," Harry said, still close enough that Louis could feel every word against his skin. "I know I've messed up, and I'm still messing up, and that none of this is easy, but I love you."

"Yeah." Louis closed his eyes, tilting forward just enough that he could rest his forehead against Harry's. "Me too."

Harry touched his fingers to Louis' cheek, and stroked his thumb over Louis' bottom lip. "Can I stay here tonight?"

Mum was going to go berserk in the morning. She was going to kill him. He was going to be grounded forever and ever. This was possibly the worst decision he'd ever made.

"Yeah," he said, after a while. "But just to sleep."

Harry nodded. "All right."

But neither of them made any move to go upstairs.

—//—

In the end, they made sandwiches in the kitchen, ham and salad cream and cucumber, and then they made Options hot chocolate in Mum's best Whittard's mugs.

"Do you want to—" Harry said, holding on to his plate and his mug and brandishing them towards the living room.

Louis shook his head. "Upstairs. But be quiet."

"Okay," Harry said.

Louis led the way up to his bedroom, careful not to make a sound. There was no light coming out from under his mum's bedroom door, and the girls' bedrooms were silent too. Only the door to his bedroom was open, his room small and untidy and not in the least bit smartened up for having a pop star to stay over.

Louis switched the light on with his elbow and went over to the bedside table to put down his drink and his sandwich. His hands were sweaty and he had to push his hair away from his face. He needed a cut. His hair growing upwards was one thing, flopping down was another. That was so year eleven.

He went over to the door to close it behind the two of them as quietly as he could. "Switch the lamp on, will you? So I can turn the big light off."

Harry fumbled with the switch. Louis knew it was awkward; you had to slide your hand down the back of the bedside table to find the button part way down the cable. The bulb wasn't strong enough either, so when Louis turned the big light off, his bedroom felt almost dark already.

"Lou," Harry said softly. His shadow stretched across the carpet.

Louis just shook his head. There was a lump in his throat he wasn't sure he could talk over.

Harry's hand hovered over his belt. "Do you mind—?"

"Go ahead," Louis said, unable to stop himself from watching as Harry slowly undid his belt, unthreading it from his jeans and dropping it down on the floor. Then—with a glance at Louis—he unbuttoned his jeans, and pushed them down, stepping out of them so that he was just in his socks and his t-shirt, and his boxers.

Louis looked away then, his mouth dry. He pulled his hoodie off and dropped it on the floor by the wardrobe, his tracky bottoms following. He left his t-shirt and his pants and his socks on.

When he turned around, Harry was sat on the bed, back against the wall, knees up. The duvet was all pushed up against the wall.

Louis never made his bed. It had always seemed like a colossal waste of time.

Harry patted the space next to him. "Come here."

Louis nodded, trying not to make eye contact. He fitted himself into the space between the headboard and the pillow and Harry, a little awkward. Not knowing what else to do with himself, he reached for his sandwich.

He wasn't exactly hungry anymore, if he ever had been in the first place. His knee was almost touching Harry's.

Harry saw him looking, and slowly bumped his leg against Louis'. He didn't move away. "Thanks," he said. "For everything."

"It's only a sandwich," Louis lied. He was stopping himself from stroking Harry's bare thigh by about the skin of his teeth. He looked down at his plate instead. Why did it feel so hot in here? Maybe he should open a window or something, get some air through.

"But it's a great sandwich," Harry said, even though he'd only eaten half of it. He ate the rest in about two bites, and leaned forward to reach for his hot chocolate. His t-shirt rode up, showing a good inch of bare skin. Louis bit his lip and looked back down at his plate.

He really couldn't eat it. He'd be sick. He put his plate down on the bedside able, and nudged his hot chocolate out of the way too. He wasn't thirsty.

"You tired?" Harry asked, cupping his mug in two hands. He always had been able to drink things when they were hot. Louis never had been able to. He had to wait a while until they cooled down.

"A bit. It's okay."

"Do you want to go to sleep?"

"I suppose," Louis said, after a moment. He really was tired, but he also didn't know what to do. Louis was good at being sarcastic and pretending everything was okay and making the best of whatever situation he found himself in, but none of that taught him how to find a way through for him and Harry. He didn't know what to do with Harry Styles Pop Star Extraordinaire in his bedroom. He only knew how to act around Harry Styles, annoying best friend and fellow sixth former, but that Harry was long gone. There was only this Harry, and Louis didn't know him. Not like he'd known the other Harry, the one he'd been in love with. Maybe that was the problem.

"Do you want me to—" Harry rolled his shoulders a little awkwardly. "I could go downstairs to the sofa or something."

Louis shook his head. "No. Stay here."

Harry's gaze flicked to his. "Okay."

They both had to move so that they could engineer lying down. Harry stood up, downing the rest of his hot chocolate in one go, and Louis fumbled with the duvet and the pillows so that he could lie down with his back to the wall.

"You done?" Harry asked. His hand hovered over Louis' lamp.

"Think so," Louis said, over the sound of his heartbeat.

Harry nodded and switched the lamp off. The room felt curiously stifling in the darkness. He didn't get into bed.

"Get in," Louis said, finally.

Harry didn't wait for a second invitation. He crawled into the bed next to him, and Louis pulled the covers up over them. The room already felt too warm.

"You're all the way over there," Louis said, even though there was only so far over there you could be in a single bed.

Harry shifted closer, his knees bumping into Louis'.

Now that that Louis was getting used to the darkness, he could make out Harry's eyes and his hair and the curve of his smile. He reached out and touched his fingertips to Harry's mouth.

Harry kissed his fingers, and Louis trembled, unable to help himself. "I always want to kiss you," Louis said, and Harry almost laughed, pressing closer in the darkness.

"I always want to kiss you too," he said, and Louis wasn't sure which one of them moved, or if both of them had, but suddenly Harry's mouth was touching his, and they were kissing.

Louis slid his knee in between Harry's legs, hands cupping Harry's face, and Harry groaned, one hand sliding under Louis' shirt.

It didn't matter if the two of them were a terrible idea, or a rubbish life choice. For just this one time, it felt right. Harry kissed Louis' mouth, his cheek, his jaw, his throat. Louis tilted his chin up and let Harry mouth at his skin. He could feel his dick start to stir in boxers, but he steadfastly ignored it. He couldn't, he just couldn't do more than get off with Harry when his mum was in the next door room, and his sisters all asleep in their beds. He shifted his hips back so that they were nowhere near Harry's.

"Sorry," Harry said, thumbs to the underside of Louis' jaw. He moved back a bit too, so that just their knees were touching. "I want to just—I don't know. I want to take you somewhere and just be with you."

"You're with me now," Louis said, even though he knew just what Harry was saying. In a way he was glad they'd done this here, and now, where there was no possibility of there being anything more than this. Anything more was just too overwhelming to consider.

"Clothes off with me," Harry clarified. "But this..." He kissed Louis' cheek. "This is perfect."

It wasn't perfect; it wasn't even close. Louis had no idea what he was doing, or if he was doing it for the best. He didn't know anything, except that what he felt for Harry was way beyond complicated, and tangled up with confusion and hurt and love and god knows what else in Louis' head.

"Haz," he said. He slid his hand over Harry's shirt, hand in the small of his back. "This isn't—this doesn't mean that things are going back to how they were."

Harry waited a moment before replying. "I know," he said finally. "But I want to try and fix things. I want to fix us."

"I know," Louis said. He shifted so that he was resting his cheek against Harry's chest. He could feel Harry's heartbeat against his skin. He ran his fingertips over Harry's stomach, hand to his hip. Harry covered Louis' hand with his own. "Let's just sleep."

"Okay." Harry kissed the top of Louis' head. "All right."

Louis nodded, and closed his eyes.

Sleep didn't come easily.

—//—

He woke up, bleary-eyed and still exhausted, to his mum standing in the door to his bedroom and holding a cup of tea. He was still wrapped around Harry. Oh god. Harry Styles was in his bed.

"I made you tea," Mum said, stony-faced, "but I only made one since I didn't know we had guests."

"Mum—"

"Not interested, Louis. Wake your friend up and put some clothes on before you come downstairs."

"I'm awake," Harry said. He sat up, hair sticking up on end, and blinking away sleep. The duvet fell down to his lap. Louis was extremely glad they were both in t-shirts and boxers. "Sorry, Jay."

"Bit late for that," Mum said. She shook her head. "Louis, I just—oh, whatever. You do what you want anyway. Why do I even bother?"

"Mum—" Louis said, but she'd gone, closing the door behind her and going back downstairs. She hadn't left the cup of tea behind. "Shit." He scrambled over Harry and out of bed, running down the stairs after her.

She was by the window in the kitchen, looking out into the garden. The twins were in the living room, watching TV and fighting about something.

"Mum," he said. "Mum, nothing happened."

She turned around. "You're still a kid, Lou. You might be doing your A levels, and messing around with pop stars, and you might technically be an adult, but you're still at school. You still live under my roof."

Louis wanted to cry. He and his mum were friends. For so long it had felt like there was just the two of them, together, and now she was looking at him like she didn't even know him. "Mum—"

"I know it's Harry, and you've known him forever, but the last thing I expected was to walk in and find a boy in your bed. That's not allowed, and I shouldn't have to spell that out for you. I don't know what you were thinking."

"It's so hard," Louis said. "Everything's gone so wrong, and I don't know what to do and I can't go to anyone. I've been keeping it secret for so long, I don't know how to not do that."

"It's my fault," Harry said, from behind him. Louis hadn't heard him come down the stairs, but there he was, standing in the doorway in last night's jeans and socks and t-shirt. He smiled at Louis, but Louis couldn't find the energy to smile back. Why couldn't something—anything—be easy? "I know it's all my fault, and I'm sorry, Jay."

Mum shook her head. "What are you doing here, Harry? Aren't you supposed to be somewhere else?"

Harry came over to stand by Louis; he slid his hand into Louis'.

Louis froze, utterly unable to look down at Harry's hand in his. They'd never held hands in front of anyone before, not ever, and now they were doing it in front of his mum. His palm sweated. Harry's hand was hot in his.

Mum seemed frozen, too. After a while, she looked up. Louis' cheeks flamed. "Is this—" she started. "All right. I've known you a long time, Harry, and—recent behaviour aside, because as far as I can tell you've been a bit of an idiot where my son's concerned, and I'm unlikely to forget that at any point soon—anyway, recent behaviour aside, I've always thought you were quite a nice young man, but what you're dragging my boy into is not nice, and it won't be easy, and if you're going to make him hide when he doesn't want to—"

"I'm not," Harry interrupted. He didn't take his hand out of Louis'. "I know this is complicated, and it's not what I want for Louis either."

"Don't I get a say?" Louis asked. "In what I want, I mean?"

Harry blushed. "Lou—"

"I mean, if I want to go out with a pop star," Louis persisted, "then shouldn't I get to go out with him if that's what we both want?"

Mum blinked. Harry didn't look at him.

"And is that what you want?" Mum asked slowly. "Because as far as I can tell, you've not been all that sure about that, these past few days."

Louis looked down at his hand in Harry's. He thought about Harry driving all that way last night, and then the two of them falling asleep together in his bed. About everything he'd been feeling over the past few weeks and months. It all seemed startlingly clear. "Yeah," he said, after a while. "It's what I've always wanted. All along."

Harry looked at him then, eyes suspiciously bright. "Lou," he said.

Louis bumped his elbow into Harry's. "Just think, if you mess up this time, you'll have my mum to answer to, right?" He hoped that was true.

Mum nodded, biting her lip. "And don't think that just because you're a pop star, Harry, that that will stop you getting a piece of my mind if you mess him around, all right?"

"All right," Harry said. He kept looking at Louis, and Louis felt warm inside, terrified and hopeful all at the same time.

"Mummy," Phoebe yelled, running into the kitchen, closely followed by Daisy. "Mummy, the remote won't work. Want to watch CBeebies." She skidded to a halt in front of Louis, looking at his hand in Harry's. "Why are you holding hands?"

Louis swallowed and glanced at Harry. Sod it. "Because Harry's my boyfriend, Phee."

Daisy looked confused. "Can boys have boyfriends?"

"Yes," Mum said. "Boys can have girlfriends or boyfriends, and so can girls." She looked at Louis. "See if there's anything in the fridge for breakfast, boys. Come on scamps, let's me and you two go and have a talk." She gave Harry and Louis a look on the way out. "Behave, you two. Daisy, Phoebe, come on."

Daisy and Phoebe dutifully trailed out after Mum, but they both kept looking behind them at Harry and Louis holding hands.

"They've got so big," Harry said, after an awkward moment where they kept on holding hands but didn't say anything.

"They're at school now," Louis said. "Reception."

"I remember when they were babies."

"So do I." Louis looked down at the floor. He could hear his mum and the twins in the living room, talking about boys who liked other boys. He blushed again. "Sorry. About the boyfriends things. I know we hadn't exactly talked about that." They hadn't talked about anything.

They were still holding hands.

"Are we, then?" Harry asked.

Louis shrugged awkwardly. "If you want to."

"I want to," Harry said. "But do you?"

Louis nodded, and looked down at the ground. "Yeah."

"Oh," Harry said softly. "Good."

Okay, Louis thought. Okay.

"I have to go," Harry said, after a minute. "I have an interview in about an hour. In Birmingham."

"You'll never make that," Louis said.

"Might do."

Louis tried to laugh. He'd just come out to his little sisters. He wasn't sure how that was supposed to make him feel, but shaken up and upside down and excited and scared was about as far as he could understand, so far. "Oh, god."

"I don't want to go, but I have to," Harry said, already apologetic. "I'm going to call you later, though."

"Well, I should hope so." This had gone from zero to sixty in about three seconds flat. They hadn't talked about anything.

Harry let go of his hand, and leaned in to cup Louis' cheek in his palm. He rested his forehead against Louis', and Louis slid his hand down to rest on Harry's hip. His heart was beating so loud. What the hell was he letting himself in for? This was insane.

"Boyfriends," Harry said softly.

Louis nodded. "Yeah," he said, even though this might be the stupidest plan he'd ever had in his whole entire life.

Harry smiled at that, mouth wide. Louis tilted his chin up, and Harry kissed him, soft and slow.

"Mum. Mum, Louis' snogging Harry Styles in the kitchen!"

Oh god. Harry was laughing, at least.

"Morning, Lottie," Louis said.

Lottie was open-mouthed in the doorway, eyes wide. "You're kissing Harry Styles."

"Lot-Lot, you've known Harry for about a million years. Stop calling him Harry Styles."

"I'm only ten," Lottie said, arms folded. She was still staring at Harry.

"Then you've known him your whole life. Stop calling him Harry Styles."

"Lottie," Mum called. "Come in the living room, and stop annoying your brother and his—Harry. I want to talk to you."

Louis covered his face with his hands as Lottie trailed into the living room, still staring over her shoulder at them both. "I can't believe Mum's having to give the boys can like boys too talk."

"I can," Harry said. "I'm sorry, I really have to go. I'll be late."

"Go on then," Louis said, because although part of him wanted Harry to stay here with him, he was confused and needed to sort his head out a bit. And maybe get some sleep. He hadn't slept that well the night before, with Harry beside him. He'd never had anyone share his bed like that before.

"I'll call you," Harry said, leaning in to kiss Louis' cheek. "And—you know. Thanks. For giving me another chance."

"Don't fuck it up," Louis said. "This is it."

Harry nodded. "I know," he said. "And I won't."

Louis wanted to believe that, so badly. "Hmm," he said, and Harry tried to laugh. "Go. "Don't be late, people will hate you and then I'll have to punch them."

"Don't punch anyone," Harry said over his shoulder, going into the hall to put his shoes back on. "Promise me."

"Promise," Louis said after a minute, leaning on the bannister as Harry picked up his coat.

Harry smiled at him then, bright and wide. Louis' heart skipped a beat. Okay, then.

He didn't move from the bottom of the stairs until he'd heard Harry's car pull away.

—//—

What's this, SugarScapers? Harry Styles leaving an address in his hometown ten hours after last being seen going into his hotel in Birmingham? And wearing the same clothes too; something tells us that our Hazza's doing the walk of shame.

Not only that, dear readers, but a little birdie tells us that that house belongs to Hazza's formerly-ex-boyfriend, sixth former and hottie, Louis Tomlinson.

Has Louis Tomlinson taken Harry Styles back? It certainly looks like it from here, especially considering that Hazza's wearing a smile we've barely seen at all off stage this last week. Everyone knows that we take the role of Harry Styles detectives very seriously, but it doesn't take the brain of Benedict Cumblewumblebatch's Sherlock to work out what's been going on. Anyway, if we can't be the ones to heal Harry's broken heart, then we're happy to let Louis Tomlinson do it—have you seen this video of Harry and Louis and their band covering Smooth Criminal? It's criminally unfair how cute those boys are. Heads up, Simon Cowell.

But, Louis Tomlinson, here's a note for the future—surely you could have lent your young man a clean t-shirt this morning?

—//—

"Are you really shagging Harry again?" Niall asked, as soon as Louis picked up the phone.

"Um," Louis said, because he was supposed to be doing the washing up, and Lottie and Fizzy were supposed to be helping with the drying. They weren't, because they were fighting over biscuits, but the principle was there, somewhere. "Maybe?"

"Told you," Niall said. "I knew you still had a massive boner for him."

"My sisters are here," Louis said loudly. "And I have to go."

"This is brilliant," Niall went on, totally ignoring him. "Do you think he'll buy you a Lamborghini if you're really nice to him?"

"Go away, Niall," Louis said. "I'm very busy and important."

Niall just snorted, the bastard, and hung up laughing.

—//—

"Well," Louis said, as every single person in the school turned around to stare at him as he filed into the school hall on Monday morning for assembly, "this isn't embarrassing or anything."

"We're all here for you, Lou," Liam told him, filing in after him. "Be strong."

"Shut up," Niall said. "We're here to laugh at him. This is brilliant. Look, you're famous. We should all shag pop stars."

"Oh god," Louis said, making a face at the homophobic dick bag with a black eye he'd punched last week. The homophobic dickhead year eleven narrowed his eyes and made a you're dead kind of a face. Louis was totally terrified. Or not, whatever. It was all kind of funny if he thought about it. "You're all fired."

"I didn't say anything," Zayn pointed out—totally unreasonably, Louis thought, because he was being a pain in the arse and waving at the year sevens, like he was preceding a king into assembly or something. Kudos for being friends with the pop star shagger, or what? Well, at least one of them should be getting something out of this.

"Everyone's still staring," Niall said, waving at some year tens.

Louis gave an exaggerated bow, deliberately tripping over Niall's feet and cannoning into the row of chairs the sixth form called their own. Just think, if they'd all gone to the college in town, they'd never have had to sit through another assembly, ever. Poor forethought, that.

Some of the lower school sniggered. Everyone was whispering behind their hands. It was weird, being the focus of this much attention. Louis wasn't sure whether to revel in it, or hide under the chair. He was strangely tempted to do both.

"Dating a pop star is amazing," Niall went on, as one of the year eleven girls waggled her eyebrows at him. "I'm going to shag out on this for weeks. Don't break up again."

"Wasn't planning on it," Louis said, deliberately slumping in his chair. He affected what he hoped was a cool, rock star-like pose.

Liam bumped his knee into Louis'. "Budge up." He poked Niall in the side. "Stop it. Those girls deserve your respect."

"My respect, and my penis," Niall said. He laughed. "Stop making that cat's bum face. I am going to treat all of my girlfriends wonderfully. They will love me, and call me their king."

Louis laughed at that. "Modest."

"Honest," Niall said, as Miss Limehouse took to the stage.

"Good morning, everyone. Now, before our usual weekly notices, I'd like to take this opportunity to talk to you all about the kinds of language that are acceptable in school. PSHE lessons this week are going to be devoted to the types of words we use to describe people, and each of your form tutors will be talking about this with you in some detail, too."

"Oh god," Louis said, slumping down further in his seat.

"This is about how we're not allowed to call you a bum bandit, isn't it?" Niall asked, elbowing Louis in the side.

"I quite like bum bandit," Louis said, in an undertone. The dickhead year eleven with the black eye was trying to give Louis the evil eye. "It's what I'd call myself. Maybe I could adopt it as my new middle name."

"Shut up and take this seriously," Liam hissed. "This is important."

"It's affectionate!" Niall protested.

"Yes, you're allowed to call Louis that if Louis says it's okay," Liam said. "But nobody else is."

Niall frowned. "If anyone else called him that, I'd punch them in the face."

"Exactly," Liam said.

"Uh, if you gentlemen in the back are quite finished," Miss Limehouse said. "Unless you'd like to share your conversation with the school."

"Um," Liam said, picking at the knee of his trousers. "I would, actually."

"Liam," Louis hissed. "Sit back down right now."

Liam ignored him. "I think we should talk about how language matters, and how it affects people and hurts them. And how words that we like, think are fine, are actually really hurtful. Only you might not realise that."

"Oh god," Louis said, in horror.

"Like gay," Liam persisted, totally ignoring Louis. "And when people say that's gay, they're actually being hurtful, especially to people who might actually be gay."

If it was possible to kill people with the power of thought alone, Liam would be dead. Dead. "Shut up," Louis said. "Sit down."

"That's very relevant, thank you, Liam," Miss Limehouse said. "And that's a good example of exactly what I'm talking about."

Louis took the opportunity to zone out and think of all the interesting and unique ways he could kill Liam.

—//—

Louis still wasn't talking to Liam at break time.

"Are you really going out with Harry Styles?" A tiny twiglet of a child asked him, when Louis was very deliberately ignoring Liam outside the sixth form block.

"Yes," Louis said. Liam passed him a carton of Ribena. Louis took it because nobody should ever turn Ribena down, but he did it under the proviso that Liam be fully aware he still wasn't forgiven. "Are you jealous?"

"Obviously," the tiny twiglet of a child said, rolling her eyes. "Do you think he might break up with you and go out with me instead?"

Louis blinked, and looked down at her. Her blazer was about three times the size of her, and the sleeves fell way past her hands. "How old are you?"

"I'm in year eight," she said. "Which is totally old enough to go out with Harry Styles."

"I like your style, tiny year eight child," Louis said. "But I will fight to the death, and I've got moves."

"Also Harry loves him and not you," Liam put in helpfully.

"Shut up, Liam. No one asked you."

"Yeah," the tiny year eight child said. "Shut up, Liam. No one asked you. I'm just saying, I'm totally suited to going out with a pop star. This pop star in particular."

Louis looked at her shrewdly. "I will accept you have the kind of balls that Harry appreciates."

"Louis, you can't say balls to a year eight kid."

"Just did," Louis said. "Did I mention I have moves?"

"I tap dance," the tiny year eight twiglet said. "Bet you can't tap dance."

"True," Louis said. "But can you do this?" He demonstrated the look-this-way, look-that-way, which-way-am-I-going, oh-this way dance that he secretly considered his trademark.

Twiglet looked at him witheringly. "Is that it?"

"For now, Twiglet," Louis said equably.

"Harry could do better," she said.

Louis blinked. "Good thing Harry hasn't realised that, then."

"Watch your back, Tomlinson," Twiglet said. Her rucksack was approximately the size of her. "I'll be watching you."

"Practice that tap dancing, tiny Twiglet." He waved her away, and she narrowed her eyes at him. At the corner she turned around and waved at him, and he waved back.

"Louis," Liam said.

"Still not talking to you."

"Oh, for god's sake," Liam said, rolling his eyes. "I'm going in."

Zayn leaned over the wall and watched Liam go inside. "Don't be a twat all your life, Louis."

"Shut it, you." Something restless was crawling under his skin, making him want to act out. He knew it, he recognised it, but that didn't make it go away. He wished he was still taking drama. At least when he was doing his drama GCSE he knew he could go and thrash about a bit in the drama studio a few times a week. English lessons didn't have the same appeal.

Zayn rolled his eyes. "Just saying."

"I know, alright. I know." He'd start speaking to Liam again at lunch.

"Come play footie with us. There's still five minutes before the bell."

"Okay, fine. I'll beat you all, though."

"Twat," Zayn said, somewhat affectionately.

Louis very deliberately didn't look at any of the groups of boys on the top playground, all staring at him. He ignored the couple of jibes he could hear. Fuck them all, for real. That year eleven dickhead was over by the steps with his friends. Louis could feel them watching him.

Whatever.

"Louis," Niall yelled, jogging over to meet them. "Come be on my team."

"Fine, fine, everyone wants a piece of me." He spread his arms wide. "And why wouldn't they?"

Why wouldn't they, indeed.

—//—

Louis behaved badly for the whole of English. He knew he was being a pain in the arse, but he couldn't seem to stop himself. That dickhead year eleven had tried to trip him down the stairs after break, and now all Louis wanted to do was be a pain. He'd nicked Perrie's bobble hat and had it pulled right down over his eyes. It was Mrs Chapman's fault, because she'd said that she didn't want to see that look on Louis' face any more. Now she didn't get to see it, because it was under his hat. Perrie's hat, whatever.

"Louis," she said exasperatedly, after Louis had managed about ten minutes with the hat down over his eyes. "It's your turn to read. Turn to page 167 in your Austen, as I see you haven't actually bothered to open your book today."

Louis made a huge show of putting his book right in front of his eyes. He could see a bit through the wool of that hat, but not that much. He could just about make out the page numbers. He slowly turned the pages, counting out the numbers. He could feel Mrs Chapman's frustration turning to actual rage.

"Louis. Stop wasting everyone's time."

"I'm not wasting anyone's time. I'm reading, look." He read the first line out of the chapter, laboriously sounding out each of the words he could see through the hat.

"Look, Louis. I know that you may or may not be going out with a pop star, but that's no excuse for wasting everyone else's class time. You have your A levels this year, do you realise that? In a number of weeks, not months. Other people might find the work we're doing actually relevant for their exams, regardless of whether you actually want to get your qualifications or not."

Louis could feel himself going red. He hadn't anticipated anyone actually bringing up Harry. He pulled the hat up just enough that he could see the page well enough to read. "Sorry," he said.

"Well, all right. Just read from the book, Louis, and try not to drive us all mad."

He really, really couldn't believe she'd brought up Harry. He couldn't concentrate on the book after that, not that he was concentrating in the first place. He felt pent up and hyper and desperate. He needed to go run around a field or make someone laugh or something. He read from the chapter until Mrs Chapman told him he could stop, and then he stared out of the window and didn't listen to another word.

It was just—he hadn't seen Harry since Saturday morning, and Friday night hadn't exactly been a revelation in how they were going to deal with all of this. Harry was still on tour, and he would be for about another two weeks, and then—what? Harry had been so busy since X Factor that he'd barely been home, and Louis knew for a fact that he had a flat in London. Louis couldn't imagine being their age and having his own place. He struggled enough putting his clean washing away once it was done for him. He wasn't all that good at going out with people who weren't pop stars, let alone trying to figure out a way of effectively dating someone who was famous. They couldn't exactly go and get a McDonalds and then go to the cinema on a Friday night. Harry was probably used to dead exciting nights out, and Louis was always broke and usually had to babysit.

This was never going to work. He didn't even know when he was going to see Harry next.

As soon as English was over, he got out his phone and texted, when am I going to see you next?

Harry replied straight away. This weekend? Want to come see me? I'm in Edinburgh but I can get you a train ticket.

Louis almost said yes, but then—he was grounded. He was really grounded. He was really, really grounded. Grounded :( can't piss off mum anymore.

When do you stop being grounded? I miss you xxx

Next Thursday I think. He wasn't exactly sure of the end date, but next weekend seemed like a good guesstimate. His mum couldn't still be pissed off at him next weekend.

Last weekend of tour. Come see me and stay over on Saturday. Ive got a hotel.

"Put that phone away, Louis." Mr Partington never took any shit.

"One sec," Louis said. He typed ok xxxxxx and slid his phone into his pocket.

"Time to focus on maths," Mr Partington said. "That means you, Louis."

Louis saluted him. "You have my full attention, sir."

Mr Partington rolled his eyes.

This school would miss Louis when he was gone, honestly.

—//—

"So," Lottie said, when he was doing the washing up after dinner on Wednesday. "You know how you're going out with Harry Styles?"

"Harry," Louis corrected, trying to get a particularly stubborn bit of mashed potato off Daisy's plate. "His name's Harry."

"But you're going out with him," Lottie said.

"Yes."

"Does that mean you hold his hand and call him your boyfriend and everything?"

Well, technically. Louis had seen Harry for about five seconds after declaring themselves boyfriends, and his mum had seriously limited his phone time since then. "Yes."

"Oh." Lottie looked down at her tea towel.

"What is it?"

"Ellie at school says that boys can't go out with boys."

Louis tried not to look at her or counsel punching Ellie. "What did you say to that?"

"That she was being an idiot, and of course boys could go out with boys. That's what Mum said, anyway."

"Mum's right." He put the plate on the draining rack and reached for another one. "You don't think it's weird that I want to kiss Harry, do you?"

She considered it for a minute. "It's a bit weird. But mostly because Harry's on TV and stuff."

"He's just the same Harry as before, Lot. And we were going out then, too. Before he was famous."

"Oh." She stopped drying up. "Everyone's talking about you at school. Meghan stopped talking to me on Monday."

Another person for his hit list. "Is she talking to you now?"

She nodded. "Mrs Taylor made her say sorry after Mum went in."

"Well, that's good." He added another plate to the draining rack. "Some people can be very silly about boys wanting to kiss boys. Or girls wanting to kiss girls. But isn't it nice that people can love whoever they want to?"

"I suppose." She put her dry plate down on the counter. "Is Harry coming over soon? Some of my friends want to see him."

"He might." Louis hadn't really thought about that. "But I don't know if your friends can come and meet him."

"I told them they couldn't. Harry's my friend."

"Right on," Louis said. All he could think about was getting to kiss Harry again. Ten days until he saw him. What if they'd stopped feeling like this by then? What if going out together was a terrible idea? What if they just broke up again? What if Harry didn't want him anymore?

Louis wasn't usually prone to this level of stress. The problem was: he really was still hurt by everything that had happened between them. He still did feel that ow-feeling whenever he thought back to Harry's X Factor audition, and the way he'd kept it from them, and the way he'd left him. Wanting to give it another go and admitting that they both still had feelings for each other didn't actually fix any of that.

"Nobody else has stopped talking to you over this, have they?" Louis asked, after a minute where Lottie didn't sing or dance or annoy him in any normal way.

Lottie shrugged.

Louis' heart sank. "No one's being awful to you, are they?"

"Not really," she said, which Louis could see meant yes. Kids were little shits. They really, really were.

"Do you want me and Liam and Zayn and Niall to come and duff anyone up?"

She considered it for a minute. "No," she said finally. "Mum said you weren't allowed to punch anyone anymore."

"I'd make an exception," Louis told her. He methodically cleaned another plate. "Have you been telling the teacher?"

"Sometimes," she said. Louis tried to avoid the temptation to punch the wall.

"Make it all the time, will you? And I'll get Harry to come and hang out with you next time you're here, okay? You can get the karaoke out and see if you can beat him. He'll like that."

There was a moment, at some point over the last few weeks, where Louis had grown up. He didn't feel like a kid anymore. A levels weren't years away anymore, they were close enough to touch. The teachers had started counting in weeks instead of months. And after that—what? Uni? Liam's job in the factory with his dad? Everything was changing, and Louis wasn't sure he liked it.

"Go on," he said to Lottie. "I'll finish these, don't worry."

"Mum said to finish them."

"Tell Mum I said it was okay." He looked out of the window to where his battered old football net took up most of the end of the garden. He and the others had spent the best part of last summer in Louis' back garden, drinking beer and kicking balls at the net and pretending they weren't jealous of Harry, off living the high life post X-Factor. Even that seemed a million miles away.

After he'd done with the washing up, he sent Harry a text that just said, miss you xxx

He didn't get a reply until later. Can't wait until you're not grounded anymore and this tour's over xx

Yeah, Louis thought. Me too. Maybe then he could figure out what the fuck he was doing, and why.

—//—

"So, this is weird, right?" Harry said, when Louis picked up the phone. "Like, you're my boyfriend, but I haven't seen you to kiss you since we started going out again."

Louis squeezed his eyes shut. He shut his English book and pushed it off the edge of the bed. He was so behind in everything. That joke about failing his A levels was starting to get less and less funny. It was Friday night, and he was voluntarily doing school work, and not just because he was grounded and everyone was off having fun without him. "You want to change your mind?"

"No," Harry said. "Is that what you think?"

"No," Louis said. "I just—I'm in a mess, that's all. Everything happened so fast. And now I miss you."

"I wish you could come up tomorrow."

"Still grounded."

"I know." Harry sighed. "I've never been to Edinburgh before today. It's pretty great. I got these amazing crepes."

Louis laughed at that. "That's what you're telling me about Edinburgh? Crepes?"

"They were really great crepes."

"Should be. Isn't there a castle, or whatever? I've never been to Edinburgh."

"Someone played bagpipes earlier," Harry said. He didn't say anything for a while. "You okay?"

Louis hummed. "Bit messed up, I suppose. I don't know. It would probably just be easier to see you, you know?"

"It's too far for me to drive from Edinburgh."

"I know, I wasn't asking." He might have been secretly hoping, but he knew it was unreasonable.

"Hey, I remember what I was going to ask you. Do you have all those videos of us in senior choir?"

Louis frowned. "Don't think so. I have some of them, but not all. Ask Zayn or Niall, they probably have them all. Zayn's mum probably took them all, let's face it."

"Yeah," Harry laughed. "She probably did. I'll ask them."

"Why do you want them?"

"Missing the old days, I suppose." He paused. "You don't regret it, do you? Giving me another go? Even though it's like we just got together and then went to opposite ends of the country."

"I stayed right here," Louis said, which was, and always had been, true. "But no, I don't regret it. I just feel—I don't know. Up in the air. Like you're going to decide this is a stupid idea and chuck me again."

"Not planning on it anytime soon," Harry said. "You're going to have to break up with me to get rid of me. You're not going to, are you?"

"No," Louis said, after a minute. "I'm not going to."

"Good," Harry said. "Fuck, I have to go. I've got an interview before I go on stage. Sorry. Love you, bye."

Louis was left staring down at his phone. Okay.

—//—

He was late to Senior Choir after school on Tuesday. The others were sat about waiting for him, Niall noodling about on his guitar. Miss McClusky was marking books at her desk.

"Nice of you to finally join us," she said, without looking up. "I expect what held you up was of the utmost importance."

"Yeah," Louis said. He pulled his sleeves down over his wrists. It was cold in here. "Sorry."

"Don't need to apologise to me, Louis. I'm sitting here after school anyway. Your friends, however," she waved her pen in their direction. "They might be a little harder to appease."

"Can't you call Harry later?" Zayn said, chucking his football at Louis' head. "I've got so much maths homework to do tonight."

"Sorry," Louis said. "Come on, what are we singing?"

"Miss McClusky wants us to sing California Dreamin'."

"No fucking way," Louis said.

"At least pretend you respect me as a teacher," Miss McClusky said, without looking up from her books.

"Told you he wouldn't want to sing that," Niall said.

"I was mostly joking," Miss McClusky said. "Here, have a look at this pile. It's new."

Louis held his hands out reflexively for the jiffy bag she threw at him. He hissed in a breath as he caught it. "Heavier than I thought," he said. He passed it to Liam.

"Dancing On My Own, by Robyn," Liam read, pulling out the first page. "Call Your Girlfriend, by Robyn."

"Sounds like a theme to me," Zayn said.

"I have a lot of feelings about Robyn," Miss McClusky said.

"Yeah, that's obvious," Louis said.

"I like Scandinavian pop," she said mildly. "Any of that sound like something you boys might want to sing?"

Louis couldn't really be bothered to sing. "Whatever," he said.

Miss McClusky raised an eyebrow at him. "Last time I checked, you didn't have to be here, Louis."

"Stop being a dick," Liam said.

"You don't tell him off for inappropriate language, Miss."

"If I told you lot off for bad language every time I heard it, we'd never get anything done. Do any of you have a preference for which song?"

"Neither of them?" Louis said.

Niall rolled his eyes. "You're being an arse."

"They're both probably shit anyway."

"Okay, that's enough for today. Go home, Louis. Come back next week with a civil tongue in your head."

"Fine," Louis said, not looking at any of the others. He grabbed his jacket. "Didn't want to be here anyway." As he left, he could hear Liam asking the others if they knew if anything was wrong with him.

Louis didn't look back.

The dickhead year eleven with the remains of a black eye and his friends were hanging around the main entrance, waiting for him.

"Come back for more?" one of them called, just as the deputy head came out after Louis on his way to the car park.

Louis ducked his head and walked away.

—//—

When he got home, he waited until he got into the bathroom before carefully peeling off his jumper. He rinsed the grazes on his arms as best he could with warm water from the tap. He couldn't do anything about the bruises on his stomach from where the dickhead year eleven had kicked him after he and his friends had pushed Louis over. The cut on his arm had bled right through his shirt. He tried to soak the blood out in the sink, but it wouldn't lift.

He stuffed his shirt into a bag to throw into a bin on the way to school in the morning.

The thing about being beaten up by boys that were younger than him was that there wasn't anyone, anyone at all, he could tell.

—//—

Liam was waiting for him outside the common room first thing in the morning. "You didn't answer any of my texts," he said, by way of greeting.

"I'm grounded," Louis said, walking by him. "Or did you forget?"

"You're being a dickhead," Liam said. "Is this about Harry?"

"Not everything's about Harry," Louis told him, just as he got to the corner of the common room he and the others had commandeered for themselves at the beginning of year twelve.

"It's about Harry," Niall said sagely, from the chair. He was playing his guitar in time with the radio. Zayn had his head pillowed on Perrie's knee, possibly but not definitely asleep.

"It's about Harry," Zayn agreed, without opening his eyes.

Perrie just nodded her agreement.

"For fuck's sake," Louis said. "Not everything is about Harry fucking Styles."

"Did you have an argument?" Liam asked. His concerned face was driving Louis insane already, and it wasn't even nine o'clock.

"Fuck off, Liam."

"Louis—" Liam reached out and touched his sore elbow. Louis jumped back like he'd been stung.

"Jesus Christ, will you just leave me the fuck alone, okay?" Louis grabbed his bag from the seat and stormed out of the common room into the corridor. There was nowhere to go that wasn't the toilets or his registration classroom, so he locked himself in the disabled toilet instead and shoved his bloody shirt from yesterday into the bin. He had grazes all the way up his forearms from where he'd hit the ground the previous afternoon, and they hurt like a motherfucker.

They'd caught him unawares the day before, hanging around the science block at the end of lessons, so that when Louis took the shortcut to the music room it was easy for them to grab his shirt and push him over. They'd had chance to get a couple of good boots in before Louis heard people talking on their way out of the science classrooms, and the dickhead year eleven with a fucking hard kick and the memory of a black eye and his friends had scarpered then. They'd left Louis on the floor, feeling more than sorry for himself and trying not to cry.

Louis skipped registration and went to sit on the steps out the back of the sixth form block.

"Hi," tiny year eight Twiglet girl said, coming up to him. "Shouldn't you be somewhere?"

"Shouldn't you be somewhere?" Louis suggested.

"I've been working on my tap dancing," she said. "I thought you should know, in case you wanted to up your game. You should be pleased I've given you a warning, because my tap dancing is really good."

"And everyone knows Harry Styles likes a good tap dancer," Louis found himself saying.

Twiglet rolled her eyes. "I've got double science," she said. "I'm supposed to go early to drop the register in at the office, but I saw you, so I thought I'd come and say that Harry Styles is going to love my tap dancing."

"That's good," Louis said. His stomach hurt. The bruises had kept him up last night.

She narrowed her eyes at him. "Aren't you supposed to be all, 'I'm so great, Harry's never going to break up with me even though my dancing is rubbish'?"

"Harry's never going to break up with me even though my dancing is rubbish," Louis repeated, just for the sake of it.

"You're being weird," Twiglet said.

"He is, isn't he?" Liam was suddenly there, where he hadn't been before, next to Louis on the step. Louis buried his face in his hands and wished he was anywhere but at school.

"Shut up, Liam," Twiglet said. "Nobody asked you."

"She's learnt well," Louis said.

"Just so you know," Liam said, sitting down next to him on the step, "that the only reason I'm still friends with you is because you usually have a very good reason for acting like you've had a personality transplant."

"Everything's fine," Louis said. "Haven't you got double science to go to, Twiglet?"

"My name's Laura," she said. "Don't forget to tell Harry that I've been working on my moves."

"Yeah," Louis said, waving her away. "Be gone, tiny Twiglet."

She stuck her tongue out at him as she ran over to the science block. Louis didn't watch her go. Some of the year elevens were hanging out by the entrance, and Louis didn't want to see if any of dickhead year eleven's friends were there.

"So, how about we just skip the bit where you tell me everything's fine," Liam suggested, "and go straight on to the bit where you tell me what's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong," Louis said, hiding his face in his arms again. Last night had been an anomaly, a one-off thing. He wasn't going to let the year elevens get the better of him again. He'd be ready for them this time.

"Lou," Liam said. "Stop lying to me. I'm trying to help."

"You can't," Louis said, because he couldn't tell anyone about younger boys pushing him over and beating him up.

Liam looked down at his feet. "You're my best friend."

Liam was Louis' too. Although Louis had done nothing but lie to him for what felt like forever, so that wasn't going to continue for very much longer.

"You're mine too," he said finally, because it was the truth.

"You can tell me anything," Liam said. "I don't know why you didn't want to tell me you were gay, but like—if there was a reason. If there was something I could have done, or I could do, so you don't have to keep secrets from me anymore, then I'd do it, you know I would."

"It wasn't like that," Louis said, because it wasn't. He didn't know why he hadn't told Liam anything, and he hadn't thought about how much it might have hurt him to have not been told. But he hadn't and he couldn't change that now.

"If you've jumped in to this thing with Harry too quickly, you know—we can fix that too."

"It's not that. It really isn't." He tried to ignore Liam's hopeful face at the thought of some actual honesty. "It's nothing, all right? I'm having a shit week, and everything is complicated, and I'm being a total knobhead and I don't know how to stop. That's it. Promise."

"If that's it, then you seriously have to stop being a knobhead, Lou. We needed you last night at choir."

"I know, I'm sorry."

"Okay," Liam said, but it wasn't okay, and Louis knew it wasn't. "Are you coming to lessons?"

"In a minute," Louis said, meaning no. He was going to fail his exams; it was almost inevitable. He may as well stop trying now.

"Come on," Liam said. "I'll walk with you."

Louis relented, and stood up. His decision had nothing at all to do with there being safety in numbers, and everything to do with pure convenience. That was all.

—//—

Zayn niall and liam have all texted to see if weve had an argument. We haven't have we? Have I done something? I didn't mean to.

It's not you promise. Just a shit week.

Louis thumbed his phone onto silent and dumped it into his bag. He'd got all the questions wrong in maths, and he just didn't get all the mechanics stuff that he had to know to do the easy stuff on the mechanics module paper, and physics was always like a different language to him at the best of times, without expecting him to do it in maths too. There was a reason he'd dropped science after GCSE. He'd kind of thought about being a drama teacher, at some point down the line, but if he couldn't pass his A levels, there was about bloody zero chance of that.

It had been over a week since he'd seen Harry, and not even the prospect of his grounding being over at the weekend, and Harry coming to the end of the tour, and Louis getting to go and stay with him at his hotel was enough to make any of this better. Zayn was barely talking to him, he hadn't seen Niall since storming out of the common room first thing, and Liam was wearing his best injured puppy-dog face, which made Louis want to either hit something, or cry. Or both. Possibly at the same time.

And now he had bloody fucking general studies, which was a fucking doss subject at the best of times, and deadly dull at the worst. He rolled his eyes. He'd just nip to the loo before it started; it wouldn't matter if he was a few minutes late.

The dickhead year eleven with the memory of a black eye and a filthy kick was in the boys' loos, smoking out the window.

Louis tried to back out, but he followed him out into the hall, pushing him up against the lockers.

"Not so cocky now, are you?" Dickhead said, holding Louis' wrist up against the wall.

"Get lost," Louis said, trying to push him away. His hand was tight around Louis' wrist. It hurt. It hurt a lot.

"You got me suspended," Dickhead said. "Don't think I'm going to forget that, gay boy."

"Were you always such a dickhead?" Louis asked recklessly. Something inside of him snapped,\ and he tried to knee him in the balls.

"You're dead," Dickhead said, punching Louis in the stomach. "Dead meat."

Louis wanted to say, I'm so scared, but he was too busy being winded to get his words out. Jesus Christ, he was fucked.

Dickhead walked off down the corridor like nothing had happened. "Dead meat, gay boy," he called over his shoulder.

Louis slid down the lockers until he was sitting on the ground and tried to remember how to breathe.

—//—

Organised a car to come and pick you up on Saturday. Bring overnight stuff! You can see the show from the best seats, and then come back to my hotel afterwards. Can't wait. Love you xxx

Louis gingerly lifted his shirt up in the disabled toilet, turning to the side so that he could see the latest addition to his bruises in the mirror. He couldn't hide these from Harry on Saturday, or the ones on his wrist, or the grazes on his arms.

He didn't reply to Harry's text.

—//—

"Come on," Zayn said, sitting down next to him in the sixth form careers library at lunchtime. "This is where you're hiding now?"

"I'm researching future career paths," Louis said, which was a lie. All of the stuff in here was for people who had A levels, which Louis didn't. And wouldn't, judging by his current progress. That university place he'd accepted was way beyond what he could achieve now.

"You're hiding," Zayn said, flipping his phone out of his pocket and firing off a text. "And you're being a dick."

"It's a bad week, okay?" Louis said. "I'm sorry."

"Harry says you haven't had a fight."

"We haven't. It's nothing to do with Harry."

Zayn climbed over the table and elbowed Louis in the side. Louis hissed in a breath. "We're worried about you, knobhead."

"I'm fine," Louis lied, concentrating on not letting on he was in pain.

"You're a liar," Zayn told him. "And a bad one at that." He elbowed Louis in the side again, and Louis couldn't help but wince.

Zayn narrowed his eyes. "What's up with you?"

"Nothing," Louis said quickly.

"That's not nothing," Zayn said. He did it again, poking his fingers into Louis' side. Louis cried out, unable to help himself. "Fucking hell."

"It's nothing," Louis said again, pulling his shirt down even further.

"Show me," Zayn said.

"No," Louis snapped. "Leave me alone."

"Is he still being a dickhead?" Niall asked, pushing open the door to the careers library, Liam in tow. They must have been who Zayn had been texting.

"I don't think he is," Zayn said, eyes still narrowed. "I think he's hurt."

"Yeah, we all know that. Louis is emotionally fragile and needs our support in this difficult time," Niall parroted, in Liam's voice.

"Not like that," Zayn said. He didn't look away from Louis, and Louis could feel himself flushing under his gaze.

"It's nothing," he said again.

"What's nothing?" Liam asked.

"What's up with your side?" Zayn asked. "Do you want me to poke it again?"

Louis involuntarily winced.

"See?" Zayn said. "Something's up."

"Show us," Liam said, in a voice that brooked no argument.

"It's not a big deal," Louis said. He didn't want to show them. He'd been beaten up by someone two years below him. It was embarrassing, as well as everything else.

"Not even kidding anymore," Liam said. "Lift up your shirt."

Louis stood up, and carefully lifted up his shirt.

"Jesus fucking Christ," Niall said. "What the fuck happened to you?"

"It's nothing," Louis said, dropping his shirt again. "It's like, three bruises. Four, maybe." It was five.

Liam looked like he was about to cry. Louis hated—hated¬—when Liam looked like that. "Why didn't you tell us?"

"Tell you what?" Louis said. "It's nothing."

"That you were getting hit," Liam said.

"Well, to be fair, most of them are from when I got booted, so it's not like—"

"Shut up," Liam said, and he was pretty much crying this time. He wiped his nose on his sleeve. "Why didn't you tell us?"

"Because I was fucking ashamed," Louis said. "Because it's no big deal and I'm managing it, and because there's nothing you can do about any of it."

"Yes, there is. We're going to find a teacher," Liam said, and he grabbed Louis' wrist.

Louis couldn't help but cry out at that. It was the same wrist that Dickhead had grabbed earlier, and Dickhead was built like a brick shithouse, and hadn't scrimped on the whole showing that off front.

"Oh god," Liam said.

"It's nothing," Louis said. "It's really nothing."

Zayn pulled Louis' sleeve up. "That's not nothing, mate."

"I'm going to get a teacher," Liam said. "Don't let him run off. We're going to sort this out."

Louis sank back down into his seat, and didn't look up, not even when Niall climbed over the desk and slung an arm around his shoulders, tugging him into a hug.

"You should have fucking told us," he said. "You're such a dickhead."

"It's nothing," Louis said, but even he could hear the lie this time. He picked at the skin by his thumb nail and couldn't help but wonder if Harry would still want him after he found out.

—//—

Mr Hawthorn, the head of sixth form, went mental. Miss Limehouse went mental, but in a soft kind of a way that involved speaking very quietly and using very long words. His mum got very fierce, like a lion. Everyone except for Miss Limehouse yelled and his mum threatened to get the police involved, and everything was rubbish and went on for hours and hours. He had to repeat his story about fifty times, and then they took pictures of his bruises, and he had to make a statement, and Dickhead got suspended for a week, and Louis' mum got embarrassing in the corridors and threatened to go to the papers about homophobic bullying if he wasn't formally excluded on a more long term basis.

Louis didn't really care about the long term basis. He was more embarrassed about the here and now.

"It's no big deal," he said, for about the hundredth time, once they were back home and Mum had tried and failed to send Liam home. She'd given up and let him stay for tea.

"It is a big deal," Mum told him, serving up a nutritious meal of fish finger sandwiches and tartar sauce. There had been no time to go to the shop before tea.

"That's what I said," Liam said, cutting his sandwiches into quarters.

"It's like—five bruises, two grazes, a cut and another bruise." Louis shrugged. "It was two times."

Liam and Mum looked at him like he was stupid.

Louis just looked down at his phone. There were eight missed calls from Harry, and six messages. One of the others must have told him what was going on. He wondered if any of them said, 'I found out you've been beaten up by a year eleven boy and now we can't go out any more'.

"Aren't you going to see what he's said?" Mum asked, pointing at his phone.

"Not if any of them say he's breaking up with me," Louis said.

"Huh," Liam said. "Now you're being stupid. Sorry, Mrs Tomlinson."

"It's Jay, Liam. Call me Jay."

Liam did an embarrassed kind of a nod thing and looked the other way. Louis suspected Liam would call his mum Jay on pain of death, and not before.

"If he breaks up with you over this," Mum said carefully, "then I will personally go up there and brain him, do you hear me?"

"Mum," Louis said, horrified.

"Not even kidding," Mum said, and Louis had literally no idea if she was lying or not. Fuck, he was tired.

"Check your messages," Liam said. "Don't be a coward."

Louis thumbed through his messages.

Niall just called me. What the fuck. Are you ok

Seriously are you ok none of you are answering your phones

Zayn says you've been beaten up. Why didn't you tell me? Are you ok?

I love you xxx call me back please I'm really worried

Going to call your mum if I don't hear from you. I love you x please be ok xx

Going into an interview but I've given paul my phone and he'll come get me if you call. Please call me. I love you x

Louis blinked away tears and put his phone on the table.

"Well?" Mum asked. "Do I have to go up there?"

He shook his head. "No."

"Is Louis crying?" Fizzy asked, peering up at him. His sisters were supposed to be having their tea on the coffee table in the living room for a treat. They weren't supposed to be in dining room with him.

"Only a bit," Louis said, and Fizzy put her plate down on the table and pressed herself to Louis' side. It only hurt a little bit.

"Don't cry," she said, burying her face in his neck. She sounded about a second and a half from crying herself. All of Louis' family were too sensitive, god.

"Promise," Louis lied. She wouldn't let him go, so he typed out a message to Harry with one hand. Its not as bad as theyre making out promise. I'm ok and home and I'll call you after tea xx

Liam sat down next to him and picked at his sandwich. "I still don't get why you didn't tell us," he said, not taking a bite. Fizzy was still curled into Louis' side, even though Mum was trying to tempt her away with the promise of as much ketchup as she wanted. It was like leaving treats for a puppy.

Louis just shrugged. "Embarrassing, innit?"

Liam narrowed his eyes. "Remember when Michael Chapman used to follow me round in year nine and try and push me over in between lessons? And Joe Winston tried to steal my dinner money?"

"Yes," Louis said. Luckily neither of them had come back to school after GCSEs. He would have been surprised if they'd even managed to pass one. Together they had the combined IQ of a loaf of bread, and even then, the other loaves of bread would be ashamed of it for being a bit thick.

"Imagine if I'd kept that secret," Liam said, still looking down at his plate. "You would have all gone mental."

"Suppose," Louis said, even though it was the actual, absolute truth.

"And they never actually hit me."

Louis just shrugged again. "I suppose."

"Eat your fish fingers, boys," Mum said. "Good for your brains, fish."

"Wasted on us, then," Louis said.

"Oi," Liam said. "Speak for yourself. I plan on getting at least two of my A levels, thank you very much."

"More than I'm going to get," Louis said. He picked at his sandwich. He didn't feel very hungry.

Mum gave him half a smile. "So long as you try, Lou. We'll all be proud of you."

I am trying, he thought. It was just that that didn't make any difference to his actual marks.

"Hey, did Harry ask you about videos of us singing? He wants us to send them to him," Liam said, in between bites. "I told him I had a few but he needed to ask Zayn's mum. She's got them all."

"In a glass cabinet surrounded by framed pictures of Zayn's face," Louis said dreamily. "Why don't you have a shrine to me, Mum?"

"Because you're a giant pain, Louis. Eat your sandwich."

From next door came the sound of increased wailing. Someone's sandwich had probably ended up somewhere it shouldn't. The carpet, perhaps. Mum rolled her eyes and dumped her sandwich down on her plate. "Should have known," she said. "Don't you two let yours go cold."

After she'd gone, Liam pushed his sandwich around his plate. "I'm really angry with you," he said.

"I know. I'm sorry." He'd done nothing but fuck things up recently. He hated it. He wished everything was more settled and less up in the air. "Come on, let's eat upstairs."

Liam didn't shut up even as he followed Louis upstairs to Louis' bedroom.

"Why do you keep lying to me? Is it something I've done?"

"It's not you. It really isn't. It's just—" Louis didn't know how to say, I keep fucking everything up. "People keep leaving me, and I don't know why, and I don't want you to leave me too." He put his stereo on. Harry's CD was in, and started playing. He didn't stop it, or pretend he hadn't been listening to it. He swallowed and looked down at his feet.

"Harry's back now, though."

"I know. It's stupid." For someone who was back, Harry still felt an awfully long way away from Louis' real life.

"I just—maybe we're not as good friends as I think we are," Liam said, sitting down on the edge of Louis' bed.

"No," Louis said quickly, sitting down next to him. "That's not it at all. I promise. You're my best friend. I've just been an idiot, and I keep doing all this stuff that I don't really have the words to explain, that's it. Like—me and Harry. It happened by accident. We kissed by accident, and it just went on too long. By the time I knew what it was I wanted to tell you, it had been going on for ages. And then he left. And I was embarrassed, because he'd left me. And I was embarrassed this week because they were year elevens, and I'm upper sixth. But I'm not bright enough for upper sixth, and I'm going to fail these exams and everyone's going to be so let down. And I hate that."

"There isn't anything you can do that lets me down other than not tell me stuff," Liam said, after a while. "You've got to trust me."

"I know," Louis said. "But it's scary. Everything's fucking terrifying. And I'm out. How the fuck did I manage to out myself to fucking everyone, including gossip websites? Everyone knows that I like sucking cock. Everyone. Including my mum."

"I tried not to think about the sucking cock part, myself," Liam said.

"It's fucking awesome," Louis said, but then he put his face in his hands and tried to remember how to breathe. "How would you like it if your mum knew, though. Or your teachers. Because mine do. And it's rubbish."

Liam wrinkled his nose. "I can only imagine," he said. "What with being a giant stonking virgin and everything."

"Swap you," Louis said morosely, although he didn't mean that. "Danielle still top-half only, then?"

"I can undo her bra so long as we don't take her t-shirt off," Liam said. "Like, I love her, but it's a bit like that game we used to play at parties where you put your hand in a bag and it was just cold spaghetti."

Louis blinked. "Danielle must have the weirdest boobs ever."

"Shut up." Liam poked him in the arm, careful to avoid his wrist and his side. "I'm just saying, it might be nice to look at them. Just once. Before I die a virgin."

"When are you going to—you know."

"See them? I have no idea. Before I die, hopefully." He finished his sandwich. "On the plus side, I'm now a master at undoing a bra one-handed without looking."

"Something I probably couldn't do if you paid me."

"Unless Harry starts wearing one."

Louis snorted. "Yeah." He ate the remains of his sandwich. "Sorry, by the way. For being a giant fucking knobhead recently. I'm going to try and do better."

Liam nodded. "If you could at least try and not be a total twat, Lou. And tell me what's going on in your head occasionally."

"I can do that," Louis said. "Sorry."

"Does it hurt much?" he asked, nodding at Louis' stomach.

"A bit. When I laugh. When I try and lie on that side. It'll go soon."

"If you ever get hit again and don't tell one of us, you and me are done, okay? I'm not doing this again."

Louis looked at the floor. "Okay," he said.

"Promise?"

"Promise."

Liam didn't stay long after that. He had homework to do, and Danielle to ring, and anyway, Louis had to call Harry before he went on stage.

Louis saw him off at the front door and then went into the kitchen to hug his mum.

"Liam gone?"

"He said thanks for tea."

She leaned in to kiss his forehead. "How are you feeling? Do you need any paracetamol?"

"I'm okay. I'm going to phone Harry. That's okay, isn't it?"

"I think we can probably call this particular grounding over, don't you?"

Louis put a couple of dry plates into the cupboard. "Suppose. It's okay that I'm going to see Harry this weekend, isn't it?"

"If I said no, would you cancel your plans?"

"No," Louis said. "But I wouldn't enjoy it as much."

"Before you go, you and me are going to have that safe sex talk we should have had a long time ago, okay?"

"Mum—"

"No complaining. That's the deal. If you're going to be having sex with Harry, then you and I are going to talk about it first." She was going red, and it should have been a consolation to Louis that Mum was clearly hating this conversation as much as he was.

"I've already—"

"I don't care. I don't care if you know it all. Me and you are going to make sure you're as well informed as you can be, and then you can go away for the weekend and I can pretend that you and Harry are just going to play cards in that hotel room."

"I'm eighteen, Mum."

"I know. Humour me on this. My first time was rubbish, and I know you've already done it with Harry, but I want to make sure you're as prepared as you can be."

"Please, please, don't ever talk to me about you having sex ever again."

"How many children do I have, Louis?"

"La la la," Louis clapped his hands over his ears. "I'm going to phone Harry."

"Be off with you then, see if I care."

Louis rolled his eyes, already getting his phone out of his pocket. He didn't know why he was so nervous about phoning Harry; everyone else knew he'd been hit by boys that hadn't even done their GCSEs yet, and he was pretty sure that Harry knew that too, so why he was avoiding phoning was beyond him.

In the end he threw himself onto the bed with a painful oomph, and pressed call.

Harry answered on the second ring. "Are you okay?"

"I'm okay," he said. He hid his face in the pillow for a moment. "Sorry."

"You don't have to be sorry. Niall told me about that dickhead getting suspended. Why didn't you tell me?"

"Didn't tell anyone," Louis said. "Anyway, it's not a big deal. It's been like, twice."

"Lou."

"Seriously. It's fine. It's a few bruises, but they'll go soon, and then I can pretend it never happened."

Harry let out a long breath. "Was it—was it cos of me?"

Louis picked at his pillow case with one finger, and tried to think of the best way to phrase this. "I think he found the fact I like penises—and possibly your penis in particular—objectionable in general."

"His life must be pretty rubbish."

"I think so." He sighed. "Look, I know you probably want to talk about this, but can we just—can we just talk about something else for a bit? This afternoon's been relentless."

"All right," Harry said, after a moment. "So, um. Did you get my text about this weekend?"

"Yes," Louis said. "And for the record, I am no longer grounded, and my mum is making time for me and her to have a safe sex talk before I leave."

Harry snorted. "But, um. You and me, we've already—"

"I know. I tried telling her that. She's just pissed off I didn't tell her before we did it the first time."

"I love how you don't count any of those blow jobs as actual sex."

"No, I do. Well. Kind of." He looked down at his knees. "Look, okay. I know that that night ended badly, and then you just fucking left, but I don't know if I ever got to say, um, well. That it was perfect. You and me. That time."

Harry's voice caught. "Yeah."

"I loved you so much, you know."

"I know," Harry said softly. "I just—I was so scared, Lou. It was—that time with you, it was amazing. I loved you. But I was so scared."

"I never thought about you being scared. I just thought you didn't want me anymore."

"No," Harry said. "It was never that."

"Are you scared now?"

Harry laughed at that. "Fucking terrified. You have no idea."

Louis didn't say anything to that. He could hear Harry breathing down the phone.

"Sorry," Harry said after a while.

"I just want to see you." Phone calls were too difficult; there was stuff that they had to say in person. He just wanted to actually get to touch him, for real. "What are the plans for the weekend?"

"I've got to do an interview at a radio station in the morning, then something for a magazine at lunchtime, I can't remember which one, but then I'm going to the venue after that. I'm doing something for SugarScape there, but it shouldn't take long. I've arranged for a car to come and pick you up, and bring you to the venue in the afternoon. We can um, just hang out. Then I've got you tickets for the show, on the balcony, so you can either watch from their or from the side of the stage, and then we can, oh god, just go back to my hotel afterwards. We don't have to do anything, we can just, I don't know, watch TV if you want."

"I don't want," Louis said softly. "I just want you."

"I love you," Harry said, after a while.

"I know," Louis said. He tried to laugh. "Hey, I'll bring my mum's safe sex tips with me. We might learn something."

"I'm never, ever, ever thinking about your mum having sex. Just so you know."

"Good," Louis told him.

"Does it hurt much?" Harry asked. "The bruises."

"No. Well. A bit. If I lie on my side or forget and put my elbows on the table. I think they look worse than they are."

"Liar," Harry said.

"Yeah, well," Louis said. "It's done with now." He didn't want to think about Dickhead coming back to school in a week, or what would happen if he got Louis alone. He didn't exactly think Dickhead was going to learn any particularly relevant life lessons about acceptable behaviour whilst he was excluded. "Are we going out anywhere? Do I need to bring anything?"

"Just yourself."

Louis laughed at that. "Like you're going to be happy just staying in."

"I will be this time. Trust me."

"Okay." He rolled onto his back, and stared up at the ceiling. "Don't think I've ever stayed in a hotel, you know."

"What, not ever?"

"Nope. Don't think so."

"It's not that exciting."

Louis rolled his eyes. "You just say that because you're living the high life, and practically living in them."

"They're not all they're cracked up to be. Internet's for shit, for a start."

"Poor baby."

"You try watching porn over 3G."

Louis cracked up.

"This is serious!" Harry protested. "You get in, you're a bit horny, you're screwed because there's no internet."

"Save it to your computer, idiot."

"Like you're the king of forethought."

"I share a laptop with my mum and my sisters," Louis pointed out. "I learnt how to delete my internet history when I was twelve."

"That was Niall, right? He taught us that."

"Let's make him a t-shirt to say thanks."

Harry laughed. "Do you remember that time we got Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels out of the video shop, but when we got it back to Zayn's, it was Mamma Mia?"

"Fuck, yeah. Do you remember Niall's face?"

"It was literally the worst thing that had ever happened to him. It was brilliant."

"Do you remember when Pierce Brosnan started to sing, and Liam got that look on his face?" Louis snorted.

"Like he was experiencing actual, real life pain."

"Poor Liam. He loved him when he was James Bond."

"I don't think he ever forgave him for that."

"Well," Louis said. "You wouldn't, would you? Crime against humanity, that singing."

"Yeah," Harry said. "Can't wait until Saturday."

"Me neither," Louis said, after a moment. "Don't you have to go and sing now or something?"

"Probably. They'll wait."

"They won't," Louis said. "Go and see your screaming fans."

"Less than two days," Harry said.

"Two sleeps."

"Okay," Harry said softly, and he said goodbye.

"Bye," Louis said, equally softly, and afterwards he lay on his back and stared up at the ceiling, and tried not to worry about what he was getting himself into.

—//—

Getting to the venue was the weirdest experience ever. It was only mid-afternoon, but the queue already went all the way down past the venue, along the path, round the corner of the roundabout and up the hill the other side. Admittedly, they weren't all tightly packed together or anything, and lots of the girls were sprawled on the verge drinking bottles of Coke and eating bags of crisps, but it was weird.

"Are they all here for Harry?" Louis asked the driver, who was queuing to get onto the roundabout.

"They are," he said, without looking over his shoulder. The tick of the indicator was the loudest thing in the car. Louis had never been in a Merc before, it was like being in the future. Everything was almost-silent and when something was required to move, it glided. "It's like this every day."

"Wow," Louis said, since nobody had told him about the queues. "But it's only three thirty. The concert doesn't start for hours."

"The ones at the front might have been here since last night. It's the weekend after all. Some of these kids love Harry."

They weren't the only ones, but Louis wasn't about to let on just how nervous he was. It had been the weirdest, weirdest day already, from running around the house trying to pack stuff so he could go to a hotel with pop star Harry Styles, to his mum sitting him down to have literally the most embarrassing conversation ever about good sex with him, to a Mercedes pulling up outside the house to pick him up.

Then a journey that was almost one hundred per cent silent, apart from the constant texts from Harry making sure he was on his way. Louis could bet that each of the people who were stuck working with Harry today probably hated the experience, because Harry's attention was definitely not on what he was supposed to be doing, judging by the number of texts.

Louis replied to the latest one. Just seen the queue outside the venue. Someones mr popular.

He didn't get a reply to that one, but Harry was—nominally—supposed to be in the middle of an interview, so he didn't push it. His hands were shaking enough as it was, without having to actually compose texts.

The back entrance to the venue was weirdly unexciting, just a lot of giant wheely bins, and cars, and Harry's tour bus. It looked a bit like the back of the supermarket where Louis had worked during the summer holidays after GCSES. (He'd been a rubbish employee though, and had spent most of the time eating value jelly beans and talking to his friends. They hadn't kept him on after the summer, not that he'd wanted them to.) Then he was grabbing his stuff and being led through a warren of corridors and stairwells with a lot of peeling paint. This place was an actual maze. He was never going to find his way out again.

He kept a tight hold on his stuff and followed the guy who hadn't introduced himself, but who wore an actual headset and didn't seem amused by it, down corridor after corridor until they got to a door that said HARRY STYLES on it. Louis could have made a better sign than that in Microsoft Word. Maybe he should offer his services as official tour sign maker. This one was just printed off, there wasn't even a border or anything. It was rubbish.

The unamused headset guy knocked on the door, once, twice. Louis couldn't hear anyone say come in, but the guy turned around and said, "You can go in now."

"In there?" Louis asked. It seemed suddenly very difficult to put one foot in front of the other.

"Yes, in there." The guy seriously didn't have a sense of humour. He must be fun at parties.

Louis nodded, swallowing, and stepped forward to open the door.

The room wasn't empty. There was a guy with a camera, and one of those weird silver umbrella things that Louis had never understood, and a fluffy sound mic that looked like the draught excluder they'd had when he was growing up. There was a girl doing an interview, and a couple of people behind her with clipboards. There was another woman with a make up bag, and another couple of people with clipboards, and in the middle of it all, sitting on the sofa in front of a wall full of band posters, was Harry.

Louis didn't think Harry had even heard him come in. He stood awkwardly in the doorway, until one of the clipboard girls waved him in and mimed shutting the door. Louis closed the door as quietly as he could, still holding his hoodie and his rucksack and his carrier bag.

The interviewer asked her next question. "So, your next video, Harry. Any hints as to what it's going to be about? Any chance of a bit of toplessness from you?"

He knew when Harry noticed him.

Everyone in the room did.

"Yeah, I'm going to ride naked on a horse on a beach," Harry said. "At least, I think that's the plan so far. It's a work in progress—" He stopped, trailing off mid-sentence, smile curving over his face as he spotted Louis by the door. He bit his lip, ducking his attention down to his lap for a moment before looking up at the camera again. "Sorry," he said, but then his gaze slipped to Louis again, over the interviewer's shoulder. "Sorry, what was the question again?"

"Your next video," the interviewer said.

"I, uh—" Harry was staring at Louis again. He laughed and looked down. "I'm sorry, I literally have no idea what we're talking about."

"Riding naked on a beach," Louis supplied, but he was laughing too, and he knew he was blushing, and that everyone was looking, but he couldn't help it. Harry was here, in the same room as him, and okay, they were probably ruining this interview, but Louis couldn't bring himself to care. Harry was looking at him like he'd hung the fucking moon, and fuck the interviewer, for real. Fuck everything, because he was in love, and he was here, and this was everything.

"I think we've got the answers to all the questions we need, right?" The interviewer said.

Harry tore his attention back to her. "I'm sorry," he said. "Did I answer everything?"

"Yes," she said, glancing back at Louis. "We have everything we need."

"Great," Harry said. "Thanks for coming. Enjoy the show tonight."

"We will," she said, and then the cameras were put down, and someone in a clipboard was telling everyone to clear the room, and the whole time, Louis just kept on standing by the door, getting in everyone's way, and Harry just stayed where he was on the sofa, looking at Louis.

Louis' heart was pounding.

The room couldn't empty fast enough. Pick your shit up, he thought, over and over, as people gathered up their bits and bobs and started filing past him, each of them staring at him with undisguised interest. Yeah, yeah, I'm the boyfriend. Move it up a notch, why don't you.

"Hi," Harry said, once the room was finally clear. The door closed behind everyone with a decisive click.

"Hi," Louis said.

"You came," Harry said.

Louis dropped all of his stuff on the floor where he stood, and covered the distance between him and Harry in two steps, Harry standing up to meet him. "Of course I fucking came," he said, wrapping his arms around Harry and hiding his face in Harry's neck. He didn't know why he felt like crying.

Harry slid his hands into the small of Louis' back, and tugged him closer. He smelled faintly like chlorine.

"You've been swimming," Louis said in a muffled voice. He didn't try and hug him any the less hard. His bruises hurt.

"Hotel pool," Harry said, and then he was sliding a hand into Louis' hair, and tilting his chin up, his gaze dropping to Louis' mouth. "I can't believe you're really here."

"Did you think I was going to cancel, or something?" Up close Harry's eyes were bright. Louis touched his thumb to the freckle on his jaw.

"I thought you might," Harry said softly, still looking at Louis' mouth.

"No," Louis said, equally quietly. He cupped Harry's cheek in his palm, thumb to Harry's lip. "Can I—" he didn't know what he was asking for, exactly, but Harry nodded anyway.

"Yeah," he said, and Louis let out a breath and covered Harry's mouth with his own.

He tried to keep it slow, and not let on how close to shaken up he was, but Harry's fingers trembled against Louis' skin, so Louis gave in to it and kissed him.

When he pulled away, Harry's skin was flushed pink. He ducked his gaze and rubbed his nose against Louis'.

"Are you thirsty?" Harry asked. "There are drinks."

"No," Louis lied. "I'm fine."

"Hungry?"

"Still fine," Louis said. "Who were all those people?"

"SugarScape," Harry said. "They're going to talk about you and me now, you know."

"Sorry," Louis looked away. He didn't know what to do. He'd come all this way, and Harry was still a pop star that was living a totally different life to Louis.

"Hey," Harry slid his hand around Louis' wrist, and Louis tried not to wince. His bruises were starting to fade just a little, but they were still there, still making him go ouch when he was touched. Harry didn't seem to notice. "Do you—let's just." He stopped. "Sit down with me, will you?"

Louis nodded, sitting down clumsily on the sofa. Harry sat down next to him and slid his hand into Louis'. He ducked down to press a kiss to the back of Louis' hand. It was simultaneously awkward and endearing, and Louis couldn't help but wonder who else got to see this side of Harry. Not many, probably. Harry was good at pretending.

"Are those—" Harry turned Louis' wrist over, and stared at the bruises. "I can't believe someone hurt you."

"It was just twice," Louis said. "I wasn't ready. I'd be ready now. Like a ninja. Like a hero turtle."

Harry hooked his ankle around Louis'. "I think if you were ready for a dickhead to punch you, I'd be really sad. What did he say, anyway?"

"Not much. Just got the boot in the first time, with his friends watching, and the second time was just a warning. Think he was just offended we were breathing the same space, or something. Seems like a real catch."

"I'd fuck him, for sure," Harry said.

"Well, me too. Obviously. We do like any and all dicks, right?"

Harry shrugged at that. "Most dicks," he said. "Yours in particular, I've got to say."

Louis felt shy, which was weird. Louis so rarely felt anything close to shyness, and why he would feel it with Harry, of all people, he had no idea. "It's a very nice dick."

"Yes. The nicest, really."

"You can see it later, if you want."

Harry laughed, and leaned in, rubbing his cheek against Louis' shoulder. "I want," he said, and he shifted a little closer, tilting his chin up. His kiss was warm and brief. "I really, really want."

"Good," Louis said, and he kissed Harry again, touching his mouth to his. "'Cause I was planning on getting it out anyway. That's okay, right? If I just get my knob out? They won't mind that in the audience, will they?"

"I'd pay extra," Harry told him.

"The Louis Tomlinson's Knob Show," Louis suggested. "I want top billing. You can be my support act."

"My only job would be to sing songs about your cock."

"Haz, you only sing love songs as it is. Aren't they all about my dick anyway?"

Harry snorted and kissed him again. "I've missed you," he said, in between kisses. He kept pressing closer, hand to Louis' thigh. Louis shifted his legs a little further apart, just for comfort. Not for any other reason. Harry grinned against his mouth, shifting position so that he could cup Louis' dick through his jeans.

"Someone could walk in," Louis protested. He didn't much care for himself—if anything, the thrill of being discovered would probably make him harder—but he wasn't just thinking about himself. Harry had an actual career to look after, and it hadn't been made any easier by coming out.

"Yep," Harry said, kissing him again. He moved his hand a bit, though. Back to Louis' thigh. "Did you know that Liam rang me this morning?"

"What did he say?" Louis slid his hand down Harry's back, coming to rest on his hip. He wanted to cup his arse in his hand and drag him closer and kiss him over and over, but they were in Harry's dressing room, and someone, somewhere was going to walk in, he could just feel it.

"You ever been bollocked by Liam?"

"About once a day," Louis said. His fingers crept towards Harry's back pocket.

"Yeah. He told me to be careful with you."

Louis didn't know whether to be touched or not. "I don't need him looking out for me."

"Don't you?" Harry said softly. "I think he's right."

Louis didn't meet Harry's eyes. "I'm fine."

Harry didn't say anything to that. He rubbed his nose against Louis' cheek.

"What did you say to him?"

"That I knew how much I'd fucked you up. And that I wanted to fix that, not make it worse."

"Liam shouldn't stick his nose in."

"He should," Harry said. "I always want you to have a million people fighting your corner. And Liam is like the leader of them. He's like St George."

"You're so weird. And I'm fine."

"I just—I know you're not, all right. I know you. And I know I fucked you up."

Louis didn't like to think of himself as being so transparent. He'd spent so long pretending. The idea that people could see through that just sucked. "Maybe you did," he said, after a while. "And maybe bits of that still hurt, but like—I'm tired of going over and over that in my head all the time. I'm tired of that being me and you. Can't we just, I don't know. I'm here now, right?"

"Yes," Harry said slowly.

"So... let's just stop going over all that shit for like, five minutes? And just concentrate on, I don't know, snogging the face off of me."

Harry raised an eyebrow.

"I'm just saying."

"All right," Harry said. "If you're just saying." He hovered for a moment, eyes on Louis' mouth.

"Kiss me, knobhead."

"Last of the romantics," Harry said, but he cupped Louis' face in his hands and leaned in, touching a kiss to the corner of Louis' mouth, then slowly licking his way over his bottom lip, nipping at it with his teeth.

"It's why you love me," Louis said. He sneaked his fingertips under Harry's shirt, shifting position so that Harry could push him back and straddle him on the sofa, sinking down on top of him with an oomph. It hurt, just a bit, but the last thing Louis wanted to do was highlight the fact he was still covered in bruises from Dickhead and his boot.

"Yep, that exactly," Harry agreed, running his thumbs over Louis' cheeks, and leaning in to kiss him again.

Louis slipped a hand into Harry's back pocket, drawing him in a little closer. Fuck, he really wanted to get Harry out of these jeans and naked, so he could just touch him everywhere. Everywhere. The idea of being alone with Harry in a room with a lockable door and no interruptions was overwhelming. A whole night, and tomorrow morning, and nothing to do but be with each other.

He ran his hands over Harry's arse, and couldn't help but appreciate the groan that Harry let out as he kissed him, shifting the angle and taking his bottom lip in his teeth again. Louis had always, always liked that.

"What's this—hotel room—of ours like—then?" Louis asked, in between kisses.

"You know, TV—bed—toilet—kettle—free decaf coffee that no one ever drinks—the usual."

"I brought my own tea."

Harry just snorted and hid his face in Louis' neck. "You didn't."

"I did. Mum said to. She said there wouldn't be enough for us. She brought me some of those milk sachet things from work, too. They're in the bag."

"She didn't."

"She totally did. Why is that so funny? Stop laughing—Haz, stop it."

Harry was shaking, mouth pressed to Louis' throat. "You're amazing."

"My mum is, you mean." He tipped his head back, a hint for Harry to keep going. "I made her buy me some of those Aldi chocolate mice you used to go mad over, too. They're in the bag."

"Perfect," Harry said. "You're perfect."

"I try," Louis said, and Harry laughed and leaned in to kiss him again.

They were interrupted after a while; a cautious knock from someone with an iPad instead of a clipboard and a stack of things for Harry to sign. Louis nodded an awkward hi, and then sat on the sofa with his toes under Harry's thigh as Harry signed a stack of posters.

"Do you want an autographed Harry Styles certified official poster?" Harry asked him, after scrawling his name across the bottom of about half the stack of posters, and stretching out his fingers for a break.

"I counted them—" the assistant with the iPad said, in some consternation.

Harry shot her a wide, bright smile. "We won't miss one, will we? Or I could sign another one."

"I don't want a signed poster of your face, Hazza."

"Yes you do," Harry said. "You can draw a knob on my forehead."

Louis' face brightened. "Can I add pubes?"

Harry wrinkled his nose. "Yes?"

"Brilliant," Louis said. "Give me your pen."

"I thought I was supposed to be autographing this for you?"

"Whatever," Louis said. "I'll do it for you instead."

Harry snorted and handed over the pen.

"Do you have any other colours?" Louis asked. "Black's so—you know. Boring. Maybe a red. For vibrancy. Or if you have like, all the shades of the rainbow."

"You're giving me a rainbow knob?" Harry creased up. The assistant—looking at them both dubiously—produced a pack of multi-coloured Sharpies from her messenger bag.

"My art is going to reflect reality," Louis said, with an air of superiority. He wrote tit in a cursive script by Harry's shoulder, and drew an arrow to Harry's face.

"Hey," Harry protested.

"Hmm, you're right." Louis amended the poster to say huge tit. "Better?"

"A million times better."

Louis leaned over the poster and concentrated on drawing a giant dick on Harry's forehead. He added a couple of droplets spurting from the slit, and coloured them in like a rainbow.

"Oh god," Harry said.

"Right? Taste the rainbow." He signed his name, Louis the Tommo Tomlinson in huge letters all over Harry's face.

Harry rolled his eyes and grabbed a pen. He drew a big heart in purple underneath, and then signed his name.

Louis bumped his elbow into Harry's. Harry bumped his right back.

The assistant looked a little bit constipated. Poor thing. "There's the, um—" she said, pointing at the rest of the unsigned pictures.

Harry gave her his wildest smile, and went back to signing. His foot was hooked around Louis', though, and Louis concentrated very hard on giving Harry the best rainbow penis he could. He created a little speech bubble too, that just said, I'm a huge knob. Then he drew a whale, just because he could, and a bunch of flowers, because he was bored.

After the pile of posters was a meet and greet thing, where Harry went into a room with some competition winners. Louis stood by the door with his phone out, texting the others as Harry talked to each of the kids in turn.

Niall just kept saying how sick it must be, being a pop star. Liam wanted to make sure he was okay—which he was—and Zayn wanted to know if he'd sneaked on stage.

Not yet, he texted back. After he's done here maybe.

He wondered what it would be like to stand on stage with all of those people in front of you, cheering for you, and how that would feel. The fact that they were screaming for Harry, who he'd known since the first day of infants, and who he'd seen throw up and snog and cry and fail at footy and be told off in lessons—it was bewildering to imagine that it was the same person that they were screaming for. And being here, backstage, with competition winners who were so excited to meet Harry that they were shaking—it was really, really weird.

After their half hour was up, Harry came over to him and kissed him on the cheek. "All right?"

"Yep," Louis said, not letting on how overwhelming this whole thing was. "Can we go stand on the stage?"

"Probably," Harry said. He slid his hand into Louis', ignoring the people around them who all seemed to be staring at the two of them. "Come on. Then do you want to get some food? We can get someone to go and pick some up for us, and we can eat it in the dressing room. I'll introduce you to everyone, too."

Louis didn't say, what's the point? Tour's about to be over. This was exciting, and new, and still totally fucking weird.

Even weirder was standing on the stage in the empty venue, his voice echoing over the rows of empty seats and up into the balcony rows.

"This is amazing," he said, taking a picture with his phone. "Is this what it feels like?"

"It's a bit louder, usually," Harry said, bumping his elbow into Louis'. He tucked his hand into the crook of Louis' arm. He never used to be this touchy-feely, but then, they hadn't exactly been out the last time they'd tried this. But maybe Harry felt the same way Louis did, that this couldn't actually be real. "I'll take a picture for you tonight, of the crowd. So you can see."

"Sick," Louis said. "Do you have anything else you need to do?"

"Not for a bit. Another meet and greet in a while, I think. But we can get food now, if you want?"

"Okay," Louis said. "Can we get pizza?" He fucking loved pizza.

Harry's face curved into a grin. "All the pizza," he said. "All of it. We can even get olives and you can have all of mine."

Louis just laughed. "All right," he said, and Harry grinned at him, eyes bright.

—//—

"That was, um—" Louis said, once they were safely in the hotel lift after the concert and no one was taking pictures of them anymore. And that had been a weird experience, having people photograph the two of them holding hands and walking into the hotel. "Does that happen a lot?"

Harry shrugged. "Kind of a lot."

"Why is you going into a hotel so interesting?"

"No idea," Harry said, and grinned. "Hey, you and me are in a hotel. Let's have sex."

Louis rolled his eyes and tried to ignore the way his stomach danced a little in anticipation. "We're in a lift."

"All the better for having sex in," Harry said, sliding his arm around Louis' waist. Harry didn't have any bags because someone had already taken them up to the room before they got there, but Louis had his. "Come on, let's have sex."

"Let's wait until we're in the room at least," Louis said. He rolled his eyes again, just because he could.

Harry grinned and leaned in to press a kiss to the corner of Louis' mouth, hand to his shoulder. "Have I mentioned lately how great it is that you're here?"

"Once or twice," Louis said. "You could talk about it a bit more, though. If you wanted."

The doors to their floor pinged open, and Harry grabbed one of Louis' bags to carry. "What have you got in here, rocks? And yes, I'm really very happy that you're here, etc. etc."

"Sound happier about it, can't you?" Louis asked. Inside he was trembling. Just—he'd been waiting for this a while, even if he hadn't been able to admit that this was what he wanted. "Which room are we? 542? This way, then." He held the key card up in front of him, as if that was going to make finding the room easier. It was like a warren in here, if warrens had plush red carpeting and ugly cream panelling.

Harry had to unlock the door for him, in the end, when Louis fumbled awkwardly with the card in the swipe lock and couldn't get the light to turn green to let him in.

"Whatever, I got you started," Louis grumbled, dragging his stuff inside and dumping it on the floor as they let the door close behind them. He didn't know quite what he was expecting from a hotel room on a pop star's tour, but potentially he'd been hoping for something a little posher. The room wasn't that big, for a start, a weird kind of side-entrance hanging space on the right, some drawers with a flat-screen TV on just beyond that. A bathroom to the left with a square-shaped toilet seat—for people with square bottoms, Louis thought—and an uncomfortable-looking attempt at an armchair next to a desk with a kettle on it and a little hospitality tray. He went over to poke at what was in the little dish. "There are only two tea bags, and they're rubbish ones."

"Good thing you brought your own, then," Harry said, toeing off his shoes. He peeled off his jacket and dumped it on the duvet.

And, oh yeah, there was a fucking massive bed.

Louis flipped open the lid to the kettle. "You want a brew?" he asked. "Where's the tap?"

"Bathroom," Harry said, thumb in the air. "And I'll have one if you're making one. I mean. If you don't want to come over here and let me take your shirt off."

Louis blinked and looked down at the kettle. "Okay," he said, and dumped the kettle back down on the desk. "Tea can wait."

Harry grinned at that, sitting down on the end of the bed with his legs apart. "Come over here, then."

Louis kicked off his Toms and crossed the room, stepping into the v of Harry's legs and cupping Harry's face in his hands.

Harry's hands settled on Louis' arse, and Louis couldn't help but let Harry know his appreciation of that. He groaned, rocking his hips forward just a little.

"You should have seen you up on stage tonight," Louis said, still not closing the distance between them both and kissing him.

"Was I hot?" Harry asked, with a grin.

His fingers splayed over Louis' arse. "A bit," Louis said. "Kind of."

Harry made a sad face. Louis traced his frown with his thumb. "Only a little bit?"

"Barely even that, really," Louis said. "It was all a bit of a turn-off, if I'm honest. You being up there and running around and looking hot and everything."

"I am a king of running around," Harry agreed. "Are you going to kiss me at any point in the near future, or do I have to beg?"

"I will allow begging."

Harry snorted. "I don't know why I love you."

"I do," Louis said and leaned forward enough that his dick bumped into Harry's chest. "I have a marvellous willy."

"Oh my god."

Louis waggled his eyebrows. "And if you're really nice to me, I'll let you see it."

"This is like torture."

"I know. Do you want any of those chocolate mice?"

"No," Harry said. "I just want to take your clothes off."

"I could do a little dance," Louis said. "Shimmy shimmy, you know." He tilted his hips.

"Take your clothes off," Harry said. "Come on."

"Don't you want to see me dance?" Louis stopped touching Harry's face and stepped back, out of his reach, and displayed a little of his best dance moves. "You'd see me in a club and come right over, right?" He turned around and attempted a little booty wriggle. "You'd want to tap this, right?"

Harry stood up and wrapped an arm around Louis' chest from behind. He rocked his hips up against Louis' arse, sliding a hand down to cover Louis' dick through his jeans. Louis leaned back and rested his head on Harry's shoulder.

"You'd want me, right? If you saw me in a club?"

"I want you every time I fucking see you," Harry said softly, against the shell of Louis' ear. "I always want you."

Louis closed his eyes at that, head tipped back. Harry ran his hands over Louis' stomach. "You could have anyone," he said finally. "You're famous."

"I don't care who I could have. There's just you."

Louis let out a breath. He stared up at the ceiling. Harry kept on touching him. "There's just you, too."

"Good," Harry said, and he shifted so that he could press his mouth to the curve of Louis' throat. He started to pull up Louis' t-shirt.

Louis let him.

"Come to bed," Harry said. He slid Louis' t-shirt up and over his head, then dropped it on the floor. "Please."

Louis knew that there were bruises on his stomach that Harry had either a) not noticed yet or b) forgotten about. He knew there was a conversation coming, but he couldn't make himself stop what they were doing. Just a minute more, that's all he wanted. He undid his trousers and pushed them down. Harry helped him, all the time mouthing at Louis' neck.

Louis shivered as he stepped out of his trousers, and then he was just in his pants, and Harry was still fully clothed, and something about the balance here was very, very wrong if one of them was still dressed.

"Take yours off," he said, but Harry kept on kissing his neck, and his shoulder, and the place where they joined, where Louis was suddenly stupidly sensitive.

"In a minute," Harry said. "I'm just remembering how you taste."

"Harry," Louis said. He needed to turn around and get the moment over and done with, and have Harry see the fruits of Dickhead's labour, but—god, all he wanted to do was just be with Harry, and kiss him, and have sex. He didn't want to talk about some homophobic idiot who considered his boot a reasonable conversational tool.

"In a minute," Harry said again.

Louis shook his head, and pulled away. He turned around.

Harry's gaze dropped to Louis' stomach, and the smattering of bruises there, still black, bluey-purple around the edges.

"Oh god," Harry said.

"Don't," Louis said. "Seriously, we're not focusing on this. It's done. He's excluded. I was an idiot who let my guard down and wasn't prepared, and he took the opportunity to put the boot in. I feel okay. I'm fine. I just don't want to go over and over it again, all right? Can we just—not? Right now?"

Harry nodded but Louis knew he wasn't listening. He reached out a hand to Louis' stomach, to the five bruises there, a couple of them large, the rest quite small. He jerked his hand back at the last moment, and Louis thought, he can't bear to touch me.

But then Harry dropped to his knees in front of him, and leaned in to press his mouth to the pale, bruise-less skin by Louis' hip.

Louis swallowed, suddenly breathless. "Harry—"

"Can I?" Harry asked, his thumb brushing Louis' belly button. "Does this hurt?" He touched a kiss to one of the bruises, the lowest one, the one that crept beneath the waistband of Louis' pants.

It did hurt, because it was poking a bruise, and bruises hurt. But Louis didn't want him to stop. Louis hadn't ever been hit like that before, or kicked. Nobody had ever hated him so much that they wanted to hurt him. He still couldn't really make head nor tail of someone wanting to actually, physically hurt him. For days he'd carried Dickhead's marks on his body, a constant reminder of what it felt like to be knocked down and kicked. This wasn't going to make any of that go away, but it might be a step.

"Don't stop," he said, a little hoarsely, and Harry looked up at him from under that stupid, ridiculous hair, and touched another kiss to Louis' stomach.

In all the time they'd spent messing around together behind everyone's backs, Harry had never gone down on his knees for Louis, not ever.

Already it felt different. Already it was better.

Harry tugged off his t-shirt, and dropped it somewhere, before running his tongue across Louis' hip. Louis shivered, and slid a hand into Harry's hair. Harry made a mewling noise of approval at that, but didn't stop his attentions to Louis' stomach. He hooked a finger in the waistband of Louis' underwear and pulled them down just a little, just enough to press a kiss to the underside of his hip bone, his tongue running along the dip.

He pulled Louis' pants down a little further, but it wasn't enough. Louis' fingers caught in Harry's hair, and Harry fucking grinned up at him, and inched his pants down just a little bit more.

"You're a huge fucking tease," he said, quite pleased he'd managed what could pass for a sentence, especially when Harry was pressing his tongue to the base of Louis' dick. "Fuck." He pushed his pants down one-handed, unwilling to wait any longer. His dick sprang free.

"Oh god," Harry said, in a choked voice, and then he was pressing his mouth to the length of Louis' dick, and Louis had never, ever, ever had another guy's mouth on his dick, and not even imagining it all this time came anywhere near close to what it actually felt like.

And—fuck—Harry Styles was on his knees for him, and topless, and this was what he'd been sneakily wanking off too for days, the hope for this moment, this one. But he wanted—he wanted to be on the bed. He wanted to kiss, and touch him everywhere, and have them both come. He really wanted them both to get to come.

"Come on," he said. "Please, on the bed."

Harry smiled at that, although he seemed a little reluctant to leave Louis' dick alone. He nudged Louis in the direction of the bed at the same time as standing up to take his own jeans off, and then his underwear. Louis had forgotten just how much he loved Harry's dick. It was a really, really great dick.

Louis scrambled up the bed and propped himself up on his elbows—there were not enough pillows on this bed—and watched as Harry chucked his jeans somewhere in the direction of the kettle.

"Ready?" Harry said, grinning.

Louis just laughed. "You do ask some stupid fucking questions, Styles. You've seen this hard on, right?" He pointed at his dick.

Harry just pointed at his own. He really did have the greatest dick.

"This is not show and tell," Louis said. "Get over here."

Harry laughed and launched himself at the bed.

Kissing was endlessly more amazing when there wasn't a constant stream of interruptions and jobs to go off and do. Nobody wanted Harry to sign anything, or to meet anyone. There was just the two of them, and the quiet of the hotel room, and Harry laughing whenever they rolled over and bumped knees and got the duvet all tangled up around them.

"This always looked smoother in films," Louis said, as they untangled the duvet for the third time.

"Well, I've got a solution," Harry said, and pushed the duvet off the end of the bed. "Fixed."

Louis snorted and pulled Harry on top of him, their dicks sliding together as he ran his hands down over Harry's spine and down to his arse. His bruises hurt, but he kind of liked it. He'd always liked poking bruises. "What are we going to do?"

Harry held himself up on his arms and grinned. He rocked his hips down against Louis'. "What do you want to do?" he asked.

"Kiss you," Louis said, which was the immediate, here and now kind of answer. "Then come. Or get you to come. Coming would be good."

"Hmmm," Harry said, affecting his most thoughtful pose. "How will we achieve that?"

"I could just wank you off?" Louis suggested. "And you could do me."

"Perfection," Harry said. His gaze kept slipping from Louis' eyes to his mouth and then down to his dick. "Then later on I can fuck you. Or you can fuck me. I'd quite like that."

"Mum bought us condoms," Louis said. "And lube. It's okay, I was embarrassed enough for both of us. She gave me a massive lecture about safe sex, and to make sure that you were enjoying yourself and having a good time as well as me."

"I'm dying a bit inside, I think."

"Me too. Let's not talk about it ever again."

"Deal," Harry said. He leaned in to cover Louis' mouth with his. "But for the record, I'm enjoying myself. Let's just start with wanking and move up. We've got all night. And tomorrow morning." He nipped at Louis' lip with his teeth. "And actually, forever, if I've got anything to do with it."

Louis flushed. "I'm not going anywhere," he said.

"Excellent. Do you want to do me? I sort of just want to come all over you."

"Oh god," Louis managed, in a choked-off voice. "Yes, that would work. Let's do that."

Harry kissed him again, and then shifted a little so that he could reach down and cover Louis' hand, and guide him towards his dick. At the first touch, Louis let out a groan, unable to help himself. He felt so good—so silky soft and smooth beneath his palm. He wrapped his fist around Harry's dick and started to move.

"Oh god," Harry managed. "Yes, like that." He was holding himself up over him, and Louis wanted to tilt his chin up so that Harry would kiss him as he wanked him off. Harry obviously understood, because he kissed him, his breathing already a little ragged against Louis' mouth.

Louis used his other hand to stroke up Harry's arm and over his shoulder and up to cup his face. Harry hissed in a ragged breath as Louis ran his thumb over the slick tip of his dick, his hips rocking down into Louis' fist as Louis' hand moved.

"Yeah, like that—oh, harder, yes—like that." Harry rolled his hips down, kissing him again in between fucking into Louis' fist and catching his breath. "I love it when you touch me. I always loved it when you touched me. I'd fucking dream about it. I wanted you so badly, god, all the time."

Louis didn't say, you shouldn't have left me, then. He didn't say any of it. He wouldn't have wanted to have to come out to the press back then either. The thought of it must have been terrifying. It didn't make it all right, but at least he understood a bit better now. He reached up and kissed him again, his hand sliding into Harry's hair, pulling him down, their noses touching. "I wanted to touch you all the time. I loved blowing you. I wanted to hold your fucking hand. I want to just keep on shagging you. I want to make you come, like, a million times. And then some."

Harry was breathless, his kisses getting messier. He was getting close already. Louis tightened his grip, and Harry moaned against Louis' mouth.

"Yeah, yeah, like that," he gasped out, and Louis knew—he'd been here before, he knew, he'd just forgotten—that this was the edge. Harry fucked down into Louis' fist, and caught Louis' lip in his teeth, and then Louis jerked his wrist like this, and Harry started to come, just like that.

"Oh god," Harry managed. Louis loosened his grip, but Harry was coming all over Louis' stomach, and his dick and Louis' fist. He tipped his head back, his hips still rocking, and Louis pressed his mouth to the underside of Harry's jaw, tasting salt against his tongue.

After a while, he wiped his hand off against his thigh, and Harry rolled off him. He rested his cheek against Louis' shoulder and stroked a fingertip through the stripes of come across Louis' belly.

Louis shivered, unable to help himself. He was so hard. He was really, really fucking hard.

"I love you," Harry said.

"That's brilliant," Louis said. "Do you think maybe you could just wank me off right now? Before I explode?"

"I was being romantic," Harry complained, leaning in to kiss the corner of Louis' mouth.

"Fuck romance. My dick."

Harry snorted. "Do it yourself, then. If you don't appreciate my romance."

"I don't want to do it myself, I can do it myself every night of the week. I want you to do it."

"Fine, whatever." Harry grinned, and shuffled down the bed. He rubbed his nose against Louis' hip. Louis wasn't exactly sure what he was doing down there when there was kissing to be had up here, but whatever. If he got to come at some point in the near future, he was going to call it a win.

But then Harry looked up at him from under long, dark lashes, and gave him what was probably somewhere in the range of a wicked smirk, and then took Louis' dick in his mouth.

Louis gasped out a moan.

"Jesus Christ," he managed. "What the fuck, oh god. No, don't stop, that's—yeah. Yeah."

He'd never—not ever. This was his first time. Every time he looked down and saw Harry's mouth on his dick he just wanted to come. His cheeks were all hollowed out, and everything was wet and hot and his tongue, god. He'd never known the underside of his dick could be that sensitive, but every touch made him want to skitter further down the bed.

"Fuck," he said, and to stop himself from tangling his fingers into Harry's hair, he grabbed onto the headboard and rolled his hips up. Harry hummed around his dick, and that just made things worse. Or better. So much better. This was—yeah. Yeah.

He didn't know how long Harry went down on him; after a while it all started to blur into one long mass of sweat and breathlessness and beautiful desperation. It felt so good. His orgasm crept up on him almost without warning, and all he could do was say Harry's name and try and pull away.

Harry slid off him with a filthy-sounding pop, a string of saliva still connecting him with Louis' dick. That shouldn't be hot, it shouldn't, but it was. It was so hot.

Louis' orgasm rolled over him like a wave, and he started to come. It caught Harry's cheek, and his chin, and Louis' stomach. He trembled his way through it, breathless and gasping, and then he watched as Harry stroked a finger through the stripe of come across his cheek, and licked it.

Louis couldn't cope with that. He covered his face with his hands, and tried to remember how to breathe.

"Hey," Harry said, a moment later. "Lou."

"I'm just dying of hot," Louis said, from behind his hands. "Don't mind me."

"So, that was all right then?" Harry asked, wrapping his fingers around Louis' unbruised wrist and trying to pull it away from his face.

"It was passable," Louis lied. He dropped his hands, and Harry laughed, crawling closer and kissing him.

He tasted like come and like Louis' dick. Presumably.

That was hotter than it should have been.

"So," Harry said, after a while. He flopped back on the bed next to Louis, and scratched his balls. Sexy. "You talked about chocolate mice earlier. And a brew."

"Oh my god," Louis said. "You want me to go and make you a cup of tea?"

"Well, if you're offering."

Louis rolled his eyes and stumbled off the bed. It still felt a bit weird to be naked in front of Harry, especially when he looked over his shoulder and caught Harry shamelessly staring at his arse. "You make them next time, though."

"Deal," Harry said.

Louis went and filled the kettle up from the sink in the bathroom, and then went to root about in his bag for the bag of chocolate mice and the teabags whilst the kettle was boiling.

Harry rolled onto his side and propped himself up on his elbow. He kept smiling.

"What?" Louis said finally.

"Nothing. Just, you know. You."

Louis blushed. "You've got come on your face."

"I know. I came all over you, too."

Louis did remember something about that, yes. He bunged a teabag in each of the mugs on the tray and then went back into his bag for the milk sachets. There was a pink toilet bag in there too, handed to him by his mum that morning. He couldn't believe Mum had bought condoms for them. That was taking safe sex to a whole new level. She had said, never again, though, which Louis counted as a win. First time gift bag only, she'd said, conveniently forgetting the other first time, the one that nobody was talking about.

He got the toilet bag out and chucked it at the bed. "Present from my mum," he said, trying to find the chocolate mice in his bag. Harry had always loved those. They were tiny individually wrapped chocolate mice, and they were sort of ridiculous, and yet every time he'd come over to Louis', he'd made hopeful faces in the kitchen until Mum gave in and offered him one from the sweetie tin.

Harry opened the toilet bag. "Oh god," he said, flushing. "She's bought us condoms and lube. I'm literally never going to be able to look her in the eye again."

"Stay safe, kids," Louis said, with the addition of a couple of finger guns in Harry's direction.

"Um," Harry said. "She's sent us a pack of cards too."

"What?"

"There's a post-it. In case you decide you just want to play cards instead."

"This isn't embarrassing at all, is it? It's all fine."

"Let's see if my mum will make us one next time."

"Let's not. Let's never, ever let our parents know anything about our sex life again."

Harry hummed. "I don't know. I quite like that everyone knows, now. Better than before, anyway."

Louis ducked his head. He'd be lying if he said he knew that tonight was going to end well. It had gone this well last time, and look where they'd ended up then.

"Lou," Harry said.

"You're not going to chuck me out tomorrow and never phone me again, are you?" He busied himself tidying up the desk, neatening up the hospitality tray as the kettle got louder.

Harry came over and wrapped an arm around Louis' back. "No," he said. "And I know I deserved that, but I do mean it when I say I'm in this for however long you'll have me."

"I know," Louis said. And the thing was, he did know. It was just that he simultaneously knew that, and also that everything could go right and Harry could leave. He was trying to trust Harry, but maybe it really would just take time. They loved each other, anyway. Maybe that would be enough.

The kettle finished boiling and Harry dropped a kiss to Louis' shoulder. "I'll see if there's a flannel in the bathroom, get us cleaned up."

"There's one in my bag," Louis said, pouring the water out on top of the teabags.

Harry just laughed and dropped to his knees. "Which bag?"

"Dunno. The one with my toilet bag in." He'd brought his school rucksack and a Tesco bag for life with the rest of his stuff shoved in. He hadn't exactly been prepared for a weekend away with a pop star.

"Why did you bring your own flannel?" Harry asked, upending Louis' rucksack onto the floor. "Is this your maths homework?"

"Might be," Louis said. "Didn't know how busy you were going to be. Did I mention I'm going to fail my A levels?"

"You're not," Harry said, coming up trumps and standing up, flannel in hand. He headed for the bathroom, and didn't bother closing the door as he lifted the toilet seat and pissed.

Louis didn't point out that Harry had no idea about Louis' actual marks, and how he felt completely out of his depth in every single one of his lessons. He hadn't felt quite this terrified this time last year. "What's so funny about me bringing my own flannel, anyway?"

Harry flushed the loo and stuck his head round the door. "I don't know? Most people don't bring their own flannels to hotels."

"I do," Louis said, using a plastic teaspoon to scoop out the teabags and drop them down onto the tray. He poured the milk sachets in and gave both cups a good stir. When Harry came back out of the bathroom, damp flannel in hand, Louis was sitting up on the bed, a cup of tea on each bedside table.

"It's cute," Harry said, which meant it was a bit odd. "Here, let me clean you up."

He wiped gently at Louis' stomach, being even more gentle than Louis needed him to be over the bruises.

"I still hate that dickhead," he said, after a while.

"Join the club," Louis said. He took the flannel out of Harry's hand and beckoned Harry down onto the bed so that he could wipe at his face.

It felt strangely intimate, all of a sudden. He dabbed at Harry's cheek even though he was all cleaned up.

Harry covered Louis' hand with his own, and they sat there for a moment, still and quiet.

"Thanks for the tea," Harry said finally.

"Yeah," Louis said. "Chocolate mouse?"

"Duh," Harry said. He bumped his knee into Louis' as he unwrapped his chocolate.

It was weird sitting here completely naked with someone. It wasn't like he'd never got undressed in front of his friends or anything, but there was a difference between getting changed, and just sitting there with his knob out. He kept sneaking glances at Harry's every time he passed over a chocolate mouse. He drew his knee up to his chest.

Harry smiled and wrapped his hand around Louis' ankle. "I've got a flat in London, you know."

"Is it full of chandeliers and hookers in baths of vodka?"

"How did you know?" Harry stroked his thumb over the inside of Louis' foot. "I mean. You should come down and see it. I could give you a key, or something."

"To let myself in?"

"Yeah," Harry said. "If you wanted."

"I've always wanted to bathe in vodka."

"It stings," Harry said. "But seriously. This summer. After exams. Or anytime, really."

"I haven't got any money," Louis said. "I need a job."

Harry didn't meet his eyes. "Get something in London. There might be something at the label."

Louis tried not to get excited at the idea of a summer in London with Harry. He needed to sort his plans out at some point—there was no way he was going to get into his first choice uni with his current predicted grades, so he'd have to go through clearing anyway. Maybe he'd just take a year out and work in London. Part of him was already six months in the future, imagining him and Harry living together in the kind of flat he'd seen on TV. "Will you ask for me? Or is there someone I could email? I'm free after my exams. Or before, really. I'm going to fail anyway. Might as well not go back to school."

"It's not as bad as all that, is it?" Harry asked. He was still stroking Louis' ankle with his thumb. It felt really nice. "And I've got a plan, about work. Leave it with me. Never know, we might all end up working together."

"Turned out you're shagging a thicko," Louis said, trying to smile. "I'm going to plough these exams."

"You're not thick."

"I don't get any of it. It's just—I don't know. You should never have helped me get through my GCSEs. I should have just got crap grades and not got into lower sixth."

"I didn't help you that much," Harry said. "All I did was help you revise. You just hadn't done enough preparation."

"Or any," Louis admitted. He'd skated through years ten and eleven. He'd had to do it all in the run up to the exams.

"I could help you. Not with the work, because I won't have a clue, but I'm good at looking at the syllabus. Syllabuses? Whatever. I could hold your flashcards or something."

"You're a pop star."

"And you're my boyfriend." Harry leaned in to kiss Louis' knee. He stayed there, resting his chin on Louis' knee. "And I want to be your friend again. Like, properly. Like we were before. And friends help each other with exam revision, right?"

Louis' chest felt tight all of a sudden. "We are friends," he said.

"I know. But, you know. Best friends again."

Louis swallowed. "Harry—"

"I know, I know. Liam's your best friend. And Niall and Zayn. But I'd quite like to be in contention again for runner up."

"You're an idiot."

"Yeah, I know. But still."

Louis leaned in and kissed him, because he didn't know what words to use to make it okay. Things weren't like they used to be, but then they were both out now, and they hadn't been before. People knew about them, and that they were together. They hadn't had that last time. They were both older, too. And maybe a little bit wiser. Or in Louis' case, a bit thick at school but mostly more self-aware than he had been when Harry had gone off to boot camp. Which was nice.

"Hey," Harry said, after a while. "Do you want to play strip poker?"

"We're already naked, idiot."

"Un-strip poker, then. We put clothes on."

Louis narrowed his eyes at that. "What's the point, then?"

Harry grinned. "Point is, the loser is the one with the most clothes on, and the winner gets to pick what we do next."

Louis pretended to think about it for a minute. "Shagging non-strip poker, then."

"And we should have to take each other's clothes off again. With our teeth."

"This is what happens when you don't do AS levels, isn't it? You get weird."

Harry waggled his eyebrows. The weird tension of a couple of minutes ago had disappeared again, at least for a while. Learning to trust each other again was harder than it looked. "Come on, Tommo. Shagging non-strip poker? Tell me it doesn't sound magnificent."

"You never call me Tommo," Louis pointed out, but then, what the fuck ever. Harry was naked on his bed. Their bed. Whatever.

Harry just smirked and leaned in to kiss him. "Deal the cards."

Louis rolled his eyes and dealt them five cards each. "What are we putting on? Pick something."

Harry waggled an eyebrow, and reached for a sock, throwing it on the bed.

"Cheat," Louis said. "I wasn't wearing socks."

"Not my problem," Harry said. "What are you going to go for?"

"One of your socks," Louis said. "Make it even."

"Who's cheating now? You're not having one of my socks. Do you want your t-shirt? First person to all-clothed loses."

"Whatever," Louis said, and he let Harry go and stand up and grab Louis' t-shirt from the floor and bung it on the bed next to the sock. He looked at his cards, and tried to decide which of them to discard. He never was all that good at cards even at the best of times. Niall's brother said it just took practice. He had a two of a kind and one that might make a flush if he was unlucky, and discarded the other two, replacing them with cards from the deck. Harry made a huge fucking song and dance about his cards, and then only got rid of one.

The smile he gave Louis suggested that Louis was fucked.

"You want to raise the bet?" Harry asked, after he'd taken another card.

Louis' hand was shit. It was shit, and Harry looked like the cat who'd got the fucking cream, but whatever. He didn't give in. "Put my pants in," he said.

"I'll equal yours with another sock," Harry said. Neither of them had a fucking clue what they were doing, but whatever. Louis was too busy staring at Harry's dick, anyway. And his tattoos; two swooping swallows across his chest. He wanted to press his mouth to them and see if they tasted different to the rest of him. He wanted to taste the rest of them.

He licked his lips.

Harry caught him looking.

"When did you get them done?" Louis asked. He nodded towards the swallows.

Harry glanced down at his chest, and then back up at him. "A couple of months ago; this place in Brighton. You have to get an appointment months in advance, but Alex knew someone who got us in. Paid a fortune for it, though. Opened early for us."

"They're gorgeous," Louis said. He didn't ask who Alex was. He didn't care. "Swallows can't land, can they?"

Harry shrugged. "Don't know."

"They can't," Louis said. "My dad told me. They just keep on flying. Never touch the ground."

"Apt," Harry said softly.

Louis ducked his head and looked at his cards. He swapped the two he'd picked up the previous round for another two. They were just as bad this time around. He wouldn't raise another bet.

"Lou," Harry said.

"Yeah?"

"Thanks for coming today."

Louis didn't look up. He reached out a hand and curled his fingers into Harry's instead.

Harry squeezed his hand. "You want to raise your bet?"

"No," Louis said. "I'm done."

Harry turned over his cards. A full house. Louis had a pair and three crap cards; he took a sip of his tea before standing up and reaching for his clothes.

"This was a stupid idea, making you get dressed again."

"Your fault," Louis said, pulling on his pants. He tugged his t-shirt on over his head, took another drink of his tea, and then leaned in to splay his fingers across Harry's throat and kiss him.

Harry tilted his chin up, and kissed him back.

It felt weird, standing over him like this, Harry naked. He liked it; he liked how he could stroke his fingers over Harry's skin and breathe into the kiss, setting the pace and having Harry follow it. He liked how he could feel Harry murmur his appreciation and stay still as he kissed him.

This time around, he bet his jeans—minus his belt—and Harry bet his sock again. Louis was totally the loser, but whatever. Harry's grin was wicked, and his intent dirty, and Louis could live with that.

Louis' cards were crap. Again. Another pair and nothing else. He swapped three and got another pair. Harry raised the bet with another sock, and Louis equalled it with his belt. He only had his hoodie and a coat left; another round like this one and he'd be out.

"I'm calling it," Harry said, and turned over his cards. "I'm out." Two of a kind. Louis turned his over; two pairs.

"Loser," Louis said, and then had to wait two minutes as Harry made a huge song and dance about putting his socks back on.

Harry just waggled his eyebrows and shifted so that he was kneeling over Louis on the bed. He slid his fingers into Louis' hair and rubbed his dick against Louis' t-shirt.

"Oi," Louis complained, half-heartedly at best. Secretly he quite liked the idea of Harry marking him as his own. He wasn't so keen on his mum putting the washing in the machine and seeing, though.

"Bet you've always wanted to have sex with someone who was just wearing their socks," Harry said.

"It's a dream of mine," Louis agreed, his hands coming to rest on Harry's hips. "You know how much I like socks."

"Favourite piece of clothing, I know." He rolled his hips up a bit, so that Louis' hands slid a little further down and around, until they were on Harry's arse.

Louis didn't let himself think about what he was doing, because that way only madness lay, but he slid a finger down into the cleft of Harry's arse, and was gratified by Harry's squeak of approval, and his immediate blush.

The only other time they'd done this, Harry had fucked him. He'd fucking loved it. He hadn't got to touch Harry that much, though.

"Do you want me to stop?" Louis asked, because his finger was sneaking downwards, and then he was touching Harry's hole as Harry shook his head, biting his lip.

"No, don't stop," Harry said, still with his hands in Louis' hair.

Louis stroked his fingertip over Harry's hole, and was gratified by the way Harry shifted from vaguely half-hard to hard in the space of a couple of seconds.

"Probably pointless to ask whether you like this or not," Louis said, still stroking. Harry's skin was flushed a dusky pink all the way down his chest. The tip of Louis' finger slid inside of Harry and Harry bucked his hips.

"What do you think," Harry said. "Fuck, do you think you can blow me like this?"

With a bit of adjustment, yes. They shifted, propping up all of the pillows behind Louis so that Louis could slide down the bed a bit.

"Take your socks off, for fuck's sake," Louis said, as Harry knelt over him again.

"No, we're still in the middle of the game," Harry told him, bumping his dick against Louis' chin. Louis opened his mouth, but Harry made a big deal about stroking himself against Louis' cheek and jaw and chin instead of letting Louis suck him. He kept a hand to Louis' shoulder to keep him where he was.

"Bastard," Louis said. He had always, always loved blowing Harry. Right from the first time he'd gone down on him, in the girls' toilets after senior choir one ridiculous, stupid, brilliant Tuesday afternoon.

"Love how much you always want this," Harry said, letting the tip of his dick bump against Louis' bottom lip.

"Yeah, well," Louis said. "I really like sucking cock." Harry's skin flushed at that, and Louis ran his hands over Harry's arse again, trying to pull him just that little bit closer. "I love going down on you," Louis went on, managing to touch his tongue to Harry's dick.

Harry groaned at that, and rolled his hips forward, letting Louis have the head of his dick and no more. Louis sighed around his dick and stroked his finger over Harry's hole again.

"Yeah, do that again," Harry said. He let Louis have more of his dick this time, let him have as much of him as he wanted, his hand on Louis' shoulder no longer a way of keeping him still.

Louis murmured his appreciation as he ran his tongue over Harry's dick and slid a fingertip inside of him, Harry groaning above him, one hand in Louis' hair.

It didn't feel like a million years since the last time they'd done this. It didn't feel like forever ago. The way Harry tasted, and what he liked, and how he reacted when Louis tongued his slit was all the same. Harry whining as Louis fingered him open, though—that was new. They hadn't done that before. Harry's fingers tightening in Louis' hair as Louis slipped the tip of a second finger inside of him—yeah. Yeah.

It was a while before Harry tried to push him off his dick. "Do you want to fuck me?" he asked, trying to shift back so that his dick slid out of Louis' mouth.

Louis' voice came out rough and ragged. He wiped away spit with the back of his hand. "What?"

"Fuck me," Harry was breathless. "Please, I want you to fuck me. Be my first, seriously. If you don't want to, you can go back to blowing me."

"No—" Louis could barely think. He moved his hands down onto the sheets. "That would be—you haven't before?"

Harry shook his head, cheeks flushed. "Just that one time, when I fucked you. Never had it done to me."

Louis flushed at that. His jaw felt a little overstretched. He wiped his mouth again with the back of his hand. "You want me to?"

"Yeah," Harry said. "I want you to."

Louis sat up and pulled Harry into a kiss, wet and messy and rough. "I love you," he said, because he wanted to fuck him so very badly indeed. He'd barely noticed how hard he was, still wearing his t-shirt and pants. "But seriously, you have to take the socks off."

"Fuck strip poker," Harry swept the cards onto the floor. They went everywhere.

Louis actually fucking giggled. Harry just laughed at him, but he was already taking his socks off with shaking fingers, and Louis dumped his clothes on the floor by the bed. He reached for the toilet bag with the condoms and the lube in; when he grabbed a condom out of the box, Harry took it off him, and tore the corner off with his teeth, looking up at Louis from under those long, dark eyelashes.

"Let me put it on you," Harry said. He'd moved the pillows a bit, sprawling full length in the middle of the bed. Louis knelt in between his legs, and Harry sat up, covering Louis' mouth with his.

Louis almost whimpered. It was a close call.

Then Harry was sitting back, and taking Louis' dick in his hand, and slowly—way too slowly—sliding the condom down and over his dick.

And that was a weird feeling. He'd never worn a condom before.

"You ready?" he asked, and Harry nodded, settling himself on the pillows. Louis leaned in to kiss him as Harry fisted lube over Louis' erection.

The moment he slid inside of him was simultaneously the best and the scariest moment he could remember. He was actually inside Harry, inside him, and Harry was clenching down on him. It was so hot, and so tight, and he just wanted to come already. He started to move instead, one arm wrapped around Harry's thigh, the angle a bit weird and probably not comfortable, but whatever. Harry's hand scrabbled for his, holding on tight as Louis fucked him.

"This okay?" Louis asked. "Does it hurt?"

Harry nodded, biting his lip. "It's more than okay. Don't stop." He squeezed Louis' hand. Louis hoped it wasn't hurting. When they'd done this before, he hadn't hurt. It had been more uncomfortable than painful. Oddly full, and desperately hot, and he'd wanted to wank off to the memory on numerous occasions. He hadn't let himself, most of the time, too upset by Harry's defection. The times he had given in to it had been tinged with an uneasy guilt. At least that wouldn't be the case this time.

"Harder," Harry begged. "Please, Lou."

Louis tried to oblige but this was his first time, and he wasn't going to last all that long. Harry was already jerking himself off, one hand to his dick, and all of these things were just too hot by themselves to not make Louis want to come.

He tried to hold off as long as he could, hips rocking forward as he fucked into Harry, but he could feel his orgasm curling in his stomach, twisting into something bigger and brighter as Harry pushed down onto him, sweat pearling across his skin.

"I'm going to—" he managed finally, when he just couldn't hold off any longer, when his orgasm felt like it was everywhere, sliding over his skin like a glove.

"Yes, yes," Harry managed, still wanking himself off. "Please, I want you to come."

Louis tried, he tried to hold off, but he couldn't. He started to come, dick still in Harry's arse, coming into a condom the weirdest feeling in the world.

In the end, he slid out of him with a soft, slick pop.

Harry's hand was still on his dick, and Louis might be breathless and still half-way to seeing stars, but he loved blowing Harry, loved it, and he wasn't about to let this opportunity pass him by. He pressed Harry's hand out of the way, ducking down and licking his way around the tip, Harry groaning his appreciation and sliding his hand into Louis' hair.

The room smelled like sex and sweat and come and them. It was really, really hot. Harry couldn't keep still, hands catching in the sheets, in his hair, his appreciation loud. Louis knew he was close—so, so close—and when Harry's breath caught and he started to come, Louis only half pulled off. Harry came across Louis' mouth, his cheek, his chin and his jaw, and fuck, that was the hottest thing in the world. He just—he wanted Harry to come on him all the fucking time. Forever. It was filthy and dirty and he didn't know if he was supposed to like it as much as he did, but Harry was reaching for him, urging him up the bed and onto the pillows next to him.

Louis sank down onto them breathlessly, eyes closed. "Fuck."

"Fuck," Harry echoed, fingertips stroking across Louis' skin. "I came on your face."

"Yeah," Louis said, still not opening his eyes. He felt sweaty and worn out. He was still wearing the condom. He couldn't even work up the energy to pull it off, even though it was probably disgusting. He poked at it with a finger, trying to slide it off without opening his eyes.

"Let me," Harry said, and helped him off with it. Louis didn't even manage to open his eyes to watch and see what Harry did with it.

Harry curled into his side and rubbed his nose against Louis' shoulder. He stroked his finger over Louis' jaw. "Do you like it?" he asked. "Me coming on you?"

Louis did his best to shrug a shoulder.

"Lou," Harry poked him.

"Yeah," he said finally. "Yeah, I like it."

"Good," Harry said, after a while. "Me too."

Louis tipped his head back and tried to get a handle on breathing normally again.

After a while of lying there and not moving, Harry urged them up and off the bed and into the bathroom. He ran the shower until it got hot, and then they both stood under the spray. Harry slid his arms around Louis' waist and rested his cheek against his shoulder; Louis kissed his forehead and hoped the water would go some way to washing away the sweat and the come without the application of all that much effort, or soap. He couldn't bring himself to move.

"Can we just go to sleep here?" he asked finally, over the noise of the shower.

Harry laughed against his skin. "Five more minutes, babe."

Louis let babe go past without comment. "I'm too tired to ever move again."

Harry smiled, and kissed the corner of his mouth as he leaned past him to the soap dispenser on the wall. It came out as a foam, and Harry stroked his hands over Louis' skin, washing him clean. Louis tipped his head back and let Harry touch him.

He'd waited so long, after all.

Afterwards, Harry passed him a towel, and he tried to dry himself, but he was already half-asleep. Harry took over, towelling his hair and propelling him in the direction of the bed.

Louis barely remembered getting in, or Harry curling up behind him, arm across his stomach, the duvet pulled up over them both. Harry's mouth pressed in a kiss to Louis' shoulder.

He closed his eyes, and fell asleep.

—//—

Louis was woken up by the sound of his phone buzzing with a message. He thumbed it open sleepily, and tapped the message envelope.

It was from his mum.

Do you have any idea how many suitcases and bags we have in this house and you had to go off to meet a pop star with a TESCO BAG FOR LIFE WITH A HOLE IN IT.

Louis rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. "Um," he said, trying to press reply without actually waking up all that much. How did you know what bag I took? You were at the shops when I left.

Because so far I have seen you going into the hotel with that old school bag and that tesco bag on sugarscape the daily mail website the sun and the mirror.

"Um," Louis said, a little louder this time. He sat up and poked Harry in the side.

Harry woke up with a jerk. "Jesus. What's wrong?"

Louis showed Harry the text from his mum.

"Oh," Harry said and lay back down again. "I thought it was something terrible."

This felt pretty terrible to Louis. "I've never been in the papers before."

"You're probably not in them now," Harry said. "We got back to the hotel too late to make today's papers, it's probably just the websites. We might be in them tomorrow."

"Um," Louis said again. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to do with any of this information.

"You're letting all the cold air in," Harry said, without opening his eyes again. He slid his hand around Louis' wrist. "Come here."

"I'm going to be in the papers," Louis said stupidly. Again.

"Yes," Harry said patiently. He opened one eye. "Are you freaking out?"

"A bit." Louis opened a new message and texted Liam. Apparently am going to be in the papers. Freaking out.

Liam texted him right back. Pics on shuggerscape are really niceeeee of u2 you look really happy. Ur holding hands xxxxxx its cuteeeeee

Louis rolled his eyes and showed Harry the text.

"I love him," Harry said. "Are you really freaked out about this? I thought you knew we'd be in the papers."

"Well, yes." Louis got out of bed and went to fill the kettle up for tea. He flipped the switch and gathered up their cups from last night to go and rinse them in the bathroom. He brushed his teeth at the same time, and when he turned around, Harry was naked in the doorway, arms folded, blatantly staring at Louis' arse. He spat his toothpaste into the sink and wiped his mouth on the towel. "Like what you see?"

"Always," Harry said, hip-checking Louis out of the way so he could piss.

Louis rolled his eyes and went to put tea bags into the mugs.

"But seriously," Harry went on a minute later, over the top of the tap running. "I thought you were okay with being photographed. Aren't you?"

"It's my first time," Louis said. He poured water over the tea bags, and rooted around for some more sachets of milk. "It's just a bit weird, okay. All those people seeing pictures of me. I'm not famous."

Harry was checking his phone. He showed Louis a text from Niall that just said, who bummed who last night?

Louis rolled his eyes. "You going to tell him?"

"Nah, let him wait a bit longer. Not knowing won't kill him. You want to see the pictures? I've got my laptop. We could pay for the internet."

"Not just yet," Louis said. "Let's just pretend real life isn't happening for a bit longer, okay?" He handed Harry a cup of tea. "Let's just have a brew and you can tell me how brilliant I am and we can watch the telly in bed for a bit."

"Sounds perfect to me," Harry said. He kissed the corner of Louis' mouth. He tasted like toothpaste. "You are brilliant, by the way."

"I know," Louis said. He blushed a bit anyway. "You too, by the way."

Harry just rolled his eyes at that and got back into bed with the TV remote. Louis climbed in after him, putting his mug down on the bedside table.

"I've never woken up with anyone before," Louis said after a while, when Harry had wrapped an arm around his shoulders, and Louis had pillowed his cheek against Harry's chest.

"I haven't done it very often," Harry said. Louis resolved not to ask about the other people who'd shared Harry's bed, and whether they were girls or boys. He only knew about Caroline Flack.

"I'm the best, right?"

"Obviously," Harry kissed the top of Louis' head. He flicked through the channels for a while, but there was nothing good on. They ended up watching the best bits of Saturday Kitchen, watching some TV actress neither of them recognised being forced to eat sea bass. She had a right face on her. Louis thought it looked quite nice, actually. He'd never eaten sea bass.

He curled closer into Harry's side and tried not to think about the websites, and tomorrow's newspapers, and his new celebrity role as Harry's boyfriend. It was all a bit daunting.

"Hey," Harry said, after a while. "The whole, you know, being photographed thing. It isn't—you're not going to, like, um—you're not going anywhere, are you?"

Louis looked up at him and rolled his eyes. "Sometimes you're a total fucking idiot, Harry Styles."

"Yeah, well," Harry said, leaning in to kiss him. "I'm in love, aren't I?"

Louis kissed him back. "Yeah, yeah," he said, in between kisses. He could cope with a few pictures of him and Harry if it meant that he and Harry got to do this together. He could cope with a lot, if he got to be with Harry. They'd been through enough to get here, anyway. "Me too. I suppose. Maybe."

"Knobhead," Harry said, and Louis laughed.

Epilogue

Sniff, sniff. Sad news at SugarScape towers today: Harry Styles' solo career has come to an end. We know! How will we cope without the curly-haired, slow-speaking dreamboat unleashing more shiny-faced pop in our general direction?

Well, before all of you SugarScapers start crying into your Coco Pops, we have news that might have you reaching for the celebratory custard creams instead. Harry Styles—who has mostly been photographed this week hanging around outside his old high school waiting for his boyfriend, dreamy sass-bot Louis Tomlinson, to come out of his A level exams—has taken our advice to heart. Remember all those videos of Hazza and his best mates wowing his old school with their take on such seminal classics as Avril Lavigne, Michael Jackson, Jason Mraz, and the bastion of boy bands, Take That themselves? We said Simon Cowell should take a look, and clearly we weren't the only ones who thought that.

Our Harry apparently thought the same, and rumour has it, he's engineered the whole thing, because Simon Cowell signed Hazza's mates yesterday—including Harry—and the newly reformed five-piece are due to release their first single at the end of the summer.

How's that for perfection, huh? This means we get to legitimately perv on Hazza's adorably hot boyfriend, Louis Tomlinson, and call it work. It also means we can bring to your attention Hazza's other mates, starting with the ridiculously cute Niall Horan, the terribly dapper Zayn Malik, and the so adorable it's silly Liam Payne. Harry Styles knows how to pick cute mates, that's for sure.

Anyway, SugarScapers, the band's called One Direction, and now that their exams are all done, they're in London today for their very first photoshoot. Awww, babies! We can't wait to see them all styled up. Rumour has it, the first single's called What Makes You Beautiful, and we for one can't wait to hear it, if only because we're hoping it'll involve Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles gazing soulfully into each other's eyes. We remember your promise to ride a horse naked on the beach, Hazza, even if you were distracted by your boyfriend when we interviewed you. Rewatch our video with Harry from last tour, and see for yourself the moment sassy Louis Tomlinson walks into the room and Harry forgets how to speak. It warms the cockles of SugarScape's heart, that does, even if it meant we never did get to hear the end of that horse story.

[embedded video]

"Stop Googling yourself on the internet," Harry said. "Come back to bed and let me blow you."

Louis laughed and shut the lid of the laptop. "You say the sweetest things. Anyway, I'm not Googling me, I'm Googling you."

"Whatever," Harry said, with a grin. "Now get over here and shut up."

"Make me," Louis said, and Harry did.

[End]

10 Things I Hate About You I hate the way you talk to me, And the way you cut your hair. I hate the way you drive my car, I hate it when you stare. I hate your big dumb combat boots, And the way you read my mind. I hate you so much it makes me sick, It even makes me rhyme. I hate the way you're always right, I hate it when you lie. I hate it when you make me laugh, Even worse when you make me cry, I hate it when you're not around, And the fact that you didn't call, But mostly I hate the way I don't hate you, Not even close, Not even a little bit, Not even at all.