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pray for some sweet simplicity

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The first day of racing season fell on the first day of autumn.

It really didn’t mean much aside from being a point of health concern. Leather jackets, jeans, and combat boots, along with an array of optional but encouraged pads, were the standard issue racing uniforms, and all that material combined with the summer heat would cause even the strongest racer to pass out from heat exhaustion barely an hour into an outdoor race. So they started on the first day of the cold season, and carried on right up until the middle of spring, when the heat began to turn from pleasant to potentially disastrous.

Louis, however, liked to view the starting day as symbolic.

Autumn, the season of change and loss and dying things. The season where he finally had to emerge from the safety of an air-conditioned indoor racing center all to himself and into the watchful gaze of fellow racers, eager audience members, the press, and pretty much the entire continent of Europe via the television screens he would be broadcast on.

Autumn meant a new chance to prove himself.

It also meant a new chance to risk everything.

When he emerged from the standard-issue locker rooms, he immediately saw the gleaming motorcycle waiting for him a few meters from the start line. It wasn’t his normal training bike; out of fairness, all racers were given the same model, locked under careful guard so as not to be subject to any tampering or unauthorized improvements ahead of time. But it was close enough to what he was used to, compact and sleek, built for speed and maneuverability but not necessarily distance.

That was alright. The first race of the year was little more than a symbolic kick-off and an introduction to the British team—if they could even be referred to as a team and not merely a pack of competitors who happened to engage in the same sport and be born in the same country. It was a five kilometer race, through some of the wealthier and more famous regions of London and ending in the Royal Arena a short distance from Buckingham Palace. It wouldn’t take him long, and there was almost no risk of sabotage from the other competitors. Not this early in the season, and certainly not during one of the most heavily covered races of the entire year.

Still, Louis felt nerves grow in his stomach and creep through the rest of his body, coating his abdomen wall and the inside of his throat. He had yet to ease into a fresh round of cameras that would be following him during the races, and the idea that they could dig up something.

He needed to stop.

He needed to focus.

If all went according to plan, this would be his last opening race. He might as well enjoy it.

Louis strode over to his bike and went through the normal round of testing—checking the tire pressure, the fuel levels, making sure each part was perfectly in place. There was an unbiased team of officials that were in charge of doing this for every bike, but all the racers did a second check themselves just the same. He could see them now, circling their bikes, checking everything, never speaking to each other, going even further to avoid eye contact. One racer, however, looked up briefly after kicking one of his front tires, and Louis quickly dropped his gaze. The racer probably wasn’t even looking at him, but…still. He would not make the mistake of drawing attention to himself, not when he was this close to the end.

A sharp whistle cut through the air, and every single head snapped up and looked over to the source of the sound: an official with a gleaming silver whistle clamped in his teeth, holding up both hands. The whistle dropped from his mouth and bounced against his chest as he prepared to speak.

“Ten minutes, racers, until we start! Ten minutes!” he shouted, and then he was gone, retreating over to a pack of officials bunched at the edges of the start line. All eyes returned to the bikes. Louis breathed. Cracked all of his fingers. Breathed again.

The ten minutes ticked down quickly, and then the whistle came again, causing all the racers to begin pushing their bikes to the assigned starting line. Louis readjusted his gloves and then fiddled with the leather jacket stretched over his shoulders, stiff and painfully new with his name splashed across the back. He readjusted the red ribbon pinned to the front pocket, also brand new and gleaming, a new marker for a new season. Then, out of habit, Louis lifted his wrist to his nose, nudging his nostrils to the strip of skin where his glove and jacket sleeve did not fully meet. His nose crinkled at the smell and his body heated up out of instinct. Good. If the oil dotted on his wrists, his collarbones, and his hips could fool his own biology, it could probably fool anybody.

Louis grabbed the handlebars of his bike and pushed it towards the painted white stripe on the road and the line of leather jackets ahead of him.

Another autumn. Another season of dying.

One more time.

*******

Half a meter away from the finish line, Louis was in second place, and he was getting annoyed.

The racer in front of him was a newcomer, that much was clear. He leaned over the handlebars a little too much and swayed slightly from side to side, like he was still adjusting to the bike. His riding was textbook, fresh out of training, and the thing was, textbook worked, to a degree. It taught cleanness and speed and a basic understanding of how to work a bike and move it from point A to point B, quickly.

But Louis hadn’t ridden by the book in years, and he was the one with the wall full of medals.

He leaned deep over the handlebars, giving the bike a quick kick up to the next gear. He smelled gas and exhaust as he did, and knew he had clipped into his fuel supply, but this close to the finish line it didn’t exactly matter. He shot forward and tipped the bike to the side, the edges of his wheel squealing hard on the asphalt. He wobbled a bit, but he managed cut diagonally across the road, closing the gap between him and the newbie racer.

The other racer looked over at him, and Louis briefly took his eyes off the road to make eye contact with him. Yeah, he was new. Young face and a quivering expression of someone who hadn’t learned to school their features for professional competition yet. Louis gave him a smile and then revved the gear of his bike one more time, tilting enough to perform the same diagonal maneuver. He cut straight in front of the kid, but not before clipping his back wheel against the front of the other bike. He heard tires squeal on asphalt as he zoomed forward—the clipping had only made him wobble a bit, and probably had done no worse to the kid, but newbies got thrown off by the wind blowing. Louis might as well have been a fucking hurricane.

He almost felt bad, but soon enough all possible guilt was forgotten as the entrance of the Royal Arena was pulling up in front of him. The front arch was tall and sloping and decorated with red carnations, just for the occasion. Louis inhaled, leaned forward, and revved forward one last time through the entrance.

Once he was through the gates and inside the actual arena, the stands around him exploded with noise. He could vaguely hear the ongoing commentary going on above him, although it was a bit difficult to make out when his ears were stuffed full with the sounds squealing tires and screaming people. He still managed to hear the sounds of the rest of the racers enter behind him, but it was already too late for them. He had entered first. He had the advantage. Things were over, except for the final, ceremonial lap around the Arena’s enormous circular course, which he had already half-way completed.

With another extra surge of speed, he crossed the finish line first, pulling his bike into a stop and letting one leg down. He managed to straddle the bike with his other leg as he pulled off his helmet and gave a wave to the crowd and the cameras that surrounded him on all sides. One by one, the other races crossed the finish line, but aside from a few patches of fans dedicated to one racer in particular, most of the cheers were still solely for Louis. He tilted his head and offered a small smile when he saw his own face had filled the enormous screens surrounding the stadium. His hair was wild from the helmet and his cheeks were bitten pink from the lash of the wind, but he had won. That was all that mattered.

The first race of the season, and he had fucking won.

Louis tuned out the BBC sports commentary that was blaring over the speakers in the arena. They were discussing his past times, his performance last year, talking about his chances against Greece and France and Denmark, but they soon moved onto his own teammates, whose faces flashed over the screen with rankings and times and past records. It still didn’t matter. It didn’t. Because he was being pulled on stage for the farewell ceremony, quickly followed by the second and third place racers. They looked at him with polite smiles and cutting eyes. Nothing he wasn’t used to.

He wouldn’t have to deal with full press interviews until after he had gotten chance to rehydrate and rest for a bit, so for now all he had to do was stand onstage and nod to the crowd and be present for the welcoming in of a new season.

Somehow, though, that always proved to be the most challenging part of kick-off day.

An official came over to the winners’ podium, pulling a series of small medals out of a black velvet box and pulling them over the necks of the top three racers. He arrived at Louis last, slipping the gold medallion over his tilted neck and offering a proud smile.

Louis returned it, the lingering sizzle of victory still clinging to him, and then turned his eyes upwards, to the stands, as the short, pre-recorded speech from Prime Minister played over the massive screens that lined the upper portions of the arena.

He did his best to pay attention to the rather bland speech, to cling to each word that he had already heard far too many times in his years on the track, but inevitably, his gaze drifted from the screens to the crowds themselves

The Arena was capable of holding about as many people as Wembley Stadium, and was just as divided. In the front were the privileged seats—politicians and business owners and people with connections. The Royal Family was even in front, seated in their heavily guarded, Union-Jack lined box. The next row up contained a swath of reporters, who were already jotting down possible interview questions for the press conference that would take place later on.

And then came the regular civilian seats.

Louis tried to school his gaze to the middle section, the largest, where the betas sat with their blue ribbons pined on their autumn coats, carefree and enjoying a day out at the track, excited over scoring tickets to one of the largest sporting events of the year, even if it was mostly ceremony.

Above them, in the thin stripe of nosebleed seats, were the unmated omegas, snow white ribbons on their shirts. Louis couldn’t see their faces, but he knew they must be anxious. Large crowds had the tendency to bring aggressive, undesired attention, and the parties that followed sporting events usually became massive mating opportunities.

And then, in the front seats, were the alphas, sitting tall and confident, not a care in the damn world. While there were no formal rules enforcing it, the unmated alphas still remained on the fringes, will mated alphas grouped in the middle, sitting with their petal-pink-ribbon-wearing omegas. Every single person in the alpha section, unmated or not, wore a scarlet ribbon on their chest, proud and bright and bold, undefined and unbridled by absolutely anything.

Louis snuck a quick glimpse down to his own ribbon, and the red flared in front of his eyes, seemed to burn against his chest. For a moment, he imagined the color bleaching into a pure white, or worse, a pale, pale pink.

He blinked, and the brilliant red returned. He almost wanted to sniff his wrist again, just to make sure his oil was still in place, but he knew that wasn’t possible with so many eyes on him. Besides, surrounded by a pack of alphas, it wouldn’t be difficult to know if it had worn off.

The thought made his stomach curdle.

The Prime Minister entered into his final words, and Louis returned his eyes to the screen. He was already picturing getting to return to his private locker room below the Arena, so he could drink water and eat something and rub more oil on his body, just so he could get through the press junket and sponsor party that would fill up his afternoon and evening and leave him completely drained.

It would be better, though, than having to look out at the sectioned-off rows that surrounded him, staring down what could have been.

********

Louis got back to his apartment a few minutes before midnight, so exhausted that he was wired past the point of actually being able to sleep. The rest of the unmated UK racers were out at The Ring, one of the more popular mating clubs in the city, but Louis had managed to slip away by claiming he had a headache. Of course, the entire team thought that was code that he had a slew of omegas waiting for him at home, desperate to have even one night’s attention from one of the country’s highest ranking athletes.

If they wanted to think that, they could. Louis actually did have a headache, but it was nowhere as bad as it would have been if he had had to spend his night in a hormone-choked club.

Louis pulled off his jacket, leaving it in a pile by the doorway. He walked to his bedroom, leaving his jacket, shirt, boots, jeans, socks, and finally his pants in a trail leading from the front entrance to his en suite bathroom. He would have to wash his uniform later; it reeked from oil and sweat and the lingering smells of appetizers from the countless string of beginning-of-the-season sponsorship parties. But for now, all he wanted to do was shower and wash off the day.

He turned up the heat just the way he liked it after a competition, hot enough to turn his skin pink, and scrubbed his expensive body wash over his chest, his stomach, his arms, paying close attention to his hips and wrists and neck, where there was still oil clinging to him. After he was done scrubbing down, Louis shut off the water, leaving his skin pink and sizzling and raw, and stepped out of the shower, rubbing down with a towel as he walked into his bedroom. He pulled on a pair of joggers, the fabric clinging to his full hips and sagging off his stomach, sticking to the skin he hadn’t dried off thoroughly. He rubbed the towel through his hair one more time and then left it on the floor, though his hair still dripped leftover water onto his shoulders as he wandered into the rest of his apartment. As he passed the living room, he picked up the remote long enough to turn on the TV, letting the sound fill up the space as he walked to the kitchen.

“Of course, the main news today is the start of the United Kingdom’s new racing season, kicking off in the Royal Arena. Racer Louis Tomlinson took gold today. Tomlinson is now entering his fifth season in the professional leagues…”

It wasn’t exactly a shock to hear his own name on the news, especially not tonight. Not when motorcycle racing had overshadowed football in recent years as the continent’s favorite sport.

Louis bypassed the healthier options in his fridge—plastic-wrapped pre-prepared meals of salmon and grilled chicken and potatoes and vegetables—and instead got himself a bowl of ice cream and a glass of red wine. He wandered back over to the spacious living room, setting his feet on the coffee table as he ate and watched the press coverage. They had managed to move past him and instead were running through the rest of the top-ranking racers, as well as some of the newcomers. Louis spooned some ice cream into his mouth and recognized the next racer they were covering, the same one he’d clipped earlier than afternoon, who had ultimately failed to overcome that one challenge and had ended up in fifth.

Of course, the reason for his plummeting place ultimately brought the conversation right back around to Louis.

They pulled up the clip of the Louis skidding across the road, clipping his wheel, pulling smoothly in front and into first. The commentators offered a few inhales and exclamations at the clip, before flashing back to a desk of commentators.

“Every year I see this sort of thing, and every year, I have to wonder if it’s legal or not,” one of them said.

“Of course it is,” Louis offered, right as one of the other commentators piped up.

“Of course it’s legal. The rules clearly state that there is to be no sabotaging other racers by means of outside weaponry, substances or using one’s own body. They say nothing about using the bikes themselves. Really, it’s a brilliant move on Tomlinson’s part,”

“Thank you,” Louis huffed, and picked up his glass.

“I mean, he could go easy on the kid…”

“Why should he? Look, he started in racing for the UK when he was nineteen. You don’t become the youngest racer to enter the professionals in this country’s history by playing nice,”

“Yes, but—“

Louis sighed and focused on his half-melted ice cream, only half-listening to the commentary. Really, he had heard the debates over his tactics a thousand times. Was it legal for him to repeatedly drive in circles on a dirt road during his first year, creating a minor dust storm that confused his competitors enough for him to shoot forward and ultimately place third? Was it legal for him to cut away from the paved path in a cross-country race and drive through a shallow river and a series of corn fields and eventually win? Was it legal when, last year, his bike broke down a fourth of the way to the finish line and he stole a skateboard from one of the boys watching from the sidelines of the open race and finished that way? The answer was always yes, and it always resulted in victory.

“Well, I can tell you one thing, he’s got an incredible season in front of him. As you may recall, last year Tomlinson came within the top three choices to represent the UK at the European Grand Prix before ultimately being beaten out by Connor Valentine, but rumors are, this year he’s got his eyes set on finally cinching that position….”

That was an understatement. Since the official announcement that he had been turned down to compete in the largest sporting event in Europe, Louis had done nothing but train and ride, day and night. He would have to be the United Kingdom’s finest racer, not because he wanted it, but because he needed it more than anything.

The screen flashed again, and footage from the award ceremony played. Louis set his bowl and glass aside and took his feet off the coffee table, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped as he watched himself.

The man on the screen tilted his head forward to accept the gold medal that now lay in a pile on Louis’s apartment floor. He lifted his head and smiled, proudly but humbly, and offered waves and nods to the crowds. His eyes glittered with victory, his smile was sharp and dangerous at the edges, his shoulders were on edge and straight in his tight jacket, his red ribbon flashing.

It was in these moments that Louis realized the clear dichotomy between himself and the face onscreen.

The man being broadcast to thousands of homes was Louis Tomlinson, the youngest and most successful racer in the country. He was a testament to his sport and his country.

And then there was Louis, sitting in his giant and empty penthouse apartment on a Saturday night, watching himself, his joggers sticking to his thighs, his own treacherous scent bleeding into his nose as his skin dried.

Louis Tomlinson, the greatest athlete of his time.

An unmated omega who had spent his entire life trying desperately to make it look he was anything else.

*******

Louis back to practicing by Monday morning, and he had the track to himself all day.

In his earlier years on the British team, he had to share one of the twelve tracks inside the government-funded training facility with at least a few other racers. But now, most of the time, he had full access to his own track whenever he felt like booking it.

He was also back to his usual bike for the day. It wasn’t the latest model, but it was only a few years old, a compromise between classic design he was already used to and the ease of modernity. It still managed to get up to the speeds he needed for his laps; a constant mix of sprints coupled with long-distance drags that were only a few seconds away from his usual race times.

Louis probably spent more time on a bike than not. When he put his racing bike away, he rode his non-sport model home and to the track and then around the city during his rare time off. He competed. He practiced. It felt wrong when he wasn’t racing—he couldn’t focus fully when there wasn’t heat seeping through the denim of his jeans and he wasn’t moving towards something, always trying to get there faster. He didn’t like slowing down. He didn’t even like staying still.

But he had to stop eventually, when the heated engine began threatening to burn his thighs and his throat had gone raw with thirst. He pushed through his second long-distance drag for the day, then pulled his bike to a stop, leaving it on the edge of the track along with the gloves and helmet he easily pulled off.

Louis stretched out his legs, cramped and lightly aching from his time on the bike, and then leaned down, touching his toes, and then back up again. When he was done, he strolled towards the low metal bleachers that lined the track, swinging both legs over the concrete divider between the track and bleachers.

The only other person in the room was the blond man sitting in the second row of the bleachers, who was leaned over a thick textbook. He glanced up briefly when Louis had crossed over the barrier, and wordlessly grabbed a tall water bottle sitting by his feet, holding it out.

“Mind your neck,” he offered absently as he went back to his notes.

Louis rolled his eyes and peeled off his jacket—the battered practice one he had had for nearly seven years—and threw it on the bench as he accepted the water bottle being offered to him. He did his best to avoid his neck as he dripped water over his head and used one hand to pull it through his hair.

“What’re you working on today, then, Ni?” he asked when he had finished shaking the cool water through hair and instead went to actually drink some of it.

“Dissertation research, what fucking else,” Niall mumbled, flipping a page.

“You’re going to get to med school much faster if you stop dealing with me,”

“And what on Earth would you do then,” Niall said.

It wasn’t a question, because even if it had been, they both already knew the answer. Niall had been Louis’s personal medical assistant for years, and was currently the only other person alive that knew about Louis’s true gender. If he left, someone new coming on and giving Louis away was far too real of a risk for either of them to take.

Eventually, Niall shut the book and tossed it to the side, sighing, “Plus, I’m still hoping just your name is going to get me into Oxford’s program,”

“You ever need free tickets for their admission people, let me know,”

Niall set his hand over his heart, right next to where his blue beta’s ribbon was plastered to his shirtfront.

“Thank God we’re still friends,” he sighed, and then reached for his book again, “You need anything else from me? You feeling sick? Any pain?”

Louis titled his head and scrubbed his unshaven chin, “My arse hurts,”

“I’m not fucking taking care of that,” Niall sighed, and then opened his book.

Louis smirked and slid to the ground, stretching his legs out in front of him, squirting more water into his mouth. He checked the digital watch on his wrist and pressed a button that would alert him when the rest of his break was up.

It didn’t take long for the itch to begin.

Seven minutes left, he was content to rest.

Five minutes, he was still focusing on hydrating, mostly so his fingers wouldn’t ceaselessly start drumming against the sides of the water bottle.

Three minutes, he gave up and start tapping his fingers anyways. Niall offered him a glance. It was less out of annoyance and more of a warning not to exhaust himself too quickly.

One minute, and Louis was counting down the seconds until he was allowed to stop resting and instead go back to his bike. Another set of sprints, then some long runs, maybe if he was feeling good he could try to set up some of the obstacles and do some stunt training.

Anything he could do that would get him back to the smell of oil in his noise, the rev of a motor, the peace that surrounded him when all that mattered was two wheels, the finish line, and getting there as soon as possible.

*******

“I can’t believe you’re taking the train home,” Louis said. He was walking through the long, completely glass hallway that connected the racing track facility and the office building that contained the offices for the team coaches, representatives, and owners, as well as the racer’s private locker rooms.  

Next to him, Niall huffed and readjusted the strap of his bag. His bag was constantly close to breaking from the weight of all the notebooks and textbooks he tried to carry all at once. No wonder he always had fucking shoulder pain.

“I don’t own a car, what do you expect?”

“I could take you home,”

“Yes, Louis, I really want to ride on the back of your bike. Especially when you’re breaking every single speed and traffic law in the United Kingdom in attempt to get home as fast as possible,”

“Come on, it would be fun. Maybe we’ll run into a pap and you’ll get to be my latest mystery fling until my publicist shoots it down,”

“I’ve already had that role four times. I’ll pass,” Niall said blandly, “We have this conversation every other week, by the way. And I’m still going to take the train every time,”

“Do you know what Uber is, by chance?”

Niall rolled his eyes and reached up quickly, gripping the edge of Louis’s ear between his thumb and finger and yanking down. Louis yelped and ripped himself away from Niall’s grasp, batting at his friend’s arm.

“I hate you,”

“You should be thankful I didn’t go for your nipple,” Niall said pleasantly. He stopped and reached into his bag, pulling out his sunglasses and slipping them over his eyes. They had reached the end of the hallway, and Niall wandered over to the to the stairwell that lead back outside. He leaned his back against the door, tucking his hands into his pockets as he watched Louis.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, then?” he asked, and Louis nodded.

“See you then,” Louis said, and absently rubbed at his sore ear. Niall just tilted his chin up in a half-way answer, leaned back into the door hard enough to make it open, and then he was turning around and heading into the stairwell.

Louis wandered down the hallway, past the swirling, dark murals and old photographs of past racers, and eventually reached a second hallway that was far brighter, all pale walls and widely-spaced-apart doors with different lasts names emblazoned on the front. He reached his own room at the end of the hall and got out his keys, unlocking the door and slipping inside.

The space wasn’t as much of a mess as usual. Instead, it smelled like lemon cleaner and steam, and there was a stack of freshly folded towels on the cement bench in front of his locker. All his dirty practice clothes swept out of sight, probably at the faculty’s laundry room.

He really needed to leave a decent tip for the cleaning crew.

He pulled a towel off the top of the stack and rubbed it over his face, clearing off the sweat, and then threw it down on the floor as he advanced to his locker. Inside were his street clothes, and on the top shelf was a black cosmetic bag filled with travel sized shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, along with deodorant, cologne, and a few extra scent represent vials.

Louis elected to just take a shower at home and instead set to stripping off his practice clothes, scrubbing at his body with the towel and then dousing himself in cologne, slicking on deodorant, and dabbing a bit more oil on the back of his neck and his wrists.

He was half-way through pulling on his jeans when there was a knock on his door.

“One sec!” he called, and finished shimmying his jeans over his hips and buttoning them before picking his way across the room and getting the door.

“Did you miss the fucking train?” he asked as he opened the door, and then froze as soon as it was open.

Niall was not on the other side of the door. Neither was one of his teammates, one of his coaches, someone who worked for him, or literally anyone else who would make sense.

Instead, there was a man. A very tall, unfamiliar man with cropped hair that fell in thick waves over his forehead and curled around his ears. He was wearing a white button-down and leather bomber jacket with a slightly faded red alpha’s ribbon pinned to the front, and he had a lamented press pass looped around his neck and a notebook tucked under his arm.

“Was I supposed to be catching a train?” the unfamiliar man said with a small smile.

Louis licked his lips, “I thought you were…someone else,”

“I gathered that,” the man said, and then awkwardly glanced down at Louis’s bare chest, “Did I catch you at a bad time?”

Louis narrowed his eyes and set a hand on his hip, tilting his head to the side.

“No,” he said flatly.

“Oh, alright. Good. I, uh, just wanted to introduce myself,” the man held out one of his enormous hands, “I’m Harry Styles,”

Louis flicked his eyes down to his hand and then back up at his eyes, “Alright,”

“Um, I’m from Cross magazine?”

“I’ve heard of it,” Louis said. It was the biggest racing magazine in the country, but that was irrelevant, “If you wanted an interview, you should’ve called my publicist three weeks ago. Have a nice day,”

Louis started to close the door, only for the other man to catch it half-way and open it back up again.

“Did, uh, they not tell you?” he asked, and Louis huffed.

“Jesus Christ, tell me what?”

“I’m running a showcase piece on you. Following your training and racing and a bit of your personal life?” he ran his hand over the back of his head, “Ah, sorry—all this was explained in the letter we sent to your team, I was just told to show up—“

Louis wasn’t particularly interested in hearing the rest of this reporter’s speech. Mostly because there was only one word in his rambling explanation that mattered: Showcase.

Every spring, as the country geared up for the final races of the season and, of course, the European Grand Prix, Cross ran a special issue. Twice as thick, filled with specialty articles and glossy end-of-season advertisements. And the crown jewel of it all was the showcase article, spotlighting the UK’s team current top racer.

Louis had done work with them before more times than he could count. Two-page articles and interviews, fluffy photo shoots to showcase a new line of jackets or boots from one of his sponsorship companies. But never a showcase. A showcase was a once-in-a-career type of article.

Every year Louis had been on the team, he had seen one of his teammates trailed by a reporter set on writing that year’s showcase piece. They were observed during practices, competitions, team after parties, and weekends at home. There were rounds of questions, constantly, on everything from training to personal history. Anything needed to provide a complete picture of one of the nation’s most popular public figures.

Not much room for hiding secrets.

Louis held up a hand, palm flat, and Harry’s eyes flicked to his hand, then to his face, and then his mouth snapped closed. Good.

“Right, right, okay,” Louis said. He didn’t lower his hand, instead, he used it to point as he squinted his eyes and kept speaking, “You said a showcase piece?”

“Ah, yes,”

“As in, an article that will cover my entire life from now into April?”

“…Yes,” the other man said slowly, “You’re the top racer in the country right now, people want to read about you,”

“I am aware of that,” Louis said coolly.

He lowered his hand, then turned back around to grabbed his rejected shirt and jacket from the floor, yanking them both on.

“So, uh, I wasn’t sure if you wanted to go over the logistics now or—“

Louis ignored the reporter, who was clearly still operating under the illusion that this article was going to become a reality.

There was no way in hell. Not on Louis’s watch.

After his jacket was firmly on, Louis went straight back to the door, plowing straight past Harry and as he strode into the outside hall.

“Where are you going?” Harry called after him.

Louis shot him a short look over his shoulder, “To get this sorted out,”

*******

“This is not happening,”

Louis was in James Corden’s office. He was here a lot. Mainly because James was the team’s top press representative and objectively did more to help Louis’s image than his own publicist did. There wasn’t a real reason for him to visit James as much as he did. Louis tried his best not to get in trouble. He just drew rumors along with all the attention. And he just liked to complain about things.

Louis paced in front of the desk, despite James’ many tired pleas of “Louis, please, just sit down”, keeping his arms crossed and his jaw set the whole time. He kind of wished he had remembered to bring his jacket into the room instead of leaving it outside. It was hot as shit inside James’s office, as usual, but that flash of alpha’s scarlet on his front always made him feel more powerful.

“Yes, it is,” James replied. He was typing something on his computer as he spoke, and Louis started to grind his teeth in rhythm with the click of the keys. Eventually he stopped pacing and slapped his hand down on the edge of the desk. The vibration it sent through the wood made a few loose pens rattle but did nothing to the other man, who just sighed and continued typing. Eventually, he finished whatever he was working on and leaned back, folding his hands over the front of his jacket and looking at Louis calmly.

Louis stared back, his hand still flat on the desk, his jaw still clenched. 

“Explain,” he got out, “Explain to me how the hell this is allowed,”

“This happens every year,” James said calmly, “It’s a tradition for the biggest racer of the season to get their own spread in Cross. It’s practically keeping the magazine afloat at this point, and quite frankly I’d like for the largest publication in our favor to remain in circulation,”

“I don’t care,” Louis said carefully, “That—he is still not writing about me,”

“You’re aware this is a good thing, aren’t you?” James asked, “You get a lot of good publicity out of this one article,”

“It doesn’t matter. I can not have someone prying into my personal life,” Louis said, “Not when I am on the brink of the biggest season of my career,”

“He won’t be prying. He’ll be observing you outside of racing a few times, for human interest,” James paused and squinted at Louis, “What are you so worried about him finding, anyways? Jesus Christ, Tomlinson, am I going to have to deal with another sex scandal this season?”

 

If he finds out about me you’re going to fucking wish you had another sex scandal on your hands, he thought.

“No,” Louis said tightly, “I just—I don’t like it. It’s invasive and unnecessary,”

“You’re joking, right?” James sighed, “You’re a fucking celebrity, Louis. There are paps following you on your way to Tesco’s. I hardly think how you get ready in the damn morning is going to be more invasive than that,”  

Oh, I can think of a few ways.

Racer Louis Tomlinson, 24, wakes up at precisely 7 AM every day.

 

He starts his day with a glass of almond milk and a plate of toast.

 

At 8, Tomlinson takes a shower and then covers his body in a specialized scent suppressant that covers his organic omega scent and replaces it with that of an alpha.

 

Author’s Note: Because of my brilliant journalistic work, Tomlinson has now been stripped of all his racing titles and awards and is currently serving twenty years in prison for imitating an alpha, although he is listed for bail by any alpha in the country looking for a trophy omega.

 

Louis shook his head, trying to physically clear his thoughts away, and huffed.

“Explain to me why I was not informed of this, then,” he said, “He said a letter was sent to my team. Which, I assume, is you,”

“Oh, yes, we got it yesterday. I was going to call you in anyways to talk about it, but…looks like your reporter got to you first,”

“He is not my anything,” Louis snapped.

“Well, regardless, he’s clearly good at his job. You don’t exactly get assigned to Cross’s biggest story of the entire year fresh out of university unless you’re damn good,”

“Then he can write about someone else. Because you are getting me out of this,”

“No, I’m not. And I’m not going to because I care about you,” James said simply, “You back out of Cross’s highest honor, that looks bad, for both you and the team. But mostly you. They’ll pick another racer, one with far less public intrigue, who will get your ten complimentary pages of good press and make the magazine a fraction of the profits it would have brought in with you on the cover. You will then struggle to be interviewed by the largest racing publication in the country ever again, and you will quickly find your public reputation circling the drain,”

Louis wanted to snap that it didn’t matter what people thought of him in the coming years.

Because once this season was over, he was gone. Not retiring, just…gone.

He would race in the Grand Prix. He would win. He would have to win, for his own sanity, to know he finished on the very top of not only the country but the continent. And then he would put his winnings into an overseas account and disappear, go somewhere where he could live a different life. Not as Louis Tomlinson, alpha, athlete, celebrity, but just…Louis.

But he couldn’t say that. Not when everyone—his family, the public, every person who worked for him except Niall--assumed he’d be sticking around for at least a few more years.

“Look,” James’ voice came, snapping Louis back to the present, “If I had my face splattered across the tabloids the same way you do, I’d want to stay private, too. But you don’t need to bare your soul here,”

“Isn’t that the point, though?” Louis snapped, “To show him all of me? So every single person in the country can know exactly who I am?”

James shook his head and gave Louis a soft look. He had given him those a lot in the last few years, ever since Louis was a quivering, overly anxious teenager, new to the team and on the path to destroy himself with a steady cocktail of pride and a lingering bad attitude. He had bristled away from the looks then—now he managed to work up at least some appreciation for them.

“You know what, I’ll tell you a secret. I think Cross has only written about their actual showcase racers about half the time for the last twenty years. That’s because no one really opens themselves up to a reporter. Only morons do that. Most just put on a show,” James explained.

“So,” Louis said.

So,” James parroted, his voice quickly going soft as he spoke, “You don’t show him you, Louis. You just need to show him someone. That would be good enough,”

Louis just blinked at him. He let his shoulders drop, his muscles twinging at being held taunt for too long.

“Someone,” he repeated, and James nodded.

“Yes, Louis. God, how have you survived the last five years?”

“By forcing you to get me out of things,” he mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck. His hand felt oily, his palm rubbing the suppressant off, so he stopped and let his hand drop.

“So, are you going to work with me here?” James asked, and Louis just stared pointedly at the scuffed toes of his boots.

He still didn’t like this. He didn’t like his life exposed, bared clean for someone else to see.

But he’d already been pretending to be someone else for years. He could do it for just a little while longer.

*******

When Louis stepped out of the office, the tall alpha reporter was still there. Harry. Whatever. He was sitting in one of the armchairs in the waiting room, legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles, hands folded over his notebook. He looked up from his lap and offered another smile as Louis stepped out, although it looked significantly more uneasy this time around.

“Alright?” he asked.

Louis just stared him down and crossed the room, slowly, before easing himself into one of the armchairs opposite Harry.

“Well,” he began, “It appears like you still have a job,”

Harry raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth, but Louis cut him off before he could sneak another word in.

“Listen,” he said coolly, “I don’t think this. I don’t see the point in this, I don’t care about it, and I don’t want you tailing me. But it looks like I have to, so I’m going to set some boundaries,”

“Oh, you should’ve have to worry about anything invasive,” Harry said quickly, “I’m not going to be following you around constantly or living with you or anything. I’ll go to all of your races, obviously, and then a lot of your training sessions but not all of them. And then maybe I’ll do a few personal days where I do follow you around, but there will only be a few of those, I promise. I won’t dig through your trash or anything,”

He offered Louis a smile. He did not return it.

“I’m not going to answer any of your questions that I don’t want to answer,” Louis said, “And if I do not want you following me or in my home at any particular time, you will not be there,” 

“I understand that. That’s why they call them interviews and not interrogations,” Harry said, “And reporting instead of stalking,”

Harry was back to smiling, but this time, it looked different. It was still just as wide, just as easy, but it didn’t quite match his eyes. His eyes looked like they wanted a challenge.

Louis straightened up. He liked challenges. Just not outside of the track.

“Then it looks like we’re on the same page,”

Harry shrugged, “You have your job. My job is to watch you do your job,”

“With some rules,” Louis pointed out, and Harry spread his hands out.

“I’m a journalist,” he said simply, “My main job is to find the truth, and give to people. As long as I do that, I’m happy. And you don’t intent on keeping me from the truth, do you, Racer Tomlinson?”

Louis narrowed his eyes and drummed his fingers against the arm of the chair.

“It depends on how broadly you define the truth,” Louis replied, and Harry just smiled at him. A smile that still had an edge to it.

Louis stood abruptly, knocking the back of his legs against the armchair, and snapped up his jacket. Louis pulled it over his shoulders, his thumb brushing the soft material of his ribbon as he did so. It sent a jolt of energy through his body, and then straightened up, pushing out his chest and tilting his chin.

“So, when does this whole thing begin, exactly?” he asked.

“Tomorrow,” Harry provided, tilting his head, “If you’ll allow it,”

He was fucking with him. Louis could tell by the newly formed hard glint in his eyes that it wasn’t up to Louis when he would be showing up. If he had any control over that, the answer would be never, and they both already knew that was no longer an option.

“Well, then my agent will be calling you tonight to sort out the details,” he said tightly, “Try not to be late the next time I see you,”

Harry’s smiled only lessened slightly, his lips closing over his teeth so all that was left was a thin smirk, and then he stood, slowly. Louis’s eyes flicked over him as he did and he pressed his back teeth together to try to steel himself. Harry was too goddamn tall already, and then he fucking tilted his head forward when he spoke to Louis, as if to emphasize how much he taller he was. His enormous hands shifted around his notebook, and his red ribbon flashed. The color wasn’t as bright and new and gaudy as Louis’s; it was old, probably by at least a few years. The mark of someone who had always had their rank.

Louis bit the end of his tongue tightly between his teeth as they stared each other down.

Now, there was nearly no trace of the polite and easily shushed man that had met Louis at the door. There was no fear of rejection. Harry had a job, no matter what. He had regained the power, and now he was shifting back into the skin of someone who was used to having control. Someone who had managed to achieve his career at such a young age. Someone who had been born under precisely the right circumstances.

Harry’s lips curled at the ends, and his teeth showed in what could have been a smile if his eyes didn’t stay hard.

“I’ll do my best,” he said crisply, and then he was turning and walking back down the hallway and out the door. He moved slowly, deliberately, taking his time. Like he belonged there.

Chapter Text

When Louis arrived for his next training session, Harry was waiting by the facility door.

It was nearly five in the morning, still dark outside, the only illumination offered by the lights that surrounded the facility parking lot. Niall wouldn’t be showing up for another hour, the rest of the racers with early morning practice times would probably clock in a half hour after that, and the team executives wouldn’t come in until nine.

Louis was always the one who came first, before nearly anyone, including most of the cleaning staff. But today, Harry had him beat.

He stood right under one of the constantly running outdoor rights, the sickly white light washing over his same leather aviator’s jacket, a different button-down covered in designs of tiny pink cats, ungodly tight-looking black jeans, hair that looked perfectly styled.

Louis, meanwhile, had his headphones in, blaring music, a cardboard coffee cup gripped tightly in his hand, and sunglasses covering his puffy early-morning eyes. He was wearing sweats, because he was tired and didn’t feel like pulling himself together because it was five in the morning and he was a fucking normal person.

Louis stopped walking a few yards away from Harry, and one of his boots squeaked loudly against the asphalt under his feet as he did so. Harry lifted his head up from where his gaze was fixed on his phone and offered a wry smile. His eyes looked totally clear, far more awake than Louis probably did.

Louis pulled one of his earbuds out and opened his mouth, but Harry cut in before he could say anything.

“You told me not to be late,” he said. He kept smiling, always smiling. This time Louis struggled to find an edge to it.

Louis tucked his earbud back in and gritted his teeth, “Right,”

He went to the door, pushing straight past Harry, and got out his keys to unlock the front door room doors.

“Too bad you didn’t have the keys,” Louis said after he was done with the doors. He held up the keys and jangled them, “Or you could’ve broken into my locker and snooped around while you were at it,”

Harry snorted, softly, but said nothing. Louis took off his sunglasses and tucked them into the pocket of his sweatshirt, rubbing his swollen eyes as the two of them strolled down the ghostly electric lit hallway.

“So,” Harry eventually said, “Do you always get here before opening?”

Louis forced his jaw to loosen so he could take another long sip of his coffee, and then forced himself to swallow slowly before he answered anything.

“I do on Mondays through Wednesdays,” he said, “I have the afternoon slot for the track the other days, except Sunday, which is my off day,”

“Do you practice besides then?”

“Usually, no. This season, probably,” he cut a glance to Harry, who still had his notebook shoved under one arm, “Shouldn’t you be taking this down?”

Harry offered a short glance at his notebook and then looked at Louis again. He raised an eyebrow that looked perfectly trimmed. It made Louis want to hit something.

“Not every conversation we have for the next seven months has to be an interview,” he replied.

Seven months.

Seven fucking months.

 Louis resisted the urge to say something withering and instead resigned himself to just, “I see,”

They continued down the hall, twin footsteps echoing in the wide chamber, until they finally arrived at the door of Louis’s locker room. He produced his keys again to unlock the door and leaned in enough to flick on the light. The interior looked newly scrubbed, and there was a laundry bag of his freshly washed clothes by the door. The room smelled like cleaning spray and false alpha pheromones. Perfect.

Louis turned back around and offered Harry a quick glance.

“I need to get dressed,” he said, “If you don’t mind,”

Harry held up his hands, spreading them wide.

“Go ahead,” he said, “I’ll meet you at the track?”

Louis sighed, suddenly feeling more capable of breathing at the idea of having a short, delicious stroll up to the track all to himself.

“I’ll see you then,” he chirped, and slammed the door before he could see surprise fully register on Harry’s face.

*******

“Explain,” Niall said shortly after Louis had wandered over for his first water break.

“Explain what?” Louis asked easily as he held out his hand for his water. Niall did not give it to him.

“Explain to me why there is a journalist with an all-access press pass around his neck sitting in the stands, telling me he is writing a showcase piece on you,”

“Oh, that,” Louis said. He stared. Niall stared back, “Are you really going to deny me water? I’m not going to do you or your medical career any good if I die of dehydration,”

Niall sighed and relinquished the bottle. Louis took it, taking an unnecessarily long time to open the top and chug the liquid inside. After he was done, he sealed the top and looked back up at Niall.

“So, yeah, he’s writing a showcase piece on me. He’ll probably be here from now until the spring,”

Niall’s eyes flared wide for a second and then he was leaning forward, flicking one short glance over to where Harry was sitting on the other side of the track, and then straight back to Louis.

“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” he hissed.

“Because I found out yesterday,”

“Then why didn’t you tell me yesterday?”

“Because I was mad, and I felt like going home, eating a piece of cake and jacking off instead of calling you,”

“Please tell me you didn’t eat any cake. You know you’re supposed to be on a diet for the rest of the season,”

“Is that really what’s concerning you about that sentence?”

“Louis,” Niall cut in, “This isn’t…good,”

“Yeah, I know it’s not,” Louis managed. He mustered up the willpower to look over to where Harry was sitting in the stands. He was scribbling in his notebook, not even looking up. Louis looked away and sighed, “Look, I can’t do anything, okay? I talked to James and the bastard told him I have to keep him around for the season. But I’ll be careful. I’m always careful,”

“I know that,” Niall sighed, “Just…I don’t like this. It feels bad,”

I know,”

“If anything happens…you understand this is going to be bad for both of us, right?” Niall said, “You’re going to go to prison, I’m going to go to prison…and, oh, right, that’s it, because I am your sole accomplice in all this,”

“Nothing’s going to happen,” Louis said quietly, “He’s just…he’s just going to be around, okay? I can handle people being around. People are always around,”

“Not like this,” Niall pointed out, “And don’t pretend like you’re fine with this for my sake,”

“I’m not pretending,”

Niall quirked an eyebrow and shot a glance down at Louis’s hands. He followed his gaze and saw he was gripping the water bottle so tightly his fingers had gone blotched with white and red. He huffed and forced his fingers to loosen and looked back up.

“Nothing’s going to change. I’m going to get the Grand Prix this year. I’m going to win, I’m going to leave, and you’re going to do…whatever you’re going to do. I am going to fine,” Louis said, motioning between the two of them, “We are going to fine. Whether he’s here or not,”

Niall didn’t look particularly convinced. Instead he looked down at the battered watch on his wrist and didn’t bother to look back up.

“Your break’s almost up,” he informed Louis, before letting his wrist drop so he could pick up a pen and go back to the textbook that was spread out across his lap, “We’ll talk about this later. Maybe. If I feel like it,”

Louis looked at his own watch and cursed silently at how quickly he had let his time off slip past without bothering to focus on resting. He put back some more water and focused on stretching out his legs and fingers, rolling his shoulders back, making sure his body was prepared for more time on the track.

When his watch beeped he jumped the divider and went back over to bike without bothering to check if Harry had even looked up.

*******

Louis finished practice half an hour later than usual.

It wasn’t because he needed it. He had ridden with the same precision was usual, kept the times that came within a few microseconds of matching his race times. He didn’t have anything to make up for, except for the constant uneasiness in his veins that needed to be tamed, and that could only be fixed by continuous laps around the track.

When Louis was frustrated, he rode.

Eventually, though, he felt his body expel itself of the excess energy, the exhaustion and ache of several hours of a bike finally catching up to his joints. Louis pulled off to the side of the track.

He went through the normal round of cleaning up, storing his helmet and bike in the small storage compartment on the side of the track and writing requests for a cap-off of fuel and a check of tire pressure for the bike maintenance crew on the door of the storage unit. He pulled off his gloves and tucked them into the back pocket of his jeans and then strolled back into the main area of the track, dragging a hand through his helmet-flattened hair as he walked. He caught a whiff of his wrist, faded fake scent mixed with sweat. God. He needed a shower.

He skirted the edge of the track, walking towards the exit doors, and then stopped. Niall was by the exit, like he normally was at the end of the day, only this time, Harry was right next to them. And they were talking.

Neither of them had seen Louis yet, so he just stayed still, watching for as long as he could afford. Harry had put his notebook away again—effectively not interviewing—and was leaning against the nearest wall, legs crossed, that same easy smile, free of chilliness despite the fact that Niall seemed to want no part in their current conversation.

“You two having a good chat?” Louis eventually called, picking up his feet again to continue strolling forward. Both looked up, Harry keeping that same smile while Niall stared pointedly at the destroyed toes of his trainers.

“We were, actually,” Harry said. Niall continued to stare at his toes, even as Harry glanced over to him, “I mean, I just thought Mr. Horan and I should talk, since we’ll be seeing each other a lot. And we’ll probably have an interview at some point,”

“Probably,” Niall said flatly. Harry turned his gaze to Niall, but the other man just looked up from the ground and gazed straight at Louis even as he said, “Well, nice to meet you,”

He went over to the exit door then, opening it up and heading out into the hallway. The same hallway he and Louis usually walked down together at the end of a long day.

Louis sighed. Niall probably wasn’t even mad, just processing. Obsessing. That’s what Niall did. Obsess over problems even when they had no solution. Probably why he was still helping Louis after all this time.

Eventually, Louis tore his eyes away from the doorway and instead looked back at Harry, who had that same expression, a calm smile paired with reserved eyes.

“Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” Harry said, and Louis squinted at him.

“What, that’s it?” Louis asked.

“Well, yes,” Harry raised his eyebrows, “I’m really just observing for the first few weeks. No interviews or anything, nothing outside the track. We’ll get into something deeper as we go on,”

“Ah,” Louis said, “I just assumed you’d be doing…more,”

Harry kept his eyebrows raised.

“I thought you’d be asking more questions, I mean,” Louis continued. Following me home and tracking my every move remained on the tip of his tongue, but he pulled them back.

Harry shrugged at this, “You’d be surprised how much you figure out about someone without asking anything,”

Louis felt tempted to bite out something. Ask him what he had figured out. Ask him how long it would take him to uncover something else. Something more valuable than the already obvious fact that Louis did not want him here.

“By the way,” Harry said, and it was enough to pull Louis away from any comment he was even close to getting out, “I’m getting in touch with your coaches soon. I want to make sure I have your full training schedule for the next few months,”

“Naturally,” Louis said, forcing himself to smile, “Wouldn’t want to not know where I am, would you?”

Harry’s throat bobbed, his forehead tightening for just a moment before his entire face rearranged itself into familiar detachment.

“That’s my job,” he said, his words edged with defense.

“So you’ve told me,” Louis said. He blinked, once, and Harry just shuffled his feet. He kept looking at Louis, but his body was edging itself towards the door, a hand on the door.

Leaving.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Racer Tomlinson,” he eventually said. He pushed on the door, the frame clicking, and then he was gone, leaving in a swirl of worn brown leather and black denim that burned itself in Louis’s retinas far after he had left.

*******

Louis tried very hard not to think about his day when he got home.

Instead, he rode his bike back to his complex, parked it the padlocked back lot, and took the elevator up to the top floor. He threw his clothes in the hamper. Took a burning-hot shower.

He threw together a meal of leftover fish and mixed vegetables, sat on the couch and set up his laptop on the coffee table so he could watch the video footage of the track from that day.

He alternated between taking bites of his food and focusing watching his footage, pausing it constantly so he could grab his notepad and scribble down timestamps and various things he needed to make sure he changed. A small crook of his elbow. Too much leaning when it wasn’t necessary. Not enough when it was.

He filled a page and a half full of notes and then went back and circled the points he really needed to focus on—reckless mistakes he shouldn’t be making or ones he’d been making repeatedly that had cost him in the past. Then he finished his food, tucked away his notebook, and put his plate in the sink, not bothering to wash it.

Despite his best efforts, it was only 7 o’clock when he was finished, and the memories of his day came flooding back.

The fact he was being watched, constantly, by someone who couldn’t even get a hold on. It would be so simple if Harry clearly disliked Louis, if they were on even ground—but he honestly couldn’t tell. Harry was all steely professionalism and cool friendliness that was probably offered to anyone and everyone. He pushed at Louis, quite literally met him at the door when no one else bothered to, and yet also bothered to be slightly cordial, with the causal questions in the hall and the resigned farewell after Louis had backed him into a corner.

Most people fell over Louis when they met him or even managed to get close to him. Only a few—teammates, employees, James, Niall—had managed to get past that point, to tell him how it was, to speak to him with familiarity and honesty that Louis didn’t always like but could at least understand.

For the first time, Harry had wedged himself somewhere in the middle. And Louis couldn’t stop focusing on that.

Eventually, Louis grabbed his phone, sending off a few texts to all his coaches and trainers, begging them to not send out his full schedule to Harry. Modify it a bit, maybe. Lie about off days he didn’t have. Only give out half his allotted times in the gym. Do what they usually did when press called and demanded too much information.

After that, he tried to settle in, put on a movie he’d been meaning to watch, but his attention lagged, his fingers constantly twitching back to his phone. Most of the people he’d texted had already gotten back to him, and their responses were all the same. They weren’t going to do what he wanted. In fact, many of them had already been contacted by Harry, and Louis’s monthly training schedules were all safely in his giant, ring-laden hands.

They made it clear that if Harry directly interfered with his training, then they could talk. But until then, he got full access to whatever he wanted.

This is Cross, Louis, the texts said. This is a showcase, Louis. This is different, Louis.

 Louis tossed his phone across the room. And then he grabbed his laptop and opened up a fresh Chrome window. He couldn’t tell if he was thinking too much or not enough, but regardless, his fingers flew over the keys, and soon, a page was loading for a Google search of Harry’s name. Louis scrolled down, opening the first several links in new tabs so he could read them.

If the kid was going to find out everything about Louis, he was going to try damn hard to do the same.

Louis had to sort through a mixture of people that definitely weren’t what he was looking for—social media profiles or university pages for people with the same name--but most of the results were for the right person. Almost all of them were articles with Harry’s name in the byline.

His topics were mixed: a mash-up of politics, environmental news and only occasional sports coverage from his university newspaper days. There was the internship he had at a smaller local paper that was almost entirely sports news. From there it was a few freelance pieces straight out of graduation. One of them was an in-depth piece on the possible inclusion of betas back into the professional leagues, an attempt that had gone belly-up after half of the UK team’s main sponsors threatened to pull support if anyone other than alphas were allowed on the track. Still, the piece had been enough to land Harry something bigger. Every other piece written after the publishing of that article was part of a steady stream of news, opinions, and features from nearly a year at Cross.

Louis skimmed through a few of them, picking up a pattern of the way Harry’s voice sounded in print, small play-on-words or lines of vivid detail in an otherwise dry news update. He was a decent writer, at least.

From there, Louis moved on to his Cross staff profile. It was minimal at best: Harry’s name, where he went to school, links to some of his more successful articles at the publication. Nothing note-worthy other than the fact that his hair went nearly down to his shoulders in his profile picture.

He spent roughly a half hour scrolling through Harry’s twitter feed, a mixture of links to his own articles, snatches of poetry or song lyrics, and small anecdotal observations of working a desk job. It did little more than drive Louis to finally slam his laptop shut and head straight to his bedroom. It was late now, and he needed to be up early again, to meet the same man he had just spent his evening stalking online, with almost nothing to show for it.

*******

Harry met Louis at the door again the next morning.

The sky was dark, the world was blurry at the edges, the line at Louis’s usual coffee table had had only two people in it because it was too damn early, and there was a reporter waiting for him. This was what was normal now.

Harry was wearing a thick black jumper, his usual jacket nowhere in sight, and he had a worn canvas messenger bag slung over one shoulder. He had a pair of earbuds in and was scribbling in his notebook when Louis approached the door. He didn’t even look up this time, not even when Louis knocked his feet loudly on the ground. Eventually, Louis sighed and jangled his keys, the sound finally making Harry glance up. He had the cap of his pen stuck between his lips and he pursed them, pulling the cap out and keeping it between his thumb and forefinger instead.

“Morning,” he said.

Louis grunted in return and walked past him, shoving the key in the lock, twisting and then pushing the door open. He walked into the electric lit hallway, the sound of Harry falling in rank behind him quickly filling in the silence as they walked.

Harry didn’t bother asking questions this time, which Louis didn’t mind. What he did mind, though, was the constant scratching of his pen as they walked. As they arrived at the door to Louis’s locker room, he stopped dead in the middle of the hall, and whirled around. Harry came within two inches of colliding with him when his feet stopped, squeaking softly on the ground, and he looked up with wide eyes.

“Am I so interesting you have that much to write down?” Louis asked. Harry’s wide eyes quickly narrowed to their normal size again as he sighed, the smallest exhale of air between his lips, and fiddled to retrieve his phone from his pocket, tapping at the screen.

“Transcribing an interview,” he said, pointing with one finger to his earbuds, phone still clutched between his fingers.

Louis just looked at him, and Harry stared back.

“You’re not my only assignment,” Harry eventually said.

“You’d think a showcase would keep you occupied,” Louis returned.

Harry snorted, “Not by day two. And not when I get paid per article,”

Harry fiddled with his phone, his thumb ghosting the locked screen. He probably wanted to unlock it, carry on with his work, get out of this strange stare-down they were involved in. Truth be told, Louis wanted to run into his locker room, pull on his racing clothes, and get back to his bike as soon as possible.

But instead, he tilted his chin up and kept pushing.

“I thought journalists cared about the stories,”

“I also care about my rent,” Harry countered, “The two aren’t exactly mutually exclusive,”

“I see,” Louis said. He drummed his fingers on the doorway and watched at Harry tapped his screen and went back to transcribing.

“Ahem,” he said loudly. Harry sighed and tapped his screen again, looking up.

“Yes, Racer Tomlinson,”

“Would you like to ask me what I care about? What drives me?” he asked, to Harry’s blank expression, “I’m just helping you here. Making your job easier and all that,”

“I know how to do my job,” Harry shook his head and sighed, “I’ll ask you about yours later. Go get dressed,”

Louis locked his jaw, but Harry wasn’t looking at him anymore. He was back to his notes, pen moving in a blur of blue ink, his bottom lip captured by his teeth as he focused.

Louis tapped his fingers on the doorway and cleared his throat. Harry stopped again and glanced up, his expression annoyed but unsurprised.

“I’m getting dressed,” Louis said, “And I meant to do this anyways, by the way. I’m not doing it because you told me to,”

Harry’s forehead creased, “I—I didn’t think you were,”

“Well,” Louis said, drumming his fingers again, “Wanted to be sure you knew. See you on the track,”

He slammed the door behind him again.

*******

Harry had a limp.

Louis realized this at the end of the first week, after they had just started to settle into some kind of routine.  Harry met him at the door every morning, even when Louis had the afternoon shift and it was already unlocked. Sometimes Harry asked questions, sometimes he didn’t. Louis always tried to squeeze out of these interactions with as few words as possible.

But he hadn’t noticed this limp before, for some reason. Probably because he had resigned himself to actively not noticing Harry, choosing to keep his eyes ahead and his earbuds in and the tense strain between them to fight away conversation. Not acknowledging the elephant in the room in the hopes that it would go away.

But he did notice one day as they were heading in. For once, Harry was walking ahead of him instead of behind him or next him. Louis as on the verge of being annoyed, silently boiling in excuses of not my fault his fucking legs so long Jesus Christ when he noticed that Harry wasn’t moving entirely right. It wasn’t especially noticeable, but there was a short dragging of his left leg as he walked, an extra push of his stronger leg as he moved. Small enough to be woven into the way he moved, barely affecting the carry of the rest of his body.

But it was still there.

Louis slowed slightly, keeping his eyes on Harry’s feet as he walked. He didn’t know how he hadn’t noticed, was the thing. Small as it was, it seemed so massive now, the soft dragging his boots left on the ground, the way the line of his hips tilted ever so slightly to accommodate his shifted walk.

Louis didn’t know what the hell that meant. Except that clearly he wasn’t paying attention. Was slipping when he promised himself he wouldn’t.

Harry stopped suddenly, and Louis had just enough to move his gaze from Harry’s feet to the rest of the hallway. He realized they had reached his locker room. He also realized Harry was staring at him, one eyebrow crushing down.

“What?” he asked. It wasn’t accusatory, just soft, curious, more than anything.

Louis blinked at him. Considered asking him about it. Prying into some small shred of information about his man, something he now found he endlessly craved.

He wondered if Harry would even bothered to tell him.

Instead, he ripped his eyes away from Harry’s wide, curious gaze and breezed past him, straight to the door.

“Absolutely nothing,” he said, and slipped into the room, shutting the door behind him.

He didn’t say he would see him on the track. They both already knew.

*******

Louis got a break from the reporter the next week. Unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly a full vacation.

To keep the racing schedules on track, all the racers received shots every month to coordinate their ruts into one week. Practical measures, just so they wouldn’t have to scramble to change schedules or guess who would be available when. Luckily, the regulation shots could be privately administered, so Niall just threw out the rut treatment, and replaced it with Louis’s heat regulation.

It wasn’t the worst thing he had to deal with. The worst thing was the monthly team parties that fell directly before the allotted rut. It usually was a breeding fest in a shitty club, and Louis generally had no interest.

He normally found a way to get out of the parties—he had a headache, he was sore, he had plans—but occasionally his excuses ran dry, or he couldn’t justify another evening of sitting at home by himself.

Like tonight.

Which was how Louis found himself sitting in Excess’s VIP lounge on a Sunday night, nursing a vodka and soda as he watched the rest of the club with disinterested focus. Luckily, Excess wasn’t exclusively mating club, and it had a separate space full of booths, a dance floor, and a bar for people who just wanted to have a night out and weren’t interested in anything else. But he could still see there was a roped-off section on the other side of the club, mostly hidden by opaque black dividers. Occasionally bouncers would have to unclip the large rope separating it to let people in, including some of Louis’s teammates. He saw them everywhere, really, skirting the dance floor and bar. Occasional flashes of overhead lights illuminated their forms, black leather and red ribbons.

Normally, Louis would be content to just finish his drink, maybe two, if he felt like it, and then slip out, having made his appearance, and go back home to do whatever he wanted. But of course, he wasn’t alone long. Soon, he felt the booth next to him sag slightly with extra weight, and he looked over to see another man in a racer’s jacket had joined him.

“Louis, you came,” the other racer cheered.

“Yeah, for once,” Louis nodded, “Good to see you, Liam,”

The man smiled in response and Louis couldn’t help but return it. Louis had always liked Liam, mostly because it always seemed like everyone else was on the verge of hating him. Liam drew attention in the public eye not because of his racing abilities—even though his times were excellent—but because of his new-fashioned views. He referred to his fiancé, Zayn, as just that, his fiancé, not his mate or omega, as were the traditional terms. He also allowed Zayn to travel without him and have his own career. Or, as Liam put it, he didn’t allow him to do anything. Zayn had his own decisions, and Liam stayed out of it.

Louis almost wouldn’t mind having an alpha if they were like Liam. Almost.

“This party sucks,” a voice huffed over to Louis’s left as the booth sagged again. He glanced over and got an eyeful of blond hair swept over one shoulder, an ear full of gold hoops, and dark lipstick, all over a red-ribbon adorned leather jacket. The other racer gave him a glance before tucking her drink to her lips and setting her arm directly behind him.  

“Hi, Lou,” she said.

“Hi, Cara,” Louis said, at almost the exact same time Liam said, “Cara, hey,”

Cara leaned forward so she could see past Louis and nodded to Liam with a smile.

“Oh, hey, Liam,” she said, “Where’s your boy?”         

Liam’s eyes lit up, the same way they always did when anyone talked about Zayn.

“He’s flying in early tomorrow morning. They need him to finish up a few things at the travelling exhibit in Amsterdam first and then he’s right back there after the week ends,”

“Busy, busy,” she sighed, “I miss him, though, tell him to come next time,”

“He will, probably. Annie still gone?”

“Nah, she’s been home for a few days. She just hates these things,” Cara took a long pull of her drink, looking out to the crowd with steely eyes and slightly wrinkled nose.

“Anyone else coming?” Liam asked. Anyone else meaning any of the other mated racers. Other than Louis, everyone unmated was already out on the floor for the rest of the night.

“Nah, everyone’s home,” Cara said, “Perrie, Jesy, Andrew…all of them,”

“Really,”

“Yep, it’s just you and me,” she sighed, and then glanced at Louis, “Oh, and this one,”

“Thanks,”

“Fuck off, I always forget you’re unmated,” she sighed, “Probably because you’re the most boring unmated person I know,”

“I have fun,” Louis insisted, “You just don’t see it,”

“I don’t see you at all,” Cara said, poking him in the shoulder, “And then when I do you refuse to do anything,”

“I am doing something,” Louis said, picking up his glass to take another sip, “I’m at a club,”

He lifted his glass up, but before it could even reach his lips a hand was grabbing it out of his grasp. Cara shot him a glance as she set the glass on the furthest side of the table and then grabbed Louis’s wrist with her other hand.

“Come on,” Cara sighed, leaning in to peck Louis on the cheek, “Dance with me, Louis,”

“No thanks,”

“Oh come on,” she whined, pulling on his wrist harder, “Please?”

“Liam,” Louis said, reaching out his free arm to grasp for Liam’s shoulder, “Liam, save me,”

“What?” Liam said mildly. Louis looked over to see Liam had gotten his phone out and was tapping out a new message, eyes fixed firmly on the screen. Louis caught sight of a Z and a line of ten different emojis at the top of the screen.

“Louis and I are dancing,” Cara said, “We’ll be back,”

“Okay,” Liam said, “You two have fun,”

Louis barely had time to shoot Cara a cold look before she was pulling him by one hand out of the booth.

“I can’t believe you ambushed me when Liam was in Zayn mode,” he huffed, and Cara just shrugged.

“You’ll thank me later,”

They moved out of the VIP area, instead moving back onto the regular floor of the club. Louis allowed himself to pulled out onto the dance floor, swells of people parting in the wake of the two leather jackets. Louis felt the tension in his body unspool once they were fully in the midst of the crowd. The mass of bodies was filled with scent and sweat and the rest of the club was overly populated sound and light, but it wasn’t bad. The crowd was mostly betas and mated couples, and the few white ribbons in the crowd wouldn’t come near him. Not when he was with another racer.

Cara threw both arms around Louis’s neck and swayed, jerking him from side to side.

“Move,” she commanded, “Dance. Have fun,”

He shook his head but moved anyways, rocking with her. Cara rolled her eyes.

“There you go, Christ,”

Eventually Cara took his arms off Louis’s neck, but still kept a hand on his elbow, wrist, anywhere that would make it clear he wasn’t interested in talking, wouldn’t be taking anyone home. Louis tried to shoot her a look of gratitude, but she was too busy actually moving to notice him, and he tried to follow suit, letting himself be swept up in the noise and sweat and energy that surrounded him.

When he stopped moving, Cara gave him a look and poked him in the shoulder.

“Keep moving,”

“Can’t, I’m thirsty,” Louis said drily, rubbing his throat, “You took my drink away,”

“Booze isn’t hydrating,” Cara shot back, but rolled her eyes and grabbed his hand again anyways, “Fine, let’s get you something,”

They cut back out of the crowd, the people once again splitting on both sides for them, and headed back towards the electric-lit bar at the edge of the club. Louis grabbed a seat at the edge of the bar and Cara tapped his arm.

“I’m going to be gone for two seconds,” she said, “Don’t get into any trouble,”

“I’ll try not to,” he returned, and then Cara was off to chase down one of the closer bartenders.

Louis returned to looking back out at the club, at the split between the two sections and the people that wove between them, heading to the lounge sections or carrying their coats to the door. It was still early enough in the night that the crowd as about as calm as it could be. 

His gaze fell on the back door of the club for a just a moment, a small detail that caught in his vision as his eyes moved, observing. But it was enough to keep his gaze glued there.

There was a racer by the back door. Louis didn’t know him personally—he was new, probably—but he had on the standard jacket they were all wearing. There was a boy by his side, shorter, smaller, wearing a dark blue shirt with a stark white ribbon attached to the chest. The racer took off his jacket and threw it around the boy’s shoulders, the black leather engulfing the omega, completely covering the white ribbon on his shirt. He looked down, at the black and red that covered him now, and then glanced back up, offering a soft smile. The racer might have returned it. Louis couldn’t tell. Because soon he had an arm wrapped firmly around the omega’s shoulders, pulling him into his side, and then they were leaving out the door as a bouncer held it open for them.

A few seconds. A regular racer bringing a random omega home to spend his heat with. Something commonplace Louis had seen a thousand times. Still, out of instinct, he looked down at his chest. Even in the pulsing, bleaching lights of the club, his own ribbon was undeniably red.

There was a loud clinking next to him and he looked over to see Cara slamming two glasses down onto the counter.

“I went to see if Liam wanted anything and he fucking left. Zayn probably got in early or something,” she rolled her eyes and picked up her own glass, her long fingers cradling the bottom of the container as she eyed Louis, one eyebrow raised. 

“Something wrong?” she asked, “You look weird,”

Louis shook his head.

“Headache,” he provided, and Cara huffed as Louis reached for his new vodka and soda.

“You and your fucking headaches,” she sighed, then knocked his elbow, “Come on, put that thing back so we go out again,”

*******

The next morning, Louis was in the middle of eating an apple in front of his TV when he heard footsteps outside his door. His door slammed and Niall came in a few minutes later, rubbing his eyes underneath his glasses. He wasn’t lugging around his regular bag for once, instead he just had a simple, rather battered black medical bag clutched in one hand.

“You haven’t cleaned,” he muttered as he set his bag down on the coffee table.

“Yes, I have,” Louis protested.

“No, you have not,” Niall insisted, “It reeks of air freshener in here. You only spray that shit when you’re hiding something from me,”

“Maybe I want my apartment to smell like orchids, fuck off,”

“Louis,”

“Fine, I didn’t wash my dishes,”

Niall shook his head and then wandered over to the couch, pushing Louis’s feet off the coffee table.

“Go clean,” he said, “I’m not giving you your shots until you do,”

Louis rolled his eyes but still stood up, still walked into the kitchen. Niall took his place on the couch, setting both feet on the coffee table and tucking one arm behind him, using the other to pick up the remote.

“I’m using your Netflix,” he said.

“I don’t care,” Louis called over his shoulder as he made his way into the kitchen. There was a small mountain of dirty cups and plates overtaking the sink, and he huffed, throwing his apple core in the bin before going over to the sink. He turned on the hot water and got out a sponge and a bottle of dish detergent. He could hear the opening dialogue of Bob’s Burgers start as he began scrubbing his first plate.

Like most things with Louis and Niall, this whole exchange had become somewhat of a tradition. On the morning of his allotted heat, Louis temporarily forgot how to live on his own. He didn’t eat breakfast, he didn’t clean. Niall took care of it, or forced Louis to. It gave them time to settle in. Adjust. Feel like everything was normal for a moment before the evitable.

Because it was evitable. Eventually, the last dish was scrubbed, cleaned, and set away. Louis sighed and grabbed a dish towel, rubbing his hands thoroughly on it and then folding it, carefully, before pulling it back over the handle of the oven. He breathed deeply, holding up his hands to cover his face, but then quickly put them back down. He hadn’t bothered with suppressant today, and he could smell himself going crazy, his body used to the rhythm, the anticipation, or what was to come, even if it couldn’t quite push itself there naturally now.

He went back into the living room and just stood right outside the entrance, watching Niall, until the other man turned and gave him a small nod.

“Ready?” he asked, and Louis just shrugged.

“Good enough,” Niall sighed, and turned off the TV. He stood up, grabbing his bag, and set it on the coffee table as he opened the top and rummaged through.

“Get some water,” he instructed.

Louis did so, wandering back into the kitchen and filling a glass, eventually shutting off the sink and watching the leftover droplets drip down and ripple the surface of the water. Then he returned to the living room. Niall had pulled out a bottle of muscle relaxers, which he handed to Louis as soon as he came back, and an all-too familiar black box.

Louis took one of the relaxers and drank some water, leaning against the nearest wall as he waited for it to kick in. As he did, he watched Niall open the box, revealing two thick syringes, one full of yellow fluid and the other pink.

Louis drank more water was Niall pulled each syringe out and examined them.

“Want the first one?” Niall asked eventually, and Louis just rolled up his sleeve, baring his full arm in answer. Niall didn’t even nod, just came over with the first syringe, the yellow one, and injected the shot into Louis’s arm. Louis closed his eyes and breathed, deeply, focusing on anything other than the needle in his arm and what it meant. In a few moments, Niall had finished with the shot and removed the needle from his skin, allowing Louis a chance to relax and drink some more water. Louis rolled his sleeve back down over his skin, and Niall watched as he did so.

“Second one?” Niall asked, and Louis just closed his eyes and nodded. When he opened his eyes, Niall was looking at him carefully, before eventually going back to the box to retrieve the second syringe out, filled with pale, pale pink liquid.

The same color as a mated omega’s ribbon.

The same color as something Louis never, ever wanted.

Niall approached, and wordlessly, Louis hitched up the hem of his shirt and pulled down the waistband of his shorts, baring the fleshiest part of his hip. Niall tested the syringe a few more time, flicking it with his finger. The pink liquid inside shifted and Louis felt sick.

“I still don’t get why I need to take that,” Louis managed, and Niall gave him a look and sighed. This conversation had also become a bit of a tradition.

“In case something happens to you, Lou. That’s why,” Niall said, and Louis knew that he was right. It was always the same answer, and he always knew. In case someone found out about him and tried to take advantage of that. That was why.

“Breath,” Niall said gently, and Louis took a slow, slow breath as the needle plunged into his hip, and the birth control shot was pumped into his system.

He exhaled, slow and choppy, once Niall was done, and the other man set his hand on Louis’s forehead.

“You alright?” he asked, but Louis just weakly swatted his hand away. Niall sighed, resigned. Louis hated being babied. His stupid fucking hormones were raging for it, even though his heat hadn’t even started yet, even though Niall was not only his best friend but also a beta. But Louis refused to be taken care of. He could handle that just fine for himself.

“You’re going to be okay, right?” Niall asked, and Louis just nodded. He had a pack of water in his bedroom that would last a week, a full box of Heat Stroke energy bars in the cabinet, and a seven-inch vibrator in his bedside drawer. Same as every other month.

“I’ll be fine. I’m always fine,” Louis managed. He ran a hand over his chest. If he focused too long and too hard he could feel the inner workings of his body shift. The shots typically took an hour to fully set in but…still.

Niall eventually just nodded and went back over to the table, neatly packing up his bag.

“I gotta go into the lab for the rest of the day,” he said as he walked back over to Louis, “You’ll call me if there’s an emergency, right?”

“Yes, Niall, I’ll call you if I get my vibrator stuck up my arse,”

Niall flicked him in the side of the head.

“Or if you have sort of hormonal issue. You know. Whatever,”

“Stop worrying about me,” Louis sighed, “Go cure cancer or something,”

Niall shook his head, “I’ll text you in a few days. Take care of yourself,”

“Yeah, yeah,”

Niall left, the door clicking firmly behind him. After a minute, Louis wandered over and bolted his door. The front desk of his building already knew not to let anybody up to see him, but it was a precaution he kept up with none the less.

He stood in front of the door a little longer, taking in the smooth blankness of the door, the endless quiet of his apartment, the soft throbbing in his arm and hip.

Eventually, he forced his feet to move, went to his bedroom, took off his shirt, laid down, and waited.

*******

Heat came slowly.

Louis spent a long time laying, staring up at the ceiling. He got tired, restless, and would sit up just so he could grab his water bottle and take a long pull. He got a random scratch on his ankle that he itched, and then another itch on his chest. He took care of it. Rolled over to his side. Then onto his back again. Waited.

He had been in the professional leagues for so long he had gradually started to forgot what it felt like to almost not expect his heats, to have some idea of when to they would come but not enough that he would be counting down the minutes. Now, that was all he knew, the slow crawl until the first stroke came.

In a moment, his chest felt flushed, and it crept up his throat, into his face, and then spooled down, collecting in his belly. He closed his eyes and rolled over, enough to grab at the toy sitting on his bedside table. He stayed on his stomach, digging his knees firmly into the mattress before lifting his hips up. He reached behind him and slipped one hand between his cheeks, keeping the other one secured firmly on the vibrator.

Louis tucked the rest of his fingers back and prodded his hole with the tip of his thumb. A pearl of slick slid over his nail and rolled down, building up with the rest of the wetness that had already started to form. He pulled his thumb back and uncurled his fingers, rubbing two fingers over his hole. A fresh rivulet of slick pooled under his touch, and he pressed down on his hole. His lips parted on their own, a short, shocked punch of air escaping his lips, and he fell forward, his chest pressed to the sheets, his knees digging even deeper into the mattress.

He dragged the tip of one finger over the rim of his entrance before slowly pushing it in, his eyes fluttering closed as he did so. He breathed out slowly, letting the air drag down his throat and tickle the edges of his lips as he pushed his finger in and out, slowly, working over the sensitive edges. Slick pooled around the digits, running down between his cheeks anytime he pulled far enough out.

He added another finger, pushing in as much as he could, knocking his knuckles against his sensitive rim only to create a fresh wave of wetness. His breath was shuddering, his hot chest pressed deeply into the sheets he hadn’t bothered to wash. No real need to.

Soon, there was enough slickness coating his rim that he pulled both fingers out, a small outpouring of wet coming with their removal. He fumbled with the vibrator, his vision blurring slightly before coming back into focus. He managed to press the power button and get it on the lowest setting before bringing around, dragging it up the back of his thigh. He pushed his face falling into the mattress so he could reach back with one hand, spreading one cheek back to give the toy more access.

He pushed it in slowly, the vibrations, even on such a low setting, pulsing through his body and making him gasp. Louis brought his toy-free hand back in front of him even as he kept his cheek press to the sheets, teeth gnashing at nothing, breath punching out in rhythm with the pulses of the toy. He pulled it out again, until the very tip was left it, and then fed it back in slowly, wetness streaming down between his cheeks as he did so.

Louis’s free hand grasped in front of him, grabbing at unwashed Egyptian cotton, and in between the waves of pleasure that coursed through his body with each vibration, he became aware of the ache in his shoulder and hips, the needs to relax and be fucked crashing against each other. His body was screaming to allow someone else to do the work, to allow Louis’s last sliver of rational thought to cloud over. But that wasn’t an option. So he kept pushing in and out, kept grounding his mind on the mechanical pulses that would never replace a cock but would have to do.

It didn’t take long to get to the edge—it never did, in heat—and soon Louis’s back was arching, the last few pushes of the vibrator coaxing his cock to shoot out, ruining the already dirty sheets. When he was done, he pulled the toy back out and collapsed, shoulder screaming in pain, belly resting in the wetness of what he had left behind. He dragged a hand through his sweaty fringe, his vision blurring again, and grasped weakly for his water bottle. He drank deeply and forced his legs to work long enough to pull himself off the bed and get to the bathroom to clean his toy off. By the time he was done, the warmth had overtaken his body again, seeping into his senses, and he was already hard. He wandered over to the mattress and collapsed, body bouncing as he readjusted himself, spread his legs and lifted his hips as he laid on his back. He spread his legs and reprogrammed the vibrator, once again pushing it back in to get him through a round.

Eventually he would have a break of clarity, long enough to take a short shower or eat something or even squeeze in a few hours of sleep. But for now, his brain was foggy, his wrist was working, and his body was struggling to adjust to something that wasn’t quite what it needed. 

*******

The Monday after his heat was over, Louis pulled into the lot of the facility. Parked his bike. Secured it. Walked to the front. He was drinking fruit juice instead of coffee, trying to get his body make into his normal rhythm, but that was about the only thing that had changed. Harry was still waiting, as usual, and lifted his head when he heard Louis walking towards him.

“Hi,” he offered.

“Hello,” Louis returned. He plodded up to the door and slotted his key in, pushing it open. Harry followed him, not saying much, until eventually he cleared his throat.

“Did you, ah, have a good week?” he asked.

Louis stopped walking, letting his feet click pointedly on the floor, and cut Harry a glance.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” he asked, and Harry took a small step back.

“Nothing,” he said, his voice weak, “I’m just…asking,”

Louis just watched him, carefully. No one asked how a rut went. Especially not acquaintances. Acquaintances who barely stood one another, at that.

“Well, it was fine,” Louis eventually said. He paused and tacked on, “I had company,” 

He tried to see if the blatant lie had done anything to Harry at all, but he kept his expression neutral, the only clue to any type of feeling resting in the stained, embarrassed stain of his cheeks.

“I’m getting dressed,” Louis finally said, “I’ll see you on the track,”

He started to turn, to go into the room behind him, when Harry’s voice stopped him.

“Racer,”

Louis paused, hand still on the door, and turned back around.

“Yes,”

Harry kept his gaze steady, although his hands moved, playing with his notebook, flipping it up and down, his thumb toying with the pages.

“I—I want to make this work. I want this to be a good process,” he managed, tilting his head forward, “You understand that, right?”

Louis stayed quiet, and Harry rushed on.

“I know you’re uncomfortable, is what I’m saying. With all of this,” he continued, “So. I don’t mean to make that worse. I just…”

He paused, and Louis leaned his head forward.

“Just,” he prompted, “You’re a writer, darling, use your words,”

Harry blinked at him, his eyes flashing before he sighed.

“Just—please don’t make my job harder than it is,”   

Louis blinked, watching as Harry leveled his gaze at him, fingers still tight around his notebook. Louis let his hand drop from the doorway and he strolled over to Harry, stopping just a few inches away, craning his neck up to look at him.

“I know you have permission to be here,” he said smoothly, “And access to far more information than anyone should have. Which I can’t change,”

If Louis listened carefully, he could hear Harry inhale as Louis raised himself up by his toes, enough to level his gaze with that of the other man.

“But the last time I checked you weren’t exactly in the position to be making requests,”

He lowered himself then, and strode straight back to his locker room, letting his hand catch on the edge of the doorway.

“I’ll let you know when I’m answering personal questions,” he said, “But I am not interested in telling you what I do in my weeks off. Is that understood?”

Harry stared down at his notebook for a few seconds, which was too long.

“Look up,” Louis said, and Harry did so, offering him wide eyes.

“I’ll see you on the track,” he said, and then he was through the door, shutting it firmly behind him. Same was always.

*******

Harry was on eggshells for the rest of the week.

Not eggshells, exactly. Just…quiet. He still met Louis by the door, still asked him the occasional question. But other than that he kept to himself and his notebook, left the track each day with a quick goodbye and no small talk.

He didn’t make mentions of any upcoming interviews, or even the first race of the season, a small race against the Spanish team that would be taking place in three weeks. There was nothing.

It bothered Louis more than it should.

Because when Harry wasn’t talking, he was noticing. Doing his best to squeeze out the information he could even when Louis was pushing so fiercely against him.

They hadn’t had another talk like their last one—Louis had clearly pushed him to silence for at least a little while. But he still decided to push a little more.

Because he couldn’t get it out of his head that he knew nothing about the boy he was fighting—only a written voice woven through journalism pieces, a few tweets and an out-of-date profile picture. Which was how Louis found himself standing by his apartment window one Saturday afternoon, phone pressed to his ear as he gazed at where his laptop was set up on the couch, the Cross staff page still pulled up on the screen. The dial tone blared in his ear and he pushed aside one of his curtains and to examine the empty street outside while he waited. Finally, the tone clicked in his ear, and a female voice came through.

“Xavier Young’s office,” she said, and Louis rotated the wrist of the hand that was pinning back the curtains, examining the edges of his nails.

“Hello, this is Louis Tomlinson,” he said. He waited a beat, listening to the controlled breathing on the other side of the line, “Racer Louis Tomlinson,”

“Ah,” the woman on the other end eventually managed, her voice stuttering slightly, “How can I help you, Racer?”

“Connecting me to your boss would be lovely,” he replied.

“One moment,” she rushed out. The line went blank, and then in another moment it was being picked up again.

“Racer Tomlinson,” said a decidedly male voice on the other end, “It’s a pleasure. How can I help you?”

Louis rolled his eyes. People certainly did have a way to tripping over themselves to do something for him, even in the editor-in-chief of the largest racing magazine in the country.

“Hello, Mr. Young,” he said, “I apologize for this, really, I know you’re busy,”

“Oh, anything for the UK team,” the other voice assured.

“Right. Good,” Louis said, “I’m calling about one of your writers. Harry Styles,”

He listened to the breathing once again crackle on the other end, and his fingers tightly slightly on his phone.

“Oh, right, of course,” the man eventually said, “What is this about, exactly? Something he’s done?”

“Nothing like that,” Louis said evenly, “I’m just…curious about him, is all. Figured I should know at least something about whoever’s going to be tagging along with m everywhere,”

“Understandable,” Mr. Young said, in a voice that suggested it was something he had not previously considered before, “Well, ah, Styles is one of our most capable writer. Perhaps prodigy is too strong of a word, but…the kid’s brilliant. Wouldn’t have put him on staff if he wasn’t. We typically don’t hire anyone with less than ten years of experience. For the showcase piece, that can typically go up to twenty,”

“I see,” Louis said, “And how, exactly, did Mr. Styles arrive on your staff in the first place?”

“He was one of our interns, his last semester of school. But, understand, we have a lot of interns here, constantly. Styles didn’t even make it past the mailroom for the first two months, and then I had him making copies for another month after that. Turns out he was spending his time out of the office doing freelance work for some of our biggest competitors. Not that’s an issue, you understand,” he explained, “Our interns are perfectly allowed to do that. But…well, when I’m reading up on what Moto Quarterly is doing and one of our interns has his name on the top of the most-clicked article, you’d see why I would want to snatch him up while I still had him,”

“Smart,” Louis mused, “What else can you tell me?”

“Ah, let’s see—“

The editor on the other line started in with a summary of some of Harry’s pieces, some small of his behavior in the office, but Louis wasn’t particularly interested. What Mr. Young was telling him wasn’t far off from what he had already found online, and he wanted something else. He wanted to dig in, feel like he had a better grasp on the man who was now following him like a shadow.

“Would it be possible for you to tell me a bit about his personal life?” Louis blurted out.

There was a crackling on the other line, followed by a hesitant voice.

“Personal life,” Mr. Young echoed, “Ah, what do you mean by that?”

Louis swallowed, looking back out to the street. The nearly identical line of high-rise apartment complexes stared back at him like a set of sleek matchboxes, and he ground his back teeth together before his voice came back to him.

“Is Mr. Styles mated?” he managed.

“Uh,” Mr. Young began, “I don’t—how, may I ask, is this relevant?”

Louis blinked out to the row of apartment buildings opposite his own again.  

“I’m curious,” he said smoothly. He voiced his voice to calm, deep, commanding. The voice of a United Kingdom racer. The voice of an alpha.

“Well, um, not that I know of,” Mr. Young eventually said, “He could be, I wouldn’t know. Styles likes to stay professional. Not much talk of his personal life in the office. But, uh, he’s never mentioned anyone. No one’s ever been around for him,”

“I see,” Louis managed. His body felt hot as he said it, his throat was tight. He pushed it back. Told himself he wasn’t crossing any lines that Harry wasn’t already trampling over.

“What else would you like to know?” the voice in Louis’s ear said, reminding him of what he was doing.

“That’s all,” Louis got out, and cleared his throat, chasing away the tightness of his voice, “Thank you so much, Mr. Young. You’ve been of great help,”

“Of course,” Mr. Young said, “Are you and Mr. Styles getting along, might I ask? Is he doing alright?”

Louis let his hand drop, the curtains whooshing back into place, the buildings across the way disappearing behind dark fabric.

“He’s great,” Louis said, his feet shuffling back across the floor, “Thank you for speaking with me, again,”

“Of course,” Mr. Young said, “If you—“

Louis hung up before the man could finish. He tossed his phone onto the couch, next to his now-sleeping laptop, and walked into the kitchen, trying to rebalance himself as his mind worked through the new scraps of information he now had and barely knew what to do with.

*******

Harry didn’t meet Louis at the door on Monday.

It didn’t bother Louis too much—he was at the facility gym today, after all, maybe Harry had gone to a different door. Maybe he had already found somebody to let him in. But by the time Louis had changed into his workout clothes and gotten to the gym, he was still nowhere in sight. Louis started up the treadmill and did his usual hour-long running session, and still, the reporter was no where in sight.

A round of fifty crunches, no Harry.

Fifty push-ups, no Harry.

Louis was strapping on his boxing gloves and still, no Harry.

It didn’t no unnoticed just by just Louis, either.

“Where’s Cross?” Niall asked from the edge of the gym as Louis pounded the punching bag in front of him with his gloved hands. Niall had taken to staunchly refusing to use Harry’s real name.

“Dunno,” Louis shrugged before leveling his hands with another punch, “Maybe he’s sick or something,”

“Hm,” Niall hummed, mouthing at the tip of his pen, “Or in rut,”

“Yes, Niall,” Louis huffed, batting at the punching bag again, “Or in rut,”  

“Eyes ahead, Tomlinson,” one of the general team trainers called from the edge of the gym. Louis rolled his eyes, pushing his arm forward into the next punch.

“Fuck off, Mark, I’m venting,” he shouted back. He looked over to where Niall was curled up with his book, same as always.

“Bit unprofessional, though,” he mused as he lined up for the next hit, “Not to give any heads-up,”

Niall just grunted in response. Louis went back to his workout.

His gym time dragged on for the rest of the day, far more than a normal day on the track would, and soon he was dragging himself back to his locker room, peeling off his sweat-soaked clothes and throwing them on the ground as he set to cleaning himself off.

Louis was half-way through pulling on his shirt when there was a knock at the door.

It surprised him far less than it should have when he opened it and found Harry on the other side of the door.

“Well there you are,” Louis said, “Bit late, aren’t you?”

Harry didn’t say anything, just stood there, silent. Louis shot him a glance over his shoulder as he went back to his locker.

“You can come in, if you’d like,”

“I’m not coming in,” Harry said. His voice was soft, but deliberate, enough to make Louis turn back around and look at him.

“Alright,” he eventually managed. He went back to pulling out things from his locker and pushing in other things, until eventually Harry’s voice called out from the doorway.

“Did you call my boss?”

Louis paused, pulling his other boot out of the locker and dropping it onto the floor.

“Yes,” he said slowly, “So?”

Harry’s expression was tight, and when he spoke, his voice sounded like a loaded spring.

“May I ask why?”

Louis shrugged, shutting the locker door next to him, “I had a few questions,”

“I see,” Harry said, “Questions about my work history. And…personal life,”

“Yes,” Louis said, leveling his gaze at Harry. He had entered the room after all, taking short, deliberate steps, “I thought it was only fair,”

“Did you,” Harry said slowly.

Louis just stared back, heat bubbling up in his throat.

“What are you doing here?” he managed.

Harry’s expression tightening, his jaw flexing.

“I want you to know that it’s over,”

Louis frowned, watching Harry stare back at him evenly.

“What’s over?” Louis snapped back, even though his mind was already reeling.

“This. Me, writing this story. I’m done with it. I’m done with you. You clearly don’t want me here, and quite frankly, I’m not going to put myself through spending seven months of my life and writing ten pages of someone I can barely be in the same room with,”

“I’m sorry?” Louis said, striding forward, “What the hell do you mean you’re done? You can’t be done,”

“Yes, I can,” Harry said. His voice shook, full of unexhaled air, “I wanted this to work. I did. Because this would have been great for me and my career but also because—damn it, I admired you, once. But now I can see what I’m dealing with, and I have no interest writing about it. But I’m sure someone else at the magazine will be happy to lie about how wonderful you are,”

He strode towards the door then, gripping the handle, when Louis lunged forward, chasing after him.

“You—“ he called out, “You can’t leave,”

Harry spun ahead, back pressed to the door, his eyes narrowed tightly.

“Funnily enough, I can. And I am,” he said. His hand gripped onto the door handle more tightly, and he twisted, making the door click open, “Goodbye, Racer Tomlinson,”

He left.

Just closed the door and left, with nothing but soft footsteps in the corridor and echoes in Louis’s head.

Louis watched the door, his shoulders tense, air caught in his chest. The reality crashed over him in lazy waves, lapping over him, threatening to drown him slowly.

Harry was gone, but the showcase was not. He would be replaced with another reporter who would be trailing Louis for the next few months with equal scrutiny. He had accomplished absolutely nothing, other than making a brilliant young reporter absolutely hate him.

He hadn’t meant to do that. Push Harry, maybe. Challenge him. Keep him at a distance. But note hate him.

This couldn’t happen. It would not end like this.

Before he knew it, Louis was leaving the room, racing down the wall. The lights blurred in the sides of his vision, the identical walls shaking as he ran past them, until he finally crashed into the exit door with a loud click.

“Harry!” he called as he left. His feet slapped loudly on the asphalt outside and he realized he had forgotten to grab his shoes. Still, he jogged forward, out into the dark, lit-up stretch of a lot, until he saw a tall, brown-leather clad form in the distance.

Harry,” he shouted again, and this time, the other man stopped and turned around.

“What?” he called back. His voice sounded weary, but still, he was walking towards Louis, his form coming into shape, close enough Louis could make out all his features. Tired green eyes and a pair of pink lips pursed in frustration.

Louis huffed, shifting his bare feet against the cold asphalt, “I’m sorry, alright?”

Harry was still walking closer, but his expression didn’t look any clearer. If anything, his entire face was crumpled in confusion.

“I didn’t—I didn’t mean to intrude. Okay, fuck it, maybe I did. But it wasn’t—I didn’t want you to get in trouble or anything. I was just curious. And frustrated. But I’ve been shitty and, Jesus, I’m fucking sorry, okay?”

Harry didn’t react at all, and Louis huffed, wrapping his arms around himself. He’d also forgotten a jacket, too, and the early October air was all around him, nipping at his bare skin.

“I don’t hate you, okay? I just—I hate this situation,”

“Why, though?” Harry finally said. His voice was soft, filled with exhaustion with no room for any malice, “It’s just a story. A long one. An in-depth one. But…it’s a just a story,”

“I know,” Louis said, “I just don’t like people digging into my business. And I know that sounds hypocritical because I’m—well, I’m me, but—“ he shook his head, “There’s a difference between me on the track, and me in practice, and me at home. And I know people want to understand all of that but I don’t know if I want them to know that much, no matter who’s telling them,”

Harry’s forehead smoothed a bit, his eyebrows lifting, but his eyes remained stormy. Still, he wasn’t running away.

“Look, I know this piece is going to run no matter what,” Louis pushed, “And if you quit I’m sure they’re just going to give me someone completely awful, and so I’d rather just keep you around,”

Louis lifted himself onto his toes, inclining his body forward. Harry stared back at him, face unreadable, until his lips finally parted again.

“I’m flattered you don’t think I’m awful,” he said, and Louis felt his chest grow lighter.

“Not at all. You’re perfectly bearable,” Louis insisted, before letting his force drop down to something softer, “Stay? Please?”

Harry scrubbed at it, eyeing Louis carefully, “Just…I know we don’t have to be friends. I don’t expect that from you. But whatever you’re doing now…I like this version of you better,”

“Yeah?” Louis asked, not even bothering to tame the hopefulness of his voice, “Enough to hang around with me for seven more months?”

“I don’t know if I’ll like it yet,” Harry admitted, “But…I think I’ll enjoy writing about this version,”

“Enough to stay,” Louis prompted, and Harry dipped his head.

“Enough to stay,” he echoed.

Louis bit his lip and smiled tightly, “Fair enough,”

They just stared at each other a little longer, before Harry’s gaze ducked downwards and he raised both eyebrows.

“You’re not wearing shoes,” he observed, and Louis followed his gaze down to his bare feet before scoffing.

“Yeah, because I was too worried about catching you to get them,” he said, “I hope you feel flattered,”

“A bit,” Harry admitted, and Louis resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

“You have a ride home?” he asked, and Harry shook his head, pointing over his shoulder.

“I’m just gonna catch the train,”

“Let me give you a ride,” Louis insisted, “Please,”

Harry shook his head again, “You don’t have to do that,”

“Well, I want to. And—fuck, I’m trying to apologize to you, let me do this,”

“Um,” Harry pressed his lips together and glanced over his shoulder, then back to Louis, “I guess, sure,”

“Okay,” Louis sighed, “Okay, just—“

He held up one finger.

“Let me—I have to—shoes,”

“Right,”

“Don’t leave,” Louis said, and then he turned, sprinting back to the facility. Down the hall. Shoving on his boots and jacket as fast as he could before running back outside.

Harry was still waiting for him, right at the edge of the doorway. He raised his eyebrows as Louis came out, his lips pursed like he was going to say something, but Louis blew past him.

“Come on,” he called, and heard a soft snort and a pair of footsteps following as he walked down the lot, towards where his bike was stored.

“Here we are,” he provided when they got to the right space, and he leaned down to fiddle with the locks on his bike, checking if he still had a spare helmet with him. He took a minute to get his own helmet and the spare out, and then he stood back up, looking over to where Harry was standing. He was perfectly still, just looking at the motorcycle in front of him.

“What’s up?” Louis asked as he held the extra helmet out to Harry. The other man glanced over to him and then back to the bike.

“It’s been awhile,” he said after a moment, “Since I was on one,”

“Ah,” Louis said, “When was--?”

“I was fourteen,” Harry said. He was rubbing his chin, and Louis was about to ask if he was okay when Harry asked, “Won’t there be cameras following you?”

“Probably,” Louis shrugged, “But if we drive fast enough, we’ll be gone before they can get a decent shot,”

Harry nodded, and then held out one hand, accepting the helmet Louis was offering him.

“Alright,” he said, “Let’s go,”

“Great,” Louis replied, turning around, “Where are we headed?”

“Kingside,” Harry provided, and Louis nodded.

“Think I know it. About you’ll have to give me a few directions,”

He mounted the bike, keeping it straddled between his thighs as he pulled on his gloves and then his helmet. He looked over to where Harry was standing nearby, still holding his helmet in his hands.

“You’ll never get home if you don’t get on,” Louis coaxed, and Harry’s head snapped up. He sighed, and lifted the helmet over his head, pulling it on and securing the strap under his chin as he climbed behind Louis.

“Hold on,” Louis said once Harry was behind him, and then glanced back, “Harry. I said hold on,”

“I—“ Harry began, but before he could start, Louis grabbed onto one of his hands and set it on his own hip.

“Now do that with the other hand,” Louis commanded, and Harry lifted his head, his eyes wide under the visor of the helmet. Eventually, though, he set his other hand on Louis’s hip.

“There you are,” Louis huffed, “Now do that tightly,”

With that, he kicked his leg up and revved the bike, pulsing forward and out of the lot. Harry’s chest shuddered with breath behind him and his hands tightened on his hips, his body leaning forward into Louis’s as they pulled out of the lot and onto the street outside.

“Kingside’s on the east side of the city, isn’t it?” Louis asked as they reached the first light.

“Yeah,” Harry’s voice came, and Louis nodded and waited for the light to shift before he shot forward, straight down the street. The sky was inky black and the street was choked with the electric light of streetlamps and surrounding buildings and passing cars, casting wild grey and yellow shapes over everything. Louis turned left at the next intersection, and shot a quick glance over his shoulder.

“Having fun yet?” he shouted back, and Harry gave him a sharp look.

“Eyes on the road,”

Louis laughed sharply but looked forward anyways, pulling to a smooth stop at the upcoming light.

They rode easily through the next series of turns and straight lines, until eventually Louis noticed a slick black SUV trailing in his wake, the unmistakable shape of a camera reflected in the glass of the backseat window.

“Fuck,” he sighed, “Alright, Styles, hang on,”

“What—“ Harry began, but then Louis was shooting off the road, onto the nearest sidewalk. He heard squealing tires behind him, the paparazzi car surely attempting to trail him on his new path. Good luck with that.

“Paps,” he provided, “I should mention that what I’m about to do is legal. Probably,”

He barely listened to Harry’s protest before he was turning through the open wrought iron gate in front of him, and plowing down the paved path of a small public park.

“Probably best this way,” he called behind him, “We’ll get to your place much faster from here,”

They shot through the park, passing by a few late-night visitors who gave them a long look, probably less out of recognition and more out of curiosity over what the hell a motorbike was doing in a park this late in the evening.

When they reached the exit of the park, Louis looked both ways before glancing back to Harry.

“You recognize this place?” he asked.

“Kind of,” Harry answered slowly.

“Which way am I kind of going, then?”

“Uh,” Harry began, “Left?”

“Left it is,” Louis said, and off he went, “It’s on you now, by the way. Tell me where I gotta go,”

“I don’t—oh! Right, right, right!”

Louis pulled a hard turn at the intersection, a few car horns blaring at him as he did so.

“See, you’re getting better at this. Just tell me a little earlier next time,”

Harry laughed, more exhale than anything, and leaned deeper into Louis’s back.

“Go straight for a bit,” he provided, and Louis followed his instruction.

“Right,” Harry said one intersection, “And another right after that. And then—a left, I think,”

Louis did so, and soon they were into a more residential area of the city, full of cheap apartment units.

“Almost there,” Harry whispered, “Just—one more right,”

Louis made the right, pulling into another row of buildings. Harry squeezed his hip with one hand.

“Right here,” Harry said, and Louis pulled to a stop, cutting the engine of the bike and letting his foot down.

Harry climbed off, taking off his helmet and combing a hand through his hair before handing it back to Louis, who had to wrestle with his own helmet before he took it back.

“That was—interesting,” Harry admitted, his voice breathless, “But thank you,”

“Anytime,” Louis shrugged, tucking the spare helmet into the small storage unit on the back of the motorcycle, “You all good? Not traumatized?”

“I’ll be fine,” Harry said. He shuffled his feet, his form illuminated in the dark yellow of the nearest streetlamp, “I—ah—I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess,”

Louis allowed himself a small smile, leaning forward on his handlebars as he looked at Harry.

“Glad you’re staying, you know,” he said, “Really glad,”

Harry nodded, his eyes casting downwards, and then he hitched a thumb over his shoulder.

“Well, goodnight,” he said, and turned on his heel. He started to walk up the walkway to the closest building, but Louis called after him.

“Harry,” he said, “Wait,”

Harry turned around, eyebrows raised, slightly.

“Yeah?”

“Give me your phone,”

Harry’s eyebrows crinkled, slowly, the curve at the edge of his mouth deepening.

“Why?”

“So I can give you my number,” Louis said, “Did you think I needed something else?”

“Ah, I—you want to give me your number? Are you sure?”

“For God’s sake, yes. We’re together for the long haul now, you might as well be able to text me if you want to,” Louis held out his hand, “Now give me your phone,”

Harry’s face remained pinched, but eventually he dug into his front pocket and produced his phone out, offering it out to Louis, carefully. He took it and typed in his number.

“There you are,” he said, handing it back. Harry took it, gently, and then held it cradled in his hands, staring down at it with uneasy eyes.

“What’s wrong?” Louis asked, and Harry’s head snapped.

“I just…I can’t believe you did that,”

“It’s just a phone number, Harold, honestly,” Louis huffed.

“I mean, yeah, but…” Harry shook his head, “You don’t exactly strike me as the type of person who would just hand their number out to anybody,”

He was right.

Louis didn’t say that.

“You’re not anybody,” he said instead, “Not anymore,”

Harry looked confused, but it was better than the kind of look he would have given if Louis had admitted he was right about something.

“Just don’t leak it to anybody,” Louis said, “Actually, you know what, go ahead and do that if you feel like it. Then I’ll just get a new number and you can have a nice time getting sacked,”

Harry just shook his head again, but this time there was a smile on his face. Harry looked better when he smiled and was actually happy. It made Louis remember that he was actually younger than he was.

“Thank you, Racer Tomlinson,” he said, and Louis rolled his eyes.

“You know what? Stop fucking calling me. It’s weirding me out,”

Harry blinked, his forehead creasing again, “What do you want me to call you, then?”

“I have a first name,” Louis said, “I assume you know it,”

“Yes,” Harry admitted.

“Then that will work,”

Harry nodded.

“Well, then, thank you, Louis,” he said, “For, uh,”

He held up the phone and the motioned generally to the bike. Louis snorted.

“Yeah, you’re welcome,” he said, and then let his voice become softer, “Have a good night,”

Harry smiled, tucking his phone back into his pocket, “You too,”

Louis watched as Harry made it up the walkway, opened the lobby door, went inside. Then he looked straight forward and drove home.

It wasn’t until he was in the front door of his own apartment, dragging himself to bed, that he bothered to check his screen. There were two messages waiting for him, both from an unknown London number.

Hey, thanks again for the ride home.

 

It’s Harry, by the way.

 

Louis rolled his eyes and unlocked his phone to answer.

 

Yes, I know it’s you. I didn’t give anyone else a ride home tonight.

 

And you’re welcome. Again.

 

The next text took a few seconds to come in, but it did, none the less.

 

I’ll see you tomorrow, Louis.

 

He spent far too long staring at the message, at the five letters at the end he had given Harry permission to use, before he managed to drag himself to bed.

Chapter Text

Do you drink coffee?

The line at Louis’s favorite coffee shop was longer than usual. Meaning, there were four people instead of two in front of him. One of them being a university student who was in the middle of ordering fifteen different drinks from what appeared to be a list written on the back of a crumpled receipt.

It was already four minutes until when Louis would normally arrive at the track, and he knew he was going to be late. He could always pull the I’m-famous-and-I’ll-give-everyone-here-a-selfie- with-me-if-you-please-get-out-of-my-fucking-way card, but he didn’t feel like being that much of a twat before five in the morning had even arrived.

So instead he waited, patiently. But he was bored. And Niall probably wasn’t even awake yet, so he texted Harry instead.

The response eventually popped on screen, quickly followed by a second grey bubble.

 

Uh, yes?

 

Is that a random question or…

I’m at a coffee shop. Getting coffee. So I want to know if you drink coffee. So I can get you some. Coffee, I mean.

 

Oh, sure, that would be great.

 

The uni student eventually finished her order and shuffled out of the way, off to the other side of the counter to wait for her drinks. Louis sighed and shuffled forward as the next person in line ordered a black coffee. Okay. He could do this.

 

What do you want me to get?

 

Anything, really.

 

That’s not helpful.

 

It’s my answer.

 

Louis stared so long staring at the screen, trying to force his fuzzy, pre-caffeine brain to figure out what sort of snarky answer he should send back, he entirely missed that he had moved to the front of the line.

“Morning, Racer Tomlinson,”

He blinked and moved his eyes up from the screen to look at the barista in front of him, the same one he usually saw in the mornings.

“Hi, Becca,” he returned.

As he spoke, she was already pulling out a cup from the rack on the side of the register and rotating it in one hand as she picked up a Sharpie with the other, preparing to write on the side.

“The usual?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Louis eventually managed, and then looked back at his phone screen, Harry’s final message still visible, “That, and actually, one other thing,”

******

Louis got out of the coffee shop at the same time he would normally be headed out of his locker room to go to the track.

Not that it really made a difference. His bike was still the first thing parked in the private lot, and when he walked to the entrance of the facility, there was still only one other person there. Still in the exact same spot under one of the exterior lights, with the same aviator’s jacket and stupid printed shirt and black jeans and notebook.

Still not looking up until Louis was right in front of him.

 

“Morning,” he greeted, a little too loudly. Harry lifted his head, but before he could even open his mouth to say something back, Louis thrust one of the paper cups in his hands towards him.

“Here. It’s a latte,” he said, “It has cinnamon. I don’t know why I ordered it. Just. You look like someone who drinks shit with cinnamon in it,”

Harry didn’t say anything, just kept an eyebrow said, but then eventually extended a hand to take the coffee.

“Well, thank you,” he said, offering a smile, “I like cinnamon,”

Louis nodded, “Good. I’m glad,”

He unlocked the door and they entered the hallway, the same ghostly white-yellow light flickering on as they entered.

“What are we doing today, then?” Louis asked after a moment. Harry looked over at him, his eyebrows raised and his lips since on the top of the coffee cup. He pulled his mouth away, his mouth slightly stained with pale foam. The tip of his tongue flicked out quickly enough to lap up the foam, and then he spoke.

 “Well, I’m observing, and maybe working on one of my other stories,” he replied, “And you’re racing, I assume,”

“So. Same as usual,” Louis provided, and Harry titled his head.

“Same as usual,” he repeated.

Louis nodded, “Okay,”

“I’ll let you know, by the way,” Harry said, as Louis turned his head, his coffee cup stuck to his mouth, “When we do something different,”

“Okay,” Louis answered, and then tilted his head, “If you ever get around to actually asking me questions,”

Harry smiled, turning his cup around in his hands, “I’m working on that. Just—“

“Just?” Louis prompted, and Harry shrugged as he lifted his cup again.

“I’m just figuring you out, still,” Harry supplied, “S’all,”

He took another long drink of his coffee, and Louis turned away, making a small noise of affirmation as he plowed forward, Harry following behind him. Eventually, though, Harry’s uneven footsteps stopped, and his voice came a moment later.

“Louis,” he said softly.

Louis turned, “What?”

“You—you passed your door,”

Harry pointed, and Louis followed his finger to his own locker room door. Which he had passed.

“Oh,” he said, and then shuffled forward, getting out his keys again to unlock the door, “Sorry,”

“S’okay,” Harry returned. Still, Louis felt his face burn.

He needed to get his shit together.

“See you at the track,” he murmured.

“See you,” Harry returned, right before Louis shut the door behind him.

******

After practice, Niall didn’t wait for Louis, because he had work hours at the clinic for the rest of the night and, as he frequently liked to point out, not even God himself telling his supervisor that Niall would be late would be sufficient.

So when Louis was done locking up his bike and leaving his fuel request, the only other person with him in the room was Harry, who hadn’t even moved from his spot on the bleachers. Louis sighed, wandering around to the other side of the bleachers, until he’d stopped a few feet away from Harry. He had his notebook in his lap, his earbuds in, and the end of pen clenched between his teeth.

Louis coughed softly before letting out a, “Hey,”

Harry looked up, pulling the end of his pen out of his mouth and then his earbuds out of his ears, “Hi,”

Louis just leaned against the barrier, twisting his fingers together.

“Is it time to go, then?” Harry eventually asked.

“Uh,” Louis stuttered, “I—yeah, I guess so,”

“Alright,” Harry said. He blinked at Louis, the corner of his mouth twitching, “What? No snide comment?”

Louis didn’t say anything, and Harry sighed, pressing the end of his pen to his lips again.

“You don’t have to do this,” he eventually said.

“Do what?”

“You don’t…have to overcompensate. Make anything up to me. Whatever,” Harry said, keeping his pen pressed to his moving lips while fanning out three of his fingers, the pointer finger and thumb keeping a firm grip on the pen, “You get that, right?”  

“I—“ Louis shrugged, “M’just trying to be nice,”

“Are you normally nice?”

“Fuck off, of course I am,” Louis snapped, then bit his lip, “Shit. Sorry,”

“No, no, it’s fine,” Harry said, smiling, “See? I—I don’t mind that you snap a bit. It’s nice, in doses. It feels genuine when you do that. Like I’m seeing something…real,”

Louis blinked.

“So, what, you want me to keep being a twat to you?”

“I want you to do whatever feels natural,” Harry shrugged, “That’s all,”

Louis didn’t say anything, and eventually Harry stood up, “Come on, I’ll tell you something,”

“Alright,” Louis said cautiously, but started off walking to the exit, Harry following closely behind him.

It wasn’t until they were well into the hallway that Harry spoke.

“I was in an accident,” he began, “When I was fourteen,”

Which, of course, made Louis stop walking altogether, “What?”

Harry cut him a quick glance but didn’t stop walking, forcing Louis to jog to keep up with him.

“I always see you staring at my leg. Well. I was in a bad bike accident,”

Louis let his eyes flick down to Harry’s leg, his foot dragging softly on the floor, and then back to Harry’s eyes, who was biting his lip like he was hiding a smirk.

“What happened?” Louis asked softly.

“I was a kid, I was trying to race, because that’s what everyone was doing. One day I was out practicing and I hit a rock in the road, got thrown off the bike over the handlebars and rolled into a ditch. I was lucky, really, because I fell on my leg and the worst I got otherwise was a few bruised ribs. But I fucked up my knee pretty bad. I had six months of physical therapy before I got the pins out, and I still don’t walk right,”

Louis was silent, just staring at Harry, at the smoothness of his unflustered features as he told the story. They were still walking, now down into the locker room hallway, nearing Louis’s own door.

“I don’t…why are you telling me that?” Louis asked.

Harry stopped walking then, his bad leg making one final drag on the floor as he did so.  

“I want you to know that you didn’t have to try so hard to find out something about me. You can just ask. I might tell you, I might not, but you can always ask me something,” Harry said, “Which, I’d like to think, will make it a lot easier for you to answer my questions about you,”

“I don’t—“ Louis licked his lips, “I don’t really think I’ll have as many questions as you do,”

“Still,” Harry shrugged, “You have the option. If you’d like it,”

Louis nodded, and took the few steps to the door before he stopped and turned back, his keys already out.

“I have a train to catch,” Harry said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Louis,”

“Yeah,” he returned, “See you,”

Harry gave him one more smile, and then he was gone, down the hallway, leaving Louis to push his key back into the door, hoping he could go home, watch his tapes, and figure out what this meant.

Then he got a text.

******

 

“Am I in trouble?” Louis asked.

He’d been summoned to the second floor, where the team’s independent publicists had their offices. He wandered up to the floor and to the hallway that had the plastic Caroline Watson: Publcity, Racer Louis Tomlinson sign on the door without much thought.

In the midst of white walls and tall windows, Carolina had her fingers folded together and tucked under her chin, her elbows propped on her desk as she stared at her Mac.

“Yes, sit down,” she said without looking in Louis’s direction.

Louis sighed, pulling out a chair and lowering himself into it. He watched as, slowly, she unknitted her fingers and moved one hand to grip the side of her computer.

“Explain,” she said slowly as the screen rotated towards Louis, “Why you were photographed giving an alpha a ride on the back of your motorcycle,”

Louis stared evenly back at the screen. It was a rather dark, blurry picture of he and Harry, probably taken by the paparazzi van he had done his best to evade the previous night. Still, despite the poor quality, it was still easy to make out Louis, and the fact that the man behind him had a red ribbon on his jacket.

“He needed to get home,” he said easily, and Caroline just looked back at him before he sighed, “He’s from Cross, Car. He’s writing a piece about me. You should have seen him around the building,”

“Are you telling me the truth?”

“What? Yes, fuck, call James if you don’t believe me, he set it up,”

“Don’t curse in my office,” she said, and then turned back to the computer, snapping the screen back around, “And don’t tell me to report to my supervisor. It’s not my fault the man doesn’t tell me anything important and then expects me to clean up the aftershocks,”

“Mm-hm,” Louis hummed. He picked up the miniature rake lying in the Zen garden on Caroline’s desk and raked it through a few times before she slapped him on the back of the hand, her razor-sharp nails barely missing a vein.

“I’ll send a statement out now. But for the record, I don’t want you doing that again,”

“I thought you said sex scandals were a good thing,” he said. She shot him a look.

“They can be if they do not cast you as being a fetishist,”

Louis blinked, his fingers tightening together, “I believe alphist is the correct term,”

“I don’t care. You’re not going to be seen doing it. It’s not good for you,” she gave him a side glance. “Not my views. Other people’s. The public’s,”

Caroline had labeled any sentiment she had ever given as a “public view”. Louis still couldn’t name a single value the woman had for herself.

Louis swallowed thickly, rubbing the bottom of his throat.

“Shouldn’t matter,” he muttered, “Ryan Kingsfield mated an alpha six years ago,”

“Ryan Kingsfield lost his shot at the Grand Prix, and he was only allowed to finish out his season because he was so good and the UK was lagging in total points that year,” Carolina said, “So like or not, it does matter,”

“Right,”

Caroline’s eyes narrowed.

“Are you trying to tell me you’re actually sleeping with this man?”

“I’m not sleeping with him,” Louis murmured.

“Good. I’m glad. That means I won’t have to deal with this anymore, will I?”

Louis wrapped a hand around his closed fist and snapped his wrist back, cracking it.

“No,” he said evenly, looking over Caroline’s blazer-clad shoulder to the window outside.

Caroline sighed, and he looked back at her, leaning deeply into her chair with a hand over her forehead.

 “Look,” she said slowly, “I don’t care who you’re doing. Just—I care who other people think you’re doing. You know what, right?”

Louis swallowed, “I’m still not having sex with him, Caroline,”

“Okay,”

“I’m not having sex with any—“ he stopped himself, rubbed his forehead, “Any alphas. I’m not. I—no,”

“Okay, Louis, I believe you,” Caroline said.

Louis’s eyes remained on the window outside, and he brought his hands, one still wrapped loosely around his other fist, but until they were pressing on his throat, forcing his breath to go up and down, in and out.

His wrist brushed from the ribbon on his lapel and he resisted the urge to close his eyes. Still, his vision blurred, slightly, as he thought about the fact he still had to wear a marker on his chest, and it still meant something, and the fact it meant something meant that his was never going to get caught with anyone he was actually with. Because there could never be anybody.

“Can I go now?” he asked softly, pulling his fist away from his throat. The skin below his Adam’s apple smarted from where his knuckle had been pressed in.

“You can,” Caroline told him. She was filing some of the papers on her desk, not paying any attention.

Louis stood up quickly, knocking the back of his chair with the back of his knees, fiddling with the fastener on his ribbon as he strode towards the door.

******

Louis bought a second coffee the next morning. He trudged to the front door, where Harry was already there, flipping through his notebook as usual, the light over the door turning his dark hair sandy pale.

He looked up when he heard Louis and tucked one long finger under the pages of his notebook that hung over the spirals, pulling them back into place.

“You got me coffee again,” he said, his eyes flicking down to the two cups in Louis’s hands.

“Well, yes,” Louis said, “It’s still five in the morning, and I assume you still like coffee,”

“Fair,” Harry said, reaching out to take the cup, “Cinnamon?”

“Not this morning, they were out,” Louis sighed, “But the girl at the counter said caramel was good,”

Harry smiled, “I like caramel, too,”

Louis shook his head, getting out his keys to undo the door.

“Maybe I’ll order you something different every day,” he said, the keys clicking in the door, “Keep you on your toes,”

Harry laughed. More air than anything, but, still a laugh.

“I wouldn’t mind,”

Louis nodded, pushing open the door.

Harry didn’t mention anything about the pictures.

Louis didn’t feel like bringing it up, anyways.

 

******

Here was thing.

Louis didn’t care that he was an omega.

Not really.

If it wasn’t for everything…the labels and the ribbons and the simple fact he couldn’t do what he wanted with his life because of what other people thought about him…he wouldn’t care.

It was something he thought about a lot, when he was alone. Especially when he fully finished with practice and had watched his racing footage, when dinner was made and the dishes were left in the sink for another day, when he had taken a shower and his skin was hot and raw and oil-less and he was standing in front of a steam-soaked mirror, that was when he especially thought about it.

Louis didn’t look like the rest of his teammates. He knew that. It was just especially obvious when the leather jacket was hanging up his closet and he was just left to stare at himself, to run his hands over his arms and his chest and his stomach and the soft dents his hipbones left in his skin, everything soft skin and lean muscle that couldn’t get bulky even if he wanted it to.

“He doesn’t have a typical racer’s build, does he?” one of the reporters on BBC sports had asked a few months after Louis had signed to the national team. It was code for he doesn’t look like an alpha. Too small. Too delicate.

“He’s a kid,” one of the others had shot back, “And a damn good one, at that,”

The conversation had ended there. Louis hadn’t gotten much bigger since then, but he had learned how to push back his shoulders, to stretch his spine the farthest it could go when he walked, and to speak with the deep, authoritarian rumble he had learned from the rest of his teammates. And to race fast. Then nobody asked questions anymore.

Because it did matter, was the thing.

Mattered enough that he still would turn off the light and get up the next morning and pretend there was no softness inside him, because he was still sure that if he shaves another microsecond off his times, got another medal, kept getting better, then that could still make it all worth it.

******

Louis spent the rest of the week trying to come up with questions for Harry.

Not questions he necessarily wanted the answers to. Just something to ask him, show him that he’ll actually take advantage of that ask-me-anything policy. His favorite ice cream flavor. Where he was from. If he owned any trousers that weren’t unnaturally tight and midnight black.

But of course, by the time he had assembled a decent list, Harry went missing.

It started with one day, and then stretched into two, and three.

The first day, Louis thought he was just late and had let his coffee go cold where he set on in the bleachers. The second day he did the same thing. The third, he had no idea why he bought another cup, but he did, and when nothing greeted him at the door except the punishing brightness of the overhead light, and he sighed and poured the second cup into the grass before going inside.

Really, he had better things to worry about. In a week, he had his first real race of the season, a small one-on-one against the Spanish team. In reality, the stakes weren’t practically high. As long as someone from the British team passed the finish line first, they would be fine. But Louis was already sure that that racer would have to him if he wanted to show he had an actual shot at the Grand Prix in the spring. Winning a ceremonial race against your own team was one thing. A real competition was another.

And he did his best, on the track, with his regular focus. But when he got off he couldn’t help it if his eyes wandered to the bleachers for a little too long. 

“I see Cross is in rut,” Niall said on the third day, when Louis was taking his break.

“Can you stop calling him that?” Louis mumbled, “And yeah, I guess so,”

“I will call him whatever I want,” Niall said, “And why are you not fucking elated by this?”

“I don’t know,” Louis shrugged, “We’ve been…good lately. I guess I’m getting used to him,”

Niall’s face didn’t change, instead he turned a page in his textbook, examining the header a little too closely.

“Will he be around for Spain?”

“Probably. And if he’s not then someone else will be filling in,” Louis rubbed the back of his neck, “Hope he is,”

Niall gave him a look.

“I don’t want someone else digging around, I mean,”

“Uh-huh,” Niall sighed, and then pulled the sleeve of his jacket aside to look at his watch, “Time’s up. Get your ass on the track,”

“I’m not finished yet,”

Louis’s own watch beeped.

“Damn it,” he muttered, pressing the button on his watch to make it quiet, “How did you do that?”

“I’m here too much,” Niall said, picking up his pen to circle something in his book.

Louis huffed, taking a quick pull of his water and then setting it down, leaping over the divider to get back to his bike.

******

Louis usually liked to rest before a race.

It was the thought of being trapped on a plane, and then later being around cameras and handlers and people that typically drove him to go home and head to bed at 9:30 like clockwork before he had to head to an event. But tonight that wasn’t working.

And also he had a blue and gold invitation to The Royal Academy of Arts’ unveiling of its new “Broken Stars” exhibit sitting on his dresser.

So he forced himself into his bathroom, shaved and put on a fresh dotting of oil, and then went down to the storage garage of his building to get his bike.

When he arrived, the main floor of the museum was filled with people in formal wear, floating amongst dark hangings and tiny silver and gold fake stars. The actual art was a mixture of paintings, hangings, and sculptures, depicting planets and stars and swirls of nebulas. In the very center of the exhibition were a pair of a chipped marble sculptures of Diana and Apollo, a large moon and sun made of thick metallic paper rotating above their heads.

Louis probably should have thrown on something for the event that wasn’t his racing jacket, but, nobody seemed to care.

He was halfway through admiring a tapestry of a Greek scene, in front of him, the entire thing overlaid with a laser display of a constellation, when he felt someone come stand next to him, their shoulder just brushing his. Louis turned to see neat black hair, a charcoal grey suit with a midnight blue tie speckled with silver, the same color scheme was the scene around him. The only flash of color that clashed with the room was the pink ribbon on his chest.

“Hey, Louis,” the other man said.

He had known Zayn for a few years, but even then, he was pretty sure the man had only used his title exactly once upon meeting him.

He liked him for that.

“Zayn, hey,” he offered, “Place looks good,”

Zayn laughed weakly.

“Fucking better, this has been my life’s work for the last five months,”

“Right. Sorry,”

“No, it’s alright,” he shrugged, rubbing his forehead, “M’just tired, is all. Liam just got here and he’s taking too long getting me a drink,”

Just then, somebody came behind Zayn and set a hand on his shoulder. Zayn glanced back, nodding politely as the man congratulated him on the exhibit, spouting something about how the museum hadn’t had a better curator in years. After a few seconds of Zayn’s nods and weak comments, the man cut his eyes to Louis, his eyes widening, and then he quickly dropped the hand from Zayn’s shoulder and walked away. Zayn looked back at Louis and smiled wryly.

“I like standing next to you,” he said, “Nobody talks to me, then,”

“Tired of that, are you?”

“Am I tired. Am I tired. People keep asking me why didn’t I get this painting, why didn’t I get this sculpture. Well, most of them are locked in safes in France, for one, and the others are fucking terrible, and also can people stop telling how to—oh, thank fuck,”

Louis turned his head and saw Liam striding towards them, two wine glasses in his grip.

“Hey, babe,” he offered, tilting his head forward and puckering his lips slightly. Zayn looked unamused.

“Booze first,” he deadpanned, and Liam’s smile drooped, his puckered bottom lip pouting out before he relented and handed Zayn one of the glasses. Zayn drank it slowly, Liam watching him with a still-slightly pouted lip, and then when he was done Zayn stepped forward, tucking an arm around Liam’s back and tilting his lips up to meet his mate.

“Looks amazing in here,” Liam murmured as he pulled away, “I like the decorations. He spent three weeks ordering all these decorations,” he informed Louis.

“Of course I did. Camila offered to do it, for fuck’s sake. The place would probably be covered in pink crepe streamers if I let her get her hands on it,” he mumbled, settling his neck into Liam’s shoulder. He reached over with his free hand to fiddle with the edge of Liam’s leather jacket, the thick silver ring on his hand flashing as he did, “Did you have to wear this?”

“What wrong with it?” Liam asked, “Louis’s wearing his,”

“I know. I’m not engaged to Louis,” Zayn said, closing his eyes, “I wanted you to get that Armani suit, with the Gucci tie I ordered you. The one with the sun embroidered on it. We could have been matching,”

“I know, baby, I had practice late. And I’ve worn a themed tie for every other one of your exhibition openings,” he offered.

“The last one was ocean-themed. You wore a blue tie,”

“And?”

And, that is not a real effort,” Zayn said, turning to Louis, “Louis, what do you think? I’m right, aren’t I?”

“I’m staying out of this,” Louis said, “I’ll see you guys later,”

“Make sure you check out the middle portion, those vases took me six weeks to haggle for!” Zayn called behind him. Louis flashed a thumbs-up over his shoulder, and then briefly looked behind him. Liam and Zayn were kissing again, Zayn’s ringed hand set firmly on his mate’s chest.

Louis shook his head as he walked further away from them, deeper into the exhibition. As he moved closer to the center, the larger pieces started being broken up by groupings of pottery and small paintings propped up in Plexiglas boxes, groups of patrons bunched around them. People skirted around him, except for the usual nervous patron who came up to him to shake hands and wish him luck on the track in the next few days, and a few servers offering him drinks and appetizers.

He was biting through a mass of puff pastry and some kind of vegetable, trying to find meaning in a scattering of shattered pottery bits, when there was a buzzing from his pocket. He reached in to retrieve his phone without thinking twice, clicking the home button, expecting a text from Niall or a pre-race follow-up from someone form his team.

He blinked. Harry’s name was on screen, over top a single word.

Hey.

 

Louis unlocked the phone, looking down at the single word on his screen, before he finally tapped something else out.

Hey yourself.

Harry’s responses popped up quickly, one after the other.

So, um, I’m sorry I missed—this entire week.

 

Would’ve given you a head’s up, but, you know, shit happens.

 

Shit happens. As in, rut happens early, you know, crazy weird alpha things, isn’t that relatable?

Louis finally managed to send something back.

 

It’s okay, really. I understand. You didn’t miss much.

 

Also why do you type ‘um’ in your texts?

 

I…don’t know??? That’s how I talk, I guess.

That’s adorable.

 

Ha.

 

What are you doing right now?

 

That’s not meant to be creepy, by the way. Just making conversation.

 

I’m at an art gallery, believe it or not.

 

You?

 

Nothing, really. Packing. Making dinner.

 

Ooooh, packing. So I’ll still see you at the airport tomorrow?

 

Oh, yeah. I’ll be there this time, I promise.

 

Louis was about to tap about something witty, but Harry’s next text popped onscreen before he could.

 

Anyways, I just wanted to check in. I’ll let you enjoy your tonight.

 

Louis tried not to let himself be too disappointed as he typed out, Later, then.

 

Louis tucked his phone into his pocket and glanced over his shoulder, looking back at the people that were skimming around the room, barely looking at the art, shaking hands, swapping out empty glasses for full ones.

A hand caught him on the shoulder, another person wanting to wish him luck at the race. He gritted his teeth together in something passable for a smile and thanked them, all the while wishing he could just slip past the tapestries that lined the room, go into the dark hall beyond, and stay until everyone was gone, so he could look at everything around him without noise or strangers.

 

******

Louis hated being in cars, now.

He hardly went anywhere anymore if it wasn’t on his bike, but he had to be driven to the airport that was housing the team’s private plane. He immediately felt too slow, too cramped, too watched despite the fact the partition was up and he had had this driver before, enough that they were probably bored of seeing him.

Still. When they eventually pulled up to the airport gate, he tumbled out of the car and practically sprinted to the entrance, as an airport representative jogged to meet up with him as they crossed the tarmac.

“Racer Tomlinson,” one of the aids said, “Good morning,”

“Morning,” Louis returned.

“Most of the team is already on board, but we’re still on time, if we get you on board in the next few moments,”

“Were you planning on leaving without me?” Louis asked drily, and tacked on a quick, “I’m joking” when he saw the aide take a short breath.

“Right. Well. I’ll help you on, then,” he said, straightening his tie, “Oh, by the way. There’s press here, saying they have permission to see you. Of course, I’m holding him back, once we take off he obviously shouldn’t be too much of an issue,”

“Wait,” Louis said, stopping in his tracks. He held up a hand, “Back up. Press?”

“Yes, sir,”

“Are they, out of curiosity, from Cross?”

The aide paused long enough for Louis to look over and see Harry sitting on a bench at the end of the tarmac, surrounded by two airport employees. He looked up and made eye contact with Louis, offering a small, timid wave. Louis looked back to the aide and sighed.

“Christ, can’t any of you do your jobs?” he asked, before turning and striding back across the tarmac, “Harold. Nice to see you again,”

Harry stood up, the two employees stepping back as Louis drew closer.

He looked as awake as he always did, but was wearing something much softer than his normal attire. A black Nike pull-over, a maroon beanie, a slightly looser pair of his normal jeans, a soft-looking pair of boots. He had a backpack on, both straps doubled up over one shoulder, the edge of a press pass visibly peeking out of the side of the bag, and black duffel bag at his feet.

“Hey. Hi. Sorry. Am I in the right place?  They wouldn’t let me through. I brought my press pass—“

“Yes, you’re in the right place. Some people just can’t do their jobs,” Louis turned, waving at the aides, “He’s fine, he’s supposed to be here. Move along,”

When he turned back, Harry was smiling timidly at him.

 “I, uh, think they’re worried you’re going to fire them after that,”

“Well, it’s not like I fucking can even if I wanted to,” he said, “Come on then, let’s get on,”

Harry trailed behind Louis was he walked towards the open door of the jet, waving off anyone that offered to take his bags on for him or otherwise assist him with a task he had done countless times before.

When he was finally on board, he saw most of the other racers were already there, sprawled over multiple seats. Cara was leaning on one of the luggage carriers, leaned over where Perrie and Jesy where sitting, and then looked over to Louis as he entered. Her eyes shifted to Harry, and she grinned.

“Oh, shit, you write for Cross, don’t you?” she asked, “You did a piece on me a couple months ago,”

“I did,” Harry returned, “Nice to see you again, Racer Delevingne,”

“You, too,” Cara shifted her eyes to Louis, “He’s yours, now, I’m guessing?”

“Yeah, he’s mine,” Louis shrugged, tapping Harry’s elbow, pulling him gently to the front of the plane, “Got myself a showcase piece, didn’t I,”

Cara grinned and whistled softly, kicking him in the shin enough to make him squawk, “Nice job, Lou Lou,”

“Thanks,” he grumbled, reaching down to rub his leg, only to have Perrie and Jesy kick him the same spot, causing him to crash into the seat behind him, “You’re all fucking dead to me,”

He straightened himself up, hobbling over to one of his seats, and caught Justin, one of the more established racers watching Harry closely as he moved behind Louis.

“Why the hell is the press here?” he asked when he caught Louis’s eyes, “I thought they met us at the airport,”

Louis rolled his eyes, throwing his carry-on into the overhead compartment.

“Harry will be here all season,” Louis said, “He can do whatever the fuck he wants. Including pick which seat he wants,”

Louis looked over at Harry, who gazed back with unsure eyes, hands tightly gripping the strap of his bag.

“Harry,” Louis prompted, patting the seat closest to him, “Aisle or window?”

Harry looked down at the seats, then towards the back of the plane.

“Next to you?” he asked.

“Yes, Harry, next to me,” Louis sighed, “Pick one,”

“Window?” Harry said, and Louis nodded.

“Okay, good. You’ve made a decision. Now put your bag up,”

Harry did, putting his duffel alongside Louis’s, and then slid into the padded window seat while Louis followed him, setting himself up in the aisle seat.

“Would you like champagne?” he asked, “Coffee? Orange juice? Literally anything?”

Harry shook his head, smiling, “I think I’m okay, thanks,”

“Just let me know,” Louis said, patting Harry’s knee. He raised a hand, catching the attention of the on-staff attendant who was wandering the aisle, “Can I get some tea, please?”

The attendant nodded with a soft, “Of course, Racer Tomlinson” and once she had disappeared down the aisle, Louis turned the rest of the seats, raising his voice enough for everyone to hear him but keeping his eyes steadily on Justin as he spoke.

“If anyone has an issue with Harry being here, you can take it up with me,” he said smoothly, “Although I doubt he’ll have interest in any of this season,”

Justin dropped his gaze, keeping his gaze forward as he carded an uneasy hand through his unruly red hair.

“Sorry I’m late!” a voice shouted, and everyone turned to see Liam bounding through the door, dressed in a sweatshirt and carrying leather suitcase, “Zayn dropped me off and we got a little sidetracked but at the house,”

“It’s no trouble, Li. You didn’t miss much,” Louis grinned as he reached up a hand to accept the mug the attendant had come back to offer him, “This is Harry, he’s from Cross,”

“Oh, hi, nice to meet you,” Liam said, giving Harry a wide smile before squeezing into the last available seat. Jesy quickly propped her boots up in his lap.

Louis looked back at Harry, he flashed him a brief glance and a smile. Louis leaned in, patting his knee – his not-bad one – and whispered, “They’re not all bad, see,”

“I know,” Harry said, and Louis shook his head.

“I’ll tell you a secret,” he continued, “Justin’s been on the team two years longer than me and still hasn’t gotten his times on the board. They’re probably going to let him off next season,”

Harry didn’t say anything. But he did smile. A smile that got bigger when Louis reached over to jostle his shoulder.

That would do.  

******

Once they were safely in the air, Louis ordered another tea and a bottle of sparkling water to calm his stomach, and prepared to spend the short flight listening to the podcasts he had saved the previous night. But when he dug through his bag, searching for the small black wires, but he came up empty.

“Damn it,” Louis mumbled. Harry looked over at him, briefly distracted from the screen of his laptop, and Louis motioned to his bag as he explained, “I forgot my headphones,”

Harry untucked his own earbud from one ear and held it up, “Do you want mine? I’m almost done anyways,”

“No, no, keep them,” Louis sighed, the back of his head weakly hitting the back of his seat, “Oh, well, guess I can nap,”

“You can’t sleep on planes, Louis,” Cara offered from across the aisle.

“Fuck off,” he mumbled. He closed his eyes, only to open them again a second later, “Shit, she’s right,”

“Well,” Harry said, reaching into his bag, “If you really need something to do, I have old copies of Cross with me,”

Louis looked over, and Harry was holding the corner of a stack of magazines, folded and worn, in a hand.

“Do you carry those with you constantly?” Louis asked, and Harry shrugged.

“Sometimes. They tend to just pop up in my place,”

“Well, why not,” he relented, and Harry handed the issue off to him. Louis tucked it against his chest, and leaned back, “Gonna try to sleep first, though,”

Harry nodded and went back to his work, long fingers tapping on his keyboard before he eventually tucked it away in his bag.

Harry, it turned out, could sleep on planes, and did so a half hour into the ride, like most of the other racers. Leaving Louis alone with his thoughts, a reading light, and Cross.

He hadn’t actually read a full edition of Cross in nearly year, instead just skimming articles that they had run about him to make sure they hadn’t made any errors of fact. He flipped past the front pages, regular features like letters to the editor and season predictions, and then onto different sections, a few short pieces of the national team and then articles on the smaller amateur and training leagues. He checked up on the Manchester league he’d trained with starting when he was seventeen, and shook his head at their lagging scores. They had never been some of the best, but they had at least been decent enough to get him into the professionals after two seasons.

He flipped a page, going into the next article, one on some the promising school leagues based in Brighton, and paused. The margins on the page were filled to the brim with cramped and smudged blue ink, words were circled and underlined and crossed out in red and purple.

At the top of the page, in neat text just below the title, was Written by Staff Writer Harry Styles.

Louis blinked, pulling the magazine closer to his eyes so he could see the words written in the margins better. Most of them were criticisms of word choice or phrasing, sentences that should have been cut or moved or in some cases, replaced, ideas for different phrases pressed into the margins as tightly as they could fit.

He tried to remember what Harry’s handwriting looked like, from the brief flashes he had seen in his notebook. Maybe he wasn’t pulling his own words apart so much. Maybe it was his editor. It was almost definitely his editor, wasn’t it? Giving him pointers for what to do next time?

Still, wouldn’t they do that before the article ran?

He looked over to the man next to him, curled up in his seat, his head pressed into a rolled-up blanket and his ungodly long legs cramped up in the small space, his feet pointing into each other.

Louis closed the magazine and stowed it into his own bag for later, ordered another cup of tea, and waited for the plane to land.

******

It was raining in Madrid. Warm, thick rain dripping through swollen, humid air.

Louis pulled his hood over his head and kept his carry-on pulled over his shoulder. There was a short line of press lined up outside the plan, with shiny passes around their necks. The regular paparazzi would probably be waiting outside of the airport, but for now, they had a series of polite cameras and reporters surrounded by a row of black-clad security.

The rest of the team headed out ahead of Louis, flanked by their personal security. When Louis hit the steps, most of the cameras turned to him. There were guards on both sides of him, as well as in front. Just behind him, he could feel Harry trailing closely at his heels. There was probably another guard behind him, but he didn’t feel like looking.

“Good morning, Racer Tomlinson,” one of the photographers called, “How are you feeling about tonight’s race?”

“Just fine,” he returned.

“Racer Tomlinson,” another one of them called, “Is that the alpha you were photographed with a few weeks ago?”

If Louis listened carefully, he could hear Harry’s breath tighten.

“No personal questions,” the guard in front of him grunted.

A sea of other questions filled in the space instead, the occasional authorized camera snapping, and then they were through the doors, getting ready to go out to the cars waiting out front, through the paps, and to their hotel, where they would have a few hours of rest before the race that evening.

Louis glanced behind him, and Harry was still close on his heels, bag straps clutched tightly in one hand as he shuffled forward.

“Alright?” he asked, and Harry lifted his head.

“Fine,” he returned, with an easy smile, “Just a lot,”

“Wait ‘til we get outside,” Louis told him, to a weak laugh.

He still grabbed for Harry’s fingers when they got outside, keeping him tethered as they weaved through the crowd of paps and security surrounding the line of cars out front.

******

The race was inside of Madrid’s major arena, which was only about the third the size of the British one. Still, they had obviously worked to make the space presentable. Even the underground garage was filled with ribbons and decorations.

A regulation bike was waiting for Louis in the garage along with his uniform. He was one of the first racers down, but eventually the rest of his team and the Spanish racers were present, fiddling with the bikes and beginning a few short, terse conversations with those around them.

Louis almost wished Niall was here, but after his brief pre-race check-up, he had been sequestered to the medic’s booth on the lower ring of the arena seating, and probably wouldn’t see Louis until the race was over.

Louis was in the midst of his prep when a shadow fell over his hands, and he looked up to see a slight woman with dark hair pinned up in a bun, her full, bare lips pursed in a smile.

“Racer Tomlinson,” she said.

“Racer Lopez,” he returned with a soft sigh. He felt a poke at his thigh and looked over to see a boot prodding him. He looked up and offered her a quick look, “Don’t do that,”

She pouted but dropped her boot, the sound of it clicking on the pavement.

“Always fiddling with that thing when I try to talk to you,” she clucked as Louis continued with his bike.

“Mm-hm,” he returned, going back to playing with his wheel.

Chico lindo estúpido,” she hummed. When Louis ignored her, she laughed, “You still don’t know any Spanish,”

“No, I don’t,” Louis said back, “Are you going to offer to teach me again? Like you do everything I race against you?”

“I don’t like to think we’re racing against each other,” she said, holding her hand over her chest, “Our countries are competing, Louis. Not us. No reason we can’t get along,”

Louis closed his eyes, pressing his fingertip to his wheel.

“How about we see what happens on the track today first,” he got out.

He didn’t bother to open his eyes until he heard a resigned huff and a pair of boots walking away.

Only a few minutes after he had gone back to working on his bike, Cara wandered over, her teeth snapping over her electric pink gum as she pulled her hair up into a ponytail.

“Does Adela still think you’re straight?” she asked as she yanked an elastic over her hair, “And an alphist?”

Louis stood up, letting out a small sigh as he brushed his hands together.

“Spit your gum out, Delevingne,”

“I’m just asking, Jesus,” she huffed, but wandered back over to her bike. Louis couldn’t help but offer her a tight smile as she walked back.

Eventually, there was a short whistle, a reminder that soon, they would have to take their onto the track and begin.

 If Louis listened carefully, he could hear the pounding of feet above his head, the trepidation of the crowd, thrumming in tune with his own pulse.

******

The letters on Adela Lopez’s jacket, spelling out her last name, were blurring in front of Louis’s eyes. He was trailing her by a few inches, but every time he seemed to get close, she pushed the gas just enough to surge forward and create another gap between them. He huffed, slowing up. He wasn’t going to win like this.

They were on their second to last lap, and he had some time to regroup. He let himself fall back, pumping the brakes heavily. Racer after racer blurred past him, but he kept sliding back, letting blurs of black and British and Spanish flags blur past him. Soon he was hovering somewhere in the middle of the pack, just ahead of the slowest racers. He could hear their engines waver behind him, unsure of what he was doing so close to them for once.

Up ahead, he saw Adela grow closer to the finish line. One of the officials raised a hand, a white flag gripped in his hand, ready to signal the final lap.

When they blew their whistle, signaling the first racer had crossed into the final lap, Louis revved his bike.

He cut straight towards the middle of the track, into the AstroTurf that filled in the track’s center. He clipped one of the other racers with his wheel as he did so, causing their bike to wobble but not fall over, just enough to send a few more racers pushing their bikes to get ahead of him.

But before they could get too far, Louis ripped back onto the track, cutting into a diagonal line towards the nearest divider. A few slower racers slammed on their brakes in attempt to avoiding colliding, their wheels squeaking. A few feet ahead of the divider, Louis cut in another line towards the center.

He stayed in a straight line, then, the rest of the racers effectively behind him and delayed by his stunt. Now he only had one obstacle in his way.

Adela was moving steadily, though, and he wasn’t going to beat her just by revving his bike more.

He would have to play with her a bit.

He stayed in the same lane, gradually moving closer to her. To her credit, she stayed at her own pace, quick and efficient, but the thing was, she and Louis had nearly identical times, and soon, he was directly behind her, enough that his front wheel was within an inch of her back wheel.

She ignored him, at first, and then glanced back, ever so briefly. He couldn’t see her expression behind her full-face helmet, but still, she was thrown off enough to surge forward. He matched the surge, not enough to move past her but instead to remain just behind her wheel.

And then, a few meters away from the race, she wavered.

Enough that she dipped back, edging a little too close to Louis’s wheel.

He surged forward, tapping her wheel and then ripping past her, enough that he felt heat surge down his leg from how close he got to her bike. He didn’t bother to look back, instead hearing the fresh rip of squeaking wheels on the track to know she had dipped back. By that time, Louis was a few feet away from the track, far ahead of the rest of the pack.

When he shot over the line and the ref waved the final flag, the shouts of the crowd sounded like shattering glass.

*******

The streets were deathly quiet when they walked out.

Which was to expected, after a national loss. He imagined that inside some of the pubs there were was frustrated grumbling and eventually subdued discussion about the times of the Spanish racers and talk of their next week.

But Louis was amidst a bubble of sound.

There were leather jackets all around him, grabbing his arms, pushing him from side to side. There were hands rubbing his hair, were grabbing at his hips, trying to lift him up. He was tired, but the endless energy, the noise in his ears and the jumble of motion, made him feel giddy, elated.

“Alright, alright,” he shouted, slapping away one of the hands, “Get the hell off me,”

The hands broke away slowly, but the noise continued. He pulled away from the group, tripping, his medal clanging dully on his chest. He laughed, weakly, and turned back to the group behind him.

“Not bad for a first race,” he called, fingering the medallion around his neck, and there were some cheers from the front of the group. The same ones that had lifted him up the whole way down the street, the older racers, the ones who had already made names for themselves already. The newer racers, the slower ones, clung to the back, following the group but keeping a healthy distance.

Louis knew what it was like. He had been the same way his first season. Nineteen, in a jacket that didn’t feel right, watching much older and more experienced racers cheer on someone else, the same racers that hadn’t bothered to learn his name yet.

And then by the end of the season he was beating half of them.

“Alright,” one of them called out, “The night is fucking young, let’s go. Tomlinson’s paying,”

“You’re shit out of luck, then,” Louis chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck. The medal was starting to feel heavy, now, and he was starving, “I’ll see you all tomorrow,”

“Oh, come on,”

“Oi, I just beat fucking Spain, I’ll do what I want,” he called back.

“Alright, then, see you tomorrow,”

The group started to head off, then, after a few more people roughly clapped Louis on the shoulders and back.

“Does he ever do anything?” he heard one of the younger racers ask.

“Tomlinson? Fuck, mate, you think he needs to fucking go out to get any?” Justin’s unmistakable voice said back, “Probably got half a dozen O’s waiting in the damn lobby for him,”

Louis could vaguely here a female voice – probably Cara – hiss for them to shut up, and then there was still a string of barks and laughter, and they were fading away, leaving Louis on a quiet, dark Spanish street, surrounded by pubs and businesses whose windows pulsed yellow with late-hours light.

He sighed, fixing the medal around his neck, the weight of it making him ache, and then headed down the street, the next block to his hotel, before he was lost in a sea of exiting bar patrons who might as well want him dead.

******

There was no one waiting for Louis in the lobby, aside from the front desk clerk who gave him a curt nod as he passed. He returned a wave that he hoped translated to “I’m sorry I beat your country but this is a lovely hotel thank you for not killing me” and then headed to the elevator, taking it up to his floor.

He took off his jacket and boots once he was in the room, his medal hitting the ground with an especially loud bang. The TV was still on, splashing electric blue light over the whole room. He wandered over, not bothering to turn it off, but instead to change the channel to something that wasn’t his face or in Spanish. After a while he gave up and turned it off entirely.

Instead he placed a call to room service and then got into the shower, stripping himself of sweat and fake scent. He put on a pair of joggers and a t-shirt with a thick rip on the neckline just in time for there to be a knock at his door. He waited until he heard the pad of shoes retreating to tell him it was safe for him, in all his true-scent glory, to open the door and get his food. He did, eventually, grabbing the cardboard container, and went out to his balcony, picking up a carton of cigarettes sitting on his bedside table along the way.

The rain still clung with the thick, warm humidity of early autumn rain, and Louis sat cross-legged in the middle of the balcony, eating his burger as he looked out. There was noise down below, drunk protests and some smattered celebration, probably from Brits that had flown in for the race.

When he was finished with his sandwich he set aside the container and stood up, lighting a cig and leaning against the balcony. His hair was still wet and clinging to his forehead, and he reached up with his free hand to brush it away before giving up, letting the damp strands fall freely in his eyes. The smoke trailed lazily in the air, turning the blue against the inky blackness of the industrial buildings ahead of him. When the smoke had started to go white again, he reached for his phone. He called Niall, who picked up on the second ring. Because of course he did.

“Tommo,” he shouted, his noise bobbing up in an ocean of chatter and music and clinking glass, “The fuck is going on?”

Louis sighed, pursing his lips to blow out a steady stream of blue-to-white smoke, and didn’t bother answering his question.

“What are you doing?” he asked instead.

“I’m having fun, that’s what,” Niall shouted back, “Are you dying or some shit?”

“No,” he said, exhaling, “Found the one place in entire city that’s letting Brits in, are you?”

“I’m not a Brit, fuck you,” the other man said. He was still shouting, but it didn’t sound out of place anymore, “Sides, not all fuckin’ rainbows out here. People keep throwing eggs at the glass when they walk by. But they’re givin’ out free shots when they do,”

“Going to go out of business that way,”

“Why you are you calling me, Louis?”

Niall’s voice was soft, then, at least as soft as it could be while still being heard. But it was serious, no way Louis could duck out of his questions again. He lifted his cigarette to his mouth and took another pull to avoid it a little longer anyways.

“Just needed to talk to somebody,”

“God, Lou,” Niall sighed, “You make me fucking sad when you say shit like that,”

“Sorry,”

“You need to get a dog. Or a goldfish. Or one of those robot birds that talk. Something to make you less of a damn hermit,”

“Don’t buy me a robot bird, please,” he said softly, “And I’m fine. I just. I’m tired. Wanted to see what you were up to,”

“Okay,” Niall said, “You sure you’re okay?”

“I just won my first race of the season, Ni,” he said, “I’m grand,”

“Are you smoking?”

“A little,”

“God damn it,” Niall huffed, “All this work I do for your health and you keep doing that shit,”

“I’ll quit,” Louis said, before placing the end of the cig back against his lips, “Eventually,”

He took another pull, but this time it tasted too stale, made his throat burn too much, and he extinguished the cigarette on the railing, the bright red cherry sizzling and disintegrating against the coal black iron.

“Go have fun,” Louis said, “Sorry I called,”

“Don’t be sorry,” Niall said, “I—shit. I’ll come over sometime this week. We’ll watch something. Drink something,”

“Maybe,” Louis said, “Now go cheer for the great Racer Tomlinson,”

“Fuck you,” Niall said, and then the line beeped. Louis sighed and tucked his phone back into his pocket.

 He stood outside for a while longer, just staring out in front of him, and then wandered back inside, pulling the door behind him closed as he went.

He laid on his bed, staring at the ceiling. He was tired, but not tired enough to go to sleep. He was tired in a way that felt permanent, wired into his bones. Tired of spending the best nights of his life like this. Alone and hiding.

Louis rolled over on his side, and his eyes quickly fell on the Cross magazine he had flung on his nightstand earlier in the afternoon. The cover was peeled aside, the pages tucked under the back of the magazine, Harry’s article facing out. His eyes lingered on the marked-up, creased page, and once again, he wondered where they came from, and why.

He tried not to think about how good the words between the marks were, and his own notebook at home swollen with racing reminders, and how he kind of already knew exactly where the marks had come from. And why.

He picked up the magazine. And then he grabbed his phone again.

It only rang a few times, and then a soft, deep voice came through.

“Harry Styles,”

“Is that how you answer all your phone calls?” Louis asked.

“I—Louis, hi,”

“Hi,” he said, laying back. The magazine was laying on his stomach, the cool, slick paper pressing on his bare skin where his shirt had ridden up, “Where’s my favorite journalist right now?”

“I—I’m your what?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Louis huffed, “Where are you?”

“Oh. Uh,” Harry said, “Would—is it boring if I say I’m just in my room?”

“No,” Louis said, examining his ceiling, “That’s where I am right now, too,”

“Okay,” Harry returned, “What—what’s going on exactly?”

“Just wandered if you’d want to come up here,” Louis said, “Unless you’re doing something incredibly important, “

“Oh, I don’t—“ Harry said, his voice fading into mumbling, “Sorry, I’m not—“

“You’re not what?”

“Um,” Harry’s voice quivered, and then it dawned on Louis.

No one but Niall thought he was alone tonight.

Including Harry.

“I’m not doing anything,” he cut in quickly, “I—I’m by myself, Harry. No one else is here,”

There was silence on the other end.

“Oh,” Harry said, “I—shit, sorry, okay,”

“No, it’s—it’s understandable,” Louis licked his lips, “I just—do you want to come hang out for a while? I have Netflix. And Hulu. And Amazon Prime. And I heard the kitchen does all-day breakfast,”

“Why?”

“Because I imagine there’s a high demand for breakfast food,”

“No, I mean…” Harry sighed, “Why are you doing this?”

“Because everyone else is out,” Louis said, “And I just won my first real race and I’m bored. And I still feel like shit for being a dick to you,”

Harry didn’t speak at first, and Louis pressed his free palm over the magazine, the paper crinkling under his touch.

 “I can come down for an hour, maybe?” the other man said eventually.

Louis closed his eyes and nodded, even though nobody could hear him.

“An hour’s fair,”

*******

In an hour, there was a knock on his door.

Louis had taken all the necessary pre-cautions – meaning, he had put on fresh represent and shoved the Cross issue into a drawer – so almost as soon as the noise came, he went over and opened the door.

Harry stood in the hallway, the same outfit he had on for the plane, only his beanie was gone, his hair free, the waves fighting their way out of what looked like a once-neat style. He smiled.

“Hi,” he said softly.

“Hey, come on in,” Louis said, opening the door wide enough for Harry slip past him.

“Sorry I couldn’t get here earlier,” Harry said, toeing off his shoes, “I was doing some work—had to record stuff from th  day and send a few things to my editor—“

“Hey, hey, no worries,” Louis said quickly.

When Harry was finished taking off his shoes, he looked up and blinked, smiling again.

“It’s nice in here,” he said. But as he said it, Louis could see his eyes skimming over everything. He could practically hear him cataloging every detail. The discarded boots by the door, tipped over on their sides, undone laces splayed out. His jacket in a different heap nearby, a flash of red visible in the black folds, his medal thrown on top. The grease-spotted cardboard chip container on the bed.

“Thanks,” Louis managed, and then coughed, “Stop doing that,”

Harry looked up, his eyebrows creasing.

“Doing what?”

“I don’t know. Your journalist thing. Your observing thing,”

“Ah,” Harry said, rubbing the back of his neck, “Don’t really know if I can help that. It’s…just a habit at this, point,”

His smile widened, “’Sides, thought I was your favorite journalist,”

Louis rolled his eyes, “Don’t get cocky on me. Do you want food?”

“Not right now,” he said, “But thank you,”

“Suit yourself,” Louis shrugged. He wandered over to the bed, picking up a chip from his box and shoving it between his teeth, “I was just catching up on Black Mirror, if you want to keep going,”

“Sure,” Harry said, “I’m behind, too, actually,”

“Splendid,” Louis replied, and picked up the remote. He settled into the couch in the lounge area of the room, setting his feet on the coffee table as he turned the episode back on. Harry stood in the corner before he eventually wandered over, setting a hand on the back of one of the armchairs nearby.

“Are you good over there?”  Louis asked before he even had a chance to sit down, “Because you can sit here, on the couch,” 

“Is that alright?” Harry asked, and Louis scoffed.

“You sat next to me on the plane. You’re in my hotel room. You’re tracking every moment of my life. You can sit next to me to watch TV,”

Harry just looked at him, then slowly took a hand off the back of the chair and instead wandered over to the couch. Louis sighed and rested his cheek against a throw pillow as Harry sat down.

“There you go,” he huffed. Harry glanced at him with a small smile, and then turned back to the screen.

They got through one episode before Harry opened his mouth with a – “Sorry, can we order something small? Like a muffin or something? I didn’t really eat a real dinner, and I’ll pay you back—“ before Louis shoved a laminated room service menu into his chest and pushed the room phone at him, with orders to get whatever he wanted, on the UK team.

In half an hour, they were through another episode, and Harry was working his way through a fruit-covered waffle while Louis had his second evening cup of tea. 

An hour half that, all the food was done, and Louis was started to notice Harry was trying a little too hard to pay attention to the TV. He grabbed the remote and paused it, making Harry turn his head, his eyebrow up in silent question.

“You’ve seen this much before, haven’t you,” Louis said, his voice too flat for it to be a question.

Harry smiled sheepishly, “Yes?”

“God damn it, Styles,” Louis huffed, “Tell me this shit before we get this far in,”

“I’m sorry,” he shook his head, “I am behind, I haven’t seen the new season. But. You’re still on the first,”

“Yes, I know, Harold, I don’t exactly have a lot of free time,” Louis sighed, leaning against the couch. Harry just watched him in amusement, then puckered his lips, lifting his fingers to tug at his bottom lip.

“Is this what you always do after a race?” he asked.

Louis glanced over, narrowing his eyes, “Typically, yes,”

“Okay,”

“Something wrong with how I spend my time?”

“No, it’s fine, I just—I guess I don’t get what you’re trying to hide from me if this is it,”

“Are you calling me boring?” he said, and Harry held up his hands.

“Just—unexpected, that’s all,” he shrugged.

“Unexpected,” Louis snorted, “You thought I was inviting you to an orgy and you ended up catching up with my Netflix choices,”

Harry shook his head, “Sorry about that, by the way. Just, you know. You read some kind of crazy things out there,”

Louis blinked, digging his blunt nails into his own palm.

 “Did you, uh—“

“I saw the pictures of us,” Harry said quickly, biting his lip, “I mean, I kind of expected that, of course. And I saw the statement your publicist put out, so, really, I don’t care,”

“Right,” Louis sighed, setting his head against the back of the couch, “I can’t drive you home anymore, by the way,”

“I figured. Probably for the best, anyways. Has anyone ever told you you’re an awful driver?”

Louis snorted, covering his face with a hand, “Niall has, actually,”

He uncovered his face, looking back over to Harry.

“I’m still not telling you everything by the way,” Louis said, “Don’t get cocky on me,”

“Oh, yeah?” Harry asked, quietly. He smiled, like he didn’t believe it. That this was all Louis had to offer: dull, lonely nights in hotels.

It was, in a way. He was fine with Harry thinking that was the whole picture, that he had gotten everything, if this was as far as it went.

“This is the most you’re getting from me,” Louis confirmed, and picked up the remote, “Now I’m going onto the next episode. You can leave or you can deal with it,”

“I’ll stay,” Harry said.

******

He stayed. for another two hours. They were into season two and Harry leaned over, shaking Louis’s ankle to rouse him out of half-way to sleep. Louis blinked, his vision trying focusing in one messy, wavy hair, bright eyes, pursed-open lips.

“M’gonna go,” Harry murmured, and Louis just nodded.

“Walk you to the door,” he mumbled, and pushed himself up before Harry set a hand on his shoulder, pushing gently.

“Stay,” he whispered, and Louis blinked again, rubbing his eye with his sleeve-covered fist. He dropped down onto the couch, as if his body recognized just how heavy it was.

“Okay,” he returned, “Thanks—thanks for coming,”

“Yeah,” Harry smiled, “Good night. Or morning. Whatever,”

“It’s morning?”

“It’s 2. Go to sleep,”

“Shit,” Louis mumbled, and curled himself tighter on the couch. He wasn’t going to sleep in his bed tonight.

He heard Harry snort, softly, and then there were footsteps, softly dragging, one foot more than the other, and a click of the door.

It wasn’t until there was a knock on his door five hours later, with Harry standing on the other side in bare feet, that Louis realized he had left his shoes by the door.

******

The week after the Spanish race passed normally. Early racing days, meeting at the door, coffee. Harry was friendly and chatty and Niall was too wrapped in his work and upcoming exams to comment.

Louis stayed focused. He hadn’t beaten his regular times in the Spanish race. Actually, the additional time he had spent trying to outsmart Adela had put him a solid four seconds behind his regular track times. He worked to get himself back up, focusing on sharper lines and faster reactions to any possible obstacles.

Things were normal.

Then, on Thursday, a few days before Louis officially got his week off, he hopped the divider at the end of practice and Harry started talking.

“So I was thinking we could start an interview soon,” he said as he capped his pen. One entire side of his hand was coated in blue ink.

“Oh,” Louis said, watching as he packed up his notebook and pens, “Is it that time, now?”

“Well, yeah,” Harry said, “I’ll probably do a few different interviews with you, but I thought we could start next week,”

“I have next week off,” Louis reminded him.

“Right, shit,” Harry shook his head, “Maybe this weekend? Or, wait, it’s Halloween this weekend, never mind. We’ll just wait”

“Got wild plans, do you?” Louis asked, and Harry shook his head again.

“Nah, not anymore. My uni friends were going to come in for the weekend but they bailed. So I’m just staying home,”

“That’s pathetic,” Louis snorted, “You know what?  The team’s making me going to fucking annual club party. And I hate Halloween. How about we both go to the party and then you break me out half way through to interview me, and then we just leave,”

“Uh,” Harry stuttered, “You sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure. You need plans and an interview, why not just finish both at once,” Louis shrugged, “You don’t have to leave when I do, by the way. If I tell people you can stay, you can do whatever the fuck you want,”

“You really don’t have to do that,” Harry said.

“Well, I want to. Otherwise my stupid party invite is just going to go to waste. Alright?”

Eventually, Harry gave him a nod, and Louis sighed, clapping his hands together.

“Wear something fun, I’ll see you then,”

******

Louis really, really hated Halloween.

The annual team party was at Quick Silver, which was a club Louis had forgotten existed and wished it could have stayed that way. The club was named for the wall-to-wall-to-floor-to-ceiling chrome paint on everything, which, combined with the flashing lights, was giving him a migraine. And it smelled like alpha. Sweaty, horny alpha. But that was a given.

He was at the bar, nursing something bright blue and hopefully highly alcoholic, when two arms threw themselves around his shoulders.

“Happy Halloween, bitch,” Cara shouted in his ear, before pulling off and frowning at him, “What the hell are you?”

“I’m me,” Louis deadpanned, “In eye shadow,”

He was wearing a lot of eye shadow. Some of it glitter. Enough to burn his eyes and question how the hell he was supposed to get this shit off his face.

Cara set his hands on her hips, tilting her cat-ear adorned head.

“Why are you just an asshole?” she sighed, then reached up to take off her headpiece, “Here,”

She shoved the ears onto his head before he could protest, and then when he reached to take them off, she slapped his hand away.

“No,” she scolded, “Leave them on,”

“Cara,” he protested, but she shook her head.

“Louis, it is Halloween, and you are sitting in here wearing cheap eye shadow and your racer’s jacket drinking…what the fuck is that? Actually, never mind, don’t tell me. The point is, you’re enjoying Halloween. Now go have fun,”

She slapped him on the back and then she was gone, into the sea of people that was apparently ignoring him tonight.

And then there was another hand on his shoulder and he jumped so badly he almost spilled his drink onto the bar.

“Fuck, sorry!” Harry’s voice shouted, and Louis gave him a brief glance before setting his forehead down on the bar.

“You’re…fine, Harry, god,” he set a hand over his heart and lifted himself back up, pulling his drink towards him again.

“Sorry, again,” Harry said with a sheepish smile, “Uh, nice costume,”

“Thanks,” Louis slurped up more of his drink, “Cara made me wear it. I think she hates me more than I hate this fucking holiday,”

He shoved his glass away, the thick syrup in the drink putting him off no matter how much booze was packed inside.

“I see you didn’t put anything together, either,” he said, sweeping a hand over Harry’s entire body. He was wearing what he normally wore, jacket and jeans and boots. The only notable difference was there was no ribbon, “Where’s your marker, though? Going to get written up if anyone sees you without it,”

“Oh, I,” Harry scratched the back of his neck, “I’m wearing it on my costume. I kept the jacket off on the way here so it was visible,”

“So why are you wearing the jacket now?”

Harry rubbed his neck harder, his cheeks flushing, “My costume’s not exactly…professional,”

“I see,” Louis nodded, and then slid off his stool, “Well, come on, let’s get a room so you can ask me your questions, I can get out of here, and you can show off whatever the hell you’re actually wearing,”

Harry followed Louis to the back of the club, where there were private rooms that could be rented out. Louis requested one of the sound-proof units and forked over his credit card, trying to ignore the small glance the bouncer paid to Harry. Still, the other man eventually stuck his arm out, blocking Harry from going into the back of the club.

“Identification,” he said to him, and Harry fished inside his jacket for his wallet, eventually providing a driver’s license and press ID. He unzipped his jacket, then, flashing the red ribbon on his chest. The bouncer glanced between his two IDs and the ribbon before handing both IDs back to Harry and wishing him a good night.

“Don’t you need mine?” Louis interrupted once Harry was back at his side. Both the bouncer and Harry looked at him, the bouncer’s eyes moving from the prominent ribbon on Louis’s front to his face.

“You’re alright, Racer Tomlinson,” he said, and Louis scoffed, pulling his ID out anyways and flashing it to him.

“Should’ve checked that before you ran my damn card, but there you are,” he said and secured the ID back in his wallet. The bouncer fixed his eyes downward, mumbling an apology, before he pulled a key off the wall behind him, a large 9 printed on the plastic tag hanging off of it.

Louis took the key and turned to Harry, nodding his head to the hallway, “C’mon, then,”

The two of them wandered back down the hall before they reached the door marked 9, Louis fitting his allotted key into the lock. They technically had two hours, but if it ran over that, he doubted anyone would force them to leave when they saw his name written on the ledger.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Harry said as Louis unzipped his jacket and threw it onto the nearest couch.

“Yeah, but I did,” he said, settling himself into the seat and draping his arms over the back.

“I should’ve had my ribbon out,” Harry countered as he sat down on the other couch, pulling his phone and a small pad and pen out of his jacket pocket, “They wouldn’t have said anything then, probably,”

“Yes, well, they shouldn’t have questioned you when you were with me,” Louis shot back, and ran a hand through his hair, sighing, “Sorry. That was a prick thing to say. I’m just…I’m tired. You know. Right before a week off and all,”

“I understand,” Harry said, rubbing his throat. He pulled his pad out of his jacket and flipped it open, glancing at Louis, “You want to start?”

“Yes, please,” Louis sighed, leaning back into the cushions of his seat. He closed his eyes and heard Harry flip through the pages of his notebook.

“So, here’s the thing,” Harry said, “I’ve read a lot about you. Pretty everything about you, actually. And I still don’t know why you’re doing this,”

Louis’s fluttered open and he looked over at Harry.

“Doing what?” he asked.

“Racing,” Harry supplied, “I mean, I know most kids do it at some point. But – why did you start?”

Louis lapped at his lips, pursing them slightly. He had never actually given a real answer to that question – “I just like it” he would usually supply to anyone who asked, “And I’m alright, I guess, so that helps.”

But now Harry was asking him, just the two of them, and it felt different.

“How much of what I tell you will be printed?” he asked.

“All. Some. None,” Harry shrugged, “It depends. If you don’t want it printed at all, though, you don’t have to tell me,”

“No, I’ll tell you,” Louis relented. He felt the sting of syrup and alcohol at the back of his throat as he swallowed.

“My father was in the beta leagues,” he eventually said, “When they still had the beta leagues, of course,”

Harry raised his eyebrows, “National?”

“No, regional. For Manchester,” Louis said, “He probably would’ve gotten national, at some point, but they kicked him out before that happened,”

“Why?”

Louis flicked his eyes to the opposite wall. It was covered in black draping and more of the damn silver paint, “He tried to stab another racer,”

Harry was silent, then, before “So. Racer Austin was your father, then,”

“Yeah,” Louis rubbed his eyes, “Surprised you know him,”

“I studied the beta leagues a lot,”

“Yeah, well, I suppose you and I found about him the same way, then,”

“You didn’t know him?”

“My mum didn’t even know him. Not really,”

“So, you wanted to race, what, because of him?”

“Fuck no,” Louis laughed, then, quieter, “Well, sort of. Not directly. I just liked it, I guess. That was the only thing my dad gave me. Wanting to race,”

He shook his head, rambling on, “My mum fucking hates it, too. That I’m doing this. I think she still wishes I had just gone to uni and gotten a regular job and only driven a bike to work if I really wanted to. But. My grades were rubbish because I never wanted to do anything but race,”

Not a lot had changed, really. He didn’t have much in his life when he wasn’t on a bike.

But he didn’t tell Harry that.

Harry finished writing down Louis’s words in his notebook, then turned to a fresh page.

“You want to keep going?” he asked gently, and Louis snorted.

“Don’t have any other plans, do I?”

So Harry asked him another question.

He asked what age Louis had been when he started (Nine, for three minutes on a family friend’s bike. Twelve, when he started training regularly), his first race (about a month after he started training. He came in second and got pulled out of school for a week after getting in a fistfight with the kid who won), if he ever considered stopping (once, when he was fifteen and he broke his jaw and a cheekbone after getting in a brawl with a kid he beat in an underground race. It wasn’t the brawl that almost broke him. It was spending an hour afterward letting his mum clean blood of his face and listening to her cry into his hair).

. Some of them he gave more detail – Harry listening quietly with a soft smile when he detailed the first time he rode a bike – and for others, like the story about his mum, Harry just pursed his lips and said “Tell me more later, okay?” before moving on. Louis wasn’t sure what “later” meant and he didn’t ask.

Louis’s body felt heavy and warm as they continued on, a little bit from the last of the booze clinging to his veins but more so from the room around him, which was ridiculously warm. Even without his jacket, his shirt was sticking to his sweat-slick skin, his fingers digging into the neckline of his shirt to pull it away from himself.

Harry, meanwhile, still had his damn jacket on. After a while, Louis couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Harry,” he sighed, “Please. Take your jacket off. You’re making me hot,”

Harry looked up from his notes and shook his head, “I’m fine,”

Please,” Louis huffed, “I don’t care what you’re wearing under there. I just want you to be comfortable,”

“I’m fine, Louis,” he said, at the exact moment Louis reached to attempt to grab his zipper. Harry squawked and batted his hand away, but sighed, relenting as he said, “Fine” and began to undo his jacket. He unzipped it carefully, folding it up and setting it to the side before picking his notebook back up.

Louis blinked.

“Harold,” he said, “What the fuck is that,”

Harry’s cheeks flashed red and he looked down at himself, “I’m Emma Stone. Like, in Easy A,”

Louis rubbed his temple, blinking cautiously as he looked at Harry, and the fact he was wearing a black corset top, his ribbon folded into something that vaguely resembled an A over his right pec.

“Why,” was all he could think to say.

“Well, my uni friends – a lot of us used to do some drag, so we had a plan to do a group costume of teen movie characters. So one of them was going to be Claire from Breakfast Club, and then Cher from Clueless, and—“

“Yeah, I get it,” Louis interrupted, “And you incorporated your ribbon into your costume,”

“Yeah,” Harry smiled, tugging on the end of the ribbon, “I’m actually pretty proud of that. I mean, this thing always clashes with any idea I have, I wanted to work with it,”

“You’re brilliant,” Louis sighed. His mouth felt dry. Harry had a lot of tattoos. He hadn’t noticed that before. Not when he was always wearing long sleeves, “Now finish your questions and break me out of here,”

“Oh, I’m just about done, actually,” Harry said. He closed his notebook and reached over for his jacket, tucking it into one of the interior pockets, “Are you okay to ride home or do you want so stay behind a little longer?”

“I’m going to go across the street, get an iced coffee and sober up before I drive home,” Louis decided, getting to his feet, “I need to cool down, too, I feel fuzzy from this fucking—“

His throat felt thick as he said the next word

“—heat,”

“Probably good to do that,” Harry said as he stood up. He tugged at the top of his corset, which had fallen down enough Louis could have sworn he saw the very tops of his nipples over the curved top, “In all honesty, I might head to a different place soon. This place isn’t really my style,”

“I get it,” Louis laughed weakly, “It’s the…paint I think,”

“Oh, yeah. That’s pretty bad. Don’t know who thought that was a good idea,” Harry said as he slid out the door. Louis caught a glimpse of his back as he went to close the door. The back of his corset was done up with thick criss-crossed black ribbon, Harry’s pale skin flashing through the spaces between them.

Louis slapped the side of his own head. What the fuck was wrong with him?

“All good?” Harry asked. Louis blinked, realizing he must have seen Louis literally smacking himself.

“I—“ he started, then grabbed onto his headband, “Think these damn cat ears are giving me a headache,”

Harry just nodded, and keep moving out of the hallway.

Louis yanked the cat ears off his head and hurled them down the hallway behind him before trudging before, trying very hard not to look at Harry’s back.

 

******

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Niall asked as he rubbed Louis’s shoulder down with a cotton pad. Louis shot him a sidelong glance and took a bite out of his Heat Stroke bar.

“I ran out of chocolate raspberry,” he mumbled, flipping the bar over, “I fucking hate peanut butter,”

“I keep telling you to eat real food,” Niall scolded him, picking up the heat-inducing needle, “Yogurt. Bananas. Something. Now relax,”

Louis huffed, holding out his arm for Niall, and then went back to eating once the shot was over.

“I know you’re not upset over your shitty energy bar,” Niall said, clicking the empty syringe back into his case while Louis drank some water and waited for the soreness in his arm to subside.

“Yeah, I’m not,” Louis allowed, finishing the last bite of his food, “Doesn’t mean I have to tell you why I am,”

“No, you don’t,” Niall shook his head, “I’d think a new medal would help things,”

“You would think,”

“Where is that thing, by the way?”

“In my closet, I think. I don’t know,”

Niall gave him another look, retrieving the second syringe from the case, “C’mon, stand up,”

Louis slid off the bar stool and pulled his joggers off his hip, bracing his hand on the counter as Niall gave his second shot.

The thing was, he didn’t have a real reason to be upset. But he was thinking far too much about Harry, and that damn corset.

It was one of those things he could brush off on a normal circumstance. Harry was subjectively attractive. He was also an alpha. Louis had also been dangerously close to his heat and pretty intoxicated when he saw said subjectively attractive alpha in a corset. He usually could acknowledge something like that and then move on.

But Louis was going to go into heat in a matter of hours. And when that happened, his brain liked to latch onto whatever attractive image it had last found. On more than one occasion, it had been a porn star. A few other times, it had been a stranger on the street with a decent face and a red ribbon who had given him a polite nod and wished him a good race. On a very, very rare occasion, it had been a teammate, although the longer Louis had been on the team, the less he found his fellow racers even mildly fuckable.

But. He couldn’t remember there being an alpha he liked as a person, was close with, had touched, that he had found pretty. And that had worn lingerie.

And he wasn’t sure how he was going to go back to Harry at the track if that image filled his brain for the next week.

“Okay, you’re good,” Niall said, and Louis looked down. The needle had been taken out of his hip, Niall instead securing it into his case. Louis pulled his joggers back over his sore skin and rubbed his forehead.

“Thanks,” he mumbled.

“I’ll see you later, grumps,” Niall said, grabbing Louis by his cheeks and yanking him forward to kiss his forehead.

“Get off me,” Louis whined, batting at his chest, “I’m horny as shit, you prick, leave me alone,”

“Yes, sweetums,” Niall hummed, pecking Louis’s nose and then pulling away, slapping his cheeks hard enough Louis winced, “Did that take your mind off things?”

“Please leave so I can jack off in peace,”

“Okay, got it,” Niall sighed, securing his bag over his shoulder, “I’ll see you later,”

“Yeah, see you,” Louis replied weakly, already scuffling to his bedroom before the door of his apartment had fully closed.

He turned up the air conditioning unit of his room and then laid down, pulling his joggers down off his hips so he could grab a hold of his cock. He had about an hour before his shots fully kicked in but…no reason he couldn’t start early, get into a rhythm by the time he needed it.

He tried very, very hard not to think about Halloween.

******

It didn’t work.

Maybe it did, in the daylight, working through the pain in his shoulder and wrist as he kept his hand tucked back and working, with the steady buzz of his vibrator and the sounds of the porn he’d pulled up on his laptop to keep him distracted.

When his body was eventually drained of energy and he was able to sleep, though…

Then, Harry was there, fully clothed, not in his Halloween costume but his regular clothes, plaid shirt unbuttoned over a white-t-shirt. The red ribbon on his shirt was brighter, newer, than the one he wore in real life. He had his hands on Louis’s spread, bare thighs, rubbing them up and down, and then he looked up, eyes darkening.

“Wait,” he said firmly, smoothing his hands over Louis’s knees. Louis tried to surge forward, and felt his shoulders catch. The bite at his wrist was enough to realize his hands were tied to the headboard.

“Harry,” he heard his own voice say, “Harry, please,”

Harry’s expression softened, just a bit, and he lifted Louis’s legs, spreading them apart even further. He hadn’t even touched Louis yet and he heard himself mewl.

“I know,” Harry cooed, brushing his thumbs over the soft hair on Louis’s thighs, all too close to his cock without touching it, “Be good for a little while longer, baby. Be good for your alpha a little more,”

Louis pulled back, his legs curling in on himself, before Harry grabbed his ankles, stretching him back out again.

“C’mere,” Harry said softly, and leaned forward, one hand freeing itself from Louis’s foot so he could cup his face, his lips coming closer…

Louis woke up, and his room was fucking freezing because he’d turned up the A/C too high. But then he blinked and looked down at himself and almost cried, because his sheets were stained dark with wetness, his stomach splattered with drying cum. It had happened before. But always at the mercy of some faceless alpha his brain had formed in desperation.

Never someone he had to face the next week.

The next six months.

When he felt strong enough and his brain was clear, he went to kitchen and made himself a pot of coffee, something to keep him awake as long as possible.

Sleep felt too dangerous now. He only had a few more days. He could keep sleep anyway until then.

*******

“Are you okay?”

Louis looked over at Harry as he unlocked the door.

“I’m splendid, why do you ask?”

“Just – you’re drinking Red Bull,” Harry said. He didn’t mention the bags under Louis’s eyes he was fully aware made him look like he was punched in the face, bless him.

“I didn’t sleep a lot last week,” Louis said simply, stepping into the hallway, “But I didn’t want to take today off. So. Whatever,”

“Alright,” Harry said softly, and drank more of the coffee Louis had gotten him, “Cinnamon again, today, I see,”

“Mm-hm,” Louis agreed, dragging his entire arm over his swollen eyes. Fuck, he really did need sleep. But he had another race in a week and just couldn’t afford that.

When they arrived to the door, he got out his keys, as usual, and was prepared to tell Harry to go to the track, as usual, when Harry grabbed his arm.

Louis turned around. He tried – and failed – or ignore the fact that Harry’s hand engulfed his entire bicep.

“What’s up?” Louis asked, and Harry’s mouth opened, closed, then spoke.

“Be careful,” he said simply, and then let his hand drop, “Don’t – don’t crash or anything,”

“I won’t,” Louis said slowly, then looked down at Harry’s hand, limp and loose at his side, “I’m a professional, for god’s sake,”

“I know,”

“That was a joke. I’m trying to joke, Christ,” Louis shook his head, “I—I’ll see you later. And I’ll sleep tonight, I promise,”

Harry nodded, tightly.

“You work very hard,” Harry said.

“Yeah, I know,”

“No, I mean…” Harry swallowed, “I’ve sat in on other racers practicing before. They usually do the most, too, when the press is there. And even then, they never work as hard as you do on a regular basis,”

Louis forced himself to smile, “S’why I’m the best,”

Harry shook his head, “Just…be careful, please. Rest. Go slow,”

Louis paused. He hadn’t known the real meaning of resting or, god forbid, being slow since he started this five years ago.

But when the words were formed on Harry’s tongue…

“I’ll try,” he heard himself say.

He shut the door behind him.

*******

Harry’s rut ended one day before Louis’s next race, and once again, the first time he saw him was at the airport. After last time, there was only one security guard, who willingly stepped off to the side when he saw Louis striding towards him. Harry lifted his head, and Louis pulled his sunglasses off his eyes, flashing a smile.

“Hey,” he grinned, and Harry returned a gentle smile, rubbing one of his eyes.

“Hi,” he said back, picking up his bag and readjusting the straps of his backpack over his broad shoulders. Louis frowned, noticing the soft blue shadows under Harry’s eyes.

“You okay?” he asked, and Harry shrugged.

“S’been a long week,” he said, tucking a finger to his eye again, “Guess we both had trouble sleeping during – um –“

“I get it,” Louis said, swallowing thickly, “Let’s just get you on the plane, yeah? We’ve got a little vacation for you,”

The next race was in Greece, but it wasn’t until they next days – they had a free day today and the day after the race to relax and sightsee, or, for Louis, to fall asleep in the hotel’s hot tub until there was no oil left in his skin.

Harry smiled softly, shaking his head.

“Probably be working,”

“Nonsense. Have fun. You’re on our tab all week,”

“That’s—“ Harry started, when sighed, “That’s very generous. Thank you,”

“Yeah, of course,” Louis shrugged.

“Oh, hey, one thing,” Harry said as they climbed on board, “I keep trying to get an interview with Niall, but he always runs off before I can talk to him after practice. Can you give me his number?”

“I’ll tell him to talk to you,” Louis said, already picturing Niall blocking Harry’s number if he ever got a text from him, “As a matter of fact, I’ll set it up. This week, if I can,”

“Oh, great,” Harry said, sliding next to Louis as they took their spots on the plane.

“Actually, I’ll see if I can do it today,” Louis said, pulling out his phone, “We have 4G on this thing, don’t we?”

“Uh,” Harry said, “Don’t worry about it yet—“

Louis was already typing out, Hey, Harry wants to talk to you today. You’re doing it. He sent it off.

“Done,” Louis said, just as his phone buzzed, “Oh, let’s see what he said,”

Fuck you, I’m on vacation.

 

You have the day after tomorrow and the rest of today you won’t spend talking to him to be on vacation. And then you never have to talk to him again. Probably.

 

Fuck you.

 

Call me when you get in and we’ll talk .

 

“He’ll do it,” Louis announced, tossing his phone into his bag.

“Really?” Harry asked.

“Well, probably. Niall’s a stubborn bastard, but he gives in pretty easily. Semi-easily. He gives in, sometimes, is my point,”

Harry shook his head, “Wells, thanks,”

“No problem,” Louis returned, leaning into the chair, “Just trying to make your job easier, aren’t I?”

“You know, when I said that I just meant – maybe don’t ignore me every time I try to talk to you. Not – “ Harry paused, “All this,”

“Hey. I’m not ignoring you because you asked me not to do that. I’m doing everything else because I want to,”  

Before Harry could say anything else, Louis reached into his bag, “I remembered my headphones this time. Do you want to watch a movie on the flight? I get to pick, though. Obviously,”

Harry sighed, his mouth twitching up at the ends until he was smiling, “Yeah. Yeah, I would like that,”

 

******

Louis’s hotel room overlooked the sea, the wide glass doors open that led to the balcony left open to let the breeze in. It fluttered against the sheer curtains, the pale fabric stained with leaking sunlight. Louis went over to close them, his bare feet dragging on the thick carpet.

“This place is fancy as shit,” Niall sighed, lying down on the couch in the living area, “Why do you have a full kitchen?”

“Because this is one of the long-term residence units,” Louis replied, latching the door.

“Why did they give it to you, then?”

“Because I’m very important. Drink your beer, he’ll be here soon,” he scolded, hurrying back across the room, past the bar and the living area and into his own bedroom.

“I don’t get why you’re making me do this here and not in my own room,” Niall called after him.

“Because you’re a dick and if I give you enough booze and a nice room for a few hours maybe you’ll stop being a dick,” Louis replied. He got down onto his knees to look for his boots under the bed, eventually finding them and yanking them out by the laces. He was planning on heading out, maybe to do some shopping, while Niall and Harry did their interview, and then to come back and get a full night’s sleep for the race.

There was a knock at the door, and Louis pulled himself out from under the bed, hopping into the living room as he yanked a boot over his foot.

“He’s here,” Louis told Niall as he trudged towards the door, both boots on and tied, “Be nice,”

“I am nice, you insufferable prick,” Niall mumbled.

Louis shot him a look before opening the door to let aHHarry in. Out in the hallway, the other man looked like he had showered since landing, his skin bright and clear and his hair slightly darker than usual. He was wearing one of his usual shirts, this one white and splattered with purple floral designs.

“Hey,” Louis said, stepping to the side so Harry could come in, “I got him slightly tipsy for you,”

“I’m not tipsy,” Niall shouted behind him.

“He’ll be tipsy in about an hour,”

“I can handle myself better than that, I’m Irish,”

“He’ll be tipsy in about an hour,” Louis repeated. Harry smiled, stepping to the side and offering a hand out to the man on the couch.

“Nice to see you again, Dr. Horan,”

“I’m not a doctor,” Niall said, extending his hand slowly, “But keep calling me that,”

They shook, and Harry settled himself into a nearby armchair when it was clear Niall wasn’t going to move off the couch.

“Well, I will see you two later,” he said, ducking out of the door, “I’m off to go practice. Niall, be nice,”

“Go to hell,” Niall snapped, pulling on his beer.

“Cheers, lads,” Louis called, and then he was gone.

******

Two hours later, he got two texts.

 

Harry Styles: Interview as good. Thanks again!

 

Niall Horan: Okay, he’s not that much of a wanker but I’m still not doing that shit again.

 

Louis shook his head at both and went back to the hotel.

******

The next day, Louis won.

He probably would’ve won anyways, because Greece’s best two racers had both retired after last season, and the remaining team was behind on training. They probably wouldn’t race them again, after this they would be slipping low enough in the leagues.

So Louis won. He won with a clean race, no clipping of tires or wild tricks, just a matter of keeping his foot on the gas at the right times and racing against his own teammates at four different British racers closed in for the lead.

What mattered was that it was that his final time was three seconds off his last time for ten laps on a standard track, setting him a few milliseconds away from the current UK record for a standard race.

He had won. And made history. And it was his second real race of the season.

The press conference was loud and chattering and all the questions were for him, to the point that at some point all the other racers pulled out their phones in the middle of the conference and no one batted an eye.

Niall gave him Gatorade and a towel to wipe down with, along with a hearty slap on the back, a hug, and a wet kiss on the cheek.

The champagne was sweet and he drank it straight from the bottle, foam flowing out of his nose as he was jostled from side to side by black jackets.

By the time the sponsorship party was over he was tipsy, and sleepy, and the team still wanted to go to a club.

Which. Screw it. He had one extra day in Greece.

He went out. He bounced on the dance floor and he batted away hands and white and blue ribbons with murmurs of “Sorry, I’m drunk,” even though he couldn’t really tell anymore.

A car took him back to the hotel, and he didn’t feel cramped.

He felt free, and fast. He was fast. Fastest in history.

He checked his phone, and in a sea of notifications, he found one.

Harry Styles: Congratulations, Louis

He held his phone to his chest and fell asleep in the backseat.

******

The last day in Greece, Louis woke up at two in the afternoon and went down to the hotel spa, where he got hot stones placed on his back and his muscles stretched out by an attendant in a white uniform that matched the ribbon on his lapel. He spent far too long in the steam room, and after he got out he drank two chocolate and banana smoothies in the spa’s private lounge. He considered going to the beach – a swim sounded nice – but the suppressant on his neck had already gone thin form the steam so he decided to play it safe and stay inside. Besides, he didn’t exactly mind when the only British employee in the entire place wandered over to slick a complementary mud mask onto his face and refill his glass of cucumber water with a soft, “Congratulations, Racer Tomlinson” before scampering off.

He felt good, was the thing. His body left loose and warm and he was doing well, so, so well. His medal was laying on the dresser back in his room, not as easily discarded as last time, and it felt like maybe he should let himself do this more often. Go out, do things. He thought about the vacations he would take when he retired, a constant cycle of new places until he settled in one perfect, ribbon-less place for good.

He curled further into the seat until one of the attendants roused him, asking him if he wanted anything else, and he sleepily batted them away before pulled himself out of the lounge so he could wander back to his room.

He desperately need to pack, or at least clean something. All his clothes were scattered everywhere and his bed was unmade, and there was an empty room service plate on the bar. He changed out of his spa robe, leaving it in the bathroom, and put on the last clean clothes in his suitcase, a red scoop neck shirt and a pair of black jeans. He did his best to sort it out, to throw the remainder of his minimal wardrobe back into his suitcase and to sort out the bigger messes in the room so housekeeping wouldn’t have too much of a chore in the morning when he left.

Louis had just finished up and was ready to go take a shower and turn in for the early flight when someone knocked at his door.

He paused, feeling his neck to see if there was still suppressant there, and then wandered over to the door, pressing himself against it.

“Yeah?” he called.

“Louis,” the voice on the other side said, “Sorry, I—“

Louis opened before Harry could finish, opening the door so fast that the other man blinked and stepped back when the door was open. He looked sleepy, his hair rumpled and his bright blue hoodie zipped low over a grey t-shirt. He was barefoot, too.

“Hey,” Louis said, “What’s up?”

“I just—“ Harry rubbed his eyes “Thought I’d come up for a bit,”

“Yeah, sure. Come on in,” Louis opened the door wider, “Where are your shoes?”

“Figured I would just leave them,” Harry shrugged as he came in, “Didn’t want to forget them again,”

“Aw, and here I thought we were starting a tradition,”

“Me waking you up to get my shoes so you don’t miss the flight?”

“Ha, that’s funny. And true. Once,” Louis said, ruffling his own hair, “You want a drink? Should probably use this bar at least once,”

“Sure why not,” Harry smiled, “Oh, congratulations, again. New record and all that,”

“Mm-hm,” Louis nodded, as he wandered behind the bar, squatting down to dig through one of the cabinets until he found two glasses, “You’re lucky I was alone tonight. Nice hotel room. New title. All that,”

Harry raised an eyebrow, “Are you telling me you were planning on going out tonight? Two nights in a row?”

“Fuck no,” Louis scoffed, “Get your ass over here so you can tell me what you want,”

Harry smiled, dragging his feet unevenly over the floor so he was sitting on one of the stools in front of the bar, “And whatever’s fine,”

“That’s a bullshit answer,” Louis scoffed, but still got out a chilly bottle of cranberry juice and a can of Sprite out of the mini-fridge of mixers, and then an electric blue vodka bottle from behind the bar. He poured two glasses of nearly equal parts of the three, then handed one off to Harry.

“You know, I probably shouldn’t be doing this,” the other man said as he took the cup.

“Doing what?”

“I don’t know. Getting close with someone I’m writing about. Accepting gifts,”

“Isn’t the point of this to get as close as possible?” Louis raised his eyebrows, “Plus, it’s not like your editor knows, right?”

“Oh, trust me, he doesn’t,” Harry shook his head, running his fingers through his hair, “I don’t know, though. About the first thing. Other reporters who did showcase pieces — they seemed to stay so far away. And they still wrote good pieces. But—I don’t know if I could do that without doing all this,”

“So now I know why you’re mooching off my booze,” Louis said, and Harry’s eyes widened.

“I didn’t mean it like that. I like you. I mean – I like, doing this – I – fuck,”

“Don’t strain yourself, I understand,” Louis said easily, taking a sip of his drink. He wandered out from behind the bar, heading for the sitting room couch, “Come over here,”

Harry did, sitting down the same time Louis did.

“Now tell me why you think you can’t write this without doing all this with me,”

“I don’t know,” Harry started, “Like, I’m young, Louis. Really young. And you have to be good to get into Cross, like, have several years experience and all, and I don’t even have that,”

“But you’d still have to be good,”

“I—I don’t—“ Harry stammered, “Can I tell you something?”

“Sure,”

“After I got hired, I was over the moon, y’know? And then I overheard one of the copyeditors talking—“ he shook his head, “There were rumors in the company when I got hired. That Cross was slipping, becoming too old and too disconnected from the younger generation, because all their writers were experienced, and that meant they were older. Said I just got hired as a last-ditch effort to connect to younger readers,”

Louis felt something twist in his gut, and he leaned forward, lifting up his leg so he could brush the side of Harry’s leg with his foot.

“Hey,” Louis said softly, “You’re great. Don’t listen to that bullshit,”

Harry didn’t say anything, so he went on before he could stop himself, “I, uh, I saw the stuff you wrote all over that Cross you gave me,”

Harry’s eyes widened, “Fuck, did I – fuck, did I give me that copy?”

“Yeah, you did,” Louis said, “You’re hard on yourself,”

“I have to improve somehow,”

“No, I mean – I get it,” Louis went on, “Haven’t told you yet, but I watch all all the footage of me on track. Keep a lot of notes of stuff I need to work on in a notebook that’s about this thick,”

He held up two fingers, spacing at least two inches between them before letting his hand drop, “I’ll show it to you sometime. Anyways, I get why you’re hard on yourself. I don’t even think I’m that good. But everyone else clearly thinks I am. So,” he took a breath, “All I’m saying is, I think you’re good,”

Harry nodded, his eyes going soft, “Thanks,”

He gazed down into his glass, his face quickly tightening again, a creased frown forming, “There’s more, though. I just. I want to like it at Cross, Louis, I do. But, if this is the highest thing I’m going to get while I’m there, then what’s the point?”

He set his glass down on the coffee table, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do after this season, I really don’t,” he said softly.

“I don’t, either,” Louis said. He was only aware he was saying it after it was fully out of his mouth, and then, it was too late to take it back.

He realized he didn’t really want to, either.

“You don’t?” Harry said, and Louis shrugged.

“I might get the Grand Prix this year. And then if I do that, then I’ve done the biggest thing I can do,” he explained, “What’s gonna happen to me after that?”

He felt his throat get tight, and he tried to ignore it.

“You’re still going to be you,” Harry said.

“Someone else is going to be the greatest racer in the country soon enough,” Louis countered, “I’m not on the leaderboard forever,”

“That’s not what I meant,” Harry said, “I mean, you’ll still be you, Louis. Racing medals or not,”

Louis shook his head, smiling tightly, “Not much without those, m’fraid,”

“You are,” Harry insisted, leaning forward, “You are,”

Louis blinked, gripping his glass tightly, before he eventually moved to set it down.

“We should—“ he said, feeling his throat burn, “We should watch something, yeah?”

“Louis,” Harry said in reply, “I, um,”

Louis just looked back.

“I want to do something,”

He licked his lips.

“Okay,”

“And. I want you to be okay with what I want to do. And. If you’re not—stop me, please, stop me, but—“

And then he was leaning forward, touching Louis’s arm, and—

Louis knew what was happening. He had a few drawn-out seconds before Harry’s lips, red and wet with liquor, touched his.

Enough time to push him away. Enough time to chuckle awkwardly, apologize for giving him too much booze, send him to his room, accept a rushed apology in the morning and pretend it never happened.

He didn’t, though. He let Harry’s mouth touch his. Let his dampened, swollen lips, bitter with booze and sweet with fake sweetener, press on his. Harry’s hand squeezed his arm, his entire hand engulfing his bicep.

Harry pulled away, his eyes fluttering open just a bit, his swollen lips popping out.

“Okay?” he asked, and Louis blinked and nodded. Harry’s hand moved up to his neck, brushing his pulse point. He missed the line of oil on Louis’s collarbone by a few inches before leaning in again.

“Never kissed another alpha before,” he murmured before their lips reconnected.

And you’re going to have to wait a little while longer, Louis thought.

He could still push Harry away. Could still say, that was fun, but, let’s make it a one time thing. Not again.

But his brain was fuzzy with exhaustion and alcohol and Harry’s lips felt good. Like, very good. Not only because Louis hadn’t kissed anyone since he was sixteen.

Well. Maybe that was part of it.

And then Harry’s hand reached over Louis’s chest and rubbed, his thumb brushing hard over the tissue-thin fabric of his shirt, catching on his nipple.

Louis’s mouth opened wide and he made a small noise.

He felt the smallest trickle of slick leak out from between his cheeks.

No.

No no no no.

Harry’s lips tilted, catching Louis on the side of his mouth, then he brought them down, a hand tilting his chin up and pressing a kiss to the underside of his chin, the soft stretch of skin on top of his throat.

“What—“ Louis whispered, “What’re you doing,”

“Bet you’ve kissed so many people,” Harry got out, his lips stretching over Louis’s Adam’s apple and sucking softly, “Wanna make sure you remember me,”

Louis blinked.

“Your job,” he got out.  

Harry looked up, blinking.

“Do you want me to stop?”

Louis shook his head.

“No, I just—you could get in trouble—“

“My editor doesn’t have to know,” Harry said, “Said so yourself,”

Louis nodded.

“No, he doesn’t,”

“I’ll quit,” Harry said, his eyes dark and wide, “I’ll quit if it means I can keep kissing you now,”

“Don’t quit,” Louis rushed out, “Please don’t quit – either of those things,”

Harry nodded, and then he was back on him, pushing Louis back down into the couch. His mouth stayed on Louis’s, but his hands were back on his chest, dragging up gently. He was touching his nipples again, and Louis gasped, grabbing onto his wrists. He felt more slick drip out and squeezed his eyes shut.

No no no—

Harry made a soft sound, kissing Louis’s jaw again.

“Found something you like,” he purred, and shifted his thumbs over Louis’s hard peaks again. Louis gasped and squeezed his wrists gently.

Harry,” he tried to say sharply, but it came out breathy and desperate.

“You’re incredible, you know,” Harry gasped, “Been thinking you were pretty since I started this gig. And then – you just, you dug into me, Louis. Didn’t want to stop thinking about you,”

Louis wished he could focus more on Harry’s words, but his belly was rolling with hot and thick arousal, and there was still wetness dribbling out from his cheeks.

“Thought about you in my last rut, you know,” Harry said, kissing the shell of Louis’s ear, “Dreamed about you. And the way you looked at me in that stupid costume,”

Louis squeezed his eyes shut.

“Wanna get my mouth on you,” Harry mumbled, and Louis made a soft noise and let his hands fall away from Harry’s wrists as the other man’s hands floated down, playing with edge of Louis’s shirt, pushing it up enough to get to the button on his jeans.

Louis’s breath caught in his throat, but before he could get Harry to stop, the other man had a hand firmly in his jeans, palming over the material of his briefs.

The damp material of his briefs.

Harry’s eyebrows tightened, his lips pursing.

“You’re wet,” he said softly, and then, agonizingly slow, he pulled his hand out of Louis’s jeans and lifted a hand to his nose, breathing in.

He looked up slowly, and Louis could see each movement in a snapshot. His eyes, draining of darkness, widening. His lips, widening to speak.

Before he could say anything, though, Louis lunged forward, his knees on Harry’s chest, his hands wrapped tightly around his wrists, pushing down with all his strength.

It wasn’t much. But it would have to do.

“Don’t fucking touch me again,” he hissed, pushing down, getting close to Harry’s face, “If you touch me, Harry, I swear to God I will scream. And someone will come for you,”

Harry didn’t say anything, his mouth still gaping. Louis pushed his knees deeper into his chest, and he made a low, pained sound, his mouth opening.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he got out, his voice all pained breath.

Louis didn’t let go.

“Louis, please, I’m not going to touch you. I swear,” Harry said again.

Louis stayed with his hands pressing Harry’s hands into the couch, his body quivering in spite of his orders for it to stay still.

“You’re an omega,” Harry said softly.

Louis didn’t say anything.

“How?” Harry asked.

Louis shook his head fast enough that his fringe fell into his eyes.

“I had my medical records falsified when I was sixteen, so I could race,” he rushed out, “I’m on suppressants. No one knows. Except Niall. Niall knows. You can’t tell anybody; do you understand me?”

Harry didn’t say anything, just looked up at him with wide, confused eyes.

“Harry please, I know—I know this is a story for you. But so is showcase, right? Right?” Louis shook his head faster, jiggling Harry’s wrists between his hands, “Please, Harry, I’ll get arrested. And before that they’ll take away my racer’s license. If I can’t race — Harry, if I can’t race, I’m nothing. Please, please do not tell anyone,”

Harry shook his head. His eyes were still wide and confused but when he spoke, his voice was steady.

“I won’t,”

Louis nodded, “Okay. Okay, good,”

Harry gulped.

“I have to go,” he said, and he sat up, Louis’s hands falling off his wrist and then the rest of his body following. He fell limply onto the couch and watched Harry stand, pedaling backwards, his bare feet scuffing on the carpet.

“I have to go,” he said again, and then he was, grabbing for the doorknob. His hand hovered over his mouth, pressing into the swollen, pink skin that had been kissing Louis a few minutes ago.

Then the door was open, just wide enough, and he was gone.

Chapter Text

Louis woke up to a sharp, piercing noise.

His eyes opened before he could even fully grasp that was he was awake and that goddamn noise wasn’t part of his dream.

As he surfaced to reality, he realized that the hotel phone was ringing. He also realized that for some reason the phone was on the floor.

He vaguely remembered that he had crashed into the bedside table last night while attempting to get into bed and had knocked over a few things. And he had done that after crying, downing both of the leftover drinks on the coffee table, and then crying a little more.

Which, come to think of it, would explain why both his head and his throat hurt so much.

The phone was still ringing. Louis pulled himself onto the edge of the bed and leaned his head over the edge, his hand fumbling over the carpeted floor until he found where the shrieking phone was. He picked it up, holding it to his ear.

“Yeah,” he croaked out, rubbing the base of his raw throat.

“Racer Tomlinson?” a female voice with a soft Greek accent greeted him.

“Yeah,” he repeated.

“I’m sorry if I disturbed you, I’m just calling to tell you that your flight is leaving soon,” the woman on the other end said, “Your team contacted the hotel after they couldn’t get a hold of you directly,”

“Uh, okay,” Louis said, and sat up enough to glance at the digital clock, which read that it was a quarter until 10, fifteen minutes from when his flight was supposed to take off. He bit the tip of his tongue to keep from cursing, “I —I’ll be heading out soon,”

“Would you like us to call a cab for you?”

“That would be lovely,”

“We’ll get one for you in a few moments,” the woman chirped, “Have a good flight, Racer Tomlinson,”

“Um, thanks,” he got out, dragging a hand roughly over his entire face before tossing the phone back onto the floor and then flopping back onto the bed, groaning.

He would be late to the airport no matter what. He was mostly packed and could probably throw himself together quickly, so that wasn’t really a concern. But good God, did he feel like shit. Even without the mini hangover, his dry eyes or his fucking greasy hair, there was still Harry.

Fucking Harry.

Fucking Harry, who knew.

Fucking Harry, who had promised not to tell.

Fucking Harry, who had given him his first kiss in eight years.

Fucking. Harry.

Louis seriously considered calling the front desk back and telling them to cancel his cab and instead book him another night, and to just catch a flight back to London for the next morning. But the next morning he was supposed to be back at the track and preparing for the next race, his last one before Christmas and the mid-season determinate to see which British racer had the best chance at the Grand Prix.

But fucking Harry probably couldn’t get on the plane without him, and since Louis was trying to get him to keep a secret, it was probably best not to leave him stranded in a different country.

Louis eventually managed to get out of bed, realizing as he did that he was still dressed in his clothes from the night before. He decided to just leave them on and found a spare Adidas jumper in his suitcase, along with a dark red beanie to put over his tragic hair. He found his competition boots by the door and put them on, then grabbed his already-packed bag and backpack to take downstairs. As promised, there was a cab waiting outside the hotel for him. He thanked the hotel employee who was lingering by the door and handed her a bill from his wallet before putting his bags in the boot and climbing into the backseat. The driver wasn’t chatty, thank God, and probably broke a few traffic laws getting Louis to the airport, so he made sure to leave him with a sizable tip.

Louis stumbled out of the cab, dragging his bags behind him, as he stepped onto the open tarmac of the private airport. As expected, there was a collection of team attendants surrounding the grounded plane. One of them quickly approached him, nervously adjusting his sleeves and walking with quick, jolting steps.

“Good morning, Racer Tomlinson,”

“Is it, really, though?”

“I’m sorry, sir?”

“It is really a good – you know what, never mind,” Louis rubbed his eyes, digging the heel of his palm in until he saw stars. He really wished he was back in his hotel room.

“Well, we’re just about ready to take off anyways, so you can go ahead and get on board if you’d like,” the attendant said.

“No, I’d prefer to stay in this airport for several days,” Louis drawled as he strolled past the attendant. He could hear the other man follow closely behind him as Louis walked across the tarmac.

He headed up the steps of the plane, and when he got to the main cabin he was greeted by a few sets of annoyed eyes from his teammates who hadn’t already fallen asleep.

“Sorry, everyone,” he murmured, but his eyes were already skimming the cabin for a head of cropped curls.

But he found nothing.

“Excuse me,” he called behind him to the attendant who was hovering on the steps of the plane, “Where is Mr. Styles?”

“Who?”

“Harry Styles,” Louis said, emphasizing the words a bit harder, “He works for Cross, he’s been accompanying me for the last few months,”

“Oh, yes,” the attendant said, a look of recognition washing over his face, “He’s not here. Should we wait for him?”

Louis narrowed his eyes and held up a finger as he swung his backpack off his shoulder.

“One second,”

Louis dug through the bag and pulled out his phone for the first time that morning, groaning softly when he saw the litany of missed calls and texts from the team, as well as his nearly dead battery. He unlocked the phone to send Harry a message, but when he pulled up their last conversation, he was met with a message in a small grey bubble, sent to him at 3 in the morning.

Harry Styles: Got an early flight home.

Louis blinked at the message, the words slowly sinking in, along with the early time, just a few hours after they had kissed. After Harry had found out.

“Um, I guess he’s not coming. Never mind,” 

The attendant nodded and bustled off, leaving Louis stranded in the middle of the plane aisle. He looked at the phone screen for a moment longer, wondering if he should even bother responding. What was he supposed to say? No worries, hope you got home safe, by the way, hope you actually don’t plan on ruining my career and incarcerating me haha !!!

Eventually, Louis just locked his phone and shuffled forward, shifting the heavy weight of his carry-on against his shoulder.

He had the whole flight to think. About whether Harry left because he planned to sell him out to the tabloids or if he just was genuinely freaked out. What would happen now. Whether he had to come to terms with being outed or just several months of agonizing awkwardness. The lingering memory of Harry’s alcohol-sticky mouth.

He stopped moving at the first free seat he saw. Cara was sitting in the window seat next to it, holding a paper cup of coffee under her nose as she focused on whatever was playing through her gold Beats headphones. Louis tapped her shoulder and she looked up, her eyes sleepy and make-up free as she pulled one headphone off her ear.

“This seat taken?” he murmured, and Cara just shook her head, smiling as he stowed his bag in the overhead and sat down. She pulled her headphones down completely and Louis heard no music, only a soft voice. Cara had been listening to a lot of audiobooks lately.

“You don’t have to take those off,” he said, and she just shrugged.

“I can listen to this thing any day,” she said, “Besides, Edgar Allan Poe was a shitty choice for a flight,”

Louis tried to laugh, although it wasn’t much more than a lot of air exhaled from his nose. He leaned back in his seat, closing his swollen eyes, and then he heard a voice.

“So that reporter of yours isn’t joining us?” Justin’s voice came from a few rows behind him.

“No,” Louis said evenly, “He flew home early,”

“Well then,” the other man said, “Guess we’re all free of the fourth estate for a while,”

Through his preoccupied, under-rested brain, a small flicker of annoyance bloomed in Louis’s chest, and he gritted his teeth.

“Justin,” Louis got out, “I am hungover and under-rested but if I had a bike right now I still could lap your ass three times over, so don’t fucking talk shit about someone you don’t know because you’re jealous,”

He was met with a long stretch of silence, broken only by a nervous flight attendant asking if he wanted anything to drink.

“He’ll have a seltzer,” Cara cut in, before pulling her headphones back over her ears.

*******

Louis only had four days until his next week off, and he was spending all of them at the track.

He could take the days off if he wanted to – he could do anything nowadays, if he wanted to – but he went in because he had so much tension sizzling through him that he needed to drown it, to stomp it out with speed and gasoline.

But on the first day he showed up, Harry wasn’t at the door.

Louis wasn’t sure if he was surprised or not. But he was worried. Worried in the way he had been since he woke up in Greece twenty-four hours prior: that Harry’s promise not to tell anyone had been flimsy and panicked and there was a tabloid story being printed at the very moment Louis was unlocking the door and going inside.

He would have known by now, he told himself as he went to his locker room.

He would have gotten a call or an email or a hundred of each from Caroline at even the smallest whiff of a scandal rumbling, he told himself as he exchanged his joggers for a pair of racing jeans and his jumper and threadbare vest for a plain t-shirt and his jacket.

He would have known by now if the man with the green eyes and the bad knee and the cramped writing crammed into magazine margins of his own articles had betrayed him by now, he told himself as he got his bike out from its regular place next to the track.

Niall showed up a half hour later with a bag of textbooks and an energy drink.

Harry wasn’t there by then.

*******

He showed up later. Louis didn’t even notice.

He was distracted because his turns had gone sloppy. The action itself wasn’t even something new. He had apparently gotten into a habit of doing it in the last few weeks – had done in Greece, probably -- and he needed to fix that. It was a rookie mistake, something his secondary school coach would smack him upside the head for doing, and he was neither a rookie nor a person who could afford to make mistakes.

So that was what was on his mind when he took his break, spending most of the time visualizing a perfect turn, the kind that was so clean that it would barely leave any mark on the track.

Niall didn’t offer much distraction – he had laid out a full-size diagram of the human body on one of the bleacher benches and was marking it viciously with a Sharpie, probably for an exam – so when Louis’s watch beeped he silently dropped his water bottle and jumped the divider, going back to his bike.

Before he could get there, a flash of electric blue caught his eye, and he looked up, gazing across the track to the other side of the bleachers.

Harry was sitting in his normal spot. The bright blue that had caught Louis’s attention came from the turquoise beanie that was pulled tightly over his ears. He was stooped over his notebook as usual, his face pinched in quiet concentration. Louis didn’t know when he had arrived. It just looked like he always been there.

Louis wanted nothing more than to float over and say hi, to at least break the silence, but he pulled himself away. The fact Harry had shown up was proof enough that he wasn’t doing anything malicious, and that he still wanted to work with Louis, which was enough to soothe Louis’s rattled nerves for a little while.

For now, He had to race. He would have time for Harry later.

*******

When Louis was finished with practice, his legs and the joints of his fingers ached from the extra time he had spent on the bike. He had probably tacked on a solid hour of practice just working on making his turns neat, and another half hour making sure he could pair those improved turns with a solid track time. His times weren’t dropping as much as he wanted them to, but they were stable. Plus, every one of his fingers were locked up and his thighs ached and honestly he had different things to worry about at this point.

Once Louis had put his bike away and gone back to the track, Niall was already gone, probably heading home to cram more, but Harry was still in the bleachers, the brightness of his beanie standing out from the industrial silver of the rest of the track. Louis climbed over the divider and started crossing the track itself in quick strides.

He saw Harry packing up his bag, tucking away his notebook and pens and phone with slow movements, and Louis picked up the pace, trying to catch him in time to walk out together. He was about to open his mouth to call out to him, when Harry picked up his bag, threw it over his shoulder, and starting walking straight towards the exit, without even looking at the rest of the track.

“Harry,” Louis called, but the other man was already to the door and didn’t bother turning around as he pushed it open.

Louis broke into a run and made it to the divider, leaping over it and setting off to the exit door. Out in the hallway, he could see Harry in the distance, making quick, steady strides, but it was a long hallway, and Louis had time. He started after him, walking at first before he started jogging, and then stopped altogether, letting his boots squeak loudly on the tile.

Harry,” he shouted, and, finally, the other man turned. When he did, his shoulders dropped a little, and slowly, he started walking back towards Louis.

“What?” he asked, his voice soft and weary. Louis shifted, swallowing as Harry came closer, eventually stopping a few feet away from him.

“I just – I wanted to talk to you, Christ,” Louis huffed, “Think you owe me that,”

“Right,” Harry said, his face still neutral, “I’m not telling anyone. You understand that, right?”

Louis didn’t answer, and Harry shook his head.

“I meant it, when I promised you I wouldn’t tell,” Harry said, “So don’t worry about it,”  

“Uh,” Louis managed, “You’re not – okay. That’s good,”

“Mm,” Harry hummed. He tapped his foot against the floor, making a faint echoing sound, “I’m assuming that’s what you wanted to know,”

It wasn’t.

It was the main question that had haunted him, sure, but now all the others were coming in. Why it had happened in the first place. Why Harry had just shown up at his room in the middle of the night, like it couldn’t wait. Why…

“Why me?” Louis managed.

Harry blinked, his feet shuffling, “Why you?”

“There are easier people to kiss than me, Harry,” Louis said, “Why me?”

Harry shook his head.

“I’m sorry I did that,”

“An apology is not an answer,”

“It doesn’t matter,” Harry said, “It won’t happen again,”

“Why not?” Louis snapped. He stepped forward, and in almost the same moment, one of Harry’s feet slid back.

“Because it shouldn’t have happened in the first place, that’s why,” Harry said, “Look, it doesn’t matter if I had found out about you or not. I’m still writing about you. We still have to have a professional relationship. I don’t – I can’t kiss people I have a professional relationship with, no matter how badly I want to,”

Louis blinked, and he took another step forward. Harry didn’t step back this time, but he still had his feet poised like he was ready to run away at any moment.

“So you want to,” Louis pushed, and Harry ducked his head.

“It doesn’t matter,” Harry said, a little too quickly.

“Harry, please,” Louis said, “You wanted to. I wanted to. Can we – can we at least just acknowledge that?”

Harry shook his head, his eyes swimming. He reached up a hand, rubbing at them.

“I can’t – I should go. Shit,” he got out.

Louis stepped forward, fast enough that if Harry was staying still, he could have grabbed onto him, forced him to stay.

But Harry was turning, and leaving, and Louis’s feet halted as he watched him grow smaller in the distance, unable to go after him.

*******

Louis went back to the track for the next three days, while Harry sat in the shadows nearby, quiet and observant and scribbling down notes.

They didn’t speak again.

Louis wanted to, though. He wanted to be able to slide over the barrier during one of his breaks and saw hi, wanted to ask Harry what he was writing, how he was doing. He wanted to go back to leaving cardboard coffee cups waiting for Harry on the bleachers, a different flavor every day. He wanted Harry to smile at him again.

Because he could deal with Harry not kissing him, not being with him in that way. But it had been so long since Louis had allowed anyone else inside, since he had felt so at peace with another human being.

He didn’t want Harry to look at him differently, just because of this one dumb secret that shouldn’t have been a secret at all.

So every day he went to the door alone, and every day he stared out at the track on his breaks, silently daring Harry to look up, at least once.

Harry never took the dare.

*******

Things didn’t get better during his week off.

They rarely did, but this time around, Louis could still feel the fresh sting in his shoulder and hip when he started thinking about Harry again.

When Niall left, he wrapped himself in the covers of his bed and tried to force himself to take a nap, with the faintest hope that if he was going to dream, he should at least do it before his heat fully set in.

Of course, just his luck, he felt the first rush of heat and hormones rush over him just as he managed to get down.

In his dream, Louis wasn’t in his bedroom. He was on his couch, wrapped in a blanket, watching the outside through the frosty windows outside. It was snowing now, fat, thick snowflakes hitting the glass. Louis burrowed deeper into his blanket. He could swear he could feel the soft fabric press into his bare skin.

The front door clicked open, and he didn’t even move, didn’t look up.

“Hey,” a voice above him said, and he blinked his eyes open. Harry was standing over him, but that wasn’t really a surprise. He was smiling, his cheeks and nose bright pink from the cold as he pulled off his jacket and tossed it to the floor.

“Hi,” Louis returned, and Harry’s hand reached out, rubbing Louis’s unshaven cheek.

“What’re you doing back?” Louis murmured.

“I couldn’t leave you,” Harry said softly, “Not for long,”

His hand came down, pushing down Louis’s blanket to expose his shoulder, rubbing his hand over the naked skin.

“You’ll be warmer in your room,” Harry said, “I turned the heat up for you before I left,”

Louis blinked, hazy thoughts going through his brain.

Harry turned the heat on for me, he thought, Of course he did. Harry lives with me. Harry makes sure I’m okay.

 

“I know,” Louis sighed, “I wanted to see the snow,”

“Of course you did,” Harry shook his head, then leaned in to peck Louis’s forehead, “Come on, let’s go lay down,”

Louis wanted to say they could lay down on the couch, but he was cold, and Harry was already pushing the rest of the blanket away and lifting him up into his arms. He kissed Louis’s collarbone as he shuffled to the hallway, down to the entrance of Louis’s room.

He laid him down on the bed, pressing a large, warm palm to Louis’s flat stomach.

“You need to sleep?” he asked, and Louis shook his head, making Harry smile, “Good. Got some plans for you first,”

He moved to lift his hand away, but Louis grabbed his wrist, pulling him closer.

“Don’t leave like that again,” Louis whispered.

Harry smiled, his form shifting and wavering like a mirage.

“I won’t. Not ever,” Harry vowed.

“I’m dreaming,” Louis murmured, and Harry’s expression tightened.

“I know, baby,” he whispered, and then leaned forward, going in for a kiss on the lips.

Louis woke up before then.

His face was pressed flat into his pillow and he lifted his head, blinking his wet, bleary eyes as he arched his back, lifting his body off the mattress. His cock felt hard and heavy between his legs, and with a resigned groan, he reached down to touch himself, smoothing a hand over his length, thumbing the dripping head.

He was getting tired of doing this.

Louis rolled onto his side, pulling on his cock, his body curling in on itself as he did so. The curtains of his bedroom window were pulled tightly shut, but he was almost certain it wasn’t snowing.

After a few steady strokes, Louis came, and afterwards he pulled his limp, uncooperative body out of bed to go get a flannel from the bathroom so he could clean himself up in the precious few minutes he had before he got hard again.

He didn’t think too hard about his dream, and how apparently what his body craved more than anything now was a gentle touch, and another body next to his to keep him warm.

*******

Louis called Niall early on the Saturday his heat ended, asking him to come over.

“Why the hell are you calling me at five in the morning?” was the first thing he was greeted with. Louis snorted as he continued to stir his cup of tea.

“Because I want you to come over,” Louis said.

“Now?”

“No. Later. Tonight,”

“Aren’t you in the middle of something right now?”

“Let’s see,” Louis said as he blew delicately on his tea, “I haven’t masturbated in a good three hours, I think I’m okay,”

“Fuck you,” Niall groaned, “I’ll be over at eight, when my shift ends. Fucking goodbye,”

Niall showed up as promised at eight, dressed in his scrubs.

More specifically, he showed up in his mint green scrubs with cartoon tiger cubs on them, along with a large, suspect rust brown stain down the entire front.

“The pediatric ward today?” Louis asked, and Niall just gave him a dull, glassy look.

“Yes, don’t talk to me,” he said, and pushed past Louis into the front hallway, “I have a change of clothes in your spare room. I’m washing these,”

“Oh, fantastic, I’ve been meaning to buy a new washer. Mine being infected should do the trick,”

Niall softly pushed his fist into Louis’s jaw, pushing his head back, and trudged out of the living room and into the hallway.

Louis shook his head and went back to the kitchen, so he could pull the pizzas he’d ordered out of the oven where it was keeping warm. Down the hall, he could hear the faint sound of water turning on in his spare bathroom, and a few minutes after that, one of the machines in his laundry room came to life with a low rumble.

Niall emerged eventually, wearing a grey sweater and jeans and his glasses, and headbutted Louis in the shoulder when he got into the kitchen.

“What did you get?” he murmured into the fabric of Louis’s shirt.

“The pizza? Just margarita,” he said, getting a knife out of the drawer, “I’ve got two tins of Camembert in the fridge and some wine chilling in there, too. Oh, and I got you a tube of that instant cinnamon bun stuff from America you like,”

Niall made a soft noise, “With vanilla ice cream?”

“Yep, we can make it for breakfast tomorrow, if you want to stay over,”

“Sure. Proper slumber party,” Niall said, setting his chin on Louis’s shoulder, “What’s all this for, hm?”

“I felt like it, that’s all,” Louis said, “And after today, I think you deserve it,”

Niall whined softly in agreement, and eventually took his chin off his friend’s shoulder so Louis could get a couple plates out for the pizza.

“Why do they keep sending me to the kids’ ward, anyways?” Niall wondered aloud, “They know I want to be a cardiac surgeon,”

“Why are you working with me if that’s what you want to do?” Louis asked, making sure to pick out the most cheese-laden slices to put on his friend’s plate, “Unless you want to cut open my chest in my sleep, of course,”

“You’ve discovered my secret fantasy,” Niall sighed, and then moaned softly when Louis handed him a plate, “You’re a good friend,”

“I know, darling,” Louis said, ruffling Niall’s hair, “Your roots are growing in,”

“Fucking let them,” he huffed, “What’s the point anymore?”

Louis shook his head, pushing Niall in the shoulder.

“Go find something to watch,” he said, “I’ll get us some wine,”

Niall retreated out of the room, and Louis made himself a plate of pizza. He poured out two glasses and followed Niall to the living room with his own plate and one of the glasses, pausing when he saw Niall was pulling up the Season Three premiere of Black Mirror.

“You haven’t watched this yet, have you?” Niall asked as Louis came over to deposit his plate and Niall’s glass on the table.

“No,” Louis said, already retreating to get his own glass, “Haven’t even gotten through season two yet,”

“You’re fucking kidding me, right?”

“I got distracted last time I watched this,” Louis said, grabbing his glass quickly and strolling back to the living room. When he did, he snatched the remote from Niall and began scrolling through the episodes until he found the one he’d left off on, “There, that’s better,”

“Don’t blame me when I spoil everything for you,” Niall huffed, picking up one slice of his pizza as Louis settled into the couch.

They got through two episodes, finishing the pizza, and Louis put one of the Camemberts in the oven to warm. By the time it done, the third episode was almost half way through, and they ate melted cheese off spoons before they got bored a solid fifteen minutes before the episode ended. Niall set his spoon down on the cheese-laden plate on the coffee table and settled down in a corner of the couch, while Louis laid out on his stomach, his chin tucked under a throw pillow. His body felt heavy and warm, his stomach slightly stretched from all the food. He blinked his heavy eyes and reached out a hand, nudging Niall’s foot until the other man glanced over to him.

“Niall,” Louis murmured, “You seeing anybody right now?”

“I’m in med school,”

“That’s not an answer,”

“That’s about the strongest no I can come up with,” Niall snorted, then shook his head, “Really, though, I’m not. No time, no real interest, to be honest. Maybe at some point later on,”

“Yeah?” Louis said, lifting his chin from the pillow, “After you’re through with me, you mean?”

Niall cut him a look, “You’re not keeping me from doing anything, you know? I just – I don’t care. It’s not something I’m interested in right now,”

“Okay,” Louis said quietly.

“What’s with the questions, anyways? I’m usually the one asking those,”

“What? I can’t worry about you?” Louis asked, “Besides, we’re having a slumber party. We’re supposed to talk about boys we like and braid each other’s hair,”

That got a laugh out of Niall, who reached out his arms.

“Come here, you,” he murmured. Louis rolled his eyes but eventually dropped his pillow and crawled over to Niall, laying on top of him. Louis pressed his nose into Niall’s chest and sighed in contentment as the other man rested his hand in his hair, weaving his fingers in the strands.

“What are you even into these days?” Louis asked, “You still like boys? Or are you more on girls side of things?”

“Either,” Niall sighed, “Or I guess neither, since, once again, I have no fucking time,”

“Right,” Louis said, and closed his eyes, his cheek feeling too warm against the fabric of Niall’s jumper.

“Niall,” he mumbled eventually, “Will you marry me?”

The other man snorted softly, “Time for the annual proposal, is it?”

“It’s still a good fucking idea,”

Louis had told Niall they should get married nearly five years ago, and he had meant it. It made enough sense. They were together constantly anyways, and no one would raise an eyebrow over an alpha and a beta getting together, certainly not as much as they would if the country’s most eligible alpha went their whole life never mating. Niall had conceded it was a fair idea but he wasn’t going to do it. Louis had spent every year since then convincing him to do it anyways.

“Yeah, well, I’m still not doing that,” Niall eventually replied.

“Why not?”

“Because you’re a pain in the ass, that’s why,” 

“Why won’t you really do it?”

Niall twisted his fingers tightly in Louis’s hair and sighed.

“Don’t you want more than that?” he asked softly, “More than just pretending, I mean?”

Louis blinked, his vision swimming over with fat snowflakes on the window, a large, vein-choke hand on his hip, warmth and security that wrapped him up like the warmest blanket. Something he could chase forever and would always elude him.

“Of course I do,” Louis huffed, “You know that’s not possible,”

“I know,” Niall admitted, “Be nice to keep you in the city, at least. I’m going to miss you when you get out of here,”

“I’m going to miss it here, too,” Louis admitted, “I’m thinking of going to Iceland, now, by the way,”

“What happened to Amsterdam?”

“The Netherlands just went through with that bill. Ribbon system is going to stay for the next thirty years, at least,”

“You’re running out of places,”

“I know, fuck,” Louis huffed, “Why does this keep happening?”

“Because this shit works,” Niall shook his head, “Somehow,”

“How, though?”

“I mean, stable populations, economic growth, lack of disease, drop in the crime rates – “

“It’s not even doing what it’s supposed to do,” Louis cut in.

It was a point. The ribbon system had started up in the UK in the first place because a flu at the turn of the century caused half the country’s omegas to become unfertile. Gender marking had been used in the military for at least a century prior, and no disease had popped up there yet, so the government gave it a shot with the general population. The infertility issue weeded itself out within a few years, something doctors later determined just to be a result of nation-wide stress caused by the war. But just about everything else seemed to be flourishing, so the system stuck around.

“It’s doing enough, Louis,” Niall said softly, then, “I’m sorry,”

Louis closed his eyes. Niall tended to do this kind of thing when they talked about their world, because he still lived in the grey area. He could go just about anywhere and be just about anything and sleep with anyone he wanted to. He didn’t get the prestige and the attention he would get with a red ribbon, but he got to slip by and live the way he wanted to.

So, when Louis complained, he fell silent until Louis got it all out of his system. Tonight, though, Louis was run down, all his complaints dried up, so Niall eventually spoke again.

“They just don’t look out for the little people,” Niall said, and Louis paused, lifting his head and narrowing his eyes.

“Did you just use mass oppression as excuse to insult my height?”

Niall shrugged, and Louis dropped his head back onto Niall’s chest, sighing weakly.

“We’re getting a divorce,” he said, “I’m gonna marry you just so I can divorce you,”

Niall snorted, then, softly, he admitted, “I guess I could a lot worse,”

*******

Louis barely realized December had even arrived.

He noticed the dropping temperatures and the new abundance of evergreen decorations outside the shops in his neighborhood and the spam holiday emails filling his inbox, but he didn’t really process it. It didn’t dawn on him what time it was until he arrived home one day after practice to a cardboard box on his doorstep containing a black garment bag, and he remembered that on the 3rd, he had a party to go to.

Which was how, a few days later, he was in the back of another car, driving to the first of his holiday sponsorship parties.

This one was at the house of Edward Scott, one of the team’s long-time benefactors. He had actually owned part of the team when the national team was still open to public shares, and never quite let anyone forget it, which was why he liked to throw his team parties often and early, so they were remembered everything he had done for them.

Louis blinked against the glare of the window, watching as the Scott property – a stretch of gaudy grey stone – came into his vision. When the car was parked he let his hand linger a little too long on the door handle before he undid it and slipped outside, his dress shoes nearly slipping against the powdery fake snow dusted along the driveway. The crisp snap of a hired photographer’s camera greeted him as he climbed the marble stairs, a small price paid to keep the usual paps off the property.

Louis slipped into the open doors of the house, his body immediately coated in light and warmth and an overpowering smell of expensive perfume and cinnamon. A tall woman in a plain black gown, an attendant, probably, immediately held out her arm to take Louis’s coat as he shrugged it off. As soon as she was gone, a server in a different uniform came up to him, asking he wanted a drink. It was still early, but Louis asked for a glass of burgundy anyways. It was going to be a long night.

Already, he could see the hired decorator had outdone themselves this year. There were three Christmas trees in the foyer, all of them brushing twelve feet, each of them covered in a different coordinating color scheme of tinsel and ornaments. The multiple staircases were draped in velvet hangings and evergreen garlands and crystal baubles. The entire front room, which was more or less a large ballroom, was packed with sponsors and team owners and racers and anyone else who managed to get an invitation by being attached to one of them, all dressed in different shades of snow-colored evening wear.

In the past, Louis had extended his very limited plus one to Niall, who had shot it down every single time. But this year, he had gone ahead and given it to someone else.

Of course, Louis didn’t see him.

Before he even had enough to look time to look for his guest, though, he could see Scott himself cutting through the crowd, dressed in the world’s most horrendous white suit.

Louis took a slow breath.

“Racer Tomlinson,” the man said with a grin, “Always a pleasure to have you here,”

“Pleasure is mine,” Louis managed as his hand was grabbed for a handshake he didn’t agree to.

“Got your table right up front this year,” the man said with a wink, “Hope that’s alright,”

“Sounds fantastic,” Louis said, forcing himself to smile.

Scott went in to smack him on the back, and Louis tried to hide his wince.

“I’ll be back to speak to you in a bit, Racer Tomlinson. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go congratulate Racer Payne on his engagement,” Scott skirted away, pausing before he walked away entirely, “Come along, Amelia,”

Louis’s eyes shifted to Scott’s wife, standing right up against the nearest wall, her pink ribbon pinned to the single strap of her silver evening gown. She looked over at Louis, offering him a soft smile. Louis had met her three years ago, when she and Scott were first married, and she and Louis had spent one of Scott’s summer parties chatting in the back garden for an hour straight. He remembered that they had done that because Amelia was only a year younger than he was.

As they walked away, Louis swallowed down a large gulp of his drink and began weaving through the ballroom. He could see the rest of the team was sprinkled across the room, cornered by different guests. A few of the new team members clung to the fringes of the crowd, mostly speaking to each other. Cara was talking to a group of design executives while her girlfriend Annie stood nearby, speaking to one of the team’s retired coaches. Liam and Zayn were in the midst of a large crowd in the middle of the room, Zayn barely holding a pleasant expression together as person after person grabbed his left hand to look at his ring.

Louis, meanwhile, entertained a continuous blur of black suits, who gave him firm handshakes and congratulations coupled with unwelcome sales pitches for products from their companies. He got through it the way he always did, by keeping a tight grip on his glass and dropping his smile as soon as someone walked away so his face wouldn’t go numb with the effort of looking pleasant.

About an hour in, there was a small clamor, and he looked up to see a composer had come to stand in front of the hired orchestra. With a quick wave of his baton, music filled the ballroom, something Louis didn’t recognize that was light and happy and full of string instruments.

The crowd rippled with laughter and new movement. He saw a few couples pull each other into a dance, and soon half the crowd was coupled up and dancing in the center of the room while a ring of singles surrounded them on the edges, swaying to the music and looking on.

Louis skirted the edge of the crowd, searching for a server. He finally found a woman in a black and white uniform and he flagged her down and requested a fresh glass of wine. She nodded with a soft smile and took his empty glass without another word.

As he watched her retreat, he tucked his hands into his trouser pockets, unable to do anything with his hands now that they were empty. There were still people dancing but the crowd on the edges was starting to break up, the party quickly going back to its normal swing. Temporary and easily broken.

Louis suddenly felt extremely tired.

He was about to head off in desperate search of the departed server, just so he could get some more booze into his system, anything to make this place bearable, when a flash of movement caught his attention out of the corner of his eye, and he turned to look.

He hadn’t noticed Harry walk in – he would have, God, he would have -- but he could see him now, across the room. Harry was dressed nearly the exact same as everyone else in the room – in a neat, black tuxedo – to the point nobody in the room would notice him, not when Harry didn’t have a recognizable face to attach to money or fame.

But the thing was, Louis noticed him. Harry had his hair styled back neatly, his usual fringe combed off his forehead. But there were still curls around his ears where the gel didn’t hold, there was still the wide line of his shoulders in a neatly tailored jacket, there was still way his feet pointed slightly towards each other. Enough that Louis had recognized him, even in the most fleeting moment.

Harry didn’t have his notebook with him, but Louis could still see him looking, observing, calculating, stowing away details for later with each sweep of his eyes.  

Eventually, that slow sweep of the crowd brought Harry’s eyes to Louis.

Louis felt his body still, his breath caught in his throat, and…if he looked closely enough, he could have sworn Harry did the same thing.

The other man dipped his hand forward, his eyes blinking softly, his hand raising, the liquid in his glass swiveling.

He was toasting Louis.

Louis’s mouth felt bone dry.

He opened his mouth – not to shout, not here, not now – but to at least mouth something.

 

Come here.

 

Please, come here.

 

But before he could, a hand clapped Louis on the shoulder. Harry’s gaze dropped away, and Louis tried to blink away the image branded into his eyes as he turned to face the person behind him. It was a woman, about his height, dressed in a burgundy and gold sari, her silver hair braided over her shoulder.

“Dr. Rosa, hello,” Louis said, offering a smile that he hoped conveyed he was actually glad to see her. Louis had been using the boots Dr. Rosa’s company made for years, and he had always enjoyed talking to her.

It was just a bit difficult now.

“Racer Tomlinson,” she smiled warmly, “How have you been?”

“I’m wonderful,” Louis managed. He resisted the urge to let his eyes wander, because, for once, he had a reason to be distracted.

“I’ve been enjoying watching you race so much this year,” she said, reaching out to encase one of his hands in her own, “Now, tell me, are you still a size 9 shoe?”

“Yes, ma’am,”

“Then I think you’ll be getting a nice package at your door by Christmas,” she smiled and winked, before her face creased, “Are you alright, dear?”  

“I’m fine,” he said, before admitting, “There’s somebody I’m looking for right now. That’s all,”

“Well, why don’t you go find them,” Dr. Rosa said, her expression softening as she let Louis’s hand drop, “I know your time is valuable,”   

“Not too valuable for you,” he said quickly, “I’ll find you later. You’ll have to tell me one of your India stories when I come back, alright, darling?”

“Of course,” she nodded, and then she swept off in a swirl of fabric.

Louis managed a long breath before making his way to the edge of the room, to the staircase most shielded from the rest of the room. There were a few people on the steps, but they didn’t seem to notice him as he ascended. By the time he had made it to the second floor, there was no one around, and no risk of being heard, either, as the thick Persian carpet absorbed the sounds of his footsteps.

He traveled past a series of grossly expensive looking paintings and one small Chinese vase on an equally expensive display table before he found the thick double-oak doors he wanted, and opened them.

Louis was pretty sure Scott had not read a book in his life that didn’t deal with one of the world wars or financial practices, but that didn’t stop him from having a large library. Inside, there were rows of books that stacked straight up to the domed ceiling, old armchairs covered in velvet and rich upholstery, a few vintage desks pushed against tall windows. It smelled strongly of aged leather and wood cleaner.

He had been escaping to the second floor library nearly every time he had been in this house since his first party here when he was nineteen. Ironically, the first time he had escaped from one of the parties, it was because he had been too embarrassed that hardly anyone knew who he was. Now everyone downstairs knew him, and he just wanted to leave it for a while.

Louis allowed himself another breath before he shut the doors behind him and brought himself over to one of the nearest walls, where a large, intricate mirror hung over a simple table. The table was covered in a large lace doily and an open, illustrated copy of The Iliad, the open page depicting Achilles in his chariot, dragging the forgotten body of Hector behind him. He placed both hands on the table in front of him, leaning forward to gaze at his own reflection.

Only a few minutes after he had come inside, the door behind him squeaked open. Louis didn’t turn around. He just leaned closer to the desk, gripping the sides of the desk tighter as he rocked forward, looking straight into the glass into front of him. The footsteps drew closer, and Louis closed his eyes, listening to the solid click of one foot, followed by the soft drag of the other over the hardwood. A sound he hadn’t even noticed he had memorized.

When he opened his eyes again, he saw Harry behind him.

Their eyes met in the mirror almost immediately, and Louis waited for the heaviness to drop from his chest, but it stayed, firmly in place. It seemed to get worse as he allowed his eyes to take in the details; the way Harry leaned on the bookcase behind him, the way he fiddled with the thick ring on his right hand, the soft, shadowy skin under his wide eyes.  

Louis’s throat didn’t feel right, and he couldn’t break the silence even if he knew how.

Luckily, Harry did.

“This is the first time I’ve seen you at an event without your racer’s jacket,”

Louis snorted softly, pushing back against the desk until only his fingertips were pressed into the carved edges.

“Is that all you have to say to me?” he asked. His words weren’t cutting, or teasing, even, just soft. A reach, to see if Harry bothered to say anything back.

Harry dipped his head, examining a point on the floor Louis couldn’t see in the mirror, and then lifted his gaze back up.

“It’s all I can think of right now,” the other man admitted, and Louis shook his head. His hand smoothed over the book in front of him, the pages crinkling under his fingertips.

“You’re lying,” Louis said softly, bringing his eyes back up to the mirror as he said it, “You have a lot more you’d like to say,”

“Maybe,”

Louis leaned forward into the desk, his waist digging into the front of the table.

“Well then, say one of the things you maybe want to say to me,”

Harry didn’t speak for a long time, and Louis was suddenly very aware that he might never speak to him again. He could walk out, disappear into the night, and he could spend the next several months with a silent ghost watching him from the sidelines.  

But instead, Harry looked back up, and this time, he steadily held Louis’s gaze.

“I think you look very nice tonight,” he said, “Without your jacket,”

“Very nice,” Louis repeated, licking his lips. He meant to say it drily but there was no air in his chest, “Thought a writer would come up with something better than that,”

Harry’s eyes flickered, like he wanted to drop his gaze, but he kept his eyes steady, his voice soft and smooth when he spoke again.

“You look beautiful, Louis,”

Louis blinked, and then eventually stopped looking at Harry’s reflection altogether. Instead he pushed the edge of his hair back with the heel of his palm, sighed, and turned.

He dropped his hand, letting it bang softly against the edge of the desk before he gripped onto the wood again, and swallowed down something thick in his throat.

“Come here,” he whispered, his voice wavering.

Harry did.

Slowly. A step. A soft drag. Another step. Until he was right in front of Louis, close enough that Louis had to tilt his chin up, just a bit, to look at Harry fully.

Louis smiled, “Hi,”

Harry smiled in return, his entire face softening around his raised lips, “Hi,”

Louis felt something roll in his chest as he blinked, his eyes suddenly burning.

“I missed you,” he said softly.

“Been around,”

Louis huffed, shaking his head.

“Missed you like this,” he managed, “Happy,”

Harry kept smiling, and nodded, before his mouth tightened, in the same moment he brought a hand up to cup Louis’s cheek.

“I missed that, too,” he said.

Louis let his gaze drop down to the floor. Harry was wearing boots, he realized. Midnight blue velvet boots.

In a moment, though, Harry’s knuckle caught him under the chin and his gaze was being lifted, so he was looking at him again.

“I missed your eyes,” Harry said softly, his throat bobbing nervously. His bowtie was the same blue velvet as his boots.

“Yeah?” Louis asked.

“I – I couldn’t remember what shade they were,” Harry said, “I was trying to write a sentence about them the other day, and I – I couldn’t describe them quite right,”

Louis snorted softly, “Cross readers wanna read about my eyes, do they?”

“It wasn’t for Cross,” Harry said quietly, “It was for me,”

Louis eyebrow’s quirked up, a silent question, and Harry’s thumb brushed along the underside of Louis’s chin.

“I was just – I wanted to make sense of things,” Harry explained, “Writing usually helps with that,”

Louis nodded, his chin digging into Harry’s thumb as he did so, and the other man shook his head, his hand dragging up the side of Louis’s cheek, the metal of his rings cool on Louis’s skin.

“I still don’t know if I’ve made sense of everything,” he admitted softly.  

“That’s alright,” Louis said. His mouth felt dry, and he wished desperately he had waited downstairs long enough to get a new drink.

Harry kept his hand firmly on Louis’s cheek, his eyes flickering over Louis’s face, enough that Louis could feel him cataloguing the curve of his mouth and nose, the faint crease lines around his eyes and clustered in his forehead, even down to the neat seams stitched into his jacket.

“Just so you know,” Louis said, causing Harry’s eyes to flick back up, “If you didn’t come in here to kiss me, I’m gonna be really pissed,”

Harry’s entire expression stilled, and then, slowly, he smiled and nodded. He tilted his head down, his fingers smoothing over Louis’s cheek before dropping his hand down to wrap around the back of his neck, his thumb prodding at Louis’s temple, over his pulse.

He leaned forward, and Louis pushed his chin up just in time for their lips to meet.

Harry was gentler this time. Maybe it was because of where they were, or what he knew. But he was softer, his hands less roaming and the brush of his fingers gentler, like each touch ended with a question mark, looking for answers. Harry’s mouth tasted like champagne, sweet and intoxicating, and Louis tasted something else underneath. Lip balm, maybe. Something waxy and sugary and fruity.

Louis’s nose flared, and he felt his head go fuzzy as he breathed in Harry’s scent, pure pheromones, unhindered by cologne. He hadn’t ever catalogued Harry’s scent before, but now, it was all he could focus on. It was thick and sharp and smelled of everything good, like spice and freshly turned earth and Christmas morning.

When they pulled away, they just stared at each other, wide pupils and heavy, wet lips, and then Harry pressed his lips together, his hand falling away from Louis’s neck to instead touch his chest. Louis reached up to wrap his fingers around Harry’s wrist, squeezing gently. Harry looked down at Louis’s hand and then back up to his eyes.

“There,” Louis said, rubbing his thumb over the inside of Harry’s wrist, “Okay?”

Harry nodded and then his fingers shifted over Louis’s chest, his touch brushing over the ribbon on his lapel. Louis looked down, watching Harry’s neat nails trail over the scarlet fabric.

“Can we sit down?” Harry asked, “I want – I want to ask you some things,”

“Journalist things?” Louis asked, “Or Harry things?”

Louis looked back up in time to see a soft blush blaze over Harry’s cheeks. The other man swallowed, but not before his lips quirked up again.

“Things that won’t appear in print,” he finally replied.

“Sure,” Louis murmured, “Didn’t want to go back down there, anyways,”  

Harry nodded, then loosened his grip on Louis, skidding backwards to give him room. Louis pushed himself away from the table, moving over to the velvet couch in the corner of the room, the one that faced a pair of sailing, aged windows that let in the darkness of the sky outside.

They both sat down, and Louis reached inside his jacket to get his phone. He checked the time on the screen and swore softly, “Sorry, I — we’ve got about half an hour until dinner so…better get to it,”

Harry nodded, slowly, his eyes looking out to the windows.

“How did you manage this?” he finally said, “In the first place. And then…for so long,”

Louis looked firmly downwards, examining his fingernails, running his thumb over the freshly pushed back nail beds as he prepared to speak.

“The doctor who ran the gender tests for my secondary school league – he knew my dad, apparently. Kept in touch with my mum, would keep up with my racing, all that. Family friend in the loosest of terms. So – when my results came through, he met with me privately before he turned in the results to my coach. Said he could switch out the blood samples and get my records falsified, and as long as I kept seeing him, he would keep doing that for me,”

“Sounds a bit dodgy,” Harry cut in, and Louis snorted.

“It was. But honestly, he was a good guy. Volunteered in the Omega Marches in the sixties and everything. And I was sixteen, and I was scared. So I did it,” he shrugged, “Niall was studying with him later, and when he died, Ni and I were already friends, so he took over. He takes care of my check ups and blood tests and shots and the team stays out of it. So. He’s still the only person who knows,”

“Your family?”

“Christ, Harry, you know my mum didn’t want me doing this. Do you honestly think she would have let me keep training if she knew about my results?”

Harry’s jaw tightened, and he shook his head.

“That…I can’t imagine how hard that is,” he said, “Sorry. That’s – that’s a shitty thing to say to something like that,”

“You’re alright. It’s not exactly easy,” Louis conceded, “My mum’s fine with it now. Cautious, but…fine,”

“And you did this all to race?”

“Partly,” Louis admitted. He looked over his shoulder, at the endless blackness of the night sky behind them, “I just – I wanted to have a life myself, more than anything. One where I didn’t have to worry about getting married and having a baby before I was twenty-five. I wanted something more. Something that was just for me,”

He was silent for a while, before he sighed, “That’s harder than you would think. For someone like me in this world,”

Harry was quiet, quiet enough that Louis could almost forget he was there. When he spoke Louis’s head turned back around to face him.

“You’re good at this,” Harry said, “Pretending, I mean,”

“I’ve been doing this for a third of my life,” Louis said, wincing a bit at the admission, “I would hope I am,”

“It’s just…you act so different out there,” Harry said, “You don’t act like you have something to hide. You act like you have the world at your feet,”

Louis straightened up and felt the corner of his mouth twitch up in a smirk.

“That’s because I do,” he said, “I have three men twice my age downstairs who would get on their knees and beg if it meant me wearing one of their helmets in a paparazzi photo. I’ve got four more who have sent me jackets and shoes and colognes every month for four years trying to get VIP tickets to the next London race,”

Harry shook his head, “See? You slip into it so easily,”

“Sorry,” Louis said, and Harry smiled again.

“No, it’s…it’s fine, just interesting,”

Neither of them said anything, and eventually Harry shifted in his spot, leaning a bit closer to Louis.

“You’re different when it’s just you,” he said, “You’re…softer, I guess,”

“I don’t like being that way all the time,” Louis said, although now that Harry was closer there was less air in his lungs, “It’s tiring. But it keeps people from getting too close,”

Harry’s eyes clouded, becoming something foreign and dark. Louis shifted, recognizing the look he was giving him.

Without thinking, he reached out to grab Harry’s hand.

“Don’t be sad for me,” he whispered, “Please,”

Harry blinked, looking down to Louis’s hand and then up to his eyes again.

“This is something I chose for myself,” Louis continued, “I’m happy. I am. I just…sometimes I wish it could be easier. Okay?”

“Okay,” Harry eventually echoed.

“I’m not going to do this forever, you know,” Louis said, before he could stop himself, “I’m going to leave London eventually. Soon, hopefully,”

Harry just stared at him, his eyes round and unyielding.

“When?”

“When I win the Grand Prix,” Louis said simply, “So, with any luck, this year,”

“When did you decide that?”

“When I figured out how tiring it is to do this,”

Harry didn’t have anything to say to that. Instead he just closed his eyes and leaned his head back, his face smooth and unreadable.

Louis reached out and pressed his fingertips to his smooth cheek, and Harry’s eyes fluttered open, looking over.

“M’just thinking,” Harry said softly, “This is a lot,”

“I’m sorry,”

“It’s okay,” Harry said, reaching up to grab Louis’s hand, their fingers stitching together, “I like listening to stories, no matter what they are,”

Louis nodded, and then lifted their joined hands, nosing at Harry’s adorned knuckles.

“I’d like to ask you something now,” Louis said, and Harry nodded.

“That’s fair,”

“You never said why you wanted me,”

Louis ran his thumb slowly over the inside of Harry’s wrist, and the other man exhaled, soft and agonizing.

“Because you’re very easy to get addicted to,” he eventually said.

“Mm?” Louis hummed. He was still stroking Harry’s hand.

“I don’t how else to say it,” Harry continued, “Can’t explain why else I would just think of you constantly, when I didn’t need to. Why I would see in you in the mornings and think, out of nowhere, how everything would be okay,”

Harry paused, lifting his gaze to look at Louis, “That’s crazy. I’m sorry,”

“Not crazy,” Louis murmured. He stopped stroking Harry’s hand and let their fingers become detached, “Why do you ignore me, then? If you wanted me so much?”

Harry stared down at his hand, and then looked over at where Louis’s fingers were curled loosely against the fabric of the couch. His fingers crawled forward, like he wanted to touch him again, but he stopped, taking a long breath.

“At first I was just…freaked out. Because it was a weird situation, to find something out like that”

“Naturally,”

“But then…” he shook his head, and Louis saw his eyes were swimming, “Louis, fuck, I’m so sorry for everything after that. I was just scared of what I had done. That I had done something wrong,”

Louis rolled his eyes and reached up, thumbing the tears off the rim of Harry’s eyes.

“The only mistake you made was not telling me this earlier, you prick,” he huffed, and Harry only made a soft, defeated sound, “Oh, come on, it’s Christmas. Don’t cry me on me on Christmas,”

Harry laughed weakly, “S’not Christmas yet,”

“It’s close enough. You’re forbidden to cry on me for the rest od December,”

Harry just shook his head and reached up again to grab Louis’s hand, this time pressing it to his own chest.

“What do we doing now, huh?” he asked softly.

“I don’t know,” Louis admitted.

They were quiet, then, not moving, just Louis brushing Harry’s skin, neither of them able to answer the question Harry had asked.

“Can we even do anything?” Harry eventually said, “With you leaving and all?”

“Oh. Right,” Louis said. For a moment, Iceland and Amsterdam and every other place except the library had left his mind, “Maybe not,”

“Okay,” Harry said slowly, squeezing Louis’s hand, “We can – we can make this a one time thing. Not us being around each other. But – everything else. That can be a one time thing,”

“Two time thing, technically,” Louis said, “Are you sure about that? With that addiction of yours and all,”

“If I can still see you, then yes,” Harry said, though his words sounded careful, unsure, “That would be enough,”

Louis shook his head, and thought maybe he should pull his hand away from Harry’s. But he didn’t.

“You were the first kiss I had in eight years, you know,” Louis eventually said, just to break apart the silence.

“Eight years,” Harry echoed, “Really?”

“Well, it’s hard to have relationships with the secrets I’ve chosen to keep,”

“But – not even a kiss? A date?”

“Nope,” Louis shrugged, “Guess I was always afraid something like that would end with a hand down my pants and then it would all go to shit. Although I guess I had good reason to be afraid of that,”

“Oh, Jesus,” Harry ducked head, hiding his face in his free hand, “Fuck,”

“I’m teasing,” Louis said, “But, really, it just hasn’t been something I could do,”

“Did you want to?”

“Of course I wanted to,” Louis shook his head, “But I had to keep a few things hidden first. Obviously,”  

“Right,” Harry said. He nibbled on his bottom lip, before eventually letting it slip from between his teeth, shiny and red, “Louis,”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry if this is – fuck, I’m sorry,” Harry fumbled, squeezing Louis’s hand in short bursts, “But – you haven’t kissed anyone in eight years,”

“Thanks for reminding me,”

“Sorry. I just – does that – “

Louis squinted his eyes as Harry’s cheeks colored, and he snorted.

“You want to know if I’m a virgin,”

Harry’s face burned and Louis just squeezed his hand.

“I don’t mind you wondering, love. Let’s see. I haven’t been a relationship since I was 16,” Louis said, “My last boyfriend wanted to wait until we got our gender results in before we did anything. He was traditional or something. But of course I broke up with him after I found out,”

“So,” Harry prompted. His voice wavered.

So, I can’t exactly go pick up someone at a club. And I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a toy up there but – “

“Never a real person?”

“Nope,”

Harry exhaled, and Louis couldn’t help but smirk a bit.

“Does that bother you?” he asked, and Harry looked back at him for a few moments before his mouth worked its way into a small smile.

“Only that I can’t write about this,”

Louis pried his hand freed from Harry and smacked his shoulder with the heel of his palm.

“You’re a prick,” he said, “But I’m sure that would make a great story. Famous and pure. Quaint, innit? My parents could get a money marrying me off if anybody knew,”

Harry’s expression quickly darkened, and he fumbled for Louis’s hand again, loosely linking their fingers together.

“Don’t say that,” he said, “People don’t – that doesn’t happen anymore,”

“Yeah, in middle class circles, maybe,” Louis snorted, leaning forward, “I’ll let you in on something. Half the people downstairs paid for their mates, including our host for the evening. And I know because the first time they brought them to a party they made a point of bringing paperwork with them so everyone could see,”

“Jesus,”

“Dirty little secret, that is,” Louis lowered his gaze, “I want you to understand that if anyone found out – well, first, I would be banned from the league, straight out. And then I would get locked up. And then every single person who had fought to get my ear at a party would brawl to bail me out just so they could have something especially pretty papers to pull out at their next party,”

“I understand,” Harry got out, “I’m so sorry,”

“You were curious,” Louis shrugged, “No need to apologize for that,”

“No – I mean – “ Harry swallowed, “I’m sorry you’ve had to be around so many terrible people,”

“Not everyone is bad,” Louis said, thinking briefly of Dr. Rosa’s creased brown eyes, “Is it fucked up to say I’ve gotten used to all of this?”

“Not fucked up,” Harry said quickly, “If that’s what gets you through this,”

“It works well enough,” Louis allowed, swallowing quickly. He dug into his jacket, checking the time on his phone again, “Shit, five minutes to dinner,”

Louis stood, rolling his shoulders back, like the action itself could free him of their conversation, “Let’s go, my favorite two-night stand,”  

“Right,” Harry said, smiling weakly as he stood up.

“One thing first, though,” Louis said. He wandered over to a desk in the corner, opening the top drawer to get an ornate old lighter. He flicked it a few times to see if it still worked, then grabbed one of the tall candles on the edge of the desk, lighting the wick.

“Here,” he called, and Harry drifted over, his eyes curious. Louis fanned some of the lilting smoke towards him, then tipped the candle towards Harry, the wet wax quivering, “Let your clothes soak in some of the smoke. Then we can say we went out for a fag,”

“Smart,” Harry murmured, letting Louis waft more of the smoke towards him.

“You should come find me after dinner,” Louis said, “Cara, Zayn and I like to meet in the back garden to smoke some joints after these things. Think you deserve that after what I’ve just dragged you into,”

Harry shook his head, “Don’t know if that would be professional,”

“Right. Of course you wouldn’t dare do something so out of line,” Louis scoffed. He let the smoke from the candle billow for a few more minutes before he blew it out. He returned it to its normal spot and then wandered back over to the mirror, smoothing a piece of hair that had come loose.  He glanced over to Harry, who was just watching him, hovering a few feet from the library door.

“Go on down,” Louis said, “I just need another minute,”

“Are you sure?”

“I’ll be fine,” Louis sighed, resisting the urge to roll his eyes, “Just go. Mingle or something. I’ll see you later, I’m sure”

Harry dipped his head in a nod, offering a small smile.

“Okay,” Harry said, and then slipped out of the room.

Louis watched him leave the room, the door behind him groaning softly as it closed. When Harry was gone, he turned back to the mirror and sighed, and then reached into the inside pocket of his jacket to retrieve his small vial of suppressant oil. He poured some out onto his wrists, rubbing them together, and then used his wrists again to smear it over the base of his neck, snuffing out both any traces of Harry’s scent or his own pheromones that were rising to the surface.

When he was done he drop both wrists from his neck and tucked the vial safely back into his jacket, before reaching up to adjust his bowtie.

“He was just a little fun,” he murmured to himself, smoothing his fingers over the burgundy silk at his throat, “Think I deserve that,”

He dropped his fingers away from his neck and just stared at himself a little longer, closing his eyes as he listened to the rumble of the party.

Maybe it was for the best, that he and Harry were a missed opportunity, in the wrong place, the wrong time.

Because Harry could still walk away from this, and suddenly, Louis was glad that at least someone could.

                                

*******

In the days following the party, December finally seized London in full, as if it was waiting for Louis’s awareness of it to swoop in. Every shop was putting up Christmas decorations and plastering windows with wintery displays, while the people that bustled through his neighborhood huddled under coats, away from the snowless, bitter cold.

Louis still didn’t feel ready to think about Christmas yet, not with the next race growing larger and ever looming before him, but the season still found a way to root itself into his consciousness.

More specifically, it came when he was just finished hauling all his grocery bags to his front door and his phone started ringing. He set the last of the bags down at his feet and dug the device out of his pocket along with his keys, immediately picking up when he saw the name on the screen.

“Hey, mum,” he said, jiggling the key on his apartment door.

“Hi, love,” she said, “Is now a good time?”

“Yeah, I just got home from the shops,” he grabbed one of the bags at his feet, pushing the door open with his shoulder as he did so.

“Oh, good,” she said, her voice crackling on the other end. It tended to do that when she got excited, “Do you know when you’re coming home? I’m starting to make some plans but…I wasn’t sure,”

“The team gets off on the eighteenth,” he replied, setting one bag on the counter and then going back out into the hallway for the others, “Same as always,”

“Okay, I thought so,” she sighed on the other end, “Gran was planning on having her party on the nineteenth, she wanted to make sure you were there,”

“I’ll definitely be there,” he smiled, bringing in the last bag and locking his door behind him as he went back into the kitchen, “Wish I could get on the road earlier, but…race is on the sixteenth and then I have a full day of meetings after that -- “

“Don’t worry,” she cut in, “Whenever you can get back, that’s fine,”

“Okay,” he sighed, reaching into the nearest bag. He grabbed hold of a jar of jam and turned it over in his hand before going over to the nearest cabinet to put it away. 

“The girls are so excited for your next race, you know,” she was saying, “Lottie’s making a cake,”

“I’ll have to make sure I do well, then,” he said, rustling through another bag full of bagged oranges and cereal boxes, “All that fanfare,”

“You always do well,” she said, and then her voice dropped, going even softer than it usually was, “Is everything okay there? With the team, I mean?”

Louis stopped digging through the bag, swallowing instead.

She asked that question a lot. What she meant was, were there any underlying rivalries that would explode.

He didn’t blame her. There hadn’t been a serious incident on the national team beyond a simple bike crash in years. Still, Louis had first gotten into racing by watching tapes of the old school races, the ones with frequent brawls on the trackside and mysterious injuries that tended to get swept under the rug but always involved suspicion from other team members.

And then there had been his dad, and Louis’s own fat lips and black eyes in his early days.

So. He didn’t blame her.

“Everything’s fine, Mum,” he said, “Don’t worry,”

“I’m always going to worry,”

“I know. Just…worry about other things. Not me,”

“It’s my job to worry about you, darling,” she said, “It’s my favorite job,”

He felt his throat get tight, “Tell me how things are going over there,”

He closed his eyes and let his mother’s voice wash over him, minor updates about how the girls were doing in school and sports and how Dan was going to try to build a new addition onto the back porch in the spring. Louis rubbed the base of his throat and eventually, he interjected during a pause in the conversation. 

“Mum, I’m, um, I’m gonna put my groceries away,” he managed, “But we’ll talk later, okay? Facetime me when you can,”

“Of course,” she said, and he could hear her smile on the other end, “I love you,”

“Love you, too,” he returned, “Moon and back. All that,”

He hung up and floated out of the kitchen, the bags and boxes left abandoned on the countertop. He went to the window that looked out onto the street, the edges frosted over with early winter fog, the glass dusted with the memory of a light snow that had already melted on the streets below.

Louis was going to miss this window when he left London, with its wide, high view. So it was a natural enough place to think about it.

Leaving, that was.                            

He had thought before about how he was going to explain things to his family after he quit the team. He would read his intentions to Caroline and the team. He would pack up his things and go back to Doncaster, explain that he was retiring to his mum over a cup of tea, explain things to Lottie and Felicite over shared bowls of cereal in the back garden the next morning, to Daisy and Phoebe during a trip into town, while they were laden down with go-to hot chocolate cups and bags from the local bookstore. The press statement would go out while he was sitting on the family couch, playing a board game or drinking tea and reading a magazine, the TV turned to BBC Sports but muted, detached. He would spend a few weeks making phone calls and making transactions, selling his London apartment and exchanging it for a flat or a townhouse in a different city. Explain things to his family again. Leave. Call. Promise to come back. Keep every promise for once.

The plan had always been so seamless, polished and whittled down to perfection. Now, staring at the cold outside, his mother’s voice ringing in his ears, that hypothetical date growing closer and more real, it felt inadequate. How was he supposed to explain not only quitting the only job he had ever lusted after, but also leaving a city he’d loved and a life he genuinely did enjoy? He couldn’t, not when his family didn’t know he had anything to hide from.

He closed his eyes and pressed his nose to the glass, letting out a long breath.

Not for the first time, he thought. He thought about a street full of people in ribbon-less overcoats. A crisp, truthful O in the corner of his motorist’s license that no one cared about. A still-valid motorist’s license. A team of leather jackets where he still belonged while telling the truth. Christmases and holidays and birthdays in this apartment. Racing until his joints crackled with arthritis. 

Another body in his bed. Someone to share it all with. A family. Green eyes he was allowed to look at forever.

He opened his eyes, blinking against the patch of fog his breath had left on the glass. He felt dizzy, and tired, and he just wanted to close his eyes again, to wrap himself up in that dream until he had the strength to go out to the real one again.

Eventually, he pulled himself back to the kitchen and forced himself to put away his groceries.

*******

In the next week, Louis threw himself into Christmas shopping and training in a flimsy attempt to keep himself preoccupied.

In the evenings he visited the tailor that was fixing the measurements of the Burberry coat he’d bought for his mother, and while he waited in the waiting room he ordered a new scarf and a matching pair of gloves to go with it. He got Lottie a new pair of Jimmy Choos and Felitcite a new handbag, cameras and art sets for the twins, stuffed animals with shiny eyes and soft fur from an upscale toy store on the upper end for the babies. He still needed to buy extended family gifts and a few small tokens for his staff and his teammates and Niall, and he jotted down notes on his phone of a few things he saw in shop windows he needed to buy later.

In the mornings and afternoons, he trained.  His turns whittled down to perfect, clean curves and he managed to shave his routine time down by a few nanoseconds. Harry didn’t meet him at the door anymore – apparently the early mornings had gotten to him more than he wanted to admit – but Louis still made sure there was a hot drink waiting for him on the bleachers when he eventually got there. They only walked out together half of the time – on a few days Niall would throw his arm around Louis before he got out the door and insist they walk head out together.

“The fourth estate can wait,” he would say, laying a kiss on Louis’s cheek. Louis would glance over his shoulder, sending a good-bye wave and a “Sorry” over his shoulder to Harry as they walked out together.

Other days he managed to walk out with Harry, although they didn’t do much aside from walk side by side, the back of their hands occasionally brushing together. Louis didn’t expect much else, though. Not at this point.

Half way through the way, though, Harry hovered as Louis unlocked the door, long enough that Louis knew he wanted to say something.

“Whatever you want to ask, Styles, spit it out,” Louis huffed, wrestling with the key. All the locks in the facility had apparently decided to start sticking.

“Um. I just – “ Harry started, about the same time Louis shouted “Oh, fuck me,” and turned around as he pointed to the door, “Sorry. Lock,”

“You’re alright,” Harry said, “Uh, Niall doesn’t know about us, does he?”  

“Niall has enough on this plate,” Louis sighed, as he gave the door one last jiggle, finally pushing it open. He groaned softly in relief before he looked over his shoulder to address Harry again, “He doesn’t know anything he doesn’t need to know,”

Louis tucked his keys back into his pocket and glanced back to look at Harry again, “And there’s not much left to tell him, is there?”

“Right,” Harry nodded, “Of course,”

Louis squeezed the doorknob tightly, chewing on his bottom lip.

“We should do something before the next race,” Louis said.

“Sure that sounds good,” Harry replied, “I probably need to do another interview with you soon, anyways,”

“But it won’t be all work, right?” Louis cut in, “You’ll have time to have fun with me, too?”

“Of course I will,” Harry said, “Always have time for that,”

Louis opened his mouth, but Harry cut in before he could say anything.

“Sorry, I think my train leave soon. I should head out,”

“Alright,” Louis said. Harry flashed him a smile, a small one, and then turned, starting to walk back down the hallway.

“Hey, Harry?” Louis called after him. Harry glanced over his shoulder, raising his eyebrows, “Are we okay?”

Harry’s eyebrows rose even higher, and then he smiled again.

“Of course we are,”

Louis nodded and let Harry walk back down the hallway, gradually fading from view.

He wasn’t sure if the smile had met Harry’s eyes.

*******

By the weekend, it was less than a week until the next race, and Louis couldn’t sleep.

It was a creeping issue in first few days, restless, late nights that were soothed over in the morning with coffee or energy drinks in the morning as he forced himself to go to the track. But on the Saturday before the race, he forced himself into bed at nine, and was awake an hour and half later, staring out the window of his bedroom.

He wasn’t sure what it was, exactly. He never got this anxious over a race. But then again, a race had never been so important before. His entire body thrummed with energy and nerves, so much that he couldn’t just knock back a cup of tea and a few sleeping pills and tell himself it would be okay.

He needed to get out.

He got dressed quickly and took the elevator of his building down to the garage and retrieved his bike, riding it a few blocks away. Most of the shops were closed save for a few pubs, and he didn’t feel like going anywhere too public. So he settled for a place on the corner that sold beer and food and had a private back area that had let him in before.

When Louis entered the place, the bartender on duty gave him one look and then abandoned his post at the bar, taking Louis to a private booth in the back instead. He ordered a beer and said he would eat later, but when they brought his drink they also set down a basket full of golden breadsticks and told him to take his time. He cracked open of the breadsticks and shoved half of it into his mouth, deciding this was a good enough late night snack.

But when Louis was half-way done with his drink, a man materialized out of the shadows, dressed in the tight black of the pub’s security uniform. Louis was about to tell him to piss off, or at least get him a fresh basket of breadsticks first, when the man cleared his throat.

“Racer Tomlinson,” the man said, “There’s, uh, someone who wants to see you,”

“Is there,” Louis said blandly, already reaching for a napkin at the end of the table, “I’m not taking pictures, but if you bring me a pen, I’ll sign something,”

“No, sir, I – “ the bouncer fumbled, “I don’t think that’s what he’s after,”

“I see,” Louis said slowly, retracting his hand from the napkin dispenser.

“I can send him away,”

“No, no, why don’t you just give us a few seconds,” he sighed.

The bouncer nodded and shifted to the side, another figure moving into the light, making Louis pause.

There was a boy standing in front of him now, soft blonde hair falling into his brown eyes. He was wearing a thick jean jacket and a pair of bright blue jeans, white ribbon turning faint grey but still unmistakable.

“Hello, Racer Tomlinson,” the boy smiled, “May I sit down?”

Louis blinked, his throat suddenly feeling thick. What was happening?

“Uh, sure,” Louis got out.

The boy’s smile widened, and he slid into the booth, “I’m Nathan,”

Louis wasn’t sure what he was supposed to say. Nice to meet you? What the hell was nice about this? What was this kid doing here?

“I noticed you were alone,” Nathan said in the wake of Louis’s silence. He was still smiling gently.

“You’re observant,” Louis managed, and Nathan laughed harder than what was probably deserved.

“Are you meeting anyone tonight?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Louis saw the bouncer shift forward, and he waved his hand, signaling for him to shoo.

“I wasn’t planning on it,” he said, returning his gaze to the boy on the other side of the booth. Nathan’s soft smile widened.

“Good. Because I would very much like to keep you company tonight,” Nathan said, “Would you enjoy my company?”

It dawned on Louis why the boy was here, the realization slow and heavy but not completely unexpected.

Shit.

“Are you – “ Louis swallowed the thick lump in his throat, “Are you in the business of keeping people company, Nathan?”

The boy’s smile faltered.

“You’re quite observant yourself,”

Louis felt something tight settle over his chest, and he leaned forward, trying to shield his words from the bouncer who was still lingering.

“How old are you?”

The boy shifted in his seat, looking down.

“Nathan,” Louis said firmly, “Tell me,”

The boy looked up, his eyes wide and careful before his smile returned, “Nineteen,”

Louis exhaled, rubbing a hand over his forehead.

“We wouldn’t get in trouble,” Nathan was saying, “I’m legal – “

“Stop,” Louis said sharply, “Stop, stop, please,”

He started moving out of the booth, reaching for his wallet to get a few bills. He grabbed onto the first ones he found and threw them on the table.

“Get your coat. We’re leaving,” he ordered. He turned back around and sighed as he saw the boy hesitate, still sitting in the booth, “You don’t have a coat, do you? Splendid. Get up,”

Nathan did, and Louis lifted his own jacket off his shoulders and tucked it over the boy, bringing the two sides together so he could zip it up. His eyes shifted to the bouncer as he did so.

“I trust your discretion on this,” he said, and the man dipped his head.

“Of course, Racer Tomlinson,”

Louis sighed. That was good, at least. Caroline could handle another mystery man headline. He was pretty sure “Exclusive sources reveals Racer Louis Tomlinson takes home a teenage rent boy” would get him strung up by his bits.

Louis cut out the back door and circled back around to where he had parked and chained his bike to the curbside. His body started, his thermal long-sleeve shirt barely doing anything against the bitter mid-December chill. He squatted down next to the bike, forcing his numb fingers to work with the lock.

“You have a place you’re staying?” he asked over his shoulder. Nathan was standing close behind him, watching Louis work.

“I thought we were going back to yours?” Nathan asked, his voice wavering.

“We absolutely are not,” Louis said firmly, “Now, do you have a place I should be taking you?”

Louis’s fingers paused on the lock as he looked at the boy behind him, who suddenly looked too small, swallowed up his Louis’s jacket. Even Louis wasn’t that small when he was Nathan’s age, and that was saying something.

“I – I’m staying with some friends right now,” Nathan eventually said, “You can take me there,”

“Okay, great,” Louis said, and then turned back to his bike, his fingers shaking against the lock. Eventually, though, he got it undone and deposited the lock into the back compartment of his bike, pulling two helmets out instead. He turned around, offering one to Nathan.

“Would you like to tell me where I’m going?”

*******

They drove into the inner spirals of the city, until the buildings darkened and became all-hours pubs and cheap off-brand grocery shops and one lone video store. The streetlights and windows of the late night business bled dark, infectious orange light onto the street.

If it wasn’t for the small inhales of breath Louis could feel against his back when they went around a sharp turn or swerved around a pothole, he could have sworn Nathan was asleep. The boy was a steady weight against his back, leanly tightly into Louis.

They finally reached a cluster of cheap flats on the street Nathan had named, and Louis cut off the bike.

“Home sweet home,” he murmured, and Nathan pulled himself off Louis’s back. He slid from the bike slowly, coming to stand by the edge of the curb.

“Some of my flatmates are home,” he said carefully, “I don’t – I usually don’t do anything here,”

“I’m not sleeping with you tonight, Nathan,” Louis said, “Actually, I do not plan on sleeping with you ever,”

Nathan blinked, his eyes wide and glassy. The angry light was still everywhere.

“What?” he said, and his voice quivered. 

“It’s, uh, nothing personal,” Louis said, “Just…wanted to make sure you got home safely and all. Kids shouldn’t be out in the middle of the city like that,”

“Oh,” Nathan said, “Well, thank you,”

He shuffled his feet on the pavement, and Louis was starting to feel maybe he had said the wrong thing.

“Why were in the middle of the city so late, Nathan?” he asked slowly.

Nathan shook his head rapidly, “I’m – I’m so behind on my share of the rent payments, is all, and I – “

“Okay,” Louis said, “I understand,”

Nathan ducked his head again, and with a long sigh, Louis reached into his pocket for his wallet.

“Here,” he said, pulling a few bills out of his wallet. It was probably around five hundred pounds. He handed it out to Nathan, who just stared on with wide eyes.

“Racer Tomlinson,” Nathan started, and Louis held up a hand.

“Hey,” he said sharply, “I don’t want to hear it, alright? You take that and go pay your rent, get some food, save something. Whatever you want to do,”

He stared a little longer at the money before folding it up in a tight wad and tucking it into his jeans pocket.

“Thank you,” he managed, and Louis just tipped his head before his eyes trailed up to the grungy building in front of him.

“This place,” he said slowly, “You alright here?”

“Oh, yeah,” Nathan said quickly, nodding his head, “I like the boys here. We – a lot of us do this. We protect each other. It’s good,”

“That’s good,” Louis said softly. He wanted to ask why Nathan had to do this, how a pack of teenage omegas had all found themselves in the same profession, but he didn’t speak.

It wasn’t his business. And besides, he already knew that this was something that had become all too common.

“Thank you for taking me home,” Nathan said eventually.

“You’re very welcome,” Louis nodded, and then rubbed his arms, “Now, as much as I’d like to lend you my jacket permanently, I think your flat is going to a bit toastier than my ride home,”

“Oh, right! Sorry,” Nathan said, rapidly unzipping the jacket, shedding the heavy leather. His ribbon looked closer to its original white in the light.

Louis took his jacket back, pulling it over his frame, and nodded towards the building.

“Have a good night, Nathan,”

“You too, Racer Tomlinson,”

And then Nathan was hopping up the slippery front steps, into the building, and was gone.

Louis stood outside on the patchwork sidewalk in the wash of spoiled mandarin light for far too long, until even through his clenched jaw, his teeth chattered, jumping and clicking in his mouth. He hunched over, rubbing his arms. Even with the new addition of his jacket, it was still just regular leather, not the shearling-lined version he usually wore when he rode his bike in the winter. It was snowing steadily now, not enough to clutter the streets but enough to catch in his fringe and eyelashes and very edges of his lips. There was some collecting at the collar of his shirt, seeping wetly down his back.

He suddenly felt so angry, and so lost, and so confused, all at once. Because so easily, he could have been on the other side of this situation. When he was Nathan’s age he was signed to the national team, had gotten his jacket and moved into his apartment. But he so, so easily could have been here, living in a matchbox house with other scared white-ribboned boys, spotting a black jacket in a pub and not seeing a dream to aspire to but a promise of a full belly and a paid bill.

When Louis pried his numb fingers from his arms, his fingertips had left grooves in the leather of his jacket. He tried to smooth them with his palm before giving up entirely and reaching for the inside pocket of his jacket, digging for his phone. In the building behind him, he could hear the whisper of reedy laughter and BBC One floating down from one of the windows.

When he pulled his phone loose, his stared at the blank screen entirely too long before he unlocked it, scrolling through his contacts. Usually in a moment like this, his first instinct would be to call his mum or Niall. But he couldn’t talk to his mother about this, for obvious reasons, and Niall would be at the hospital now, working the graveyard shift.

Besides, deep down – he knew which number he actually needed to call.  

“Harry Styles,” the voice on the other end said almost immediately when Louis dialed, and Louis bit back a laugh.

“I still hate the way you answer your phone,”

“Louis?”

“Yeah, it’s me,” he sighed, “Listen, I know it’s late, but – is there any way we can talk for a bit? I’ve had a shit night,”

“I – is everything okay? Do you need me to pick you up somewhere or something?”

“No, no, I’m okay,” Louis said, and wanted to laugh again at the absurdity of that sentence, “I mean, I’m not okay. I’m pretty shit. But – nothing I need to be rescued from,”

Harry was quiet, then, “Louis, where are you?”

“Union Ridge,”

“Why are you there?” Harry said.

“Long story,”

“Care to tell it at mine?” Harry said, “You’re not too far from me. And – Louis, your teeth are chattering,”

“Damn it,” Louis whispered, and his teeth clicked violently as he said it.

“Look,” Harry cut in, “I don’t know what you’re doing outside in the middle of the night in one of the worst parts of the city, but, you’re closer to mine than you are to yours, so – if you’d like to not get the flu before the next race, then please, come over,”

Louis’s teeth clicked again and he closed his eyes.

“I don’t remember your address,” he said eventually.

“I’ll text to you as soon as you hang up,” Harry said, “Okay?”

“Okay,” Louis relented. A fat snowflake fell on his eyelash then, obscuring part of his vision as he opened his eyes again.

“I’ll see you soon,” Harry said, and the line clicked. Louis kept the phone to his ear until he heard the ping of a text coming through, and the rubbed a hand over his watering eyes and went to check where he was going.

*******

The lobby of Harry’s apartment building was empty, aside from an abandoned desk and a sad, fake Christmas tree in the corner loaded down with overly shiny plastic baubles and a picked-apart garland of mummified popcorn. He eventually found the door to the stairway, which smelled faintly of smoke and unsuccessful air freshener, and climbed the narrow stairs up to the fifth floor. He found the right door after a bit of searching, and forced his fist to lift so he could knock on the time-worn door.

There was a clicking and then the door opened a crack, held back by the chain that hung over it. Harry’s face loomed behind it, and he smiled.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hey,” Louis swallowed, “Thanks for letting me come up,”

“Of course,” Harry nodded, and then reached up to undo the latch, “Are you hungry? I ordered too much chicken masala last night, I’m just heating it up again. And I just put on some rice to go with it, but it’ll take a few minutes,”

Louis rubbed a hand over his stomach before dipping his head, “That sounds really good, actually”

Harry smiled softly and opened the latch, swinging the door fully open. He was wearing a pair of grey joggers so faded they looked white in places, along with a Rolling Stones t-shirt that had a thick rip over his ribcage. Something shiny in his hair caught Louis’s eye.

“What are these?” Louis asked, getting up on his tiptoes to grab at them. Harry chuckled and shuffled back, out of his reach, reaching up to touch the item in his hair.

“They’re my reading glasses,” Harry explained, wrestling them out of his hair and holding them up, in all their hot pink and lime green glory, “My sister picked them out. Before you say anything,”

“And yet you didn’t replace them,”

“Just sit down,” Harry said, though it came out as a laugh.

Louis moved further inside, and he heard Harry shut the door behind him and latch the door.

“I’m sorry, it’s kind of – sorry,” Harry said, coming behind Louis to go further into the apartment.

“No, it’s fine,” Louis said, tucking his hands into his pocket, “You’re fine,”

Harry’s apartment was small, small enough that Louis had taken about three steps inside and he was already in the living room. The space was mostly taken up by a dark green couch with an afghan blanket tossed over the back, along with an ancient-looking TV. There was a turn table sitting on one table next to the TV, alongside a plastic crate of records. A row of succulents in brightly colored pots lined one windowsill, while the other windowsill was filled with cups of dulled pencils and colored pens. The walls were plastered with magazine clippings and vintage band posters and an array of photographs, most of them polaroids.

Harry moved behind Louis, and he looked over to see the kitchen was right behind him, nothing more than a line of tile floor and two rows of appliances and countertops surrounding it. Directly behind the kitchen was a doorway covered in a curtain of plastic beads. He could see the outline of a bed inside the other room.

Harry checked the timer on a plastic rice cooker on the counter and turned to Louis, “It’ll just be ten minutes, but I can put on some tea,”

“That would be good,”

“Great,” Harry said, checking the kettle that was nestled on the stove, “You can go ahead and sit down, you know,”

“Right,” Louis managed, “Sorry,”

He went over to the couch, sitting on the very edge, as he went back to scanning the room. His eyes caught on a large framed picture on the table next to the record player, of Harry, wearing commencement robes, standing next to a blonde woman who was holding up what looked like a diploma, his arm around her shoulders while he kissed her cheek.

“Louis?” Harry’s voice came, and Louis glanced over to the other man holding up multiple boxes of tea between his large hands, “What do you want? Black? Green? Chai?”

“Black, please,” Louis said, and Harry nodded, dropping the boxes onto the counter with a faint clatter.

“You can take your jacket off if you want,” Harry said, “And your boots, too,”

“I won’t stay long,”

“Humor me,” Harry said, and Louis sighed, shrugging off his wet jacket and setting it over the arm of the couch. By the time he was done undoing his boots, Harry had returned, holding a tall, steaming mug out to Louis.

“Thanks,” Louis said, and Harry just smiled, tucking a short piece of hair behind his ear, before scurrying back to the kitchen.

“Harry?” Louis called out, and the other man turned so quickly his feet slipped a bit on the hardwood floor.

“What’s up?” 

“Who’s that?” Louis asked, pointing to the picture. Harry’s eyes followed where he was pointing, and he smiled, reaching up to touch the glasses in his hair.

“Sister,”

“Thought so,” Louis said as Harry went back to the kitchen, turning off the rice maker, “You don’t seem the kind of bloke to keep pictures of ex-girlfriends around,”

“I’m not really the type to have ex-girlfriends, period,” Harry said as he lifted the top of the machine, dipping in a thick plastic spoon to stir it around.

A few minutes later he returned to the couch with two plastic bowls, handing one off. He sat down on the couch, crossing his legs and balancing his bowl in his lap.

“What’re you doing up, anyways?” Louis asked.

“My sleep schedule is shit,” Harry said, rubbing his bad knee, “Pain med side effects and all,”

“Sounds tough,”

“You get used to it,” Harry shrugged, stirring the contents of his bowl around. The fragrant steam rising from his own bowl made Louis’s mouth water and he looked down at his food, pushing his fork around.

“Do you want to tell me what happened?” Harry asked softly as Louis took his first bite of food.

“Sure,” Louis managed, his shoulders dropping a bit. Harry noticed. Because of course he did.

“You don’t have to,”

“It’s – no, I will,” Louis sighed. He took another few bites of food, just to ease his growling stomach, and then set his bowl on the floor next to the couch.

“I went out to a pub tonight,” Louis began, “Just needed to clear my head a bit, I guess, with everything going on. And then this kid came to my booth, this – Jesus, this nineteen-year-old omega kid, and he tried to pick me up. Like, as in – “

Louis fumbled, licking his lips. His mouth felt dry from the spice in the chicken, “As in, it was his job to pick people up,”

“Okay,” Harry said, his voice cautious.

“We didn’t do anything,” Louis continued, “Of course not. It’s actually a bit boring, really, I just took him back to his flat and gave him a little cash, since the entire reason he was trying to pick me up was to make money, and then – I called you,”

Harry was quiet, and then his hand reached out, rubbing Louis’s wrist.

“There’s more than that, isn’t it?” he asked quietly.

“Of course there is,” Louis said, “Christ, Harry, do you know how easily that could have been me? I trained so much I ruined my grades and probably blew my damn shot at uni, and what was I supposed to do if I couldn’t get a degree? Live with my parents until I found someone who would take care of me? And then – and then, fuck, what if I couldn’t even do that?”

He was breathing heavily now, and Harry reached out, wordlessly, and took hold of his wrists, keeping him steady. He hadn’t even noticed his hands were shaking.

“It’s okay,” he said softly, and Louis gulped.

“I hate this,”

“Hate what?”

“Just – the way things are,” he said, his chest deflating, “I’m sick of it,”

Harry nodded, still holding on firmly to Louis’s wrists.

“You’ll get to leave,” he said, “Right?”

Louis shook his head.

“I wish it didn’t have to be that way, though,” he said softly.

Harry just looked back at him steadily, and then sighed, dropping Louis’s hands and looking behind him.

“It’s late, Louis,”

“Is it?” he murmured.

“It’s almost one,”

Louis groaned softly, trying to push himself up, but Harry reached out to touch his side, making him melt back into the couch.

“Just stay here,” he said, “You can take my room,”

“And where will you sleep?”

“Here,” Harry shrugged, rubbing the back of the couch.

“Does it fold out?”

“Well…no,”

“Harold, this is a love seat,”

“Yeah,”

“You’re seven feet tall,”

Harry snorted, “I’m five eleven. And I’ll be fine,”

Louis blinked, then, “You’re sure?”

“Of course,” he said, “You can take a shower, too, if you’d like,”

Louis wanted to protest, to grab his jacket and leave like he had promised himself he would, but he felt so warm, and a good night’s sleep sounded so good.

“Okay,” he said, eventually and then slid off the couch, “Thank you,”

“Of course,” Harry returned, his hand reaching out to brush the back of Louis’s hand, “Good night, Louis,”

“Night,” Louis said, but his mind was elsewhere as he wandered out of the living room and through the kitchen. The bead curtain covering the doorway to Harry’s room brushed over his face as he walked through them.

Louis had already taken a shower earlier that night, but he still had oil clinging to his body, and all he wanted to do was wash it off. He went into the small bathroom attached to Harry’s bedroom first and took a long shower, swiping Harry’s body wash over his temples and hips, scrubbing away the false scent and then letting the hot water thaw his cool skin. When he was done he wrapped one of Harry’s faded green towels tightly around his waist and went back into the room. It was still dark inside, and when Louis flicked on the bedside lamp he saw a double bed covered in a black and white striped duvet, a laptop charging on the floor, a thin closet and a set of wicker drawers in the corner. Harry’s bedside table was covered in pens and loose papers and his notebook, next to that was a half-empty bottle of Evian, a tube of Chapstick, and a bottle of Tylenol PM.

Louis searched through his pile of clothes on the floor but eventually only put his briefs back on, the rest of his clothes still too wet. He didn’t want to dig through Harry’s things, but he was freezing, so he opened the closet until he found a spare hoodie in the back. He pulled it off the hanger and then put it over his head, the fabric draping far over his hands and hanging down to the middle of his thighs. He wrapped his arms around himself, pressing his nose into the collar of the hoodie to breath in the scent of laundry detergent and Harry, and then went over to bed and climbed under the covers.

Once again, though, he couldn’t drop off.

He tried, tossing and turning and laying on his back, his stomach, on both sides. He wasn’t too hot or cold, and his eyes barely wanted to stay open, but he still couldn’t get himself to go down.

Not when he had something so remarkable in the other room.

Eventually, Louis stood up, wrapping the duvet around his shoulders as he dragged himself out of bed. When he walked through the doorway, the plastic beads clinked against his face and shoulders, but he kept walking, through the cool tile of the kitchen until he arrived at the couch.

Harry was rolled over on his side, his back to the rest of the room and his knees drawn up to his chest, but Louis could tell he wasn’t asleep.

 “Harry,” he said softly, and Harry shifted a bit.

“Louis,” he murmured, “Go back to sleep,”

“I wasn’t sleeping. And neither are you,” Louis huffed, “Harry. Come on,”

Harry grunted, and he rolled over onto his other side, so he was looking at Louis with puffy, dark eyes.

“Come on what?” he asked.

Louis shook his head, shifting closer to the couch.

“Harry, come sleep with me,”

Harry blinked, his eyes glistening wide and bright even in the darkness.

“Louis,” he said quietly, “I can’t do that,”

“Then don’t. Just switch with me. I can take the couch. I’m smaller,”

“I know that,” Harry huffed, then buried his face into the side of the couch, his voice coming out reedy, “Louis, just, please, go back to my room,”

“Come on, Harry, it’s not that big of a deal,” he sighed, then tilted his head when Harry didn’t take his face out from the couch, “Harry, what the hell is wrong with you? Are you trying to suffocate yourself?”

“I – “ Harry eventually lifted himself up, his eyes beading with moisture, “Louis, I can smell you,”

Louis paused, blinking down at the man on the couch. Right. This was the first time he had been around Harry with his oil washed off.

“Is this what this is about?” he asked softly.

Harry bit his lip, hard, before he spoke, “Louis, if you get any closer I don’t think I’m ever doing to make this a one-time thing,”

“What if I don’t want it to be a one-time thing?”

Harry just stared back at him.

“And what if you don’t want that, either?” Louis said, “Because quite frankly, it’s been a week since we made up our minds about that, and look where it’s fucking got us,”

Harry groaned softly, dragging his hands over his face.

“This – I don’t think now is the time to have this conversation,”

“It’s the perfect time to have this conversation, with you on the brink of ruining your back and all,” Louis huffed, “Harry, come on. I’m already all over your sheets, love. You might as well,”

Harry looked back at him, his eyes frozen wide, and then he was getting up, slowly, until they were standing pressed to each other.

Louis’s body trembled softly as Harry cupped his cheek, running a thumb over his skin. Then his other hand pressed to the other side of his face, stroking both sides with equal attention. Harry’s mouth was hanging up a bit, his eyes dark and wide and reverent.

Then, his hands were moving off his face and instead his arms were tightly encircling Louis’s waist. Harry pressed his nose deep into the curve of Louis’s neck, his lips giving his shoulder a soft kiss.

Louis’s brain reeled with snippets of his last dream. But this time, when he reached up to touch the solid planes of Harry’s back, he knew it was all real.

So, so real.

“Louis,” Harry said, his voice cracking, “Please tell me again this isn’t a one-time thing,”

“I don’t think we could ever do that,” Louis said, reaching up to stroke the back of Harry’s head, “Clearly,”

“What are we going to do, then?” Harry asked, his voice terribly, horribly soft.

“I’ve been keeping secrets for a long time,” Louis murmured in reply, “I can keep another one,”

Harry just made a soft noise in response, his nose still buried in Louis’s neck.

“Hey, come on,” Louis coaxed, “Let’s go to bed, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed, lifting his head. He took one arm off Louis, but kept the other one safely around him as they maneuvered back through the kitchen. Harry swept his arm out in front of them, his hand parting the plastic beads easily so they could get through.

“Fuck, Louis, you’re everywhere here,” Harry said as they laid down and Louis threw the duvet back over both of them. “I’m never washing these sheets now,”

“You’re disgusting,” Louis huffed, “I’m never sleeping over again if you don’t wash these,”

“Then I’ll wash them tomorrow,” Harry relented, and pulled Louis into his side, “Just come here,”

Louis sighed and pressed himself closer to Harry, something rolling in his chest as the other man kissed him the lips.

“I’ll just hold you tonight. I won’t do anything else,” Harry said, stroking Louis’s side, “Okay?”

Louis blinked at him, his mouth quirking up.

“I bet if I wasn’t a fucking virgin, we’d be doing something else,” he said, leaning to kiss Harry’s cheek, “Isn’t that right?”

“Louis,” Harry moaned, “Don’t torture me. Not now,”

Louis chuckled, burying his head into Harry’s shoulder, “So I’m right,”  

“Yes, you’re right, Louis, Jesus,” Harry sighed, “After I tried to give you a blowjob in Greece, you finally figured out I’ve wanted to have sex with you for months. Well done,”

Months?”

“Shush,” Harry murmured, lifting a finger to press against Louis’s lips, and Louis laughed again in response.

“Promise you’ll get around to fucking me eventually, though,” Louis murmured with a soft sigh, “I’ve got a state of the art vibrator and I’m still somehow getting sick of it,”

Harry snorted, and shifted over on his side so he could press his forehead to Louis’s.

“I will,” he said, “But you’ve got to win me a race first,”

Louis narrowed his eyes and scoffed.

“I’m going to place dead last,” he said, “Now that you’ve gone and said that,”

“No, you won’t,” Harry said softly, dragging his fingers up the side of Louis’s face, and then back into his hair. His eyes were soft, rimmed with sleep, and his mouth was a thick, lazy curve.

“Yeah, I won’t,” Louis relented. He yawned and leaned deep into Harry’s shoulder, resting his head on the lean muscle and soft skin.

“Good night, Louis” Harry whispered, his voice sounding distant.

“Will you be here when I wake up?” Louis mumbled back.

“Of course I will,” Harry said.

He said it like he was surprised it was even a question.

Chapter Text

Harry wasn’t in bed.

At first, that didn’t bother Louis, mostly because he was still half-asleep and wasn’t aware he wasn’t even in his own bed to begin with.

And then he rolled over a little too far, something that wouldn’t be a problem in his own king-sized bed, but was definitely a problem here because in a moment he was crashing onto the floor.

“Ow,” he wheezed, the sound practically knocked from his chest. He pulled himself off the nubby carpet and blinked, looking around him. His bare legs were tangled in the duvet, and when his eyes focused he saw black and white stripes instead of the plain navy of his own covers. Which was when he remembered where he was.

“Harry?” he shouted, moving himself up to look back onto the bed. It was still empty, “Harry, what the fuck? Where are you?”

There was no response, so Louis just groaned and laid down on the floor, resting his head on the floor and rolling over, further tangling his feet in the covers.

He stayed there for a while, and then he heard a door open outside and narrowed his eyes.

“Harry,” he called again.

“Louis? Hey, morning,”

Louis heard footsteps from outside, and then a moment later he looked up and Harry was in the doorway, in a hoodie and the same pair of joggers as the previous night. He leaned against the doorway, his forehead creasing when he saw Louis.

“Why are you on the floor?”

“Your bed is too small. Where were you?”

“Shit, sorry,” Harry said, “I – I got up kind of early, and then I saw your clothes were still wet, so I went down to the basement to put them in the dryer,”

“Okay,” Louis sighed, and sat up, rubbing the back of his head, “I guess I can forgive you for that,”

He tried to pull himself back onto the bed, but his body didn’t want to cooperate, and eventually he just buried his head in his arms.

“Need help?” Harry’s voice asked, and Louis heard footsteps going further into the room.

“Yes,” Louis huffed, holding out his arms. In a moment, he felt hands grabbing his wrists, yanking him back onto the tangled sheets. He looked up, and he was met with Harry’s eyes, bright and alert and reflecting the smile on his lips.

“You’re welcome,” Harry murmured, which made Louis snort.

“Thank you, Harry, you’re a gem. Now please get in bed,”

Harry nodded his head, his smile widening, “Yes, sir,”

First, though, Harry went over to the other side of the bed, lifting the rumpled duvet off the floor and throwing it back over the bed, until it settled over Louis’s body. Then he lifted up the edge of the covers, climbing underneath them. Once he was in bed, Louis moved into his side, setting his head on Harry’s solid chest.

“Sorry I wasn’t here when you woke up,” Harry said.

“Mm, I guess it’s forgivable,” Louis huffed, “What time is it, anyways?”

“About eleven,”

“Shit,” Louis mumbled, “Should probably go soon,”

“Only if you want to,” Harry said, “It’s Sunday, I don’t have plans. You’re not bothering me,”

“Right,” Louis closed his eyes, “How long will my clothes take?”

“An hour, maybe? It’s an old dryer,”

“Guess I can wait until then,” he relented, snuggling deeper into Harry’s chest. Harry sighed, running his fingers through the longer bits of hair at the base of Louis’s neck. He pressed a long kiss to the top of his head, breathing in.

“Are you sniffing me?” Louis mumbled.

“Sorry,” Harry said immediately, “You just – you really do smell nice,”

“Well, go on, then,” Louis sighed. Harry chuckled, then took another deep inhale of his hair.

They stayed there for a while, until Louis wrapped his arm around Harry’s torso, making the fabric of his hoodie ride up. Louis slid his fingers over Harry’s warm, bare skin, finally curling his fingers in the tie at Harry’s waist.

“Are you really going to make me wait until after the race?” he murmured, and he felt Harry’s chest move with a deep, sudden breath.

“Yes,” Harry said after a moment, “Because I want to do it properly,”

“And we can’t do it properly now?”

“Not when you have a race to focus on first,”

“Well,” Louis huffed, “I guess I appreciate that,”

Harry chuckled, and Louis felt his chest move underneath his head as he did so. Louis moved in closer, then, pressing his nose against the hollow of Harry’s throat and breathing in.

“Now you’re sniffing me,” Harry said, and Louis swatted weakly at his stomach.

“Leave me alone,” he whispered. He pulled away, eventually, his lips ghosting the skin of Harry’s throat as he did so, opening his eyes just in time to see Harry staring at him, watching carefully.

“Um,” Louis said, “Can we get up?”

“Sure,” Harry said, although he didn’t move, instead reaching out to run his fingers through Louis’s fringe, “I don’t have much food, but I can put on some eggs if you’re hungry,”

“That would be great,” Louis agreed, and Harry nodded, pecking his forehead before finally slipping out of bed entirely.

Louis laid in bed a while longer, until the sound of soft, crackle-filled music finally made him get up, readjusting Harry’s hoodie over his shoulders as he walked across the room. When he pulled aside the bead curtain separating him from the kitchen, he saw Harry saw at the stove, humming and cracking a few eggs over a pan. The back burner for the kettle was on as well, and the toaster was on and pushed down, the smell of warm bread floating from the slots.

“Are you playing George Michael?” Louis asked as he pushed aside the beads even more, making them click against them other. Harry turned his head, smiling, and then get back to his eggs, poking at them with a fork.

“Yep,” he said, “Do you mind?”

“Not at all,” Louis shook his head, wrapping his arms tightly around himself, “I, uh, I’ll get out of your way,”

He squeezed past Harry, his hip bumping into the opposite counter as he navigated the narrow space, and then he got into the main room and sat down on the couch. He could see now that the record player on Harry’s small table was on, a vinyl wobbling on it.

Eventually, Harry brought Louis a plate of eggs and toast and a cup of tea in a Christmas-themed mug, then retreated back to his bedroom, coming back a few minutes later with his laptop. He set it up on the countertop, checking his screen as he ate with one hand, occasionally reaching up to lick crumbs off his fingertips or to push his fringe out of his eyes.

“You can sit down with me,” Louis called to him, and Harry just glanced over, picking up his own mug and taking a long sip before setting it back down and shaking his head.

“It’s okay. I usually eat like this anyways,”

“Standing up,”

“Yeah,”

“And checking your e-mail,”

“Mm,” Harry nodded, taking another sip from his mug, “I have an office job. I hate sitting down when I don’t have to,”

He glanced over to the couch, tapping a key on his laptop even as he fixed his gaze on Louis.

“Should eat your food before it gets cold, you know,”

Louis rolled his eyes and shoved a piece of toast into his mouth.

“Thanks for the tip,” he said around the bread in his mouth, crumbs spraying onto his plate as he spoke.

“Don’t get anything on my couch, please,” Harry managed with a small laugh, and then his attention was right back on his computer.

Louis finished his breakfast and quickly found a year-old Cross magazine on the floor – apparently Harry really did have an endless supply. He flipped it open, skimming a few articles of outdated information as he listened to the crackling and scratching of the record and the steady click of keys under Harry’s fingertips.

“I’m going to go check on your clothes,” Harry said at one point, and Louis just glanced up and nodded, watching as the other man went to the front door and pulled on a pair of boots before heading out the door.

Louis tapped his fingers against the pages of the magazine, flipping the page over to find an update about the national team from the previous year. He ran a fingertip down a table of best times and found his own name, second from the top, directly behind Connor fucking Valentine, who had ultimately beat him out for the Prix the year before. The times on the page were a little higher than his current ones, which was good, and he was pretty much matching Connor’s old times at this point.

Still. The UK hadn’t won the Prix last year. Which meant he didn’t just have to be better than Connor, he had to be better than all the people who had bested him.

The sound of the door opening again made him look up, and Harry was coming back inside, carrying Louis’s shirt and jeans under one arm. After he took his boots off, he came over, setting them down next to Louis on the couch.

“Thanks,” Louis said, closing the magazine and holding it firmly against his lap. Harry just smiled.

“S’alright,” he said, and then leaned forward, kissing Louis’s forehead, and then pulled away and moved his lips down, landing a kiss firmly to Louis’s mouth.

When he pulled away, Harry’s forehead creased, and he ran a finger down Louis’s cheek.

“Something wrong?”

“Um,” Louis said, his tongue poking at his chapped bottom lip, “I think I want to go to the track today,”

“Yeah?” Harry said, his voice barely surprised as he kept stroking Louis’s cheek.

“Yeah,” Louis nodded, “I – sorry, I just think I need to,”

“I’m not going to stop you, then,”

“You can come with me, if you want,” Louis said quickly, “I’ll give you a ride,”

Harry raised his eyebrows, “I thought you weren’t allowed to do that anymore,”

“I don’t care. I’ll still take you,” Louis insisted, “I just – I want to practice. But I also want to be with you today,”

“Okay,” Harry smiled, “Can you wait a few minutes for me to get dressed? It won’t take long,”

“I can wait,”

“Great,” Harry nodded, tapping Louis’s cheek lightly with his thumb, “I’ll be out in a few,”

He was going back to his room before Louis could say anything else.

*******

Louis didn’t have any spare suppressant oil with him, but luckily, no one else was at the track, not even the cleaning crew, so he didn’t have to worry about running into anyone.

He did a full practice set once he unlocked the track doors, timing himself, practicing turns, setting up obstacles, doing everything far more times than what was probably necessary. Harry sat quietly on the bleachers as always, sometimes taking notes, other times just watching Louis carefully, his hand tucked under his chin.

When Louis took his breaks, he had to go out to into the hallway to drink water from the ancient fountain outside, barely getting any time to sit, but his joints were so locked up that they probably needed to be stretched out anyways, benefiting from a stroll down the abnormally empty halls.

Once Louis finished, his nerves trampled for the time being, he put his bike back and then went down the hall to the store room. He got some extra fuel, topping off his tank so he would have a full tank for the practice the next morning. By the time he walked back out of the storage room, Harry was leaning against the track divider outside the small room, waiting for him.

“Hey,” Louis said as he left the storage unit, going to stand right in front of Harry, “Thank you for coming. I needed that,”

“Of course,” Harry said, “Like I said, no real plans for today,”

He readjusted the strap of his bag on his shoulder, and Louis glanced down as he did, noticing one of the leather buckles in front was undone.

“Careful,” he murmured, reaching out to touch the strap, but Harry’s hand met his before he could.

“Don’t bother, it’s broken,” he said, “I need to tape that together or something,”

“Oh,” Louis looked up. They were close enough he had to tilt his head a bit to look at Harry properly, “Okay,”

Harry looked steadily back at him, his fingers not even moving, just staying perfectly still on Louis’s skin.

“We should, ah,” Louis managed, “There are some security cameras in here,”

“Shit, right,” Harry cursed, stepping away, “Sorry,”

“It’s okay. I think we’re actually right under one, so it won’t see us, but, always good to be careful,”

“Of course,” Harry nodded, “We should – “

“Let’s go,” Louis said quickly, tapping the outside of Harry’s arm before he stepped away, towards the exit and into the line of sight of the security cameras.

Once they were got into the glass-lined hallway that led to the locker rooms, Louis could see it was inky black outside, the lights of London burning brightly in the distance.

“You sure you had nothing to do today?” Louis asked, and Harry just laughed.

“No, I’m alright. I got all my Christmas shopping done last week and you’re really my only writing project right now, so, I’m free up,”

“Well, that’s…good,” Louis said, “Just so you know, I’ll probably be here from early morning to late night tomorrow. And pretty much…every day until Friday’s race,”

“That’s alright,” Harry said, although his forehead creased, “Aren’t you – I don’t know, going to get tired?’

“Not really. I’ve done it before, and I get a long break. Next Sunday and after Christmas at home and then I’m in London all the way to the second week of the new year,” Louis said, tilting, “Though – I won’t exactly be able to do anything after New Year’s,”

“What – “ Harry started, “Oh. Right. Your week off,”  

“Yeah,” Louis said, “Although -- can’t really call it a week off if it’s put of a longer break, huh?”

“Guess not,” Harry nodded, then stopped, glancing to the large metal doors at the either end of the hall, “I guess I should go catch my train,”

“Sure you don’t want me to give you a lift home?”

“Nah. Can only take so much of your driving,” Harry smiled. Louis swatted him on the arm but he only smiled more, “I’ll see you, Louis”

“Yeah, fucking see you,” Louis relented, then sighed, “Thanks again. For, um, letting me come over last night,”

“No problem,” Harry said, then tilted his head up, “Uh – are there – “

“Security cameras here? Yeah,”

“Damn it,” Harry murmured, “I just – I wanted to kiss you again,”

“You really do have an addiction,”

Harry shook his head, “It’s not that. I mean, I love kissing you. I always want to kiss you, now. But – “ he paused and licked his lips, “I just want to be able kiss you good-bye,”

Louis just stared at him, and he swallowed firmly as he did so.

“I, um, don’t think there’s a spot in this hallway where the cameras don’t reach,” he said, “I’m sorry,”

“It’s okay,” Harry shook his head, a small smile returning, “It was just a thought I had. No big deal,”

“Okay,” Louis nodded. He tried not to focus on Harry’s smile too much, because it reminded him too much of the smile he had given him a few days earlier, when he said he was okay with just being friends.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, bright and early,” Harry said, and he reached out to tap Louis’s arm, in a way that could be read as platonic on the grainy security footage.

Louis still rubbed the spot on his jacket Harry had touched as he retreated down to his locker room.

*******

Louis didn’t see the sun that week.

He was in the facility from early morning to the latest hours that could still be classified as night, just like he had promised. Niall had finished his final exams and mostly spent his time on the track catching up on sleep, telling Louis to wake him up if he needed anything. To be fair, Louis occasionally caught Harry lying on the bleachers, using his bag as a pillow as he took a quick nap, a constant but apparently not tireless shadow.

But Louis never got tired. Even when he got home, he forced himself to do a little bit of work. He watched his footage constantly, zeroing in on the tiniest details, his nerves rolling every time he caught an imperfect detail.

When he was done with that, it was usually undeniably morning, and he still tried to do something to keep his mind occupied for a little while longer. He opened his mail. He wrapped the gifts for his family until he gave up and put most of them in gift bags. He booked a delivery service that would bring his suitcases and the gifts to his family’s house in Doncaster so he could ride his bike there instead of renting a car. At the end of the night he crashed on his couch, slept for two hours, and woke up with more nervous energy buzzing through his body, ready to be stomped out with the same routine.

He could probably crash like that, if he hadn’t done it for so many other races before.

Besides, he didn’t need to sleep. Not when he was so close to winning, to getting to the very top, to being able to let go.

*******

The evening before the race, Niall forced him to leave early. Meaning, he snuck out of the track and cut the power to the room, coating the entire space in darkness as he yelled, “Go to sleep, dumb ass,” from the hallway.

Which. Wasn’t a bad thing. Because Louis had to go pick up Niall’s gift.

He managed to slip into the upper end store just before it closed its doors, although he suspected if he had knocked on the locked door, someone would have let him in regardless. The only employee in the store, a tall woman in an all-black uniform, smiled at him when he walked in.

“We have your order ready in the back for you, Racer Tomlinson,” she told him before he could even open his mouth to tell her what he was there for.

“Oh, that’s – that’s great, thank you,” he managed, and the woman just nodded.

“I’ll go get it for you, just a moment,” she said. She bustled into the back room of the store, leaving Louis alone in the display room, surrounded by several dozen designer bags.

Louis started to dig in his jacket for his wallet to eventually pay, when his eyes zeroed in on one display table in particular. He stepped forward, examining it, and was just starting to reach for the price tag when he was interrupted.

“Here you are,”

Louis turned his head at the sound of the woman’s voice, and he saw her emerging from the back, carrying a black leather doctor’s bag, embossed with Niall’s initials in muted silver, just like Louis had asked for weeks ago, “I’ll just wrap it up for you,”

“Thank you,” Louis managed, his eyes still lingering on the table directly in front of him, “Uh, miss?”

“Yes?”

“Can I take this one as well?” he asked, motioning to the table in front of him, “Just as is?”

“Of course you can,” she said, and immediately set Niall’s gift down on the front counter, moving over to take the object off the table, “They’ll be ready in just a moment. I’ll let you know when I need you,”

“Thank you,” Louis got out, and watched as she smiled at him again, then moved back over to the counter, getting out a long sheet of brown paper to wrap up his purchases.

It occurred him that he hadn’t bothered to check how much his surprise purchase was worth, and he really didn’t care.

******

Louis’s hands were shaking.

He was underneath the London track, watching the allotted team of assistants check the row of regulation bikes at the other end of the holding area. Every now and then, one of them would frown, mark something on their clipboards, call for an air pump or an extra bit of gas to top off the tank. Otherwise, though, it was silence, occasionally broken by neat black shoes tapping on the concrete floor.

Louis pulled his hood over his eyes, trying to block it all out. He wasn’t in his jacket yet – although he could see it across the way, hanging up behind his allotted regulation bike, his own last name and country flag staring him down. Instead, he was wearing a rust-colored hoodie, the sleeves too long, the wrists frayed with old, loose threads and speckles of bleach from too many washes.

His hands were still trembling, and he gripped them together to try to make it stop. The fabric hanging over his fingers wobbled all the same, and he huffed. He normally didn’t get nervous before races, not anymore. But this was the biggest race of the season so far, and thus the most publicized and the most heavily scrutinized. He would still have his records and his victories from the past races no matter what, but – if he didn’t make it onto the leaderboard tonight, was there really a point to it all?

Finally, the assistants left, and there was a short, low whistle that signaled the racers could go inspect their own bikes. Louis pushed himself off the wall and pulled his hood back, crossing the space along with the others. When he got to his bike, he crouched down and ran one hand up the hard rubber of his wheel, giving it a soft squeeze. It didn’t do anything, firm with plenty of air, and then he exhaled and pulled his hand away, holding it to his chest, trying to stop it from moving too much. He forced himself to breath deeply, in and out. He did the math in his head, telling himself it was a reduced race today, only the ten best racers from each of the three teams. Less competition overall, but, still, he wouldn’t be competing against the bottom rung of racers in a normal race anyways. Besides, he also knew that everyone present would be at their most focused, since their individual coaches and team directors would be watching, trying to gauge who was doing the best, who had the best shot at nominations for the Prix.

Louis went back to breathing. The math of it didn’t help.

After he had checked everything on his bike, he went over to his jacket. He took off his hoodie and replaced it on the hanger, pulling the familiar, tight leather over his body instead. His gloves and helmet were waiting, too, but he figured he had a few more minutes before he needed them.

It was only then that Louis let his vision skate over to the mouth of the holding area, where a small ring of press had been allowed to observe the racers preparing. Of course, Harry was at the very front of the group.

Even in the heated area, he was bundled up in his regular jacket and had a black leather and wool chauffeur’s hat pulled over his hair. He had his notebook with him, but at the moment he wasn’t using it. Instead, he was looking right at Louis. When Louis looked over at him in turn, he lifted his hand in a wave, one Louis slowly returned. Then he went back to writing.

Louis desperately wanted to go over to him, to let Harry put his hand on the back of his neck and kiss the junction of his neck and his shoulder. He wanted to breath in Harry’s scent, to let his brain go fuzzy and calm from it.

But of course he couldn’t do that, for about a thousand reasons that weren’t trumped by the simple fact that it was all he wanted.

A whistle broke out, signaling that in a few minutes a team of officials would take the bikes up to the track, and then the racers would be expected to follow a few minutes later.

Louis forced himself to inhale and exhale again, burying his face in his hands as he did so. Then he let his hands fall and forced himself to close his eyes, to mold his face into something that wouldn’t show nerves or any other kind of emotion.

He heard the second whistle that meant the bikes were being taken up, and by the time he opened his eyes, his bike was already gone.

In a few minutes, he would follow.

He tried not to think too hard about what could happen after that.

*******

Twenty laps.

That was the length of the race.

Usually, the mid-way race was cross-country, but the weather outside had been deemed too dangerous to race in. So instead, they were instead, being subjected to a length that would typically only be bearable with something to look besides the inner walls of the track.

Louis rode steadily in the beginning, inching up easily into the top ten of the pack, and then to the thin line of five at the very front. None of his other teammates were there, instead, three French racers were ahead of him, along with one Norwegian racer in second place. It wasn’t a surprise. The French team was good. Good enough to have taken the victory for the Grand Prix the year before. They were probably pulling hard for another victory this year.

Louis revved his speed just a bit, skating close to one of the French racers. They jumped, their bike dropping back as Louis easily slid in front of them.

The French team was also still shakable.

Louis managed to work up to third place by the tenth lap, and stayed there until the fifteenth lap. He blinked against his own watering eyes, trying to read the lettering on the jackets in front of him. Two French flags looked back at him, so he knew that the Norwegian team had stopped being real competition and instead were just little more than an annoyance.

He wasn’t too surprised when he finally made out that he was behind Josephine Chastain, the Prix victor from last year. Right behind her was Andrew Roux, a newer racer who had quickly shot up in the ranks of France’s team.

A few outlets liked to call him the French version of Louis, but. Well. Louis’s times still topped Roux in almost every other race.

As they moved into the sixteenth lap, Louis edged closer to them, getting close and then falling back, hoping it would throw them off a bit. But they didn’t even seem to notice, apparently far more unshakable than their other teammates.

So Louis hung back. He managed to work up to second place somewhere in the eighteenth lap, but Roux quickly passed him again with a fresh wave of speed Louis wasn’t wiling to waste his time trying to copy. Chastain remained ahead of him, unmovable as always.

Louis didn’t get close to her until the very last lap.

Roux dipped back, just a bit, enough for Louis to rev past him, until he was a full bike’s length away from Chastain’s back wheel. He edged closer to her, angling his bike, trying to move up close enough to tap her wheel.

But before he could, her back wheel swerved, knocking his wheel, and he skidded, veering a little too close to the inner border of the track. His bike wobbled and leaned down, dangerously close to the pavement. He heard his tires squeal and could practically taste the rubber that was burning against the track. His wheels were probably destroyed, but he barely had time to think about that because his bike was going parallel to the ground, very, very close to crashing.

Barely thinking anymore, Louis shifted one foot off the pedals of his bike, and pushed against the track.

He yelped, his ankle smarting as he pushed against the ground with everything he had. But he was wobbling back up to an upright position. His tires felt steady enough to keep moving, and so he didn’t even take the time to take a full breath before he shot forward again.

Even with a throbbing ankle and fucked up tires, he managed to get past the third and fourth racers that had snuck up on him, until he was firmly back in third. But third wouldn’t do it. Not this year. Not now.

Up ahead, he saw Chastain and Roux neck and neck, barely any space between their bikes as they sailed towards the finish line.

Louis’s eyes narrowed.

They were fighting.

He could see now that they were pushing each other lightly with the sides of their bikes, their wheels pushing ahead of each in small bursts in a pointless dance.

Pointless because they were so wrapped up that they didn’t even notice Louis rev up the last bit of speed his bike was capable of, cutting past them, his front wheel edging over the finish line a few moments before his back tire gave out entirely. But not before it made it over the finish line completely just as Chastain and Roux managed to catch up and cross almost at the exact same time.

But they still didn’t get there before Louis.

As his wheel gave out, Louis felt his bike groan and leapt off of it, tumbling to the track floor. His arm shot out and he felt his hand strike the ground, hard enough to split open the fabric of his glove, making his palm warm and wet. He pressed his hand to his chest and curled his body into a tight ball as a storm of bikes passed the finish line all around him. His ears roared with the rumble of tires and the yelling of distant voices, and when he finally managed to open his burning eyes, he saw his own face on the display screens surrounding the track, his country’s flag blazing behind him, and heard a distant voice announcing his victory.

*******

The UK team’s after party was being held in the ballroom of some painfully new and painfully expensive hotel Louis had never heard of, and the entire space was packed. The team had rented it out ahead of time, of course, but he had the feeing that if the UK had lost the race then the party probably would have been shut down.

He got there late, though, having to spend a little extra time with Niall to make sure his ankle wasn’t broken and his hand was properly treated. Niall had also told him that he was a fucking moron as he iced down his tender ankle, told him not to put too much strain on his bruised foot, and then reached into his new bag to get some rubbing alcohol.

When Louis finally arrived at the hotel, his hand was still tender and freshly wrapped in gauze and his foot still smarted, but he tried not to let it bother him too much. He managed to get through a throng of people who kept congratulating him, putting their hands on his shoulders and reaching out to fiddle with his medal. When most of them had fallen away, Louis got to the bar and ordered a rum and coke, rubbing his hand gently as he watched the bartender mix together the drink.

The glass had barely been placed on the counter for longer than a few seconds when Louis felt another hand on his shoulder. He turned, prepared to dish out quick handshake and then enjoy his drink, but instead he was met with a tall, slender man in a dark suit, his small, neat smile made entirely of pearly white false teeth.

“Racer Tomlinson,” he said, reaching out a hand.

“Mr. Caldwell, sir,” Louis got out, immediately reaching out to seal the handshake.

Normal Caldwell was something of an enigma in the racing world. He was director of the British team and made pretty much every final decision when it came to the team, from changing jacket designs to determining which races the United Kingdom would compete in. But Louis had only seen him in person once before, at a very similar party to this one, years ago, congratulating a different racer.

The man clasped his hand, giving it a firm squeeze, which was enough to shake Louis back to reality.

“You did well today, son. But no surprise there,” Mr. Caldwell said with a grin as he dropped Louis’s hand.

“Thank you, sir,” Louis got out, and the man shook his head.

“None of that. How long have we known each other?”

“Five year, s – Mr. Caldwell,” Louis managed, making the other man smile again.

“That’s better,” he chuckled, “You know, last year it was a tough pick for the Grand Prix,”

Louis felt his chest tighten and he straightened up.

“Yes, I know,”

“Well, maybe next year it will be a bit easier,” the man winked, “Have a good holiday, Racer Tomlinson. And a happy birthday. Take care of your hand,”

“Thank you,” Louis managed, “I’ll – I’ll do all of those things,”

That got one more laugh out of the other man, and then he was gone, weaving back through the crowd, probably having more important things to do.

“Shit, I can’t believe I missed fucking Caldwell,” a voice from Louis’s left said, and he glanced over. Cara had appeared and had both knees planted on one of the stools of the bar, waving her hand to the nearest bartender, “Can I get a vodka soda? Thanks,”

“I can’t believe he showed up,” Louis said, his voice sounding a bit distant as he picked up his own drink.  

“I know, the man’s a ghost. What did he want to talk to you about? I mean, I can imagine,” Cara said, reaching out to flick Louis’s medal with one of her gunmetal grey nails.

“I, uh, think they want for the Grand Prix,” he said, and Cara rolled her eyes.

“Of course they want you, you moron,” she snorted, reaching out a hand to accept her newly finished drink, “You’ve won every single race so far this season. Not just placed. Not just won for the team. Won,”

“Thanks for the reminder,” he sighed, “Shit, this – this is a lot,”

“Aren’t you happy?”

“Of course I’m happy, Car, Jesus,” he shook his head, “I’m just – taking it in,”

“Yeah, yeah, soak it up,” Cara slurped some of her drink and then clambered off the stool, “Well, I’m happy for you,”

“Yeah?” Louis said, taking a slow sip of his drink, “No raging jealousy? No urge to take me out?”

Cara rolled her eyes.

“Listen. I’m right behind you in times. I’m our top female racer right now. I can live with that” she shrugged, “Maybe when you eventually fuck off, I’ll get a shot,”

Louis’s stomach rolled, and he took another slow drink.

“Never know, that could be soon,”

“Well hopefully not too soon. They’ll probably put you up for the Prix again next year if you agree to it,”

“That – “

“Hasn’t been done for forty years? Yeah, no shit. But we’ve also never had you before,” Cara sighed, “Imagine that. A double British victory at the Grand fucking Prix. My patriotic spirit is fucking orgasming at the thought, Tomlinson,”

He blinked, “I haven’t – I haven’t even gotten picked yet, who says I’m going to win?”

“Me. Everyone. Including you, if you’d get your head out of your ass and look at your own times every once in a while,” she rolled her eyes and then knocked back the rest of her drink, setting it down with only a slight wince, “Listen, though, I’m glad I saw you. I wanted to say congratulations for I headed out,”

“You’re not staying?”

Cara shrugged, “I need to get back to my girl and actually enjoy myself tonight,”

“Well,” Louis said, picking up his drink again, “You’ll be missed,”

“Nah,” she shook her head, waving her hand to the rest of the room, “Look around. This is all for you,”

Cara left before Louis could say anything else, and he watched her walk away, her previous words came back to him.

Two wins at the Grand Prix, back to back.

It hadn’t been done in decades, by any country, something so rare Louis hadn’t even entertained it. He still didn’t want to entertain it now, because it seemed so dangerous, so elusive –

Still, though, He thought of another year on top of a bike. Another year of medals and private flights and hotel rooms. Times so low they could whittle down to nothing. Titles no other British racers had ever achieved. Another year of risking everything for something he wasn’t even sure was possible.

Louis physically shook his head and took a long sip of his drink, feeling the alcohol bite his throat and the cola fizz on his tongue. 

One thing at a time.

He cut back through the crowd, accepting more congratulations, bumping into more people who wanted to shake his hand and touch his medal. He didn’t mind, this time. He still felt like he was floating. Every then and again, his eyes would slip back to the TV screens surrounding the edges of the room, which seemed to be switching between showing racer’s his profile, footage of the actual race, and footage of Louis on the podium, accepting his medal with a bleeding hand, dazed eyes, and a wide smile. But before he could stare too long, there would be another hand on his shoulder, jostling him back through the crowd.

And then, because it probably would have happened anyways, someone let go of Louis’s shoulder, sending him wandering back through the center of the room, into a slice of free space that had opened up in the crowd. He looked up, the lights glaring from the edge of the room blurring out his vision for a moment, and then when the darkness cleared from his eyes, the first thing he saw was Harry at the very edge of the room.

It was the first time Louis had seen him since earlier that morning. His coat and his hat were both gone, revealing a pair of black jeans and a white button-up shot through with navy blue piping. Long bits of his fringe hung into his eyes, and his lips were bright and swollen, probably from drinking or biting his lips or both.

Louis cut through the crowd, downing the rest of his drink and setting it on a random table, mumbling apologies to people as he shouldered his way past them. Harry kept watching him the whole time, right up until Louis was standing right in front of him.

“Hi,” he murmured, tilting his head up.

“Hey,” Harry said back.

“Have you been following me?” Louis said, “Or am I just getting lucky with all the times I get to see you?”

“It’s my job to follow you,” Harry replied.

“Of course,” Louis nodded. He glanced behind him, to the thicket of people, and grabbed Harry’s elbow, pulling him to the edge of the room, where a series of curtains separated a thin space from the rest of the room. When they were inside the curtains, Harry pressed himself against the nearest wall, shadows cutting across his face so that light splashed only over one of his eyes and half his mouth.

Louis edged up onto the tips of his toes, the base of his boots pressing into the floor, but before he could even come close to kissing Harry, the other man’s finger pressed to Louis’s lips.

“Not right now,” Harry whispered. His hand dropped, and Harry grabbed Louis’s injured hand, turning the palm outward, pressing a kiss to the center as he steadily looked at Louis.

“Does it hurt?”

“Stings,” he managed.

Harry nodded, and Louis shifted his hand out of Harry’s grip, touching it to the alpha’s chest instead, his fingers tangling in the loose, unbuttoned fabric.

“Won my race for you, you know,” he hummed, “Do I get my reward now?”

Harry exhaled, long and low, and reached up to tangle his fingers in Louis’s hair.

“Let’s talk about that,”

“Talking sounds boring,” he sighed, “But okay,”

Harry lifted his head, looking over Louis’s shoulder, to the rest of the party.

“Not here,” he said weakly.

“Of course not. Come back to mine,” Louis murmured, “I have a present I want to give you, anyways. And then we’ll talk,”

“Okay,” Harry managed, then lifted his eyebrows, “A present?”

“Uh huh,” Louis nodded and let go of Harry’s shirt, taking a step back, “Go get your coat. I’ll meet you out front in a few minutes and tell the car to wait for you,”

“Don’t you want to stay?” Harry asked.

Louis paused and then glanced behind him, to the people dancing on the newly dark floor, all who were there because of him.

He did want to stay, was the thing. He wanted to dance and be around people and go home when the sun was starting to come up. But he also wanted Harry to be there, to have his arms around him, to do all of that together.

But, of course, he couldn’t do that.  

“Not really,” he managed.

Harry nodded, and then he was leaning into Louis, enough to make him inhale sharply.

“I’ll see you outside,” he whispered, and then he was stepping away, past the curtains and back into the crowd.

Louis watched him go, and stayed there in the dark corridor for a few more moments, watching the crowd move and sway through the gap in the fabric. He considered staying for just a little while longer, to at least tell people he was leaving. Shouldn’t he give a head’s up he was leaving his own party?

Eventually, he just skated around the outside of the party, back towards the entrance.

The party could surely go on without him.

He pulled out his phone and texted the number he’d gotten at the start of the evening, telling his driver to pull up out front. By the time he had headed into the main hallway and then out the entrance of the hotel, his car was ready and waiting for him. Louis turned up the thick collar of his jacket, trying – and failing – to shield himself from the thick snowflakes that were swirling around him. He made it to the car quickly enough, opening up the back door and climbing inside.

“Hold on, I’m waiting for someone else,” he told the driver as he pulled out his phone again to text Harry that he was already in the car, giving a brief description of the vehicle. When he was finished, he put his phone away and bundled his jacket closer around him, although the all-season model really did little to chase away the chill. He eventually told the driver to turn up the heat as he continued to wait.

After a few more minutes, the door opened, and Harry stumbled in, his hat pulled tightly over his hair, his jacket open over his shirt, his broken bag thrown over one shoulder.

“Hello there,” Louis mumbled, reaching out to tap the back of Harry’s hand as he closed the door. Harry looked over at him, glancing down at Louis’s fingers and then up to his face.

“Hey,” he managed, closing his fingers over Louis’s.

“Should we go, Racer Tomlinson?” the driver’s voice said from up front.

“Yes, we can go. Take us back to my building,” Louis said, not moving his eyes away from Harry. The driver made a soft noise of affirmation, and then they were pulling away from the curb and out on the street.

“Um,” Harry glanced to the darkened partition separating them from the driver, then leaned into Louis, whispering “Is this – okay?”

“It’s fine,” he returned, “No one’s going to tell on us, love,”

Harry nodded, then pulled away his hand, giving Louis another glance.

“Can I ask you some questions?” he asked, “Cross questions, I mean,”

“Sure,” Louis said, “S’what you’re here for, aren’t you?”

Harry just nodded, and then undid the one working strap on his bag and started rummaging through until he found his recorder.

“Can I -- ?”

“Of course you can,”

Harry nodded and pressed a button on the recorder, making a light on top of the device flash green.

“When was the first time you won a race?”

Louis blinked and then smiled, leaning his head against the tinted window next to him.

“I was twelve,” he said, “It was my third race, ever,”

“Yeah?”

“Mm-hm,” he nodded, “It was for my school. Had this shit bike and only had about half a second over the guy who placed second when I finished. But yeah. That was my first win,”

“What did you do after you won?”

“I just went home. One of the other mums drove me back, because my mum was working a late shift and couldn’t make it, let alone come get me. So I went home, made dinner for my sisters, and then I studied for a maths test I had the next day and went to bed. Not very exciting,” he paused, “But – I remember when my mum got home, she woke me up at about one in the morning, made me a cup of tea and forced me to tell her all about it. She was still scared of me racing, I think, but – she was happy for me,”

Louis smiled again, closing his eyes as he pushed his cheek further into the cool glass, “She tried so hard to not miss anything after that, but sometimes it just couldn’t be helped. My sisters always wanted to go, but by the time they were old enough, I was already on the Manchester team and they needed to travel to go to most of my races. They still tried to come, though”

Louis opened his eyes, blinking across the way to Harry.

“I’m sorry, I’m just rambling about my family now,”

“No, it’s alright. Whatever you want to talk about,” Harry said, “I like hearing people talk about what they most want to talk about. If that’s your family, then go ahead,”

“Well, that might be all you can get me going on about. I love my family, and I love racing,” Louis laughed weakly, “Honestly, I’m not sure if there’s not much else I care about anymore,”

“Really?”

Harry’s voice was soft, curious, and when Louis finally looked over at him, he was just steadily looking at Louis, his eyebrows raised, his mouth smiling.

“Well,” Louis said, his mouth suddenly feeling dry, “I think there might be one other thing,”

Harry kept smiling, and even though his mouth was barely curled, the expression seemed to take over his entire face.

“Wanna tell me what it is?” he asked.

Louis snorted, then swallowed, the lump in his throat going down hard.

 “You’ll have to turn off the recorder for me to tell you that,”

*******

The car eventually made it to Louis’s building, and the driver let the two of them out with a curt “Have a good night, Racer Tomlinson” and then drove off. The snow was coming down thick by then, and Louis reached out for Harry’s arm, gripping onto it and leaning into him.

“What’re you doing?” Harry murmured.

“I’m cold,” Louis said, “It’s snowing very hard,”

“Yes,” Harry said, his voice a whisper of a laugh, “I can see that,”

“Mm,” Louis hummed, and then pulled Harry closer to the entrance of his building, getting out his wallet so he could swipe his key card for the front entrance.

They entered the lobby, Louis still keeping a grip on Harry as they did. The lobby was entirely dressed in white and silver decorations, a tall silver Christmas tree standing next to the reception desk and paper chains in intricate designs hanging from the walls, but otherwise it was completely empty.

“Why’re you still holding onto me?” Harry asked, “You shouldn’t be cold anymore,”

“Because I want to,”

Harry made a soft sound and moved closer to Louis.

“That’s the answer I was hoping for,”

They eventually crossed the lobby, taking the lift up to Louis’s floor. They toed carefully past the few other doors on his floor, even though Louis knew from experience that the other tenants of his floor had probably headed somewhere warm and tropical as soon as the first snowflake of the season had hit the pavement outside.

Harry waited quietly behind him as Louis unlocked his door and went in. He flicked on the light, stepping into the front hall, and when he looked behind him, Harry was just starting to walk closer to the door.

“I can get your coat,” Louis said, and a little too quickly, Harry shrugged out of his jacket, offering it to Louis, “And your hat, if you want,”

“Oh. Sure,” Harry took his hat off, again, so quickly, tugging his hand through his hair as he handed it off to Louis. A few short, unruly curls stuck out on the sides of his head, but Louis decided not to say anything.

Louis hung up Harry’s coat and hat on the coat rack, and watched as Harry stumbled past him, going down the hall and into the living room. When Louis caught up with him, he saw Harry was just standing in the middle of the living room, gazing at everything.

“You can sit down,” Louis said, which made Harry jump and look behind him, before he smiled softly.

“I will,” he said, “Just – wanna look first,”

“Sure. Anything you want,” Louis said, “Just hang on, I’ll go get your present,”

He started off to his room before he looked behind him, scrunching his eyebrows together.

“For God’s sake, take your shoes off,”

Harry shook his head, smiling as he bent down to undo the zips on the back of his boots.

“You keep telling me to take my clothes off, you know. What are you getting at?”

“Oh, fuck off,” Louis said, although the strength in his words was swallowed by a laugh.

When Louis was in his room, he took off his medal and jacket, hanging them up on one hanger in the closet, and then toed off his boots, finally going to grab the large gift bag on the closet floor.

When he wandered back out to the living room, Harry was sitting on the sofa, running his hands over his knees. Louis could see that his socks didn’t match.

“Here we are,” Louis announced. He eased down onto the couch and set the gift bag between them, but Harry didn’t move to touch it. Instead, he just stared at the bag, and then looked up at Louis.

“You actually got me something,”

“Yes, Harry, I told you I did,”

“Yeah, I thought – I thought you meant something else,”

“Dirty mind,” Louis huffed, flicking Harry’s temple, “Now open it, wanna see what you think,”

Harry gave him a look, but eventually dug into the gift, pulling apart the tissue paper and then emptying the contents of the gift bag onto his lap. It was a storm grey messenger bag, the one Louis had spotted in the shop the previous day. The sides were striped with even darker grey leather bits, a shiny gold latch on front keeping the tweed bag locked tight.

“Louis – “ Harry said softly as he dragged his fingers over the soft material.

“Saw it in the shop when I was picking up Niall’s gift,” Louis said quickly, “Thought you could use it. Yours was a little worn,”

Harry was quiet, still looking at the bag, his thumb working over the glimmering latch.

“Well, do you like it?” Louis asked, and Harry eventually looked up at him.

“I love it,” he said, “But – I didn’t get you anything,”

“That’s okay. I don’t need anything, anyways,” he leaned forward, nudging Harry’s shoulder with his hand, “I’m glad you like it. That’s all that matters,”

“I do. I’m gonna use it all the time,”

Harry leaned in then, and Louis easily leaned forward to meet his lips. Harry’s hand caressed his cheek, his rings cool and his touch soft, and Louis was fully prepared for Harry to push him down or to carry him back to his room.

Or to do anything other than what he actually did.

Harry pulled away from the kiss, blinking his wide eyes, and immediately looked down to the bag in his lap, smoothing his hands over it again before lacing his fingers together and looking at the rest of the room.

“Your place is gorgeous,” he said, and Louis arched an eyebrow before quickly letting it drop.

“Thank you,” Louis said, “I’d like to think it is,”

“Have you always lived here?”

“Since I was nineteen, yeah,” Louis said, still not entirely sure where this was going, “Never wanted to live anywhere else, to be honest,”

Harry made a soft noise, nodding his head, and then looked down at his lap again. Louis reached out, setting a hand on his arm, which made Harry jump a bit. He looked down at Louis’s hand, then up to his face.

“Are you…nervous?” Louis asked quietly, “For what we’re going to do?”

Harry swallowed slowly, opened his mouth, closed it, and then opened it again to speak.

“Louis, um,” he said slowly, “I don’t think we should do anything tonight,”

Louis blinked.

“Okay,” he said slowly, and Harry reached out, grabbing Louis’s hand off his shoulder and engulfing in his own grip.

“I mean, I want to, but – “ he smiled, his face softening, “I have an idea,”

Louis raised his eyebrows again, this time letting them stay fully arched.

“Oh?”

“Yeah,” Harry nodded, “You, ah, said you have a few free days once you get back into the city?”

“Yeah, I should have about four,”

“Well,” Harry said, his smile steady now, his eyes glinting, “I’d like to have those four days with you,”

Louis blinked again, staring back at Harry with his shining eyes and eager smile.

Four days.

Harry wanted to spend four full days with him.

“You want to have sex with me for four days straight,” Louis said drily, “Isn’t that a bit excessive?”

“No,” Harry shook his head, Louis’s tone not throwing him off at all, “I don’t think so,”

“You don’t think so,” Louis parroted.

“Nope. I want to learn about you,” Harry said. He let go of Louis’s hand, and his fingers skated down his leg, until his hand was pressing against Louis’s hip, “Find out what you like,”

Louis breathed out. Harry was pressing down on his hip, and without thinking, Louis melted backwards, into the couch cushions. Harry’s body seemed to follow him, until he was hovering over him.

“Do you now,” Louis managed to get out, and Harry smiled, his entire face soft despite his darkening eyes.

“Yeah,” he said, “Wanna make sure I do it right. Make you feel good,”

“Can’t see how you wouldn’t,” Louis said, trying to keep his voice level. Harry had another hand on his other hip, and his hands were slowing moving up, pushing the fabric away from his skin.

“Why’s that?” he hummed.

“Because – “ Louis started, but his voice was swallowed by a soft sound from deep in his throat, which made Harry pause.

“Am I making you feel good now?”

“Yeah,” Louis managed, his voice coming back just enough to get the word out.

“M’not doing anything, love,”

“Yes, you fucking are,”

“What? This?” Harry dragged his hands more down Louis’s sides, teasing up the edges of his shirt even more, “Barely touching you,”

“You’re teasing me,” Louis snapped, “Absolutely nothing is stopping you from wrecking me right now except your fucking honeymoon fantasy, and all you’re doing is playing with my damn shirt,”

He huffed then, letting his head drop onto the arm of the couch.

“You done?” Harry chuckled.

“Yes,” Louis groaned.

“Well, if you’re that worked up over just that, then I’m sure this’ll be fun,”

Louis made a frustrated noise as he closed his eyes, and Harry just laughed again.

“Know you like this,” he said, running a hard hand over Louis’s nipples. Louis gasped, his eyes flying open, and he grabbed Harry’s hands, yanking them away.

“Don’t you fucking make me wet right now,” he gritted out.

“Sorry,” Harry said, although the word was swallowed by another laugh, “Does that -- ?”

“Yes, you prick. They’re sensitive. Leave me alone,” Louis sighed, and he pushed himself up so he could lean into Harry’s shoulder, “Still can’t believe you’re making me wait again, this is bullshit,”

“M’sorry,” Harry whispered, his voice genuine now, “I didn’t mean to do anything to make you uncomfortable, you know. I just wanted – I just wanted to play with you a little bit,”

“I know that,” Louis shook his head, pulling away from Harry’s shoulder so he could look into his eyes, “Did you think I would get upset over a little teasing? Actually upset?”

“I just want to be careful,” Harry said. He reached up, his finger touching Louis bottom lip, “You’re not someone I want to lose,”

Louis felt something twist in his stomach, and he wrapped both arms around the other man’s neck, pressing a firm kiss to his lips. When he pulled away, he set his lips right by his ear, breathing in deeply before he spoke.  

“Stay over?” Louis whispered.

“Sure,” Harry returned, one hand rubbing Louis’s back, riding up the fabric even more, “I’ll have to head out early, though, I’m going home tomorrow and I haven’t even packed,”

“I don’t care. As long as you can stay,” Louis said, and he pressed another kiss into the space under Harry’s chin, “I’ll go take a shower. I – my room is right down the hall. I’ll leave the door open, so you can find it,”

“Okay,” Harry agreed, and Louis could hear the smile in his voice.

After a few more moments, Louis pulled himself away from Harry and got off the couch. He went into his bedroom, leaving it slightly ajar as he pulled off his shirt and his jeans, wrestling with each sock and then finally his pants, finding a pair of trackies in his drawer before he went into his bathroom. He set the water to the kind of hot as he normally liked after a race and scrubbed himself down, being careful to leave his injured hand out of the spray.

When he was done, he dried off, pulled the trackies over his hips, and went back into the bedroom. All the lights were still on, and a few pieces of clothes he couldn’t even remember wearing were spread around the floor, the same as usual. But now Harry was sitting on the bed, fully dressed and balancing on the very edge of the mattress. When Louis came out of the bathroom, he looked up, his entire body lifting.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hello,” Louis replied, reaching behind him to turn off the bathroom light, “Are you planning to sleep in all that?”

“Oh. Uh, no,” Harry said, glancing down at himself, “Do you – “

“For fuck’s sake, Harry, we’re both going to see each other naked at some point, you might as well get comfortable,”

“Well,” Harry got out, “Alright, then,”

He stood up and peeled his mismatched socks off his feet, then unbuttoned his shirt, shrugging it off and letting it fall to the floor, revealing winter-pale skin, hard muscle, and clusters of black ink. But when he got to the zip of his jeans, he stopped and glanced at Louis.

“Um,” he said, “Just so you know, my knee…looks kind of nasty,”

“That’s okay,” Louis said softly.

“I can…I can wear some joggers or something, if you want,”

“Christ, Harry, nothing I own is going to fit you,” Louis huffed, “Besides, now you’ve got me curious,”

“Right,” Harry nodded, “So, ah, I guess – “

He fumbled with his zip, and then peeled the black fabric off his thighs, sitting down to get them off his knees, his calves, and then finally pulling them off his ankles and feet. When he was done, he looked up at Louis, running his fingers over the skin above his bad knee.

“So – “ he started, but before he could finish, Louis was crossing the room and kneeling right in front of him, examining his knee up close. The skin was thick, shiny and pink, a thick white line running down all of his knee, cutting into the bottom of Harry’s thigh and the top of his calf. Louis held his hand over the damaged skin as he examined it.

“Does it hurt?”

“The joints, yeah. The skin, no. All the nerve endings are dead there,”

“So – “ Louis touched the very center of Harry’s knee, right where the scar tissue was the thickest, “This is alright?”

“Yeah, that’s fine,”

“And – this is okay?” Louis pressed a light kiss to the same skin, flicking his eyes up to look at Harry as he did.

“That’s okay, too,” Harry said, his voice as soft as his expression, “Can’t feel it, of course, but – it’s okay,”

Louis nodded, then rose onto his feet, setting his hands on Harry’s shoulders, smiling as Harry looked up at him with wide eyes.

“You’re still so nervous,” he murmured, and Harry shook his head.

“You make me nervous,” Harry admitted, “You make me feel like I’m in secondary school. I’m in a constant state of getting up the courage to ask you to the dance,”

 “M’just me, love,” Louis said with a small frown, “Nothing to be nervous about,”

“It’s not a scared kind of nervous, though,” Harry said, “It’s the excited kind. The kind that’s still trying to believe this is happening to me. That I got this lucky,”

Louis just shook his head.

“You’re a very weird alpha, Harry Styles,”

Harry smiled, grabbing Louis’s bandaged hand and bringing to his mouth to kiss it again.

“And you’re a strange omega, Louis Tomlinson,”

Louis rolled his eyes, then leaned in to peck the tip of Harry’s nose.

“Get into bed with me?”

“Of course,”

Harry stood, and Louis reached around him to push away the covers before grabbing Harry’s hand, pulling him underneath the dark sheets. Almost immediately, Harry’s hand was around his waist, and Louis set his palm over the back of his hand.

“I gotta turn the lamp off first,” he murmured, and Harry just nodded and didn’t let go, instead setting his forehead into the space between Louis’s shoulder blades.

Louis lifted himself up until he got at the switch on his bedside lamp, making the entire room dark except for the thin slice of London light that snuck through the crack in his bedroom curtains. With the room thoroughly dark, he settled back down into bed, feeling the weight of Harry’s body against his back.

He could remember exactly the last time he had another man in his bed, because that man had been Niall, and Louis had forced him out of bed at three in the morning while he was sleeping over because Niall had severely understated how bad his restless leg syndrome was.

This was different.

It was different not only because Harry had long stopped being just a friend, but also because he couldn’t remember when he had felt so safe, so at ease, like the world was as simple as two bodies in bed and the lump in his throat and the twist in the pit of his stomach.

Louis closed his eyes, which were burning either from premature tears or exhaustion or both.

“Thank you for staying,” he whispered, and Harry made a soft noise behind him.

“S’no problem,” he said. Louis could track the words even before he spoke them, could feel them jump slightly in Harry’s stomach and rumble through his chest, before his breath exhaled over the back of his ear. 

“I’ll miss you, you know,” Louis said, “I’ll miss seeing you,”

“I’ll miss that, too,” Harry murmured. He pulled Louis even tighter to his front and nuzzled into his hair, his lips pushed to the very base of Louis’s neck, making him stir slightly.

“Hey, Harry?”

“Yeah?”

Louis smiled softly, running his palm over the back of Harry’s hand again.

“I’d go to the school dance with you anytime,”

Harry blew air out over the back of his ear, and Louis could feel the small jump in his stomach that meant he was trying not to laugh.

“Go to sleep, Louis,”

*******

Louis woke up to an empty bed and a clock that told him he only had an hour before he had to go in to have a full day of meetings with the team regarding the upcoming year.

But that was all made better by the folded up note he found on his kitchen countertop that just said, Look in the fridge!!!

On the top shelf of the fridge, there was an egg sandwich wrapped in brown paper, right next to a bright pink smoothie incased in a large plastic bottle, which had another note taped to it.

I’ll see you soon. –H

Louis wasted another precious five minutes standing in front of his fridge, staring at Harry’s sloping handwriting, until he managed to get a hold of himself and grab the breakfast he had been given.

*******

After a full day of meetings on Saturday, Louis slept in and got on the road on Sunday at noon. He moved as quickly as he could, only stopping for one quick fuel refill, and managed to get into Doncaster by around three. Once he was within town limits, he stopped briefly to top off his tank again, and then he drove to his family’s new neighborhood.

It wasn’t new, necessarily – they’d lived there for almost four years, after he’d gotten enough money to help them move out of their old place – but it always felt new. He was familiar with the other houses, but had real no memories associated with the streets other than family holidays. Still, though, he felt himself grow calm as one blue and white-trimmed house came into view. He pulled up to the house, parking his bike in the driveway and cutting it off until it stilled beneath him, the metal rapidly going cool.

The front door opened before he could get his helmet off, but he still kept his head down as he fiddled with the strap, a smile twitching over his mouth. He finally managed to pull the helmet off, stowing it into the back compartment of his bike, and then climbed off, yanking a hand through his uncooperative hair as he stepped up onto the front stoop to meet the woman standing in front of the doorway.

“Hi, mum,”

“Hi, love,” she said, before immediately engulfing him in a hug, “Just bring yourself this year?”

“I’m getting my bags driven here,” he said into her shoulder, “Wanted to make sure I could get here quickly,”

“When will they be here?”

“Who knows?” he sighed, pulling away from her, “Later?”

She shook her head, tugging at the bottom of his jacket.

“Well, come inside, it’s too cold for what you’re wearing,”

“It’s lined,”

“Still not warm enough,” she said, and then pushed the door open for him behind her.

“Girls,” she called, “Come – “

But she couldn’t even finish before there were several pairs of feet running down the front hall, and in the next moment, the older twins were encircling him. Felicite skidded down the hall a moment later, pressing the twins tighter against Louis as she dove to hug him.

“Fiz!” Phoebe protested, her cheek squished against Louis’s chest.

“Oh, be quiet, I want to see him, too,” Felicite huffed, although eventually she pulled away, the twins following close after.

“Where are our presents?” Daisy asked, looking behind Louis.

“Well, I’m happy to see you, too,” he sighed, pinching her cheek enough for her to squeak, “I’m getting your presents delivered with my bags, darling, they’ll be here in a bit. I wanted to make sure I was here as soon as possible,”

“Oh, good,” another voice said loudly from the end of the hallway, “Looks like I didn’t miss anything major,”

Louis glanced up and grinned as he saw Lottie plodding down the hallway, wiping her eyes.

“Hey, you,” he grinned, pulling her into a hug when she got closer, “You look like you just woke up,”

“I did,” she sighed, “Thought you’d be in later,”

“For you? Never. Early as I could manage,”

They hugged for a while longer, until the sound of his mother’s voice behind him broke them apart. When he looked over he saw her standing in the doorway between the front hall and the kitchen, looking between the two of them.

“Louis, I’d tell you to put your bags away, but – oh, never mind, just relax. You just got in the door,” she said, “Charlotte, come help me with the potatoes. Dinner’s in an hour,”

“I’ll be there in a minute,” Lottie said as Jay disappeared back through the doorway. When she turned back to Louis, she rolled her eyes, and he just raised his eyebrows.

“An hour? That’s a bit earlier, innit?”

“It’s her Louis-is-finally-home dinner,” she shrugged, “Of course it’s going to be early,”

Lottie looked down at Louis’s hand, still wrapped in a thick set of bandages.

“She almost started crying when she saw you on Friday, you know. We all thought you’d broken something,”

“Shit,” he shook his head, “I’m fine – “

“Yeah, I can see you’re fine,” she sighed, “Just try not to get knocked off your bike again,”

“I’ll do my best,” he managed, trying not to think too long about his mother almost crying over thinking he was hurt and not being able to do anything.

Before he could say anything else, though, the front doorbell rang behind him, and he glanced over his shoulder.

“That’s probably my stuff,” he said, turning back to Lottie with a small smile, “Want to help me unpack?”

“God yes,” she grinned, “Mum, I’m helping Louis! I’ll help you later!”

Louis laughed, grabbing his sister’s hand as he turned to get the door. They rushed out the front door, startling the man on the front stoop as they pushed past him to get to the packed Range Rover on the curb, Louis not even bothering to give the driver his signature first.

*******

Louis spent a full week at home. He went to his gran’s holiday party, helped the girls bake cookies and went into town with Dan to pick up a few last-minute gifts. The skin on his hand stitched back together and scabbed, until he no longer had to wear bandages over his palm.

The snow fell sparingly and then heavily, until he almost had no choice but to stay inside. The TV in the family room was on almost constantly, but it stayed firmly on the channels that were showing Christmas films, no trace of racing recaps anywhere.

He fell into the routine easily, despite always forgetting what it was like to be home, to be so calm and at ease and not have to worry about who would see him.

But. He still had to dab oil on his neck and wrists every morning before he went down to breakfast. He still had to shake his head with a small laugh when his nan, and later, his mum, asked if he was seeing anybody. He still had to put on his red-ribbon adorned jacket when he went out to the shops to pick up eggs and milk and shampoo one afternoon.

He would probably have to do the same thing around his family even when he quit the team. He would probably always have something he was hiding from them.

But he could deal with that.

Like always, he would have to.

*******

On Louis’s birthday, they all went out for dinner.

He couldn’t remember a time they hadn’t done it that way. Every Christmas Eve, he remembered his family heading out at 7 along with all the other neighbors, but instead of going to the strip of churches downtown for the candle-lit services, they would go whatever restaurant they had managed to get reservations to, getting the biggest table they could so they could fit everyone in the family, as well as a small pile of Louis’s birthday presents.

This year was no different, everyone spilling out into the dark with far too little time to spare before their reservations.

“First one to the bike gets to ride on the back,” Louis called out when they all made it outside.

“Absolutely not,” his mother cut in immediately, “Everyone, get the car. Don’t listen to your brother,”

“Mum, they’d be fine! I’m a professional!”

“Tell that to your left hand. Alright, everyone in,”

He rolled his eyes, which got him a small swat on the arm. He sighed and kissed his mum on the cheek, before finally climbing into the very back of the family van. He squeezed in next to a pile of his own gifts and Felicite, who was holding Doris on her lap.

As the rest of the family piled in, he tried not to let his gaze linger too long on the sapphire blue ribbon that was now fixed to his sister’s coat, which he hadn’t noticed before. Once they were on the road, though, Christmas music started pumping steadily through car, loud enough to drown him out, and Louis leaned in close enough to speak to her.

“Did you get tested early?” he asked, and Felicite glanced at him with raised eyebrows before following his gaze down to the fabric on her coat.

“Oh, yeah,” she smiled, brushing her hair off her ribbon, “My results came in a couple weeks ago,”

“Don’t remember you telling me that,”

“S’not a big deal,” she shrugged, “Besides, not really a surprise. Everyone in the family’s a beta except you. You’re the weird one,”

“Uh-huh,” he said, “You are…happy?”

“Of course I’m happy, Louis. Why wouldn’t I be happy?”

“Just wondering. It’s a big deal to some people,”

“Oh, well, I don’t really care,” she titled her head, “The nursing program I wanted to get into after graduation just started letting in omegas last year, so – it wouldn’t really matter anyways,”

“Right. That’s good,”  

Louis kind of wanted to end the whole thing there, but Felicite frowned, grabbing his sleeve.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. I’m just happy to hear about your program, that’s all,” he said, “You know, I tend to forget things are getting better. In my world they’re really – not,”

“Well, your world’s weird,” she said, “And you’ve heard about all those campaigns going on, haven’t you? A couple cities just put up beta racing leagues, and they’re pushing for nation-wide requirements. Maybe we’ll have another national beta team by the time you retire,”

Louis nodded along, not wanting to ruin the hopeful, bright expression on her face. The thing was, there were always rumblings of protest in the racing world, and had been ever since the beta leagues had been wiped out, making racing the only remaining alpha-only sport in the world. The fact Louis hadn’t heard anything major at the national level was enough to show that this campaign would blow away and crumble, just like all the ones before it.

“Maybe,” he said eventually, “Hard to imagine, maybe, but – maybe, all the same,”

His sister smiled brightly, and Louis, for the thousandth time in his life, wanted their entire world, with all its rules, to melt away.

Instead, though, he mustered up a smile and buried his face into the shoulder of Felicitie’s ribbon-adorned coat, wrapping his arms around both her and Doris despite their protests, and stayed that way until they pulled up to the restaurant entrance.

*******

Louis was woken up the next day by four hands banging against his back.

“Louis, wake up,” a voice shouted in his ear, and he grunted and rolled over, squinting his tired, watery eyes. Phoebe and Daisy were at his bedside, but he could barely even process that.

“What time is it?”

“Christmas,” Daisy supplied.

“No, no, like – what time is it?”

“Seven,”

“You two are going to kill me,” he groaned, “Come here, then. Come give your big brother a Christmas kiss and then I’ll get up,”

The two girls scrambled into his far-too small double bed, and he shrieked as they tried to kiss every part of his face at once.

“Okay, that’s sufficient. Get off me,” he managed, and they rolled off his bed and onto the floor, giggling.

“Get up!”

“Well, I can’t very well go back to sleep, can I?” he huffed, “Also, how old are you? Aren’t you supposed to be sleeping in?”

“It’s Christmas, Louis! No one needs to sleep in on Christmas!”

They raced out of his room and back down the hall, then, and he could hear their footsteps pounding down the stairs. A few minutes later, he could hear softer footsteps from the hall, followed by his mother’s voice.

“Girls, wait until everyone’s up, please!”

Louis sighed, dropping his head back onto his pillow, letting his gaze wander over to where his phone was charging on his bedside table. He had the urge to pick it up, send a few quick Christmas messages.

Niall wouldn’t be awake for at least another few hours, but Harry would reply. Maybe fast enough for him to read the text a few times over before he went downstairs.

He was just picking up his phone to send his message when a text from his mum popped across the screen.

Sorry about the girls, darling. I’m making coffee for you now, come down whenever you’re ready

Louis sighed, dropping his phone back onto the table as he buried is face further into his pillow, wanting nothing more than to sleep for a few more hours.

But the increasingly loud noises of the rest of the house waking up eventually made him sit up and stumble out of bed, forgetting his phone behind him.

Harry would just have to wait.

*******

After all the presents were ripped apart and breakfast was finished, Louis managed to slip upstairs. It was easy enough, since the girls were either taking naps or admiring their gifts, and his mum had gone into her office to FaceTime his gran.

He went to his room, shutting the door softly behind him, and went then over to his bed, flopping down. He probably could use a nap after waking up so early, but his phone was still sitting there, waiting for him. Eventually he picked it up, ignoring the cluster of “Merry Christmas” texts on his screens and instead going to his address book. He laid on his side, looking towards the opposite wall so he could watch the snow fall from his window as he waited for the line to pick up.

“Hello?” a voice finally said, and Louis closed his eyes, smiling.

“Finally, you answered the phone normally,”

“Oh – hey – hey,” Harry’s voice on the other end dropped, “I – one second. Everyone, I have a work call, I’ll be back,”

“A work call? On Christmas?” a female voice shouted in the background, “Tell them to fuck off,”

“Gems, no – I’ll be back in two seconds, I promise,”

There were footsteps on Harry’s end, and then the clicking of a door before he spoke again.

“Sorry. That was my sister. I had to get in another room. Anyways, what’s up?”

“I just wanted to say hi,” Louis murmured, “Sorry, am I interrupting anything?”

“No, we just finished up with presents, my mum is putting together lunch now but it’ll probably take a little while,” Harry said, “How are you, though? I forgot to text you yesterday but -- did you have a good birthday?”

“I – did I tell you it was my birthday yesterday?”

“It’s on your Wikipedia page, Louis. You didn’t have to tell me for me to know,”

“Ah. Right. Well, it was great. We went out to dinner last night, and then we did all the Christmas stuff this morning. Presents and all. You?”

“It’s been good. Typical, really. My family has travelled for the last few years, it’s nice just to be home for a little while,” Harry sighed, “I, um – I’m glad you called me,”

“Yeah?” Louis said, rolling over onto his back and rubbing one side of his face.  

“Yeah. Can’t wait to see you,” Harry said, his voice dropping, “Like, really can’t wait,”

Louis snorted, “It’s Christmas, Harry. We’re not having phone sex,”

“I wasn’t!”

“Then stop using that voice,”

“What voice?”

“Your weird, deep voice. Like, the one that’s somehow deeper than your regular voice,”

“I wasn’t doing it,”

“Sure you weren’t,” Louis chuckled, “Anyways, I’m excited to see you, too. I think I forgot what it feels like to not see you everyday,”

“I think I forgot, too,” Harry said, “So, when do I get to see you, then? What day do you get back?”

“Probably Wednesday,” Louis said, “I still don’t have my heat until the first week of January, so we’re clear until a little after New Year’s,”

“Oh, great. I’m heading back Tuesday,” Harry said, “So, I guess we could do Thursday? Or Wednesday if you get in early?”

“Wednesday should be fine, I’ll be getting back into London by early afternoon, at the latest,”

“I guess I can come over Wednesday night, then,” Harry said, “Should we, uh, go to dinner or something before hand?”

Louis frowned, and opened his mouth to voice his confusion, when Harry cut in again.

“I just – I don’t want whatever we do to feel like a booty call. Like, shouldn’t we at least go on a date first?”

“A date?” Louis echoed, “Why would we go on a date? Are you trying to woo me?”

There was silence on Harry’s end, and Louis’s eyebrows rose.

“Oh my God, you’re trying to woo me,”

“I – that’s a – word for it, I guess,”

“That’s cute. You’re cute,” Louis chuckled, “But, I don’t think we can go out in the city without cameras. Unfortunately,”

“Oh, right. Didn’t think about that,” Harry’s voice trailed off, “So, I guess – “

But, I have an idea,” Louis cut in, “Why don’t you Skype me at nine tonight?”

“Um, alright,” Harry said, “I – “

“Harry!” the same female voice from earlier – Harry’s sister, apparently -- shouted in the background, “Jesus Christ, it’s Christmas, stop working!”

“I’m coming!” Harry shouted, then his voice lowered back to a whisper, “Sorry, I really – I really should get going,”

“That’s okay. Go be with your family,” Louis said, closing his eyes, “I should go do the same,”

“But – I’ll see you at nine, I guess?” Harry said, “For --”

“Our date,” Louis filled in, “It’s a date, Harry. You can call it a date,”

“Okay,” Harry said, and Louis could hear him grinning, “I’ll see you for our date,”

“Right,” Louis nodded, “See you then,”  

*******

“This wasn’t what I was picturing for our date,” Harry said about five minutes into their Skype call.

“Excuse me, this is very romantic,” Louis insisted, pointing to his bedside table, “I lit a candle,”

“You’re eating a candy cane, Louis. Normally we would be having dinner,”

“And you’re not eating anything, so what’s your fucking point?” Louis said, popping the sticky end of his candy cane back into his mouth and giving it a firm suck.

“Okay, fair,” Harry allowed.

Louis sighed, shifting on his bed and moving his laptop further into his lap, “I’m sorry, though. That we don’t get a real first date,”

“It’s okay,” Harry shrugged, “I didn’t have anything big in mind. Pizza and a movie, maybe,”

“Pizza,” Louis sighed wistfully, “God, pizza sounds better than a candy cane right now,”

“I’ll get you pizza later, then,” Harry said, then lifted his head, his image blurring and pixelating slightly, “Are you in your old room?”

“Oh, no,” Louis shook his head, “My family moved out of our old house about a year after I joined the national team. This is just a guest room, really,”

“Okay,” Harry nodded, a small smile growing on his face, “What did your old room look like?”

“Really? You want to talk to me about my childhood bedroom on our first date?”

“M’curious,”

“Alright, then,” Louis leaned forward, setting his chin between his two hands, “Messy. I never picked up anything. My closet was always empty and I had my clothes all over the floor instead. But they were in different piles. Clean, somewhat clean, dirty. Had to be sort of organized,”

“Naturally. What else?”

“I, uh, had those plastic light-up stars stuck to my ceiling right up until I moved out,”

“You’re kidding,” Harry said, his smiling growing, “I had those, too,”

“Think everyone did. Mine were terrible, though. Barely glowed,”

“Mine either, now that I think of it,” Harry said, “Anything else?”

“Posters. Racing posters, mainly. Big surprise there,” Louis shook his head, “Had a big one of William Derbald right over my bed. Remember him?”

“Of course I do,” Harry nodded, “He was the last British racer to win the Grand Prix,”

“Right,” Louis smiled, “You know – I forgot to tell you something,”

“Yeah? What’s that?”

“Norman Caldwell told me after the last race that I had the best shot at the Prix this year,” he said, “I mean, he didn’t say it, exactly, he hinted – “

“Louis, shit, why didn’t you tell me this?” Harry cut in, his voice loud enough to make Louis wince and yank his earbuds out.

“I was a bit caught up in other things,” he managed, tucking one bud back into his ear, “Like in the fact you kept refusing to have sex with me,”

“I didn’t – well, it doesn’t matter. That’s – shit, that’s incredible,”

“Thanks,” Louis said, his smiling returning as he smoothed the other bud into his ear, “I haven’t really told anyone that yet. Guess I’m scared it’s not going to happen if I jinx it or something,”

“Of course it’s going to happen,” Harry insisted, “I’m here, remember? Cross has picked the Grand Prix racer for their showcase article every year for the last fifteen years,”

“Well then I guess then it’s guaranteed,” Louis shook his head, “Shit, though, what happens if I actually get into the Prix?”

“You win it, of course,”

“You say it like it’s easy,”

“And you say it like you’re not you,” Harry insisted, “You know how many nineteen-year-olds get signed to the national team? Exactly one in the team’s entire history,”

“Are you trying to dirty talk me? Because it’s still Christmas,”

“As I was saying –your slowest times this season are a full minute better than the times of at least ten other racers who currently have shots at the Grand Prix. Nobody has gotten around more league rules than you, which means you have strategy as well as basic skill, which is important in a race that is literally cross-continent,”

“Harry – “

“So, you know what? You have a shot at winning the Prix. That’s not a stretch, that’s very much possible,”

Louis just nodded, rubbing the base of his neck.

“And then I’ll leave London,” he said, “And you can take me somewhere where we can go out to a real dinner,”

“I’d like that,” Harry said, although his smile seemed a bit distant, and Louis rushed to try to fix that.

“Let’s stop talking about me. I’m boring,” he said, “What did you get for Christmas?”

“A pack of pens from my sister and a check from Mum. Being an adult is terrible. You?”

“One of my sisters gave me a bottle of cleaner for my bike,” Louis said, “It could always be worse,”

They kept talking for another hour and a half, until Louis’s candy cane was a sticky memory left on his fingertips and they both had to start whispering to stop from disturbing their families. Eventually, though Harry started yawning, and he gave Louis an apologetic look.

“Um, I should – I should go. I forgot I have to get up early tomorrow,”

“Okay, then,” Louis nodded, “Did you have fun on our date, Harry?”

“You know, I did,” Harry smiled, rubbing his hand through his hair. It stuck up wildly when he pulled his hand away, but Louis didn’t mind, “Still wanted to give you a good night kiss, though,”

“Have to wait until Wednesday,” Louis murmured, “Be at mine around 8?”

“Sure,” Harry agreed, mirroring Louis’s small smile, “I – I’ll see you then,”

Louis nodded, his fingers on the top of his laptop, ready to shut it.

“I’ll be seeing you, Styles,”

*******

Louis left Doncaster early Wednesday afternoon.

Or, as early as he could. The delivery service had already come to pick up his bags a little later than planned, and he wanted to stick around to ensure that all his things were safely picked up. And then his mum insisted on making him breakfast before he felt, which took another hour because he couldn’t just eat and leave, he needed to sit and talk and have at least two cups of tea.

But the thing was, he still things to get back to in London. Even without Harry, he needed to plan his new training schedule and have follow-up meetings with his lawyers and accountants and just about everyone else who worked for him.

He still had to leave.

When he did, everyone in the house was crowded in the front entrance, taking turns giving him hugs that went on far too long. Daisy ended up nearly yanking Lottie away because her hug went on for nearly three minutes straight.

After all his older siblings had finished, Doris ran forward and grabbed onto Louis’s leg, and he bent down to give her a small squeeze.

“Bye, Achoo,”

“Good bye, darling,” he murmured, “Be good until I come back, alright?”

“Okay,” she said, still keeping her face pressed into the worn leather shoulder of Louis’s jacket.

In the past, she and Ernest had always asked how long it was going to take him to come back. Maybe they had both learned that the answer was always “I don’t know” and never “soon.”

He tried not to think about it too long as he stood back up.

“Alright, everyone go to the living room. Stop crowding your brother,” his mother’s voice said, and he looked up and saw her moving down the hallway towards him, his siblings parting around her. There were a few short protests, but eventually, they all retreated down the hall, until Jay and Louis were alone. She sighed, and then just leaned forward and embraced him, her hold knocking a small breath out of him.

“Be careful out there. The roads might be icy,”

“I’ll drive slow,” he promised.

“I wish you’d wear a better coat,”

“This is all I have that I can ride in,”

“I know. Just make some stops, go somewhere warm and every now and again,”

“I will,”

She fell silent, then, still just holding him, and Louis suddenly wanted to say more.

I’m going to retire soon. I’m going to come home for longer than a few weeks. I’m going to make sure you don’t have to worry about me anymore. That everyone else doesn’t have to miss me so damn much.

 

Instead, though, Jay pulled away, and he just said, “I’ll call when I get back into the city,”

“Please do,” she nodded, and tucked her hand to his cheek, “Take care of yourself. Cook some real food when you get home,”

“Those are some high expectations,” he forced himself to laugh, and then ducked down, pressing one last kiss to his mother’s cheek, “Bye, now. Moon and back,”

“Moon and back,” she echoed, and then Louis was pulling away, his hand going to the doorknob.

He opened the door, wrapping his lined jacket tightly around himself as he went out into the biting, bitter cold, trying not to look back.

*******

The roads were actually icier than he expected. Louis practically drove at snail-speed, and by the time he actually got back to London and into his building, the sky was going dark. When he got upstairs, his suitcases were waiting for him outside the door of his apartment, and he groaned softly as he unlocked the door and hauled the first bag inside.

He probably had time to unpack everything before Harry got there, as well as make dinner and take a short rest, but…still. He dug his phone out of his jacket and typed out a short message.

You still coming tonight?

He put the phone away and get out to get his second bag inside, setting it beside the other one. He was just closing and locking his door when his phone buzzed.

Well…hopefully both of us will be ;)

 

Fuck.

 

Okay, that was bad.

 

But, yeah, I was planning to. Are you home?

Yeah, I just got back.

 

Also, are you wasted or did you actually think that was joke was funny?

Fuck off.

 

And great. Great that you’re back, I mean. 8 still good?

Louis glanced up at the small numbers at the top of his screen, and saw he only had about three hours until then.

He could make that work. Probably.

Sure, that works

Yayyyyyyyyy

He didn’t bother typing a response back to Harry. Instead he grabbed both his bag and dragged them to the bedroom, intent they would get unpacked in one night.

*******

Louis got unpacked in record time, which was probably good, because as soon as he was done, he felt himself start to get anxious.

It was the type of anxiety that usually came before a race, only this time he didn’t have hours of practice to fall back on. He was hanging by the pure thought that Harry liked him, and that would have to be enough to buoy all his fears.

Harry wouldn’t hurt him. Harry would still want him. Harry knew he had never done anything before.

It would be fine.

Louis barely had any food in his pantry, but luckily he had a spare box of pasta and a lone can of tomato sauce. He wasn’t that hungry, but he forced himself to make a small bowl just to have something to do with his hands. By then, he only had about an hour to spare, and was staring to run out of things to do.

He tidied his room a bit, smoothing back the duvet on the bed, and then went to have a long shower. He made sure every bit of oil was gone from his skin, until he felt soft and smelled like his natural skin and artificial flowers. When he got out, he scrubbed furiously at his hair, trying to make it dry, then stood in front of the mirror, covering his chin and cheeks in soap and shaving cream so he could get rid of the coarse hair that had built up on his face over the holidays.

Once it was all gone, he turned on the tap and watched soap and dark hair circle the drain, and then he looked back up to his own reflection, stepping back to get a better look at himself. He pressed his fingertips to the small spot that had popped up on his forehead, and then to the tiny nick his razor had left under his chin. He flexed his arms, running a hand over the lithe muscles and soft skin, pressed both hands to his stomach.

He closed his eyes and forced himself to breath, feeling his stomach expand and press against his own hands. Then he opened his eyes, grabbed his towel again, and scrubbed his still-damp hair harder.

There was a knock at his door.

Louis stopped, his towel still twisted in his hair, and he waited, wondering if he had imagined it, but it came again a few moments later. He dropped the towel and lifted his head, blinking back at his own wide eyes.

Maybe it wasn’t Harry. It was still too early. Maybe only ten minutes early, but…still.

Louis shuffled back into his bedroom, grabbing his dressing gown from his closet, and shrugged it on with quivering hands. He ran his fingers through mostly-dry fringe with one hand and then squared his shoulders back, leaving the bedroom with quick, determined steps. When he reached the front door, he tugged it open with a fresh urgency.

Harry stood outside. Because of course he would be early.

He was in almost the same outfit he had worn to the last race, right down to the hat shoved over his curls, but Louis could see he had a different shirt on underneath his coat, something deep green and silky. He was carrying a paper grocery bag under one arm and there were bits of snow still clinging to his shoulders.

“Hi,” Louis smiled, but before he could finish, Harry was stepping forward, cupping Louis’s cheek with a free hand and kissing him deeply, enough that Louis backed up, his back pressing into the wall behind him.

Harry pulled away, his lips swollen and wet, and he smiled.

“M’sorry I’m early,” Harry said, and held up his bag, “I, uh, picked up a few things and it didn’t take as long I thought it would,”

“That’s alright,” Louis said, straightening up, “You, uh, can bring the bag to the kitchen,”

Harry nodded, and Louis readjusted his robe before going over to the apartment door, closing it firmly and latching it. His neighbors, as far as he knew, were still on holiday, but it was always better to be safe.

He trailed after Harry to the kitchen, where the other man had just set the paper bag on the counter, and was in the process and taking off his coat and hat.

“So, what’d you bring me?” he asked, and Harry glanced over to him before going back to the bag, his fingers pulling on the paper edge.

“Um,” he said, “I didn’t – I kind of only got two things,”

 “Okay, then,”

Harry reached up, tucking a wild curl behind one ear, and then reached into the bag with both hands, pulling out a tall, dark red bottle and a blue and white box. His fingers were mostly covering the logo on the box, but Louis could see there was a crisp red A in the lower corner, so he could only guess what it contained.

“You brought me condoms and wine,” he snorted, “A romantic, you are,”

“I didn’t know if you had any!” Harry said. He ran a hand over his face, but Louis could still see his ears were a little pink, “Of, like, either,”

“I’m teasing, Christ,” Louis rolled his eyes and came over to Harry, wrapping his arms around him, “I’m happy to see you, you know. Didn’t get a chance to tell you that when you came in since you seemed preoccupied with attacking my face,”

Harry made a soft noise, “Sorry. I’m happy to see you, too. Too happy, apparently,”

They were quiet, then Louis finally spoke.

“I don’t – should I get you something to drink? Should we watch something? How are we supposed to do this?”

Harry shrugged, “It depends, really. We can do whatever you want,”

Louis made a short, frustrated noise, and Harry just chuckled and started to pry Louis’s arms away from his middle.

“C’mere,” Harry murmured, setting a hand on Louis’s back and moving him to stand in front of the counter. Louis looked up, and Harry’s hand tucked itself under his chin, tilting it up a bit.

“You shaved for me,” Harry observed.

“Maybe I just felt like shaving,” Louis muttered, “Fine, yes, I shaved for you,”

“I like it,” Harry said, “I mean, I like you any way. But I like it,”

Louis huffed and dropped his gaze, Harry’s catching him as his chin dropped.

“I’m sorry,”

“What’re you sorry for?” Harry asked, his voice genuinely curious.

“That I have no idea what to do with any of this,”

“You’ve never done this before, how are you supposed to know?” Harry said, “Hey, come on. It’s okay. We’re going to have fun,”

Louis just nodded, but Harry gripped his chin tighter and lifted his gaze back up.

“It’s really not as bad as you think it’s going to be. It’s like riding a bike,” he explained, running a hand down Louis’s cheek as he spoke, “And judging by how you ride a bike, then you’ll pick up quickly,”

Louis snorted, closing his eyes.

“Not sure how well that metaphor will hold up,”

“Guess we’ll have to see, then,”

Louis made another soft noise, then opened his eyes to look at Harry again. The other man dropped his grip on Louis’s chin, his eyes going soft.

“I’m going to put these – “ he reached around Louis and grabbed the condom box, holding it up, “In your room. Get a glass of water, breath, and when I get back, you tell me how you’re feeling,”

“Okay,” Louis nodded, and Harry gave him a slow peck on the forehead before he slipped out of the kitchen.

Louis stood still for a while, listening to Harry’s uneven footsteps. When the soft whine of a door opening told him Harry had made it to his room, he forced himself to move, going to get a clean glass and fill it with water. He forced himself to drink slowly, rubbing his temple as he did so.

He tried to remember back to how he felt more than a dozen years ago, balancing on a shitty, school-issued motorcycle for the first time, when the very idea of racing still excited him beyond belief but every small jolt of his bike made him freeze in fear. He pulled himself through the memories of that first practice, and the one after that. His first practice lap. His first race. His first league championship. How it kept getting easier, how after a point he stopped being afraid and just rode.

Like riding a bike.

Like riding a bike.

“Louis?”

Louis straightened up and turned, seeing Harry plotting towards him. He’d taken his boots off, so his footsteps barely made any noise now.

“How’re you doing?” Harry asked, coming over to stand by Louis’s side.

“I’m okay. Just thinking,” Louis murmured, turning his glass in his hand. The remaining liquid sloshed around and he eventually just set it down entirely.

“Thinking about what?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Louis could see Harry’s hands twitch at his sides, like he wanted to touch him but wasn’t sure if he could.

“About – “ Louis swallowed, his throat constricting around nothing, “About riding a bike,”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,”

Louis reached out, his fingers blinding fumbling for Harry’s hand until the other man reached out and slotted their fingers together.

“I think I’m ready,” he heard himself say, the same time his fingers tightened around Harry’s.

“You sure?”

Instead of saying anything, Louis just turned, so he could face Harry fully the best he could with their locked fingers between them. He leaned forward, and Harry came forward to meet him almost immediately, their lips just brushing each other, barely touching.

“Come on,” Louis whispered when he pulled away, “Come deflower me,”

He tugged on their joined fingers, and pulled Harry out of the kitchen, down the hall and into his room, finally pulling him firmly to the edge of the bed. Louis moved to sit down, but before he could, Harry’s hand slid up his shoulder, cupping under his jaw. His hand twisted in the belt tied at Louis’s waist, loosening it slightly.

Harry’s lips touched on the pulse point under his jaw, and then his hand was dragging down his neck, over his shoulder, pushing the fabric of his robe down. Louis’s eyes dropped down, following the movement of Harry’s vein-choked hand, the gold of the ring on his middle finger winking in the darkness. He closed his eyes, feeling as Harry nuzzled into the space where his neck met his shoulder, leaving a faint kiss there. Louis reached up a hand, tangling his fingers into the thick curls at the back of Harry’s head.

Harry pulled away eventually, and his eyes blinked, wide and bright even in the darkness.

“Can we turn the light on?” he asked softly, “I want to look at you,”

“Yeah,” Louis got out, “Light switch is behind you, love,”

Harry nodded and reached back with one hand, his fingers pawing the wall until his fingers caught on the switch, flooding the room with light. Louis blinked and then looked down as Harry’s fingers returned to his belt.

“Okay?” Harry asked softly.

“Mm,” Louis hummed, and then Harry was tugging on his belt, and pushing the fabric off his shoulders. The fabric fell to his feet in a heavy pile, and then Harry’s hands were on his hips, pushing back.

Louis fell down easily, his body bouncing on the mattress as he laid out. He stretched his arms out slightly, bending his legs, trying to make himself comfortable. He blinked his eyes open, smiling softly when he saw Harry watching him.

“Come here,” he whispered, holding a hand out. Harry took it, his eyes glazed over, and Louis pulled him closer, until Harry’s knees were knocking the edge of the bed, right between Louis’s spread legs.

Harry leaned forward, and soon his lips covered the edge of Louis’s jaw, tilting it up. Louis swallowed and Harry’s lips dipped down to follow his Adam’s apple as it bobbed. His hands spread over Louis’s shoulders and then pulled down his chest, his fingernails catching in the sparse sprinkling of hair between his small pecs. When his hands spread out over the softest part of Louis’s stomach, Louis laughed.

“S’like you’re giving me an inspection,” he giggled, and Harry let out a laugh.

“M’sorry, I can’t help it,”

“Well don’t just watch me,” Louis sighed, “Are you silent when you have sex? Is that something I’m going to have to deal with?”

Harry’s shook his head and he pulled one hand off Louis’s stomach so he could tuck his own hair back behind his ear.

“Not usually, no,”

Louis rolled his eyes.

“Well then talk to me,” he huffed, “Flatter me. Win me over,”

“Mm,” Harry agreed, tilting his head, his eyes shifting and turning dark evergreen, “Well, this seems like a good place to start,”

He reached down, his hand wrapping around Louis’s semi-hard cock, giving it rough tug. Louis’s mouth opened, a weak sound escaping, and his hips bucked.

“Got a pretty cock, you know,” Harry murmured, “Remember when I said I wanted to get my mouth on you, back in Greece?”

“Yes, I remember,” Louis replied weakly.

“Still want to,” Harry said, flicking his eyes up, “Yeah?”

“Y—yeah. Jesus, yeah,”

Harry nodded, and then moved forward, opening his mouth. He set the very tip of Louis’s cock on his tongue, glancing up at him as his lips wrapped around it fully. He bobbed down, taking more of the length, and still, he didn’t break eye contact. Louis could feel his thighs shaking around Harry’s head, but he didn’t even care, not when Harry was pulling off again, his lips making a loud popping noise as he did. His lips were swollen, his bottom lip pouting out slightly, a pearl of pre cum quivering on the pink skin.

“Good?” he whispered, and Louis just nodded, his words drying up his throat. Harry smiled, not even a smirk, but something soft and sweet, something he would give before he kissed Louis on the cheek.

But his eyes were blown and dark, and he had Louis’s fucking cum on his mouth, and he was suddenly back to eagerly swallowing down Louis’s cock, going practically to the base. Louis’s thighs kept shaking and he pinned them closer to Harry’s head, trying to make them still, but the action only made Harry make a noise that could have been a moan if he didn’t have Louis’s fucking cock in his mouth.

 

Harry bobbed down his length a few more times before pulling off, his tongue flicking out to lap at the wetness that was bubbling from the tip.

“You taste sweet,” he murmured, “Bet your slick tastes even better,” 

“I – “ Louis stuttered. He had no idea how to respond to that.

“I don’t know -- ” Harry started, working his hand over the very base of Louis’s cock, “If I should make you come now and see if you can do it again later, or make you wait,”

“Haven’t you made me wait long enough?” Louis managed. He had no idea how the words had been able to come out of his mouth. Harry’s touch was extremely distracting.

“It’s a point,” Harry said, his hand working higher up Louis’s shaft, making his hips buck. But Harry set a firm, heavy hand on his hip, pushing him down, “Think you can come more than once?”

“I – yes,” Louis got out, “I can try,”

“Good, then,” Harry said, and then he was letting go of Louis’s cock entirely, instead swallowing it down again.

Feeling the soft heat of Harry’s mouth and the gentle pressure of his tongue was hard enough, but when Louis looked up and saw Harry’s swollen, electric pink mouth pursed around his dick, his cheeks sucked in tightly and his eyes blinking and wet and dark, it was too much.

Louis shook, feeling warmth curl in his stomach and then bleed up to the rest of his abdomen. Harry clutched onto his hips and pulled harder with his mouth, his eyes squeezing tight as Louis cried sharply and then felt himself letting go, his cock pumping in Harry’s mouth. When Louis started to dribble off, Harry opened his mouth wide, lapping at his leaking tip with his tongue before swallowing him down one last time.

Harry pulled off with another loud pop, and Louis just stared at him. He hadn’t even noticed that both his own hands were in fists, pressed tightly to the base of his throat.

“All good?” Harry asked as he wiped at his mouth with the side of his hand.

“What the fuck was that?” Louis managed, “Do people actually give head like that? I thought that was a porn thing. Unless that’s a porn thing and a you thing,”

“Okay,” Harry chuckled, “So you like blowjobs,”

“I fucking love blowjobs,” Louis nodded, “Especially your porn-y blowjobs,”

“Alright. So. Blowjobs,” Harry repeated, “And…dirty talk?”

“Dirty talk is good,” Louis said, “Dirty fuck is fantastic. Can we keep going?”

“Yeah. Yeah, of course. Just giving you a little break,” Harry nodded, and then leaned forward, pressing a kiss to Louis’s cheek. He ran a hand over Louis’s side, setting a firm hand on his hip.

“I’m going to open you up in a minute,” he murmured, “Make sure you’re wet and ready,”

“Mm,”

“But first, I’m going to get undressed,” he said, “Okay?”

Louis nodded, “Okay,”

Harry stood, dragging a hand over Louis’s cheek as he did so.

“Watch me,” he said, pressing a finger to Louis’s bottom lip as he spoke. Something warm curled in Louis’s gut and he felt his cock stiffen a bit.

Well. That was alright.

Harry didn’t exactly put on a show. He took off his rings first, setting them each on the bedside table as he pulled them off. He rubbed the red marks on his fingers the jewelry left behind and then reached for his shirt, undoing each button, and pulled it open before going to his jeans, all his movements slow and careful.

It was nothing Louis hadn’t seen before, but, he still felt himself flush as he watched Harry move, his long fingers fiddling with his buttons and zippers, the muscles of his broad shoulders and sturdy arms shifting under his skin with the smallest movements. And with his clothes off, Louis could smell him easily, and he felt his body heat up from the thick smell of wilderness and skin and alpha.

Harry left his briefs on when he climbed back onto the bed and pulled on Louis’s hip, stroking the skin with his thumb as he leaned in and kissed the underside of Louis’s jaw.

“Ready to turn over?” he whispered, and Louis could only nod.

Harry turned him over until he was on his front, and Louis brought his arms up, crossing them and burying his head into the crook of his elbows.

“No,” Harry’s voice said, and then he was brushing a hand up the back of Louis’s neck, “Look at me,”

Louis lifted his head and looked back over his shoulder. Harry wasn’t touching g him yet, aside from the hand on his neck, instead he was just looking at Louis steadily.

“I changed my mind. Move on your side a bit,” Harry said, and Louis followed his instructions. Harry made a soft, pleased noise, and ran a hand up Louis’s hip, then finally moving the caress the curve of his bum, “Watch me,”

Louis kept his eyes trained back as Harry set a hand on one bumcheek and pulled it aside. Louis was already wet, probably as a result of his last orgasm, but Harry still ran two fingertips over his hole, make him shake slightly as he felt more slick trickle out of him. He pushed himself back into Harry’s touch, but in an instant, the other man’s hand was gripping his hip, squeezing hard.

“Be still,” he said, and Louis felt his body melt into the bed before he could even fully register Harry’s command.

“Good,” Harry said, and then drew one of his fingers back, until just one finger was prodding at Louis’s hole, “Going to start opening you now. Tell me if it starts hurting, okay?”

“Okay,” Louis echoed, and forced his body to relax as Harry’s fingertip pushed into him.

He took slow, even breaths as Harry pushed his finger deeper in, Louis’s slick pumping around his digit. His hand pet Louis’s skin in slow, even motions, and then he softly squeezed Louis’s hip when his finger made it all the way to the knuckle.

“That hurt?”

“No,” Louis murmured, although his hips shifted a bit, “Not really,”

Harry’s fingers were long, and he could definitely feel something inside him, but most of his toys were still much longer, and definitely thicker. So. He was alright.

“Good,” Harry said, and then he started to wiggle the finger out of Louis, slick dripping out as he did so, “Think two fingers will be okay?”

“Yeah,” Louis nodded, and Harry bobbed his head in turn. He went back to Louis’s hole, working the two fingers over the surface to get him wet again, and then wiggled in the first finger, the two following closely after.

“You’re tight,” Harry said softly, his fingers pushing deeper inside. Louis forced himself to take a longer breath. Two of Harry’s fingers were still fine, but – definitely thicker.

“I – it shouldn’t be that bad,” Louis managed, “I’ve taken more before,”

“I know you’ve played with yourself before. But you’ve still never been knotted. I can tell,”

At the words, Louis felt his skin heat up again.

He was going to get knotted tonight.

Harry was going to knot him.

He had to, didn’t he? Did it really count if he didn’t knot him?

Louis felt his body react again, this time with another thick roll of slick pumping over Harry’s fingers.

“There you go. Nice and wet,” Harry said gently, “Gonna start moving, okay?”

“Mm,” Louis managed, and then Harry’s fingers were pumping, moving back and forth inside Louis. Louis watched as they moved in and out, Harry’s knuckles glistening with slick. A few drops had gotten on Louis’s duvet, making the navy blue even darker.

“Breath,” Harry said firmly, and Louis did, just in time for the other man to scissor his fingers, stretching him a bit more. Louis’s fingers dug deeply into the sheets, and he saw Harry open his mouth, but he cut in before he could say anything.

“M’okay, Harry,” he said, “Keep going,”

Harry nodded and leaned forward, pressing a cluster of slow kisses to Louis’s bum as he kept working his fingers inside his entrance, more wet sliding over his digits. Louis’s cock stiffened and began to curve over his stomach, but he didn’t look down at himself, not when he was fixated on Harry’s mouth leaving open-mouthed kisses on his skin and his fingers pushing knuckle-down inside him.

A fresh roll of heat ran over Louis’s skin as Harry scissored his fingers again, and Louis reached his hand back, weakly batting at Harry’s shoulder, his fingers barely brushing his skin in the end.

“M’ready, Harry, just – please. Please, please fuck me,”

Harry blinked, and then he looked up at Louis setting his chin on the curve of his hip as he drove his fingers a little further in.

“You sure?” he asked, “Feel okay?”

“Yeah,” Louis nodded as he quickly as he could, “I feel great, but – “

He swallowed, Harry’s eyebrows raising, his mouth opening slightly as he waited for Louis to speak.

“M’gonna come if you keep doing that,” Louis finally said, smoothing his hand down to touch Harry’s wrist, “And I don’t know if I can – fuck – do it again after that – “

“Okay. Okay, I hear you, shh,” Harry said, dropping his lips down to peck the deep dip of Louis’s waist, “You feel nice and stretched, but I just want to be sure you’re ready,”

“Ready,” Louis agreed, and Harry nodded, before slowing pulling his fingers out of Louis.

His hand pulled on Louis’s hip again, until he was flat on his back. Harry’s body rose over his, his hands planted on either side of Louis’s chest, and then he bent down, pressing a firm kiss to Louis’s lips. Louis curled in on himself as best he could, his back arching and his hands planting themselves awkwardly on his own chest, his body suddenly feeling so, so small.

“What would be more comfortable for you?” Harry whispered, lifting a hand to run it through Louis’s fringe, “Back or hands and knees? We can try you riding me later, but – let’s do something a little easier first, okay? Let me do all the hard work,”

“I, um – “ Louis swallowed, “Back? I wanna be able to see you,”

“Good idea,” Harry agreed. He pulled back, until he was sitting back on his knees, his legs still bracketing Louis’s body, “Can you get me the box?”

“Oh. Yeah,” Louis lifted himself up a bit until he could grab the condom box still sitting on the bedside table. He worked the top off and got at the small packets inside, tearing one off and offering it to Harry, who took it from him carefully, their fingers brushing together as he did so.

Harry stuck the corner the packet between his teeth and set his hands on his hips, pushing down the fabric of his briefs, before eventually tugging his hand over the thick bulge in front, getting his briefs down entirely. He stroked one hand over his length, long and thick and curved towards his stomach, as he lifted one leg enough to pull his briefs completely off.

Louis swallowed, his mouth dry from just how big Harry was, and tried to keep his expression calm as Harry opened the condom packet, rolled the latex down himself, and then resituated himself over Louis’s body.

“Lift your legs a little bit,” he said, pulling his hands under the back of Louis’s knees, until Louis lifted his legs up, “Now try to get them around me,”

Louis scissored his calves around Harry’s waist, his hips shifting until he was comfortable. His feet found each other and he locked his ankles together on top of the small of Harry’s back, before he set both hands on Harry’s shoulders, his blunt fingernails searching for purchase on his skin. Harry’s hand dragged over the inside of Louis’s calf, his eyes soft and wide.

 “Good?” he asked softly, and Louis just nodded, “Do you want to watch me?”

“Uh,” Louis dropped his eyes down, until he was looking down to where Harry was holding his cock in one hand, the flushed, covered head just a hair away from the curve of Louis’s bum. He felt his stomach tighten and he swallowed thickly, “I’ll watch,”

“Okay,” Harry murmured, and his grip on his cock shifted, lifting the tip a bit higher, and then he was pressing into Louis’s entrance.

Louis inhaled sharply, his fingertips digging tightly into Harry’s skin, his eyes widening as he watched Harry’s cockhead disappear inside him, a ring of pearly slick bubbling around his stretched hole as he did. A hand ran up Louis’s ribcage, making him lift his eyes to look back Harry, whose eyes were blown and dark but still looked worried.

“I’ll go slow now, okay?” Harry said, his hand dropping to grip Louis’s waist, “Just pretend we’re putting in a toy. You know what that feels like,”

“Mmhm,” Louis got out, and then forced himself to inhale and exhale.

Harry got a couple more inches in, and Louis kept his eyes focused on watching the veined, flushed length move, and only looked up again when Harry pressed a hand to Louis’s stomach.

“Okay?”

“Yeah,” he nodded, “M’getting used to it,”

Harry nodded, and pushed just a little farther in before he started moving, his cock moving steadily in and out, just about an inch at a time. Louis had to lay his head back and just watching after a while, just so he could focus on his breathing. Harry was wider than most of his toys, and certainly his own fingers, and even though it felt good, it still burned slightly to be stretched like that.

When Harry’s cockhead drove against his prostate, Louis made a weak noise, and felt his entire body fold, his arms tugging on Harry’s neck, his legs tightening around his waist.

“Harry,” he cried, and in a second, one large, heavy was placed on his side, stroking his skin. Harry’s lips pressed against his ear a moment later.

“I’m here,” he said softly, “I’m here, Louis,”

The corners of Louis’s eyes burned as Harry kissed his forehead.

“Breath, Louis, please, breath. Once you get used to it, it’s going to feel so good, I promise,”

Louis nodded, and then titled his head back, another breath curling out of his mouth.

Alpha’s here, his brain whispered, Alpha’s going to take care of you now.

 

“Keep going,” he whispered, but as soon as Harry pushed in again, he hit the same spot and Louis mewled loudly, his fingernails digging hard enough to Harry’s skin to make the other man wince and gasp out.

“Hey,” Harry’s voice came, and then their fronts pressed together. Harry’s head was hanging over Louis’s face, one hand gripping his hip and the other combing Louis’s hair, stroking one cheek with his thumb, “Are you okay?”

Louis just breathed in, and Harry kept petting his cheek.

“Baby,” he said softly, and Louis exhaled, shaking.

“I’m okay,” he managed, “Jesus, Harry, I’m fucking fantastic – “

“Are you sure?” Harry asked, “We can stop,”

“Please don’t stop, no. Please don’t – “

“Okay, okay,” Harry said, and kissed the crook of Louis’s shoulder, “You’re so good, Louis. So gorgeous. Taking me so well,”

“Uh,” Louis got out.

“What’s making you hurt?”

“Nothing,” Louis closed his eyes, “M’just overwhelmed,”

He blinked his eyes opened and then glanced over to where Harry’s long, wide hand was petting the side of his face, and then pulled one hand off Harry’s shoulder, the locked joints of his fingers smarting as he did. Harry watched carefully as Louis turned his wrist out, pressing the inside of it to his nose and inhaling deeply.

Harry’s scent hit him almost immediately and he groaned, his brain going fuzzy and his muscles relaxing. He took another breath in and his brain cleared a little bit, but his body still felt more pliant and at ease the more he took in Harry’s smell.

When he let Harry’s hand drop, he looked up, blinking his heavy eyes at Harry until he felt somewhat back in his own body.

“You smell so good,” he murmured, and Harry just ducked his hand, nudging the underside of Louis’s chin up with his knuckle.

“Because of you,” he said, “You got me turned on,”

A soft noise escaped his mouth, and Harry leaned forward, pressing their foreheads together and setting his hand firmly on Louis’s stomach. He moved forward a little more, and then back, moving into a steady rhythm. As he went on, Louis felt his entire body relax, opening up and moving around Harry, a soft heat surging through him as he did so.

“There you go,” Harry murmured, “Your instincts are kicking in. Feel that?”

“Yeah,” Louis nodded, “Feels good,”

“Good. No pain?”

“Not really,”

Good,” Harry sighed, his voice sounding genuinely relieved.

He kept moving, then, pressing their foreheads even tightly together, Louis digging his fingernails back into Harry’s shoulder, although he didn’t have any real reason left to grip on, not when his body was starting to adjust to what it was supposed to do.

Harry paused after a few more minutes, his expression dazed as he pulled away from Louis, sitting back on his haunches.

“What’s wrong?” Louis asked, but Harry didn’t answer, his hand going back to the base of his own cock instead.

“Louis, I’m going close,” Harry murmured, “Can you take my knot or do you need me to pull out? Because if you’re hurting now at all it’s going to be a little tougher in a minute,”

“I – I think I’m okay,”

“Louis,” Harry said, his voice coming a little stronger, “I need to know for sure if you’re okay. Because I can’t pull out if I start to knot you,”

Louis tightened his jaw and lifted his head, his eyes meeting Harry’s wide, curious gaze.

“I can do it,” he said, forcing his voice to be firm and sure.

Harry just nodded and then leaned forward again and went back to moving in and out, his head ducking as he moved, his breathing becoming thicker.

“Close, Louis, I’m close,” he got out, pressing a hand to Louis’s stomach again, “Keep breathing, please,”

Louis nodded, even though Harry’s eyes were squeezed shut by then and he couldn’t see him. He kept moving, but eventually his hips started to still, his breath pushing out slowly enough to tickle Louis’s face. Slowly, Louis felt the base of Harry’s cock start to swell, and he gasped, his breath coming out uneven as he felt the knot stretching him out, locking inside his body.

“Harry,” Louis gasped, and Harry’s hands were immediately cupping his face, cutting off his words with a kiss.

“It’s okay. Trust your body, it knows what to do,” Harry said softly, “And remember what I told you about breathing,”

“Ah – “ Louis started, and then exhaled slowly, his muscles fluttering and heating as he felt himself push out more slick.

“Come when you need to, baby. Won’t make you wait tonight,”

Louis shook his head, his eyes squeezing closed.

“Touch me,” he gasped out, “Harry, touch me, please,”

In a moment, Harry’s hand was gripping Louis’s cock again, his thumb working over the leaking head. Louis slapped a hand against Harry’s shoulder and cried out, making Harry give him a couple more strokes. Louis cried out again and felt his stomach jump, and then he was unwinding, coating his stomach and Harry’s fingers in pearly white streaks.

Harry pulled his hand away and tangled his cum-stained fingers in Louis’s hair, earning a weak protest from the omega. But Louis stopped when he saw how pink and creased Harry’s face was, a line of sweat thick along his hairline.

“Just a few more seconds,” Harry got out, “Just a few more – ah, fuck – Louis – “

Harry’s knot expanded just a bit more, and his back arched, his face pressing tightly into Louis’s shoulder, his teeth nipping at the skin hard enough to make Louis bark out a short, loud sound, and then he felt Harry’s cock pulse inside him, two, three times. Harry let out a long breath and soon, his body went pliant on top of Louis.

“Baby,” Harry whispered, and then he started to laugh, his voice weak and raw as he pawed a hand through Louis’s hair and laid thick kisses along his neck, “Baby,”

But Louis couldn’t even say anything, could barely open his eyes. His body felt limp, feverishly hot and sweating, and he felt so full of emotion and wandering thoughts and Harry.

“Louis,” Harry’s voice said over him, “Louis, open your eyes, come back to me,”

He blinked, his vision swimming until Harry slowly came into focus, a pair of green eyes and a lazy pair of pink lips and sweaty, curly fringe all locking together into one complete picture. Louis managed a smile, which Harry returned.

“Hey there. How you doing?”

“You feel so good,” Louis said, which made Harry chuckle.

“Thank you, but how are you feeling?”

“M’so full, Harry,” he murmured, squirming slightly, his hips moving.

“Yeah?” Harry raised his eyebrows, “Do you like that, or -- ?”

“I do, just feels weird,”

“Yeah, I bet,” Harry nodded, and kissed Louis’s forehead, “Knot should go down in about fifteen minutes, okay?”

“Thought it was longer than that,”

“In a rut, yeah. That can be a few hours. But other wise they’re fairly quick,”

“Oh,” Louis blinked, “Okay,”

He just stared up at Harry a little longer, then pushed his hips up.

“Um,” he said, “Can you maybe – move a bit? You’re heavy,”

“Shit, yeah, we can. Sorry,” Harry said, and then grabbed onto Louis’s hips and lifted, until they were rolling onto their side, and then Harry rolled fully onto his back, so Louis was draped on top of him.

“Don’t go to sleep yet,” Harry whispered, “In a few minutes I can get up and clean you up,”

Louis nodded, his mind already fuzzy and far away.

“Don’t need to sleep,” he said, “Just need to lay for a little while,”

He set his chin on Harry’s shoulder and nudged into his neck.

“’Sides,” he muttered, “Think I deserve you cleaning me up after you got cum in my fucking hair,”

“Fuck,” Harry murmured, running his fingers through Louis’s still-sticky fringe as if he was checking for evidence of what he had done, “Fuck,”

“Don’t worry too much, it’ll come out with a little shampoo. Hopefully. Probably,” he huffed, and went back to burying his face into Harry’s sweat-slick neck.

“Um, other than your hair – “ Harry started, “Was that okay?”

Louis lifted himself, enough to look at Harry’s bright, dark eyes, and his slightly open mouth, his expression soft and somehow almost…vulnerable.

“It was more than okay,” Louis murmured, planting a kiss right against Harry’s lolling mouth, “It was wonderful, Harry. You’re wonderful,”

Harry’s eyes softened, his mouth lifting into a hopeful smile.

“Yeah?”

“Definitely,” Louis nodded, and then dropped his mouth down, nosing into the hollow of Harry’s throat, “What about you, huh? How does it feel knowing you just took the virginity of the country’s best athlete?”

Harry laughed, squeezing the back of Louis’s neck.

“Big talk for someone who thinks they still can’t win the Grand Prix,” he said, earning a short squawk from Louis, “But I’m not thinking of it like that,”

“Yeah? How are you thinking of it, then?”

“I’m thinking that I just got to sleep with someone I really like, and that I’ve liked for awhile, and that it went pretty well,” Harry said, “That’s how I’m thinking of it,”

“God, why do you have to ruin a perfectly good moment being a fucking sap?” Louis groaned, but he still collapsed back into Harry’s chest, huddling tightly into him.

Eventually, Harry’s knot went down enough for Harry to pull out, and Louis rolled weakly off him as the other man shifted on the bed.

“Going to get something to clean you up,” he murmured, pressing a finger into Louis’s cheek. He weakly batted Harry’s hand away, and then curled back up on his damp, wrinkled sheets, watching as Harry walked into the bathroom. He returned a few minutes later with a damp flannel and crouched next to Louis on the bed, scrubbing it through his hair before rubbing down his stomach, his thighs, and between his cheeks. He hummed softly while he worked, like he was doing the dishes or checking his email, and Louis closed his eyes, listening to the deep sound.

“Sleepy?” Harry asked, and Louis opened his eyes, smiling.

“No,” he managed, “Just listening to you,”

“Sorry, was I humming? I do that sometimes,”

“Yeah. But I don’t mind,” Louis smiled and Harry returned the expression, folding up the flannel in his hand and leaning forward to kiss Louis’s cheek.

“Well, if you’re not tired, I have an idea,” he said, “You hungry?”

“Yeah, I could eat something,” Louis nodded, “I don’t have much, but there should be – “

But before he could finish, Harry was standing up, picking up his jeans from the floor, and getting his phone out of them. He pressed the screen as he sat down on the edge of the bed, squeezing Louis’s ankle gently as he held the phone up to his ear.

“Hi, yeah, delivery, please,” he murmured, “Sure, I can hold,”

“Are you…getting me pizza?” Louis asked, and Harry just smiled.

“Mm hm,” he nodded, “Promised, didn’t I?”

He looked away a moment later, speaking into the phone as the person on the other side of the line came back, and Louis watched his lips move, watched as he lifted a knuckle to rub his eye, all his movement careful and soft.

“One sec,” he said into the phone after a minute, and then pulled it away from his ear, “What do you want?”

Jesus, what a question.

“Anything,” Louis heard himself say, feeling his throat go tight away at Harry’s soft smile and the lingering grip on his ankle, “Anything at all,”

*******

Twenty minutes later, there was a knock at Louis’s door and he got out of bed and pulled his robe back on, insisting on answering and paying.

He wasn’t sure why the delivery man gave him such a strange look as he muttered, “Enjoy your food, Racer Tomlinson” until he caught a glance of himself in the front hallway mirror and saw Harry had failed to clean up a thick, white stripe of semen from the very center of his fringe.

He smacked Harry in the stomach with a pillow when he got back inside the room.

Chapter Text

When Louis woke up, the sun hit him directly in the face because he had forgotten to close his blinds to night before.

There was also an open box of cold pizza on his nightstand, his bum was sore, and there was a heavy arm thrown around his middle and a face buried into his shoulder.

Louis managed to twist his neck enough to glance down at where Harry had draped himself against Louis’s body. The hair that wasn’t splayed out over Louis’s own pillow had dropped down over Harry’s closed eyes, his nose was pressed into Louis’s neck, and his full mouth was half-open and wet. He also happened to be drooling.

Louis turned away and closed his eyes, breathing in and out slowly.

They had ended up staying up late the night before. Not doing anything…else, but just sitting, eating, talking. Harry had told him about his Christmas and Louis had told him about his birthday, and then they had tried to watch a movie, but Louis had started to yawn half way through figuring out what they wanted to watch, and Harry had insisted he go to sleep.

He opened his eyes again, blinking against the sunlight. Harry’s arm felt so heavy against his body, the soft hair on his forearm brushing against the top of Louis’s stomach, and he smelled so good, all soft and rich and mixed with the fading smell of the fabric softener Louis had washed his sheets with the week before. And he was still pressed so closely to Louis’s throat, nestled in there so perfectly it felt like he belonged there.

Louis wished he could stay there forever, or at least for the next several hours, but he really had to piss.

He dug his fingers underneath Harry’s arm, lifting it. The other man stirred and bit but didn’t wake up, and Louis shifted his body, pulling himself away. He padded to the bathroom and flicked the light on, rubbing his eyes against the burst of fluorescent light. He finished his business and then went to the sink, running his soap-covered hands under the hot water. Eventually, when all the suds had swirled down the drain, he lifted his head and blinked at himself in the mirror.

He didn’t know why he expected himself to look different. He didn’t. His hair was a mess, but it always was first thing in the morning. His eyes were watering with too much exposure to light and there was a wet patch on his shoulder from where Harry had drooled on him. He scoffed and wiped it off, and then his eyes dropped down, lower. There were a few small yellow patches on his hips, little dots that would turn into bruises eventually, in the shape of Harry’s fingertips.

He blinked and ran his fingers over them, the only physical thing he could see from last night, aside from the pain in his backside. They only hurt when he pressed down on one of them, and they clearly hadn’t hurt that badly the previous night for him to only notice them now. Still. They were there. Last night had happened.

He stepped back and leaned against the wall behind him, not caring that his shoulder dug sharply into a random towel holder behind him. His full body had come into view in front of him, he gazed steadily at the little clusters of bruises and his half-firm morning wood, at the pink coloring that was curling over his chest and his face as he thought back to everything that had happened.

Because it had happened. He had wanted it to happen. He had run out barefoot in a parking lot and begged Harry to stay when he was going to quit. He had driven him home. He had bought him coffee and invited him to his hotel room. He had let Harry kiss him. Twice. He had gone to his apartment and then let him come here. He had let him touch him. He had let him and wanted him. And now he was standing in his bathroom with a man in his bed in the next room, not sure of what to do next.

“Louis?”

He lifted his head and blinked, wondering if he had imagined it. But it came again, a few seconds later.

“Louis?”

Harry’s voice was deep and crackled like radio static, his accent full and lazy and latching tightly onto the “e” sound at the end of his name, but it was there, and it was real.

“Just a minute,” he called out, “Just…washing up,”

“’kay,” Harry’s voice came again, softer this time, and Louis exhaled.

He forced himself to walk forward and turned on the tap again, splashing water over his face until it dripped from his eyelashes, ran over his lips, clung to the edges of his fringe. He blindly grabbed for a washcloth and wiped the water away the best he could. Eventually he shut off the light and wandered back into his room, which suddenly didn’t feel like just his anymore.

Harry was lying face-down on the bed, his arm still stretched over where Louis had been lying before. He lifted his head off his pillow at the sound of Louis’s feet, and smiled lazily, before setting his cheek back down on the pillow beneath him.

“Good morning,” he murmured.

“You’re drooling,” Louis blurted out.

“Mm?” Harry wiped his hand roughly over his mouth and frowned, “Shit. That’s…shit,”

“S’okay,” Louis said, then shuffled his feet, “Did you sleep okay?”

“Yes,” Harry said, his eyebrows drawing in, “Are you alright, love?”

Louis swallowed thickly, and then smiled.

“M’alright. A little sore, s’all,”

Harry frowned, the ridges between his eyebrows growing deeper.

“Come here,” he whispered, rubbing his hand over the empty spot in the bed, where the shape of Louis’s body was still indented in the sheets. Louis’s feet moved forward, and he felt himself getting back into bed and moving into Harry, easily, without thinking. His smell hit him quickly, and he wasn’t sure whether or not it was his imagination or if it had gotten stronger in the few minutes he had been away.

Harry’s hand snaked down to grip at Louis’s waist, and his thumb stroked Louis’s hip, soft and repetitive.

“Where are you sore?”

Louis huffed, cuddling in closer to the base of Harry’s throat.

“Take a guess,”

“Ah. Right,” Harry laughed, and then his voice dimmed, and his hand kept stroking Louis’s skin, brushing close to the bruises he had left. Louis didn’t think he had noticed them yet.

“Do you want some aspirin?” he asked.

“I’ll manage, I’m sure,” Louis sighed, “Not as bad as I thought, really. Had worse pain from spending too much time training,”

“Still wish you didn’t hurt at all,” Harry murmured, moving himself closer to Louis, his open, wet lips mouthing over the heated skin on his shoulder. His arms pulled in tighter and Louis made a soft noise, wriggling against his touch, “Did you like it, though?”

“Did I like what? Last night?”

“Well…yeah,” Harry said slowly, “Like, what was good? What was bad? What do you want to do differently?”

“I don’t want to take a test, Harry, it’s too early in the morning,” Louis sighed, “Or is this one of your things? Do you have a Professor Styles fantasy? Do I need to fail your class? Do I need to do anything to pass, anything at all – “

“Stop,” Harry wheezed weakly, squeezing his hip, “Seriously, though, I want to know,”

“I’ve liked what you did so far,” Louis eventually said, “I’ll let you know if I don’t like anything else…going forward,”

“As long as you promise,” Harry said, squeezing Louis’s hip again.

“I promise,” Louis replied.  He lifted his chin up then, his lips pursed enough that Harry got the signal and lowered his mouth to meet Louis’s mouth.

When he pulled away Louis lifted his hand and brushed his fingers over the side of Harry’s face, pushing away the matted curls at his temples.

“I think I like when I get to wake up like this,” he admitted.

“Yeah?” Harry said, leaning into Louis’s hand. He blinked slowly, his eyes bright even though the rest of his face was soft with sleepiness.

“Uh huh,” Louis murmured, “I don’t know if you’ve picked up on this yet, Styles, but I like you a little bit,”

“Hm,” Harry pressed his lips together, “That’s unfortunate,”

“The hell are you talking about?”

“Well, the thing is, you like me…” Harry said, “But I like like you,”

Louis covered Harry’s face with his hand.

“Get the hell out of my apartment,”

Harry just laughed and grabbed Louis’s wrist, pulling his hand away from his face but bringing it up to his mouth to kiss it, and then he was rolling on top of Louis and pecking his lips again.

“What do you want to do today?” he said, “We can do anything at all. Anything you want,”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Louis huffed, “I’m perfectly happy right now,”

“Good,” Harry leaned in and kissed him again, dragging his hand down Louis’s torso as he did so, his palm sliding easily down the smooth, flat plane of his stomach, finally dragging his fingertips over the skin of Louis’s cock. Louis made a soft, aborted noise against Harry’s lips as he touched him, his fingers sliding down once over his length.

“You’re hard, love,” Harry murmured. 

“Yeah, no shit,” he rolled his eyes, “It’s morning and I have an alpha laying on top of me, that type of thing may happen,”

Harry nodded, but Louis could already see his face shifting, the color of his eyes deepening, and he narrowed his eyes.

“I’m still sore, Styles, don’t get any ideas,”

“I know, I know,” Harry shook his head. After a moment Harry shifted his lips down, laying kisses down the slope of Louis’s neck, making Louis close his eyes and sigh.

“Turn over,” Harry murmured after he reached the base of Louis’s neck, moving to kiss the soft slope of the edge of his collarbone, “Wanna do something,”

“Mm, what kind of something?”

“A surprise kind of something,” Harry said, laying another to his chest, right next to one of his pebbled nipples, “A kind of something you’ll like,”

“I see,” Louis murmured, and then finally turned over onto his stomach. Behind him, Harry made a soft, pleased little noise.

“Won’t make you any more sore, I promise,” Harry said, “You’ll let me know if I hurt you, right?”

“Of course I will,” Louis returned, then glanced over his shoulder, “Can I have a hint to my something?”

Harry flicked his eyes up. In the bright light, they looked copper-gold, dark and yet still brilliant.

“Remember how I wanted to blow you in Greece?” he asked, “This is what I wanted to do after that,”

He placed a hand on each of Louis’s cheeks and spread them apart, his breath still and even. His thumb pushed out, stroking over the rim of Louis’s hole. He inhaled sharply, and Harry’s breath matched his.

“Did that hurt?”

“Mm, a little,” Louis sighed, “I’m okay, though. Felt nice more than it hurt,”

He felt something warm and wet prodding at him, and he gasped out, realizing in the same moment that it was Harry’s tongue.

The warmth and touch was gone in another moment and then there was just Harry’s voice and his steady hands on Louis’s hips.

“How about that?”

“I – yes,” he got out, before letting his head drop back onto the pillows, “Do that again,”

Harry made a gentle, resigned noise and then his tongue was pressed back against Louis’s hole, the tip of it prodding his entrance carefully, exploring. Louis’s hole was still sore from being stretched the previous night but he was wet enough that it was protected, and anytime Harry did prod a little too hard against his rim it only sent a pleasant little zip up his spine. The small jolt of pain made his lips part and a small gasp escaped him, making Harry echo the noises against him.

“So you wanted to eat me out in Greece, Styles?” Louis managed when Harry took a short break. He can feel Harry hovering over him, watching him, waiting, and he wanted to draw him in, “You wanted to do that while you still thought I was an alpha?”

“’Course I did,” Harry murmurs without hesitation, “Got such a pretty arse. Kind of arse anyone in their right mind would want to be buried in. Would’ve wanted to do this no matter what,”

Harry pressed against Louis’s hole with his fingertips and Louis exhaled sharply, slick pouring out of him easily.

“But this way, I get a treat,” Harry pressed his mouth to Louis’s entrance again and lapped, his mouth vibrating as he moaned.  

“Still can’t believe you taste so sweet,” he muttered, “Even better than I thought you would,”

Louis pushed back and Harry laughed. Louis felt the movement of his lips and the tremble of his voice before the sound even hit his ears.

“You like that?” he asked, pressing a kiss to Louis’s tailbone as Louis made a resigned noise, “Of course you do. Begging for it,”

Louis made a soft noise, a pleased little hum, and then Harry’s voice hardened a bit.

“Look back at me,” he said, “Want you to see how much I’m enjoying this,”

Louis turned his neck a bit so he could glance over his shoulder, enough he could get a small look at Harry. His long shoulders were sloped down and his eyes were dark and gleaming, his entire body looking coiled and ready.

Slowly, Harry lowered himself down, keeping his eyes on Louis, and opened his mouth, his tongue unspooling from his mouth as it came to nestle back between Louis’s cheeks, its warmth running through his whole body as it touched down.   

Louis kept his eyes on Harry, watching as his strong jaw worked, his closed eyes fluttering while his mess of tangled, thick curls bobbed and shifted as he moved. Slick flowed smoothly out from Louis, and Harry’s tongue lapped languidly, taking slow, careful attention to make sure everything was cleaned up. He made soft, resigned noises, which popped against Louis’s skin in between laps of his tongue.

Louis was already rock hard, his cock trapped between the crumpled sheets and his stomach, heated and hard and angry. He shifted his hips up, enough to bring his hand down to try to touch himself, but before he could, Harry had pulled away from him and was grabbing his wrist.

“What’re you doing?” he asked. His voice was still soft and syrup-slow, but there was no curiosity or teasing in his words, only a determined firmness.

“I – “ Louis looked back over his shoulder again and saw Harry over him, his fingers wrapped tightly around Louis’s wrist, his lips and chin glistening and his eyes dark, “Gotta get a pull in, love, m’aching here,”

Harry’s eyes shifted and he eventually pulled away Louis’s hand entirely.

“You don’t need to do that,”

Louis just blinked back at him, his hazy brain swimming, and Harry leaned down, pressing one hand to Louis’s forehead, pushing back his fringe.

“If you touch yourself, you’ll come. And I’m enjoying myself and I would like to keep enjoying myself,” Harry explained slowly, “You can hump the sheets if you want, to take the pressure off, but keep yourself in the same position,”

Louis just blinked, and then he saw Harry’s face soften, his voice drop.

“Baby,” he said gently, “Are you alright?”

“Huh?”

“Are you alright with not touching yourself while I eat you out?”

“Yeah,” he nodded, “Yeah, of course,”

“It won’t be so bad, I don’t think,” Harry said quickly, “S’your first time being rimmed. Enough stimulation, you should come just from that,”

“Yeah,” Louis said, the word slipping out before he could think of something better to say. Heat was rising in his face, making it hard for him to think. Judging by the way Harry brushed a thumb over his cheek, color was probably spreading to his face.

“Okay,” Harry eventually said, and then he pulled his hand away, putting it back on Louis’s hip, and ducked his head back down to go back to his work.

He prodded against Louis with the same firm, constant pressure as before, but now, Louis was acutely aware of the firmness of his hands on his hips, silently ordering him not to move, and the pressure of the soft sheets against his cock. He was already dripping, could feel wetness against his belly and in a small patch on the sheets, and eventually, he rolled his hips forward, just a bit, and collapsed his head against the pillows, noise escaping his throat freely as the rich cotton brushed against his cock.

“Good,” he heard Harry breath, the air hitting against Louis’s hole, “Good,”

Louis exhaled, long and hard, and then rolled his hips again, his cockhead catching even more roughly against the sheets. A little moan slipped out from between his lips and he covered his mouth with the base of his hand without even thinking about it.

“Uh uh,” Harry said thickly, and then a hand was around Louis’s wrist again, pulling his hand away, “Let me hear you. Always want to hear you,”

And then Harry’s words were gone, but his voice remained, reduced to a few soft, thick noises as he buried himself back between Louis’s cheeks, his tongue a constant, hot presence against him.

Louis had already started to blurt precome all over his sheets, and his swollen cock dragged over the wetness as Harry worked. His hands pushed hard on Louis, trying to get him to stay still, but it only made Louis want to shift more, to drag himself over the bed, looking for any sort of release. What he wouldn’t give to have Harry’s hand on him. Or his own, for that matter. Both of his hands were still free, spread out above his head with nothing binding them but…Harry didn’t want him to touch. So he wouldn’t.

He rolled his hips a few more times, but he felt heat pooling in his stomach, and he knew it wouldn’t be much longer, not with the fabric brushing against him and Harry prodding at him so earnestly.

“Ah,” he squeezed his eyes closed and pushed himself back, forcing Harry to lick at him harder, “Harry, Harry, please, I’m -- ”

“That’s it, baby,” Harry breathed, “Let go, Louis, let go,”

Ah,” Louis squawked, and then his felt his body curving forward, his cock twitching and spurting on the sheets, one final thick wave of slick trickling out against Harry’s mouth.

“Louis,” Harry breathed out, and before Louis could get a firm grasp on himself he was being flipped back onto his back and Harry was hovering over him, his face soft and open and his eyes going paler and brighter.

“Come here,” he whispered, and Louis easily lifted his head just enough for Harry’s bottom lip to brush his own, and then the other man was leaning into him, kissing him softly but with clear intention, his hands steady on both the back of Louis’s head and against his waist.

“Just look at you,” he whispered as he pulled away. He ran a hand down Louis’s cheek, grasping one side of his face firmly in one hand, “God damn shame no one got to touch you all those years. Make you feel good. Let you know how fucking perfect you are,”

“Ah,” he got out as Harry touched his lips to the soft, hollow part of his neck between his jaw and his throat, “You’re doing a good job now,”

Harry made a gentle noise, something soft and satisfied, and his lips fluttered over Louis’s neck one more time before they returned to his lips for a final peck. He smoothed his hand through his hair and then his eyes flicked down, and he frowned.

“What’s this?” he asked softly, and Louis looked down as Harry ran a hand over his bruised hip, which now had long, pink marks on them, too, from where Harry had freshly grabbed him.

“Oh,” he said, “That’s, ah, you’ve got a strong grip,”

Harry looked back up, his clear eyes clearly confused, and Louis cut in.

“It doesn’t hurt. Didn’t hurt then, even, dunno why I got them to be honest. I’m okay, Harry, I really am,”

Harry just shook his head and pressed his lips firmly to Louis’s forehead, enough to make him gasp softly and close his eyes.

“Never want to hurt you,” he said firmly, “Never, ever,”

“You didn’t,” Louis returned, “You aren’t,”

Louis blinked his eyes open in time to see Harry pulling away from him. He was still cradling Louis’s cheek, but his expression seemed to lighten a bit at Louis’s reassurance.

“Stay here,” Harry said, dragging a gentle hand through Louis’s hair, “I’ll make breakfast,”

“I, uh,” Louis swallowed, “I don’t have any food,”

“Then I’ll run out and get something,”

“No,” he said, a little too quickly, and grabbed onto both Harry’s wrists. He could pull away in a moment if he wanted to – Louis’s grip probably wasn’t as tight as he would have liked to think it was – but instead Harry stilled, and looked at him with careful, amused eyes, “Stay here. Stay with me,”

“One of us has to get food, baby,” Harry said, rubbing a hand up and down Louis’s stomach, “What’s going to happen when you get hungry, huh?”

“We have pizza,”

“Pizza isn’t breakfast,”

“Then you’ll go out later,” Louis said, “Not now. Not yet,”

Harry looked back at him easily, tucking his hand under his chin.

“Okay, love,”

*******

Louis eventually got sleepy again, at least enough to drop down for a quick nap. When he woke up Harry was gone, and he had left a scribbled note on the bedside table that he had run out to get food and that he’d be back soon. Louis rolled over and stayed in bed a little longer, with his nose pressed to the crumpled part of the sheets where Harry had laid a little while ago. When he finally got up, he stripped the bed completely, throwing the sheets in the washer and putting a new set on, and then went to take a shower.

By the time he got out, he could hear movement somewhere in his apartment, and when he wandered to his bedroom door and cracked it open, the air was thick with the smell of bread and eggs and food. He sighed, going back into the room. He considered not bothering to put anything on but eventually found a clean pair of trackies in his drawer and pulled him low over his otherwise bare hips, his fingers loosely doing the tie at his waist as he padded to the kitchen.

Once he came outside and wandered past the sun-drenched living room and into the kitchen, he saw Harry was at the stove, turning over something in a pan, wearing nothing but the same pair of briefs he had worn the previous night. He didn’t turn his head when Louis’s feet padded against the tile floor, but he did lift his arm up as Louis came closer. Louis made a soft, resigned noise as he buried his head into Harry’s side, easily ducking into his embrace.

“Told you I’d be back soon,” Harry said.

Louis just sighed, closing his eyes. Harry’s voice had lost some of its early morning rasp but it was still gentle and deep, all his words smooth and careful and tumbling over each other in a gentle, endless wave. Louis’s nostrils flared, filling with his scent, and he burrowed in closer.

“Mm, yeah. Didn’t bother to get dressed in that time, I see,”

“I don’t have any clothes aside from the ones I came over in,” Harry said, “I would’ve gone back to mine to get some while I was out, but…I didn’t want to keep you waiting,”

“How thoughtful,” Louis sighed, wrapping his arms tightly around Harry’s waist, “Please never go pick up your clothes again,”

Harry just shook his head.

“Go sit down. I put some tea on, I’ll pour you a cup,”

Louis made a small noise of protest but eventually let go and sat down at one of the stools on the counter, resigning himself to watching Harry work. He looked so natural in the kitchen, lifting up Louis’s ceramic tea kettle and shifting the handle of his frying pan that it almost startled Louis to see Harry open one or two drawers before he finally found the one that contained the silverware, to rifle through different cabinets until he located the one stacked to the brim with stained mugs. It was strange to remember that Harry hadn’t always been there.

In a moment, Harry turned around, and he put a mug in front of Louis and a plate stacked with eggs and grease-soaked potatoes, giving Louis a cautious, wide-eyed look.

“I don’t know what you like in your omelets usually,” Harry says eventually, “Do you even want omelets? I can make something else, I bought lots of stuff – “

“It’s great,” Louis interrupted, pulling the plate closer to him, “Can, uh – can you get me the milk from the fridge?”

“Yeah, of course,” Harry said, and in another moment, there was a carton of milk in front of Louis, the organic kind with a grinning cartoon cow on the cardboard. Louis poured the milk into his tea and stirred it a bit, and soon enough Harry was coming to sit next to him, carrying his own plate and mug.  

“How much did all the groceries cost you?” Louis asked as he finished stirring his tea, banging his spoon against the rim to flick off the extra droplets of tea, “I’ll pay you back,”

“You don’t – “

“Harry,” Louis cut in, “I don’t know if you know this, but there are people who are stupid enough to pay me a lot of money to race bikes. I am paying for you back for buying me groceries. It’s fine. I don’t mind,”

Harry opened his mouth to say something, but Louis pressed a finger to his lips before he could.

“No. Shh. It’s done,”

“But – “

“No. Shhhhh, journalism is dead, Harry, someone has to support us,”

Harry opened his mouth and fake-nipped at Louis’s finger, his teeth clicking together as he grinned at the way Louis yanked his hand back.

“Eat your eggs and stop insulting my profession,”

Louis huffed and went to his food, everything tasting of salt and grease and heat and weighing heavy in his bones. The sun rose higher through the windows and washed over the kitchen, glinting off the pale counters and floor and walls. The smell of coffee curling from Harry’s mug softened as the liquid cooled. By the time Louis had gotten to the end of his plate, Harry had been looking at him for a while, so he slowly extended his foot, dragging it against Harry’s bare ankle.

“What’s up?” he asked, “You’re examining me again,”

“Ah,” Harry said, shifting his foot to push closer into Louis’s touch, “There’s kind of something I wanted to give you,”

“Alright,” Louis said, reaching for his plate to grab a lone piece of leftover toast, “I like presents, give it here,”

“Okay, ah, one second,” Harry said. He stood up from his stool, reaching far over the counter until he fingers latched onto a folded-up piece of paper that was sitting on the edge of the countertop. He eased himself back down onto his seat and then offered it to Louis, the paper shaking slightly, and Louis took it, his fingers unfolding it immediately.

“What’s this, then?”

“A worksheet,” Harry said, “I made it. I mean, I borrowed the paper from your office, I hope you don’t mind,”

“No, that’s alright,” Louis squinted at his name and racing title in thick, flowery font at the top of the page, “Huh. I forgot I had stationary,”

“Read the worksheet,” Harry said urgently, then tacked on a quick, “Please?”

“Alright, alright,” Louis rolled his eyes and smoothed down the edge of the paper, scanning it over.

He had to stop after the first few words and pick up his mug. This was something he needed tea with.

“Harry, what is this?” he asked, lifting his mug up to his mouth. He regarded the other man over the edge as he drank.

“I told you, it’s a worksheet,” Harry said, ducking his head, “I just – I want to know what you like,”

“I can see that,” Louis said, turning his gaze back down to the paper.

Harry had written Louis Questions across the top of the page, and a list of questions below that, most of them fairly straightforward. What have we done (sexually and romantically) that you enjoy? What things would you like to experiment with? Is there anything you feel strongly against doing?

Louis already knew he wasn’t going to be answering any of them now, while Harry was staring at him nervously. He set the paper down and held his mug in both hands, looking straight at Harry as he took a sip.

“You’re really into this, aren’t you?” he asked, and Harry just shrugged.

“It’s a habit I picked up,”

“Mm,” Louis hummed, tapping the edges of his mug with his fingernails, “Picked up from where?”

Harry looked up and rubbed his bottom lip, tugging it between his fingers.

“I don’t…um, it’s a little weird, I guess,”

“You’re a little weird. I’m a little weird. Just tell me,”

“Alright,” Harry huffed, letting his fingers drop from his lip, which had gone red and swollen from his own touch, “So, uh, when I was in uni, a friend of mine and I would do BDSM work together when we were both in between relationships,” he flicked his eyes up, “Do you, uh, do you know what that means?”

“That’s just bondage, innit?”

“I mean, kind of,” Harry was pulling on his lip again, “But…it’s more about control. Wanting to receive it or wanting to give it. And because control can be intense, that sort of thing relies on communication. So. Um. I learned…how to listen. And how to ask questions,”

He stared back at Louis, his lip swollen and twisted between his fingers, and eventually Louis sighed and lifted his hand to set it on Harry’s hand, pulling it away from his mouth. He knotted their fingers together and Harry looked down at their interlaced fingers.

“Does that freak you out?” Harry asked, “That I did stuff like that?”

“No,” Louis said quickly, “I don’t – I don’t really think that matters to me, to be honest. What you used to do,”

“Okay, good. Because I’m not telling you this to force you to do that kind of thing. I don’t need BDSM to have a good sex life. I’m just telling you so that you understand why learning about you is so important to me,”

Louis blinked, looking back at Harry. Harry looked back steadily, a soft, unsure smile rising over his lips. He squeezed Louis’s hand, and Louis squeezed back without thinking twice.

“I don’t know if you’ve figured this out yet, but this still isn’t a one-off for me. I want to keep doing this, and I want to make this work,” Harry said, “So, I don’t know…if the worksheet’s weird we’ll do something else. I just thought it would be a starting point,”

Louis just stared at him for what felt like too long and yet certainly not enough time. He sitting on a bar stool across from Louis, his lanky, big body curled in on itself, his eyes and mouth nervous, so afraid of Louis still, so afraid of not being enough, of being too much, as if Louis would ever let someone so soft and so kind and so goddamn lovely slip away from him that easily.

“I can’t fill this out,” he eventually said, and Harry’s eyes went wide and worried.

“Why not?”

“Because you don’t give me a pen, you prick,”

Harry’s eyes stayed wide and then he laughed, startled and breathy and shaped like the word “Oh” and before Louis can say anything else Harry was getting up, his feet tripping over the slick tile as he tries to get to the the other side of the counter in search of a pen, and no, it wasn’t going to be easy for Harry to get away from him.

*******

Louis took his time filling out the worksheet, partly because Harry got nervous when he saw him working on it and Louis would rather see Harry doing anything else than being nervous. Of course, that also meant they didn’t do anything physical for the rest of the day, but honestly, Louis was sleepy, and after his long drive from the day before he was okay with resting.

At one point he finally made Harry leave the apartment for a little while, so he can go back to his apartment and get his clothes and his toothbrush and the painkillers for his knee, and so Louis could make himself a pot of tea, put on his favorite bathrobe and fill out the worksheet in peace.

He spent too long taking in the slope of Harry’s letter, careful and well-formed, unlike his handwriting in the margins of Cross, and Louis tried to picture the words on the paper coming out of his mouth, to see if it makes the whole thing a little easier.

“What do you like, Louis?” he fit the words into the steady cadence of Harry’s voice, into the movement of his lips, placed it in rhythm with the way his hand would move over Louis’s chest, tucking around his neck.

“You,” he could picture himself saying. He placed his hand on his own lips to make sure he wasn’t saying the word out loud, even though the apartment was empty.

Harry would smile. His hand would go lower, maybe go under Louis’s chin.

“What do you want me to do to you?”

“Everything,”

 

Louis gripped his pen harder, took a sip of his tea, and turned the sheet over, skimming over the list of words and terms Harry had written on the back to help him. It was nothing out of the ordinary. Most of the terms weren’t even related to sex, things like spooning and cuddling and pet names.

He flipped the sheet back over and tried to fill out the answers. All the minimal things they had done had been great. He wanted to do that more. He knew that. He wanted to expand on that, though. He eventually was able to write down a few things, at least what he could wrap his head around.

The answers had only been completed for about fifteen minutes when he heard the door click – he had already told Harry he would leave the door unlocked for him -- and he kept his pen tucked between his teeth as he looked up to see Harry walking into the room, carrying a small duffel bag.

“Hi,” Louis said.

“Hello,” Harry smiled, then flicked his eyes to the paper on the coffee table, his eyes shifting, “Did you fill it out?”

“Go put your things in my room,” Louis said instead, untucking the pen from his mouth, “And go get yourself some dinner, I ordered Thai,”

“I just bought you two hundred pounds’ worth of groceries,”

“And I ordered food. Go eat it,”

He heard Harry sigh, and a moment later he was padding back through the living room in a hoodie and jeans and bare feet. Another moment later he was back with a bowl of spicy noodles, and sat down next to Louis, who had already grabbed the list, holding it tightly to his chest.

“I’m afraid it’s not…” he sighed, “As in depth as you would have liked it,”

“That’s okay,” Harry shrugged, “I know there’s not much for you to go off of, but I wanted to do this early,”

“Well, here you are, then,” Louis handed the sheet over, and Harry took it cautiously, like it was something precious and yet dangerous.

Harry sat, examining the sheet front and back, keeping one hand on the back of Louis’s head, playing absentmindedly with the long hair that had started to curl at the base of his neck. He needed to get a haircut before he went back to training. But. He was okay with it now. It meant he could lean his head further into Harry’s touch and the other man would keep touching him.

“Okay,” Harry said after a minute, looking at Louis, “I think this is a start,”

“Yeah?” Louis asked. He leaned further into Harry’s touch and Harry tugged on his hair a bit harder.

“Mm hm,” he nodded, “I mean, it’s not much, but…we have time to figure things out. Add things on and all,”

His eyebrows creased as he focused on the list.

“So, you like oral, anal sex, rim – “

“I know what I wrote,” Louis cut in, and Harry just nodded, looking back at the list.

“You put two question marks after ‘rough sex’ on things you wanted to try,” he pointed out.

“Yes, I know,”

“What does that mean, exactly, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“It means I’m interested, I just don’t know what that would look like,”

“Okay, fair enough,” Harry nodded, “Like I said, we have time to figure that out. When you want to try it, we can talk about it,”

“Right,” Louis murmured, nodding. Harry’s fingers twisted into his hair and his lips twitched a bit as he looked at Louis.

“Is there anything you were wondering?” he asked, “Anything that would make this easier for you?”

Louis blinked and looked up into Harry’s steady gaze, and he felt his throat get a bit tight.

“How many people have you been with?” Louis blurted out.

Harry just smiled easily, like the question didn’t even surprise him, “Altogether or long term?”

“Both,”

“Hm,” he pressed his lips together and tilted his head, “Twelve altogether, other than this. Four of them were long term,”

“That’s it?”

“Mm,” Harry nodded, “The friend I mentioned from uni, I count him as a relationship, I guess, even though we never technically dated. My first boyfriend in sixth form. Then two long-term uni boyfriends. And all the others are hook ups or people I went out with a few times but fizzled out eventually,” he leaned forward, pecking his lips to Louis’s temple, “And then you. My lucky thirteen,”

Louis closed his eyes, leaning easily into the touch, and then opened his eyes again, blinking up at Harry.

“How many of them did you...do things with?”

“Things?” Harry chuckled, “What kind of things?”

“Like…things,” he huffed.

Harry shook his head, still smiling easily “I’ve had sex with ten out of the twelve men I’ve dated. But if you’re wondering about kink stuff, just two. My friend and then a guy I met in a specialty club about a year ago,”

“Okay,” Louis nodded, swallowing, “Okay,”

He kept his eyes closed.

“I, um. I had – three. I think,” he said eventually.

“Three?” Harry asked. His voice was careful, and Louis nodded.

“Yeah, three people. My first kiss when I was fourteen, with a girl, before I sorted myself out. And then my first boyfriend a year later. The one I broke up when I got tested,” he opened his eyes, “And you. But. You know how many of those I’ve done…things with,”

Harry frowned, running his fingers through Louis’s hair.

“Louis,” he said softly, “Are you worried about how much experience you have?”

“Can’t really worry about it if I have none, eh?” Louis laughed, but it fell short. Harry frowned more.

“I’m far from the most experienced person in the world, Louis. And I don’t care what you’ve done and what you haven’t done,”

 Louis just blinked, shaking his head.

“I’m sorry there’s so much…that I haven’t done,”

“That doesn’t matter to me,” Harry said firmly, “That is never going to matter to me,”

He reached up with his free hand, the one not locked around the back of Louis’s neck, and stroked his cheek in short, steady strokes.

“Kiss me,” he said softly, “Haven’t kissed you in hours, I’m going mad,”

Louis wanted to bite out something smart, but Harry was looking at him so earnestly that he easily closed his eyes and leaned in, brushing their lips softly together, barely touching. Harry pushed further into, making their lips meet fully, and Louis lifted his hands, pressing them to Harry’s chest, softly digging his fingertips into the over-washed fabric of his hoodie. Harry’s scent flooded through his nose and into his brain, making everything soft and warm, and Louis pulled away, instead nudging his nose against Harry’s neck.

“Can we do something now?” he asked, and Harry just laughed softly, carding his fingers through Louis’s hair.

“Of course we can,” he said, “What did you have in mind,”

“Can I suck you off?” Louis blurted out. He licked his lips and then looked up to see Harry staring back at him, his eyes wide and dark.

“Oh. Uh. Of course you can,” Harry nodded, “I – fuck, I’d really like that,”

Louis nodded, Harry’s fingers still firmly slotted in his hair.

“Have you ever – “

“No,”

“Right,” Harry laughed and shook his head, “It’s actually not too complicated. It’s hard to fuck up a blowjob as long as you watch your teeth,”

“I guess,” Louis swallowed.

Harry just shook his head, pushing against Louis’s shoulder to make him move back.

“Here,” he said gently. Louis crawled away and watched Harry unbutton his jeans and push some of the material down, and then untuck his cock from his briefs. He was still mostly soft but Harry held himself firmly in one hand and moved his palm up and down, until the length was a bit firmer.

“Do you want to start or should I pump more?”

“I can start,” Louis decided, his mouth moving faster than his brain. But he could do this. He was an adult. An adult who had never sucked dick before…but, an adult.

“Okay, come closer,”

Louis moved down up and Harry held his hand gently in Louis’s hair again, watching him carefully. Louis glanced up at him once, swallowed, and looked down at his cock, finally moving towards it. Louis enveloped his lips around the thick end of Harry’s cock, pursing his lips slightly. It hurt to keep his lips tucked over his teeth tightly but if he kept his mouth wide enough, he could still do it.

He wasn’t sure exactly what to do but he pushed his tongue against the thick head, and that made Harry go “Mm” so he figured that was good enough. He kept pushing with his tongue, and then pushed it in a little deeper, so Harry’s head rested closer to the middle of his tongue, part of his shaft resting against the edge of his lips.

“Louis,” Harry said, and he felt the other man taking his hand, guiding him to the base of his cock, “Here. Touch me here, baby,”

Louis wrapped his hand around the base of Harry’s cock and gave it a few loose pumps, then relaxed his fist and instead slid his open palm up and down the skin, keeping his mouth tight on him at the same time. Eventually, he started moving again, suckling more of Harry’s length into his mouth.

“Look up at me, baby,” the other man’s voice cut in. Louis flicked his eyes up and his throat bobbed hard when he saw Harry, his face flushed and his chest moving steadily.

“God, just look at you,” the other man let out, “So gorgeous, making me feel so good,”

Louis’s cheeks blazed and this time, it made Harry smile.

“Can you try to go a little deeper for me? Just a bit?”

Louis would probably do just about anything for Harry at that point, but of course he couldn’t say that. So he just slid his mouth further down Harry’s cock.

“Oh, that’s good, Louis,” Harry breathed, “That’s so good. You’re so good. My good boy, yeah?”

Louis made a soft noise, muffled by his full mouth, and he moved up and down his dick.

“Pull off a minute. Lick my tip. Just the tip,”

Louis looked up at him, his tongue flicking out to lick up the pearls bubbling out of his cock.

“Little kitten licks from my kitten,” he murmured, and Louis felt his entire body go as hot as his face. He had never been called any sort of pet name before. But he had a feeling he would like anything that came out of Harry’s mouth.

Speaking of which. Harry was still talking.

“Acting so shy like you couldn’t do it,” he was saying, his hand twisting tightly in Louis’s hair, “Natural at it, Louis. You like it?”

Louis could only make a muffled noise in response, but that seemed perfectly satisfying for Harry, who gripped his hair tighter. Louis ducked his head a bit, his scalp smarting as Harry pulled on him, his cock driving deeper into his mouth. He tightened his lips around the skin and his teeth bit into the edges of his mouth, his eyes steadily watering.

“Louis,” Harry got out, and then he was grabbing his hand, “Touch me here again, baby, please,”

Louis set his hand back on the base of Harry’s cock, stroking the warm, veiny skin, but Harry’s hand put him lower, until his fingers were cradling his balls. Louis’s eyes widened and stilled, but Harry just gripped his fingers tighter on his wrist.

“Do you want to take a break?”

Louis shook his head, and Harry chuckled.

“Pull – fuck, pull off, love, just lick me again. As much as you want. Just look at me while you do it,”

Louis pulled off Harry’s cock, keeping his hand in place, and gasped, taking in the breath he had previously been robbed of. Harry’s dick was deep red and so hard, his tip leaking and pearly with shine. Louis leaned forward and lapped at the tip, rotating his tongue around until his cockhead was nearly clean, and then put his whole mouth over him again, just on the swollen tip.

“Louis, I said look up,”

Louis jolted at the firmness of Harry’s voice, but when he flicked his eyes up he saw only wide eyes and flushed cheeks, watching him carefully but in awe.

“Good,” he breathed out, “More,”

Louis felt a small blurt of pre-come burst over his tongue and then he was pulling off again, this time licking a thick stripe from the very base of Harry’s cock to the very edge again, squeezing his balls behind his fingers. Harry whined.

“I’m gonna come soon, Louis, pull off,”

Louis blinked and pulled off so quickly his mouth was dribbling, and he sat down on his heels, wiping both hands over his mouth. Harry’s cock was in his own hand now and he was stroking with purpose, and then Harry was crying out, his body tilting, and Louis watched as Harry painted the edge of his hoodie and his jeans white, his come dripping onto the upholstery.

They both just stared down at Harry’s wet stomach for a while, both of them panting, and finally Harry broke the silence.

“I think ruined your couch,” he blurted out, and Louis laughed.

“It’ll come out,” he said, then scrunched his eyebrows together “Maybe,” 

His voice cracked a bit on the word and he held his hands against his throat, closing his eyes.

“Oh, Louis,” Harry whispered, and a hand was on his cheek, “Does your throat hurt?”

He nodded.

“I keep making you hurt, baby, I’m sorry,”

Don’t be. Louis wanted to say, I love when you make me hurt. When you make me feel.

 

He blinked. He had stopped being able to keep track of his own thoughts.

“I’m going to go clean myself up and get you something to drink,” Harry said, already pulling himself up. Louis grabbed his hand before he could go, and Harry just stared down at him expectedly.

“Tea,” Louis managed, “There’s some still on the stovetop,”

Harry nodded, “Okay,”

Louis stayed back on his heels as he watched Harry go into the kitchen. Harry was back soon, stripped of everything but his briefs, carrying a wet towel to clean up the couch and a mug of tea with extra honey for Louis. Louis took the cup eagerly and watched Harry closely as he mopped up the stains on the couch, and then sat back down on the opposite end of the couch, wrapping an arm around Louis’s shoulders. Part of Louis’s robe had slipped away, leaving his shoulders bare, and he sighed at the way Harry’s bare skin met his own, at the way Harry leaned in to kiss the top of his head.

“Was that alright?”

“I could get used to it,” Louis’s voice was still raw and he lifted his mug to his mouth, taking a long sip, feeling the heat and sweetness wash over his throat. He leaned closer, then, nudging Harry’s shoulder, “Harry?”

“Yes, love?”

“My bum’s not that sore anymore,” he said, “If you’d like to do something else,”

*******

The next three days slipped by quickly, and yet moved honey slow. Louis woke up every morning to Harry next to him, and they stayed there as long as they could, which most days was nearly all day. Still, though, they fell into a schedule.

In the mornings Harry would get up and stretch on the bedroom floor, usually to work the kinks out of his back and his bad knee. He played music off his phone while he made himself breakfast and brought Louis a bowl of cereal to eat in bed, and Louis poorly pretended like he hadn’t seen the stretching or heard the music.

Every noon Harry forced them to get out of bed, and Louis sat cross-legged on the countertop while Harry made them lunch; grilled sandwiches and stir-fry and noodles, his hands carefully chopping out vegetables and stirring sauces, only pausing when Louis caught his shoulder and tilted his chin up into a kiss. They ate in the kitchen, Louis still sitting on the counter while Harry stood across from him.

In the evenings, they laid on the couch or on the carpet of the living room and put the TV on in the background, although they rarely ever watched it, instead Louis would lift up the edge of Harry’s t-shirt and kiss and drag his fingertips over the band of pale skin over his waistband while Harry read a book or jotted something down in his notebook.

Every instance they could in between, Harry prodded Louis with his tongue and his fingers, lifted his chin to kiss his throat, pressed lazy kisses and scratchy words into his skin, knotted him over and over again. And after every time, while Harry was wiping away the sweat and slick and come with a flannel, he asked Louis how he was, if he liked it, if he wanted to do something like that again. He had already folded Louis’s original worksheet in the pages of his notebook, and Louis sometimes saw him jotting down notes on the same paper, updates and questions and observations. Louis never teased him about it. He couldn’t. Not when he still heard the nerves in Harry’s voice if he asked if he was okay, felt the unsure shiver and shake of his fingertips when he touched him.

It felt natural, like they had always done things like that, and they always would.

On the evening of New Year’s Eve, their last day, Louis was lying on his back, wearing a pair of silky track shorts and letting Harry rub his feet. All the curtains were open despite the fact it was inky black out, and the TV on at low volume, some generic nature documentary he couldn’t remember why he had turned on. The air smelled like sugar and chocolate, since they had made shitty box-mix brownies early that afternoon for no reason other than Harry had gotten a box and they had wanted to.

Louis felt pliant and warm, and he looked at Harry through his eyelashes as they laid on the couch. Harry was just wearing a bright of briefs, bright red and embroidered with white stripes, which Louis probably would have teased him for if he had any energy left in his body. His curls were thick with the humidity of Louis’s heating system, wrapping around his ears and his forehead, and Louis wished he could sit up so he could touch it.

“Why did you cut your hair?” he murmured.

Harry glanced up, keeping hands on Louis’s feet, and smiled.

“Hm?”

“Your hair,” Louis sighed, letting his head drop into the pillow behind him, “You had long hair in your Cross picture. But. You don’t now,”

“Oh,” Harry shrugged, kneading deeper in a part of Louis’s foot, “I don’t know, I guess I got tired of it. Like, I liked it, but it took so long to do. And it was so hot. I think I actually got it cut in the summer,”

“So. No special reason,”

“No,” Harry smiled, reaching up to drag his fingertips through the shortest pieces of hair near his ears, “Why? Should I grow it out again?”

“I don’t know,” Louis sighed, “And don’t stop rubbing my feet,”

“Sorry, sorry,” Harry chuckled, dropping his hand back down to Louis’s foot, “Why do you ask, anyways?”

“Dunno,” Louis admitted, “Guess I’m just wondering,”

“What are you wondering, exactly?”

“Things. About you,” Louis shrugged, smiling easily, “I’m glad you were here for the last few days. It’s been nice,”

“Yeah,” Harry said softly, mimicking his smile, “It has,”

“Will you be back?” Louis asked, “After this week, will you come back and see me?”

“I see you everyday, Louis,”

“Not at the track. Here,” Louis said, “When I’m home. You can be here. Whenever you’d like,”

Harry blinked, his hands dropping from Louis’s feet.

“Are you sure about that?”

“Yes,” Louis said, remembering how quiet his apartment was normally and wondering how he had gone so long living that way, “I am,”

Harry shook his head, and then crawled up Louis’s body.

“Louis,” he sighed, “Louis,”

He pressed his lips to Louis’s mouth, carefully, and Louis sighed into his mouth, reaching up to bury his fingers deeply into the waves of Harry’s hair.

“Your shorts are fucking ugly,” Louis said in between one kiss, and Harry just chuckled, burying the noise into Louis’s lips.

“Take them off then, love,”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Louis huffed, smacking his chest, “What time is it?”

“Ten-thirty,”

“Well then tell you what,” Louis titled his head, “If you think you can finish up whatever you have in mind in less than an hour and a half, go ahead. I don’t want to miss New Year’s and all,”

“Alright,” Harry agreed. He reached for the waistband of Louis’s shorts but Louis grabbed his wrists before he could.

“Promise you’ll come back,” he said, his voice going soft, “Promise I won’t be by myself for the rest of the season,”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Harry promised, “Not even after your season is over,”

“I don’t know where I’ll be after that,” Louis vaguely realized Harry’s hands were still ready to take his shorts off but he kept pushing forward.

“And I’m still not going anywhere,” Harry repeated, “Okay?”

Louis just blinked at him, and Harry shook his head.

“I’m making you a promise,” he said, “That I’ll be with you. We’ll work out the details later if we need to but for now, it’s still a promise,”

Louis eventually nodded and then lifted a hand, holding onto the side of Harry’s neck.

“Just take my shorts off,” Louis sighed before he could obsess too much over Harry’s words, “It’s too cliché to talk about the future of New Year’s,”

*******

At midnight, there were Fireworks were glittering all over London, all different colors. Red and blue over the central city, silver over Buckingham palace, a dozen and half small bursts of multicolor-light coming from neighborhood shows.

But Louis could barely pay attention, because there was an arm around his middle, the coolness of a champagne glass pressed to his bare belly, and a strong, heavy body leaning into him, a plush, smiling pair of lips pressing to his shoulder.

“Happy New Year,” Harry murmured, the words vibrating right up Louis’s neck, drilling into his skin. He wanted to get the sound of Harry’s voice tattooed on him, the cadence and pitch and the honey-thick drag his accent inked into his body, making their home right along with the bird on his forearm and the heart on his shoulder and the cursive on his chest.

“What’s going to happen to us this year, huh?” he wanted to ask, “Where will you and I be in a year? What will we be doing? What will we be feeling? Will we be happy? Will we be okay? Will you have kept your promise?”

But Louis’s head buzzed with sleepiness and champagne and the lingering, heavy drudges of sex and Harry’s smell, and he couldn’t get his mouth to form any of the right words, even if he wanted to.

He didn’t want to.

Another pop of fireworks burst over the city, green this time, the kind of green made in a tube, and Louis suddenly longed to turn around and see the gold-ringed color of Harry’s eyes, to feel the fullness of Harry’s mouth on his own.

But he felt so safe and pliant and warm in Harry’s arms, with his heartbeat pumping even against Louis’s shoulder blades, his lips moving on his skin, humming out something that would have been a pop song or a lullaby or anything in between.

As Louis closed his eyes, color clouding and bursting behind his eyelids as more fireworks went off, he realized he had all the time in the world to see Harry’s eyes, to taste his lips, to hold him and be held. 

*******

Harry left the morning of Louis’s scheduled heat, an hour before Niall was meant to come over. He stood in the doorway of the apartment for entirely too long, sporting the same outfit he had shown up in a few days ago, his shirt slightly more wrinkled. Louis stood in front of him, his feet safely inside his apartment and his arms outstretched towards Harry, fiddling with the thick wool collar on his winter coat.

“I’ll call you in a few hours,” Harry said eventually.

“Please do,” Louis returned. He eventually let his hands flatten against Harry’s chest, huffing, “I hate this,”

“Hate what?”

“That we have to do this,” he shook his head, “That you have to go back to work and can’t give them an excuse,”

“I have to go work so I can write about you, baby,” Harry murmured. He cupped his hand against Louis’s cheek, thumbing over his skin hard enough that Louis glanced up, “I get it, though. Wish I could help you this week,”

“It’s going to be so fucking boring without you here,” Louis blurted out, “Like, I won’t have weird music playing in the background. Or see you stretching on my floor. I won’t even have hot food,”

“Yes, you will. I put some leftovers in the fridge for you,” Harry said, then sighed, “I’m going to see you in about five days, you know that, right? And you can call me and text me,”

“I know,” Louis shook his head, “I know. I just…”

Harry raised his eyebrows.

“I’m always gonna want more of you,” Louis finished.

Harry’s eyes swam.

“I want that, too,” he admitted. He pressed his thumb to Louis’s lips, and he felt his mouth open so that more of him could touch Harry.

“I’ll call you in an hour,” Harry said, “And I’ll see you next week,”

Louis nodded and Harry let his thumb drop from his lips, and eventually he forced himself to move forward and give Harry a soft kiss on the mouth and to tug on the edge of his chauffeur’s cap, bringing it lower on Harry’s forehead. Then he steeled one hand against his door, ready to close it, and watched Harry leave back down the hallway as he reminded himself that he wasn’t losing anything, not permanently, even though all he wanted to do was call after him to come back.

*******

Harry called Louis, just like he had promised. He called many times, actually, but Louis didn’t bother picking up when he wasn’t lucid. The idea of just Harry’s voice felt empty having so much time with him physically there, able to touch him and look after him. So when they talked Louis just wanted Harry to talk about his day or something mundane, but nothing dirty.

That wasn’t to say Harry didn’t do his best to give Louis something to feed off of when he eventually fell back into heat. One morning Louis got a few picture texts from Harry: One showing Harry’s hand gripping his hard-on through the same pair of nearly-white sweatshirts, a distinctive wet spot on his thigh. In the next one he was bare, his cock semi-hard and leaking, hanging over the pulled-down waistband of his sweatpants. Then one of his cock fully hard and flushed, gripped in his ring-laden hand. And then one final picture in which his hand was now pressed to his chest, his stomach covered in milky white.

To Harry’s credit, those pictures did help get Louis off for at least a few hours. But he was still bored, and alone, having to get himself up on shaky legs to get food or water or flannels, and he just wished that his heat was something he could ignore and sleep through this time. But his body still needed to be satisfied, and Louis tried to fill in the gaps with memories of Harry and the silicone he kept in his drawer.

 

A few more months of the season. A few more months of coordinated heats alone.

Just another Louis was trying so hard not to think about for too long.

*******

For Louis, going back to the track was never hard.

Usually, leaving his family after the holidays was hard. His first heat of the year was hard. Getting back to his bike and his job, was not. And the Monday morning after his heat had faded, even though he felt worn out and mechanical as he walked across the parking lot of the training facility. He felt excited, ready to have something to do. He took long, heavy pulls of his coffee as he walked in the weak hope it would make the caffeine kick in faster, so his exhaustion would disappear and he could go do what he wanted to do.

Of course, if there was anything that made the walk to the back door of the facility better, it was the fact that there was nearly six feet of alpha waiting for him, dressed up in black jeans and a metallic blue and gold shirt.

“Morn – “ Harry started when Louis got closer, but before he could finish, Louis was lifting himself onto his toes, his fingers weakly brushing the side of Harry’s face, and kissing him. Or almost kissing him. Their lips met but Louis was too wiped to put any effort into it, to make the gesture anything other than a show of familiarity. He pulled away after a few seconds and wiped his hand over his sleep-sore eyes, digging into his pocket for his keys.

“We’re out of security camera line right now, before you freak out on me,” Louis sighed as he twisted the key, “And I forgot your coffee. I’m sorry,”

“It’s okay,” Harry murmured, his fingers moving up to touch his bottom lip, “I think you woke me up enough,”

“If that’s code for you’re horny, then that’s your fucking problem,” Louis said, giving the door knob a firm push as he put his keys back in his pocket. He heard Harry laughing softly behind him, the noise all air, and then his wrist was being grabbed and he was pulled back into Harry, and back underneath the nearest camera.

“I missed you,” Harry murmured, his lips moving to touch down on the top of Louis’s head.

“Yeah?” Louis returned, pushing his head up to meet him, “Those four days you had with me not enough? The week of phone calls after that not enough?”

“Neither of them were enough,” Harry sighed, pressing his nose deeper into Louis’s scalp, “Your hair smells good,”

“You’re weird,”

“It’s the only part of you that smells the same,” Harry clarified, “When you’re here and…not here,”

Harry’s fingers skimmed the base of his neck, missing the oil that was dotted there, but enough to make his point. Louis nodded, opening his eyes back up. They had been closed long enough that his vision sparked with blobs of dark light.

“I have to go to work,” he insisted, pulling away from Harry but still grabbing his nearest hand and squeezing it, feeling Harry’s rings press into his palm, “And so do you,”

“I hate working,” Harry murmured.

“Tough shit,” Louis scoffed, setting his hand back on the set of the keys he had left jammed in the door, “My form is probably a fucking mess from not practicing for so long, and I’m competing against fucking Roux and Chastain in three weeks. You’ll deal with working,”

Harry made a short noise behind him. Louis couldn’t tell if he was fond or exasperated.

“Yes, Racer Tomlinson,”

*******

Louis gave Harry a key to his apartment a few days later.

Mostly because he realized that he was going to be training non-stop in the coming months. He had five more races before the qualifiers for the Grand Prix were chosen – France, Belgium, home, Italy, and then home again – and he was extending his hours and training sessions to nearly all-day, making sure he was prepared.

So he gave Harry a key in case he wanted to come over, but Louis wouldn’t be home until much later.

Which was how Harry started going to his apartment a lot.

Never directly from practice. Always a delayed time later.

He didn’t stay over, though. He always stayed late, and usually they fucked in Louis’s bed, gently and carefully because Harry didn’t seem to want to touch that ‘rough sex??’ part of Louis’s worksheet yet. And he always found an excuse to leave at around midnight, saying he needed to pick up his notebook and his laptop at his apartment or some other excuse. Louis just nodded and tried to ignore the fact that they both knew it was because they couldn’t risk being seen riding into the facility in the mornings.

Still. He didn’t mind it. Not when he got to go home every other nights and find Harry sitting at his countertop, reading a book and wearing his glasses, or taking a nap on the couch, or making food that always seemed to be almost ready as soon as Louis walked in the door.

A few times, Louis started to talk about going back to Harry’s apartment, but Harry just shook his head.

“My neighbors are home a lot more than yours,” Harry said shrugged, “And they’d probably have a lot more to gain from selling some shit to the tabloids,”

The conversation ended there, even though Louis still genuinely missed Harry’s apartment, with its cramped corners and the beads over the doorway and the sticky windows that let in too much noise. Louis occasionally thought it would be nice to be able to go to Harry’s, or even to go outside when they were together, or to have Harry stay past midnight on a day they still had work the next morning.

But that would require a different world entirely. So Louis still went home at the end of the day, his body sore and his eyes burning with exhaustion, and took off his ribbon-adorned coat, and let Harry open his arms for him, and he let that be the only world he lived in for a little while.

*******

“Have I told you lately how much I fucking hate the pediatric ward?”

Louis snorted, shaking his head as he kicked his feet against the edge of the examination table. Niall was currently digging through his expensive black doctor’s bag whilst wearing a pair of purple scrubs printed with Fairly Oddparents designs and at least three blood stains on the front. His eyes were also bloodshot, which probably meant Niall had started sleeping in his contacts again because he didn’t have the extra thirty seconds every morning and night to take them out and put them back in.

Louis almost felt bad making him work more, but he needed to fit in his mid-season heath check-up, and Niall was most easily available in between his shifts at the hospital on Saturdays.  Of course, Louis easily could have gone to the doctors that were on the team’s payroll and had already gotten a medical degree, but it would have taken exactly one blood sample for them to find a gender make up that didn’t match the one of his documents.

So. They were both willing to make sacrifices.

“Let me tell about this one little fucker. He’s got exactly five teeth because he’s fucking six, but those five teeth bite down like a Rottweiler. I’m trying to give this asshole his potassium supplements, and he bites me like I’m trying to steal his animal crackers, or whatever the fuck kids care about these days,”

Niall wandered over with a thick wooden stick and grabbed Louis’s chin between his rubber glove-covered thumb and forefinger.

“Stick out your tongue and say ahh,” he sighed. Louis opened his mouth wide and wiggled his tongue, “Good god, don’t fucking do that,”

Niall flashed a light into his mouth and then removed the stick, tossing it in the bin. He then took the same light and flashed it into both Louis’s eyes, banged on his knees with a rubber mallet, and then grabbed his stethoscope and felt around Louis’s chest and back.

Once he was done, Niall strung his stethoscope back around his neck and picked up the clipboard he had left on the countertop.

“Well, you look pretty good, I’m just going to check over the blood tests we ran a couple weeks ago,”

“Alright,” Louis said, “You want to take that thing off your neck?”

“Absolutely not, this is what makes me feel official,” Niall said, readjusting his stethoscope pointedly. He flipped through a few pages and shoved his pen between his teeth as he read. Louis started swinging his feet back and forth again, banging his heels on the edge of the examining table behind him.

“Everything good?” Louis asked eventually.

Niall lifted his gaze, his pen still shoved between his teeth.

“Of course it’s all good,” he said after a minute, flipping through all the papers so quickly it was clear he was already familiar with the numbers and what they meant, “Everything’s the same as it’s always been. Only thing that’s a little different is – “ he flipped through a few more pages, finally stopping at one in particular, “Ah, your fertility levels spiked a little bit,”

Louis’s foot stopped swinging, hitting the table one last time with a clear, sharp bang.

“What was that?” he said. Niall looked back up, shoving his chewed-on pen back behind his ear.

“Your fertility’s up. Mostly in your outward mating pheromones, they’re pumping out a bit more than they normally would,” Niall said, “But that’s not uncommon. Especially not in older unmated omegas. Your body starts doing weird shit,”

“Are you telling me I’m old?”

“I’m saying you’re getting into an age your body considers old to not be mated,” Niall said, “Honestly, it’s not that much of a big deal. It’s natural. But are you having any weird symptoms? Irregular heartbeat? Untimely hot flashes? Your heats any more intense than usual?”

Louis swallowed, “I mean --  not that I can tell,”

“Well, then, you should be fine. I’ll see if I can tinker with your birth control dosage a little bit, though, if it really worries you,”

“That would be great,” Louis managed. He watched Niall take his pen out from behind his ear and scribble a note to himself at the bottom of one page, before he flipped over a few more sheets of paper and offered both his clipboard and pen to Louis.

“Okay, I think that’s about all I have for you. If you could please sign here to let the team know that your lovely privately contracted health professional is doing just fine, making sure you’re not dead and or doping, no need for complete strangers to meddle with your blood samples which would reveal information such a chemical balances related to secondary sex characteristics, so on, so forth – “

“I’m not using your nasty pen,” Louis cut in. Niall scoffed and retracted his pen, digging in his bag for a less destroyed one, which he threw at Louis’s head, “Yes, your highness,”

Louis caught the pen and scribbled his signature at the bottom of the patient approval page, then handed the papers back and pointedly threw the pen back at Niall’s head.

“You’re a bigger shit than the kid that keeps biting me,” Niall grumbled.

Louis laughed hollowly, gazing on as Niall filed away the paperwork in his bag.

“Niall, I have a question,” he said as he watched his friend close up his bag’s clasp.

“I’m still not dating anyone,”

“No, it’s not that,” Louis shook his head, “Like, when do you think fertility – would stop being an issue for me?”

“As in, when would you stop being fertile?” Niall shrugged, “Not my specialty, but I would guess not for a long while. Late forties, I’m guessing. Omegas lose that late,”

“Oh. Okay,” Louis agreed. He was back to kicking his feet, and Niall glanced down at his moving knees.

“Don’t tell me you’re freaking out about that,” Niall sighed, “If you want kids, you’ve got time to do that. You’ve got time to do whatever you want to do, as long as you’re careful. Right?”

“Of course you’re right,” Louis said a little too quickly.

The thing was, he hadn’t bothered thinking about having kids. Because best case scenario, kids involved having a mate and a stable life and not being in hiding for the rest of time, all things Louis had ruled out.

But. He was staring to think about how much of his life he had left after he left the team and the city. And, well…he had to fill that time somehow.

“Good,” Niall said, bringing him out of his thoughts, “Don’t run off and settle down with some strange alpha on me right now. I have a bet with my supervisor, he’s going to take me off the pediatric ward for good if you win the Grand Prix,”

Louis smiled tightly, his eyes falling on the bloodstains on Niall’s top. New guilt rolled through him, completely replacing his previous thoughts. He hadn’t really thought about the fact that Niall was still out of the loop of everything that was going on. He still assumed he was the only one who knew about Louis and that Harry was nothing more than an irritating, constant presence in both of their lives. That absolutely nothing to had ruined the delicate system they had developed after eight years of hiding things.

Maybe Louis should tell him what was happening.

Not now but…eventually.

Louis was still smiling tightly, and Niall was still looking at him, so eventually he forced himself to speak, pushing everything else aside.

“Well then how could I ever let you down,”

******

Louis got home from the track late one Friday night.

He had committed himself to a longer practice schedule than normal, starting at his usual early morning hours and staying until nearly eleven. He didn’t force Harry or even Niall to stay late with him anymore, but rather spent the last several hours of the day on his own, enjoying the silence and running through the motions until even the high speed of his bike wasn’t enough to keep him awake. The French race was on Monday, and Niall had ordered that he allow himself a weekend of rest after so many hours training, although he still had two yoga and gym sessions scheduled over the weekend.

He eventually dragged himself home at eleven, keying into his apartment by eleven-thirty. But when he got inside, he saw all the lights were on and the air smelled like the fading scent of food.

Louis took his jacket and boots off and then wandered a little further into the apartment, into the entrance of the living room. He could see Harry was sitting on the couch wit his laptop on his lap and his reading glasses on, his fingers moving swiftly over the keyboard. He had his headphones in and didn’t’ even look up when Louis came closer. It only when Louis jumped onto the couch and kissed the top of his head that he started, gasping and looking up.

“Hey,” he got out, pulling his earbuds out, “I – I was going to call you, see if you were on your way,”

“Well, I’m here now,” Louis said, smiling gently. He was exhausted, worn down to his core, but he felt a small surge of energy go through him as Harry closed his laptop and set it to the side, instead wrapping his arms tightly around Louis’s middle and burying his face into his stomach.

Louis shook his head, weaving his fingers through the curls at the back of Harry’s head.

“What you were doing?” Louis asked, “Writing about me?”

“Yes,” Harry admitted, his voice muffled into Louis’s shirt, the movement of his lips sending vibrations through his skin and his glasses digging into his stomach, “My editor cleared my schedule. You’re my one and only priority for the rest of the season unless something pressing comes up and I have to fill in,”

Louis hummed, closing his eyes.

“What are you writing about me, exactly?”

“I can’t tell you,”

“Why the hell not?”

“Because that’s called prior review and it’s not ethical,”

“Oh, that’s not ethical,” Louis huffed, “I see. And you haven’t already broken ethics rules on this story already,”

Harry snorted, “Be quiet,”

He pulled against Louis’s middle and Louis felt his knees buckle, his body falling more easily into Harry, until he was particularly in the other man’s lap.

“Harry,” he gasped, but Harry just pulled harder, until Louis felt himself falling sideways, onto the rest of the couch, with Harry still latched to him. He yelped and locked his fingers tighter around Harry’s shirt as they collapsed, side by side, on the couch, “Harry, Jesus fuck!”

Harry just laughed and crawled up to meet him, so they were face to face, and pressed an open kiss to Louis’s protesting mouth, until all his words were muffled and gone. Louis unlocked his fingers from Harry’s shoulders and instead moved up to his face, cradling his sharp jaw between his hands as he kept moving his lips.

He pulled away, blinking, and huffed.

“Take those fucking things off,” he said, pressing a finger to the pink and green bridge of Harry’s glasses.

“Why?” Harry asked, his lip pouting out, “You don’t like them?”

“Of course I like them, I’m just pissed that they’re ugly as shit and you still look good wearing them,”

Harry laughed and finally lifted one arm off Louis’s waist to pull his glasses off and set them on the arm of the couch, and then relaxed his arm back over Louis’s hip, his mouth latching onto the soft space on the underside of Louis’s chin.

Louis sighed and relaxed into the touch, his eyes closing. He pulled his hands up and laced them through Harry’s hair, his fingers slipping through the curls as Harry’s head moved down lower to kiss more of his neck, which Louis easily tilted his head back and bared for him.

“Harry,” Louis interrupted suddenly, blinking his eyes open, “I’ve been thinking,”

“Mm,” Harry murmured, pulling his lips off Louis’s throat and blinking, “About what?”

“About a few things,” he admitted, “Would you like to hear the serious thing or the less serious thing?”

Harry squeezed his hips softly, his eyes going wide.

“Louis, are you alright? Did something happen?”

“No, no, nothing happened. Nothing important, anyways,” he shook his head, “I’m okay. Just thinking. Like I said,”

“Okay,” Harry softly, “Tell whatever you’d like, then,”

“Shit, I didn’t want to make the decision,” Louis groaned. He considered telling Harry about what he had been thinking about Niall, but he couldn’t find the energy to say anything, “But fine. I guess…less serious. That’ll be easier, I think,”

“Okay,” 

“It’s about us, I guess,” he began, “Like, I’ve been thinking about you and your stupid worksheet,”

“Glad you liked it so much,”

“Oh, shush. Anyways, we talked then – about being rougher. You being rougher with me, I guess,” he said. Harry was silent, was he rushed on, “And – we haven’t really done anything like that yet. I mean, you’ve been a bit harsh verbally, and I like that, but – you haven’t been very hard physically. And I’m just wondering why, I guess. Since. You know. We both said we would like that,”

He stopped, and just looked back at Harry, whose face hadn’t changed at all, and he was about to force him to do something when he spoke.

“You – want me to do that? Still?”

“Well, yes,” Louis said, “Did you think I didn’t want to anymore?”

“I just – “ Harry blinked, “God, Louis, I never want to hurt you. And I left bruises on you when we were just starting out, what if I really hurt you?”

“I told you when it happened that those bruises were fine. I barely noticed you grabbing me that hard, and you didn’t do it again,” Louis insisted, “I trust you not to hurt me, Harry. Do you – “

He swallowed, taking in Harry’s face, “Do you not trust yourself?”

Harry just shook his head, just a bit but still enough.

“Oh, love,” Louis sighed, twisting his fingers tightly through Harry’s hair.

“I don’t know why I don’t,” Harry got out, “I’ve never – I’ve never hurt anyone, Louis, not unless it was controlled, not unless they wanted me to – “

“But I’m telling you I want that,” Louis insisted, “Right now, I’m telling you that. That I want you to hurt me a bit, push me around. Hey,”

He tugged sharply on Harry’s hair, enough to make the other man grunt sharply and stare straight into Louis’s eyes.

“I know I haven’t done anything like that before. But if I don’t like it, I tell you, we stop, we move on, I don’t hate you. It’s okay,” he said, and then repeated, softer, more to himself, “It’s okay,”

Harry took a deep breath and then buried himself into Louis’s chest, into the bare skin and downy hair revealed by his V-neck shirt.

“I’d give you everything,” he said softly, “Everything you want,” 

“Even this?”

“Especially this,” he sighed, “God, especially this,”

They laid in silence for a few more moments, and then Louis piped up.

“Hypothetically,” he said, “If we were to do anything rough, would I have to call you anything weird? Like sir or something?”

“Not unless you want to,” Harry chuckled. He looked up and tucked a rogue piece of hair behind Louis’s ear, then dragged his hand back down to hold his chin between his fingers, loosely, but firmly enough that Louis knew he didn’t want him to move, “Besides, I like when you say my name,”

“Do you?”

“Mm,” Harry agreed, “It’s intoxicating to hear you say my name,”

“Yeah?”

Louis pressed himself closer, tilting his head.

“Harry,” he whispered, and Harry gripped the back of his neck tightly as Louis leaned in, kissing him.

“Harry,” he repeated, this time closer to his ear, and he heard Harry exhale.

“That…that was a bit of hyperbole earlier,” he admitted, “But keep doing that,”

Louis shook his head and then blinked. He moved his hand from Harry’s hair and skated it down, down Harry’s chest, and then to the tented front of his joggers, squeezing him softly.

“You’ve gone and chubbed up on me, love,” he said, and Harry didn’t say anything, the only thing coming out of his lips was pure breath, “Why is that? Are you thinking about doing what we’ve been talking about?”

Again, Harry said nothing, and Louis sighed and let go of him.

“Harry,” Louis said firmly, warming his arms around Harry’s neck, “What would you like to do tonight?”

“Um,” he licked his lips, “Um,”

“Have I made you lose all your words, darling?” he asked, tilting his head.

Harry reached up, gripping the back of his neck, “Stop that,”

“Stop what, love?”

“Your – “ Harry shook his head, “Jesus, you’re putting on your act. Your Racer Tomlinson act. Telling me what to do, making me do whatever you want because you know I will,” he sighed and Leaned forward, catching his lips against Louis’s throat, “Going to make me lose my mind,”

“Well then make your mind up and I won’t make you lose it,”

Harry kissed the bottom of his throat again, “Take your clothes off for me. All of them,”

Louis nodded, “Yes, Harry,”

He pulled away from Harry and then climbed off the couch, watching carefully as the other man sat up properly on the couch. Louis reached for the bottom of his shirt but Harry shook his head, reaching out to touch Louis’s wrist.

“Go in the middle of the room,”

Louis nodded and backed up, his feet sliding over the carpet, until he was in the middle of the room. He reached for his shirt again, and pulled it off in one motion, letting it drop to the side. He dragged his fingers through his fringe, trying to fix it and smooth it into place, and he glanced up, looking at Harry on the couch, who was leaning forward, watching still. Harry ducked his gaze when he saw Louis looking at him.

“What’s wrong? Do you not want to do this?”

“Oh, I want to. I’m just never going to get used to you and your fucking staring,” Louis huffed, setting his hands on his hips, his fingers sliding over the waistband of his jeans, undoing the button. He peeled the tight material down his legs and after a few struggle-filled seconds he got them off and and tossed them to the side. Finally, he slid his pants down quickly and kicked them away to join the rest, leaving him bare.

Harry was quiet, and Louis just stood there, breathing, watching, suddenly wanting to cover himself somehow, even though he knew there was no point, not even Harry had seen everything so many times.

Eventually, Harry spoke.

“Get on your hands and knees,” he said, “Right where you on, down on the carpet,”

Louis exhaled. They’d never fucked outside of the bed or the couch before, and even that last one was rare. But he did it, first lowering himself onto his knees and then leaning forward, until his hands were supporting the top of his body, his chest parallel to the floor, his back straight.

He watched Harry’s feet pad from the couch to the front of him, and then after a brief moment the other man was moving behind him. He heard the soft sound of cotton clothing being pulled off, and then Harry’s hand was on his back.

“Do your knees hurt?” he asked, “From the carpet?”

“Mm,” Louis sighed, “A bit,”

“I’ll go get you a blanket,” Harry said quickly, “I’ll be back before you know it, just wait for me,”

Louis didn’t say anything, just let out around soft “Mm,” and closed his eyes, listening to the sound of Harry’s feet on the carpet until they receded down into the hallway, and then come back a few moments later.

“Sit back,” Harry’s voice said, and Louis opened his eyes and looked up to see Harry holding a thick white blanket in his arms. Louis sat back on his haunches and watched Harry spread the blanket out on the carpet before glancing back at him, “Move back now,”

Louis did, crawling forward to the very edge of the blanket. Harry moved behind him, and Louis glanced over his shoulder, watching as Harry leaned down to fold over a corner of the blanket before kneeling down, setting his bad knee on the folded area. He glanced up, seeing Louis watch him, and smiled softly.

“Get down on your elbows and lean forward,” he said, rubbing his hand over the back of Louis’s thigh, “Get your bum nice and high for me,”

Louis did, getting down on his elbows and then folding his arms, resting his head into his creased elbows as he arched his back, pushing his arse out.

“God, baby,” Harry breathed, setting both palms carefully on each cheek, “God,”

Louis breathed out carefully, closing his eyes and snuggling his cheek deeper into the blanket.

“What a pretty boy I get to have,” Harry said, leaning forward, pressing his lips to the very small of Louis’s back, “Do I get to have you?”

“Yes,” Louis sighed, “Yes, you can have me All of me. Whatever you want,”

His mouth out of time with his brain, his lips slow and sluggish and dreamy. He felt Harry lean forward, pressing his entire upper body over Louis’s back, brush his thumb over Louis’s lips. Louis closed his eyes and opened his mouth, letting Harry’s thumb slip over his tongue, his lips closing over it. The ring on Harry’s thumb clicked against Louis’s teeth and spread a thick metallic taste over his entire mouth.

“Louis,” Harry said, “Are you here with me?”

“Yes,” he sighed, around Harry’s thumb, “Yes, I’m right here,”

“Okay, good. It’s very important you stay with me, alright? Especially when things get a little rougher. If I ever think you’re not, I’m going to stop and take care of you. Understand?”

“Mm,” Louis hummed, pulling harder on Harry’s thumb.

“Do you want my thumb in your mouth?”

“Uh,” he hummed, sucking harder on the digit. Harry chuckled.

“Okay, love,” he said, “Whatever you want,”

Harry kept his thumb in place and let his other hand roam, tracing over the back of Louis’s knee up his thigh, his fingertips barely making contact, only making Louis’s skin prickle. He made it back up to Louis’s arse, rubbing his hand firmly under the curve of his cheek and then spread his fingers over the entire area. Louis’s still-open eyes fluttered, and he pushed back a bit, his eyes just beginning to close, his entire body feeling heavy and pleasantly warm.

And then Harry smacked his arse.

His eyes flew wide open and he gasped, his noises muffled by the digit still firmly in place against his tongue. It hadn’t been especially hard, the smack, but there had definitely been power behind it, and intent. His bum cheek smarted, the skin hot and stinging, and Louis moved his tongue over Harry’s thumb slowly as he tried to open up the rest of his mouth and breathe. Eventually, though, Harry removed his thumb and instead combed through Louis’s fringe with the same hand.

“Alright?” Harry asked, and Louis just took a shuddery breath in response.

“Didn’t – didn’t want to hurt me, alright, sure,” Louis huffed out, and then, quickly, “M’fine. Joking. Just – Jesus,”

He buried his cheek back into the blanket and Harry just chuckled, smoothing his hand back over Louis’s smarting cheek.

“You wanted me to be rough, love, ‘course I’m going to spank you a bit,” he said, and then shifted his hand to cup Louis’s cheek in his large palm, squeezing it as he leaned forward, his body pressing to Louis’s back so he could get his lips right by his ear, “Gonna do it more, now that I know how that fat arse of yours moves when I hit it,”

Louis whined, the noise high in his throat, and Harry made soft, cooing noises in his ear.

“Not now, though, love. Just gonna fuck you real nice,”

He lifted away from him, then, and Louis heard him shifting, probably to sit back on his haunches. Harry took one of his bum cheeks, the one that was wasn’t spanked, and pulled it, bringing his other hand to the wet rim of Louis’s hole. His fingers were lovely and long and careful, but Louis still whined again.

“Harry,” he gasped, “Want your tongue,”

“Don’t be greedy or you won’t get anything,” Harry scolded, giving his cheek a squeeze, “’Sides, just gonna open you up and then fuck you. You’d like my cock more than my tongue anyways, wouldn’t you?”

Louis’s entire face and chest felt hot and tight, and he closed his eyes, Harry’s voice ringing in his ears. His fingers were so careful as he prodded Louis’s rim, but his voice was so rough, and Louis’s bum was still stinging and – it all seemed so natural, so fluid, like Harry didn’t even have to think about any of this.

“Louis,” Harry said, and Louis blinked, surfacing back, “I asked you something,”

“Huh?” Louis blinked, and he heard Harry chuckle.

“I asked if you wanted my cock, love,”

“Oh,” he swallowed thickly, “Yes,”

“Ask for it, then,”

“Can – “

Without warning, Harry brought his hand down firmly on Louis’s unmarred cheek, making him shriek.

“You said no more of that!”

“It’s not a question of if you ‘can’ have anything. It’s if you ‘may’ have something. If I will give you something,” Harry said, “That second spank was for good reason,”

“For my fucking grammar?”

“Louis,” Harry said firmly.

“Fine,” he sighed, and then looked back again, batting his eyes, “May I have your cock, Harry?”

“Good boy. Yes, you may,” he sighed, “If you’re patient and let me open you up,”

Louis huffed and buried his face back down, but he couldn’t deny how hot he felt, or how when Harry went to tug his sore arse cheeks apart, a thick river of slick poured from his hole and dribbled straight onto the blanket.

“Oh, look at you,” Harry cooed, “Someone’s ready for me,”

“Just open me,” Louis said, his voice shaking. His fingers were already digging deeply into the blanket, “Open me right now,”

“What did I tell you about being greedy, love?”

“And what did you tell me about giving me anything I wanted?”

“What a smart boy you are,” Harry laughed, “Alright, darling, just a moment,”

He slipped one finger easily inside Louis, wiggling it around a bit. Louis was still dripping wet with slick and he pushed back easily into Harry’s touch, and he didn’t get much reprimand for it other than Harry’s careful hand on his hip, keeping him in place. Harry didn’t need to do much work, just slide a couple fingers in and out, steadily, because Louis’s body had already started to open up and prepare itself for what it wanted. Eventually Harry removed his fingers entirely from Louis, the movement causing another line of slick to dribble onto the blanket, and then he stood.

“I’m getting a condom,” he said, “I’ll be back,”

Louis started to whine but swallowed the noise back, keeping his head down. His body was hot and shaking, his entire bum was on fire, his cock hung thick and heavy and slightly dripping between his legs, and his hole was exposed to the cold air, open and dripping wet and in need of Harry to fill him up.

Eventually Harry came back, pausing in front of Louis. All Louis could see were his feet, his tattooed ankles at Louis’s eye level.

“Look at me,” Harry said softly, and Louis flicked his eyes up to see Harry over him, his body long and pale and lean, his long fingers turning over a silver condom packet, his cock hard and brilliant pink between his legs. He looked down at Louis with wide eyes and swallowed thickly, shaking his head until a thick, rogue curl fell into his eye.

“Jesus, Louis,” he sighed, “Should see yourself,”

Louis could only imagine what he looked like, his cheek smashed into the blanket, his eyes glossy and wide as the looked up, his pink, wet bum lifted high and ready. He swallowed thickly.

“Harry,” he croaked, “Harry, please,”

“Still here?”

“Yes,” Louis closed his eyes and nodded, the blanket rubbing his cheek, “Always here. Need – need your cock,”

“Okay,” Harry exhaled, “Okay, love, I’m right here. One moment,”

His feet moved swiftly, disappearing from Louis’s sight as he rounded around his body and got down steadily on both knees. Louis heard a small rip, the sound of snapping latex, and then Harry’s hand was on his back and his voice was saying “Breath.”

Louis did, his exhale barely out of his mouth before Harry’s cockhead slipped inside him, turning his slow breath into a loud whine. His arms uncurled from underneath him and he stretched his arms out in front of him so much that his fingertips grasped at the nubby fibers of his carpeted floor, past the edges of the blanket. His whole body stretched like a cat, his back curving and moving as Harry slipped in all the way, until Louis would feel his balls pressing against his bum. He breathed again, this exhale more of a whine than anything else, and then Harry’s fingers were weaving tightly through his hair, his grip firm, and when he spoke, his voice was hard.

“You still want me to be rough, Louis?”

“I – “ Louis’s body shook in one full movement, like his muscles were forming a ripple, “Yes. Yes, please,”

“Good. Because there is nothing I want more than than to hear you cry out for my cock,” he said, his grip tightening on Louis’s hair, “And to watch you take it,”

Louis’s body shook again, his breath punching out as well, and then Harry was pulling his hair so hard his head snapped back, his throat becoming a curved, graceful line, and Harry was moving, pulling back and then slamming back enough to make Louis’s entrance smart a bit.

“Ah,” he got out, and then when Harry did it again, a louder “Ah” filled with more breath as the initial shock and pain wore to a pleasant tingle and a flush deep into his chest. He felt his body shifting and stretching, working to take everything Harry was giving to him, and Harry pushing him further, driving deeper, faster, making the bursts of pain and pleasure overlap until it felt continuous. Louis’s forehead felt tight and hot and he realized he had started sweating.

“Harry,” he choked out. His throat hurt from being pushed back up he still got the word out, “Harry – ah,”

He fumbled on the last word as Harry slammed into him particularly hard and Louis felt a thick pearl of precome blurt from the tip of his heavy, hard cock, and his voice ended in a small whine.

“Alright?” Harry asked, pushing his fingers deeper in Louis’s hair, his hips still moving.

“Harry,” Louis managed again, closing his watering eyes, “Harry – Harry, make me come, it hurts so bad,”

“Oh, darling,” Harry murmured, his voice suddenly silky, “You think I’m not going to let you come? Of course I am. Just not gonna touch you,”

Louis whined again, this time higher, making Harry yank his hair roughly, which only turned his voice into a shriek.

“You can come on my cock, can’t you, love? You’d do that for me, wouldn’t you?”

Louis’s wanted to cry out again, but he knew he would do it – or that he would at least try to do it. For Harry.

“Yes,” he choked out, and Harry made a soft noise. He loosened his fingers from Louis’s hair and he sighed as he let his head down, setting his cheek back down into the blanket, the fabric rubbing back and forth along his skin as Harry continued to work him. Louis had started to really sweat now, and he felt dirty – grimy from the sweat and the slick and then just filthy, letting Harry take whatever you wanted, leaving his own cock unattended as he let him take.

Louis’s nostrils flared and he moaned, a fresh wave of scent hitting him, his own sweet smell and then Harry’s much strong one, which was slowly bleeding into his own, making it something different entirely.

Harry had started pulling on his hips, bringing Louis directly back to him body as he thrust, nothing more than short in and out movements that made Louis make soft “ah, ah, ah” sounds as he moved, Harry filling in the brief moments of Louis’s silence with his own grunts. Louis felt his own cock twitch, the end leaking more now, and his belly felt tight and hot. He screwed his eyes shut and buried his fingertips into the blanket.

“Harry, m’gonna come,” he slurred, his mouth half buried by the blanket.

“Oh, good,” Harry murmured, running his hands over Louis’s bum and then over his lower back, “Why don’t you show me how pretty you are when you come, love? Whenever you’d like,”

“Oh,” Louis exhaled, and pushed back into Harry, although he was moving quickly enough it didn’t make much of a difference. The heat and tightness had spread from Louis’s abdomen up to his chest, and his cheeks were blazing hot, “Harry,”

His cock twitched and then Louis was coming, spilling all over the blanket underneath him, his body writhing, pushing back towards Harry as he cried out words that made no sense.

“Louis,” Harry hissed, and Louis felt the base of his cock start to expand. He pushed hard into it, and moaned softly as he felt Harry’s cock twitch and his knot swell. Harry was groaning, his big hands locked firmly on Louis’s hips, his abdomen pressed to Louis’s back again. Harry kept saying Louis’s name.

When both their bodies were spent, every last drop poured out of them, Louis’s highs felt weak and he wanted desperately to lie completely down, but Harry was still knotted in him, so he stayed still.

“Louis,” Harry whispered, and his voice was all gentleness again, “Louis, baby,”

Harry was kissing his shoulders in rapid, fervent little pecks, separated with gasping breaths, “Oh, baby, you were so good, so perfect, so lovely. Baby. Baby,”

Louis blinked, his Jell-O-like knees locking, and all that got out of his mouth was, “Good,”

“Yes, so good. So very good. The best,” Harry was cooing now, his hand roaming over Louis’s hips and his bum, “Going to take such good care of you. Put some nice lotion all over you, rub your back, make you something hot to drink. I – “ he paused, and his voice got a bit less dreamy, “Louis? Are you okay?”

Louis blinked and got out, “M’legs hurt,”

“Oh,” Harry said, “Oh, shit, one second. Just, ah, move with me,”

He pushed on Louis’s legs and hips until he was getting Louis to lay down, his body following him closely, until they were laying down, Harry’s belly to Louis’s back, spooning with Harry’s knot between them. Harry was stroking Louis’s arm, still murmuring.

“I’m so sorry, Louis. I – my knot’ll go down soon, I’m sure, but I’m – fuck, I should’ve told you, I’m a few days away from my rut, it might take a little longer,”

“It’s okay,” Louis murmured, closely his heavy eyes, “S’okay,”

They laid there in silence, only broken up by Harry stroking his arms more and murmuring little praises to him. Eventually, the knot did go down enough for Harry to slip out of him, and got up only to throw the condom away.

By the time he came back Louis had melted fully into the blanket, barely awake, and he vaguely made out Harry kneeling in front of him, coaxing his fingers under his chin and getting him to drink from a glass of water he had gotten.

“Come here,” he whispered after he was done getting him to drink. Louis crawled to him, placing his face into Harry’s strong chest, the scent of skin overwhelming him. He pressed his nose deep into Harry’s pectorals, forcing the smell into his nose, into his brain, into his veins, until every inch of his body had Harry drifting in it.

Harry’s hands cradled the back of his head.

“Louis, would you like to go to bed?”

“Yes, please,”

“Okay,” he said softly, “I need you to stay awake for just a bit longer, so I can make sure you have some water and a snack. But I’ll take you to bed first,”

He shifted his arms so he was no longer cradling Louis, and instead holding onto him tightly.

“I’m going to carry you,” he said firmly, and Louis just nodded weakly.

Louis kept clinging to Harry’s neck, and when Harry lifted him, Louis’s upper body hung diagonally over his chest, while one leg wrapped around Harry’s hip and the other dangled freely. Harry didn’t say anything though, just grunted softly and began carrying Louis off.

“Will you stay here tonight?” Louis murmured into his shoulder.

“Of course, baby,” Harry returned, gripping onto Louis even tighter, “Of course I will,”

Louis nodded weakly, fully burying the rest of his face into the crook of Harry’s shoulder.

In his haze, Louis could have sworn he whispered “Alpha,” against Harry’s ear.

He didn’t have time to hear a response before he fell asleep, even though Harry had told him not to.

*******

 

Just Louis’s luck, Harry’s rut started the day the team had to fly out for their first race of the new year.

Of course, Louis kind of saw this coming. Harry warned him that it looked like that was going to be the case. He just didn’t want to believe it until he got a simple text from Harry the morning of the flight that read, I’m so sorry, and was greeted at the airport by a Cross reporter named Alexa.

Alexa seemed perfectly nice – she was apparently a friend of Harry’s from work and the only person he trusted to step in for him, since they apparently thought alike and she could capture almost everything he was missing. Louis could see that. She did remind him of Harry, from the way she quickly told all of him this with a wide smile and a nervous tuck of hair behind her ear right down on the heeled brown boots on her feet. It was just, Alexa still wasn’t Harry.

Alexa quietly took her seat at the very back of the cabin when the team boarded the plane and Louis didn’t even say anything, just tucked himself into the nearest window seat until Perrie came by and sat herself next to him. He probably could have made a greater effort to chat with her, at the very least to show he wasn’t biased towards Harry, but he was tired, and he didn’t want to use the last of his energy to make small talk with Harry’s replacement.

Instead, he listened to the chatter of the rest of his team.  Most of the plane was excited– they were in Paris for a full extra day after the race, their biggest paid vacation since Greece. A couple of racers had brought mates with them, but Louis didn’t recognize any of them except Zayn, who was squashed into the window seat next to Liam, drinking a mimosa and scrolling through his iPad.  

No one seemed nervous. Not even the racers close to him in times, the ones that still might have a shot over at the Prix if Louis royally fucked up now, looked nervous.

Had they ever looked nervous? Had they ever shown that? Louis couldn’t remember.

Next to him, Perrie pulled out a small pillow and a thick novel out of her bag and settled in, not even giving him a second glance. At least he wouldn’t be forced into small talk he had no interest in.

Louis rearranged his shoulders against his seat and closed his eyes.

He only had five more races until the Prix. He might as well enjoy them.

*******

Louis had never particularly liked Paris.

He didn’t know what it was about the place, exactly. It had all the potential to be a place he liked. The hotels he stayed in were lovely, if only a bit old. The racing arena on the east side of the city was one of the best stadiums in Europe. Even team after-parties were enjoyable in Paris, since since most the mating clubs were located in a very shady area of the city where no one wanted to go, so all the racers just went to one of the real music clubs in the high-end neighborhoods instead.

But Louis still didn’t like it. It always felt crowded, filled to the brim with people that were expecting something, whether it was a grand revelation or the romance of their lives, and instead coming up disappointed, ending their journey with a few pictures of places so many other disappointed people had been.

Louis had already seen everything he wanted to see out of the city – all the tourist attractions were checked off the list, and all the cafes and bookstores and gift shops started to feel the same after a while. So he didn’t bother sightseeing anymore, and he certainly didn’t waste any time between landing and going to his hotel, except to buy a cheese crepe from the food stand right next to his hotel.

As soon as he was inside his hotel room he dropped his luggage off by the door and skated straight past the massive bedroom with the complimentary champagne bucket on the bed and instead went back into the cold and out onto the wrought-iron balcony outside, so he could call Harry.

He stood on the balcony, eating his crepe and looking out at the flat, even horizon, listening to Harry’s voice on the other end of the call. More specifically, Harry’s voicemail, which he had actually never listened to. He had just grown used to Harry always being there to pick up his calls.

“Hi, you’ve reached Harry Styles. I’m not available at the moment, so please leave your name and contact information and I will get back to you when I can. Thanks!”

The line beeped and Louis took a heavy sigh, looking down at the melted white cheese at the mouth of his crepe.

“Hey, you,” he managed, “It’s me. Your voicemail is boring. And I miss you,”

He bit off a chunk of his crepe and chewed slowly. It probably would have been good, but it had gone cold because he waited too long to eat it, so he smoothed the wrinkled paper wrapper back over the end of it and just set it down on the edge of the railing as he searched for something else to say.

“I, um, I got in safe. Race is tomorrow but I guess you knew that. Alexa seems nice, but, of course, she’s not here right now, so I thought I’d fill in on how I’m feeling, so you have something exclusive you could put in your article,”

Louis paused, looking out onto the rows and rows of short buildings and the even, grey sky. It was chilly, enough that he was shivering in his leather jacket, but not cold enough to justify putting on something warmer. It was weather made to be uncomfortable in.

It didn’t help that his chest felt too tight, his mouth unable to form real words. He couldn’t even tell if he would feel better if Harry were here.  

“Harry?” he finally managed. He wished there was something to greet him on the other end. But there was just dead air, “I’m scared. I’m racing Chastain again tomorrow, and I almost died the first time, and she’s so good. I mean, they might put Roux in for the Prix this year. I don’t know. They’re both that good. And honestly I’m not supposed to be scared but I am. Also, I fucking hate Paris, but I think I’d hate it a little less if you were blowing me right now,” he shook his head, “I’m sorry. I just got off a flight and I need a cigarette and I forgot my pack because I left so early and I don’t speak a lick of French so God knows I can’t even buy any here. So that’s as romantic as I can get. Am I supposed to be dirty talking you right now? Do you need that? Fuck, I don’t know,”

He ran a hand over the back of his head, tangling his fingers into his own hair.

How many times had he been alone in a hotel room?

Many.

How many times he had realized how alone he was?

Never, until now.

He exhaled, long and slow, and released his fingers from his hair.  

“I miss you,” he managed weakly, “That’s all I can really think to say. I, um, I hope you’re doing okay, all things considered. I’ll send you pictures of my dick later, I guess, if you want that. Bye,”

He waited a little too long to hang up, and when he did he pressed the screen a little too hard. He inhaled and exhaled again, slowly, and the cold air bit his lips and throat and mouth.

What now?

Louis ended up standing on the balcony until the cold started numbing him completely, and then he went back inside. He turned off his phone because Harry wasn’t going to call back anytime soon, and he couldn’t be bothered with anything else. And his hands were shaking so goddamn bad he needed a fucking fag.

After he threw away the cold, sad remainders of his crepe, he wandered over to his suitcase, finding a thick jumper, and pulled it on before going to find his shoes, a pair of Vans he had worn on the plane for once instead of his boots. As he opened his door and stepped out into the brightly lit hallway, he tried to remember the room numbers of some of the people he had checked in with. Niall was probably here by now, on the lower floors, but he was also probably sleeping. Cara usually liked to actually go out in Paris, so she was probably getting coffee somewhere by now. Louis only remembered one other room number, and he wasn’t sure if it would work out, but he eventually found the staircase and went down one floor anyways, seeking out the room number he had seen on Liam’s key card on the way in.

When he knocked, Zayn answered, dressed in a cherry red Adidas tracksuit that was entirely too big and almost certainly Liam’s.

“Louis,” he said with a soft smile, leaning against the doorframe, “Hello,”

“Um, hey,” he said, shifting on his feet, “I know this is – I should have texted one of you,”

“No, that’s alright,” Zayn shook his head, “What brings you over here?”

“Uh, do you have any cigarettes?” Louis managed, “I, uh, I forgot my pack. I’m going crazy,”

“Yeah,” Zayn nodded, still smiling. Part of his pullover had slipped off his shoulder and he absent-mindedly reached up to fix it, “I actually just bought some from the shop across the street. You want to smoke them on the balcony with me?”

“I can just…I have a room,” Louis said before he could realize how fucking stupid that statement was, “I can just take them and go back upstairs,”

“No, please, come in,” Zayn insisted, “Liam’s taking a nap. I’m bored. Humor me for a minute,”

Louis thought about his turned-off phone and his jittery hands and tried not to dwell on the fact that apparently his closest friend in the world at the moment was his teammate’s fiancé as he said “Yeah, why not,”

Zayn opened the door wider and the two of them wandered past Liam, who sprawled on the bed in the same clothes he had worn on the plane, and then out onto the balcony. Of course it was still freezing out, but Louis felt slightly better with his jumper on and the welcoming warmth that ran through his body when Zayn offered him a cigarette and his lighter. The smoke curled through Louis’s lungs welcomingly as he breathed in, and he sat down on the iron of the balcony, curling himself into the smoke that curled from the burning cig.

They went through half the pack before Liam eventually opened the sliding glass door, his hair and clothes rumpled from sleep, and he cast his eyes over both of them, smiling easily.

“Hi, Louis,” he said, leaning his body against the doorway.

“Hey,” Louis returned, “Do you want me to head out? I can,”

“No, no, it’s alright,” Liam shook his head, “I ordered Z and I some sandwiches for lunch, but I can get you something too, if you haven’t eaten,”

“I –“ Louis licked his lips, thinking about the cold crepe he had thrown out, “I had a snack. I’m alright,”

“Whatever you say. But at least let me get us some wine,” he said, slipping back into the room before Louis could say anything else.

When Liam came back with an open bottle, he sat next to Zayn, who easily fell into him, his head resting in Liam’s lap. Zayn took the abandoned pack and put another cig in his mouth and Liam got his lighter for him, igniting the end. Zayn smiled easily, and Liam dragged his hand through his mate’s hair as he handed the wine bottle to Louis.

Louis drank straight from the mouth of the bottle, the burgundy tart and harsh but warm in his mouth and throat. There was cold air snaking its way down the collar of Louis’s jumper and the clouds overhead were thickening and becoming greyer, but he tried to focus on the smoke and alcohol that had settled in his body and the way Liam and Zayn were still gently tangled in each other, so comfortable and yet never telling him to leave.

It was as close to feeling good as Louis could get.

******

It was Louis’s fifth Grand Open.

The Grand Open was always considered one of the most important races of the year, because it was one of the main qualifiers for the Prix. It was always hosted by the country that had won the Prix the previous year, and only racers from the countries that held the top ten overall times for the first part of the season were invited to compete. After the race there would be parties at both clubs and upscale hotels, full of champagne and team directors narrowing down Prix candidates over handshakes and appetizers. But before the beginning of the race, there was an event held exclusively for the competitors in one of the arena’s reception rooms, which offered drinks and appetizers and time to talk for the mandatory bike checks.

Louis had enjoyed himself at the beginning of the last Open in Italy, both the pre-party and the race itself, and ultimately placed third on the track. That wasn’t bad, but Connor Valentine had won the whole damn thing and second place would’ve at least been a far more convincing bargaining tool for Louis to get into the Prix.

So when Louis wandered through the racer’s reception area, he was barely bothering to socialize. He was focused on getting to the bike holding room as soon as he could and just sitting, maybe asking someone to get him his headphones and hoodie from his racer’s locker so he could relax in the time he had before he could start checking his bike.

But of course, he was interrupted about five minutes into the event.

“Racer Tomlinson,” Andrew Roux said, sliding in front of Louis smoothly. He was wearing a suit jacket and a button-down, a divergence from nearly everyone else in the room was wearing the bare bones of their competition uniforms, jeans and t-shirts and moto boots. Roux was drinking something pale and fizzy that looked like carbonated water, but it was in champagne flute because of course it was, “How nice to see you again, and on steady ground this time,”

Louis didn’t have the energy to laugh as he shook Roux’s hand and returned a “You as well,”

Roux laughed immediately even though Louis had said nothing funny, and Louis suddenly wanted to leave, but Roux was still talking. He was making small talk about the cloudy weather and training schedules and the benign difficulties he had had booking a dinner for me and his girlfriend’s anniversary.

Louis let him go on as long as he could bear it, and then he swiftly interrupted again.

“Well, thank you for saying hello,” Louis managed, “May I ask, where is Racer Chastain? I’d like to see her, seeing how our last race ended,”

“Ah,” Roux tipped his head, his expression suddenly becoming much more formal, “She will not be competing today,”

“The best racer on the French team won’t be competing when her country is hosting the Open?” Louis repeated, then snorted, because he was out of patience, “Okay,”

Roux looked steadily back at him, his expression completely blank, and he just cleared his throat. Apparently Louis vocalizing that he wasn’t the best racer in the country had put him off.

“I would not worry about it, Racer Tomlinson. You have far more important things to worry about, I’m sure,” he smiled tightly, “Have a good race,”

And then, like that, he was gone. Louis watched him go, already wondering what the hell was happening with Chastain that would cause Roux to excuse himself so swiftly. But he pushed it aside quickly, and ducked to the edges of the room before anyone else could spot him, already planning on surviving the rest of the party as best he could.

******

Something was off.

The race was relatively easy – ten laps, no obstacles, stripped down to the bare bones of racing. No obstacles or mind games, no absurdly long distances to make endurance an issue. Speed and strategy would win, nothing else.

Those were usually Louis’s specialties, but he hadn’t pulled out any tricks yet. He hadn’t really needed to. He was surrounded by racers he’d been competing against for years – a few of his teammates were trailing behind him, Roux was ahead of him, Lopez from Spain was angling on him, a couple Italian racers and one from the Netherlands were all trying to get ahead of him. He was fourth, or maybe fifth by the fourth lap, which was fine because he didn’t worry about getting in front and staying there, only about angling up at the last minute.

But. Things were too easy.

He was trying to figure out why. He recognized the racers around him, vaguely connecting their last names to races he’d done against them before, a lot of them ending in near-crashes and near-ties, mostly, because they were good, and usually they tested him.

He could tell they were doing their best to test him now. But he could see everything coming. See the flinching of their fingers and the pump of their feet on their pedals. He could tell when they would speed up, when they would turn. Which was fine. He noticed that sort of thing all the time. That’s how he won.

But. By the time he had sped past Lopez and got in second, right behind Roux, a few laps before he intended to be, Louis knew what was off.

He had learned.

He had learned every movement of his opponents, mapped every twitch of their body into a clear next move. There was no challenge, here, except for Roux. And even then, Louis could read him, because Roux was a speed racer, no strategy, all jagged curves and the constant drill of an engine being tested. It worked, it won races short races, but it was arrogant, and a fast bike wasn’t a match for strategy. It wasn’t a match for what Louis could do, or what Chastain could have done, if she was here.

Chastain. Louis thought of her racing style as he edged towards Roux, running through the race she turned and the speeds she used. Their styles were similar, Chastain and Louis, in that they were ever evolving, and based on strategy and in-the-moment decisions, a constant evolving puzzle. A very real challenge, a very real bar to measure himself against, gone now for whatever reason.

Louis should have found that comforting. But he didn’t.

They were angling into the last lap, and Louis and Roux were still neck and neck, a decent gap away from the rest of the pack, who seemed to be falling into their own duals, their own conflicts. The race for first and second was out of their hands and they were all just attempting to get on the block at all. Louis could hear the groaning of Roux’s bike with the amount of speed he was pressing into it, and Louis gripped his hands tighter on his handlebars, setting his shoulders as he figured out what he was going to do.

He didn’t need to do this. But he needed this to get interesting, just so he could focus on something except Roux and his damn screaming engine.

Louis pressed hard on the gas and shot forward, and then leaned his body far, far, to the left, until his bike moved with him. The tarmac underneath him was scorching with heat and energy and it nearly burned his denim-covered thigh even though he was still a decent amount away from the track.  He twisted his arms and his torso, forcing the bike to move with him, tightening his thighs around the bike. His eyes watered as the small burst of sparks that scattered around him as he drove in a half-circle, nearly encompassing the entire width of the track. When he reached the edge he jolted himself back up, his ribs smarting at the sudden movement, his vision blurring, and then he was moving again. There was noise, loud noise, but it wasn’t Roux’s engine. That noise had dropped far behind him, his opponent’s nerves rattled. No, he could hear cheering, extremely loud cheering, and he bit his lip.

He sailed over the finish line. He was first. No one was around him. No one even passed the line until a full four seconds later, when he had already fully parked his bike and pulled off his helmet.

There was a mix of cheering and booing and just straight screaming from the crowd, but Louis had blocked it out. He had won. He would have to process that. Winning the Grand Open like it was nothing. The unchallenged best, with no close opponents.

Would that have happened if Chastain was here? Would it have been so simple? Was everyone else asking the same question?

Someone offered Louis a bottle of water and he drank it, his body feeling uneven, probably his inner ear coming to bite him in the ass for the trick he had pulled. A moment later a hand was on his back and he was being guided to the podium up ahead. The sound of bike engines had ceased behind him. The race was over, and it was time for the ceremonies and the parties, the discussions and the speculation.

Louis climbed onto the number one spot, like he had so many times before, and gazed out as two other races were brought forward. Roux had still managed to place second, no surprise, and the third --

Louis felt his lips twitch in a slight smile as he saw Liam being guided to the third place spot. His eyes were wide and misted over, and Louis remembered that this was something different for Liam. He wasn’t exactly slow – he usually finished in the top ten or the top fifteen on a bad day, but he rarely ever got on the medal podium. Louis wasn’t actually sure about the last time that had for him happened. Two years ago, maybe.

“Nice to see you,” Louis said as Liam stepped up beside him.

“You too,” Liam murmured, his voice distant.

An announcer read off their names and countries and times, again to mixed cheering and booing, and finally, an attendant came forward and deposited shimmering medals on their necks. And then it was over, just as quickly. The announcer was reading out the times and places of all the other racers, but the crowd’s murmuring was now a roar, their interest lost. Louis and Roux and Liam were being crowded to the press circle waiting for them, as were a few other racers, most of them in the top ten. Louis could see Alexa on the edge of the crowd and he flashed her a polite smile before looking over to Liam, about to give him one last round of congratulations before they were swept away in interviews. When he looked over, his teammate was staring down at the medal on his chest, running his fingers over the gleaming bronze.

He was still looking at his medal when a team official came over to him, leaning down to Liam’s ear. In an instant, Liam’s eyes widened and he dropped the medal, the circle clinking heavily onto his chest, and then he broke into a sprint, pushing back the throng of reporters and into the edge stages of the stadium.

Louis just stared at his receding form, his eyes going wide, and a small roar rippled through the crowd, until one team official raised both hands and shouted over the noise.

“Racer Payne had to head out for a personal emergency,” he announced, “But the rest of the British team will take questions now,”

Before Louis even had a chance to react to that, or to pull the man aside and ask him what had just happened, the crowd of reporters burst out with questions in a patchwork of languages, calling different names. In another second Louis was grabbed by the shoulders by one of the team handlers and escorted to on line of journalists with VIP priority passes, their questions getting louder and more insistent, and Louis obediently opened his mouth, his answers barely keeping up with the questions.

*******

By the time Louis trudged back to the UK lockers rooms, the space was pretty much empty, except for Cara, who was sitting on one of the benches in a pair of spandex shorts and sports bra, smoothing an IcyHot patch over her shoulder. She, like pretty much every other racer, had finished up their press questions nearly a half hour before Louis, and he couldn’t help but feel a little glad he had someone to keep him company now.

“Hey, you,” Cara said, smoothing a hand through the top part of her hair, the part that wasn’t woven into a messy plait over her shoulder, “How were your interviews?”

“Fine,” Louis sighed, shaking his head. The only interview he had put any effort into was when he had met with Alexa and answered her polite and reserved questions, but even that had felt far too forced and incomplete. Harry usually got answers out of him he didn’t know he had the words for.

“I shouldn’t have won,” he probably would’ve told Harry. Not at the track but later, once the other man keyed into his room and Louis had thrown his arms around his neck and pressed his lips to his ear, “I’ve won too many times. No one gets to win this many times without something bad lurking somewhere,”

“Would I have won if Chastain had been there?” he would have asked, again, later, when they were laying in bed and neither of them had any energy left to keep their walls up, “Do you think everyone knows I didn’t stand a fucking chance at beating her twice?”

But instead he catalogued his real thoughts for later and gave Alexa barely enough to fill out a page in her notebook, and then felt so bad he gave her some cash to spend out at the clubs.

Louis eased himself down to sit next to Cara, resting his head against the cool metal locker behind him.

“What happened with Liam?” he asked eventually, because he couldn’t think of anything else to say to her.

“You didn’t hear?” Cara said. Her fingers dropped from the edge of the patch on her shoulder, “Zayn went into heat early, a few seconds after the race finished up,”

“Jesus,” Louis exhaled, rubbing the back of his neck, “He alright? Did he get jumped?”

“Of course not. Have you have seen the security they get for racer’s mates? They had five people watching Annie last time she came to a race and she’s a beta,” Cara shook her head, “The paps gave them a rough time when they were on their way to their car, though, look at this,”

“I don’t – “ But before Louis could finish, Cara was already getting out her phone and pulling up a video. It was dark and had a tabloid logo splashed over the whole screen, but Louis could still make out Liam and Zayn wandering through a sea of photographers, Liam’s dark jacket thrown over Zayn’s head. But the jacket weren’t quite enough to hide that the omega was shaking, and clinging so tightly to his mate that Louis could see the fabric of Liam’s shirt creasing even in the grainy video. Meanwhile, there were flashes of light everywhere, and nearly all the paps were shouting. The ones that spoke English were throwing out jeers that were blatantly sexual, and he could guess that the rest of the languages in the video translated to the same things.

“God,” Louis huffed, tucking his head in his hands, “God, do people have no fucking shame?”

“The two of them will still be okay, I’m sure,” Cara sighed, “They’ve been mated since they were what, sixteen?”

“Yeah,” Louis nodded, “Yeah, of course,”

Cara looked back at him steadily.

“What’s up with you today?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted.

“You just won the damn Grand Open, Louis,”

“Yeah, I know,”

“I would be fucking ecstatic if that happened. I got fifth and I’m fucking ecstatic,”

Louis felt his throat get thick hearing Cara’s voice, cool and firm and accusatory.

“I’m happy. I’m just tired,”

He considered telling her about everything he was thinking, just to get it off off his chest – how he shouldn’t have won and how shitty the entire world seemed to be -- but just as quickly he remembered that Cara was his teammate before his friend, and even before that, she was his most consistent competition from within the British team. If she sensed any weakness, any way she could get into the Prix instead of him, she would take it, no questions asked.

“Well,” Cara said, snapping Louis out of his head, “I guess I’ll see you tonight,”

“Tonight?” he echoed.

“The after party, Louis. Alcohol. Dancing. Music. Lots of people wanting to have sex with you,”

He shook his head, “I’m tired, Cara,”

She just looked at him steadily, her face hard and unreadable.

“Is it that hard being at the top?”

Louis blinked.

It is when you don’t feel like you are.

“I guess so,” he managed.

“Cool,” she sighed, standing up, grabbing her bag and swinging it over her non-patched shoulder, “It’d be great to know what that’s like,”

*******

Louis didn’t bother doing anything on his full vacation day.

There were things he could have done, of course – gone to a café to get some breakfast, gone for a walk, gone to a damn museum and elbowed his way to the front of the line to see the Mona Lisa. He had seen it before. Still. He could do it again if he wanted. He could do anything if he wanted.

But he felt so drained and so bored of every option before it even entered his mind, so he just kept ordering room service – small platters of cereal and scones and tea and fruit, all of it barely filling – and laid in his bed with the TV on in the background. His body felt sore and his muscles were knotted so badly in his shoulders they hurt with any movement. There wasn’t a spa in this hotel, but he knew that if he wanted he could call the front desk and ask someone who spoke English to give him the address to a place where he could go get a massage.

He couldn’t, though. He had watched some of the coverage of the Open when he got back to the hotel the previous night – the British-based channels talked about Louis and spectacled about his “nearly guaranteed” spot in the Prix and then discussed Liam’s surprising placing, but there wasn’t much more. Any discussions of Chastain were brief and fleeting, as if suddenly the best racer in Europe had become a footnote. Everyone seemed to be looking to Louis now, and that was the problem. He hadn’t done anything to earn that. He had gained the crown through history’s weakest coupe.

It wasn’t until it was dark outside that Louis finally got off the bed and went to the bathroom. His flight was bright and early the next morning, as always, so there wasn’t a point in doing anything productive now. Instead he drew himself a hot bath in the clawed bathtub, stripping off all his clothes as the tub filled up. He then sat and thought until the water got lukewarm, not uncomfortable enough to get out but surely not pleasant anymore.

Louis was thinking too much, but he couldn’t help it. His victory felt so empty on his shoulders, full of close times and lucky circumstances, and everyone else may have been satisfied but he wasn’t. He dipped his head under the cooling water and popped back out a few seconds later, gasping and spitting out water as he blinked his water-heavy lashes to clear his vision.

He would just rest. Nothing would be different in the morning, but at he would be further from the race and closer to the next one, closer to a fresh opportunity.

Louis pressed his hands to the sides of the tub, preparing to climb out, but before he could even pull himself out, his phone ran.

He jumped, forgetting it was resting on the small stool by the tub, and he hastily grabbed a flannel from a nearby hook, wiping down his hands and then fumbling with the phone. He picked up and his eyes watered at Harry’s name on the screen, his fingers moving to pick up the call before it stopped.

“Louis?” Harry’s voice came through immediately. His voice sounded so deep, and so tired, like it was hard to form one single word, but it was enough. God, was it enough.

“Hey,” Louis said, immediately sinking further into the water, “I – what’s up?”

“I – God, I feel like shit,” Harry huffed, his voice crackling and breaking up, “I thought I would call you while I still could, before – fuck, before everything kicks in again,”

“Yeah,” Louis nodded, pulling one knee up to his chest, “I’m glad you did,”

He didn’t ask if Harry had gotten his voicemail. He clearly hadn’t; if he had he would have been begging Louis to tell him what was wrong.

“What happened yesterday?” Harry asked, “I forgot to turn on my TV – did you win?”

“Yeah,” Louis said, his voice tight, “I won, babe,”

“Did you?” Harry asked, his voice high with curiosity and cautious happiness.

“Mm hm,”

“Then why don’t you sound happy?”

Harry’s voice was swimming back to something solid, and God, it wasn’t Louis’s job to be weak right now – not when Harry was miles away and in rut and couldn’t do anything, but Louis felt his eyes burn and his throat go thick.

“God, I wish you were here right now,” he choked out, and even though his eyes were barely wet, just burning, his voice cracked, and he heard Harry’s breath pause.

“Louis,” he said gently, “Louis, baby, what’s going on?”

“I, um – it was a close race. Kind of. I mean, Roux and I were close, but, uh – Chastain wasn’t there for whatever reason. And I just don’t know if I could have beaten her again,” he shook his head, “I got lucky the first time, Harry, and I can’t tell everyone that because they don’t send you to the Grand Prix for being lucky, and Cara’s pissed at me and Niall is asleep because it’s 2 in the morning and I have a flight in 5 hours and I can’t sleep and Liam’s not even here and – “

“Baby, baby,” Harry interrupted, “Slow down, please. I’m still a little fuzzy over here,”

“I’m sorry,” Louis murmured.

“What is it that’s bothering you? Not getting to beat Chastain? You already beat her, love,”

“I know,” Louis allowed, “But I don’t know if I could have done it again,”

“Right. You think you got lucky,”

“Mm,” Louis affirmed, his voice cracking slightly, “God, I’m sorry. You didn’t want this when you called me,”

“I called to hear your voice and see how you were doing,” Harry coaxed, “I don’t mind if you’re upset. Jesus, if you’re upset, I’m glad I could talk to you,”

Louis was silent, then, “I don’t know if I can explain what’s happening to me right now,”

“That’s okay,”

“Why is okay?”

“Because life is complicated,” Harry said softly, “God, Louis, why do you think I have a job? I get a mountain of stuff and edit into a few hundred words people can understand, so they don’t go crazy,”

Louis blinked, his vision swimming again. The bath water was freezing now, but he stayed put, his wrinkled toes curling tightly into the bottom of the tub.

“I’m sorry you have to try and simplify me like that,” he managed, “That must be a tough job,”

“Louis,” he heard Harry sigh, “You are my favorite thing in the world to write about,”

Warmth swept through Louis’s chest and he leaned back, letting head resting on the back of the tub, the long ends of his hair getting wet.

“I don’t think I can say anything else right now,” he said eventually, “Can we talk about something else?” 

“Okay,” Harry sighed, “What were you doing before I called you?”

“M’taking a bath,” he murmured, “What were you doing?”

“Thinking about you,” Harry said quickly, “What else would I be doing?”

Louis blinked, his cheeks heating up.

“How were you thinking about me?”

Louis,” Harry cautioned, his voice firm.

“Tell me,” he insisted. He shifted, the water nearly unbearably cold now, but he wanted Harry to keep talking, to make him feel something, “Distract me, please,”

He heard Harry exhale tightly on the other end, and then his voice picked up.

“I don’t – “

He listened to Harry breath.

“Fuck, Louis – “

“What?”

“I don’t want to fucking scare you,”

“Why would you scare me?”

“Because I’m not – “ Harry fumbled, “I’m different when I’m fucking like this,”

“Okay,” Louis said, “I knew that,”

“I – “ Harry stuttered, “Fuck, Louis, I think about you – “

Tell me,” Louis said softly, “Tell me, Harry. Tell me everything you can’t do now,”

“I think about you on your knees, just kneeling in front of me – “

“What else?”

“And then I think about – fuck, Louis, why did you want me to get rough with you? It’s all I can think about now. All the things I could tell you to do. How far I could push you. How much I could make you hurt, make you feel,”

“Why don’t you?”

“Because I want to take care of you,” he got out, “Fuck, baby, I just – “

Louis waited.

“You don’t know what you do to me,” he finished weakly.

“You’re an alpha,” he said softly, “You’re in rut. You want an omega,”

“I don’t want any omega, Louis. I want you. Just you. Only ever you,”

“Me,” Louis repeated, and closed his eyes, setting his head firmly back against the end of the tub.

“Yes, you,” Harry sighed, “I wish I could kiss you good night,”

“How very tame of you,”

“I think about kissing you so much, Louis,” Harry insisted, “Every second I’m not kissing you, I’m thinking about doing it again,”

“You’re in rut, Harry,”

“No, I mean it,” he said, “I mean that, always,”

Louis didn’t say anything. He wanted to get out of the water, but he also wanted Harry’s voice pressed close to his ear for as long as possible, just to tether him in place for a little while as he temporarily pushed his thoughts to side.

“Wish I could take every thought I’ve ever had about you and put in it your head. Then maybe you’d realize how brilliant you are,” Harry was saying, “I know I can’t, and I shouldn’t, because that’s not my place, I just – “

“Harry, shh,” Louis interrupted, closing his eyes, “You should sleep,”

“But what can I do for you, Louis?” Harry asked, “Please tell me what I can do,”

“Well,” Louis said, “I guess you can stay on the line until you have to go. I don’t care if you say anything, I just want to know you’re there,”

“Okay,” Harry said, “Okay, I will,”

So he laid in the tub and listened to the soft sound of Harry’s breath, the pops of static lining up with the beating of his own heart, until the line was blank, and the silence of the room filled in all the empty spaces, bled right down into the cold water, settled in the creases of Louis’s brain, chasing out Harry’s voice, chasing out his own thoughts, leaving him in peace, at least for a little while.

*******

Louis found out two things exactly one day after he got back from Paris.

The first came from an apologetic call from Harry, who was coming out of rut but still had enough grip to tell him that he wouldn’t be coming back to London for a little while.

Apparently his editor had sent back a beginning draft of the showcase piece and had wanted it to have more in-depth background, so as soon as Harry was feeling well enough he would on a train up to Doncaster to visit Louis’s old school and talk to his old coaches. For atmosphere. Louis told him it was fine and to have fun.

The second thing he found out was why Chastain hadn’t been at the race, and that came about an hour after he finished up his call with Harry and was watching the evening news while eating a bowl of pre-packaged kale salad.

Apparently a few days before the Open, Chastain had been caught with another alpha, and it had further been discovered that they were mated. Another country might be willing to work a PR miracle and bury it deep for the rest of the season, but France, in all its traditional values, had kicked her off the team immediately and only issued a statement after the Open. By that time, Chastain and her mate had apparently fled the country. The continent, too, in all likelihood.

Louis changed the channel. Because it didn’t matter. An alpha and an alpha were punishable in most places. He knew that. It was why he and Harry had stayed safely separate since that first time he gave him a ride home. That wasn’t new. And it didn’t matter.

Harry wasn’t here. He was getting on a flight up north as soon as his rut was over, and Louis would be back on the track the next day, probably while Alexa sat in the bleachers and filled in for Harry again.

And Chastain was gone. Roux would make the Prix, there was no question now. That was all that was different. He would have to watch Roux, see if he grew, see if he changed from his last defeat. Another thing to be aware, nothing more. Never anything more.

*******

Louis got to his Cross photoshoot in a shitty mood.

Partially because he generally hated photoshoots. Partially because there was a crick in his neck that only meant he slept in a weird position and that he’d be paying for it all day.

But mostly because it had been four days since he had seen Harry. He had spoken to him on the phone about two days ago, listening in as Harry talked about Doncaster and how he wished Louis was with him, could see him all his favorite places. Louis told him to the go to the breakfast place with the apple pancakes and to the Donny Dome, where he and his first boyfriend had gone on their second date, and then asked when Harry would be back. He had told him soon, hopefully, but he hadn’t gotten back in touch since then.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the photographer for Louis’s cover shoot had randomly switched the shoot to the day before Louis has to take his week off, which cut out a full day of training he hadn’t been anticipating. That wasn’t something Louis afford anymore, not with the Prix qualifiers solidifying and both his strategy and placing becoming more important than ever.

But all of that went on the back burner when Louis walked into the extremely over-air-conditioned photography studio in the uptown Cross office. The space was big, and there were windows lining the entire back wall of the room that were gradually being covered by a team of assistants who were hanging up heavy black drapes to block out the midday sunlight. In the middle of the room, there was large white backdrop and a series of cameras set up, and beyond that there were make-up tables and a craft services spread set up.

But on the other side of the studio, there was a series of motorcycles lined up, each with a different number tag, their chromes surfaced being groomed and treated by a team of assistants.

They were all shit.

“What the fuck is this?” Louis shouted, loud enough that everyone in the warehouse turned to look at him. He thought he heard an assistant yelp and drop a cup of coffee on the floor.

In an instant, a tall man wearing a purple blazer rushed forward, and Louis felt his shoulders prickle and set back at the sight of him.

“Hello, Racer Tomlinson,” the man said, lacing his fingers tightly in front of him, “I’m – “

“Yes, yes, you’re the photographer who decided switching the time of this thing on me was a good idea. I know who you are,” Louis cut in, recognizing the man’s acutely pitched voice from his phone call earlier. Louis pointed back to the line of bikes by the wall, “Now, what the hell are those?”

“Oh, those are prop bikes,” the photographer said, his voice barely steady, “You see, you’re going to be posing with – “

“Prop bikes. Of course they’re prop bikes, do you think any of this garbage is good for anything?” Louis could feel the pang in his neck getting worse, and his head was swimming as his voice got stronger. He knew he was being a knob, and he didn’t want to yell, but he was pissed off, and they were shitty bikes, and if he could grab hold of at least one thing in his life, he was going to make sure he wasn’t immortalized in front of one of the numbered bikes by the way. So he swallowed thickly and made his voice low and level, the kind of voice that made people listen to him.

“If you think, for one single fucking second, I am going to caught dead with a Virago cruiser, you will file these pictures over my dead fucking body,”

“We don’t have any other options, Racer Tomlinson,” the photographer said weakly. Louis flicked his eyes down to the blue ribbon on the man’s lapel and then back up to his eyes.

“You have fifteen minutes to get me a Ducati,” he said evenly, “Or I will be leaving and I will be rescheduling again, possibly with a different creative director,”

“I – someone,” the photographer said weakly, and one of the nearby assistants broke into a dead sprint towards the door. Louis would have found it amusing if a dull, thick pain didn’t shoot through his neck at the same time. He blinked the dots of light out of his vision and reached up to rub at his neck as people all around him snapped to attention, trying to go back to their previous tasks as best they could.  

“Well, ah, I suppose – I suppose we can talk over what I had in mind for today, if you’d like?” the photographer asked. Louis rubbed his neck harder and shot the man a withering look.

“No thanks,” he said, “But you can get someone to get me a hot towel and a glass of ice water,”

*******

The photo shoot wasn’t anything special.

The photographer obviously thought it is, because he kept shouting and cooing and congratulating both himself and everyone around him, obviously past the early onset heart attack Louis almost put him through earlier.

But it wasn’t special. Making Louis pose in just his racer’s jacket and no shirt wasn’t special. Neither were the props they put on him, or the poses they had him do, or even the shimmering make-up they put on his face. He had done that sort of thing before for other racing magazines and even a couple fashion glossies over the years. The only thing special is the bike behind him, which a panicked prop assistant had gotten from the bike showcase Cross kept somewhere in their offices, apparently for this exact purpose. Louis kind of wished he had gotten his own Ducati from the high-security parking garage downstairs, but dragging that thing into an industrial elevator only to have it touched it by a bunch of strangers was not something he wanted to put himself through.

The photo shoot ended, eventually, with one final shot of Louis draped over the bike in the middle of the room, and when he eased off of it and walked away from the white background, he felt his joints crack in protest.

“That was wonderful, Racer Tomlinson,” the photographer told him, “I’ll so glad we could come to a compromise on all this,”

“Uh huh,” Louis got out as he accepted his jacket from one of the assistants.

“I’ll send you the rough copies of the pictures once they’re done,”

“Uh huh,”

“It was a pleasure working with you,”

“Uh huh,” Louis said, rubbing his eye. His fingertip ended up gold, and he remembered then he was wearing a full face of makeup. He would leave it on, if it meant getting out of here immediately.

He swallowed thickly and thanked for the photographer and the assistants for their time, and then promptly left the room and strode quickly down the hall, breezing past multiple framed past issues of Cross that were hung up, past the open entryway that led into the main newsroom, and back into another connecting hallway.

He was just beginning to think about how badly he wanted something to eat when he heard it.

“Hey, Harry,” a female voice said from inside the newsroom, and then, a second voice came, encircled in a laugh.

“Oh, hey,”

Louis paused, and backed up and peeked around the corner, gazing into the newsroom. There was a pretty, thirty-ish woman by a copy machine near the edge of the room, and behind her, there was Harry. He was wearing a big black sweater with the sleeves pushed over his elbows, a pair of bright blue jeans, and his scuffed brown boots. He was carrying a brown paper lunch sack in both hands, his feet turned inwardly slightly as he stood. His smile was soft and bright, his normal smile, the kind that was given out to anyone and everyone and still managed to make anyone happy who got to see it.

Louis blinked. Harry was here. Of course Harry was here. He worked here. Still. He must just have gotten back. Why hadn’t he told Louis he was back?

He was so caught up in his own head he almost missed it.

“Oh, happy birthday, by the way,” the woman said as Harry started to walk away.

“Thanks, darling,” he grinned, his voice light and happy.

Harry’s birthday. It was Harry’s birthday. Why hadn’t he told him that, either?

Louis barely had time to think before Harry was walking out of the newsroom and rounding a corner, straight into the hallway where Louis was standing. He had his head down when he first walked up, and only glanced up when he almost ran into Louis, causing them both to step back and for Louis to grasp at the wall next to him to regain his balance.

“Oh, shit, sorry – “ Harry said, and then he was looking fully up, and he stopped completely, blinking.

“Hey,” he said, the word all breath, and then he smiled. Not his normal smile. Far, far more than his normal smile, “What are you – what’re you doing here?”

“It’s your birthday today?”

“What?”

“I – I wasn’t eavesdropping, I swear,” Louis said. He realized he still had a hand braced against the hall next to him and he let it drop, “I mean, um, I – I overheard. A thing. Your coworker was saying. Um. I’ve been here for a few minutes. Just a few. Promise,”

“Oh. Okay. But, um, yeah, it’s my birthday,” Harry shrugged, and then his eyebrows creased, “Sorry, um -- what are you doing here? I thought you were training today”

“Oh. Right. My cover shoot that got rescheduled for today,” Louis managed, “Here. I -- I guess we’re both in the right place?”

“I guess so,” Harry nodded, smiling, then glanced behind him, making sure no one was around, and then took a step forward, “I’m sorry I didn’t call you. I swear I just got in last night, around midnight – I was actually going to just finish up and then call you up when I was done – “

“Don’t worry about it,” Louis cut in, “It doesn’t matter,”

“Okay. Um,” Harry held up the bag in his hand, “Well, I was just taking my lunch break. Do you…have you eaten?”

“Not yet,” Louis shook his head, “I should, though, I didn’t eat breakfast,”

Harry’s eyes softened, and he opened his mouth, and then just as quickly he seemed to remember where he was, and his expression closed up a bit, but his eyes stayed big and bright.

“Well, if you want, there’s a few food places and smoothie bar in the lobby, it’s not bad,” he smiled, “I was going to eat down there, anyways, if you’d like to join me,”

Louis nodded a bit too quickly but didn’t even care, “That sounds lovely,”

*******

The line in the lobby cafeteria was long, but every single person waiting still allowed Louis to cut to the front. A few minutes later he was walking away from the sandwich counter with a paper-wrapped turkey club and a basket of chips, and as he sat down at one of the cafeteria tables, he almost felt guilty as he looked back at the still-long line he had left behind.

And then he saw Harry strolling over carrying two cups, one yellow and one dark purple, and was relieved he had just gained some more time with him.

“Blackberry or mango?” Harry asked as he sat down and set both cups on the table, “They were out of strawberry mix, that one’s usually the best,”

“That’s alright. Blackberry sounds good,” Louis said, and grabbed the darker cup.

Harry sat down across from him and smiled.

“I like the eyeshadow,” Harry said as he unrolled the top of his lunch bag, “It’s your color,”

“Oh. Thanks,” Louis murmured, fighting the urge to touch his own eyes again, “I should keep it. Think it would distract the competition?”

Harry was still smiling, and the smile lines along his mouth and the dimples of his cheeks both deepened.

“You’d cause a dozen crashes every race,”

Louis felt something grow warm in his chest. Harry, flirting with him, like it was natural. Because it was natural, now.  

Louis watched Harry unpack each item from his bag -- a sandwich wrapped in plastic wrap, a bright green apple, a peanut butter energy bar – and found himself looking too long at how Harry’s long fingers handled each item.

“Louis,” Harry said, and he glanced up from where Harry’s goddamn fingers were holding one triangle of his sandwich up to his mouth, “What’re you doing?”

Louis shook his head, “I missed you,”

Harry’s eyes went soft, and Louis didn’t miss one of his hands twitch, like he wanted to reach across the table and grab Louis’s hand, but he couldn’t, because they were in the middle of a food court and everyone walking by was double glancing at them as was.

“Me, too,” Harry said softly, “Is that it?”

“Huh?”

“Is that all that’s wrong?” Harry asked, “I mean, I know you were so upset after your race – “

“I’m – I’m okay. I mean, I guess I’ll work on that, but – for right now, I’m okay,” Louis shook his head, “I think I’m just worn out,”

“Ah,” Harry nodded, taking a bite of his sandwich, his forehead creasing, “Could you maybe – rest more? Or something?”

“It’s not a physical worn out. Not entirely, at least,” Louis managed, “It’s – “

He shook his head, “I guess I’m just realizing it’s been a long five years on this team. And it’s going to be a long – however many years after,”

He blinked, and then grabbed his smoothie.

“I don’t know. Um,” he said, and then stuck the straw into his mouth, giving it a firm suck. The smoothie was freezing cold and half-melted, mostly syrup and ice, but he still drank it because he could feel Harry watching him again.

“You know you don’t owe me anything, right?” Harry finally said.

“Huh?”

“Like…” he shrugged, “You don’t owe me anything. You don’t have to tell me every feeling you have or every thought in your head. There are things you’re allowed not to tell me,”

“I want to tell you,” Louis said quickly, his straw still stuck in the side of his mouth, “I just still don’t have the words,”

“Then tell you can tell me when you find them,” Harry told him, “Only if you want to, of course,”

Louis nodded swallowing, letting more half-melted smoothie to slip into his mouth. He swallowed and let his straw fall out of his mouth, setting down his smoothie and instead going to grab his food.

“Speaking of not telling things,” Louis said, “Why, exactly, did you not tell me it was your birthday today?”

“Because it’s not important,” Harry shrugged, “I’m twenty-three. That’s not a groundbreaking age,”

“It’s groundbreaking if it’s happening to you,” Louis insisted. “Shit, I wish I would’ve know. I would’ve bought you something, at least,”

“You already bought me a designer bag for Christmas, Louis,” Harry shook his head, “And I don’t even need anything, I promise,”

Louis nodded, “Okay,”

Harry ducked his head, satisfied, and took another bite of his sandwich while Louis just watched on.

This was how Harry existed, he realized. In a large and modern but ultimately plain office building that looked like a thousand other buildings in the city. Eating a sandwich and energy bar every afternoon in the building cafeteria. Having an identical desk as a dozen other writers. Louis imagined him making coffee or microwave popcorn in an outdated kitchen, fixing those few wild curls that stuck up straight behind his head in the bathroom mirror, watching the clock and waiting for it to strike 5. All the mundane things he never got to see and suddenly wanted to understand.

“Louis, you’re staring at me again,”  

Louis blinked, Harry coming back into clearer focus. He had been focusing so hard on his own thoughts that his very vision had blurred.  

“M’just watching you,” Louis said, “You watch me all the time, sometimes I want to do the same,”

“God,” Harry laughed, reaching for his smoothie, “Is that what I look like when I watch you? Because if I do then I’m so sorry,”

“Shut up,” Louis huffed, “Do you want to come over tonight? We can watch a movie or something,”

“Of course. I wanted to anyways,” Harry said, “Actually, I finished up my work today and I’m on flexible hours, so I can leave here and come over whenever, really,”

“Don’t get needy on me, Styles. Give me a few hours to clean my place up. It’s horrendous,”

“Have you fallen apart without me, then?”

Louis just laughed and ducked his head, conceding, “Maybe more than I should have,”

Harry’s words could have meant so many things, but for now, sitting in an office cafeteria, the city outside cold and filled with winter sunlight and the promise of Harry coming over later, he could laugh at just about anything.

*******

Harry showed up just late enough for Louis to get everything together that he wanted to have. He still wanted to go out and get Harry some presents, despite his protests, so he went to the first few designer store he could think of immediately after he left the Cross office. He got a couple new shirts and a thick gold ring and a fountain pen from a stationary shop, and on his way back he also picked up a bottle of champagne and a dinner order from a place that sold burgers that cost a hundred pounds each, because why not.

When Harry finally showed up they ate their burgers and huddled under a blanket together on the couch and watched American talk shows because that was what Harry wanted to do. Louis hadn’t wrapped any of his presents but he gave them to Harry anyways, who protested loudly but still ran his hand delicately over the silk fronts of his new shirts, the gleaming surface of his ring, the details of his pen, and then finally pulled Louis into a hard kiss, scolding him to stop spending money on him, a command with absolutely no weight.

Eventually they went to bed. They had barely gotten inside his Louis’s room before Harry knocked Louis down onto the bed and started to unbutton his jeans. Harry gave Louis head languidly, moving his swollen mouth up and down his cock slowly and messily, kissing him softly with spit and pre-come flecked lips in between sucks, his hand still finding a way to Louis’s cock for a few tugs. His other hand was constantly in Louis’s hair, pulling, ruining every single thing the stylists from that morning had done to it.

After Harry had lapped up the remnants of Louis’s orgasm, he had loosely pinned Louis’s hands over his head and kissed him firmly. They fucked lazily and sloppily, Harry offering open-mouthed kisses that didn’t quite land on Louis’s mouth and Louis getting in soft and lingering touches to Harry’s chest and shoulders. Harry’s cock moved slowly, stretching Louis and reminding him that Harry was there. He breathed in sharply when Harry knotted him and Harry kissed him deeply and fully when he did.

They spooned face to face as they waited for Harry’s knot to go down, although Louis had the feeling that neither of them would have the energy to clean up afterwards and they would just take a long shower together the next morning before Harry left.

“Are we getting vanilla already?” Louis sighed. His head was tucked under Harry’s chin and all his breath exhaled against the dip under Harry’s throat. The other man kept dragging his fingers through Louis’s hair and he laughed softly.

“I’m getting used to you,” Harry murmured, “That’s all. You bored of me already?”

“No,” Louis shook his head, “Never,”

“Good,” Harry agreed, “Because I like making love to you,”

“Is that what this is?”

“That’s what I like to call it, yes,” Harry agreed, nudging at the top of Louis’s head with his nose and then laying a soft kiss into his hair, “I like to call it that with you a lot, actually. Hard, soft. To me it’s all making love,”

“Mm,”

“Because it’s something you do with someone special,” Harry added, “You are very special to me, Louis,”

“Mm,” Louis hummed, “So you’ve told me,”

Louis was silent, and then leaned in and pressed a hard kiss to the base of Harry’s neck. The other man tilted his head back and Louis kissed up his throat, until he got to Harry’s Adam’s apple, and then pulled away and looked up at Harry.

 “I want to tell Niall about us,”

He realized it probably wasn’t the best time to say it, but he needed to voice it out loud. And besides. Harry deserved to know, too.

Harry didn’t say anything, but Louis was still pressed right up against his throat, and he could feel his Adam’s apple bobbing.

“Oh?” he eventually said.

“He’s my best friend, Harry,” Louis said weakly, “He has been for eight years. And he’s also the only other person who knows about me, and who I am, besides you, and has helped make sure that all that stays a secret. So. I think he deserves to know,”

“Alright,” Harry said eventually.

“Alright?” Louis echoed, “You’re okay with it?”

“It’s your decision,” he said, “But, yes, I’m fine with it. Do you whatever you need to do,”

“Okay,”

“Okay,” Harry leaned in and pressed a kiss to Louis’s forehead. His knot had started to loosen and he shifted in hips, sliding out of the Louis, “I’ll be right back,”

Louis closed his eyes and listened to the rustle of sheets and the padding of uneven feet across his floor, the light click of the light switch on and then off again. Soon Harry was pulling on his hip, rolling him over, and he blinked his eyes open and lazily stretched as Harry leaned over him, running a wet cloth over his body.

“M’sorry,” Louis managed, “That was a shitty thing to drop on you on your birthday,”

“It’s a quarter past midnight,” Harry said, smoothing the flannel down between Louis’s legs, “S’not my birthday anymore,”

“Well. Still,” Louis said, “And my week off starts in the morning, so I have to kick you out again in a few hours, too,”

“It’s okay,” Harry said gently, “It’s okay, Louis,”

Then he was pressing his hands against the sides of his cheeks, kissing him firmly.

“You were upset,” Harry said abruptly when he pulled away. His eyes were wide and he was blinking, “I…I felt it,”

“Oh,”

“Yeah,”

Neither of them said anything else, although Louis could guess Harry was thinking the same thing he was. Any goddamn alpha in the world could smell an omega, pick up on when they were fertile or horny or God knows what else, but…an alpha picking up on an omega’s emotions…that took something else. Something deeper.

“Let’s try to sleep,” Harry eventually said.

“No,” Louis said quickly, grabbing Harry’s wrist, pulling his hand to his mouth so he could kiss the other man’s knuckles, “Not yet. Have a fag with me. I’ll open up all the windows,”

“Alright, then,” Harry conceded with a soft smile, stretching his fingers straight out so the tips could brush the bottom of Louis’s lip.

Louis rolled over and got his pack and lighter out of the bedside table, and then wandered to his bedroom window, cracking it wide open and letting the freezing early February air rush in. Harry joined in him in the next moment, his plump lips readily wrapping around the cigarette Louis offered him, leaning into the tiny flicker of the flame that came afterwards.

“When you exhale,” Louis said, retracting the lighter and tapping the cool metal of the body against his own bottom lip, “Do it into my mouth,”

Harry quirked an eyebrow but still grabbed Louis’s waist with one arm, plucking his cigarette out with his free hand and then pulling Louis close, breathing out in the same instance Louis opened his mouth and closed his eyes, letting the smoke pool over his tongue and mouth. When it had nearly disappeared he tilted himself up and accepted a soft kiss from Harry, who was running his finger over Louis’s spine, over and over.

They didn’t say anything else. And neither of them bothered to take another pull.

*******

The next morning, like clockwork, Harry left early, with all his gifts shoved in a leftover grocery bag Louis had found, and half an hour later, Niall showed up to give Louis his shots. He waited until after Niall had taken the birth control shot needle out of his hip to ask him.

“Can you come over after I’m done?” Louis asked, “Like on Tuesday or Wednesday night? I can call you when things finish up,”

“I don’t know if I can swing that,” Niall shook his head as he packed up his bag, “I have three exams coming up and – “

“Not for a sleepover. Just for dinner. Please,” Louis cut in, “I miss you,”

“Can’t miss you if I’m here right now,”

Please?”

“Oh, alright,” Niall huffed and rolled his eyes snapping his bag shut, “What’s the fuss, anyways? You going to propose to me properly this time? Did you finally buy me a ring?”

“I would’ve but I don’t know your ring size,”

Niall rolled his eyes, “The things I do for my fake ass fiancé. Make sure you eat something other than your shitty energy bars this week and I’ll consider it,”

An hour after Niall left Louis texted him a picture of a half-eaten banana he had left on his bedside table.

Niall told him he would be at Louis’s apartment at 7 on Wednesday.

*******

“The door’s unlocked,” Louis called out as soon as he heard the knock at his door. He would’ve answered it himself, but he was busy. Busy making sure his abandoned dining room table was set up neatly, that the food in the oven was staying hot but not burning, that everything was perfect.

He heard the door click behind him and then Niall strolled in, stretching his arms over his head.

“Why do you leave the door unlocked? S’not safe,”

“Because you’re the only one who ever wants to come see me,” Louis said, pulling out one of the table chair, “Sit down,”

“Why are we at the dining table?” Niall asked, but sat down anyways, “What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing’s wrong,”

“Are you dying?”

“No,”

“Are you having an existential crisis? Do you think you’re straight now?”

“Jesus, fuck, no,” Louis sighed, and shoved the back of Niall’s chair, pushing him in, “I want to talk to you about something. Eventually. After you eat,”

“But isn’t it important?”

“Yes. But it can wait,” Louis said, going into the kitchen, “I made pasta bake,”

“You can’t cook, Louis,”

“Shut your mouth and eat my pasta bake when I offer it to you,”

He pulled the steaming dish from the oven and brought it over the table, and then went and grabbed a bottle of wine and a bowl of salad, setting them down.

“Have a drink,” he insisted, already uncorking the wine. He could already feel the nerves roll in his stomach as he poured some into Niall’s glass.

“Don’t have to tell me twice,” Niall huffed, “I had four exams this week, did I mention that to you?”

“No, you didn’t. How is class, by the way?”

He probably should have asked Niall about how school was going earlier, but now he was just allowing his friend to talk, to complain about his professors and courses and getting letters of recommendation just so he could drink more wine and buy himself more time before dropping the inevitable bomb. He was barely even listening.

He was a bad friend.

“So,” Niall said, “What was it you wanted to tell me?”

Louis swallowed, the last bit of his wine tasting especially bitter as it went down. He almost wanted to tell him it didn’t matter anymore, to push it aside until he felt like he properly caught up with his friend. But he could push it off forever that way. So instead he cleared his throat and looked up, locking his fingers around the stem of his glass.

“Not sure if you’ll like it,”

“I could assume that, from the fact you’re trying to win me over with your bad cooking,”

“Right,” Louis shook his head, gripping his fingers tighter around his glass. He wanted to look down at his empty plate but he forced himself to look straight forward, until Niall’s steady and waiting gaze.

“Harry knows,” Louis finally said, “He knows about…me. Like, he knows,”

“What?” Niall said, his body immediately leaning across the table, his eyes wide, “Jesus, how?”

“Well, uh,” Louis’s fingers twitched. He wanted to reach for his glass but he curled his fingers into a fist instead, “He kissed me. That’s how he knows,”

“He – Jesus, that fucking – “

“No, no. Niall,” Louis interrupted, waving his hand, “I – I wanted him to – “

“You wanted him to?”

“Please, let me finish,” Louis said weakly. Niall was still leaned over the table, his body tight, and Louis just wanted all the words to come out as fast as they could go, “He wanted to give me a blow job, and he smelled me – fuck, Ni, I don’t know what you want me to say about this,”

“So,” Niall said tightly, “When did this happen? Last week or something?”

“Well, no,” Louis admitted, “All that happened back in Greece,”

“Greece,” Niall said softly, his eyes getting wide and far-off, and when he spoke, his voice was hard, “If he found out about this in fucking Greece, then why did you not fire that bastard the next morning?”

“Don’t call him that,” Louis snapped before he could even think what he was saying, “I – we’re seeing each other now, that’s why. We, um, we hang out. We fuck. We like each other. Fuck, I don’t – “

He buried his face in one hand and took a shaky breath, and then looked back up to Niall’s coiled body and his blank expression. For a moment he imagined he would dissolve into a casual shrug and a rolled pair of eyes.

“Of course I knew. How could I not know? I’m your best friend. I’m always going to know,” he would say. They would laugh and finish dinner and that would be it.

But he didn’t. And Louis, deep down, knew he wouldn’t.

“Ni – “

But before he could, Niall was standing up from the table, his chair scraping on the floor, and he was walking away.

“Jesus, Niall, don’t fucking ran away from me,” Louis called after him, getting up just as fast and following after his friend, “Say something, for God’s sake,”

Niall stopped, then, his back still turned to Louis, and then he laughed, the sound hollow and wrong.

“Say something,” he said, and then he was turning around, his eyes wide, “You want me to say something to you being an idiot?”

Louis set his shoulders back, all the words sticking in his throat, but Niall was on a roll anyways.

“Do you fucking realize where we are?” Niall was shouting now, and Louis vaguely hoped his neighbors weren’t home, “Look out the goddamn window, Louis. Who you are isn’t some stupid little secret you can throw away to the first person who wants to kiss you. If this gets out, we are both going to fucking prison. The Prix, gone. A normal life, gone. But you know what, I bet you already thought of that, didn’t you? Bet you didn’ think about me, and how if you’re an idiot, it’s all going back to me, and I’m never getting into medical school, never going to have anything. But you didn’t think about me, did you? That never entered your selfish fucking head,”

“You’re calling me selfish?” Louis was shouting now, and moving forward, “After eight years of me protecting you, letting you do whatever you want, being your friend, you’re calling me selfish?”

“Yes, Louis! Yes, I am!” Niall waved his hands, “Because you didn’t do a damn thing for me except make my life harder and more dangerous, just so you could chase your stupid dreams, and whether or you it or not that’s a fact,”

“Don’t,” Louis cautioned.

“Don’t what?” Niall had stepped up to Louis, and they were nearly face to face now.

“Don’t tell me this is stupid,” Louis breathed out, “Please, Niall, I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t think all this was worth something,”

Niall was breathing steadily, and slowly, he stepped away, putting his hands up.

“Okay,” Niall said softly, “Okay,”

It wasn’t the voice of acceptance. He was just waving a white flag, resigning.

“He’s not going to tell anyone,” Louis said weakly, “He’s not. I know he’s not,”

“Oh, he’s not,” Niall chuckled, shaking his head, “How the hell do you know that?”

Because he loves me.

Louis wanted to say it desperately. But the words got stuck in his throat. Harry had never said that to him. Did he love him? Did he really?

But I love him.

But he couldn’t say that, either. Not when he was suddenly realizing that he didn’t know how Harry felt.

“I don’t know,” Louis admitted, “But I trust him,”

Niall just shook his head.

“I’ll see you on the track,” he said, “Because that’s my job. Do me a favor and don’t speak to me unless you’re dying,”

“Niall – “

“Don’t, Louis,” Niall shook his head. Louis could see now his eyes had gone a bit wet, “There is nothing you have to say I want to hear,”

He turned, then, setting his shoulders back, and walked straight out the front door. Louis stayed the front hallway, standing perfectly still, long after he had heard Niall’s footsteps recede into the distance.

Chapter Text

Louis met Niall by chance two weeks after his sixteenth birthday.

It was the first weekend school was back in session, and by default, the school racing season had picked up again. But it was different, this time, because the upperclassmen leagues would be open up for auditions in the summer. Not only were the practices for the older racers getting intense because of it, but the school had already set up gender presentation testing for all the racers who hadn’t already had it done. The alphas and betas could go on to the summer auditions; any omegas on the team could finish the season and then they would have to be done. Louis’s coach had explained this every single time he had reminded them all of the scheduled testing day.

All the school racers went in to the chosen doctor’s office on a sunny spring afternoon. One by one, they were called back, alphabetically, and soon enough Louis was one of the last ones, quietly waiting his turn in the cool, sterile waiting room. It was a stark difference from the general hospital he and his sister had been going to for their bi-yearly check ups. That hospital had pastel walls and children’s magazines in the wait room and music playing over the intercom system. This office one was on the other side of town, and everything was made of steel and pale blue walls, with a stack of medical journals on the table.

It was a gender specialist’s office. Louis would probably be coming back to a place like this every year from now on.

Eventually, a nurse stepped out of the open doorway that led back to the rooms, glancing at her clipboard with bored, glazed-over eyes.

“Tomlinson, Louis,” the nurse called, and Louis stood, following her back into the rooms.

“Dr. Anderson is a bit backed up right now, so Dr. Stevens will be running your tests,” she said as they walked, “Hope that’s alright,”

“It’s fine,” Louis said. He didn’t know either of them, so he figured it didn’t matter.

Soon, he was ushered into a room that was as sterile as the rest of the office, maybe even more so, with only decoration steel tables and chairs and faded mint green walls. Louis sat up on the paper-covered table and stared at the autonomy posters around him as he waited, already eager to get everything over with so he could head home.

Eventually, the door opened, and a man in a white coat walked in. He was older, probably in his sixties, and he smiled easily when he saw Louis.

“Louis,” he smiled, “Nice to see you again,”

“Um,” Louis scrunched his eyebrows, “Have we – “

“Oh, right, of course,” the doctor chuckled, “I knew your dad. And your mum, actually. He was one of my regular patients and she worked in a hospital with me with when she was in nursing school,”

“Oh,” Louis said, “Alright,”

“I haven’t seen you since you just about two years old,” he shook his head, “Been checking up with your racing, too, you’re very gifted,”

“Oh,” Louis said, “Uh, thank you,”

He wasn’t exactly sure what to say to this total stranger, but luckily he was rifling through some of the supplies set out on the counter, pulling out one syringe.

“Alright, Louis, push up your sleeve for me,”

The needle plunged deep into his arm and he took a slow, steady breath, and then the needle was gone, only a soft, throbbing pain replacing it.

“And, we’re all set,”

“That’s all?”

“That’s all. I’ll send your results to the lab and get them processed in about three weeks. If there’s no positive pheromone composition showing up then we’ll just call you in to get another sample. Sound good?”

“Yeah, of course,” Louis said. The doctor just smiled and smoothed a bandage over Louis’s arm, and after he was done Louis rolled the fabric back down and got off the table.

“Tell your mother Archie says hello,”

“I will,”

As Louis shuffled out of the room, pulling on his jacket for his walk home, he heard a voice coming from the front lobby.

At the same time, Louis a little ping from inside his jacket, probably his mum asking when he would be home, and he dug into his pocket looking for his phone, not looking ahead of him.

A few seconds later, he was running straight into another body, and they both let out soft “oofs” at the same time.

“Sorry, mate,” Louis managed. He looked up and was greeted a boy his age, with dark hair and translucent blue eyes. 

“Ah, s’okay,” the boy grinned. He turned away, then, and Louis needed back for the door of the lobby, waving goodbye to his remaining few teammates that were still waiting to be called back.

From behind him, he heard the boy he had run into talking to the receptionist.

“Hi, um, I have, uh – I have an interview today? With Dr. Archie Stevens? For work study? Um, this is the right office, right? I – my name’s Horan, Niall Horan – “

*******

Three weeks later, Louis went back to the same doctor’s office, alone, after his coach told him there was an issue with his results and he needed to go back in and give another sample.

But when he got there, Archie came in with a careful, distant expression and handed Louis the papers from the lab that indicated that, yes, his pheromone profile did some up but it was very clearly that of an omega, meaning Louis could never race again.

But before Louis could even finish imagining what his life was going to be like now – struggling to finish school now that he couldn’t make a career racing, going to uni, maybe, having to find someone immediately, married by 22, pregnant six months later – Archie told him he could do something for him. Something dangerous. Something that was popular nearly fifty years ago when athletics regulations against omegas were somehow worse. A simple switching of blood samples, a rewrite of records, a careful assigned set of suppressants from a very special medical team. And Louis was so terrified he said yes, yes of course he would do it, if he could still be on a bike.

A year later, the boy Louis had run into in the lobby became Archie’s assistant and the third person on the planet that knew about Louis’s gender. Through every month Louis was in his school teams, and later the Manchester specialty leagues, and finally his first race at nationals, Niall stood by while Archie administered birth control into Louis’s blood and rubbed suppressant onto his skin and fiddled with his lab records. Occasionally, he would do it himself, his fingers overly cautious at first and then slowly more steady, until it was normal for them to chat about weekend plans and upcoming graduation plans while Niall shot birth control into Louis’s hip.

And then, a full year after Louis had been on the national team, Archie died in a car accident and Louis immediately signed all his medical responsibility over to Niall. Now, there were only two people left in the entire world that knew about him.

Since then, they had promised that the only thing they would do for each other to not let Louis’s secret slip. It was something sealed tightly between them – Louis hiding himself with his own papers and personality, Niall with the suppressants and private medical tests no one else could do. It was their one promise to each other, that they would keep each other safe.

And then Louis added one more name to the list and everything went to shit again.

*******

Louis went back to the track the next day.

He had to. Because he buried his feelings in racing and there was a small race in Belgium in nine days that he had to be prepared for because he had to be prepared for everything, even if it was just a four-team race, something small just to pad the British team’s schedule, so easy that he might as well have the Belgian race moderators send him a gold medal ahead of time.

So with a tight turn around he went to practice. Niall was there as promised, with his textbook and a few spare bottles of water, but he didn’t speak to Louis when he took his break and Louis didn’t bother to break the silence. And then Niall left before Louis even got the bike off the track.

“Is Niall alright?” Harry asked once Louis was done. He was waiting for him by the exit doors like he always did now, and Louis wordlessly walked straight into him, his head bumping against Harry’s chest. The other man made a soft noise, wrapped his arms around him, and then shuffled backwards -- out of line of the nearest security camera.

“Louis – Louis are you okay?” Harry asked softly, setting his hand on the back of Louis’s head, and Louis just shook his head.

“I told him. It didn’t go well,” he managed.

“Oh,” Harry said.  

“Mmhm, oh,” Louis said, then shook his head, “God, I’m so stupid,”

“No, you’re not,” Harry said, “What happened?”

“I’ll tell you later,” he said, “Just…come over. Please, I can’t be alone right now,”

“I’ll come over anytime,” Harry said, “Just give me a few minutes, I’ll catch a train into your neighborhood,”

“Right,” Louis sighed. Because like always, he had to wait. Because everything about their lives was stupid and decided by some blood tests and a scrap of fabric on your chest.

He pushed away from Harry and roughly swiped a hand over his eyes, even though they were completely dry.

“I’ll see you at home, then,” he managed.

“Do you not want me to walk out with you?” Harry asked, his voice genuinely worried. Louis just shook his head again, his throat feeling tight with all the words he had to tuck away.

“Not now,” Louis sighed, “I…everything I want to say can’t be here,”

“Oh,” Harry said, and he reached out, giving Louis’s wrist a swift squeeze, “We’ll talk when I get to yours, then,”

*******

There was still three-fourths a bottle of wine and nearly an entire pan of shitty pasta bake leftover from the night before in Louis’s fridge, and he was sat on his couch eating both straight out of their containers when Harry walked in.

“Hey,” Louis said, not moving his eyes from the evening news on screen. Harry didn’t say anything, just sighed and went into the kitchen, coming back with two plates and two glasses. He wrestled both the pan and the bottle away from Louis, and then plated out some of the pasta and poured out the last of the wine.

“Is this what you do when I’m not here?” Harry asked as he handed Louis a plate, his voice light, “Forget that dishes exist?”

Louis rolled his eyes.

“Yes, and I have for the last five years,” Louis said, “But now I’m doing it while you’re here. Consider that a milestone for us,”

He leaned into Harry’s side then, his nose bumping his shoulder. Harry was wearing one of the shirts Louis had gotten him for his birthday; the back all dark red silk and the front entirely sheer lace in the same shade, the stark black of Harry’s tattoos peeking through the lace pattern. Harry’s arm easily stretched over Louis’s shoulders, his hand rubbing the top of his bicep, rucking down the already loose fabric of Louis’s sweatshirt.

“Do you want to talk now or later?” Harry asked softly.

Louis glanced down at the plate of pasta in his lap and he suddenly didn’t feel the urge to eat it.

“Now, I guess,”

Harry rubbed Louis’s bicep a bit faster.

“Just sitting like this?”

Louis closed his eyes, leaning further into Harry.

“Yeah,” he said, “I need to get through this without being a blubbering mess, can’t look at you and do that,”

Harry snorted lightly, “Alright,”

Louis cleared his throat, keeping his eyes on the broadcast ahead, even though none of it interested him anymore.  

“So. Ah. He doesn’t trust you not to tell anyone about me,” he started, “Niall, I mean,”

“That’s fair,” Harry shrugged, “I haven’t known you for long, and he doesn’t know me well,”

“Well, he’s also pissed at me, more than you,” Louis continued, his throat feeling tighter as he went on, “Like, he’s been helping me maybe eight years now, right, and about half of that was him working for me full time. He was still going to school, going to do hospital work and internships, studying for his med schools entrance exams, all while he was traveling to races with me and giving me health screenings and my shots every month because he knew the second a medical assistant from the team got their hands on me I was fucked. Not to mention the pressure he was under, always thinking about what would happen if anyone did find out, because obviously, he would be the one who would know the most about me and it would come back to him. So, you know, we agreed not to fuck up for both our sakes,”

Louis exhaled, long and heavy. Harry still hadn’t said anything, was just rubbing his shoulder, a steady pressure.

“And he’s worked so hard, he really has, and I went and basically showed him it didn’t matter, I was going to do what I wanted, I was going to put us both in danger anyways,”

He paused, lifting his head a bit to look in front of him. Harry had turned off the TV at some point, but he hadn’t noticed

“So. Um. That’s why he’s pissed,”

“Okay,” Harry said softly, “I – I can understand that,”

He rubbed Louis’s shoulder a little more, and then he cleared his throat again.

“Can I ask you something, though?”

“Sure,”

“I mean – I guess I’m trying to figure out why he was still working with you after so long. I mean, maybe he could train someone else or something?”

“Maybe,” he shook his head, “But – there are a lot of people who could make a lot of money ratting me out to the UK team. So I guess he stayed because we were friends, and neither of us knew who else to trust,”

He shrugged, and set his cheek on Harry’s shoulder.

“I hate this. I hate that this is a big deal that we had to go and fucking fight about,” he huffed, “Like, why does it fucking matter so much what my body does? Isn’t that my business? Why do I have to wear a fucking marker on my chest to let people know what I am, why do I have to lie just to have the job I want – “

He broke off his sentence and collapsed fully into Harry, shaking his head enough that his cheek scraped against the fabric of Harry’s shirt.

“It’s just not fair,” he finished weakly.

“It’s not,” Harry agreed softly, “I know it’s not,”

Louis shook his head again and then twisted his head enough to kiss Harry’s shoulder.

“Let’s not talk about this anymore,” he murmured, “I’m already in a shitty enough mood, don’t need to think about how crap the world is on top of it,”

He pulled himself away from Harry and then pushed himself off the couch, his joints cracking enough to make him close his eyes and moan softly.

“I need a shower, anyways,” he said, “Didn’t even take my oil off yet,”

“Alright,” Harry said, “I’ll wait for you, then,”

Louis rolled his eyes, turning around so he could grab both Harry’s hands and pull on him.

“Take one with me, asshole,”

Harry blinked up at him, his eyes wide and pale, celery-green in the full light of the living room, and Louis sighed again, tugging on his wrists harder.

“C’mon, don’t get shy on me, Jesus,”

Eventually, Harry smiled, and then he stood up easily, letting Louis drag him out of the room, down the hall, into the bedroom and finally the walk-in.

Louis turned the water on in the shower first, adjusting the temperature to be gently warm, not scalding hot like he normally would’ve liked it at the end of a long day. When he turned around, Harry was undoing the buttons on his top, and Louis caught his fingers, looking up at Harry as he fumbled with the pearly buttons that were still done up. One by one, they slid out of their places, and he opened the fabric on both sides when it was all the way undone and just looked, brushed his thumbs over the hard muscle that curled under Harry’s pale skin, tucked his hands all the way under the fabric and felt around, feeling how his firm sides sloped into soft, thick hips and the way his back was solid and strong against the silk that still clung to his body.

Louis leaned forward, then, pressing his mouth to the center of Harry’s chest, mouthing over flat space between the soft swell of his pectorals, and Harry reached up, cradling the back of Louis’s head as he kissed him, his nose filling with the clean scent of Harry’s skin as the other man made soft noises, his chest moving under Louis’s mouth.

“Louis,” Harry managed, “Lou, baby,”

Louis looked up and peeled his mouth away from his skin, his lips tingling and swollen.

“M”sorry,”

“Don’t be,” he said firmly, and leaned in to kiss him firmly on the lips, his fingers grasping for Louis’s hands so he could intertwine their fingers as he did. He pulled away, blinking, and then, “Do you want to take off everything else?”

Louis nodded, reaching up to touch the mouth of his hoodie, but Harry stopped.

“Off me, I mean,” he said, and Louis laughed.

“Right,” he managed, “Uh,”

He reached out again, his fingers suddenly feeling foreign and clumsy, like maybe he shouldn’t be doing this, but soon he found purchase on Harry’s shoulders, pushing the lace and silk off of him until it was a pile on Louis’s bathroom floor. Then his fingers reached for Harry’s jeans, undoing the button and the zip, the tight material easily moving at the release of the pressure. Harry’s hands joined him as he moved the black fabric off his legs, and then Louis moved back up, his fingers brushing to the end of Harry’s briefs, the same black as his jeans, a white elastic band with a designer name printed along the front. Louis leaned in, pressing his cheek to Harry’s chest, and he exhaled.

“I – “ he said, “I don’t really know if I want to…like, do anything tonight,”

“Okay,”

“I just want to be with you,”

“Okay,” Harry said again, and this time, he smoothed a hand over Louis’s temple and pecked his forehead, “It’s okay, Louis, whatever you want,”

Louis nodded and then shifted his head again so he could get a closer look before he pulled Harry’s briefs down to his thighs. He just looked again, blinking slowly at the sight of Harry’s cock, hanging soft between his legs, petal pink at the tip. Louis wanted to touch it, to run his lips and fingers over it like he had every other part of Harry’s body, just for the sake of touching it, but he really was tired, and he didn’t want to start something he knew he couldn’t finish, so he left it alone.

Eventually, after Harry had taken the briefs off his legs entirely, Louis stepped back, spreading his arms out.

“Do me now,” he said softly.

Harry took hold of the base of his sweatshirt and rucked it up over Louis’s head, his vision obscured by dark fabric for a few moments until it was gone again. Harry worked more quickly than Louis had, but his touch was still gentle, his fingers careful as they brushed over Louis’s waist, tucked his fingers under his shirt and then pulled it off. He tugged down his joggers easily, exhaling with a soft laugh when he saw Louis had nothing underneath, and then he pinned him to the nearest wall, tucking his hands against the sides of Louis’s face as he kissed him.

“So pretty, love,” he sighed, and then a soft whistle of air as he inhaled, “Wish I could smell you,”

“Well then we should get in the shower,” Louis said softly, “Come on,”

Harry stepped back just enough for Louis to crack open the tall glass door of the shower and drag Harry back in after him. Almost as soon as they were in, Harry pulled Louis back into him, gripping him by the hips tight enough to make Louis squeak. Harry kissed the back of his neck and then his hands slid higher to hold onto Louis’s middle firmly, sliding up and down, spreading water down his skin.

Eventually Harry got Louis’s body wash from the built-in shelf of the shower and poured some over both of them, kneading into Louis’s skin with his hands. Louis’s tilted his head back, pushing his body into Harry, wanting every inch of their slippery skin to touch, to feel the solidness of Harry’s body against his back. Harry’s hands slipped over Louis’s stomach, moving inward until both his arms were wrapped around him, and he buried his face into the crook of Louis’s shoulder. Louis kept his eyes closed, just feeling the water beat down on their bodies, run in between the crevices of where they were connected, feel the soap bubbles slip down his hips and over his legs and then swirl down the drain at his feet.

“This is alright,” Louis murmured, “Isn’t it?”

“More than alright,” Harry sighed, “Never want to leave. Never want to do anything else,”

“Nothing else?”

“Nothing else,” Harry shook his head, “Any moment I’m with you I never want to be doing anything else than whatever I’m doing right then,”

Louis’s eyes fluttered open, and he felt his lips part.

It would be so easy just to ask it.

Do you love me, Harry?

 

Is this love? This is what this is?

But he didn’t. Instead he slid his arm back, tucking his hand to Harry’s neck.

“Help me wash my hair,” he said, “I need to go to bed soon,”

He felt Harry’s arms loosen around him and he slipped out of his grasp enough to turn around, only to fall right back into Harry’s embrace. The other man pecked a kiss to Louis’s wet forehead and then reached for a bottle of shampoo on the side of the shower. He poured some into his palm and then slid his hands through Louis’s hair, his fingers gently rolling over his scalp, and Louis let his eyes close again, nothing but roaring water and the scent of apples and Harry’s touch.

“Stay for tonight,” he murmured.

“I can’t,” Harry sighed.

“Yes, you can,” Louis huffed, “You can take the train in or something in the morning. Just stay here,”

Harry sighed, running his fingers down from Louis’s scalp and then over his neck, before he pulled Louis to him tightly, burying his face into the soft, damp skin at the back of Louis’s neck.

“I’ll never leave, then,” he said, “I’ll never leave if you let me stay,”

“That’s the point,”

Harry’s hand ran against Louis’s stomach and he caught his fingers, twisting them together.

“I’m still paying rent on my apartment,” Harry said, “Might as well use it,”

“Then I’ll come over,” Louis said, “And don’t tell me I can’t. I’ll camp outside your door until you let me in. If you’re worried your neighbors will talk if you let me in, think about what they’ll say when they see you turn away Racer Tomlinson when he wanted to see you,”

Harry squeezed their intertwined fingers and nipped pleasantly at Louis’s neck.

“You’re a brat,” he breathed out, absolutely no malice in his voice. “But I’ll stay. Just this once, I’ll stay,”

Louis just let his eyes close, and pressed his slippery back to Harry’s equally wet front.

“Thank you,”

*******

Louis didn’t feel like doing anything in the next few days.

His days got swallowed up in practices. Even when he wasn’t on the track, he was in the training center gym, spending a few hours on the treadmill or tossing a medicine ball back and forth with one of the trainers or just doing straight crunches to keep his core strong.

Harry and Niall hovered in their separate corners like always, worrying Louis in their own ways. Niall, because he was still giving Louis icy silence, and Harry, because he was tied up in his own ways. He didn’t come over for multiple days, instead just staying in his own apartment, writing. Louis knew his deadline was approaching in a couple months, and even though Harry had been writing constantly for months, he also knew that Harry would want it edited it down until it was flawless. Louis took to calling him when he got home, just to make sure he was getting sleep and not driving himself insane.

Louis, meanwhile, was sleeping more than ever, crashing almost as soon as he got home and managing to squeeze in a few extra minutes of sleep in the morning. He usually hit a period of exhaustion near the end of the season; it was almost to be expected at this point. But this felt worse, somehow. Maybe it was because he was training as hard as he ever had for the Prix. Maybe it was because he was getting older. Maybe it was because for once, he had other things on this mind than getting better and faster and keeping one measly secret.

He did have one thing to keep his mind off everything.

In the free time he did have, Louis house-hunted.

Louis figured he had at least until the summer to figure out exactly what country he wanted to go to after the season, and then time after that to get payments down for a house and then get everything from the apartment packed up. There was no point in worrying about that right at the end of the season, especially not this one.

Still, it was relaxing to lay in bed with his laptop and a cup of tea or a glass of wine as he scrolled through the multiple foreign real estate sites he had bookmarked over the last year. Each of the houses bookmarked were different in style and location. A glass-paneled modern house in Iceland, four bedrooms, an outdoor shower. A two-story townhouse in the middle of Amsterdam, three bedrooms and a Jacuzzi tub in the master bathroom. In the days he thought maybe he would stay in England for a while longer, a long-paneled cabin in a private plot of land far, far up North sounded nice.

Still, though, none of them were perfect. Even in the dwindling patches of city that no longer required ribbons, he would still be him. Still have his face and his name and his reputation, still be followed by the idea of the red ribbon that trailed him for years even if he wouldn’t have to wear it anymore. He’d have to keep getting Niall to mail him suppressant when he wanted to go out, and fly him in if he had even the smallest health issue. That is, if Niall would still be talking to him in a year.

And Harry. Where the hell was Harry in all of this?

He was afraid to ask. And that stupid “does he love me” question kept poking at him far more than it should have.

On one particular night after this routine, Louis closed his laptop with a soft click and wandered around his apartment, just looking at everything.  

He ran his hand over the marble countertops in the kitchen he had gotten put in when he was 20, because that seemed like a proper thing to do when you had money.

He wandered down the hallway and peeked into both of the spare rooms, remembering the hot, sticky summer he had spent re-painting both of them by himself when he was 22. There was still speckles of stray paint on creases that connected the walls and ceiling.

He ended at the tall windows in the living room, and remembered he had looked out of them for nearly an entire week when he was 24 and had stalled behind Connor Valentine enough that he wasn’t in the Prix. Every night that week, he promised himself he would try harder next season, especially after Valentine announced he would be stepping down from the team after the Prix, regardless of his final placement. On the night of the Prix, when Louis had stayed home and watched Valentine placed ninth, he had gone to bed for the first time in days without broodily staring out his window.

An entire chapter of his life was sealed up in one place, and he knew he didn’t want to leave it, didn’t want to leave the bakery down the street where he used to get his morning breakfast in the spring-time or the soft screech of car horns every morning from down below.

But he still had to so many things, and it was all so stupidly unfair.

He still bookmarked the houses he liked, though. No point in ignoring the future.

*******

It had nearly been a little less than a week since Niall had been ignoring Louis. Belgium was approaching rapidly, but Louis couldn’t even bring himself to care that much anymore, between the low-ranking competition list – a clear sign Belgium was trying to run with the bigger teams, and not exactly succeeding – and his own exhaustion.

After he was done putting himself through some motions, he went ahead and wrapped up early, putting his bike back and watching on as Niall left immediately. He sighed, wandering over to where Harry was waiting as usual, brushing his knuckles over the curve of Harry’s bicep as he did. He had figured out that it was the most affectionate he could get with the security cameras leering.

“Come on, then,” he sighed, and then resisted the urge to roll his eyes when Harry slipped an arm around his waist and kissed his temple when they fell into the shadowy, non-recorded space between the door and hallway. Quickly, though, he just let himself melt until Harry’s touch for as long as he could before he was forced to pull away again.

“Stop trying to get me in trouble,” he said as they set off down the hallway.

“Stop letting me try, then,”

“Oh, fuck off,” Louis huffed, and Harry laughed loudly. He had the sudden urge to reach out and hold Harry’s hand, like they were walking in the hallway at secondary school, but he managed to push it away and just walk alongside him like normal.  

“Can I come over tonight?” Harry asked after his laughter had subsided.

“Of course you can,” Louis said, “You can come over any night you want, you know that,”

“Okay, great,”

“Do you not have to write tonight?”

“I mean, I guess maybe I should…” Harry shrugged, adjusting the strap of his bag against his shoulder, “But it’s Valentine’s Day and all – “

Louis stopped walking entirely, and Harry took a few more steps forward before he caught on that Louis had stopped walking and turned around to look at him.

“Wait, wait. Back up,” Louis managed, “Today is what?”

“It’s Valentine’s Day,”

“Shit,” Louis shook his head, “God, I – I didn’t realize,”

“It’s okay, really. It’s a bullshit holiday, really, I just wanted to do something with you,”

“Yes,” Louis exhaled, “Okay. Yes. Please do that,”

“Okay,” Harry smiled, and then looked both ways down the hallway before pressing a hand to Louis’s cheek, pinching the skin slightly, “Don’t go buy me anything,”

Louis pulled himself away from Harry’s grip, “What if I want to, though?”

“It’s been less than two weeks since my birthday, I don’t need anything,”

“Fine,” Louis agreed, “As long as you don’t buy me anything, either,”

Harry grinned, and his eyes lit up enough that Louis knew if they were home right now, he would be getting his lips snogged off by now.

“Deal,”

*******

Harry showed up at Louis’s doorstep two hours later with two and a half dozen red roses in his arms.  He smiled widely as Louis did his best to level him an unimpressed look, despite the fact that he was pretty sure he was visibly blushing.

“You said no gifts,” he managed.

“Would you believe me if I told you that I didn’t buy these, someone on the street just gave them to me?” Harry asked, his grin widening.

“If that’s true, then you’re not bringing those things into my damn house,” Louis sighed, opening the door wider, “Come here,”

Harry stepped through the threshold and Louis closed the door firmly behind him before pushing himself onto his toes and slinging an arm around Harry’s neck to kiss him. He took the flowers from Harry once he pulled away, turning the bouquet over in his hands for a long moment before heading towards the kitchen.

“I don’t think I have a vase for these,” he said as he walked, “Let me see,”

He set the flowers gently on the marble counter, and then opened up all of his cabinets at once, scanning what was inside.

“I – oh, this’ll work!” he pulled out a plastic coffee thermos, a free one he had properly gotten at a sponsorship event, and held it over his head triumphantly.

“Babe,” Harry said from the other side of the room, “Do you – seriously not have a vase?”

“I don’t buy myself flowers, fuck off,” Louis huffed, “Wait, okay, these probably won’t all fit in here – aha!”

He found a second thermos, slightly taller and from a different sponsorship event, and held them both up over his head.

“This’ll work! Right?”

“Sure it will,”

“You’re lucky I’ve been missing you so bad, otherwise you would’ve kicked you out by now,” Louis scoffed.

He filled each thermos half way with water and then split between the two containers before setting them in the middle of his island. Then he reached into one of his other cabinets and retrieved the box of designer chocolates he had bought for Harry on the way home. Because of course they were still going to get each other something.

They sat at the kitchen counter and tried to guess what was inside each other chocolates, feeding them to each other and wincing at the more artistic flavors. When they’d finished about half the box, Harry leaned in to kiss Louis, his tongue seeking out a bit to lap at the chocolate leftover on his lips.

“Can we go to your room?” he asked.

“Sure. But m’not in the mood to do much tonight. I know we haven’t done anything in awhile but I’m just so sore,” he sighed, and then blinking up at Harry, “Sorry,”

“No, it’s alright,” Harry said, “I just want to lay down with you for a bit, that’s all”

“Alright, then,” Louis stood up and reached down to loosely lace his fingers with Harry’s, before dragging him out of the room. Their footsteps fell in time with each other, the uneven drag of Harry’s right foot even seemed to match up perfectly with the steady tap of Louis’s feet.

When he got into the room, Louis detached their fingers and fell easily onto the bed, sitting up and reaching out for Harry, his fingertips brushing his hips. He hooked his fingers into Harry’s belt loops, digging his fingertips into the denim of his jeans, and leaned into until his nose brushed against his stomach.

“Take these off,” he sighed, “Make me forget you’re leaving in a little while,”

“Okay,” Harry said, his breath all air, “Okay,”

He undid his jeans with a series of mechanical sounds, the click of buttons and a zipper, and then wrestled out of them entirely, leaving him in just his button-down, the silky fabric brushing the tops of his hips. Louis leaned forward, his fingertips brushing the pearly buttons, and forced the bottom most one out of its slot -- revealing a small stretch of pale skin. When the shirt was all the way open he pulled on the two open ends, pulling Harry to him, and pressed his nose to his stomach, right at the base of his ribcage.

They stayed like that for a while. Harry stayed perfectly still, while his abdomen rose and fell under Louis’s nose as he breathed. Louis pulled away then, his lips dusting Harry’s skin as he did.

“Come here,” he said softly. Harry pulled his shirt off and left it in a pile, and Louis easily crawled down to the other side of the bed as Harry lifted himself onto the mattress. His long fingers reached out and caught Louis’s wrist, and then he was being pulled back, right against Harry’s body as they laid down together.

Harry nestled into him, tucking his nose under Louis’s chin, tangling his long legs with Louis’s own. His arms were draped loosely around Louis’s waist, his fingertips brushing the very top of his briefs, but it didn’t stir anything in Louis except warmth, his body feeling heavy and comfortable as Harry shoved his nose deeper into his throat, his body tangling further with him.

“Have I ever told you what you smell like?” Harry murmured.

“No,” Louis answered easily, lifting his chin more so his throat curved into Harry’s nose.

“You smell so good. Like all my favorite things,” Harry said, “Like caramel ice cream and honeysuckle and summer,”

Louis snorted softly, his throat shifting against Harry’s touch.

“Weird,” he breathed out. Then, “Is caramel your favorite ice cream flavor?”

“Hm?”

“I don’t know – you said that’s what I smelled like, I’m wondering,”

“Oh. Yeah, it is, actually. But you really do smell like that,” Harry said. He lifted his head and then brushed hair away from Louis’s eyes, blinking into his gaze, “What’s your favorite flavor?”

“Um,” Louis swallowed, “Mint chip. But – um – that’s not what you smell like,”

“Ah,” Harry smiled, his voice teasing, and Louis snorted in response.

“You – “ Louis blinked, “You smell, like, clean. Like – my mum used to have this flower garden? And you smell like how it smelled when she would turn it over. Like flowers and mowed grass and earth and stuff,”

“Huh,” Harry said, his voice soft and laced with laughter.

“Jesus, I’ve made it sound like you smell like dirt or something. You don’t. You smell good, I’m just shit at explaining it,”

“No, it’s alright. I like smells like that,” Harry smiled, “Actually, I think mowed grass was my sister’s favorite smell when we were kids,”

“Ah,” Louis said.

He traced his fingers against Harry’s neck for a few seconds, and then lifted his head, looking at him again.          

“What’s your sister’s name?” he asked, , “Shit, I should know that,”

“No, that’s alright,” Harry smiled “Her name’s Gemma. She’s older, just by a little bit. She lives in Manchester, still, and she works in an advertising firm. Very smart, very funny. Not mated yet, she keeps saying she doesn’t have time for that, and honestly, I believe her, she’s never not working,”

“She sounds nice,” he said, “Maybe I’ll get to meet her one day,”

“I’m sure you will,” Harry smiled, “You have sisters, don’t you? I think you’ve mentioned that before,”

“Yeah,” Louis smiled, “I have five,”

Harry’s eyebrows rose, “Five?”

“And one brother,” Louis nodded, “I never gave their names to the press, though. Wanted to make sure they could stay out of that shit,”

He reached for Harry’s hand and spread all his fingers out.

“Charlotte,” he said, tucking Harry’s pointer finger down, “Felicite, Daisy, Phoebe, and Doris,” he said, tucking down another digit with each name, and then pulling Harry’s thumb back out just to tuck it back again, “And Ernest,”

“That’s – “ Harry looked down at where Louis was holding his thumb, “That must be a lot,”

“It’s overwhelming, yeah. Lots of yelling, lots of noise, lots of chaos. But, it’s just my family, you know?” he smiled, “I miss their noise a lot. You grow up with so many people around it, it’s empty just by yourself,”

Harry just nodded, his eyes looking a bit far off as he did. He was probably mentally cataloguing parts of this conversation to put in his piece later, but honestly, Louis didn’t mind at this point.

He shifted a bit in Harry’s arms and then winced, gripping his shoulder as a twinge of pain shot through his bones.

“Ah,” he got out.

“You alright?” Harry asked, quickly sitting up a bit and looking at him with concern.

“M’fine, just sore,” he shook his head, “I had fuckin’ arm day yesterday, it’s the most useless thing, I swear – “

“Can I give you a massage?” Harry interrupted, and Louis just gave him a glance.

“Is that…is that something you do often?”

“Well, I’m not a professional or anything,” Harry shrugged, “But I can do my best,”

“Uh,” Louis moved his shoulder a bit again and winced at the sudden surge of pain that shot through his arm again, “Ow. Yeah, okay, why not,”

“Okay,” Harry smiled, and then pushed a bit on Louis shoulders, until he was turning over to lay on his stomach. He felt Harry move over him, bracketing Louis’s body with his legs, and then his hands were on Louis’s shoulders. He pushed down firmly into the skin, making Louis moan softly at the initial jolt of pain, but then it morphed a roll of short relief as Harry’s palm worked over his sore muscles.

He would probably need to make an appointment with a professional massage therapist at some point to get all the kinks out of his back and upper body, but for now, he felt himself easily melting into Harry’s touch, relaxing at the way Harry laughed under his breath as he touched Louis, occasionally leaning down to press kisses to the base of Louis’s neck.

Eventually, Harry pulled away, saying he was done, and Louis flipped over in time for Harry to press a kiss to his lips. He left then to put on some tea, leaving Louis sitting in bed alone with his pulled-out muscles and a TV remote clutched in one hand, since he had promised to find something they could watch for the rest of the night. When Harry came back with two mugs, he looked at the blank TV on the other end of the bedroom wall and then back at Louis.

“Couldn’t find anything,” he offered, and Harry just shrugged.

 “That’s alright,”

He crossed the room and easily slid back into bed, handing Louis his mug. Louis could smell the herbal scent wafting from Harry’s own cup first, probably something healthy to clear his immune system and help him sleep, before he let his eyes flutter shut as he lifted his own mug to his lips, taking in the milkiness that surrounded the bite of his usual Yorkshire. Harry’s arm wrapped around his shoulders as he drank, and Louis leaned easily into his touch.

His belly squirmed a bit, and he tried to ignore it, instead taking another sip of his tea, but the feeling persisted. Louis looked over at Harry, who was stirring his own cup with a spoon, and nudged Harry’s shoulder with his forehead, enough that the other man made a snort sound of acknowledgement. Louis’s belly gave one final clench, and then he forced himself to open his mouth.

“Have you ever been in love, Harry?”

Harry paused in stirring his tea, the spoon clinking sharply against the ceramic as he stopped. He frowned, slightly, not like he was unhappy but enough to show he was thinking.

“Once, maybe,” he answered eventually, and then went back to stirring his tea.

“Once?” Louis parroted, “Maybe?”

“Well it’s complicated, I guess,” Harry said. He finally stopping stirring his tea and instead took a long sip before he spoke again, “My longest relationship was a year and half, in the very middle of uni. He and I were best friends, and I adored him every minute we were together. But then…he transferred schools after our third year and it was like a switch flipped for both of us. He barely called after that and to be honest it didn’t take very long for me to stop missing him,” Harry shrugged, “So I guess I was in love then, but I don’t know if that counts, for me to only care about someone when they were right in front of me,”

“Oh,” Louis said, “Okay,”

He raised his own cup to his lips. The song in the background changed to something he didn’t recognize, and he should have asked what the song was, but instead, he said, “So, once,”

Harry looked over at him, then, frowning a bit as he reached out to fix a piece of Louis’s fringe that had fallen over his eye.

“No, two,” Harry said, his fingers lingering on Louis’s brow bone as he spoke, “Him, and then you,”

Louis blinked. He took in the words slowly, absorbing them one by one, their meanings slowly adding up. And then you.

And then you.

His throat suddenly felt narrow and tight, and Harry was still calming stroking the skin over Louis’s brow with his thumb like he hadn’t said anything out of the ordinary.

“Or I guess maybe one and a half, since the other one doesn’t – “

“Harry, stop,” Louis cut in, and Harry just blinked and stared at him.

“Something wrong?”

“Did you just say – “ Louis swallowed thickly, “Did you just say you loved me?”

“Well, of course,” Harry said, like it was obvious, trodden ground. He furrowed his brows the longer he looked at Louis, “Did you not know that?”

“I – you never said it,”

Harry blinked, and then his face shifted, his eyes widening along with his mouth.

“Oh, Louis,” Harry breathed, “Come here,”

“M’right here,” Louis said. He was as close to Harry as he could get. But soon Harry was reaching for Louis’s teacup so he could set in on the bedside table, and then he was touching the back of his head, pulling him in until Louis was pressed to Harry’s throat, his big hand still cradling the back of his head.

“My Louis,” he said softly, “You thought I didn’t love you,”

“I didn’t – “ he sputtered, “How was I supposed to know?”

“You – shit, why didn’t I tell you that?” Harry started kissing him again, his lips fervent, and eventually he sighed, tucking his face into Louis’s neck, “I am. I’m so in love with you, Louis. I should tell you that every second,”

“I – “ Louis got out, “You’re in love with me,”

“Yes,” Harry breathed out, “Yes, Louis. Of course I am,”

“Of course,” he repeated. Then he reached up to dig his fingers deep into Harry’s hair, pulling until the other man was lifting his head. When he did, Louis pressed their lips together, hard.

“Wanted to ask you,” Louis murmured against Harry’s mouth, “Wanted to ask you if you loved me so many times, but I didn’t know what you would think,”

“Yeah?” Harry asked.

“Yeah,” Louis repeated. He swallowed down the thick lump in his throat, and then he looked up at Harry, reaching up one hand to touch the side of his face, “Because, uh, I think I love you, too,”

“Think?” Harry parroted, his eyebrows rising as he smiled.

“Oh, shut up,” Louis said weakly, and then gripped hard onto Harry’s cheek, “I do love you. God, Harry, I’ve never been in love with anyone before but – I love you,”

Harry’s eyes were liquid, the palest green Louis had ever seen, and he softly brought his lips down again, kissing the bridge of Louis’s nose gently.

“So, um,” Louis cleared his throat, “What are we, then?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like,” Louis gestured between them, “What are we, to each other,”

Harry shrugged, “Boyfriends, I guess?”

“Boyfriends,” Louis repeated.

“Yeah, I – “ Harry laughed, “I don’t know if I’ve labeled it in my head, to be honest. You’re just Louis to me. I get up, my brain goes ‘Let’s go meet Louis at the track.’ Finish practice, ‘Meet Louis at the door.’ ‘Go to Louis’s place.’ ‘Buy Louis flowers.’ You’re just you to me. But, if you want another label, boyfriend is fine,”

Louis snorted, flipping his hand over so he could run the edges of his knuckles under Harry’s jaw, “How modern of you,”

Harry frowned a bit, the crease between his brows deepening, “Modern?”

“Well, I’ve only ever heard beta-beta couples use words like that,” Louis explained, “For people like us, it’s just – mate, or just alpha and omega. Except Liam and Zayn but they’re – weird,”

“Lots of people say that,” Harry said, still frowning.

“Maybe it’s just something in the upper circles, I don’t know,” Louis shrugged, “The people I have to be around – the team owners and the sponsorships and shit – most of them are traditionalists. I don’t think I’ve ever heard them say the words ‘wife’ or ‘husband’ when they talk about the people they’re married to,”

“Well, they’re traditionalists. In this day and age, I mean, Jesus,” Harry huffed, shaking his head. Louis got the feeling this was something he could talk about for awhile, but instead he just lifted his head, his eyes going soft, “I mean, if you don’t want me to call you my boyfriend, it doesn’t really matter – “

“No,” Louis cut in, “I like it. I like… the idea of you being my boyfriend,”

“Well good, because I like that too,” Harry smiled softly, “If it helps, though, um, you’re the only omega I’m seeing – “

“Well fuck, I sure hope so,”

Harry wheezed and shook his head, “So, uh, I guess by default, you’re my omega,”

Louis nodded, his eyebrows scrunching a bit as he thought.

 “Hm,” he hummed.

“Does that make you uncomfortable? I know that’s pretty…primal,”

“No, no,” Louis shook his head, “I like it,”

“Like,” Harry was still talking, “It’s not like, an ownership thing. Just because I put ‘my’ in front of it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a companionship type of indicator to me, like saying you’re my boy — “

Louis cut him off then by grasping onto his neck and pulling him down to press their lips firmly together again.

“Harry,” he sighed when he pulled away, “Harry, my lovely, gorgeous, sweet alpha, please shut up, I get it,”

Harry just blinked.

“You called me – “

“I know what I called you, gorgeous, now come here,” Louis said, and then pushed up to kiss him again. Harry pushed more into this time, but still was cautious with how hard he pushed on Louis’s mouth, cradling him gently around the back and waist as he kissed him.

“You’re going to force me to stay again,” Harry exhaled, and Louis’s mouth twitched with a smile. 

“Oops,”

*******

Louis showed Harry a house a few days later.

Harry was working on his article, as always, his dumb glasses on, while Louis sat on the opposite end of the couch on his own laptop, clicking through an Icelandic real estate site with poorly translated English descriptions added. He had grown bored off some of the other pages he had marked --  big, intricate cabins, industrial urban apartments, one home that was one floor and yet sprawled over nearly two miles of twisted hallways and massive rooms – and was instead looking elsewhere in attempts to find something else that interested him. Eventually, he fell on one page of a house built in a traditional style, all pointed edges and white, sloping roofs and tall windows. Four bedrooms, two and a half baths, a decent price.

He looked up and gazed over to where Harry was working.

“Harry,” he said, “Are you busy?”

“Yes,” the other man replied without even looking up from his screen.

“Can you take a break?”

“Not really, but I will,” Harry sighed, and then finally lifted his head, the light of the overhead living room lights flashing over his glasses, “What’s up?”

“Well, uh,” Louis flipped his laptop around, “What do you think of this house?”

“Hm,” Harry hummed as he leaned forward, squinting, “Where is that?”

“Iceland,”

“I can tell,” Harry laughed, and then his face settled into a more serious expression as he looked over the picture on the screen, “It’s interesting. Not my taste, but, you know,” he shrugged, “Why do you ask?”

“I might buy it,” Louis said, “For you know, when I leave,”

“Leave?”

“When I leave London, eventually,” he said, “Remember? I’m trying to go somewhere with looser laws,”

“Oh, right, of course,” Harry nodded, “Still don’t see what that has to do with what I think of your very Icelandic dream house,”

“Well, I want you to be someplace you like when you visit me,” Louis said, “I mean, you’ll visit me, won’t you? If I leave?”

“I mean, I don’t see why I wouldn’t,”

Louis tapped his fingers on the sides of the laptop nervously.

“Will you really?”

“Of course,” Harry nodded. He was back to working now, his eyes fixed ahead on his work. Louis just watched him, listening to his fingers flying across the keyboard, clicking letters and words and phrases into place, and he didn’t want to interrupt, but –

“Harry,” 

Harry stopped abruptly, and looked up, Yes, Louis,”

“I’m serious, will you come visit me?”

“Louis, darling,” Harry sighed. He tucked one entire hand up under his glasses to rub at his eye, “I currently am paying rent in bloody London and I still spend all my time living in your back pocket, what makes you think that’ll be any different when you go?”

“Because…” Louis shrugged, “Iceland isn’t London,”

“So you’re going to Iceland, then? Officially?”

“No, no, it’s just a hypothetical,” Louis said, “But, it’ll be far away. And even if I pay for your flights, you’ll still have to take time off and – “

“Baby,” Harry sighed. He closed his laptop with a soft click, and then got off the couch, tucking his laptop under one arm as he came over to kiss Louis on the top of the head, “Baby, I am so sorry, but I really have to work right now. But I promise you that even if you buy that ugly ass house in the middle of nowhere, I will come and see you,”

“So you did think the house was ugly,”

Louis,”

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry. Go work,” Louis huffed. Harry just smiled and kissed him on the top of the head, and then headed down the hall, into Louis’s bedroom.

Louis stayed on the couch, looking at more houses, until Harry eventually texted him to come join him because he had gotten bored on his own.

*******

The next night, Harry was shut up in his own apartment, working. Ironically, Louis had insisted he stay home, since he was probably going to dedicate his time at Louis’s to writing anyways and Louis didn’t want to him feel obligated to pay attention to him. So, he was alone for another night on Friday. A tape from the track was playing in the background, and he was trying to get himself to pay attention, but instead he had wrapped himself in a blanket on the couch, staring up at the ceiling as he thought about how badly he wanted to just wanted to stay home and sleep for the weekend. Honestly, he probably would. They were flying into Belgium on Monday of all days, the weekday time just showing how irrelevant this whole event was, and Louis could probably do the five lap speed race without issue even without two extra days of practice.

Just as he was getting up to pause the tape and officially go to bed, his phone rang. He reached for it blindly, grabbing it from its abandoned place on the coffee table, and didn’t even look at the screen as he answered. Only Harry would call him so late.

“Hey, you,” he sighed when he picked up, but instead of Harry’s tired, raspy voice, he was greeted by a stretch of silence.

“Hello?” he said, and then there was a crackling, and a gasp of air on the other end.

“Louis?” the voice sniffed on the other end, “It’s, uh, it’s Niall,”

“Ni?” he asked, suddenly sitting up. The other end crackled again with a sharp intake.

“Can you come over to mine, please?”

“Niall? Ni, what the fuck is wrong?”

“Just get over here, please,”

“Do I need to call someone?”

“No, I just – I did something,” he sniffed, “Louis, just, please, come help me,”

“Niall, fucking Christ, I’m coming, but are you okay?”

“I – come, please, okay? Just come,”

“Niall – “ Louis started, but then the line cut out.

He pulled his phone away from his ear and just stared at it, and then his body broke out of its trance all at once. Moving quickly to the front hallway, Louis grabbed his jacket and his boots, lacing them up as quickly as he could, and then he was running out into the hall, moving as fast as he could go.

*******

Niall lived in the deep coils of London, in a plain neighborhood, in a shitty, ground-floor level flat. Louis had been there probably thousands of times, on nights his apartment was too big and too quiet and he needed a loud voice to fill the empty spaces in his head. But he had never driven there so fast.

Once he was in the neighborhood, Louis parked his bike in the public parking garage across the street from Niall’s building, making sure to padlock his bike and pay the meter to its maximum time before he raced across the street. Puddles from the day’s usual February rainstorm splashed over the expensive leather of his boots as he ran, probably ruining them a bit more than they already were after years of use.

Louis let himself in through the permanently open front door of Niall’s complex and bypassed the narrow staircase that clung near the mouth of the entrance, instead going towards the single door that lay at the end of the dark hallway. Once he got there he banged loudly on the cheap fake wood, enough to make the door rattle.

“Niall,” Louis shouted, probably loud enough for the upstairs neighbors to hear, “Niall, what the fuck? Open up,”

He huffed, letting his hand drop, and tapped his foot against the stained, threadbare carpet under his feet. He made a note that he should talk to the team directors about Niall’s independently contracted pay; he didn’t need to still be living in such a shithole after being off his undergrad university’s housing for a full three years.  

“Niall Jimothy whatever the fuck your goddamn middle is, let me in,” Louis shouted, banging on the door again, even harder. This time, the door groaned, and creaked as it opened just a bit. It was open the whole time. Of course it was.

Louis let himself in and shut the door firmly behind him and he edged into the flat. All the lights were still on, everything seemed in place, no broken glass, nothing to suggest a break in or anything else strange.

Then.

“Lou?” Niall’s voice called out, and Louis took a few more steps forward.

“Niall,” he called, “Niall, Jesus, what’s going on?”

“Bathroom,” Niall’s strained voice answered, and Louis headed straight through the small living area and down the flat’s tiny hallway, pushing open the bathroom door when it came into view.

He stopped completely in the doorway as soon as he got there, taking in the scene before him.

Niall was crouched on the floor next to the bathtub, shirtless and crying softly. And his hair was jet black. His hands, and the large stain running over the tile wall of his bathtub, were the same dark color.

“Jesus fuck,” Louis exhaled, and Niall looked up, his face flushed red and his eyes wet.

“Hey, Lou,” Niall sniffed, “Thanks for coming over,”

“You piece of shit,” Louis breathed out. He was already dropping his jacket on the floor and crawling towards Niall on his hands and knees, “I thought you had stabbed yourself or set your house on fire, and you – “ he shook his head, gathering himself, and then spoke again, “Okay, I’m sorry. Just tell me what happened,”

“I – “ Niall took in a shaky breath, “I, uh, I have an interview tomorrow. And my hair was still half-blonde, and I was going to just go to a barber and get the blonde trimmed out today but you know what they say, don’t get a haircut before an important event in case you hate it – “

“No one has ever said that, Ni,”

“Shut up, my mum said it once. Anyways, I thought I could just dye it my natural color but I got the wrong dye and then left it on for too long and I just – “ Niall sniffed, “The hell am I supposed to do?”

Louis just stood there, staring at him, and then he started laughing. He laughed hard enough that he had to set his forehead down on the cold, stained tile of the bathroom floor and cradle his hand over his mouth.

“Don’t laugh at me, you piece of shit,” Niall sniffled.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Louis gasped, “I – Jesus, I thought you were dying, and – “

“I’m dying inside, Louis, have some respect,”

“I know. I’m sorry. But it’s going to be okay,” Louis said. He straightened himself back up and reached a hand out to touch Niall’s bare, pale shoulder, which was smudged with dark dye,

“Hey, it’s going to be fine,”

Niall just sniffled and looked up, his eyes wide and pale in the harsh lighting of his bathroom.

“I’m sorry I called you,” Niall sniffed, “I just didn’t know who else to call,”

“No, it’s alright, I’m glad you did,”

“I don’t have any other friends, Louis,”

“It’s okay, neither do I,”

“I’m so sorry,” Niall said, “I’m so sorry I was such a twat to you. And to Harry. Not directly but still – “

“Hey. Shh,” Louis said, “Don’t worry about it. Water under the bridge. Let’s get you cleaned up,”

Niall just blinked and shook his head, “I’m sorry, though – “

Louis sighed, shaking his head. Maybe they should have a big sit-down talk, but honestly with Niall right in front of him with watery, red eyes and stained hair, he didn’t want to linger on anything else for too long.

“I know, babe, but for now I want to make sure you can go outside tomorrow,” Louis stood up, then, and went over to retrieve an abandoned, dye-stained box from where it was situated on the bathroom counter. He knelt back down and flipped over the back to reach the information, rubbing Niall’s back as he read, “Okay, it says here that this is permanent – “

“Oh, God,”

“Let me finish. It’s not permanent, permanent, it comes out. Just takes seventy washes,”

“So it’s hopeless,” Niall sniffled.

“Niall, Jesus, no, it’s not hopeless,” Louis said, “Just means we’re going to have to shampoo your hair seventy times tonight,”

Niall let out a dry sob, and Louis just rolled his eyes.

“For fuck’s sake, Niall, it’s just shampoo,”

“But…seventy times, Louis,”

“Oh, come on, it’ll be fine. I’ll put on some music, we’ll talk, it’ll be fun,”

Niall just sobbed again and Louis stood up.

“Okay, I’m going to go put on something that can possibly get hair dye on it, I’ll be right back. In the meantime, pull your damn self together,”

He went out of the bathroom then and walked the short distance to Niall’s bedroom. When he got inside he saw that the lamp on the bedside table was on and Niall’s laptop was open on the bed, and a variety of button down shirts, ties, and jackets were spread over the rumpled quilt. Right. He had an interview the next day.

Louis went ahead and took off his jacket, boots, shirt, and jeans, leaving them in a pile at the base of Niall’s bed. He opened the top drawer of the dresser next, where he knew Niall kept all of his shitty shirts he wore to bed or to the gym. He retrieved a shirt that was folded on top, one that he specifically remembered the two of them had gotten for free after making the mistake of going to a mating club in Germany to get drinks a few years ago. It was far too big for both of them, but especially so for Louis, since the hem fell to nearly his thighs when he put it on. That was why he hadn’t kept it. That and it had a lime green penis printed on the front along with a German phrase he wasn’t going to bother to translate.

He went back to the bathroom and Niall was still curled up into a ball by the bathtub. Louis just sighed, knelt down next to him and turned the tap on. He ran his fingers under the water until he found it was pleasantly warm, and then he grabbed the navy blue bottle of Niall’s shampoo from the corner of the tub.

“I don’t think I have enough shampoo here,” Niall offered.

“If you don’t I’ll go out and get more. Now get your gorgeous head under the tap,”

Niall sniffled again and shuffled closer to Louis, eventually sticking his head under the flowing water. Louis poured shampoo all over the back of Niall’s head and then scrubbed it in, doing his best to really rub his fingertips over Niall’s scalp. The water ran inky water down the drain as he worked, and Niall dry-sobbed.

“No crying while I’m washing your hair,”  Louis sighed, pouring more shampoo into his hand as he mentally counted One, “What’s your interview for, darling? Another internship? A job, maybe?”

“No, med school,”

“Really?” Louis asked, “Where?”

“Brighton-Sussex,”

“Damn, that’s great,” Louis said, “When did you get the offer?”

“Same day as your shitty fake dinner party,” Niall said, “Was going to tell you after we ate, but then you spit out your news and, well…”

Oh.

Louis sighed, shaking his head as he rubbed a hand through Niall’s hair, rubbing out the last of the suds from the second wash. Two.

“M’sorry for telling you like that,” Louis sighed, “I really am sorry,”

“Oh, shut up,” Niall sniffed, “I was the dick to you,”

“Yeah but, I could have told you earlier. Or at least better, I don’t know,”

Niall twisted his neck just enough to give Louis a look. He wasn’t entirely sure if it was a glare or a look of desperation.

“Oh, please,” Niall finally huffed out, “I’ve forgiven you. We’ve established that. Just fix me,”

“Alright,” Louis relented, and grabbed the shampoo again, emptying a bit into his palm and then reaching out to touch Niall’s hair for round three, “You know, two washes down and I think your hair looks a bit lighter already,”

Niall sniffled particularly hard, and then wheezed out one extremely weak laugh.

“Fuck you,”

*******

Two and a half hours later, Louis’s fingertips were shriveled and stained charcoal-black, Niall’s bathtub was ruined, there was six empty shampoo bottles on the floor of the bathroom, and Niall’s hair was still three shades darker than his natural hair color but it was still passable for being natural on somebody.

It was also one in the morning, and Niall was still digging through the fridge for two beers as Louis sat on the ancient couch, watching him.

“I have to drive home,” Louis said weakly as Niall handed him a beer.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Niall sighed, “Forgive me for thinking that one beer is going to keep my record-breaking motorcyclist best friend from getting home,”

“Drunk driving is a pressing issue,”

“You not drinking with me in several weeks is a more pressing issue,” Niall snapped, taking a firm chug of his drink and then sitting down next to Louis, “Really, though, just stay here tonight. I have to go to catch a train early tomorrow anyways to head down to campus, you can just let yourself out in the morning,”

 “Do I have to sleep with you and your restless leg syndrome?”

“No, I’ll blow up the air mattress for you,”

“What? Not giving up your bed for your guest?”

“I have an interview tomorrow, you prick, I need rest,”

“Fine, then,” Louis sighed. He took a sip of his beer and then leaned his head into Niall’s shoulder, closing his eyes, “It’s nice to have you back,”

“Yeah,” Niall agreed softly. Louis felt his shoulder dip a bit, like his body was relaxing after letting out a long, long breath.

They were quiet for a few moments, and then Niall’s shoulder raised again, followed by the sound of a sharp inhale.

“How, um – how long have you and Harry been together?”

Louis lifted his head a bit, enough to look at Niall directly.

“Huh?”

“Like, you said, uh, at dinner that Harry found out about you in Greece. But were you together before then or after or – “

“Oh,” Louis said, “After. We had an awkward period for a while after he found out and then we just kind…fell into each other around December, I think,”

“And, ah,” Niall swallowed, tapping his blunt fingernails on the side of his bottle, “You two are happy?”

“Mm,” Louis nodded, smiling, “Yeah, we’re happy. I mean, I am at least. Figure he is too, though,”

Niall nodded again, then took a long swing of his beer, shaking his head.

“Lou,” he said, “I’m just, I want to ask you something. And this – I’m curious, here, okay, so I don’t want you to flip out of me or think I’m saying this to be a prat,”

“Okay,” Louis said slowly, “I’m nervous now, but go on,”

“Like,” Niall started, “Why are you doing this now? You’re going to quit next season anyways…why not wait until then to find somebody?”

“Because the universe didn’t wait to drop Harry fucking Styles on the doorstep of my locker room, that’s why,” Louis sighed, “Honestly, though, I just…”

He shook his head.

“I’m tired of hiding, Niall. You know that’s why I’m leaving. And it was nice to have one less person to hide around,” he took another sip of his drink, less for the booze and more just to get some liquid on his dry, tight throat, “It’s lonely, Niall. Being by yourself. Not being able to fully have anyone,”

Niall was perfectly still, and then after a few endless moments, he shook his head, smiling tightly as he looked over at Louis.

“You had me,”

And oh, fuck.

“Ni – “

“I’m sorry,” Niall rambled, “But…I don’t know, I’ve gotten used to it being you and me, you know? That we both had this big, scary, fucking stupid thing holding us together but – it was worth it, because we cared about each other. And I guess… I always just thought we could be enough for each other,”

Louis just stared at him while Niall paused, taking a sip of his beer.

“You know, it sounds stupid, but…sometimes I would…think about us together, you know?” his eyes widened as he looked at Louis and he held up his hands, “I mean – fuck, not together-together. Not for real. I wouldn’t want to date you. Like. Ever,”

“Gee, thanks,”

“Oh, fuck off. But I don’t know, I would think about us going through with the whole fake-marriage deal, you know? Stay here for a little while, get one of those nice townhouses together. I’d get a job at a hospital here and you’d do whatever the hell you wanted to do with your retirement. Like, I feel like that could have been good, you know?”

“Would it have?” Louis asked, “I mean, you would never get to date anyone else, for one,”  

“That’s the thing,” Niall said, “I like – don’t know if I even want to date anyone anymore. I’ve tried girls, tried guys, nothing’s been working. Maybe I haven’t found the right person. Maybe I’m asexual. Honestly, it’s probably that one,”

“God,” Louis shook his head, “An un-mateable omega and an asexual beta. We could’ve been perfectly together,”

“Wouldn’t we have?” Niall sighed, “I’m sorry for telling you this. Christ, I’m sorry. That’s a fucking selfish thing to think, that you would just wait around for me,”

“No, it’s not,” Louis said, and then moved in closer, wrapping his arms around Niall’s chest, “Of course it’s not. Jesus Christ, you didn’t ask to get a fucking work assignment like this when you were bloody fifteen, and then I made you stay – “

“You didn’t make me, I wanted to. God, you’re the closest I’m going to get to loving anyone, Louis, you know that? I would do anything for you,” he stopped then, ducking his head, “Or…I guess I thought I would. Until you having someone else scared me so much,”

Niall swallowed, then gave Louis a quick glance.

“You can go, if you want to. This is – fuck, this is a bunch of shit to put on you,”

“No, no, it’s alright. I’ll stay,” Louis insisted, and then squeezed Niall tighter, setting his cheek to his friend’s chest, “You know you can’t give me everything, Niall,”

“No,” Niall shook his head, “I know that,”

“And I never expected you to, either,”

“Maybe I could’ve done a better job of remembering that,” Niall laughed weakly. He reached up, pulling his fingers through Louis’s tangled hair, and then sighed, his entire chest shuddering under Louis’s cheek. “I’m happy for you, though. I am. I’m glad Harry makes you happy,”

Louis smiled, in spite of everything else they had just said.

“I’m in love with him, Niall,” he heard himself say, “You know that? I’m in love with him. And he loves me too. I mean…that’s crazy. Crazy, crazy shit,”

“You deserve that,” Niall said, and his voice sounded so soft, “Really, Louis, you do,”

He reached up to stroke Louis’s temple, and Louis leaned into him. He heard Niall laugh softly at how easily Louis still moved to his touch.

“But just so you know, if he ever breaks your heart, I will literally murder him,” Niall said, “I know where all the major arteries are in the human body and which ones bleed out the fastest,”

“Charming,”

“Don’t blow me off, I’m dead serious,” Niall said, even though there was nothing hard about his voice. He shifted, then, and leaned into Louis, pressing his dry lips to his friend’s forehead before straightening himself enough to set his chin on the top of Louis’s head, “Am I still allowed to kiss you?”

“I’m sure Harry won’t mind,”

“Good,” Niall chuckled, “Because your alpha is still going to have to share you,”

*******

Louis didn’t get a chance to tell Harry that he had talked to Niall until Monday. Harry had worked all through the weekend while Louis alternated between catching up on sleep and fitting in a few more hours on the track, and their paths never crossed aside from an occasional text.

Then on Monday the plane to Belgium was late. Harry had been early anyways, and he sat with Louis by the VIP boarding dock. A team assistant was scurrying around with trays of complimentary coffee, and they were both sipping on their own cups as they talked.

When Niall strolled into the loading dock, he swiped a coffee from the same harried assistant and then promptly walked over to the as he walked over to the two of them, smiling widely.

“Good morning, Louis,” Niall chirped, “Good morning, Louis’s boyfriend,”

Harry nearly choked on his cup of coffee.

“Niall, keep your voice down, please,” Louis sighed. He turned to Harry, “Niall and I have made up. As you can see,”

“I – oh, good,” Harry wheezed out, thumping his own chest as he got out a few more chokes “When?”

“You see how lovely and dark Niall’s hair is?” Louis asked.

“Louis, I swear to fuck – “

“That’s cuz he fucked up putting hair dye in. So I generously helped him out and then we had a chat,”

“I didn’t fuck up, the instructions were just vague and – oh, you know what, whatever,” Niall huffed, taking a long drink of his coffee. After he was done he shot a glance at Harry and pointed a finger at him, “I just want you to be aware, Harold, that I am training to be a cardiac surgeon – “

“Oh, Christ,” Louis sighed.

“So I am fully aware of the inner workings of the major arteries. And if you break my best friend’s heart, then I will literally break yours,”

Harry just stared at him, blinking with large, confused eyes, until Louis put a hand on his arm.

“Please look scared. He worked very hard on that line,”

“I – okay? What do I say to that though?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Niall huffed, “You two have fun. I’m going to see if anyone has food, I haven’t had breakfast,”

Niall headed off again, and Harry just gave Louis another confused look until he filled him in on Friday, and Niall’s hair, and the chat they had had on Niall’s living room couch. Harry’s eyes were wide and focused and he nodded the whole time, only interrupting a few times to ask a few questions. Mostly he wanted to ask if they were really okay, and if Niall was staying, and if Niall really didn’t mind that they were together. Louis told him the answers were all yes, and then particularly dragged him onto the plane when it was finally time to take off.

*******

One night later, Niall came over to Louis’s hotel room and spent the night with his head in Louis’s lap, the Belgian gold medal Louis had won a few hours earlier now draped around his neck. Harry sat next to Louis the whole time, alternating between working and joining Louis and Niall in watching something on the hotel TV that wasn’t translated or subtitled. He looked between Louis and Niall and gave Louis a soft smile every now and then, leaning in to kiss Louis to the forehead once or twice.

Niall only offered a small huff of protest when he did. Louis considered it to be an official truce.

*******

Harry and Louis hadn’t had sex for a while.

Okay, that was a lie. They had had sex. Very lazy, low-energy sex. When Harry stayed over, and Louis wasn’t too worn out, they would fit in something. One of them would get on their knees for a blowjob, or they would reach over while they were watching a movie for a hand job, or Harry would find a way to flip Louis over and pull his pants down enough to eat him out. On the really high-energy nights, which were rare, now, Louis would convince Harry to knot him.

But it wasn’t anything beyond that. Harry didn’t even try to be rough with him, didn’t even call him anything beyond “love” or “baby.” Part of it was due to them both being tired, but he also had the feeling that Harry knew he was still tender from working so hard and fighting with Niall and maybe needed a break.

And it was fine, was the thing. Better than fine, good.  Sex with Harry made Louis feel good and worn out and when it was over Harry kissed the base of his neck and they stayed wrapped up in each other for a few hours until he had to go again. Good.

But Louis was getting anxious to do something special again. Something that would leave bruises and welts on his skin, something that would make Harry’s eyes go dark and his voice go rough. He just had to figure out how to get it started.

So he did a bit of online shopping a few days before his extended rest weekend about a week after Belgium. By the time it was Friday, his first day off, Harry was in the Cross office finishing up a meeting with his editor, and Louis was home waiting for his package to arrive.

When there was finally a knock at his door, Louis quickly signed off for the box and then hefted it into his kitchen and onto the counter. He found a pair of scissors buried deep in the drawer, took a moment to tap the flat side of the scissor blades over the pink label on the box, and then began to cut into the tape. Once the box was open he pushed aside the mounds of pink and white tissue paper before he finally arrived at the plastic-wrapped packages inside. He lifted each of them out and laid them on the counter, admiring them for a moment, and then picked up his phone.

Harry, I have a question.

The response came a few seconds later.

I might have an answer.

What’s your favorite color?

 

Um, orange?

 

Pick another color.

 

Why?

 

Just pick another one.

 

Uh, blue? I like blue. Like your eyes.

 

That last part was unnecessary.

 

You’re impossible. Why are you asking?

 

I’m trying to find out things about my lovely boyfriend whom I love, fuck off.

 

Love you too, I guess.

 

We’re breaking up.

 

  1. Bye, then.

 

Also is blue an acceptable favorite color?

 

Yes, Harry. Is your still-dating-me arse coming over tonight?

 

Of course. I can be at yours by 7, I think.

 

Okay, great. I’ll see you then.

 

…Why did you need to know my favorite color, though, really?

 

NO REASON HAROLD I WILL SEE YOU AT 7.

 

Louis his phone down and instead gathered up all the plastic packages, taking special care to put the blue package on top, and then headed into his bedroom.

This could work.

This could definitely work.

*******

At exactly seven, Louis was sitting on his couch, watching his racing footage from the previous day. There was an empty bowl of rice and chicken next to him on the arm of the couch, and Harry was coming over soon. Really, it was just like any other night.

Only it wouldn’t be, if his plan went well.

At one point, he heard a small scuffling outside, and he perked up, but sunk back into the couch when he heard the distant sound of a door opening that definitely wasn’t from his own apartment. Just a neighbor returning home. Louis bounced his knee and forced himself to look forward and watch his tape, his attention eventually turning to one piece of his form that didn’t quite look right. He paused the video and grabbed his notebook and pen from the coffee table, jotting down the time signature of the tape and a note to himself to watch his back wheel during his turns.

He was halfway through writing when he heard another scuffling, and then the clicking of a key in his own lock. He felt his stomach jump and he quickly finished his note, dropped his pen, and picked up the remote and unpaused the tape just as he heard Harry’s footsteps in the hall.

“Hey, babe,” Harry called softly, and he came into view a moment later, Louis’s eyes snapping to him in the same moment he walked in. Harry stopped in the doorway almost immediately, looking steadily ahead, and Louis just held his gaze, turning the remote over in his hands.

“Oh, good, you’re here,” he said, keeping his voice light. He patted the spot next to him on the couch, “Come over, I’m just watching some practice tapes from today,”

Harry still didn’t move, but he did lick his bottom lip as he kept looking at Louis.

“You—“ he said, “Louis, what are you wearing?”

“Oh,” Louis looked down at his own body. He was wearing one of his old UK Racing sweatshirts and a pair of decently short track shorts — and then a pair of sheer, pale blue thigh-highs with garters. He flicked his eyes back to Harry and leaned back into the couch, fiddling with the thin end of one of the thigh-highs, “Just a few things. More than just these, trust me,”

Harry blinked, “Can I see?”

Louis clicked his tongue and picked up the remote.

“Not yet,” he said, “Come sit down first, I want you to watch my tapes with me. Go get yourself something to eat,”

“M’not hungry,” Harry said almost dazedly, shuffling forward.

“Alright, then,” Louis couldn’t help but feel a bit warm inside, and he squeezed the remote tighter. It was working. But he needed to play it cool, be in control for once, at least for a little while.

Harry eased himself down on the couch, just an inch away from Louis. Louis could feel his gaze on him but he looked right ahead, keeping his attention on the screen. After a few seconds he poked Harry’s shoulder and pointed to the screen.

“I’m tilting too much,” he said, “You see that?”

Harry made a short noise.

“That’s your fault, you know,” Louis said, crossing his arms, “My bum’s sore all the time now, cuz of you,”

Out of the corner of his eye Louis saw Harry’s eyes flutter closed, and he took a slow breath.

“Louis,”

“It’s just an observation,” Louis said easily.

He saw Harry shift a bit in his spot, and then Harry’s hand crept over and set itself on Louis’s leg. Almost immediately, Louis smacked his hand away, and Harry let out a sharp little noise.

“What on earth do you think you’re doing?” Louis scolded, and Harry’s eyes went wide.

“Touching you,” he stuttered.

“And why are you doing that?”

“I—uh—“ he stuttered, “It’s just…your thighs look really nice in those things,”

Louis resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Instead, he leaned forward and cupped Harry’s chin his hand.

“Then watch them straddle my bike, darling,” he said, forcing his voice to go sugary sweet. He pushed Harry’s chin enough for his head to turn back to the TV, and then he leaned in enough to whisper straight into Harry’s ear, “Or that’ll be the only thing you’ll see them straddling tonight,”

Harry’s head snapped back to face Louis, and his eyes shifted, their hue swirling with darkness as he held his gaze steady. Louis looked back evenly.

He knew Harry could take over anytime he wanted. Could lift Louis up by his waist and pin him to the couch and peel off all his clothes until he found out what Louis was hiding underneath, but Louis could see he wouldn’t. Not now. They both wanted to see how far this would go.

Louis released Harry’s chin and leaned back, hearing Harry exhale sharply and then go back to watching the TV.

Louis had long lost the ability to fully focus on his tape. He made a short note of the timestamp he had left off on so he could at least go back to it later, and then paused the video entirely. Harry looked over at him with raised eyebrows.

“I’m hot,” Louis announced, standing up. Harry’s eyes followed him as he did.

“Do you need something?”

Louis narrowed his eyes, “I absolutely do not,”

He wandered to the middle of the room, right in front of the TV and in Harry’s line of vision. He peeled off his sweatshirt first, sighing softly at how free his skin felt, and then he grabbed his shorts and shucked them off.

He glanced back at Harry and saw that his eyes were wide, his hands were tightly clasped, and he kept swallowing hard.

“Louis—“

“I’m going to get a snack,” Louis interrupted, and then immediately began striding straight towards the kitchen, “Would you like anything, Harry?”

He heard footsteps behind him immediately. He picked up his pace a bit but didn’t look back. Instead he walked steadily towards the kitchen, his stocking-covered feet slipping easily on the tile once he got inside.

He could see out of the corner of his eye that Harry had rounded the countertop and was standing directly behind the fridge, near the windows at the very edge of the room. Louis smiled a bit and then opened the fridge, making a point to lean over as far as he could as he examined the shelves.

“I just don’t know what I want, Harry,” he sighed. He glanced over his shoulder, to see Harry standing in the corner of the kitchen with his arms crossed tightly, “Do you know what you want?”

“I have an idea,” Harry said, his voice tight. Louis turned back ahead towards the fridge, his face feeling tight and hot despite the cool air blasting over him. He just had to stay cool for a little while longer.

His eyes roamed over the shelves and then he found the plate he had put in earlier, exactly for this purpose.

“Oh, this looks good,” he said, reaching for the plate. He pulled out the slice of cake and turned around. He looked at Harry as he dipped his finger into the extra icing on top, before popping the sweet-laden finger into his mouth and widening his eyes.

“Mmm,” he hummed.

Harry just stared at him as Louis twisted his finger inside his mouth, blinking his eyes.

“Come here,” Harry said eventually.

Only he didn’t really say it. It was a command.

Heat flushed through Louis’s body and he hoped he wasn’t blushing, but he could tell by the look on Harry’s face he was. God damn it.

Louis set the plate down on the counter carefully, letting it click softly against the marble, before he floated across the kitchen floor. His feet barely made a sound, his body moving easily until he was right in front of Harry. The taller man blinked at him, his eyes nearly black evergreen, before he grabbed Louis by the waist and pulled him towards him.

He tucked his hands under the floaty pale blue camisole Louis was wearing, skimming his hands over his torso, and then reached down to cup his arse in both hands, squeezing.

“Interesting choice,” he said.

“You like it?” Louis asked, his eyebrows rising, and Harry snorted.

“Of course I do, fuck,”

Harry’s expression tightened, and he leaned forward, “Louis, I’m going to ask you something very, very important,”

“What’s that?” Louis asked. His voice had gone high and breathy, but fuck it, his plan had worked. He was handing over the baton.

Harry eyes softened, just a bit, and he skimmed his fingers under Louis’s chin.

“Do you really want to do this, love?”

Louis blinked up at him, smiling softly, “Yes,”

Harry nodded, and he leaned forward, pressing his lips directly to Louis’s ear.

“Am I being too hard with you, love?” he asked, his voice soft and careful, “Do you need me to be gentle with you?”

“No,” Louis said, almost rolling his eyes, “I didn’t put all this on for you to give me a blowjob and fuck me missionary, Styles,”

Harry growled softly, and his one hand that remained on Louis’s arse dug in deep, making Louis gasp softly.

“Watch your mouth with me,” Harry said firmly, and Louis bit his lip and nodded.

“Baby,” Harry sighed, his voice soft again, and then leaned in, kissing his temple, “Baby, got yourself so pretty to me. Going to make you feel so good,”

“Yeah,” Louis breathed out. He felt his eyes burn a bit, but he blinked quickly and it went away, “Yes, please,”

Harry exhaled against his temple again and then kissed him there, softly. He lifted both his hands to Louis’s waist, then, and deftly he spun him around and pushed against his back, until Louis bent over. Wordlessly, Louis set his hands on the marble counter in front of him. Harry snapped at the elastic bands that encircled Louis’s thighs and kept the garters tight, before pushing the edge of his camisole half-way up his back, fully revealing his arse. He kept one hand pushing back the camisole and then slipped his one free thumb under the thick strip of lace that ran over his hips and on top of the swell of Louis’s bum, and then traced his palm all over the bare skin bared by Louis’s thong.

“Be easy to fuck you in this,” he hummed, setting his lips against the back of Louis’s neck, “Want me to fuck you with your pretty things still on?”

“Yes,” Louis gasped out, “Yes, please,”

“Good,” Harry said, and then there was a sharp smack on Louis’s bum cheek. He gasped and fell forward even more, gripping onto the countertop. His vision blurred a bit, and he blinked quickly to get himself to focus as Harry’s voice came again, “Up now,”  

Harry’s hands were gripping his hips, yanking him back, and Louis’s body lifted without protest. Harry’s hands moved all around him, twirling him around easily, until Louis was facing him again. The small of his back dug into the countertop, and Harry lifted his chin with one hand, looking at him steadily.

“Tell me how you’re feeling, love,” he said softly, and Louis swallowed.

“Still good,”

Harry nodded, his grip tightening on Louis’s chin, making him yelp softly.

“Go to your room,” Harry said, “I’ll join you in two minutes. Wait patiently,”

Louis swallowed again, this time harder, and Harry spoke again.

“Louis – “

“M’still okay,” he murmured, “M’going. I understand,”

“Good,” Harry nodded. He let his grip drop from his chin and softly it over the side of his face, gently, and his darkness eyes briefly flickered with affectionate brightness, “My good boy,”

Louis’s face heated and then Harry dropped his hand, instead pointing towards the hallway, “Now go,”

Louis nodded, shuffling down the hall, through the living room, into his room.

It wasn’t until he was inside that he realized he had no idea how he should wait for Harry. He could go on the bed with his bum lifted, like Harry had wanted him to do on the floor. But that was too much. Harry wouldn’t want him being greedy. He could just sit on the bed with his head down, but Harry might have wanted something prettier than that.

Louis’s throat tightened and he crammed the heels of his hands to his eyes. He couldn’t do something that should have been so easy.

He heard Harry’s footsteps outside the door and his head snapped up, realizing he had spent his entire two minutes worried and he was still standing in the middle of the room, not being anything.

So he swiftly dropped to his knees, wincing when they hit the ground, and folded his hands in his lap, keeping his head down.

The door creaked open and he saw Harry’s bare feet cross the threshold.

“Hi love,” he said softly, and Louis blushed. His stomach squirmed with nerves as he wondered if Harry liked what he was doing. Harry got closer, eventually pausing right in front of Louis, and then he felt fingers under his chin.

“Look up,” Harry said. Louis lifted his chin, his eyes going wide. Harry stood over him, his shoulders straight, the warmth still gone from his face, although he did smile softly when Louis looked up at him.

“What a sweet boy you’re being,” he cooed, petting Louis under the chin. He closed his eyes at the touch, and then Harry’s voice snapped, “Keep your eyes open,”

Louis blinked, and when he looked up, Harry was frowning.

“Tell me how you are,”

Louis licked his lips, squirming a bit, “Fine,”

Harry raised his eyebrows and he lifted his hand, smoothing it over Louis’s cheek, his expression thawing.

“Sure about that?” he asked, “You look…scared,”

“No, m’not” Louis said quickly, “M’just nervous,”

“How? Like you’re excited?”

“Yeah,” Louis nodded, “Always excited for you. That’s why I did this,”

Harry expression softened completely, and he stroked Louis’s cheek again, steadily.

“Louis,” he murmured, “You got all dressed up for me, and you’re being so good for me,”

Louis’s eyes closed, and he breathed in deeply, feeling the words settle deep into his body.

 “But don’t think I’ve forgotten about what you pulled when I walked in here,” Harry murmured, before he was standing back up. Harry’s voice was steel hard again, and Louis’s mouth dropped open a bit, his face getting hot as the fast switch.

“Are you listening to me?” Harry asked, and Louis blinked and looked up, his stomach sinking at the firm look on Harry’s voice.

“Yes,” he said, “I’m sorry, Harry,”

Harry just sighed, shaking his head, “I’m tired, Louis. I wanted to come here and relax with you, have a nice night. But you have to go make it all about you, distract me,”

“I didn’t – “ Louis started but Harry pressed a finger to his lips, quieting him.

“And then you have to go teasing me, telling me what I can and cannot touch, like that’s your decision to make,”

Louis blinked, his vision blurring. Of course, he knew it was his choice – Harry would never touch him if he didn’t want it, would stop in a second if Louis wanted him to and go right back to being soft and gentle and sweet and everything else he was nearly all the time. But for now, when he said it in such a solid tone, Louis felt himself going fuzzy. It was easier to believe he wasn’t the one who made decisions anymore. For now, he was pulling out something different, something exclusive just for Louis, and he felt his body re-energize at the thought.

“Would you like to tell me who tells me what to do, Louis?” Harry asked.

Louis blinked, guessing, “Not me?”

“What a good answer,” Harry cooed, petting his hair, “Not good enough to make me forget, though,”

He stepped back, no longer touching him, and went over to the bed, sitting on the very edge. Louis couldn’t see him but he could hear the mattress squeak.

“Come to me,” Harry said softly, and then, quickly, as Louis stood up, “No, crawl to me,”

Louis swallowed and then lowered himself back onto his hands, lifting his hips a bit until his knees were supporting him, and then he crawled the short distance to rest between Harry’s legs.

“Good,” Harry said softly, running his fingers through Louis’s hair again, and then lifted his chin, “In my lap, love,”

Louis nodded and lifted his body up to join Harry on the bed, bracketing his thighs around him, but Harry shook his head.

“Lay down,”

So Louis moved his body again, this time resting his stomach on Harry’s thighs. He settled the rest of his body down, and then buried his head into the crook of his own arm.

“My pretty boy,” Harry murmured softly, running a hand over the backs of Louis’s thighs, “You like getting all dressed up for me?”

Louis whined softly, turning his head, “I like when you call me pretty,”

“I know, love, that’s why I do it,” Harry said, his voice going surprisingly soft, “I’m going to buy you a thousand more sets after this. You can have one for every day of the year,”

“I – “ Louis started, “I already bought some more sets,”

“Oh,” Harry said. His voice was still gentle, but it still felt controlled, like it could drop at any moment, “Did you, now?”

“Yes,”

“Mm,” Harry hummed. He was still running his flat palm up and down the backs of Louis’s thighs, “Tell me about them,”

“I – a black set, and a red one, and a pink one – “ Louis shook his head, “I couldn’t – I couldn’t resist,”

“You really do like to feel pretty then, don’t you?”

Louis felt his face burn and thought back to earlier, when he gone ahead and carefully ripped open the individually wrapped sets, just to see if they would fit or if he needed to have some of them laundered and returned. How it had felt to feel lace and silk press to his skin, to buckle garters to his thighs and loosely lace up a corset design on the front of a teddy. To see his cock barely held in a triangle of red satin or see his arse decorated in criss crosses of black lace, and how after a while it stopped being only about something for Harry to see later and just about…him. By the time he had put on the blue set, he had felt hot and jittery. It had taken so much time to calm himself down, to cover himself in a sweatshirt and shorts, to wait patiently and coach himself through how he was going to talk and tease when Harry arrived.

“I – a little,” Louis admitted.

“That’s because you are,” Harry said, “Prettiest boy in the world, all for me,”

Then his voice dropped, and he sighed, “But you’ve been bad, Louis. I’m disappointed with you. Distracting me, teasing me, forgetting your place, and now keeping this from me? What am I going to do with you, baby?”

Louis swallowed thickly and hung his head, letting his forehead rest of the thick, quilted material of his comforter.

“Shouldn’t let you come at all,” Harry murmured, “But I’m in a generous mood tonight. Do you think you deserve to come, kitten?”

Louis flushed at the name, something he had gone so long without hearing on Harry’s tongue, and he whined, his voice reedy.

“I didn’t understand you,” Harry coaxed, and Louis lifted his head, looking at him.

“I’d like to come,” he said, “Please, Harry, I want to,”

“But do you deserve it?”

“Yes,” Louis shook his head, “I didn’t want to be bad, Harry, I just – I just wanted to do something nice, to look nice, I’m sorry I teased you, I’m sorry – “

“Shh,” Harry said, running a hand through Louis’s hair, “It’s alright, gorgeous boy. You can come tonight. But I have some things I want to do to you first,”

Louis’s eyes fluttered closed, and he let his head fall back against the mattress. The tip of Harry’s finger poked at the seam of Louis’s lips and he readily opened his mouth, letting two digits slip in until he could taste the metal of Harry’s rings pressing against the edge of his tongue. Harry’s fingers toyed with the lace straps of his thong, pulling apart the one between his cheeks, and he heard him breath in sharply.

“Looks like you’ve already had some fun tonight,” he murmured, his thumb tapping at the very edge of Louis’s wet, slightly opened hole.

“Um,” he got out. He squeezed his eyes shut, thinking about sliding two fingers in and out of himself while he was in the bathroom getting dressed, “A little bit,”

“Jesus,” Harry exhaled, “Should spank your fucking hole just for that,”

Louis’s eyes widened but Harry just pulled his hand away, pulling the thong back in place as he set his hand back on the top of Louis’s thigh.

“Won’t though,” he said, “You’d probably like that too much,”

Louis only made a weak noise and then pressed his mouth hard around Harry’s fingers. Harry’s hand smacked against his arse a moment later and he squeezed his eyes shut, moaning around the digits that were shoved in his mouth.  

“I want you to feel this,” Harry said, placing a smack against Louis’s thigh, right at space between his thigh and his cheek. Louis’s head lolled, his tongue shifting against Harry’s fingers as he took in the burn of contact whenever Harry brought his hand down, “Because I can give to you whatever I want. And this is what you are getting now,”

Louis managed a weak nod, and then he clamped his fingers down harder on Harry’s fingers as he laid another hit to the upper curve of his bum. He squeezed his eyes shut and they were watering with pain, but he wanted to see if he could do more. In experimentation, he pushed his hips up, pushing his bum closer to Harry’s raised, waiting hand, and the other man brought a hit down hard enough to jolt his hips back down.

“Stay there,” he said, “Don’t like when you’re greedy, kitten,”  

Louis nodded again, and then Harry was running his palm gently over the battered skin on his bum, carefully caressing the hot skin.

“Are you okay, baby? Do we need to take a break?”

“No,” Louis got out, the word slipping out around Harry’s steadfast digits.

“I think we can stop, love,” Harry said. He leaned down, pressing his lips to the curve of one cheek, “You’re all nice and pink for me now,”  

Louis closed his eyes and took in Harry rubbing his tender skin, until eventually the other man pulled the fingers out of Louis’s mouth and instead ran his fingers through his fringe.

“Come on, then, budge up,” he said, and Louis slowly sat back up, enough to get off Harry’s lap. Harry laid down on his back, and Louis moved to straddle his hips, setting his hands on Harry’s stomach. Harry gave him a passive look and smiled, reaching out to brush his fingertips over the skin of Louis’s arm.

“You learned your lesson yet, love?” he asked, and Louis just looked at him, trying to figure out what the right answer was.

“Not yet,” he managed.

“Oh?” Harry asked, raising his eyebrows, “Did I not do a good enough job?”

“No,” he said quickly, “No, Harry, it was so good. So perfect,”

“But not good enough, apparently,” Harry frowned, “Shall we try something else?”

“Like what?”

“Well, darling, you seem very eager tonight. But you’ve done nothing to deserve me working up a sweat for you. So, you’re gonna ride me,” Harry said, “Would you like that?”

Louis’s eyes widened, “Yes, please,”

Harry breathed out, reaching out to trace against Louis’s hip.

“Yeah?”

“Yes,” Louis said, starting to crawl forward, “Yes, Harry, pl – “

But Harry had a hand on his chest, stopping him, and then slowly shifted his hand up to cup the back of Louis’s neck.

“My eager boy,” he sighed, “Let me get undressed first,”

Louis blinked and then sat back, shifting his legs back as he slid back farther from Harry’s body. Harry got up from the bed, then, and went to stand off to the side. He moved casusally, like he was getting ready to take a shower, slipping off his rings and undoing his belt and finally pulling his t-shirt over his head. When he got done with that, he gave Louis a slight glance.

“Sit up straight,” he said, and Louis narrowed his eyes but did it, straightening his spine enough to hear it click.

Harry undid his jeans and pulled them off, then got off his briefs before looking back at Louis, offering a controlled smile as he slid onto the bed.

“Come here, then,” he said, laying back onto his back, and Louis crawled forward, situating himself between Harry’s spread thighs. He licked his lips, examining Harry’s cock carefully. It was fairly hard already, stiff and pink with a few thick veins standing out against the thin skin. Nothing he hadn’t seen before.

But.

Louis hadn’t really ridden Harry before.

He had ridden a dildo during his heat more times than he could count, and he knew the basic motions of moving once he was in the right position. But usually mounting wasn’t the prettiest process, and he couldn’t figure out how to do it now.

“Louis?” Harry asked, and his voice was back to soft.

“I’m okay,” he replied, “M’just thinking,”

“We can stop,” Harry said, “Or do something else,”

“No, no,” Louis shook his head, “Wanna do this, um,” he set his hands awkwardly on Harry’s hips, “Just show me how you want me to do it,”

“Oh,” Harry got out, “Oh, okay, of course,”

“Ridden a toy before,” Louis said, “Just need help getting up,”

“Of course, love. Here,” Harry reached out and gripped Louis’s hips tightly. With one hand, he reached out and grasped for the bedside table drawer, until he got in and got a condom. He pressed the corner of the packet between his teeth, and then put his hand back on Louis’s hip as spread his own legs a bit further apart.

“Lift up,” he mumbled around the packet. Louis did, lifting himself higher onto his knees. Harry took one hand off his hip and instead snaking his fingers between Louis’s cheeks, pushing aside the string of the thong and instead pulling a bit at his partially open hole. He slipped one fingertip easily inside, making Louis gasp a bit. Harry’s second finger got in with the same amount of easy, and the other man closed his eyes as he scissored his fingers inside of Louis.

“God, baby,” he murmured, the condom packet shifting over his lips as he spoke, “Can’t believe you went and got yourself ready for me. So good,”

“Thought I – that you wanted to punish me for that,” Louis gritted down, shifting against Harry’s persistent touch.

“Only because I didn’t get to see you do it. Bet you looked obscene, all flushed with your fingers in your arse, waiting for me,” Harry hummed. He took out the packet from his lips and then pushed his fingers inside Louis one last night, lifting his eyebrows.

“Good?”

“Yeah,” Louis gasped out, “Yes, Harry, come on – “

“Patience,” Harry bit out. He ripped at the condom packet until it was open, and then reached down and rolled it over himself. When he was done, he held his length firmly in one hand and then gripped Louis’s hip in the other hand.

“Okay, right here,” he said, pushing on Louis’s hips and bum until he was hovering right over Harry’s length. Louis felt his head prod at his entrance, the tip just slipping in, and he gasped a bit. Harry held his hip together.

“Good,” he breathed, “Now sit all the way down. Slow,”

Louis did, letting his thighs relaxing and his hips move down, and his lips opened, air punching out of them before he could even think.

“Oh,” he gasped, his hands reaching out and grasping for Harry. Harry’s hands caught his, lacing their fingers tightly together as Louis shut his eyes and tried to breath. It felt so different, especially when he usually only sat down fully on his softest, smallest toys, that ones that were the easiest to play with. Harry was thicker, and he felt like so much more at this angle, as if Louis could feel him driving straight into him, drilling through his entire body.

“Oh,” he got out again, and his fingers twitched, Harry’s grip tightening.

“Breath,” Harry whispered, “So good, just gotta keep breathing,”

Louis managed a nod and then looked up at the ceiling, blinking and then closing his watering eyes, before he finally let himself fully settle, letting out one last, strong breath has the final part of Harry’s cock settled within his body.

He blinked again and then looked down, at Harry, and slowly drew his hands out his grasp, letting them awkwardly rest on his own thighs instead.

“Good,” Harry said softly. He brought his hands up, running up them but the sides of Louis’s thighs, “So good,”

Harry gripped his hips and then moved down to his crotch, where the triangle of flimsy blue material was barely holding his swelling cock. Harry palmed him and then pulled his cock out, enough that the top part of his length and his flushed, dripping head was pressed on top of the fabric of his camisole.

“There we go,” he said, flicking his eyes up, “Want to see you ruin your top when you come,”

Louis felt his cheeks burn, and then Harry was releasing his hands from his hips, instead setting them behind his own head.

“Go on, love,” he said softly, but his voice was firmer now, “Show me how pretty you can ride,”

Louis only nodded, and then pushed his hips forward. He felt Harry’s cock push hard inside him, and he gasped out and did it again. He had to reach out and slap his hands to Harry’s stomach to catch him from falling at the feeling that shot through him.

“Keep going,” Harry murmured, and Louis slowly collected himself and straightened up again, eventually getting his body to cooperate and move in a steady, thrusting motion.

“Look so pretty,” Harry sighed as Louis moved, “Shame I can’t see how your arse looks in this when you move, though,”

He reached around him and grabbed a handful of Louis’s bum cheek in one hand, squeezing hard enough to make Louis gasp. He pushed back into Harry’s touch, but the other man quickly moved his hand away and lightly smacked his cheek.

“Uh uh,” he chided, shaking his head, “Next time m’gonna make you ride me the other way around. Think you could do that?”

“Yes,” Louis gasped, “Do anything for you,”

Harry’s eyes softened a bit, and his lips twitched in a smile.

“Yeah?”

“I, of course, oh, Harry – “ Louis bounced partially hard and he heard hear the flesh of his own bum slap against Harry’s thighs, feel Harry’s head press into his prostate. His belly felt tight and hot, and he knew that his forehead was getting wet with sweat.

“You’re so wet, kitten,” Harry hummed, “Here,” he reached back and rubbed his thumb over the top of Louis’s hole, where were was still remnants of dripping slick, “And here,” he reached back around front to thumb at the weeping head of Louis’s hard cock. As he pressed, some of the pre-cum smeared onto Louis’s camisole, and he blinked dazedly at the damp material as he kept moving.

“Harry, m’gonna come,”

“Wait for a bit, love. Move a bit more for me, yeah?”

Louis whined a bit, but nodded, and then bounced a bit more, groaning at the feeling of Harry moving inside him, at the way his body was already coiled tight and ready to snap but he still wouldn’t release, not until Harry said it was okay.

“God,” Harry groaned, “Baby, you’ve got me close. Could come from just looking at you,”

A surge of pride shot through Louis, and he bounced hard, driving his hips up and then forward, pushing everything he had into the movement. His fringe was getting damp with sweat, his thighs were sore and the front of his camisole was already stained and ruined with wetness, but he kept going.

“Harry,” he gasped, pushing on Harry’s belly, “Harry, please, I can’t – I – “

Wait,” Harry nearly growled, and then he thrust up inside Louis heard, enough to make him yelp. He did it again and then Louis felt him twitch and move inside him the same moment he felt Harry’s knot thickening inside him.

“Now, Louis,” Harry groaned, his head hitting the pillow behind him hard. Louis didn’t even need to move again, his entire body uncoiled at the words, and soon he was releasing all over himself, cum splattering over his top and his thighs and his garters and then a bit onto Harry.

His legs gave out a moment later, and he collapsed bonelessly until Harry’s body. A pair of strong arms were around him a moment later, along with a pair of careful lips kissing his forehead.

“Hey, hey,” Harry whispered, running his fingers through Louis’s hair, “How are you doing?”

“M’okay,” he murmured, nuzzling closer into Harry’s hand. The other man pushed right back, pulling his fingers through Louis’s fringe.

“God, you’re so incredible,” he gasped, and then he settled himself into stroking the back of Louis’s neck, holding him tight against his body.

When his knot eventually went down, he carefully pulled Louis off of him and then laid him on the bed, gingerly unbuckling Louis’s garters and sliding his stockings down, and then pulling off his ruined thong and camisole. When he was done he kissed Louis on the lips again, shaking his head a bit in disbelief.

“Can’t believe you did all this. You’re incredible,” he said, “And now I’m doing to go get something to make you feel better, okay? I’ll be back in so quickly. You can count the seconds,”

“Okay,” Louis murmured.

“Really, baby, I want you to count,” Harry said, his voice a little firmer, “Give you something to think about,”

Harry’s fingers pulled away and Louis reached out for him without thinking, grasping for his touch.

“Count, baby,” Harry said softly, and Louis nodded, the words latching to his brain.

He counted out loud, the numbers slurring and tripping over his tongue, and he had barely gotten past thirty before Harry was back, carrying lotion and a wet flannel. He turned Louis over with careful hands until he was lying on his belly, and then he rubbed lotion over his hot, bruised skin, rubbed his shoulders, kissed the space between his shoulder blades.

“You were marvelous,” he whispered, pecking Louis behind the ear, “So good,”

“Mm,” Louis hummed.

“I’ll stay with you all night,” Harry said, “And all weekend”

Harry nudged his thighs apart and he ran the flannel between Louis’s cheeks, rubbing out the last bits of cum and slick. When he was done he pulled the fabric away and leaned close, pressing a soft kiss to Louis’s hairline.

“I’m getting you water and a snack,” he said, “I’ll be back in a few minutes,”

“I want ice cream,”

“You need something with vitamins in it, baby. How about a banana?”

He let out a frustrated grunt and kicked one foot hard, “Both, then”

Harry chuckled softly and ran a hand over his back, “Okay, darling,”

He pulled him close, his loose muscles moving easily, and he pressed his head to Harry’s shoulder. Harry nudged the cold spoon to his lips and he opened his mouth enough for it to slide in, all smooth, cold sugar. His eyes fluttered shut and he closed his eyes, curling into Harry.

“Harry,” he managed, “M’hot,”

“I’ll turn the air conditioning on,” he said softly, “Can you wait while I do that?”

“Yes,” he got out.

He watched as Harry got out of bed again, going to the other wall to fix the heating/cooling system, and then was crawling right back to Louis, snaking an arm around his waist and kissing his forehead firmly.

“I love you,” he said softly, “Remember? I love you,”

“I remember,” Louis murmured, “Love you, too. S’why I did all this, I love you,”

Harry just shook his head and kissed Louis again, before picking up his ice cream bowl and pushing another spoonful to his lips.

*******

In the morning, Louis wandered into the kitchen to see Harry standing at the counter, buttering two bagels. He was wearing his briefs and a sweatshirt that clearly belonged to Louis, not only because it was embossed with the UK racing logo and had Louis’s last name splashed across the back but also because it was far too small on Harry; the sleeves not covering most of his forearms, the material stretched taut over his shoulders, the full shape of the laurels on his hips on full display. Louis hugged him from behind, digging his nose into Harry’s back, a few inches below where the brilliant white I in his own last name was stamped on Harry’s back.  

“G’morning,” he murmured.

“Morning, baby,” Harry said softly, moving his hand to caress the back of Louis’s hand, “Sleep alright?”

“Yes,” Louis said, coughing lightly to clear his raspy throat, “Do you have tea on?”

“Be ready in a few minutes,”

“Perfect,” Louis sighed. He snuggled closer into Harry’s back, shifting his arms to get a firmer grip around him. When Harry shuffled slightly to one side to set the butter knife in the sink, Louis shuffled his feet with him. He heard Harry exhale a soft laugh, pressing a palm to the back of Louis’s hand again.

“You alright?”

“I’m wonderful,” Louis murmured, pressing his nose pointedly against Harry’s spine.

“Mm,” Harry hummed. He shuffled again, this time to get a container of orange juice from where it was sitting on the edge of the counter, “Sore?”

“Not terribly,” he said, “Put some more lotion on after I got up,”

“Good,” Harry said softly, gently stroking the back of Louis’s hand with just his thumb, “I wanted to make something decent for breakfast, maybe a full English, but you’re out of everything again,”

“Typical,” Louis hummed, “So, bagels?”

“Yeah, I ordered them in from that deli down the street you mentioned,”

“Does that mean there’s raspberry honey with them?”

“Of course,” Harry sighed, “Alright, let go of me, love, I’ve got to move,”

“Unfortunate,” Louis hummed. He unwound his arms from Harry’s waist, squeezing the soft curve of his hips hard as he pulled away, making Harry squawk.

“Go sit down, you’re horrible,” he sighed, waving him off. Louis reached out one last time and pinched Harry’s hip hard, and then scurried off to sit on the couch.

Harry joined him soon, leaning up against one of the armrests of the couch with his legs spread across the length of the couch, and Louis settled himself between Harry’s spread legs with his plate balanced on his lap. Harry cradled Louis’s waist loosely with one arm, his hand palming at Louis’s belly while they ate.

Louis finished half of his bagel and then paused, sucking a bit of honey off his thumb as he looked down at the bagel on his plate.

“Harry,” he said, and he felt the other man stir a bit behind him.

“Yes?”

“You said you ordered these up, you said?”

“Yeah,” Harry nodded, “I hope that’s okay, you don’t have to pay me back – “

“No, no, it’s not that,” Louis shook his head, “Just…did you answer my door…for a delivery person…wearing my sweatshirt?”

“Oh,” Harry said, “Um, should I…should I not have done that? Could someone find out about that?”

“No, no,” Louis laughed, “My address isn’t public, a random delivery person wouldn’t know this is my place. M’just picturing you answering the door in a damn crop top,”

Harry snorted and then pressed his nose into the back of Louis’s neck, his grip on Louis’s waist tightening a bit.

“You say that like you don’t like me in this top,” he hummed, “Besides, even if that delivery girl knew you lived here, I’m pretty sure she would have thought I was just the latest omega you had over. I reek of you, honestly,”

Louis just snorted, pushing himself back so he could snuggle further into Harry, “There is no way in hell anyone would think you’re an omega,”

“They might, you never know,” Harry said, and Louis could hear the smile in his voice as he said it.

They were quiet for a moment, both of them eating, and then eventually Louis nudged his elbow into Harry’s hip, not particularly hard but enough for Harry to notice.

“What does it feel like to be an alpha?” he asked. Harry stirred behind him, and Louis glanced behind him at the same time Harry’s hand brushed over the back of his neck, his thumb prodding at the soft skin over Louis’s pulse point.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked.

“Like, I don’t know,” Louis shrugged, “I’m just wondering what it feels like for you, when we’re together. If you have like…instincts or something,”

“Ah,”

“Does that make sense?”

“Yeah, it does,” Harry nodded, “I mean, usually it’s pretty simple. Right now I just want to protect you, and take care of you, and make sure you’re safe and happy. And that’s honestly usually how I feel when I’m with you,”

Louis nodded, slowly, and then tilted his head.

“Huh,”

“Huh, what?”

“I always thought it was just, like, I don’t being possessive and shit,”

“I mean, that’s part of it, I guess. But honestly, I really do just have a strong pull to take care of people and protect them. I’m not really a controlling person outside of set up situations,” he shrugged, “Hormones don’t make you control someone, being a shitty person makes you do that,”

“Mm,”

“And what about you, huh?” Harry asked. He lifted Louis’s chin, running his fingers gently along the underside of his jaw, “How do you feel right now?”

Louis blinked, his eyes feeling heavy, and he finally looking up at him fully.

“Like I want to let you do all those things,”

“Yeah?”

Louis just nodded, and then closed his eyes again, which suddenly felt like they were burning.

“Louis?” Harry asked, and then his fingers were pushing Louis’s chin back up, “Louis, what’s wrong?”

Louis opened his eyes, blinking hard, his eyes flooding in with water. This was stupid, and it was a good morning, and he shouldn’t be crying. He lifted an arm, wiping hard at his eyes, wishing he had a sweater on so he wouldn’t have to rub with his bare skin.

“It gets so hard sometimes,” he managed.

“Shh,” Harry whispered, pulling a hand through his hair, pressing Louis’s head firmly into his chest, “It’s alright. I’ll take some of your hurt for a little while. That’s why I’m here,”

“You’re a good alpha, Harry,” he said, “Make me feel safe,”

“Yeah?” Harry asked. Only when he said it, his voice was cautious, unsure, enough that Louis could hear his sharp intake of breath.

“Better than good,” Louis nodded, “Harry, love, you’re – you’re perfect, you really are,”

“M’not,” Harry insisted, but he still pushed himself further into Louis, pressed his nose right to his hair.

“Let me tell you are,” Louis whispered, “Always telling me how bloody lovely I am, let me tell you for once,”

Harry didn’t say anything, just kept his nose pressing to Louis’s hair, his breathing steady as he held him.

Louis hoped that at least part of him really believed it.

*******

Harry’s rut and Louis’s heat were a week out of sync, so they went roughly ten days without seeing each other. Which was fine. They both had work to do and they had long phone calls every night – usually very filthy phone calls, but they were still talking.

By the time they came back together, it was a week before the first home race of the season, and about three weeks until Harry’s deadline. They were both still working themselves hard, but they still found a few nights to spend together, usually wrapped up together in bed for as long as they could be.

It was on one of those nights, when Harry’s knot was literally solidifying inside of Louis and they were both still panting, that Harry decided to bring something up.

“Hey,” Harry murmured when they were done, kissing the bridge of Louis’s nose.

“Hey,” Louis laughed weakly, pushing up into Harry’s touch.

“So I, ah,” Harry said, “Kind of need to tell you something,”

“Is it about how devastatingly beautiful I am? Because you’ve told me that a lot already,”

“No, no,” Harry chuckled, “You are, by the way, but…no. I just…I kind of need to interview your family,”

Louis blinked at him, and Harry was looking at him earnestly, enough to make Louis snort and cover his eyes with his forearm.

“Harry, please don’t talk about my family when you are literally knotted inside me,”

“I’m sorry!” Harry said, “But my story’s almost done, and I still haven’t gotten enough of your childhood background, so my editor says I have to go for at least one family interview. Of course, I could’ve done that a lot sooner, but, um,”

“But?”

“I don’t know, it felt weird. Like, it’s meeting the parents and all,” Harry said, “Like, your family doesn’t know about us, but I still want them to like me, you know?”

“You’re cute,” Louis sighed, “And actually, my mum and older sisters and coming into London and staying with me for the next race, so you can talk to them then. Alright?”

“Oh,” Harry blinked, “They’re coming here?”

“Uh huh,”

“Oh, okay,” he smiled, “I thought I would have to go up North again but…okay, this is better,”

“You don’t like my hometown?”

“No, that’s not what I meant!” Harry said quickly, “It’s just, train rides and everything and it’s easier to stay in the city and – “

“Oh, hush, I’m kidding,” Louis sighed. He reached up, grabbing a long-ish curl that was wrapped around Harry’s ear, and twisted it around his finger, twirling it, “Honestly, you’re so dramatic,”

“I am not,” Harry huffed, “But – you think that would be okay? I don’t want to intrude on your family time,”

“I mean, I think it’ll be okay. They’ll be in for nearly four days, I think an hour or two with you would be fine,” Louis shrugged, “But, I’ll call my mum tomorrow morning and ask her. All good?”

“I – yes, that sounds nice,”

Louis nodded, and then let go of Harry’s curls, instead tossing both arms back behind his head and shifting his hips.

“You honest to fuck have the worst timing,” he huffed.

“I just didn’t want to forget to tell you!”

“You could have held onto that thought for the fifteen minutes it’s going to take for your cock to be able to get out of me,” Louis said, “Can’t believe I’m letting you speak to my mother, honestly”

“I’m sorry,” Harry sighed, and then leaned in, kissing Louis on the forehead, “How can I make it up to you?”

“Well, you can start by never letting anyone know how this interview got set up,”

*******

Louis’s family arrived in London at exactly 2:32 on Thursday afternoon.

He knew because he got five different texts from his mum and his eldest sisters saying they had found the hired car waiting for them at the train station – a necessity since Louis had been at the track all day and he didn’t even have a car even if he wanted to pick them up himself.

He tucked his phone away, smiling, and went back to scrubbing the counter in the spare bathroom with lemon-scented cleaner. He had gotten off early from practice and spent the last few hours washing and changing the sheets on the beds in all three bedrooms, making sure there was spare shampoo and toothbrushes in all the bathrooms, and ensuring the cabinets had at least at a few healthy things in them so he didn’t get too much shit from his mum.

Twenty minutes after he had gotten the texts, he was folding straightening up a few final things in his own room – or his mum’s room for the weekend – when there was an eager knock on the door. Immediately, he finished smoothing down the top of his bedspread and then jogged to go answer the door. As soon as he opened it, he was engulfed with multiple embraces, with Daisy getting low to the ground to wrap her arms around her legs while Felicite hugged him around the waist.

“Hello, my darlings,” he smiled, “Good trip in?”

“Louis, they offered me champagne with lunch!” Felicite said excitedly, “Isn’t that good? Means I look grown up, now. Mum wouldn’t let me have any, though,”

“Oh, enough, let me have a turn, Jesus!”

Felicite broke away with an indignant squawk and then Lottie drove in, while Phoebe ducked down next to her twin and grabbed Louis’s other leg. When they all had had enough, they tumbled past him into the apartment, and his mum greeted him last, pulling him into a tight hug.

“Hi, darling,” she murmured, and Louis squeezed her tightly, gripped firmly onto the fabric of her jacket.

“Hi, mum,” he returned. He broke away from the hug just enough to turn back to the all the girls, who were standing in the living room with their suitcases in tow.

“Alright, you all know where your rooms are, go on, then,”

Immediately, they ran down the hall to the two guest rooms, and he could hear the noise of suitcases being thrown on the floor and closet doors opening, and then happy shrieking he could only guess came because they had found the parcels he had left on their beds, full of brand new flannel pajamas and fancy mud masks and gift cards to their favorite uptown shops.

Jay seemed to catch on and squeezed his shoulder.

“Did you buy them more things?”

“You ask that like I didn’t buy you things, too,” he laughed, hugging her again, “And I’m taking them shopping on Sunday, too,”

Louis,”

“They’re teenage girls, Mum, they need new clothes, I’m sure,”

“Like I could stop you anyways,” she shook her head, “Dan and the little ones send their love, by the way. They’ll be watching on Saturday,”

“Good,” Louis sighed. The youngest twins had never been to a live race – the other girls hadn’t even been to a professional track until Louis’s third season – and he preferred it to stay that way. Professional racing had relaxed in the last several years, with less live brawls and crashes, but it was still noisy and could always get ugly quickly. It was still too much, and especially too much for anyone connected to him.

“Well, I’ll be going to my room,” Jay eventually smiled, “Are you sure you want the couch again? I can sleep in one of the girls’ rooms. Don’t want your back to be bad for the race,”

“I’ll be fine, don’t you worry about it,” Louis said, kissing her check, “Oh, and remember what I told you on the phone the other day. That, uh, reporter I mentioned is going to be here tomorrow afternoon to do an interview. Couple hours, tops, but, uh – “

“Oh, course, love,” Jay said, “Who’re the questions for? Just me or – “

“Oh, probably,” he said quickly, “I, uh, he knows about the thing with the girls. So. Maybe some mentions of them. Not much more,”

“Okay, then,” she smiled, “Where is he from, again?”

Cross,”

“Right, of course,” she nodded, “I’ll look forward to that, then,”

She smiled one last time and pecked him on the cheek before going to Louis’s room.

*******

The next day it was spitting rain, in typical London fashion.

Everyone stayed inside, most of the girls sleeping in while Louis forced himself to get up early enough to have a few cups of tea with his mum in the kitchen, because he never got to do that anymore. When the girls woke up the kitchen swiftly became full of noise as they swirled around, putting on more water for water and rifling through his cabinets, searching for their favorite cereal in Louis’s massive collection.

By mid-afternoon, everyone was spread out over the floor, reading books or fighting over who would get to pick the next channel to watch for the next half an hour, when there was a knock on the door.

“That your reporter, love?” Jay asked, tucking her mug to her lips as she gazed over at Louis.

“Oh, probably,” Louis said, knowing full well that Harry was the only person who would have any reason to come over, “I’ll get it,”

He stood up from where he was sitting next to the twins on the floor, and headed for the front door, running his fingers through his fringe as he went. Sure enough, when he opened the door, Harry was standing in the hallway, dressed in a simple black and navy pinstripe shirt and a black pair of jeans, the fabric ripped over his good knee, and charcoal gray boots. He adjusted the strap of his bag on his shoulder, and the two rings on his right hand flashed in the brightness of the hallway lights.

“Hi,” Louis said quickly, bouncing on his toes just a little bit. He kind of wanted to kiss Harry but also didn’t want to risk it, “How are you?”

“I’m good, thanks,” Harry laughed softly, then began to step inside, “Is now still okay?”

“Of course, come on,” Louis said hurriedly, stepping aside to let Harry in. Once the other man was fully inside, he shut the door behind them, and then shouted towards the living room “Everyone, come here, guest,”

Instantly, he heard the movement of multiple bodies, and by the time he had brought Harry into the living room, all the girls were standing up, waiting at perfect attention.

“Everyone, this is Harry,” Louis said, “I told you about him, he works for Cross,”

“Hi, Harry,” Lottie offered, “I’m Charlotte,”

“Hello,” Harry smiled, and Louis saw his dimples deepen and his eyes shine as he did so, “I’d shake your hand but I think your nails could kill me. I quite like the color, though,”

Lottie just smiled, glancing down at her long, electric blue nails as Felicite, and then the twins, stepped forward and introduced themselves one by one. Harry gave them all a wide smile, nodded his head as they said their names and paying each of them a small compliment.

When Jay eventually stepped forward, Harry straightened up immediately, and extended his hand, his smile somehow becoming wider.

“Hi, Mrs. Deakin,” he said, “I’m Harry,”

“No need for that, dear. But it’s a pleasure,” Jay smiled, setting her hand against Harry’s and slowly pushing it down, “You know, you’re off to a good start already. Most people usually get my last name wrong,”

“Well, I did my research,” Harry replied, “Have to be through and all. Part of the job,”

Jay smiled, and then turned to Louis.

“I like him,” she said, and Louis felt his throat get a bit tight as he smiled in turn, and then forced himself to turn around to look at his sisters.

“Come on, girls, let’s go in my room for a bit. Let them speak,”

“Can we go out instead?” Felitcite asked, “It’s past lunch, and I want to go to Abraham’s and get avocado toast,”

“You kids and your bloody avocado toast,” Louis sighed, “We can get some on Sunday, love. We should stay here for now. I’ll make you something to eat,”

“That’s alright,” Jay cut in, “You all go out and have fun. We’ll be perfectly fine for a little while,”

“Oh,” Louis said. He paused, looking between his mother and Harry, “I, uh, I don’t know if – “

“Honestly, it’s just me he’s after, so there’s no point in you lot hanging around waiting for us to finish,” Jay said, “Harry, I assume you’re trustworthy for a chat alone?”

“I – yes, ma’am, if you’re comfortable with that,”

“Perfect, then,” she smiled, “I can make us tea while you get ready,”

“I’ll put it on before we go,” Louis said.

“Oh, you just go out,” Jay sighed, “have fun with your sisters. I’ll handle the press for you,”

“Uh,” Louis cut a look to Harry, trying to find anything about him that was uncomfortable, but he as already at the kitchen table, setting up his laptop and notepad and recorder.

“Alright, then,” Louis eventually managed, and kissed his mum on the forehead before turning back to the living room, pushing aside any outward emotion or awkwardness that shouldn’t be there for a mere press interview, “Coats and boots on in ten minutes, loves, or no avocado toast until Sunday,”

*******

“I like your mum,” Harry said over the phone later.

“Everyone loves my mum,” Louis said. He was smoothing a blanket over the couch, getting ready to sleep, “She’s one of those people,”

“I mean it, though,” Harry said, and Louis could hear paper flipping in the background. Harry was probably looking over his notes as he was speaking, “Almost sad I can’t read you these quotes yet. She cares about you so much. Cried a few times, talking about how proud she was of you,”

“Sounds like her,” Louis sighed. He paused, and then, “She liked you, too,”

“Huh?”

“She talked about you when we got back,” he said, “I didn’t even get the chance to ask how the interview went before she was already gushing,”

“You’re teasing me,”

“No, really. I walk in and it’s all ’Harry’s such a nice boy, so polite, so sweet, had very smart questions – he’s so young to be writing for such a big magazine, he must be very talented – ‘”

“She did not,”

“She did, I swear,” Louis laughed, “You brought that on yourself, you know, with your fucking ‘yes, ma’am’ routine,”

“I was being polite!”

“I know, love, you’re very, very polite,” Louis sighed. He wanted to tack on “except when you’re pinning my wrists over my head and spanking me” but he decided against it.

“So did you have fun with your sisters today?” Harry asked.

“Yes, we just went to lunch. They all would’ve had an early spree with my credit card but Mum called to tell us to come back before we had the chance to go to the shops,”

“Sounds fun,”

“Yeah, it was,” Louis hummed. He peeled back the layers of his blankets and then forced himself to climb onto the couch, “Don’t get them up here that often, but they love seeing the city. The girls, I mean. My mum deals with it, bless her heart, but I think she likes the quiet,”

He paused when he heard a scratching noise on the other end that sounded suspiciously like a pen on paper.

“Harry Styles, are you taking notes on this conversation?”

The scratching stopped abruptly, along with a distinct flip of paper, “Maybe,”

“You are unbelievable,”

“I’m trying to get a complete picture of your family!” Harry said, “Sorry, though. I’m just – I’m stressed, you know. Everything in my head is focused on this story right now,”

“I understand,” Louis nodded.

There was silence for a little while, and he could hear Harry typing something on a keyboard, and again, there was the soft flick of paper. Their phone calls were like this, sometimes. Each of them doing something mundane and just letting the other listen and know they were there.

“Do you think I should tell her?” Louis suddenly asked. He didn’t know where it came from, but it still came out.

The sound on Harry’s end stopped, briefly, before he spoke.  

“Tell who? And about what?”

“My mum. And tell her about me. About the…omega thing,” Louis said, “And about us, one day,”

“Oh. Right,” Harry said, and then sighed, “It’s up to you, baby. Your life, your family,”

“I know,” Louis said, “But if I tell them about us, it’s your life, too,”

“I know that,” Harry said, and Louis should almost hear him shrugging over the phone, “But. Still your decision at the end of the day,”

“Oh, I know that,” Louis huffed, “It’s hard, though,”

“I’d make up your mind for you,” Harry said, “But you’d hate every solution I currently have,”

“Oh, yeah? What are your solutions?”

“Well, one, tell her,”

“That sounds hard,”

“And two, don’t tell her,”

“Fuck, that’s easier. But worse, somehow,” Louis shook his head, “I’m sorry I brought this up. You don’t have to worry about this, it really is my problem,”

“No, it’s alright,” Harry said, “Are you doing okay, though? It’s quite late and – “

“And I have one of the bigger races of the season in the morning?” Louis finished, “Yes, I know. But I’m fine. Just thinking,”

“Well, thinking is good,”

“Sometimes, I guess,” Louis hummed, “Harry?”

“Yes, baby?”

He swallowed, “Would you like it if I lived in Switzerland?”

“Like in the mountains?”

“I guess, yeah. Is Switzerland much else?”

“Of course there’s something else in Switzerland. There’s always something else to everywhere,”

“Well, let’s just say the mountains. If I got a cabin there, would you come visit me?”

“Of course I would, we’re talked about this,” Harry paused, “I thought the Swiss government still requires ribbons, though?”

“They’re repealing that,” Louis said, knowing full well the last time the Swiss Parliament had brought up repealing gender markers was two years ago, “I think,”

“Well, then, Switzerland sounds lovely,”

“Okay,” Louis nodded, “Um, l’ll leave you write now, I guess,”

“Go to ahead, love,” Harry said gently, “You have a big morning tomorrow, after all,”

“Right, of course,” Louis said, “Uh, good night,”

“Good night, Louis,”

Louis hung up then, letting the warm phone press to his chest for a little while, before he eventually sat up enough to plug it into the charger he had running next to the couch. Wouldn’t want a dead phone tomorrow, on top of everything else.

He rolled over, staring at the upholstery of the back of the couch, and closed his eyes, suddenly wanting nothing more than to have a body next to him, whether it was one of his sisters prodding at him or Harry hugging him, or to at least have a voice in his ear, reminding him he wasn’t alone.

*******

Home races were always insane.

Louis had gotten through plenty of them in five years, but all the experience in the world couldn’t make them more bearable.

Rather than quietly being ushered into the track like he would be in any away race, Louis, like every other member of the UK team, was being individually driven and delivered to the front of the Royal Arena. This year, he was seated in the final black car in a long procession that brought his teammates to the mouth of venue. He had been second to last to arrive last season, Connor Valentine being the last, since the finale spot was always for the top racer.

He supposed this meant it was an honor.

When he got out of the car, he was immediately greeted by four bodyguards who scrunched in around him, shielding him from the eager hands on the paparazzi that were waiting outside the arena, but leaving just enough space between their bodies so that the cameras could get decent shots of Louis arriving. The paps, despite being stamped and approved by the team weeks ahead of time, were spewing their usual filth, asking Louis how many omegas he planned to take home after the race in attempt to stir him up, but he ignored it and squinted his eyes, his designer sunglasses nearly useless against the volume of flashing cameras that surrounded him.

By the time he was through the doors of the arena, someone else was grabbing his arm, leading him down a smooth concrete hallway that would take him to his private, individual prep room. He had a full hour before the race to prepare himself, and if he could get to Caroline, he would see if he could just spend it alone rather than doing any pre-race interviews. Unlikely, but still, he would try.

Once Louis had been deposited at the entrance of the room, he immediately went in as the team manager who had brought him to his room scurried off to handle something else. Once he was inside, he saw Niall sprawled out on the expensive leather couch in one corner of the room, chatting with Harry who was leaning against the opposite wall, his feet pointed into each other as he nodded along to everything Niall was saying. When Louis shut the door behind him, Niall shot him a quick glance and gave him a crooked smile, motioning towards Harry.

“Hey, Lou,” Niall said, “Look what your boyfriend wore,”

“Can you stop saying that? There are people outside,” Louis grumbled, then glanced over at Harry and paused, “Harry, what the hell,”

The alpha was wearing his usual black jeans and boots, but on top he had on a white button-down covered with little red and yellow motorcycles.

“I forgot I had this shirt!” Harry said, tugging at the hem of it, “I wanted to wear it before the season ended,”

“Well, that’s nice, love,” Louis sighed, strolling over to him. He pecked Harry on the lips and then sighed, resting a hand on his shoulder, “If they’d let me, I’d wear a shirt with little notebooks on it for the next race,”

“You two are disgusting,” Niall sighed from the other side of the room, and Louis heard the leather of the couch squeak as Niall stood up, “Also, Lou, I need to take your vitals real quick,”

“Okay,” Louis said distractedly, and then pressed one more kiss to Harry’s mouth, just to hear Niall groan.

*******

Eighteen laps.

The race was eighteen laps, a standard endurance-based length that even secondary school racers were allowed to run. It was a staple for the British team to pull out such a length, especially since it was considered one of more entertaining long-course races – some people focused on speed, others wanted a show, others just brawled with each other in tight knots of bodies of bikes.

Normally, in a race like this, Louis would be showing off, pulling out some tricks and turns and swerving, showing off what he could do with his bike.

But not this year.

Last year he had shown off and placed third, and Connor Valentine and Josephine Chastain had placed second and first, each other them holding new records for an eighteen lap race – Valentine holding the best ever time for the UK, Chastain for the whole damn world.

They were both gone now, of course. Louis could still show off and win hands-down. But he didn’t want to, not with those two times hanging over his head.

He got to the front of the pack easily, like he always did. He saw jackets around him from France and Spain and Italy, all names he recognized. He anticipated their moves by now, easily dodging swerves of their tires of shooting ahead before they tried to press the metal of their bike to his.

Nothing was distracting him anymore. Not as long as he was in the front, nothing around him. He was in the front by the tenth lap, only falling to second once, behind Roux for a little while before the other racer burnt himself out before he could finish the lap and quickly fell behind Louis.

When he finished, he finished first, and he sped over the finish line cleanly. He considered spinning his back wheel, finishing off in a 90-degree turn filled with silver and gold sparks and screeching from the crowd. But no. Not now. Now would be clean.

Louis halted his bike, yanking off his helmet to listen to the cheers. He turned his head, searching for the leaderboard and then finding his name, letting his eyes wander to his finish time and.

13:58.

A full twenty-four seconds less than Valentine’s UK record. Eighteen lower than Chastain’s record for the entirety of Europe.

He had not only beaten their records, he had fucking obliterated them.

Suddenly, he was surrounded on all sides by bodies hugging him; Cara first, then Liam, then Perrie and Jesy and soon every other British racer. Because it no longer mattered who had placed where, or they were battling for the same titles and spots. The United Kingdom had reclaimed a European record for the first time in years, and on home ground.

But not only that, it was like every doubt was over.

Louis was going to the Grand Prix.

He had to. There was no way in hell he wasn’t, not with a record like this. Even if he placed dead last in the next few races, he would still go. And the UK had a fighting chance at placing in the Prix again, reclaiming something they hadn’t had for nearly a decade despite their endless training and resources.

No point competing now, not when their champion was standing right in front of them, leading their entire country to victory.

Later, his mum would meet him at the mouth of the venue and embrace him, teary-eyed, and all his sisters would pile into the hug much like his teammates were doing now. Later, Niall would scream and hug him tight and bounce up and down with Louis still trapped in his arms. Later, Harry would press him hard against the leather couch of his prep room and kiss him hard until Louis’s lungs were burning with lack of oxygen.

For the moment, though, Louis’s knees were buckled as he tried not to drown in a sea of black leather and alpha scent and cheering voices, the numbers of his times blazed over the backs of his eyelids, everything he had ever wanted close enough to embrace.

*******

By the end of the month, Harry had moved from the writing to the editing phase, and was far less stressed out, at least until he got notes back from editor and went right back to attacking his work. But in the meantime, he stayed over and left his laptop at his own apartment so they could actually talk.

The weather in London was getting warm, finally, and Louis while was still trapped inside surrounded by concrete and machine and exhaust for most of the day, he was looking forward to having a full summer off to enjoy himself in the city. Maybe soon he could switch to wearing vests and t-shirts when he rode his bike around town, even though Niall always called him to yell at him to stay safe for after pap pictures of those moments inevitably came out.

But Louis was in a good mood, overall, when he came out of the track Saturday. It was an extra practice for him, and Niall had stopped in for a bit just to make sure he was alright, but otherwise, he had had a day all to himself.

As he walked into the main hallway, he got a text from Harry. The other man was over staying for the weekend, and he had been at Louis’s for the day, writing and catching up on sleep after weeks of staying up late working. Louis opened the text as he walked, frowning at the words on the screen.

Hey, you have no chicken.

 

??

Why the fuck would I have chicken, Harry?

 

I don’t know. I wanted to make dinner. I thought stir fry would be nice.

 

Then just use vegetables or something.

 

You wouldn’t eat stir fry with just vegetables, babe.

 

FINE.

 

I will buy chicken on my way home. Are you happy?

No, don’t worry about it. I’ll order something in.

 

Giving up already? I have a bad influence on you.

 

True, true.

 

Now get the fuck back here, I’m bored without you.

Louis smirked a bit and tucked his phone into the interior pocket of his jacket has he kept strolling. He was just going through the glass hallway that led to the locker rooms when he spotted Liam standing up against the glass with his hands behind his back, gazing outside.

“Hey, Li,” he called out, and Liam started but still looked at him and cast him an easy smile.

“Oh, hey, Louis,” he greeted, “Did you have practice today?”

“Yeah, figured I’d squeeze in a bit more time. I’m tired as hell, though,” he chuckled, “I still have gym time tomorrow, too,”

“Committed,” Liam said softly, turning back to the glass.

Louis wanted to ask Liam what he was doing here on a Saturday, and so late in the afternoon.  None of the mated racers ever stayed at the track particularly late, or even came in at all on weekends, especially not Liam. But he figured it was none of his business. So, he shifted the strap of his bag further up his shoulder and started to move a bit past Liam.

“Well, I guess I’ll see you – “

“Zayn’s pregnant,”

Louis stopped, setting down his half-raised foot, and stared at his teammate.

“Excuse me?”

“Zayn, I – “ Liam shook his head, “He’s been so sick, lately, Louis, and I was so worried about him. He only just now went to the doctor’s today and he told me to just go practice, he was sure it was nothing and you know, I worry about him a lot and he wanted to give him something to focus on. But he called me and – “ he shook his head again, “Apparently – France, you remember France? That early heat fucked his birth control up and -- Jesus, Louis, he’s pregnant,”

“Oh. I – congratulations,” Louis got out, “I mean, this is a good thing, isn’t it?”

“Oh, God yes,” Liam laughed airily at that, “Very good. I mean, he’s pissed because now he has to move the wedding date around and stuff, but – he’s pregnant,”

“As we have established,”

“Oh, God, I’m sorry, I’m just – “ Liam kept shaking his head, “I just found out an hour ago, I’m sorry, I’m still processing that this is happening to me. To us. You know?”

“I – I don’t know personally, no, but I can imagine,”

“Right. Of course,” Liam said, “You know you’re the first person I told?”

“I – Jesus, Liam, you’ve known you’re having a baby for an hour and you didn’t call your mother?”

“No! Fuck! I need to call her!” Liam covered his face with his hands, “Oh my God, Louis, Zayn -- “

“Yes, Liam, Zayn’s pregnant, I know,” Louis sighed, setting his hand on Liam’s shoulder, “Hey. I’m happy for you, you know. You guys deserve this, even if it is out of nowhere,”

“Thank you,” Liam got out, and then he was moving in to hug Louis, squeezing him tight.

“I – ah, okay,” Louis managed, and then weakly brought up his arms, hugging Liam back.

“I’m so happy,” Liam was saying, “I’m so, so happy, Louis,”

Louis blinked, staring off down the hallway. It wasn’t dark yet, the sun still beaming overheard even though it was slipping closer to the evening, but suddenly he wasn’t as content as he was a few minutes ago. Something squirmed in his gut, something uncomfortable, and he blinked again, trying to push it away, but it stayed, just noticeable enough to bother him.

“And I’m happy for you,” Louis finally returned. He gave Liam one hard squeeze and then pulled away entirely, “Okay now, stop chattering with me, call your mother and then go home to your boy,”

“Right, of course,” Liam nodded, still grinning, “Oh! Did you get the save the date for the wedding already? Throw that out, we’ll probably have it earlier now – “

“I will, I will,” Louis said, nodding his head quickly, hoping it would put Liam at ease, “Now go home, Jesus,”

“Okay,” Liam smiled, and then finally backed up, “Okay,”

Louis watched him practically run down the hallway, pulling out his phone once he was by the door, probably to call Zayn to tell him he was coming home, or at the very least to call his poor mum.

Louis remained standing in the hallway in the late, bleeding sunlight, failing to ignore the squirming that had taken over his abdomen.

He was thinking.

 Finally, he pulled out his phone with unsteady fingers, getting ready to send Harry a text. He needed some time to think, to process what was going on in his head and in his gut.

Don’t order in. I’ll get chicken.

********

Louis drove aimlessly for a bit. It was a Saturday night, and London was slowly unfurling – students coming out of liquor stores with large paper bags, a few black-clad security employees just beginning to arrive at a few uptown clubs. Harry texted him a few times asking when he would be back but Louis just told him traffic was bad and that he had forgotten he needed a few more things, but he would be in as soon as he could manage. Eventually, he picked up the chicken and some orange juice and a bottle of fabric softener from a shop, just so he could stay true to his claim that he had more than one thing to pick then. Then, he took a smoke break outside of the awning of a closing flower shop and a university student asked him for a selfie. Then, he finally texted Harry he was heading home, and he was sorry for being late.

There was still an uncomfortable feeling in his gut.

He couldn’t stop thinking about Liam and Zayn, was the thing. He and Zayn had always been comfortable with each other, about as much as could be expected for two people that only occasionally had to interact with each other. They saw each other at racing events and parties, they took smoke breaks together at said events and parties, and apparently, after France, Louis was welcome in Zayn and Liam’s hotel room when he was bored and in need of nicotine.

But he had always seen something else between them. Two paths, diverging. Zayn was a year younger than Louis was, they probably found out they were omegas at nearly the same time. Louis had gone into hiding, Zayn had gotten mated. And now, they were having a family. And Louis…

Where the hell was Louis?

What the hell was he doing?

Of course, he could give surface level answers to those questions. He was the best damn racer in the United Kingdom. He was untouchable, and adored, and had his name written in history books already. He had a boyfriend. A lovely, incredible boyfriend, and they were happy.

But what about after that? What about after he left, after the racing and London was over? What would he have to fill himself then?

He wasn’t ready for what Zayn and Liam had, not exactly. He couldn’t handle a family and a job off the track now, not when he still had a life to live for himself first. He didn’t know where he would live or what he would do or who he would be, but he had to figure that out before everything else.

Well. Maybe not everything. He wanted at least a few guarantees for the after.

After Louis had sent Harry his text, he threw his cigarette stub to the ground and dug the heel of his boot into it, and then scrolled to the bike on the curb, unlocking it and preparing to mount it.

He had to get home.

He had something he needed to do.

********

When Louis got home and unlocked apartment door, he immediately followed sound of a stovetop sizzling and wandered into the kitchen.

Harry was standing at the stove, staring down at a pan, as he pushed a plastic spatula back and forth over the food inside. He was wearing a pair of black jeans and a matching black belt and nothing else, his head tilted slightly as he worked.

“You were out a long time,” he said as Louis walked in and set the bag from the shop down on the counter.

“Sorry,” Louis managed. He was staring at Harry’s hands, the way one wrapped easily around the tool he was using while the other that was pressed to his hip.

“S’alright,” Harry hummed, “Wanted to start the food, though. If you want chicken it’s going to be late,”

“I guess I don’t need it,” Louis managed, and Harry laughed easily.

“Fickle,” he managed, “So how was – “

But he didn’t finish before Louis was walking forward, and then dropping to his knees next to Harry. He dipped his head forward and folded his hands in his lap as he settled his body down, waiting.

He heard Harry take a sharp breath over him, and he just closed his eyes, his body relaxing despite the tightness in his throat and his stomach.

He had seen this same position countless times, during his early racing days when his teammates could still manage to drag him to clubs. He used to see omegas drop to their knees in the middle of the dance floor and assume this position, their alphas standing over them to drag a hand through their hair and then slowly coax them to their feet, just to get them out of the room and somewhere safe. He had learned later that it was a natural reflex for them, to physically show their submissiveness when they were overwhelmed. He never understood it then, the pure need and willingness to do such a thing.

But now, as he knelt before Harry, his knees biting into the unforgiving tile, it felt like the most natural thing in the world.

It might have been a few hours or a few seconds, but eventually he heard Harry speak.

“Louis?” he asked. He sounded curious and scared all at once, and Louis heard a soft scrape, probably Harry moving the pan off the heat, and then a soft click as he turned off the burner. Harry was kneeling, then, to be level with Louis, but Louis still didn’t look up.

“What are you doing, beautiful?” harry asked. His voice was deathly careful and Harry gently tucked his fingers under Louis’s chin and lifted his head up, “Hey, come on, you’re being shy. None of that,”

His voice was gentle, so gentle, and Louis pushed his chin into Harry’s touch, until the other man was dragging his hand over the side of Louis’s face, cupping his cheek.

“What’s wrong, my love?” Harry asked, his voice somehow even softer than before, the sound of what cotton candy felt like, “How’re you feeling? Fuzzy?”

Louis didn’t reply, and he saw Harry’s face shift, his forehead creasing and tightening, the line of his lips hardening.

“I—a little,” Louis finally said, “Not bad. It’s – different,”

Harry nodded and brushed a thumb over Louis’s bottom lip, and Louis opened his mouth slightly at the touch. He wanted nothing more than to envelop Harry’s thumb with his lips, to press the taste of his skin to his tongue, but Harry pulled away before he could.

“Your lips are all cracked, baby,” he said, “Let me get you some water. Then you can talk to me,”

He stood up then, and Louis reached out his hands weakly at first to chase him, but then folded them right back in his lap, waiting. Harry was back soon enough, brushing his fingers over the back of Louis’s head and then kneeling down to sit next to him as he pushed a tall glass of cold water into Louis’s hands.

“Why don’t you sit, love? I bet your knees hurt,” Harry was still prodding, but still gently, in something that resembled his aftercare voice. Louis shifted, then, sitting back onto his bum and crossing his legs as he drank deeply, Harry combing his fringe with his fingers as he drank.

“You can keep cooking,” Louis managed, but Harry just shook his head.

“Fuck the stir fry, honestly,” he scoffed, and then reached out, thumbing over Louis’s cheek, the thick hair that had accumulated along his jaw scraping against Harry’s thumb, “What’s happening with you, huh?”

Louis didn’t stay anything, but rather ducked his head, staring down at his water glass. Harry sighed.

 “Louis,” Harry said, his voice still soft, but now it sounded weaker, more desperate and strained, “You need to tell me what to do now,”

Louis still didn’t speak, just gripped the glass tighter. He didn’t know where the hell to start.

“I’m not a mind reader, baby,” Harry said. He was begging, now, and Louis’s stomach twisted, “I need to know what you need from me. If you even need me at all,”

Louis lifted his head, finally, and swallowed hard.

“Of course I need you,” Louis said softly, and then reached out a hand, “Come here,”

Harry moved up closer to him and Louis set down his glass so he could put both hands on each side of Harry’s face. He felt the sharp bones of Harry’s jaw and his cheekbones under his hands, the ghost of stubble pushing through his skin. He leaned in, Harry’s big eyes wide and cautious and brilliant, and Louis kissed him, a gentle peck on the lips, and then deepened it, pushing himself further into Harry.

He started to lean back, and Harry chased after him, his lips always in quick pursuit of Louis’s own, his mouth puckering and finding Louis’s after even a few nanoseconds apart. Finally, Louis laid completely down on the cool tile of the floor, with Harry pressing over him, his eyes still so wide, so worried.

“You’re going to hurt your head,”

“M’fine,” Louis sighed, and then pressed his hand to Harry’s cheek again, “Harry,”

“Yes?”

“Harry, I’m leaving,” he said softly, “I’m leaving the country,”

“I know that,”

“No, but do you understand?” Louis asked, “I’m – I’m going to be gone, Harry. And wherever I am, you’re going to have to chase after me, and find me, and deal with hiding again, anytime you want to see me, if you even want to. It’s not going to be easy like this. I – shit, it’s never going to be easy, because we’re going to be hiding,”

“Louis – “

“Let me finish, please. I could stay in London, though, you know? Because it doesn’t matter, I’ve figured out. No matter where I go, I’m going to be hiding. No matter where I go, even if I go someplace with no ribbons at all, I’m still going to be Racer fucking Tomlinson, the alpha, and I’m still going to have to smear myself with suppressant shit and pretend like I have an omega at home waiting for me instead of you,” his eyes were burning and he shook his head, “And I can do that, because I’ve always done that, but you – you may get tired of that. And I’m sorry, it’s fucking selfish, Harry, but it’s going to break my heart if you get tired of it,”

He could hear his voice get thick and cracked, and he knew he was about to start crying, but if he stopped now, he would never, ever get the words out, so he kept going.

“So I need to know if you think you can do that. And if you think you can’t, then please, do me the favor of leave me now so I can have more time for everything to stop hurting,”

Harry just stared at him, and then was leaning down, kissing him hard.

“I would follow you anywhere. Don’t you understand that? To the ends of the earth, I would, and beyond. You could fly to the moon and I’d buy myself a house on the closest neighboring star,”

“That’s – that’s a terrible metaphor,”

“Louis, listen to me, Jesus,” Harry shook his head, “This isn’t something I’m going to get tired of. Ever. Because if you think it would break your heart to see me go, you have no goddamn idea how much it would destroy me to never have you again,”

Harry kissed him, still so cautiously, like they had just met, like this, their togetherness, Harry and Louis, Louis and Harry, was still something precious and fleeting, something neither of them was quite sure if the other had made their minds up about, like it wasn’t a sure thing.

Louis pulled away from Harry’s desperate lips eventually, still cradling the sharp angles of Harry’s jaw between his hands. He still watched the alpha’s eyes closely, saw the way the kitchen overhead lights made the gold tones in his irises shine and how the swirls of every shade of green ever named seemed to shift around his pupils.

Louis swallowed, thickly, letting one thought form in his head, letting his swim in his throat, sit on his tongue, and then he opened his mouth.

“I hope our kids have your eyes,” he murmured.

He saw Harry take it in, saw his nestle into his brain, and then he was pulling back, the rough, stubbled surface of his skin scrapping over Louis’s hands as he pulled away, his eyes even wider now.

“Louis – “ he set a cautious hand on Louis’s stomach, “Did something happen?”

“No. No, Harry, no, Christ, nothing’s happened,” he said quickly, “It’s not happening now. It might not even happen a year from now, or five years from now. But I want a family one day, Harry. I’ve always wanted a family. I need some time first – to travel and be myself – but, I’m realizing that I want that. And I want it with you,”

“But we’re not even mated,”

“What if I want us to be?”

Harry’s eyes widened again, and this time, he sat back, his entire body wound up.

“Don’t joke about that,” he said, and it sounded like he was snapping, but Louis could hear the pure fear in his voice, like he thought this was an idea Louis would just toss around.

“I’m not,” he shook his head, “Jesus, Harry, I’m not joking,”

He pushing himself up and grabbed for Harry’s face again, pulling him in close.

“Mate me,” he breathed out, “Before the Grand Prix. Whether I’m in it or not,”

Harry just blinked at him, mouth hanging open slightly.

“You haven’t had anyone else, Louis,”

“I don’t want anyone else. I don’t need anyone else,” he insisted, “I got lucky. You’re my one-off. The only person I’m ever going to need.

Louis pressed his nose into the soft space under Harry’s chin, the thickness of his scent making his head go fuzzy as he inhaled and then kissed the alpha’s neck. When he pulled away, Harry’s eyes were wide and dazed, and Louis tightened his grip on Harry’s arms.

“Harry, say something, please,”

He didn’t say anything. Instead, he pressed him hard against the floor, his hands engulfing Louis’s cheeks, and Harry’s lips were pressing his own head-on, and then pulling away, going back in to leave feather-light pecks on his lips, or to press his mouth to the very corners of Louis’s lips, or to his cupid’s bow, or to pull at his bottom lip with his teeth.

“Louis,” he gasped, “Louis,”

“What?” Louis breathed out.

“There is nothing I want more than to mate you,” Harry said, “Nothing I need more,”

“Really?”

“Yes. Jesus, baby, I want to be with you, and take care of you, and do what I’m supposed to do with you, but—Christ, I don’t want to keep you at home or make you walk around with a goddamn pink ribbon, I don’t care. I just want to have you, that would be enough for me,” Harry said. His usually syrup-slow voice had become jumbled, all the word slipping over each other. Louis would have sworn he heard his accent get thicker, more Northern as he spoke, “Because I knew the moment I kissed you in that stupid library at the stupid Christmas party that there was never going to be a single person in the entire world I was going to want to mate after you. There’s not anyone out there for me except you,”

Harry was nearly panting now, and Louis could smell nothing except the heaviness of Harry’s pheromones pumping off his skin. Harry was weeks away from rut, but God, if it didn’t smell like he was dead in the middle of it.

“What did you do to me, huh?” Harry murmured. He pressed his lips against the curve of Louis’s throat and Louis’s lips parted, sound dripping out as he melted into the touch, “It’s like I can feel you under my skin, constantly, even when I’m away from you. And it’s all I can focus on. Like you’ve poisoned me,”

He nosed at the junction of Louis’s neck and he made a soft, broken sound.

“Can’t smell you,” he gasped, “Lou, I can’t smell you,”

“I know,” Louis said softly, reaching up to grasp at the baby curls at the base of Harry’s neck, “Let’s got to my room. Go wash up,”

Harry huffed again, nosing harder at Louis’s neck.

“Harry,” Louis whispered, “Baby, there’s nothing there. Let me go clean up,”

“God,” Harry sighed, his voice shaky. He opened his mouth, mouthing over the spot instead, and then buried his entire face into the oil-covered area, “Such a damn tease. Tell me I can mate you when I can’t even smell you,”

“I know,” Louis said softly, pushing his hands further into Harry’s hair, “M’sorry,”

Harry finally shook his head and pulled away, and Louis could see that his eyes were glassy, his hair unkempt, his mouth puffy and brilliant pink.

“I – “ he said, “I can get dinner. If you go wash up,”

“I’m not hungry,” Louis shook his head, “What’d you say? Fuck the stir fry,”

Harry laughed, then, and then his face fell a bit as he sat back.

“I’ll…I’ll meet you in your room,” he said, “And we can talk. Can’t fucking look at you without wanting to just bury my entire face in your neck,”

Louis touched his own throat of instinct, and then slowly sat up, setting his own hands on the floor enough to push himself up.

“I’ll be back,” he said, reaching out to run his fingers through Harry’s hair. He was still knelt on the floor, and he looked up at Louis, his eyes still wide and looking like two pieces of fogged-up sea glass, and he just nodded.

Louis pulled himself away, and then went to his bathroom quickly, stripping all his clothes off and grabbing a flannel and a bottle of body wash to scrub himself clean, and paying special attention to his throat and neck and even the upper parts of his shoulders. He paused when he was done, trying to hear Harry’s movements from the bedroom, but when he heard nothing he went ahead and picked up his razor and an extra jar of shaving soap and went to cleaning up the hair on his face. Might as well give Harry something soft and clean to dig into, something that wouldn’t scratch him.

When he was done, Louis grabbed a light cotton robe that was hanging up on one of his bathroom hooks, and stepped out into his bedroom was he did the knot around his waist. Harry was sitting on the bed, waiting for him, and when he looked up, he got up immediately and strode across the room. When he got to Louis, he wrapped his arms around Louis’s waist, squeezing him tightly, his nose finding its way right back to the crook between his neck and shoulder. He sighed so hard that his voice rattled, and Louis had to reach up and grasp at his back as Harry’s body sagged into him.

“You’re gonna let me mate you,” he murmured, “Could have anyone in the world, and you picked me,”

“Well, who bloody else was I gonna pick?” Louis asked, trying to put something joking in his voice, but it came out soft instead. His hand skated up the line of Harry’s back, until it was nestled right at the curve of his spine, and he pressed his hand deep into the warm, soft skin there, closing his eyes. He inhaled deeply, taking in Harry’s own scent. Aside from being stronger, the scent itself was different. Like freshly turned earth and fresh air and also like something that smelled like freshly baked bread, and cooling coffee, and home.

Louis pulled away, then, just a bit, enough to nestle himself in Harry’s chest, pressing a kiss to the base of his clavicle.

“Harry,” he got out, “Harry, come on, let’s go to bed. Need you to be my alpha now,”

“You sure?” Harry asked softly, “You don’t want to talk about this any more?”

“You talk a lot when you fuck me,”

 Harry laughed, although really, it was more of a weak wheeze, and just squeezed Louis tighter, nearly crushing him against his chest.

“Oof,” Louis let out, and Harry quickly loosened his grip, pulling away fully.

“Sorry, sorry,” he said quickly, and then stared straight at Louis. One of his curls was dipping into his eye, and his entire face looked flushed and shiny. He pulled Louis closer to press a soft, controlled kiss to the top of Louis’s head, “Okay, baby. Let’s go to bed. Give you want you want,”

He pulled away one last time, this time to pull Louis closer to the bed. Harry sat down first, and was about to pull Louis down with him, when Louis grabbed his wrists, halting his movement.

“Wait,” he got out, and then he was lowering himself down onto his knees again, undoing the belt of his robe at the same time, until his knees bit into the carpet and his robe was a pool of light cotton on the floor.

“Lay back,” he said, pressing his hands to Harry’s stomach, “Wanna look at you,”

Harry did, leaned back until his entire upper body was flat against the bed, with only his legs hanging off the bed, his bare feet splaying around Louis’s thighs. Louis sat up more, so he could look at Harry more fully. He set his hands on his hips and then ran them up, feeling the way his hands slipped over the fullness of Harry’s hips, slid into the narrowness of his waist, and then spread back up the solid expanse of his chest. He set his hands on Harry’s pectorals, feeling the sharp, defined points of his nipples poking against his palms, and looked up. Harry had his eyes closed, his chest rising steadily. His head was tipped back enough that his long throat was bared and Louis’s body bristled with the desire to climb up and press his nose to the skin there.

But he didn’t. He just kept letting his eyes wander.

Harry’s skin had darkened a bit, although Louis couldn’t recall when exactly harry would have been outside long enough to get a tan in the weak spring sunshine. His hair was wild, now, the curls lapping at the edges of his face like waves on a shore. The bones of his collarbones were sharp, the thin patch of hair between his pecs was getting dark and long enough to stand out, and further down, the very edges of his hips were marked with pink lines where the fabric of his jeans had dug into his skin. Louis just wanted to touch everywhere, but instead he set his lips directly on the skin under Harry’s belly button and kissed hard. He heard Harry breath in and his body stirred slightly, enough that Louis could tell he was sitting up.

“Can’t believe they sent me you,” Louis was murmuring, “Every day, can’t believe they gave me you,”

“Who, baby?”

Cross. The team. The universe. Who knows, really,” Louis shook his head, “Just matters that I got you,”

“Would’ve found you no matter what,” Harry said.

“I know, love,” Louis said gently, “I know,”

He started fiddling with the button of Harry’s jeans, then, and managed to push the denim off his hips fairly quickly. He wanted to move to get him bare as quick as possible, but then he halted, staring down at what he found.

 “Harry, what the fuck is this?” he gasped out.

Harry just smiled softly.

“Oh,” he said, “You inspired me, a while back. Got a little something for myself,”

He pushed his hips up a bit, blinking at Louis.

“Like them?”

Louis gulped, hard, and ran his thumbs over the scalloped band of Harry’s panties. Because Harry was wearing fucking panties. Black, pure lace ones, the length of his cock outlined thickly underneath the thin fabric.

“You bastard,” Louis murmured, leaning down to kiss the spot under Harry’s navel, his nose brushing into the soft hair, “Were wearing these things the whole time and kept your damn jeans on. Didn’t show them off for me when I got home,”

“Wanted it to be a surprise,”

“Right. Of course. So fucking considerate. Meaning you were wearing these in the meantime for what, fun?”

“They’re soft,”

“Fuck off,” Louis huffed, “M’gonna suck your dick, now, just so you know,”

“Okay, baby,” Harry laughed, and then he was quiet as Louis leaned down and kissed the end of his cock, his clothed in the lace. The fabric was rough against his lips but he kept pressing his mouth to it, finally opening his mouth and enveloping the fabric-covered head, sucking the end of it softly.

He looked up at Harry, blinking his eyes at him, and he didn’t say anything, just exhaled softly and reached out to brush a thumb to Louis’s freshly shaven cheek. He lowered his eyes again and suckled on last time, then reached up to fold down the edge of Harry’s panties. The tip of his cock popped out, thick and brilliant pink and the skin already a bit wet with Louis’s saliva. Louis ran his palm up the length, pushing the fabric down more, and then moved closer, opening up his mouth and then enveloping his lips back over Harry’s head, sliding his lips down over more of his length.

Harry’s breath was low and labored above him and he pushed his mouth further down, his eyes burning a bit as the tip of Harry’s head pressed harder into his tongue. A burst of saltiness burst over Louis’s mouth, and he closed his eyes, humming contentedly, before Harry gasped out, louder than before.

“Louis,” he gasped, his fingers searching for the edge of Louis’s cheek, “Louis, no more, baby. I can’t – I need you. Need all of you,”

Louis looked up and then promptly slid his mouth off of Harry’s cock, letting it fall back to Harry’s stomach, still red and leaking. Harry was still grasping for him, and Louis crawled up Harry’s body, until the other man promptly gripped his hips and flipped him onto his back. Louis let out a small squeak has his head hit his pillow, and then Harry was bracketing him in with his body, shifting just enough to push his own jeans and panties off. Louis could hear the fabric crash onto the floor below, and then Harry was leaning down, crushing his lips to Louis’s mouth. His hand snaked between Louis’s legs, and he easily spread his thighs apart before he rubbed his hand over the slickness between Louis’s cheeks. He pushed one finger into his entrance and Louis gasped against Harry’s mouth, his back arching at the sudden touch.

“Did that hurt?” Harry asked, “You’re so wet, thought it would be okay -- ”

“M’fine,” Louis said quickly, settling himself back against the mattress and reaching up to caress the side of Harry’s face with the other, “M’fine, love, you just surprised me. Feels good,”

He wiggled his hips to try to bring home his point, and he felt Harry’s fingertip brush against his walls as he did. He sighed at the touch, his body uncoiling around the point where Harry was touching him. Harry pressed his hand to Louis’s belly, steadying him, and pushed another finger in, and Louis whimpered a bit, wiggling again.

“Harry,” he murmured, “Harry, don’t tease, just get in me, please”

“I want to. God, I just want you so much,” Harry said, “But I don’t want to hurt you,”

“You won’t,” Louis shook his head, “You won’t, Harry, I’m ready. Please,”

The other man just shook his head, and then brought his lips down again to kiss Louis fiercely, reaching a hand up to stroke the side of his face.

“Would mate you right this second if I could,” Harry said, and then his lips to pressed the bridge of Louis’s nose.

“You could,” Louis said, pushing up into the touch, “That’s what, a 24 hour thing? I can call off training tomorrow,”

Harry exhaled in what sounded like a weak laugh and he shook his head.

“No, no, baby. Not now. We’ll talk more first. And…it’s a lot, physically. I haven’t even gotten you through a heat yet,” he kissed him hard on the forehead again before he finished speaking, “But we’ll do it by the Prix, I promise. Just like you want,”

“Like I want,” Louis repeated.

“Yeah,” Harry breathed out, and then he pushed the fingers that were still inside Louis a bit deeper, enough to make him squirm again, “Going to give you anything you want for the rest of our lives, soon,”

Louis let out another reedy whine, and pushed hard into Harry’s touch.

“Harry, come on, now,” he gasped, “Now, please,”

“Okay,” Harry said quickly, and then pulled his fingers out so quickly it made Louis sob dryly, “Get into the drawer for me, baby, I need a condom,”

Louis sat up quickly, reaching for the drawer with clumsy fingers, and then finally got it open and grabbed one of the loose packets that were scattered around the base of his drawer. He tossed one to Harry, and he was ripping it apart in seconds and spreading the latex over himself. He leaned over Louis, pressing their lips together, and guided himself to Louis’s entrance with the other hand.

When he pushed in Louis’s eyes blinked wildly, his mouth gasping, and Harry gripped his hip hard, steadying him. Harry rocked his hips, and Louis felt him moving inside him, stretching him, pressing into all his most sensitive spots. It was familiar, the motion and Harry’s breathing and his scent but it all felt so heightened, so much more real now that he knew that this is what he was going to have for years. This is what his life was going to look like.

Harry kept thrusting his hips, but Louis shifted a bit and grasped his hands towards where Harry’s hands were pressed into his hips.

“Lou?” Harry gasped out, but Louis just grabbed onto one of Harry’s wrists, pulling his hand off his hip.

Instead, he took Harry’s hand and set it on his throat, feeling the way his thick fingers pushed into his skin. It only had the slightest bit of pressure to it, enough for him to know Harry’s hand was there but not enough for it to hurt. He locked his gaze with Harry, whose eyes were blown wide, their dark color receding to something clearer.

“Louis – “

“Do it,” he whispered, and squeezed Harry’s wrist, “Keep your hand on my throat while you fuck me,”

“I could hurt you,”

“I know,” Louis nodded, “But you’re not going to. That’s the point,”

Harry just kept staring at him, and Louis smoothed his fingers gently over the inked skin on his wrist as he gazed up at him.

“Alpha,” he whispered, and he watched as Harry’s unsure expression shattered.

“Fuck,” he gasped, “Fuck, baby,”

He squeezed his throat softly, then, enough that Louis could feel more pressure but again not enough for the air to stop in his throat. He still gasped, and Harry looked back at him before he leaned in and kissed him with steady lips on the forehead.

“Good boy,” he whispered.

Louis whimpered, his body going pliant, like every muscle was connected to Harry’s touch and they’d all been cut off at once. Harry brought his lips down to Louis’s mouth, which in itself had gone slack.

“Going to make you feel good,” he whispered, “Going to make my gorgeous boy feel so good,”

“You are,” Louis murmured, and closed his eyes at the way it felt for his throat to move against Harry’s palm, “You are, love,”

Harry moaned weakly and then his hips started again, and all Louis could do was close his eyes, his brain overwhelmed and firing in all directions, focusing on Harry’s hand and his voice and his scent and his cock all at once and then separately, and then Louis was gripping tight onto Harry’s wrists and whimpering, hard, as he felt his body seize up, and then he was coming onto his stomach, and his voice loud and cracking as he nearly wept as he released.

“Louis,” Harry gasped, and Louis felt Harry’s fingers shift over his throat, his thrusts getting rough and sloppy. Harry’s head dipped down, and then his nose was pressed to Louis’s neck again. Their bodies were pressed so close Louis could feel Harry’s hipbones rub against his own, feel the warm skin of Harry’s belly on his own abdomen, the hardened peaks of their nipples colliding with each roll of Harry’s hips.

“Louis,” Harry was murmuring, his voice a thick rumble, “My gorgeous, sweet Louis, my beautiful, perfect omega – Louis – “

His voice cracked on the last word, and Louis felt his knot swell as Harry body shuddered over him. By the time his knot was locked inside Louis his head was still, his entire weight on top of Louis, his noise is buried deep into the crook of Louis’s neck.

Eventually, Harry weakly peeled himself off Louis, enough that he was no longer close to crushing him, but he kept nuzzling Louis’s neck, nipping at the skin with his teeth. It was the haziest Louis had ever seen him, clearly overwhelmed with his most basic, primal instincts, and Louis couldn’t help the warm feeling that spread through his body at the feeling of being cared for so completely.

Harry’s knot deflated a little later than usual, and when it did Harry sluggishly pulled himself away to do his usual business of tossing the condom and getting Louis a flannel and some water.

Once Louis was properly cleaned up and hydrated, Harry moved to lay next to him, wrapping his arms tightly around Louis as soon as he was in the bed.

“What brought this on, huh?” Harry asked, “Why do you want me to mate you now?”

“Oh. Uh,” Louis shrugged, “But, um, I found out Liam and Zayn are having a baby. And I guess it just made me think of what I want for everything that comes after this. And well, you’re part of that,”

“Everything after,” Harry murmured. He reached up and pushed his fingers through Louis’s fringe, tilting his head a bit, “Do you actually want our kids to have my eyes?”

“Mm,” Louis nodded, smiling, “Yeah, I do,”

“I hope at least a few of them have yours,” Harry said, “That they have your smile, too,”

He palmed Louis’s belly carefully as he spoke, and Louis caught his wrist.

“Stop,” he laughed weakly, “Baby, there’s nothing there yet,”

“Then don’t put the idea in my head,” Harry mumbled weakly. He pulled his hand away from Louis’s stomach then and instead spread his palm over his cheek.

“Going to get to have you for the rest of our lives,” he said, his voice still so disbelieving.

“Mm hm,” Louis agreed, shifting closer, “Gonna let you have me,”

Harry just shook his head, and then leaned in, pressing his lips firmly to Louis’s own, hard enough to make Louis close his eyes.

The only thing he could take in were Harry’s lips, and the scent of fresh earth, and the contented, warm feeling that had settled in his stomach, chasing out any nerves, any last shred of doubt.

Chapter Text

“Louis,”

Louis was jolted awake by a hand shaking his shoulder. He lifted his head, squinting in front of him. He came to enough to recognize that there was a hand on his shoulder, and that Harry’s face was in front of him, illuminated by the open screen of his laptop. Wait. Why was Harry here? Oh, right. Harry had practically moved in with him at this point. Of course Harry was here. But why was he awake? What the fuck?

“What? What, who’s dying?” Louis mumbled, blinking harder.

“No one’s dying, Louis, everything’s fine – “ Harry said gently, but Louis was already pulling away from him, scrambling to grab his phone from off the bedside and check the time.

“Then why are you awake at – Jesus fuck, Harry, it’s four in the morning!”

“I know, I know,”

“Have you been awake all of this time? What the hell?”

“No, no, I just got up. But listen. Louis…I’m done,” 

 

Done? Harry, I swear to God, if you woke me up at four in the morning to break up with me then I will beat you to the damn chase,”

“No, no, no. Jesus, no,” Harry shook his head, and reached out to touch Louis’s shoulder again “I’m done with my Cross piece Louis,”

“You’re – oh! Oh, fuck, right, that thing,” Louis managed, rubbing his hand down his face, “So, what, you woke me up because you’re done with your eightieth draft?”

“No. I mean – okay, first of all, I was on my thirtieth draft. But I sent it to my editor and…he just said that it was good and ready to print. So. I’m done,”

“You – oh, that’s great!” Louis forced himself to sit up a bit more, though he was still barely keeping his eyes open.

“All 15,000 words of it. Longest damn thing I’ve ever written for Cross,” Harry shook his head, “Jesus, Louis, it’s all done. The thing that brought me to you,”

“Oh, do not. It’s too early for this shit. Or too late. I don’t know,” Louis huffed, lifting himself up to peck Harry on the cheek, “But m’proud of you,”

“Thank you,” Harry murmured. He turned his head, probably trying to catch Louis’s lips with his own, but he didn’t even turn his head all the way before Louis was collapsing back onto his pillow.

“I’m going to go back to bed now,” he mumbled, “And if you wake me up again before I want to get up, I will break up with you, and I will kick you out of my apartment, I don’t care how many words you wrote about me,”

*******

The next day was Monday, and Louis went to the track while Harry went to the Cross offices to finalize the details of his article. By the time Louis got out of practice, it was official that Harry Styles of Cross magazine was no longer in need of full press allowance into the training facility. For the rest of the season – or at least, the month and a half or so that was left of it -- Louis was alone.

Well, he would still have Harry to himself in the evenings and in the early mornings. Still though, he bought coffee only for himself in the morning, and walked to his locker room alone. And he only had Niall to keep him company on the walk out. Not that was a bad thing. He didn’t mind being alone for a little while, or having his best friend close by to keep him company. He had done it this way for four years before this. Now, it was just a bit hard to remember he had done it for that long.

He would be distracted soon enough, anyways. His schedule for the end of the season was always jammed packed with training, final races, charity events, sponsorship dinners and press junkets. In fact, he would probably be in Caroline’s office before the end of the week with a thick printed schedule for the next two months in front of him, walking through the times he needed to smile more and the times he could actually rest. By the time he was done with one week of balancing the end of season events and his regular training, he was almost hoping he could skip straight to the end of everything, find out the results of the Prix, and carry on training for something that would actually make a difference in his career.

 

But on Sunday, Louis didn’t have to do anything.

Louis had stopped training on Sundays to give his body and mind a rest, partially on Niall’s orders and partially so he and Harry could have one full day together each other. On Sunday, he didn’t watch any footage from the track or answer work emails if Harry promised not to work either, and if they did, it was side by side, and their work time was limited.

Sunday was quickly becoming Louis’s favorite day.

 

The Sunday after his first jam-packed week, it was raining hard. Louis was on the couch, naked and tucked under a thick blanket with his cheek resting on a throw pillow. The imprint of the couch was still on his back and his bum was throbbing a bit from when Harry had fucked him about twenty minutes ago before ordering their lunch. Even though Harry hadn’t worn Louis out enough for make him want to sleep, he still felt thoroughly tired.

“Hi, thanks, thanks so much,” he heard Harry say in the distance, and then there was a door closing followed by a shuffle of footsteps coming towards the living room.

“Baby,” Harry murmured, and then there was a rustle of plastic, “Your ramen’s here,”

 

Louis cracked one eye open, gazing at where Harry was standing in front of him with a pair of joggers slung a bit too low on his hips. Louis shut his eye again, burying himself deeper in the throw pillow.

“Pull those things up,” he yawned, “Your pubes are out,”

“Nothing you haven’t seen before,” Harry chuckled, “Nothing you didn’t see about twenty minutes ago, in fact,”

“Mm. Bet that lovely delivery person wishes they hadn’t gotten the full show, though,” Louis sighed. He heard a rustle of fabric, and then opened both eyes in time to see Harry taking off his joggers entirely, “Or I guess you could get naked, that’s fine too,”

Louis lifted the blanket without any more prompting, and Harry slid under it, immediately circling an arm around Louis’s waist and kissing his cheek.

“Food’s going to get cold,” he said, and Louis groaned.

“And I’m going to get cold if I get up from under this blanket,”

Harry sighed, pushing his nose against the edge of Louis’s ear.

“You can have the entire blanket if you sit up and eat your food,”

That made Louis stir, and soon he was sitting all the way up, tugging the blanket off Harry entirely and cocooning it around himself instead. Harry just laughed and handed him one of the plastic containers of noodles and broth as well as a plastic fork from the takeaway bag. Harry sat on the opposite end of the couch with his legs crossed, while Louis kept both legs stretched out, bracketing Harry’s hips with his feet.

Louis had barely gotten to dig into his lunch before Harry was reaching a hand out to tuck a stray bit of hair behind Louis’s ear.

 

“Hey,” Harry said, shifting his fingers to press under Louis’s chin, lifting his head, “We gotta talk,”

“About what?” Louis mumbled, his mouth full of ramen. Harry shook his head, a bemused expression overtaking his face.

“About mating, love,”

“Oh, right. That,” Louis swallowed his noodles and then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, “So, um, what did you want to talk about? Regarding all that, I mean,”

“Well, uh,” Harry reached up to tug at his bottom lip, “I guess…well, we can start by figuring out a day?”

“Okay,” Louis nodded, “Um, well, my heat starts on April 29nd, and that’s about a week and a half before the Prix would start,”

“I think my rut’s that weekend, too,” Harry nodded, “That’s good, though. Perfect, really. I think it’s easier for a mating to really work if, um, if at least one of those things is happening,”

“Oh, okay, great,” Louis nodded, “So, last weekend of April,”

“Yeah, okay,” Harry nodded, “I guess we could decide on place, too. I mean, it’s a little more private here, and your bed’s more comfortable than mine anyways – “

“So, here, then,”

“I mean…I guess it’s technically more traditional to do it at the alpha’s place if we’re not living together – “

“When the hell have you cared about tradition?” Louis scoffed, and then made a short noise of frustration when a piece of broth-soaked carrot kept slipping off his fork, “You fucking hate tradition,”

“Okay, okay. So here,” Harry agreed, “And then, uh, there’s the whole issue that, um -- ”

“Fuck, you little fucking – “ Louis mumbled, finally giving up one the one elusive carrot piece and just relenting to twirling some noodles on his fork, “Sorry. You were saying?”

Harry laughed weakly, shaking his head, “Right, as I was saying, mating is – well, it’s intense. Emotionally, physically, all of it. And I still haven’t gotten you through a heat. And, um, you’ve never been with me when I’m in rut,”

“Oh,” Louis said, pausing enough to let his fork drop back into the broth, “Guess that’s important,”

“A little bit,” Harry said, and even though the corner of his mouth tugged into a smile, his voice wavered a bit.

“Well, my next heat is in a couple weeks, actually,” Louis said, “You could come over then,”

“I’ll see if I can get work off,” Harry said, “And, uh,  my rut’s – kind of next week,”

“Kind of?” Louis asked, and Harry narrowed his eyes just a bit before he smiled.

“Okay, it’s next week,” he said, “A week from today, actually, if my calendar’s right,”

“Great. So I’ll come over to yours next week,” Louis said. Harry just stared at him, and Louis could feel his eyes boring into his head as he scooped more noodles onto his fork, “Oh, don’t give me that look. I miss your place. You owe me coming over,”

“My neighbors might see,” Harry said weakly, and Louis resisted the overwhelming urge to roll his eyes.

“Let them see. My publicist will stop them before they talk,” Louis said, “Anyways, I’ll get a leave from training. Shouldn’t be hard, save from having to shuffle around my gym times,”

“You should be training for the last race around then,” Harry offered. His voice was still weak, and careful, and Louis kept his eyes on him as he swirled his fork around what remained of his lunch.

“Mm, I should,” Louis shrugged, “But I don’t think that’s your main problem here,”

Harry just blinked, and then lowered his gaze again.

“Well, uh -- you’re so okay with everything. And I don’t want you to be, like, taken by surprise, or scared, or anything – “ Harry paused, turning over one of the plastic chopsticks that was still grasped tightly between his fingers, “And I just don’t know if you want to see me in rut,”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because it’s…it’s weird, and it’s different, and it’s overwhelming – “

“For you?” Louis asked, “Or is that how you think it’ll be for me?”

Harry didn’t say anything, and Louis sighed. He set aside his plastic container and then reached out, grabbing Harry’s lunch as well and setting it to the side. By the time Harry looked up, Louis had crawled over to him on his knees, with his hands on either side of Harry’s hips.

“Harry,” Louis said, “You’ve had other boys come over for your ruts, haven’t you?”

“I mean, yeah,” Harry said, “A few,”

“A few,” Louis echoed, “Who?”

“Louis,” Harry managed, but Louis just shook his head.

“I wanna know,” Louis ducked his head low enough that he could drag his lips over Harry’s Adam’s Apple, “Who got to see you like that?”

“God, baby, I don’t know if I remember,” Harry mumbled, “My ex-boyfriends, obviously. A couple flings maybe,”

“Any club boys?” Louis asked, nipping at the thin skin on the side of Harry’s neck, “Ever go to a mating club and bring home whatever white ribbon looked pretty to you?” 

Harry inhaled, setting his hand on the deep dip in Louis’s lower back.

No,” he said firmly, “And if you’re getting jealous, there’s no point. You’re the only person I think of when I’m in rut now, anyways,”

“I am not jealous, I’m making a point,” Louis huffed, “You don’t need to treat me like I’m breakable. Just because it took twenty-five years and one relationship for me to get fucked doesn’t mean I can’t handle you, you know,”

“Oh, I know,” Harry hummed, “That’s why I like you,”

“Don’t interrupt me,” Louis said, “Anyways, if a few boys from your uni got you in rut, then I’m getting you in rut. And then you can show me what you’ve been thinking about me for all these months,”

“Jesus, baby,” Harry sighed. He reached up, pressing his hands to Louis’s back, “You know, I can barely finish one meal around you, you always distract me,”

Louis chuckled as he leaned in closer, enough that the tip of their noses nearly touched.

“So you’ll let me come over, then? I’ll get to see you next week?”

Yes,” Harry agreed, shaking his head, “God, you can always get anything out of me,”

He leaned forward, enough to press their lips together again, and Harry’s hand skimmed past Louis’ back to the dip of his waist and back to grasp his bum. Louis grumbled, pulling away and shaking his head.

“Stop that, I’m cold now,” he sighed, tilting his head to nip at the corner of Harry’s jaw, “But you can fuck me again if you do it under the blanket,”

*******

 

The last foreign race of the year was in Italy, and it also marked the first time in a while Louis had boarded a plane to a race without Harry. But he didn’t even have to make small talk, just sipped his morning tea and listened as everyone clustered around Liam, who was telling them everything about Zayn’s pregnancy. Technically, he wasn’t supposed to share anything until the first trimester was over, in case something went wrong, but God knows Liam couldn’t keep a secret. He also couldn’t stop talking about how worried he was, because Zayn wasn’t even home in London but rather in Switzerland, haggling over a statue that he wanted shipped in his next big exhibit, because apparently nothing was going to pull Zayn away from his job.

Finally, the plane had to take off, and Louis pulled himself away from the crowd so he could text Harry. He would be in the Cross office all week, attending some meetings before the showcase issue was on newsstands by the end of the week. Since he was probably in another meeting anyways, Louis just sent him a quick “We’re leaving, love you” message and then turned off his phone as the team was warned one final time that they would be taking off soon.

Louis knew what awaited him the next afternoon – a mid-Rome cross country race, mostly through paved pathways. It was still a bit of a challenge, and a divergence from the track races from the rest of the season. Louis wasn’t worried, though. The streets were still up to regulation, and he had raced this exact track before. As long as he kept his wits up, he would have no issue. Another step closer to a perfect gold season, and then onto the Prix.

Really, he was more worried about the free day after the race, and whether or not he would have time to both go for a swim in the hotel’s private infinity pool and also swing by the Versace headquarters to pick up something for Harry.

He only had one race he cared about anymore, and it sure as hell wasn’t a few laps through Rome.

*******

The second night in Rome, Louis left his gold medal from the day’s race on the floor of his hotel and decided to go out. His win for the day hadn’t beaten away of his personal best times, but it had been close enough to his usual long-form track times and more importantly, it had been faster than anyone else in the five other competing teams. His phone was exploding with congratulations texts from Harry by the time he got back to his room, and by the time Louis had gotten off the phone with him, it was still early in the evening. Enough time to order room service and then give in to his teammate’s requests to go out.  

The team party was at Brama, an exclusive club uptown. It was fairly nice, all things considered – connection-only guest list, new interiors, expensive drinks menu -- but it was still a mating club. Instead of a separate section for those who had come to pick up somebody, there was an entire lower portion of the club, open and easily viewed by a set of balconies that ran along the edge of the club’s dance floor. Louis found himself looking down after he had ordered his drink, taking a second to observe everything below him. The mating section was admittedly pretty touristy, modeled after the Roman baths and filled with tile and marble. In the center of everything, there were long, turquoise blue pools where people were mingling, most of them half dressed as they shared bodies. Occasionally an attendant would lead a couple or a small group to the outskirts of the baths, unlocking private rooms with a key.

Louis leaned over the rail of one of the balconies, trying not to watch everything for too long. But the air around him was suddenly thick and soupy, heat and perfumed air wafting up from down below. He realized the club owners had probably put some minor aphrodisiacs in the air of the baths, and he tried not to inhale too deeply.

“Hey,”

Louis lifted himself away from the balcony, shaking his head as he turned towards the voice behind him. Cara was coming towards him, her racing gear gone and replaced with a nearly sheer gold cocktail dress. Her ribbon was tied around her wrist, a single shot of scarlet among her gold and silver bangles.

“Hi,” Louis returned. Cara just smiled and wandered over to join him on the balcony, glancing down at the baths indifferently.

“Thinking about going down?” she asked.

“Not unless I’m going to be buried there,”

Cara snorted, shaking her head. Then she leaned in, snaking her arm through Louis’s elbow and resting her cheek on his shoulder.

“I missed you,” she said, “I’m sorry if I was pissed at you in France,”

“It’s alright,” he said, “It’s been a hard season,”

“Even for you?” she asked. Her voice was light and teasing, but Louis could sense the curiosity cutting under it.

“You’d be surprised,” he managed.

Cara just hummed and kept her cheek on his shoulder, her hand eventually reaching over to loosely grip his elbow.

“I’m glad you came out,” she said, “Always happy to see you doing something aside from sitting in a hotel room,”

“We get to stay in some nice hotel rooms. You should appreciate them more,”

“Hard pass,” she said, “Hey, I’ll pay you twenty pounds to go down to the baths with me and fuck around for a bit,”

“That would be, and I quote, a hard pass,”

“Well, sorry if I want you to have fun,” Cara shook her head again, her hair brushing against Louis’s jacket, “Twenty pounds to dance with someone other than me, maybe?”

“M’afraid I can’t, darling,”

“I know, I know, you’ll live right before you’re dead,”

Louis sighed, biting his lip. He and Cara had known each other for four years, as long as she’d been on the team. He could barely begin to count the parties she’d dragged him to, the times she’d looked genuinely sad that Louis had always been the one nursing a drink at the bar and leaving early while everyone else had something to do, someone to go home with.

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to tell her at least a small scrap of the truth. Not when he would probably barely see her again when the season was over.

“I met someone, Cara,” he said softly. He felt her stir, and then she was up, her body unraveling from his as she stood up.

“Like, met someone met someone?”

He just dipped his head in answer, and her eyes widened.

“Is he here? Did you bring him out?”

“No, he’s in London,” Louis said, “Working,”

“Damnit,” she shook her head, and then reached over, slapping his shoulder, “Well, spill then. What’s his name, what does he do, how’d you meet, what’s his ass like?”

Louis snorted, shaking his head.

“You’re going to need to sign an NDA before I answer any of that,”

“Fuck you,” Cara laughed, shoving his shoulder a bit before collapsing back into him, resting her forehead on his shoulder, “But I’ll meet him before next season, won’t I?”

Right. To Cara, to everyone, really, Louis was coming back. Everything the same. Another golden season. Blazing on and on like an Olympic torch.

“Maybe,” he said. It would be so easy to just say, he’s an alpha, Cara. She probably wouldn’t bat an eye. She was mated to a beta, and in the more traditional circles that was considered taboo enough that she had to tell quite a few people to fuck off in the years since she had started seeing Annie.

Still, though, he couldn’t make the words come out.

“Look at you,” Cara was saying, “You’re all grown up and settled down. Hell is freezing over. We’re rejoining the European Europe. It’s all happening,”

“Shut up,” Louis murmured, shaking his head.

“Does anyone else know?”

“Not really,” Louis shrugged, “Keeping things quiet and all,”

“God, congratulations,” she said, “That’s tough to do when you’re, I mean, you,”

“Thanks, I’m trying,” he said. Of course, it was easy to try when he had no choice but to keep things private, but he couldn’t say that.

“Well, congratu-fucking-lations,” Cara said. She was tugging on his arm, this conversation clearly over for now, and Louis was honestly glad he didn’t have to explain himself more.

If only disclosing everything could be as easy as telling one of his best friends a secret in the middle of noisy nightclub.

“Come on back with the rest of us,” Cara was saying, taking Louis away from the balcony and back into the dance floor, “Perrie and I are trying to get Liam drunk so he’ll stop texting Zayn to take his prenatal vitamins,”

 

*******

 

When Louis got back to England, Cross was running in two days, and Harry told him to come over so he could show him the issue before it ran. So naturally, he was on his bike before he even got the chance to fully unpack his bag.

 

When Louis pulled up to the apartment building, he tried to remember what it had looked like back in December. Back then it had looked a bit darker on the outside, grittier and more worn down. It was still pretty dirty on the outside, the old exterior worn out from constant exposure to the wind and London smog, but in the early spring sun, the whole place felt lighter. There was a little community garden lining the short walkway to the front lobby filled with yellow and purple flowers and a few rows of tomato plants, and a meager Easter wreath hung up on the main door.

Louis slipped inside the building’s entrance, slinking past the open lobby and into the back stairwell, despite the fact there was no one in the lobby to begin with He climbed the stairs two at a time, until he got to Harry’s floor, passing no one in the halls. Even though Harry was constantly worried about Louis being spotted, it was still Wednesday afternoon. Everyone was either still at work or huddled at home and not bothering going out.

Finally, he made it to Harry’s door, where he could hear music coming from behind the thin door. When he knocked, Harry took about two seconds to answer.

“Hi,” Harry smiled, and opened the door to show he was wearing his destroyed Rolling Stones shirt and a pair of tiny black running shorts. His eyes flicked down to the Versace bag Louis had in his hand, “And what’s this?”

“A scarf?” Louis said, smiling as convincingly as he could, and Harry just lifted a brow.

“And a wallet?”

Harry’s eyebrows only went higher.

“Fine, and I got you a shirt. It’s hideous and it’s got ruffles all over it, so I’m sure you’ll like it,”

Harry just huffed, shaking his head as he grabbed Louis’s wrist, “You’re ridiculous. Come in,”

Louis smiled, letting himself be dragged easily into the apartment. It looked the same as he remembered – the magazine clippings on the walls, the plants of the window sills, that shitty couch. Only now the windows were open, letting in warm spring sunlight, Harry’s record player was on and turning, and it smelled like freshly baked something.  

“I can hear your music out in the hallway,” Louis said, and Harry just shrugged.

“No one’s home. It’s Wednesday,” he said, “Do you want tea? I bought your favorite,”

“Yes, please,” Louis said. He set the shopping bag at the edge of the entrance, peeled off his jacket and hung it up, and then undid his boots and kicked them to the side of the hallway, where they joined Harry’s old padded flip flops and a pair of running shoes.

Then he straightened up and padded to the kitchen, where Harry was pulling on a mint green oven glove. Then he was bending over, pulling a deep metal pan out of the oven and then setting it a on the counter.

“I made banana bread,” Harry said, “If you want some,”

“Mm, yes please,” Louis murmured. He reached out once he was closer, encircled his arms around Harry’s waist and settled his temple against Harry’s shoulder. Harry wrapped an arm around his back and left his other hand free to put on the kettle and to get two mugs from the cabinet. They did this sometimes, just wrapped themselves in each other even when one of them was trying to move and do something. Harry had once made a full English breakfast with one of Louis’s hands up his shirt, distracting him by twisting his nipple the whole time.

When the water had finally boiled, Harry poured it out into the mugs and then got out some plates and went to cut up the bread.

“Do you want to sit in the living room or go to my room?” Harry asked, rubbing his hand against Louis’s back enough to slightly ruck up the fabric of his shirt.

“Bed,” Louis murmured.

“Okay, love,” Harry agreed. He pulled away from Louis, and then grabbed one mug and a plate, handing them both to him, “Go lay down, I’ll be there in a minute,”

Louis lifted himself onto his toes a bit and Harry just sighed and leaned in, pecking him lightly on the lips before telling him to go. Louis did, pulling back the beaded curtain and going into Harry’s room. He set his mug and plate on the bedside table, and then took off his jeans and left them on the floor before climbing onto the bed and propping himself up.  Harry came in a minute later, pushing himself through the beaded curtain as he carried a glossy black cardboard box with one hand and balanced his plate and mug in the other.

“Alright,” harry said, “They gave me about ten finished copies since the printing room always has surplus anyways, so you can keep one if you want to – “

“I will, I will,” Louis said, setting his plate of banana bread back on the bedside table, “Now open it up, I want to see. Haven’t even gotten to look at the photos yet,”

“I thought you said the photographer sent you the shoot pictures a few weeks ago,”

“Yes, he did, but on principle I’m not opening any more emails from that prat,”

Harry just chuckled, shaking his head.

“Alright, alright, give me a second,”

He unfolded the flaps on the top of the box, then stuck a hand in. There was a rifling of glossy paper, and then he pulled out a thick magazine, handing it off to Louis.

There was the Cross logo emblazoned across the top of the cover and a few teasers of stories inside on the edges. And then in the center, there was Louis. In the cover photo, he was leaning up against the silver and black Ducati from the shoot. He was wearing his standard-issue racer’s jacket and a pair of midnight blue velvet trousers, his arms crossed over his otherwise bare chest. There was bronze eyeshadow on his lids, they had touched up his eyes that make them look more vibrantly blue, and the smooth, neat waves of his hair had been topped with a large, golden prop crown. God knows he wasn’t smiling.

Louis shook his head, running his thumb over the text that ran along the bottom of the cover.  

Louis Tomlinson: Long live the king.

“Well,” he chuckled, “That’s a bit dramatic, innit?”

“You look beautiful, though” Harry murmured, leaning forward to ghost his lips along Louis’s hairline, “My little king,”

Louis allowed his eyes to close, sighing, and then pushed Harry’s shoulder weakly.

“Come on,” he said, “I want you to read it to me,”

“Oh,” Harry said, blinking, “Alright,”

“Do you not want to?”

“Oh, no, I can. I just normally don’t like to read my own stuff out loud, you know, but – alright,”

He set the box on the floor and instead climbed onto the bed so he could sit next to Louis. He took the magazine, setting it on his lap, and then reached over for his tea, pausing before he took a sip.

“It’s, um, I probably could have made some more edits before it ran, but – “

“For God’s sake. Just read, please,” Louis sighed. Harry closed his eyes, exhaled, and then set his mug to the side and picked up the magazine.

“Alright,” Harry opened the magazine, flipping through several glossy spreads before he arrived at the cover story. Text covered the left page, while on the other page, there was a close-up shot of Louis’s face, mostly covered by a racing helmet except for his his gold shadow-caked eyes, which were revealed by the open visor.

Harry took a deep breath, shaking his head a bit as he run his fingers over the text-heavy page, smoothing it out.

“Sorry,” he said, “I guess I’m nervous, is all. It’s a big story,”

“S’okay,” Louis said. He wrapped one arm around Harry’s waist and settled into his shoulder, “Whenever you’re ready,”

Harry nodded, and then finally cleared his throat firmly and began to read.

“‘Louis Tomlinson is tired. It is five o’clock in the morning on a Monday in late September, early enough that the downtown area of London that houses the United Kingdom official training facility is still dark and eerily quiet, robbed of usual early morning traffic. But this is still when Tomlinson makes it to the steel back door of the facility. When he arrives, he’s drinking from a tall paper cup and engrossed in his headphones. Up close, he’s small, his slender frame nearly swallowed – ‘“

Louis pinched Harry’s hip and the other man squeaked.

Ow, baby. Anyways – ‘his slender frame nearly swallowed by his sweatshirt, and there are dusky shadows under his eyes. We exchange about three words before he’s unlocking the door with a specialty key. He’s the first to show up at the facility, and he will be the only one there for a few more hours,’”

Harry paused, his fingers smoothing over the page again before he carried on.

“’But when he enters the training track half an hour later, he is dressed in his training leathers and he seems far more alert, far more opposing. Although it was now only five-twenty and we are in a small steel room, empty aside from myself, Tomlinson, and Tomlinson’s medical attendant, he still seems to exude every ounce of the pure, unbridled energy he is most known for,’”

“Harry,” Louis cut in, and Harry just glanced at him.

“Yes, baby,”

“I am not small,”

“No, you’re not,” Harry admitted with a sigh. He reached out, combing his fingers through Louis’s fringe, “I mean, you’re not tall – “

Louis reached out, pinching Harry’s nipple sharply, and the other man winced.

Ow, as I was saying, you’re not tall. But you’re strong. I know that. I mean,” Harry folded the magazine and set it aside, then rolled over onto his side, sliding one hands under Louis’s thighs giving him a squeeze, “Your fuckin’ legs…Jesus Christ,”

“Yeah?” Louis murmurs. Because this…well, this wasn’t what he came over for, at least not today, but he’ll play along, “You like ‘em?”

“I could literally die happy with your thighs wrapped around my head,” Harry sighed. He lowered his lips, pressing a kiss to the very top of his thigh, “And I love your hips. You have such gorgeous hips. So wide compared to your pretty little waist,”

“Uh huh,” Louis muttered, pushing against Harry, “Come on, then, keep going,”

“And your arse…Jesus Christ, you know how I feel about your damn arse,” Harry huffed, nosing at the fabric of Louis’s pants, “How the hell did I find someone so perfect?”

“Could ask the same question,” Louis managed, and Harry made a pleased little noise.

“Let’s finish the article later,” he said, gripping onto the elastic of Louis’s pants, “Wanna get my mouth on you,”

“Oh, no you’re not,” Louis finally said. He flipped himself over, enough to block Harry from doing anything else, “You are not distracting me from what I came here for. I came here for fifteen thousand words of you describing me to strangers, and I’m going to get that first,”

“But – “ Harry sputtered, “Come on! I’ll read to you after,”

“Yes, but I’d like to hear it now,” Louis murmured. He shifted closer to Harry, skimming his fingertips over the very bottom of his belly, and then wrapped his arms completely around his middle, “Come on, then, darling. Tell me how you described my pretty legs and my big hips to the entire Cross readership,”

Harry snorted, but when he turned to Louis, his eyes looked firm.

“Didn’t talk about that. Not going to spread that around for anyone who picks up something off a newsstand,” he murmured, “That’s just for me,”

“I know that, I’m joking,” Louis got out, but he couldn’t help that he was blushing a bit. Harry apparently noticed, because he smiled enough for his dimples to carve themselves into his cheeks, and he brushed a finger over Louis’s burning cheek. He didn’t try to pull away, instead just huffed and pushed into Harry’s touch until the man opened his entire palm and cradled Louis’s cheek.

“Read to me, love, please,” Louis said, “I watched you redo enough drafts to know you won’t like all of it. But I want to hear it,”

Harry ducked his head, sighing.

“Alright,” he said, pressing a kiss to the curve of Louis’s waist before lifting up, “You sure you don’t want to just read it on your own – “

Harry,”

“Okay, okay,” Harry grabbed the magazine again and flipped it back open to the first page of the article. Louis pulled himself back up only to collapse into Harry’s side again, his cheek pressed to the other man’s broad shoulder and his hand circling the inside of Harry’s elbow, his thumb brushing the soft skin there.

After another moment, Harry started reading again, and Louis closed his eyes as he finished to his boyfriend’s voice tell the story first days they had known each other.

“‘He seems to be one of the few that genuinely embraces the sport itself, not the pageantry that comes with it. Indeed, the Tomlinson shown onscreen is a far cry from the one that exists out the public eye – “  

*******

Louis would have settled for that to be the last time he heard from Cross. Cuddled into Harry’s said with sticky, baked good residue on his fingertips and tea on his lips, content to take a nap on Harry’s bed as the other man got up, cleaned his kitchen, went about his day with Louis comfortably in the background.

But of course, with a front page magazine spreads came a launch party, and Louis had one scheduled on Friday, the same day the issue went live on stands.

 

The launch party for the newest issue of Cross was held at an upscale restaurant downtown, someplace Louis had probably been to before but didn’t remember. The exterior was quietly expensive, all sleek lines and gleaming with blacked-out windows. He was dropped off in a hired car, because there was a string of photographers who will be waiting for him to walk in and out of the party, and apparently it would all go to shit if he rode his bike to the event and had helmet hair in the pictures. It was just as well, though. He wasn’t dressed for riding. His jeans and boots had custom designer labels and he was wearing his event jacket – the one designed to hug his body in the most flattering way, not to make him more dynamic on a bike.

After the initial round of pictures were done, he slipped inside. All around the room, there were poster boards sets up that had a blown-up version of the magazine sporting his face, his own eyes watching him closely. He didn’t know many people were inside the party, but he was sure most of them were friends of the racing industry or Cross advertisers. In other words, people he had no interest in chatting with for the next several years.

Louis quickly ordered a vodka soda from the nearest, slightly startled looking waitress. A moment later the glass was in his hand, and then he was being greeted by a slender man in an immaculate suit, who was coming towards him in quick strides.

“There he is, the man of the hour!” the man crowed, setting a hand on Louis’s shoulder while reaching his hand out for Louis to shake, “Xavier Young, Cross’s editor in chief,”

“Right, of course,” Louis smiled, trying to resist the urge to forcibly buck the man’s hand from his shoulder as he accepted the handshake, “Lovely to meet you in person,”

Young just laughed and let go of the handshake, but didn’t let go of his shoulder.

“Come on, come on, I have people I want you to speak with,”

Louis didn’t object, mostly because he had no place to, as Young moved to place his hand in the center of Louis’s shoulder blades and pushed him towards a ring of people standing in the corner of the party. Men in suits, women in cocktail dresses, all adorned with red ribbons. An obnoxious current of alpha smell and expensive perfume.

As soon as Louis was drawn into their circle, their eyes lit up, each of them easily extending a hand and offering him their names, titles, employers. They were advertisers for companies he was familiar with, lower editors at the Cross, a few personal friends of people that were linked in some way to the team.

Louis had already lost track of their names. He had a feeling they would forgive him.

They chattered on for a while, talking about business and the season and their own lives, a few of them occasionally touching Louis’s shoulders like they had every right to do so.

The only thing that brought him back to the surface was when the conversation actually turned to the magazine.

“Darling, I need the issue yesterday morning,” one of the sponsors was cooing to Young “It’s a gorgeous issue, really. Deserving of the season,”

“And the showcase! Outstanding this year, truly,” another person chimed in.

“Oh, thank you,” Young smiled, “Of course, I’m just an editor. Have to give the author due credit,”

Louis took a long sip of his drink.

“Oh, yes, speaking of that – I just saw that the author is quite young, isn’t he?” one of the women in the circle asked, “I’ve barely seen him in the pages before, I had to look him up and I wasn’t even sure if his age was right,”

“Yes, that’s right,” Young said easily, “Our Harry is twenty-three,”

Louis took another long sip of his drink, hoping it could erase the memory of Young referring to his boyfriend as “our Harry.”

“Oh, he’s a baby!” the same woman said, “Isn’t that a risk, though? This is your main piece for the whole year, after all,”

“No, no, I don’t consider it a risk at all. He’s one of our most talented writers, and his style is so self-assured for someone so young. I wonder if – “ he looked over his shoulder and then grinned, waving his hand, “He’s here, finally! Harry, Harry, get over here!”

Louis barely had time to process what was happening before Harry emerged from the rest of the party and came to join the circle. Louis swallowed, trying to keep his face neutral. It was the first time he had seen Harry that night, since they had gotten ready separately, at their own apartments. He was wearing a suit that was a rich, midnight blue-black color, with a white button up shirt and skinny black tie, his ribbon resting neatly against the right side of his chest. Louis could see the suit wasn’t perfectly tailored; it was too taut around his shoulders and the pure white of his shirt poked out of the sleeves of his jacket too much. It was probably rented, or at least bought off the rack with no other adjustments. But Harry still looked beautiful in it, his self-assured posture and the easy smile making up for every bit of poor tailoring.

Maybe it was for the best, because Louis wasn’t sure he could survive a casual encounter with Harry in a well-tailored suit.

“I was just telling everyone here about you,” Young chuckled, and then glanced over at Louis, “Of course, you two know each other,”

“Yes, of course,” Louis said, swallowing hard, as about a dozen thoughts popped into his mind of what he could say after that.

He called me kitten when I was on my knees sucking his cock last night.

 

He tells me I smell like poetry.

 

In a few weeks we’re going to be mated and I can’t remember when that was something I wanted but it is now.

“Nice to see you again, Mr. Styles,” he said instead, offering his hand. When Harry reached his hand, Louis could see his fingernails were gleaming with polish that was the same blue-black color as his suit.

“You too, Racer Tomlinson,” Harry replied, his voice as soft and friendly as his smile. But Louis felt an emptiness in it. There was the absence of the way Harry’s eyes would normally shift and soften and gleam around Louis, and his smile was small and tense enough that were no smile lines around Harry’s mouth. Louis tried to suppress the way his muscles wanted to melt into Harry’s touch as familiar shape of Harry’s palm brushed over his own skin and then encased his hand entirely in a firm handshake.

Eventually, Harry let their hands drop, and he quickly shoved both hands into the pockets of his trousers as Young began to speak again.

“Anyways, Harry, I was just telling everyone here about your work on the issue. Some might think it was a risk, but I didn’t see that as an issue with a talented lad like yourself,”

“I’m glad you think so,” Harry laughed, and it sounded pleased enough, but Louis could sense the flatness. Maybe Harry was nervous or uncomfortable. Maybe he hated being around these people as much as Louis did but had to try even harder to hide it.

Louis was just lifting his glass to his mouth when Harry flicked his eyes to him.

“The subject material made it a bit easier, of course,” he said, and Louis tried extremely hard not to choke on his drink as Harry continued, “Pure gold season and all,”

Right. That was the thing Harry found most intriguing about him.

And like that, the conversation was back on Louis, asking how he felt about the rest of the season and recounting races their memories of races Louis honestly couldn’t remember clearly at this point. By the time they had started naming exuberant bets they had placed on his odds of winning the Prix, he had to excuse himself.

As he walked away, he thought about how he wasn’t going to miss these parties.

Louis wandered over the bar, because his glass was tragically empty. He ordered a shot and then a glass of red wine, something that would set in quickly and then something else to mellow him out for the conceivable rest of the evening.

The bartender set his shot in front of him and Louis put it back quickly. As he swallowed the last few drops, he felt his phone buzz from inside his jacket pocket. He set the shot glass down and got his phone out, shaking his head when he saw Harry had sent him something.

You sound really sexy when you call me mr. styles

 

I am never calling you that again

 

Where the hell are you now this party is garbage

 

It’s your party baby

 

I know that’s what makes it worse. I have to pretend to care and I’m still too sober for this.

 

Also, again, where are you?

 

In the corner, being ignored by all my boss’s friends.

 

Where are you?

 

Taking shots and attempting to forget I’m here.

The bartender slid Louis is glass of wine then and he took it, took a brief sip, and then sighed.

“Sorry,” he managed, “I, uh, changed my mind,”

“No problem, Racer Tomlinson,” the man said hurriedly, whisking the wine glass away, “What can I get you instead?”

“Nothing, nothing at all,” Louis sighed. He had something better in mind as he tapped out another message to Harry.

Bathroom? Now? Please???

He slipped into the back hallway of the restaurant and into the private men’s room before he could even get a response. He waited, crossing his arms and tapping his foot to the slick black tile until he heard the knock and opened the door to find Harry standing outside.

Immediately, Louis grabbed the end of Harry’s tie, pulling the other man inside. Once the door was shut, Louis kept pulling and once on Harry’s tie until he felt his own back press against the nearest wall, leaving Harry right in front of him.

“You can please just fuck me now and make this okay?” Louis murmured.

“Baby,” Harry laughed weakly, setting his hands on Louis’s hips, “Louis, no, not here,”

“For fuck’s sake,” Louis huffed, “I know, I know, they’ll miss me for a few minutes. But they’ll find something else to talk about. Like their fucking boats or their cars or whatever the hell rich people talk about,”

“Lou, your net worth is fifty million pounds,”

“Yeah, but I’m a fun rich person. A fun rich person who has sex in bathrooms at his own magazine cover release party,” Louis said, tugging sharply on Harry’s tie, “C’mon. I’ll call you Mr. Styles the whole time if you do it now,”

Harry’s eyes flashed a bit but he still shook his head.

“When we get home, love,” he sighed, “Not here,”

Louis blinked, tilting his head.

“Home,” he repeated.

“Your place,” Harry clarified, his cheeks flushing a bit, “Sorry. Sometimes I call it home in my head,”

Louis swallowed thickly, then pushed himself up and set his hands on Harry’s chest, pressing his palms down hard enough he could feel the defined curve of Harry’s pecs under his hands.

“Tell me what we’re gonna do when we get home, then,” he breathed, “Come on, give me something to help me get through this fucking party,”

Harry gripped tighter onto Louis’s back and then pushed up against the nearest wall. His hands were tight on Louis’s hips and he exhaled, shaking his head.

“Not here,” he breathed again, his voice stronger this time.

“I just want you to tell me,” Louis sighed.

“You want me to wander around my boss while I’m hard all night, that’s what you want,” Harry groaned, nosing at the spot under Louis’s ear, “Fucking tease, you are,”

“Maybe,” Louis admitted, then pressed a hand to Harry’s temple to push his head away when he wouldn’t stop nosing at Louis’s neck, “Oh, stop that, you know you can’t smell anything,”

“Don’t remind me,” Harry groaned. His hands rubbed hard over Louis’s hips, and then they slipped back, his big palms easily cupping the curve of his bum, “If you have to know, when we’re home I’m going to scrub off this stupid fake scent off you, and then I’m keep myself pressed right here and the smell you when I fuck you,”

“You do that anyways,” Louis murmured, tightening his hand in Harry’s hair, “What else?”

“Fucking hell, Louis,” he breathed out. He pushed his hips forward, and Louis felt a distinct hardness pressing against the fabric of Harry’s trousers, “You bloody win. Look what I have to deal with for the rest of the night now,”

“Oops,” Louis managed, and Harry groaned again. He brought his hand up to encase Louis’s throat loosely, his fingers pushing up against Louis’s chin. Louis’s head went back easily until he was showcasing the side of his neck for Harry.

“Wonder what would happen if I gave you a love bite now,” Harry murmured, “Have you go flash it off to all those fucking people out there,”

“Yes,” Louis breathed out, but then Harry was letting go of his jaw entirely.

“Not now, though” Harry said, “Gonna do more than that in a few weeks,”

“Yeah?”

“Uh huh,” he nodded. He brushed his fingers over Louis’s neck, making the other man tilt his neck. His lips parted easily when he felt Harry lean down, his touch gentle as he continued to skim his fingertips over Louis’s skin. Eventually, he lowered himself down to nuzzle his lips against the juncture of Louis’s neck and his shoulder, and then finally mouthed carefully over the same spot. Louis’s belly felt tight, his throat thick. Harry was being so careful, holding him like he was going to break, and honestly, he might.

“Harry – “ he whispered, but the other man spoke before he could finish. Which was for the best, really, because he had no idea what the hell he should say.

“Going to leave a mark right now,” he said softly. He nuzzled the tip of his nose to the skin and Louis could feel the edges of Harry’s fringe tickle his skin, “Going to knot you, and then mark you. And then by the time I can get out of you, and my mark fades off your skin – “

“I’ll be yours,” Louis filled in. The other man whined softly, pressing one more kiss to his shoulder, and then pulled away.

“And I’ll be yours,” he added, kissing Louis’s hairline carefully as he ran a hand up his cheek. He pulled away and then pressed a thumb to Louis’s lips, pushing a bit harder.

“Where are you, love?” he asked softly. Louis looked up, swallowing.

“Here,” he replied, “With you,”

“Going to be okay for the rest of the party?”

“Yes,” Louis huffed out, shaking his head, “I won’t like it but…I can do it,”

“Good,” Harry smiled, and then thumbed the side of Louis’s cheek, shaking his head, “My heart was beating so hard when I had to shake your hand. Thought I was going to fuck something up and make everyone know,”

“Me, too,” Louis admitted, shaking his head, “But you really didn’t have to throw in that bit about the source material making it easy,”

“I know,” Harry said, “It did, though. Don’t think I’ve ever recorded an interview when someone was riding me, but it was fun,”

Louis smacked Harry’s arm, narrowing his eyes.

“I told you not to put those quotes in there,”

“I didn’t write the circumstances behind them, Jesus!” Harry laughed, rubbing his arm. He leaned in, puckering his lips and Louis just sighed and lifted his head up to accept the kiss.

“You better make this night worth it when we get home,” Louis huffed as he pulled away and reached out for the bathroom doorknob. Harry only laughed, plastering himself to Louis’s back and pressing one more kiss to the back of his neck before they went out.

“Yes, sir,”

*******

Louis got home Saturday night from a team charity event – team photo op, was more like it and turned on the evening news to find that impersonating another gender was no longer a capital offense in the Netherlands. The ribbon system was still in place there, but false records were no longer a crime as long as viable cause for falsity was given. It made things easier, one of the Dutch public health officials being interviewed said. It took a lot of effort to pass as something else in this day in age, so it was a rare crime anyways, she said. It was worth a fine and a mark on a record and not much else, she said.

Right. So Louis could deal with Amsterdam, then. He really did like Amsterdam. He wasn’t sure if he would be tried under Dutch or British law if he was ever found out, but…Amsterdam was fine. Better than staying here, if the immediate news commentary that followed it was any indication.

“Knew there was a reason I’ve never bothered to go over there,” one of the reporters scoffed, shuffling the papers on his desk, “I mean, Jesus Christ, how low do you have to stoop to do stuff like this?”

“The omega pay is quite low in the Netherlands,” the other reporter offered weakly, “Some of them have families to support, after all,”

“And what, they think the best solution is just to slap a red or blue ribbon on, parade around like it’s something they deserve when they’re cheating the system?”

“If you have another idea, I’m all ears,” Louis sighed at the screen. He reached for the TV remote, turning the news off and leaving his home in silence.

There was no point listening anymore. Harry would be over soon enough, and Louis had to go shower off his oil.

*******

 

Hey, I’ll there soon.

Louis sent the message as soon as he was out of the track, striding as quickly as he could to the facility garage to get his bike. It was the week Harry’s rut would be staring, but slipping away from practice hadn’t been as easy as he had anticipated, at least not when he didn’t have a viable excuse to explain why he was ditching practice for nearly a full week right before his own week off. So when Harry had sent him a warning text that morning, Louis had sent back that he would be there as soon as he could, but he had to go meet his trainer first.

He hoped that Harry had been alright in the meantime, because he didn’t send anything back by the time he had gotten to his bike.

It took fifteen minutes and a few broken traffic laws to get to Harry’s building, and Louis took the back stairs two at a time when he got there. It was the middle of the week, well after the hour when most people would be heading into work. He only passed one person in the stairwell, an older woman who barely gave him a second glance.

When he finally made it to Harry’s door, he knocked, bouncing a bit on his feet. When there was no answer, he knocked again, louder, and frowned.

“Harry?” he called, glancing around at the empty hallway before turning back to the door, “Harry, it’s me. Open up,”

He tried the doorknob, and when he found it locked he got out the key Harry had given him a while back and opened it for himself. When he slipped inside, he heard the shower running and relaxed a bit, shaking his head.

“Harry,” he called again. There wasn’t an answer, but still, he started walking towards the bedroom, peeling off his clothes as he went; his boots and jacket were left in the front entrance, his shirt on the floor of the living room, his jeans on the kitchen floor, his socks and pants on Harry’s bedroom floor. When he was in the bedroom he saw that the bathroom door was cracked open and the light was on, and Louis went in.

“Harry,” he said again once he was inside, and this time he heard a soft groan from inside the shower.

“Louis?”

“Wouldn’t be anyone else,” Louis offered. He walked towards the tub, going ahead and shoving aside the plastic curtain, and blinked at what he saw.

Harry was pressed against one corner of the tiled space, the water from the shower head spraying only about half of his body, although judging from how soaked he was over his whole body he had been there for a while. As he looked up, his eyes were glassy underneath his wet lashes, and his mouth was puffy and red and a bit ragged looking, probably attacked by his own teeth. He had one hand wrapped around his cock, which looked terribly hard, the head weeping and nearly cherry red.

Louis swallowed thickly and stepped into the tub, shuffling his feet closer to Harry.

“Hi, baby,” he offered, and then hissed when the water hit his feet, “Jesus fuck, Harry, it’s freezing cold in here,”

“I know, I know, I’m sorry,” Harry murmured. He let go of his cock, which only bounced weakly against his stomach, and reached out his arms, “Come here,”

Louis shuffled over easily, and soon Harry had his face in both hands, kissing him bruisingly before his hands skimmed down, wrapping around Louis’s waist as his nose predictably found his neck.

“Sorry,” he gasped out eventually, “Fucking – set in an hour ago – couldn’t even pick up my phone to call you, I was just so – God, you smell so good,”

“It’s alright,” Louis murmured, and then leaned himself closer to Harry’s touch, “Poor baby, here all by yourself,”

Harry inhaled sharply, “Louis,”

Louis looked up, blinking and making his voice a little higher pitched, “Sorry I took so long. Want me to make it better?”

Harry only groaned and squeezed Louis harder, tugging weakly on his hair. Louis felt himself get slick as Harry got closer -- he smelled so overwhelming alpha, even under the water. He got hold of Harry’s hair and tugged, whining a bit to get his attention. 

“Your room,” Louis got out, “Don’t fuck me in the shower, Harry. Take me to your bed, darling, be a good host,”

Harry pulled his mouth off of Louis’s shoulder and looked up at him, his entire face slick and flushed, his curls wilted and his eyes glassy. His grip tightened on Louis’s hips, and then he wrapped his arms firmly around his waist, before heaving a sigh.

“Yeah?” Louis whispered, twisting his fingers tighter into Harry’s hair, “Yeah, Harry?”

Harry’s own name seemed to make him more alert. He squeezed Louis hard and then only let go of him enough to pull his hands away and to instead lacing his fingers tightly with Louis’s own.

“Come on,” he managed, and then reached over, turning off the water. He pulled Louis carefully out of the shower, water dripping over the tile as he did.

“You want to towel off?” Louis managed, but Harry was tugging forward again, out of the bathroom entirely. When they got inside the bedroom Louis let go of Harry’s hand and dropped to his knees, tugging Harry closer to him by his dripping wet hips.

“Louis,” Harry groaned, “Don’t tease me, not today,”

“Thought me getting ready to put your cock in my mouth was the opposite of teasing but –- oh,” Louis gasped out at the end, because Harry had gripped onto his shoulders and was pulling him up onto his feet. Harry leaned in closer, his face still flushed and his wet hair still dripping water into his eyes. His fingers were nearly shaking on Louis’s shoulders and Louis could only stare back, his words drying up in his throat as he looked back at Harry’s wide eyes.

“You look so pretty,” Harry got out, “All wet,”

“Whose fault is that, huh?” Louis managed, “Going to get your sheets all wet now,”

Harry just shook his head, and then he had his hands all over Louis’s stomach and hips, tugging him closer to him, one hand eventually reaching back to rub over his hole roughly, spreading around the slick that was already there.

Harry,” Louis gasped out, and the other man groaned.

Louis tipped his head back, and Harry’s thumb was soon pressing to the underside of his chin, keeping his head tilted back as Harry’s lips suckled down the curved column of his throat. It only made Louis whimper more, and Harry’s lips moved fiercely along the shifting movements of his throat. His hand moved up, caressing the side of Louis’s face, his fingers moving carefully despite the bruising movement of his lips. Louis closed his eyes, sighing in a single expel of breath, and Harry inhaled in response.

“Can never perfectly remember what you sound like,” he said, “Always sound sweeter now,”

“Mm,” Louis hummed.

Harry disconnected for a moment, and Louis opened his eyes, blinking, and saw Harry coming back quickly with a blanket in his arms.

“Lay down,” he said, throwing it out the floor and attempting to straighten it out with his foot, “Wanna eat you out,”

“Yeah?” Louis asked, a bit too quickly. He was already lowering himself down onto the blanket, stretching out on his belly.

“God, yes,” Harry said quickly, already dropping onto his knees behind Louis, “Knew I wanted to do that for the last hour. Feels like I need your slick more than I need air,”

“Don’t you want to get off first – ah,” Louis cut himself off when he felt Harry’s mouth on his hole, his tongue prodding at him firmly. Harry didn’t seem too intent on answering him, not when he was buried in his work, the only noises coming out of him short grunts. Louis closed his eyes and brought his knuckle up to his mouth to bite on it, pushing himself closer to Harry’s mouth, enough that eventually he felt Harry’s wet fringe skimming the top of his cheeks.

He let himself be pulled away after that, let Harry lick at him until he was quivering and weakly rolling his hips into the blanket.

“Harry,” he mumbled, “Harry, come on, slow up, wanna come on your knot first,”

Almost immediately, Harry sat up, his breathing thick behind Louis, and he heard the sound of flesh rubbing flesh. A few moments later, Louis felt a splattering all over his back and on his cheeks, and he gasped.

“Did you just – “ he got out, but then Harry was grabbing him, pulling him onto his feet and leading him up and over to the bed. Louis crashed down easily, situating himself on the mattress as Harry crawled after him, his movements slow and his eyes still wide, watching Louis like it was the first time he’d ever seen him. Louis suddenly forgot about the spunk drying on his back.

When Harry was fully over him, he began nuzzling Louis’s drying neck, nipping fervently at the skin. He was whispering something into his neck, and it took Louis a moment to recognize that he was repeating the same two words, over and over.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,”

Louis closed his eyes, reaching up to tangle his fingers in Harry’s hair. He was saying it quietly enough that just hearing it felt like an invasion, even if the words were clearly meant for Louis.

He hadn’t ever really seen Harry this in need. Turned on, yes. Eager, yes. But never like he was now, when he seemed to be feeding off Louis, strengthening in his presence.

Eventually, Louis felt Harry already hardening again against his leg, and he rolled his hips up, pinching the edge of Harry’s ear as lightly as he could.

“Come on, love,” he murmured, “Go get a rubber already, I know you want to,”

Harry lifted his head away from Louis’s shoulder, blinking his misty eyes a few times. His growing curls had started to curl and were hanging a bit wildly around his face, and Louis reached up to push the hair back. His fingers skimmed Harry’s cheek as he did so, and it seemed to make Harry snap out of it enough to fumble for his bedside drawer. He got a condom packet, undoing it between unsure fingers and rolling it on, and then settled himself back between Louis’s legs.

Harry set his hand on Louis’s stomach before ghosting his touch down to his hip.

“Baby?” he breathed out, still looking at Louis with wide, wide eyes. Louis nodded, shifting his hips.

“Go,” he whispered, and Harry nodded and ducked his gaze down before he pushed in. Louis relaxed against the movement, sighing and titling his head back.

“Harry,” he exhaled, and he felt Harry breath out in turn. He rocked his hips and kept looking down, gazing at Louis’s face even though his hair kept falling into his eyes, probably blocking his view.

Eventually, he stopped, shifting back onto his heels, and grabbed for Louis’s hands.

“Up,” he mumbled, and Louis easily moved his hands up over his head as Harry smoothed his palms over the insides of his arms, up and up until he was lacing his fingers with Louis, locking his hands into place. He shifted forward, then, back onto his knees, and kept rocking his hips.

Harry’s breath was heavy, and Louis could feel the flushed heat radiating off his skin every time their bodies fully brushed together. He already knew Harry had been close when he had shown up, so he wasn’t surprised when Harry gasped tightly, ducking his head so low that his hair brushed against Louis’s chest.

“Almost there, gorgeous?” Louis asked, even though his voice came out thick and choppy. He had already been a bit sensitive from Harry eating him out, and his rim was burning a bit from being stretched out, especially with Harry still moving so steadily inside him. It probably wouldn’t take much longer for him, but Harry was clearly on the brink already.

“You can come,” Louis said, squeezing their twined fingers, “Probably would set me right off, getting to see your face when you do,”

Harry lifted his head, and Louis could see that his eyes were nearly black and his cheeks were close to being red.

“Louis,” he mumbled, and Louis squeezed their hands together again.

“I’m here, baby,” Louis murmured, “Wanna see you, come on,”

Harry moaned, tilting himself forward until his mouth was closing over Louis’s throat. His hips stuttered one more time, and then Louis felt Harry’s body shaking right before his knot began to thicken. Louis groaned and shifted his body up, rutting his cock against Harry’s belly as he searched for some friction. As he moved, he felt Harry’s cockhead jab weakly against his prostate, but that was all he needed, his own orgasm splattering over his own body and also over Harry’s stomach.

Harry unlatched their hands, instead running his hands down Louis’s face, and then down his neck and chest, his fingers even skimming down to drag in the mess on Louis’s belly. He leaned forward, pressing his lax lips to Louis’s mouth, and Louis tried to push himself into the kiss before eventually just letting Harry press their mouths together languidly, almost no movement behind it.

It took a little longer than usual for Harry’s knot to go down, and when it eventually did, Harry stopped nuzzling Louis’s neck and instead lifted his body up, obediently taking himself into the bathroom to toss the rubber and get a towel. Once they were both clean, he snuggled up with Louis again, this time resting his head on Louis’s freshly scrubbed stomach.

“You really overshot this whole thing, you know?” Louis muttered. Harry looked up at him and blinked, his eyebrows crashed together in confusion.

“Made me think you were going to go into a rampage,” Louis explained, reaching out to play with a piece of hair that fell over Harry’s forehead, “But you’re just…needy,”

Harry huffed and let his head drop, burying his face into Louis’s sweat-slick stomach.

“Not true,” he mumbled, “You’re the needy one,”

Louis rolled his eyes and tried to pull himself away, but Harry’s gripped tightened on his hips and pulled him right back down.

“Stay,” he growled softly. Louis could feel the hum of his throat pressed to his abdomen, the buzz of his moving lips pressed to his belly button. It made his stomach shift and warmth flow through him.

“That’s a lot of requests for someone who definitely isn’t needy,” he managed, though his voice had gone weak. Harry didn’t seem to notice though, instead content to keep his face pressed into Louis’s stomach.

Eventually, though, Louis flicked the side of Harry’s head with his fingertip. Harry grunted and shifted his head enough that Louis could see his eyes.

“What?” he mumbled.

“I’m thirsty,”

Harry just stared at him.

“Harry, I need water,” Louis continued, “Move your flat little arse and go get me some,”

The other man just sighed, peeling himself off Louis. He wandered out of the room and returned a moment later with a glass of water. Louis drank deeply and then set the glass on down on the bedside table before he settled back into the mattress. In the next moment, Harry’s body was pressed to him again, with his lips were latched onto his shoulder and his hand on Louis’s hip.

“Not needy,” Louis murmured, and Harry sighed.

“I think about you every damn day of my life,” he said, “It’s just that usually, I have at least one part of my brain telling me to focus on eating or catching my train or setting my alarm or anything else that’s going to keep me alive. Right now all I care to think about is you. Making you happy,”

“Making me come,”

“Making you happy,” Harry repeated, “Water, orgasms, whatever you want,”

“Romantic, you are,” Louis mumbled. He shifted again, enough to get to his water again, and Harry only weakly groaned but let him move enough to drink it.

“How much longer before you’re gonna start up again?” Louis asked.

“With the way you smell, probably not long,” Harry groaned, shaking his head, “But…less than an hour, maybe? Not long.

“Okay,” Louis said He gulped down the last of his water and then settled back down, returning his fingers to Harry’s hair.

“I’ll suck you off next time,” he said, “Give you a little less work,”

Harry huffed, rubbing his cheek into Louis’s belly.

“Gonna murder me before I can mate you,”

“And let you die before I can collect all your assets?” Louis said, “Please, love, give me some more credit than that,”

Harry just pinched his side hard and rested his cheek back on Louis’s stomach, not even flinching when Louis pinched his ear in retaliation.

*******

In the few days they had between Harry’s rut and Louis’s week off, Harry went into a research frenzy.

Specifically, he looked up how exactly mating was supposed to work.

“You’d like this wouldn’t be something that we needed to research,” Louis offered one night. It was a Friday, his first official day off even if Niall wouldn’t be showing up with his shots until Monday morning. Harry was sitting at the countertop, his reading glasses on as he gazed at his laptop screen while Louis cooked dinner.

“You’d think,” he parroted, tapping at the keyboard, “And take the fajitas off the heat before you burn the apartment down,”

“Excuse you, I made myself fajitas for over five years before you showed up,” Louis huffed, but still took the pan off the stove top, “So, what does the Internet say to do?”

“Well, it says it helps if at least one partner is in rut or heat…”

“Double check, then,” Louis said, unstacking two plates from the cabinets.

“Right. Having a quiet, secluded area with no interruptions…”

“Check,” Louis said again as he began plating the food from the pan onto the plates.

“And then a physical bite is, um, more symbolic than anything, but it’s a good physical indicator,” Harry flicked his eyes to Louis, “Like, if a mating works, a bite will stay in the skin for a while, and you can actually see that,”

“Mm,” Louis nodded, “Anything else?”

“Not really, unfortunately. A lot of it relies of personal connection and stuff, which is why it’s so tricky to really have a full physical mating,” Harry said, “And, uh, they say it works better…without a condom? Apparently?”

“Alright, then,” Louis shrugged, scraping the last of the fajita onto one plate before handing it to Harry, “I can get Niall to give me an STI next week, but I’m almost certain I’m clean,”

“Not what I’m worried about, babe,”

“I’m also on the strongest birth control modern science has managed to produce, so there’s that,” Louis tacked on, “Now eat your dinner,”

Harry rolled his eyes but set his laptop aside as he pulled his plate closer.

“Oh, by the way,” he said, “My mum called me today, said she finally read the showcase,”

“Oh, yeah? What’d she say?”

“That she was proud of me, mostly. And she cried, because that’s my mum,” Harry shrugged.

“Anything about me?”

“No, Louis,” Harry laughed, “Although when I talked to my sister, she said that the magazine should’ve covered Delevingne instead. She thinks you’re overhyped,”

“I’ll have to agree with your sister on that,” Louis chuckled, “My mum got about twenty copies and apparently framed one of them. And Lottie keeps texting complaining that she has to see my face every time she goes to Tesco,”

He paused after he said it, pushing his fork around his dinner.

“Maybe I’ll go back home for a little while,” he said, “Like, for a year or something,”

“Maybe,” Harry said. He had just started replying with “Maybe” to all of Louis’s post-team ideas. Amsterdam – maybe. Iceland – Maybe. A private island in the middle of the ocean, the kind that hasn’t even been discovered yet and I’ll have to find myself -- Maybe.

Not that it made too much of a difference if Harry liked one place or another. Even if he did, Louis would probably still find something wrong with any one place and try to find something else.

“It says here that a couple people have used honey as lube. Apparently that’s effective,” Harry said after a few seconds, making Louis snap out of his own thoughts.

“It does not,”

“You’re right, it doesn’t, I just needed you to focus,” Harry chuckled, “Welcome back,”

Louis picked up a mushroom from his plate and weakly tossed it at Harry’s head.

“You’re a dick,” he grumbled, “But if you asked nicely I’d still let you put honey in my arse,”

*******

 

On Monday morning, Harry was taking a shower when Niall let himself into the apartment and threw his bag on the kitchen counter. When Louis wandered over to join him, he saw that Niall’s scrubs were covered in a giant purple stain that took up almost the entire shirt.

“Do I want to know?” Louis asked, gesturing to the stain. Niall only glanced down at himself and shrugged.

“Sweet kid, but her parents should’ve told me about her hatred of blueberries before she threw an entire smoothie at me,” Niall sighed, “Is Harry here?”

“Yeah, he’s in the bathroom,” Louis said, “You know he promised to make me healthy things to eat this week, with vegetables and everything,”

“How nice,” Niall said as he unpacked his bag, “I’m so glad Harry’s making you food and doing nothing else,”

“Is that a joke or are you ignoring my sex life entirely?”

“Fuck off,” Niall said, pinching Louis’s nipple hard enough to make him squeal and curl up, pressing a hand to his chest.

“I am going to murder you,” he wheezed, “Jesus Christ, you know they hurt more now,”

“Oh, I know,” Niall said mildly, pulling a water bottle out of his bag, “Here, drink something first,”

Louis glared at him but still took the bottle and drank as Niall unpacked the needles.

“How’s waiting-for-your-med-school-acceptance-letter life?” Louis asked once he was done drinking.

“When I go to Hell for helping you break the law for five years, I am going to be permanently waiting for my med school acceptance letters, that’s how it feels,” Niall offered.

Louis didn’t ask any more questions as Niall rolled up Louis’s sleeve and gave him his heat shot, and then hitched up the bottom of his shirt to give him the birth control shot to his hip.

It wasn’t until he was done and packing up his bag that Harry wandered back into the main room.

“Hi, Niall,” Harry offered before tapping Louis on the shoulder and kissing the top of his head

“Hey, mate,” Niall returned.

“What happened to your shirt?”

“A night shift at the fucking pediatric ward,” Niall said. He snapped his bag closed and then lifted his bag off the counter, “Okay, I’m off to go find a bar that will give me three screwdrivers in a row this early in the morning without asking questions. You kids have fun,”

He patted Louis hard on the head, making him wince, and then he was striding out of the front hallway.  

“So…” Harry began after the front door had slapped shut, “Um, how fast do those shots kick in?”

“An hour, maybe,” Louis said, “For now, I guess we can just…do whatever,”

“Alright,” Harry smiled, “I guess we can find something to watch?”

“Sure,” Louis shrugged, “Not much else to do, is there?”

So they moved over to sit on the couch, Louis tucked into Harry’s side with his arm loosely around the other man’s waist. Harry had his palm on the back of Louis’s hand, his thumb easily circling other man’s skin.

Louis was allowed to enjoy about one full episode of something he didn’t particularly care about when he felt the first burst of heat, one that made his skin flush. He exhaled sharply, and Harry gripped his hand harder.

“Alright, baby?” he asked carefully, and Louis nodded in response. Then another wave went through his body, making him blush hard and exhale again. He nuzzled closer to Harry, tucking his lips to the underside of his chin and angling his body closer. His skin felt flushed and feverish under his shirt; nothing he wasn’t used to, but it felt more pointed now with Harry right here, his smell making him dizzy.

“Okay?” Harry asked again. His hand had somehow planted it on Louis’s cheek and Louis wasn’t sure how it got there, but he leaned into Harry’s hand nonetheless so that the skin of Harry’s palm brushed his scruff-covered cheek.

“You wanna go to your room?” Harry asked. His voice was careful, even though Louis could hear a small laugh in it. He probably looked ridiculous; his hot, blushing skin and his unwashed clothes, nuzzling so eagerly into Harry’s hand. Not that it was his fault.

Although maybe it was his fault that he didn’t answer Harry’s question, instead just dropped onto the floor below the couch and crawled to Harry, depositing himself between his legs. Once he was there, Louis nosed at the underside of Harry’s bulge, and then curled his fingers into the fabric of Harry’s shorts, capturing the fabric and bringing it down until Harry’s cock was free. Louis immediately Louis mewled and leaned forward, covering the head of Harry’s cock with his lips and suckling it eagerly. He tilted his head and closed his eyes, making the head pop out of his mouth, but he just lapped at it, savoring the hot skin on his tongue.

“There you go,” Harry murmured. He had reached out to touch Louis’s face again and Louis suddenly wanted to put every one of Harry’s fingers in my mouth one by one, taste them and suckle them and feel the shapes of his rings on his tongue, “Little kitten just needed a cock in his mouth, huh?”

Louis made a short, aborted noise and then tucked Harry’s cockhead back into his mouth, pulling on it with his tongue. He kept his eyes closed, his brain going hazy as he suckled on Harry’s cock, content to have the weight in his mouth and Harry’s thumb stroking his cheek. But he still felt himself reacting to it, his body coiling with more heat, his cock fattening up between his legs and his slick leaking out, probably ruining his joggers.

“So lovely, baby,” Harry breathed. He had his other hand on his cheek, smoothing Louis’s blushing skin with both hands.

Louis’s mouth weakly surged on Harry’s cock at the praise, but he didn’t really feel like sucking any harder. He just wanted the weight in his mouth and Harry’s scent in his nose, a firm reminder his alpha was there.

Harry seemed content to let him stay that way, too, if the way he gently pet Louis’s cheeks and cooed at him softly was any indication. But Louis could feel Harry getting hard in his mouth, and he whined a bit, his jaw aching with staying open for so long.

“Pull off,” Harry said, and even though there was no strength behind the directive, it was all Louis needed to slip his mouth off Harry’s cock and sit back on his knees. He rubbed the sides of his jaw with the heels of his hands, moaning softly at the ache.

“Alright?” Harry asked, and Louis looked back up, blinking.

“Yeah,” he managed, wincing a bit at how his jaw still hurt.

“Let’s go to your room. We’ll do something nice and easy,” Harry said, and Louis nodded, pushing himself back up onto his unsteady feet and letting himself lean into Harry when he stumbled a bit.

“Easy, easy,” Harry murmured. He leaned over, pressing a kiss to Louis’s cheek as he guided him towards his room.

Once they were inside, Harry guided Louis’s hands to help them both strip down, and then kissed Louis on the temple, promising him they would do something simple to start out with. That was fine. Actually, as Louis laid down on the bed, he thought about how that sounded really good. Just a nice, simple missionary fuck that would get him off but not wear him out too much. He could wrap his head around that.

But then, as Harry leaned himself over Louis’s body, his thumb brushed the very edge of Louis’s nipple and Louis cried out, probably a bit too loudly. Harry’s eyes went wide and Louis curled himself up, his hands going to his chest in protection as his chest throbbed with feeling.

“Louis?” Harry asked, and then his hand was on his shoulder, “Louis, did I hurt you? What did I do?”

“No, no,” Louis managed. He uncoiled himself, lying more open, and blinked up at Harry, “I just – “

His mouth felt dry and he licked his lips, lifting his chest up a bit, “M’nipples hurt. A lot,”

“Oh,” Harry said, and then his eyes went bigger, “Oh,”

He leaned over careful, looking at Louis carefully.

“Do they always hurt this bad during heat, baby?” he asked, “I know they’re sensitive usually but – “

“Yes,” Louis gasped out, “Yes, yes, they hurt so bad,”

He realized he was just pushing his chest out, twisting himself around like he was on display.

“You want me to touch them?” Harry asked, his voice a little amused.

“Uh huh,” Louis nodded, closing his eyes. That sounded nice. That sounded so, so nice.

And then Harry brought his mouth down onto one of Louis’s nipples and sucked softly, and Louis cried out loudly. He couldn’t even bring his hands to Harry’s hair, just kept them twisted in the sheets. Harry brought a hand to Louis’s ribcage, stroking his skin carefully.

His nipples were throbbing, nearly, and every time Harry’s tongue brushed him, he felt a brush of pain followed by a long, long string of pleasure, his vision bursting with light and his belly squirming pleasantly. But his other bud throbbed even harder, begging for attention. Finally, he grabbed Harry’s wrist and set his hand firmly on the other nipple.

“Baby?” Harry asked cautiously. He had lifted his mouth off Louis’s nipple and it only made him whimper harder.

“Touch me, Harry,” he said, “Touch both,”

“Oh,” Harry gasped, and then he lowered his head, bringing the neglected nipple into his mouth. At the same time, he gripped Louis’s other nipple in his hand, rolling it between his thumb and forefinger, tugging on it gently a few times.

He could feel tears prick at his eyes because they hurt, they hurt like hell and yet he wanted it to keep going. He had his knees tucked his chest, his toes curled tightly, his cock was hard and weeping.

“Harry,” he sobbed, and when blinked he felt actual tears spill out of his eyes and fall down the sides of his face, slicking up his temples. He arched more into the touch and Harry kept pinching and rubbing.

He came, and he sobbed wetly, physically pushing himself away from Harry. He curled his back, pressing himself into a ball as he came all over the sheets and himself. His nipples were raw, puffy and bruised hot pink, and his face was wet.

“Louis,” Harry coaxed carefully, and then turned him over carefully, “Oh, Louis,”

He pressed his lips to the corner of Louis’s eye, brushing away the remnants of his tears with his thumb.

“No tears, baby, no tears,” he said, “Was that too much?”

Louis didn’t know how to answer that, he only weakly hiccupped, and Harry made another concerned noise.

“Would you like to be alone?” he asked, and Louis gasped, shaking his head.

“No, no, no,” he said, “Harry, no,”

“You only make me feel so good,” he said, “Maybe just…don’t touch my nipples again for a while?”

“Oh course. Whatever my Louis wants,”

Louis tilted himself up, keened at Harry’s touch, his words.

He thought briefly to the beginning of the season, when he would smack away Niall’s hand if he tried to stroke his forehead after giving him a shot. When he still hated feeling small, and weak, and like he needed to be taken care of.

He still did, sort of.

“Say that again,” he got out.

“Say what?”

“Say I’m yours,”

Harry blinked.

“Oh, fuck off. I know you don’t own me, I know I’m not property, I know, I know, just – say it,”

Harry pushed his head gently to the side, kissing his neck.

“Mine,” he whispered, “My pretty Louis. My favorite boy,”

Louis blinked, grasping for the back of Harry’s head again.

“You didn’t get off,” Louis mumbled.

“No,” Harry agreed, “I didn’t,”

“C’mere,” Louis pulled on Harry’s curls until he was sitting up, and then Louis pushed himself forward until he was sitting on his knees, and then ducked his head. His mouth found Harry’s cock again, which was now leaking and fully hard. His jaw protested a bit as he brought the length into his mouth entirely but he still closed his eyes, appreciating the weight returning to his mouth, as well as Harry’s pleased little gasp over him.

“Jesus,” Harry mumbled. He set a hand on top of Louis’s head, guiding him down more, and Louis squeezed his eyes closed, focusing on his task.

As it turned out, it didn’t take very long for Harry to be flooding his mouth, and he gagged and pulled off, forcing himself to swallow and then coughing weakly at the bitter, salty taste that was left in his mouth.

“Louis? Alright?” Harry asked, and leaned forward, gripping his face in both hands. Louis sputtered again and then looked up at him, squinting his watering eyes in a weak glare.

“Warn a man before you blow a load in his mouth, would ya,” he coughed, reaching up to rub at his lips with the back of his hands. Once he was done, he sighed and collapsed into Harry, setting his head on the other man’s shoulder, “I’ll still let you fuck me in a little while, though,”

“Well thank you,” Harry chuckled, “Do you need some water?”

“In a moment,” Louis croaked. He felt too heavy to move, and his mind was still in its usual heat-induced fogginess that for once he didn’t have to push aside. He had someone there to take care of him.

“Thank you for coming over,” Louis mumbled.

“You knew I was coming over, baby,”

“Yeah,” Louis said blankly, “It’s nice with you here,”

Harry laughed weakly again and grabbed Louis’s shoulders, easing him onto his back.

“Why don’t we get you something to drink,” he said, “And then I’ll get you a snack,”

He brushed his hand over Louis’s cheek, and for a moment, everything felt perfectly clear. Louis blinked up at Harry and reached out to grab his hand.

“Love you,” he mumbled.

Harry didn’t laugh this time. Instead he just grabbed a water bottle from the bedside table and started to unscrew the cap, but took a moment to kiss Louis’s forehead before he opened it entirely.

“And I love you my Louis,”

*******

 

When Louis got home late one night from a sponsorship dinner, he was greeted by an empty apartment. He sent Harry a quick text asking where he was and then shuffled to his room, ready to change out of his jacket and jeans and into anything more comfortable.

He was halfway through getting undressed when he got the reply.

Sorry, late meeting. Alexa and I went out for a couple drinks, I’ll head out soon.

 

Okay. Take a cab, I’ll pay you back.

 

Get Alexa one too.

 

Don’t worry too much about me. But I will, and I’m sure she’ll appreciate that x

 

Louis just sighed, going back to tugging his shirt on. He didn’t have much to do the rest of the night, so he grabbed his notebook and decided he might as well make himself some tea and then go through his usual note as he watched his training tapes.

About a half an hour later, he heard the front door was open and Harry appeared in the living room entrance a moment later, smiling weakly when he saw Louis. He looked tired, his hair curling a bit more than usual, his work tie loose and his shirt rumpled. His limp was a bit more exaggerated as he walked towards the couch, something that usually only happened when he was tired. When he got closer, Louis could see that his eyes looked dark, his work tie was loose and his shirt was creased with deep wrinkles.

 

“Hey,” Harry sighed. He leaned down and pushed his head forward, offering his lips.

“Hi,” Louis returned, leaning into his kiss, “You alright?”

“M’okay,” Harry said as he pulled back, “I’m going to put some laundry in, okay? I’ve been meaning to do that,”

“Sure, you know where everything is,”

Harry stepped back and undid his tie and his work shirt as he moved, until Louis was just watching his bare back recede into the bedroom. He came out a moment later with an armful of clothes, wearing one of Louis’s bathrobes that was too short on him. He went down the hallway and then Louis heard the machines being turned on, and then he was back and going towards the kitchen, where he opened the fridge and got out a box of grapes.

“I have actual food, you know,” Louis offered.

“I know, I’m not hungry,” Harry said. He leaned against the counter, turning a few grapes over between his fingers and tucking about half of them into his mouth.

Louis eventually got up from the couch and padded into the kitchen, even though Harry didn’t look up. Louis cleared his throat when he was standing right next to him, finally making Harry look up.

“Harry,” he said, “You’re not fine,”

 

“Fuck,” Harry sighed. He shook his head, tossing the grape in his hand back into the container, “I’m sorry,”

“What’s up?” Louis asked, shuffling closer to him, “What happened at work?”

“Nothing. And that’s the problem,” Harry shook his head, pushing his fingers through his hair, “I had a meeting with Young today. And I thought for sure he would promote me after all that shit he spewed about me being brilliant and all that. An editing position, maybe, or at least more flexibility in my stories. But no. He says that I’m right back to my original position, and then he sent me right back to my editor for another standard story and I just – “ he buried his head in the heels of his hands, “I honestly don’t know if I can stay there anymore, not doing the same stuff. I’m going to be bored out of my mind there, Louis,”

“Then quit,”

Louis wasn’t sure where the words came from, but once they were out, Harry just lifted his head, blinking at him blankly.

“Not that easy,” he said, “I have an apartment to pay for, I have food to buy -- ”

“Okay, I get it. But you can move out of your place,” Louis said immediately, “Move in with me instead,”

Harry’s eyes flared wide before eventually going back to normal as he shook his head.

“Louis – “

“I’m here for the summer anyways, you might as well as be with me. And if you want to stay in London after I leave, I can just keep this apartment for you. I bought it anyways, so it’s mine, no rent,” Louis said.

Harry didn’t say anything, so Louis wrapped his hands around Harry’s arm, shaking him a bit, “Come on, you nearly live here already. Your laundry is in my machine right now, love,”

Harry sighed, still shaking his head.

“I – I’d like that,” he eventually said, “I just don’t know what I’m going to do if I quit,”

“Well, you can tell Young that you, one of their best writers, are going to quit if he doesn’t give you what you want. And then if he still doesn’t do anything, you’re going to find another job, because you’re brilliant and anyone with a brain would hire someone like you when they find out Young was dumb enough to let you just drop away,”

“What if – “ Harry said, and then Louis just leaned into him, stroking his arm harder.

“What if you can’t find anything? What if you never want to write anything again? I promise you, whatever you want to ask, the answer is still going to be that I’ll be here, with strongly worded recommended letters or my bank account or encouragement sex or whatever else you want,”

Harry just snorted, and Louis nudged him again.

“Come on,” he coaxed, “You always take such good care of me. Let me take care of you for a little while,”

“You already take care of me,” Harry sighed. He reached up, covering Louis’s hand with his own. “Just by being you,”

He had ducked his head now, and he was nuzzling at Louis’s knuckles, “You make me so happy. I’m around you and I wonder how I ever felt happy before you,”

Louis groaned, resting his cheek against Harry’s shoulder.

“You’re so dramatic,” he murmured, “Can’t wait to see what kind of nonsense you think up when you live with me,”

“Live with you,” Harry repeated. He looked over at Louis, raising one eyebrow, “Are we doing this?”

“Well, not right now, but we can,” Louis said, “Will you stay in London for work? After I leave, I mean?”

“Maybe,” Harry said, “I mean I can look for work in…where are you going again?”

“To be determined,” Louis admitted, “But don’t worry. Just look for a job wherever and I can pay for your flights if you bother visiting me,”

“You know I will. I’ve told you this,” Harry sighed, shaking his head, “Jesus Christ, I – I thought about leaving Cross after this season. I didn’t know I might actually do it,”

“And I didn’t think I’d ever have someone like you by the end of the season. But here we are,” Louis said, “You’ll think about it, though?”

“Think about it? Jesus, Louis, I’m going to call my landlord first thing in the morning and talk about ending my rent,”

“Shit, really?”

“Yeah. And then I’m going into Young’s office tomorrow for another meeting, and if he doesn’t promote me, then I’m pulling out at the end of the month,”

“Well,” Louis said, “I didn’t expect a decision that quickly, but I’m in full support,”

“Fuck,” Harry said again, “I’ll quit my job. And then I’ll do something else. I’ll write about the government or shoes or restaurants or I’ll just lose my mind and open a shop that sells cupcakes for dogs or something but I won’t go back to Cross,”

“And you’ll live with me,”

“And I’ll live with you,” Harry nodded, and then smiled weakly, “Guess I have to thank Cross for giving me you, though, can’t I?”

“You can,” Louis echoed, stepping forward to set his chin on Harry’s shoulder, “Or we can both say fuck Cross anyways, you can let me order you a pizza, and then we can spend the rest of the night looking at apartments in Norway,”

“Norway today, is it?” Harry sighed, “And yes, I’d like that. I’ve barely eaten anything today,”

“See?” Louis huffed, reaching over to take the bin of grapes and bring it back to the fridge, “Without me you’d fucking fall apart,”

He decided not to think too hard about how he swore Harry mumbling “Sometimes I think I might,” under his breath.

*******

 

The last race in London was almost the exact same as the race as the beginning of the season, with a course that snaked through the more expensive, more easily televised portions of the city and ended at the Arena. Only now, there were ten other teams invited, and even though it was the middle of spring and everything was supposed to be starting again, everything felt very final. The last race of a season was rarely a deal-breaker, after all. The times were in, the rankings were in, all was decided and filed away. Really, Louis would just have to win and then he could secure one final title – a perfect first-place season, for the first time in years.

His family had come out for the day, except the little ones, who were back home with a sitter. And Harry had managed to get a seat, too, which more or may not have been at Louis’s request.

But they were back at the Arena, and Louis was busy milling about the designated start line several kilometers away, watching as officials and reporters and cameramen wandered about. He had checked his bike already and now was just killing time before the officials blew their whistles and gave the signal that everyone needed to get their leathers on and report to the start line.

When they finally did, Louis promised himself he would track every moment of this race.

Because even though this season had worn him down to his core, this was still the last race he was ever going to have that was normal, with his team surrounding him and relatively low odds. So many races exactly like this had blurred by, either out of nerves or adrenaline or a pure need to be finished.

But he tried to remember this one.

He tried to catalogue the first smell of gasoline and exhaust when he first started his bike. He tucked away the uncomfortable feeling of his slick skin under his jacket and gloves and jeans. He wanted to write down the sound of every time his tires popped over the paved pathways, the rev of engines behind him trying to catch up and keep pace. Maybe later he would look up every person who raced against him, every country. France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, his own teammates. The pure roar that ripped out when he was entering the Royal Arena, somehow third after a tricky scuffle on his way in.

He promised himself he would remember the way he pressed so hard on the pedals he thought something was going to break, whether it was the bike or the track or himself. The sharp whistle that shot past his shoulder as he nearly collided with another racer but didn’t, and instead went in front. The way his breath felt hot and trapped in his chest as he inhaled and barely out any breath as he saw the finish line inching closer and no one was edging close to him.

And then he stopped promising himself anything, because he was crossing over the finish line. He had won. He had won so many times, but this was the cap on his season. His flawless, flawless season.

He didn’t have to promise himself anything after that. Not when everyone in the Arena was screaming, and there was another heavy medal around his neck, and a team bodyguard was letting his family into the track so they could run over and greet him before he went for his interviews.

He didn’t have to promise himself he would remember this. There was no possible way he couldn’t.

 

********

 

Louis was only supposed to pop into the facility for a few things. He had to meet with Caroline, to accept handshakes and congratulations from a few people on the race the previous day, and to take his practice clothes to the facility cleaners.

Those things only took half an hour. But he was just about ready to get his phone out and text Harry that he would be on his way home soon when he heard a voice calling his name.

“Racer Tomlinson?”

He lifted his head and saw an unfamiliar girl walking towards him, her heels leaving a steady beat on the tile hallway.

“Yes?”

 

Oh, good, you’re still here,” she smiled, “I’m from Mr. Caldwell’s office, he wants to see you,”

“Oh,” Louis said, tucking his phone back into his pocket, “Alright, then,”

He followed the girl down the hallway and back into a private set of stairs, which led into the section of the building that held the team administrators’ offices. Louis had only been back here a handful of times; after he had been accepted to the team and a couple other random times after that for press photo ops. When they reached the final hallway, he could see the walls on either side of them were lined with awards and pictures of the team, and at the very top of the hallway there was a framed collection of the various Cross showcases from the last few years. Louis’s eyes flickered to his own cover, and then he looked forward, to where the girl was holding the door open for him.

“I’ll just let him know you’re here,” she said once they were inside the waiting room. She strolled past the expensive leather chairs and gleaming wooden reception desk and instead opened the door at the back of the room, poking her head in. A moment later, she was skittering back, going straight to the reception desk to sit down, because the door was opening and Caldwell was strolling into the waiting area, his arms out.

“There he is,” he grinned, “How are we today, Louis?”

Louis swallowed thickly, a bit taken back to hear his first name being used anywhere in the building, before remembering that if anyone could do so, it was the man in front of him.

“I’m fine,” he answered, and soon Caldwell was coming over to firmly wrap an arm around his shoulders.

“Well, I’m glad I could catch you,” he said, despite the fact they both knew that even if Louis was in the middle of the freeway on his bike, he would make a U-turn to get back to the facility if he got a call saying Caldwell wanted him to come in, “Come on in, I’ll get you a drink,”

Louis was led by Caldwell’s firm grip into the office. The space was massive; not that that was a surprise. The entire room was surrounded with windows bracketed with thick drapes that offered a full view of the city. There was a large desk with a high back chair at the back of the room, and then a full minibar in one corner of the room. In the center of one wall there was an electric fireplace, and it front of it there were two leather couches seated on a Persian rug. But the thing Louis couldn’t quite look away from was the gleaming and dangerous looking motorcycle that was parked a few feet away from Caldwell’s desk.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” Caldwell asked. He had made his way across the room towards the minibar but he was still stealing glances at Louis, observing him as he looked at the bike, “A Dodge Tomahawk. First rolled out fourteen years ago and it’s still one of the fastest bikes ever produced. Only nine have ever been purchased,”

“Impressive,” Louis managed, trying to chase away his thoughts that a thing like that deserved to actually be on the road, not sitting like a prize in a penthouse office.

“Thank you,” Caldwell said, “Now go on, grab one of the couches. You drink this early?”

“I’ll have to ride home, so eventually no,” Louis said, managing a laugh as he looked away from the bike.

“Smart boy,” Caldwell laughed. Louis took a seat on one of the couches, stretching one arm over the back of the seat and crossing his legs loosely, trying to make himself look as comfortable and at ease as possible. In another moment, Caldwell was coming over, offering him a crystal glass full of seltzer water, and Louis took a small sip. Caldwell didn’t sit down, but instead stayed standing, his hand leaning on the back of the other couch as he watched Louis.

“I’m sure you know why you’re here,” Caldwell smiled easily.

Louis sort of did. It was the end of the season, and even though the last race had just wrapped up yesterday, it made sense that Caldwell would be talking to him about the Prix. But what could he say to that? Was he supposed to be humble? Flustered? Completely sure of himself?

“I have an idea,” Louis provided, and it made the other man laugh. Louis tried to school his expression, and finally, Caldwell stopped long enough to fix him with a pleasant gaze.

“Well, I suppose we can get right to it,” he said, “You’ll be representing the United Kingdom at the Grand Prix in a few weeks,”

Louis inhaled sharply, and even though he tried to keep his face steady, he finally felt himself smile.

“Thank you,” he managed, “Thank you, sir,”

“No, thank you,” Caldwell returned, “Easiest damn decision I’ve ever made. The closest one to you in time for this season was Delevingne, and even then there’s a world of difference in time and place. And I mean, Jesus, am I supposed to turn my nose up at a golden season?”

“Just – thank you,” Louis repeated, “Really, thank you,”

This was the end goal of his entire career, but he couldn’t say that out loud. I wouldn’t. He could be thankful but not desperate, not groveling. Racer Tomlinson didn’t grovel.

Caldwell just smiled again, and Louis took another drink, trying to figure out why they needed a full meeting for one announcement, even one as massive as this.

“I guess – did you want to talk about my training, then?”

“Oh, no. I trust you and your trainers with that. I wanted to talk about something a bit more, well, big picture,”

“Big picture,” Louis parroted, partially out of surprise and partially because he knew powerful men often liked to have their own words echoed back to them.

“Yes,” Caldwell confirmed, “As you know, it’s been several years since our team took first at the Prix. A few second places. Plenty of third, fourth, fifths. Impressive, surely. But not first,”

“Right,” Louis said. He was perfectly aware of all of this, of course.

“Truthfully, I saw as much coming in the last few years. Connor was wonderful in his season last year. And Racer Katherine, before him, lovely girl,” Caldwell said. He had started walking now, strolling leisurely around his office, “But you…you were always something else,”

“Thank you,” Louis managed.

“Yes, something else,” Caldwell grinned, “Unpolished, certainly, in the beginning. A diamond in the rough. A very rare, lovely diamond in the rough, but still in need of some work,”

He turned, then, and spread his arms out, “And now, you’re dazzling,”

Louis managed another weak thanks and then licked his lips out of the pure need for something to do. What the fuck was he talking about?

“I believe you can bring us back to the top,” Caldwell smiled, steadily strolling back across the couches, “Imagine that, a perfect golden season topped by gold at the Prix,”

“I’ve imagined it,” Louis admitted, and the man only grinned wider.

“I have no doubt you have,” he nodded. His expression hardened, but Louis could see the superficiality behind it. His boss wasn’t suddenly sobered by a random thought; there was something he was leading up to.

“There’s something else, though,” Caldwell said. He was leaning on the back of one of the couches again, “I’m not sure if I should tell you,”

“Go on,” Louis said. He didn’t have a choice, really, but might as well.

“Well, I’m not sure if you’re aware,” Caldwell said, “But there have been…rumblings amongst the higher-ups,”

“Higher than you, sir?” Louis asked. A little stroking of ego never hurt.

Caldwell chuckled, shrugging.

“Oh, yes. As in, the directors of the European Racing League,” he said, “But more over, though, the Equal Opportunity League of England,”

Louis kept his expression neutral, unsure of how he should react to that name. By the clear disgust in Caldwell’s voice, it was meant to be something revolting. The League handled most of the gender discrimination cases in the country – they were the ones behind the original Omega Marches in the sixties, had gotten arrested in droves for their organized ribbon burnings a decade later, and now still found plenty of trouble, although they stayed neutral and formal now, all lawsuits and petitions.

Louis didn’t have to say anything, though, because Caldwell was still talking.

“Certain members of the League seem to believe that, for some reason, the team is slipping due to gender inequality. That of all things, we should welcome betas back into the professional leagues as a solution to our problems,” Caldwell turned, fixing Louis with an even gaze, “You’re not old enough to remember the Beta Leagues, are you, Louis?”

“No, sir,” Louis managed. It was true enough. He’d just turned one when his father had gotten into that infamous brawl, and the Leagues were completely dissolved by the time he was two. Of course, that hadn’t stopped him from hearing stories and watching tapes, especially when his mum finally told him who his dad was.

“Well, they were a mess. Brawl filled and messy and boring when you took all that away. The only entertaining thing about them was watching them rip each other to shreds,” Caldwell shook his head, “Not that I have anything against betas, mind you. I just believe everyone has their place, and theirs is not on the track,”

“Right,” Louis said, keeping his voice as neutral as possible. He didn’t known Caldwell personally – no one did, really – but it wasn’t a surprise he was a traditionalist. Radical views rarely got anyone far in such an elite industry.

“Obviously, I want to ensure that doesn’t happen. If they bring in extra regional and even national teams, that cuts up the funding, and suddenly you’re funneling money into something that barely has any entertainment value and doesn’t do anything to uphold the sport,” he said, “For God’s sake, they used to give betas racers’ titles. It was disrespectful to the sport,”

Louis thought absently that Caldwell had probably never gotten on a bike in his life and definitely didn’t know the first thing about earning the privilege of having “Racer” tacked onto the front of your name, but that was a fight he wasn’t about to pick.

“I mean,” Caldwell shook his head, “If we let betas back in, a few years from now, they might allow goddamn omegas on motorcycles. I mean, can you imagine?”

Louis forced himself not to swallow, not to let his expression change in the slightest aside from a small crease of his eyebrows.

“I can’t,” he finally said, the words sticking to his throat, “But I’m still lost, what does this have to do with me?”

“Right. Of course,” Caldwell said. He stood up a bit straighter, and then he was strolling easily to Louis, until he was right in front of him, “It has everything to do with this Prix, Louis. If you win this, it’s a brilliant thing for us to have in our belt. A definite sign that alphas can take a season just fine. It would take a decent amount of wind out of the sails of the equal rights activists, and with a bit of negotiating, we get to have the league the way we want it,”

Caldwell smiled at Louis with absolutely no light behind his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he said, in a tone that suggest he was not sorry in the slightest, “I’ve overwhelmed you,”

“No, no,” Louis managed, swallowing again, “I understand. It makes…sense,”

Louis blinked once, trying to ignore the rolling of his stomach as he saw the way Caldwell was gazing down at him.

What would you do if you knew what I was? He thought. I know you’ve paid for three different omegas in the past. Would you spit in disgust or arrange your finances to purchase a new diamond for your collection?

 

“Excellent,” Caldwell said, and finally he stepped back and took a sip of his drink, “I didn’t want to put any additional pressure on you, of course. But I have a feeling you won’t let me down,”

“I’ll do my best,” Louis managed, forcing himself to stand up.

“Knowing you, your worst would still be enough to give us a victory,” Caldwell said, trailing after Louis as he walked to the office door, “You know, I think you have another impressive season in front of you next year. Maybe even a second Prix,”

“Maybe,” Louis allowed, trying to keep his voice neutral. It only made Caldwell laugh.

“Modesty is a good look on many people, Louis. Not you. Embrace your talents,” he smiled easily, and then tilted his head to the side, “You’re not mated, are you, Louis?”

“No, sir,” Louis said a bit too quickly, “Not yet,”

“Seeing anyone?”

Louis swallowed, his stomach rolling unpleasantly, “Training doesn’t leave much room for dating,”

“I see,” Caldwell said, “Well no pressure, of course, but it would look nice to see you around next year with an omega on your arm. Just to bring home the point,”

Right. Bringing home the point that tradition continued to reign on the track.

“Right,” Louis said weakly, “I’ll…work on that,”

He twisted t