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Sweeter Than Strings

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If he cranes his neck and stands on his toes just the slightest bit, he finds the most unobstructed view across the crowded room. Granted, he’s also relying on the hope that the guy in front of him keeps his head tilted a few inches to the left, like it is now.

“Do you reckon eye sex is like, a real thing?”

The guy—Fernando, is his name—looks a little confused from what Louis can tell in his limited peripheral vision, since he’s still got his eyes set fixedly forward. “What do you mean?” He asks.

He keeps angling his shoulders toward Louis, his whole body turning every time Louis moves so much as an inch. It’s quite annoying, actually. So is his voice, and his boring straight hair, and the stupid shoes he keeps stepping on Louis’ toes with.

“I mean, I stared down this woman who was trying to sit on the same park bench as me the other day, and I didn’t think it felt all that sexual at the time, but what if, like, it counted and I just didn‘t act on it, so it wasn’t official?” He asks absentmindedly, standing up a little straighter against the wall that he’s been backed into for the last twenty minutes to see if it gets him an even clearer line of vision.

And, yep, he can see right over the group of girls piled on the sofa in the middle of the room and straight to the pair of people at the opposite wall. He smiles quietly, keeping his eyes locked there and taking a long sip from the plastic cup he’s had cradled in his hands all night.

“So, then, you wanted to fuck her, that‘s why you were staring?” Fernando is asking him.

“What? No, ew, she was like, a mum,” Louis says, sparing him a disparaging glance before returning his attention over his shoulder. “Had a little stroller and everything. Would’ve been a bit inappropriate to ravage each other right in the open, don‘t y‘think, mate?”

When he just feels more imposing hot breath against his hair instead of an answer, Louis continues, muttering something like, “here, though… ” quietly to himself, keeping his gaze steady on the carefully disheveled dark brown hair, the long line of a slim torso, the fucking blazer, and the bright eyes—green, maybe, he can’t tell from here—that’ve been playing this game with him for the better part of an hour.

With that, he gives Fernando a little head shake and a small smile, ducking out from under his arms with a sympathetic shoulder pat. He looks just a little bit crushed as he watches him go, and Louis feels just a little bit bad, before he catches a flash of a dimple appearing in the grin of the guy across the room, and all his guilt is swept away in that wave of want.

And really, the bloke can’t help that he’s got a name like Fernando, anyway.

Near where he thinks the kitchen is, he finds the girl he recognizes as the one in his Tuesday morning lecture, who invited him to what she had said would be a ‘small get-together‘. Her name is lost somewhere in the sea of alcohol and ugly trainers and wandering eyes that is Louis‘ train of thought right now, so he just waves enthusiastically as she shoves past a few people and leaps forward, greeting him with open arms and a loud, slightly unsteady cheer of, “Lewisss!”

“Hey, erm—hey!” He says as she pulls him into a half-hug, she feels quite warm and smells quite a lot like perfume and whatever he’s heard being referred to as ’magic punch’ all night. Louis’ had several cups of it, so far he’s only been able to pick out the taste of whiskey and coke and something inexplicably and disgustingly peppermint-flavored.

“Are you having a good time, Lewis?” She slurs, pursing her lips and gripping his shoulder tightly with one arm, then fluttering a single long-lashed eyelid down to a wink for no discernable reason. Louis smiles, remembering that yes, he does like her quite a bit from the limited conversations they’ve had—mostly concerning the state of their professor’s toupee and whether or not he gets it made from actual raccoon tails.

Louis nods. “Yeah, buzzing. Hey,” he answers quickly, then glances across the room again, dropping his voice even though he can hardly hear himself think over the loud music blaring from what must be the heavens or something, since Louis has yet to see a single speaker or stereo anywhere in the building.

He turns her shoulders a bit in the right direction and tilts his head, probably not very subtly. “Who’s that, over there?” He asks, adding, “with the blazer,” when he sees her eyes dart around to fifteen different people.

Ohhhh,” she says, peeking curiously around Louis’ head once more before tucking her chin down to shout into his ear in a way he’s sure seems inconspicuous to someone in her state. He thought he was pretty drunk, but clearly not enough. “He came with a friend of mine,” she continues, then whispers the last bit like a secret, “a band mate.”

Louis tears his eyes from the guy—who’s now discussing something intently with the only person Louis’ noticed him talking to all night; a set of cheekbones and dark hair in a leather jacket, who appears to be pinching the guy’s cheek roughly now—to give her a look. “Band mate?”

She nods, then winks again. “Band mate,” she repeats lowly, and Louis nods approvingly, deciding he likes her even more now, since it would seem they have similar tastes.

They’re still wiggling their eyebrows conspiratorially at each other when they’re interrupted by a large beige-coloured figure appearing out of nowhere. Louis blinks and recognises it as a boy; scantily-clad in a seasonally-inappropriate vest and what looks like a plaid kilt. Louis’ new best friend lets go of his shoulders immediately with a loud, excited squeal when the guy jumps in front of them, arms held wide and barking like a rabid dog, two plastic cups matching Louis’ gripped in each of his fists.

“I thought you were Irish!” Louis’ ex-best friend is cackling, snatching the snapback from atop the guy’s blond head and fitting it over her own.

Louis takes that as his cue to leave, glancing back over his shoulder to make deliberate eye contact again, and then sauntering through the nearby doors into the kitchen.

It’s empty, which Louis presumes is because all of the alcohol seems to have been transferred to the other rooms of the house. There’s a lone, unlabeled bottle perched on top of the refrigerator, though, contents indiscernible through its dark glass. He reaches for it just as he hears the doors swing open quietly behind him.

Waiting a long moment, he composes his face casually before turning around.

His eyes are definitely green up close; bright and glassy in the dim kitchen light, and the lip he was biting as he watched Louis is an unholy shade of pink. He’s tall, too, Louis’ eyes catch long, dark-denim covered legs that he’d missed when his view was limited. Even his shoulders are broader when they aren‘t slumped back against a wall. Poor Fernando never had a chance, Louis thinks.

He holds up the mystery bottle, raising his eyebrows. “What d’you think the chances are that this is urine?”

The guy smiles, then hums seriously. “I’d reckon pretty high, from some of the stuff I’ve seen tonight.”

Yeah, not a chance in hell.

Louis opens the cap, brings the bottle to his nose to sniff, and then shrugs. The guy laughs, leans against one of the counters as Louis pours out enough to fill up the rest of his half-empty cup. Louis smiles at him as he takes another long sip, noticing that the guy’s own drink has disappeared, and he has both his hands shoved in the pockets of a coat he definitely wasn’t wearing a few minutes ago. Great. They’re both planning on leaving here soon, then.

“What’s your name?” He asks, and his voice is deep and slow. Not quite slurred, but he’s got this lazy, goofy kind of grin on his face that Louis recognises as one of blissful inebriation. He suspects he’s probably got his own to match right now.

Louis brings his drink to his mouth again before answering. “Peter,” he says, pauses before adding, “Peter Payne.”

The guy smiles and straightens up from the counter, taking a few steps closer until he’s almost towering over Louis, who’s still leaning back against the refrigerator door, or else he’s sure they’d be practically the same height. He stands up a little straighter all the same.

“You?”

“I’m Harry. Harry Styles.”

“That’s dumb,” is all Louis replies with, and his own grin, which Harry Styles returns with a throaty chuckle and a flash of a dimple.

And, okay, Louis decides that’s enough for him.

“I want to show you something,” he says then. Not his best, but this is a rare occasion where Louis feels like he might not to need to waste his precious energy and time on trying too hard. He thinks they’re probably just putting up the pretense of formality at this point, anyway.

“Yeah?” Harry says, and Louis nods slowly, then finally breaks eye contact for what feels like the first time since Harry entered the kitchen.

Downing the rest of his drink, he slides away from the refrigerator door and tosses the empty cup into the sink, where it clatters around the sides before settling upside down in the bottom as he walks past.

He looks back at Harry, jabbing his thumb towards the door with a short whistle. “C’mon then,” he says, and licks of the taste of alcohol from around his lips.

Harry follows him back into the main area, it’s still packed, but Louis sees his eyes flick to his friend with the leather jacket over in the corner, surrounded now by a small group of people.

“Do you need to say bye?” Louis asks, looking between them.

“I already did,” Harry says, lifting a hand to wave at the guy, who’s grinning over the shoulder of a pink-haired girl in a matching jacket.

“And you’ve already got your coat, too,” Louis teases. “How convenient.”

“I like coming prepared,” Harry counters easily and Louis smirks.

The house is just across from the edge of the university, Louis’ made much longer walks, when he’s been way farther gone than he currently is, but there’s still the lingering awkwardness, now that they’re alone—walking not quite side by side, but close enough that the air between them is buzzing with something different than it was just a minute ago, back inside. Louis keeps stealing glances over at Harry, who’s walking easily, hands still shoved in his coat pockets.

“Jesus Fucking Christ, it’s freezing,” Louis says to break the silence once they’ve crossed the main street to the residence halls around the perimeters of the campus. “Should be illegal to be this cold in October, really.”

“You’d miss it, though, wouldn‘t you?” Harry asks, looking like he‘s thinking hard on Louis‘ remark. “Say, if you lived somewhere without it? The cold and the snow and like, actual weather when there‘s supposed to be, wouldn’t you miss it?”

Hell no,” Louis says firmly. “Pack me up, move me to the Bahamas right now.”

“The Bahamas have hurricanes, though,” says Harry. “Like, a lot of hurricanes, I think.”

“Whatever.” Louis gives him a look. “Point is, I wouldn’t miss this for a second.”

Harry frowns. “I think I would,” he says quietly.

Louis eyes him skeptically, rubbing his hands up and down his bare arms. “It’s freezing,” he says again, for lack of anything more articulate.

“Do you want my coat?” Harry’s already reaching to take it off his shoulders when Louis looks over at him again and snorts.

“No, you’re okay.”

“You sure? I don’t mind.” Harry says, voice utterly concerned and stupidly sincere.

“I’m sure you don’t,” Louis says sarcastically. “But I assure you, what you’re trying to do is unnecessary here.” He gestures between the two of them.

“What’s that, then?”

“You’re trying to sweep me off my feet,” Louis says, with a smirk. “And I don’t need to be wooed, Harry Styles.” He picks up his pace, walking a few feet ahead of Harry on the narrow path between the residential halls.

Harry laughs, blushing a little when he pulls his jacket back around his middle. “I’m just trying to keep you warm, Peter, nothing else to it.” He shrugs indifferently.

Louis looks back, squinting his eyes at Harry. “Why are you calling me Peter?”

“That’s what you told me your name was,” Harry says, pauses when Louis breaks into a slow grin.

“Oh,” he says, thoroughly amused now. “I did tell you that, didn’t I?”

Harry stops walking abruptly. “Is that not your name?”

A tiny laugh escapes Louis’ lips. He bites it back, slapping a hand over his mouth.

Harry drops his jaw, raises his eyebrows and laughs, a little bewildered. “What is it, then? God, what d’you think, I’m some total creep so you’ve got to use a fake identity?” He asks, picking up his pace so he’s closer behind Louis, who’s walking backwards now, still snickering at the slightly offended look on Harry’s face.

“I haven’t really decided yet,” Louis says, straying off the sidewalk to skip a loop around a nearby tree. Harry catches up to him after a few more paces, cornering him against the tree. Louis looks up at him through his eyelashes.

“What is it?” Harry asks again, voice low.

“I’m Louis.”

In the street lamps, Harry’s eyes are almost translucent, just green-gold flecks swimming in the light, long shadows over the tops of his flushed cheeks from the sweep his eyelashes make. He smiles then. “Hi, Louis.”

Louis lets out another laugh at that for no reason, then ducks under the arm Harry’s got trapping him and takes off down the street.

“Wait!” Harry calls after him and when Louis looks around, he’s already tripping over his feet to keep up.

“We’re almost there!” He yells over his shoulder. He and Harry never actually discussed where they were headed, but Louis didn’t really think it necessary to state the obvious.

Harry chases him around the corner of the main entrance to the building, then through two corridors until they reach Louis’ room.

He can feel Harry’s breath hot in his hair as he fumbles with his key, finally getting it on the third try and then pushing the door open and stumbling inside.

“Where’s your roommate?” Harry asks, he‘s a little out of breath now, and eyeing the two currently empty twin-size beds set up on opposite sides of the room.

“Aiden? Oh… um, guess I left him back at the party?” Says Louis, biting his lip guiltily. “Whoops.”

He shrugs, Louis’d bet Aiden’s doing more or less the same thing he himself is right now, so he doesn’t feel too bad for not telling him he was leaving.

Harry laughs and steps further into the room, looking around curiously. There’s not much to see, really, there’s about two feet of floor between them and the nearest piece of cheap furniture in any direction they turn. Louis watches him though, and he thinks Harry might be purposely training his eyes to not dart to the beds too often.

“So,” Harry starts after they’re both quiet for a moment. He lets his eyes fall on Louis then. “What did you want to show me?”

“Um—oh, right, yeah…” Louis catches up, then taps his pursed lips with his finger thoughtfully. “Oh, well, I got this paper back today, look.” He jumps over to his side of the room and grabs a stack of papers stapled together on top of his desk.

“Full marks,” Harry reads, taking it when Louis holds it out to him

“Yep.” Louis says, holding back a smirk.

Harry nods with raised eyebrows, looking impressed, then lifts his eyes slowly to meet Louis’ and lets the paper slip through of his slack fingers.

Louis’ grin widens wickedly as his eyes follow it down.

Oops.” Harry whispers as it flutters to the ground, and Louis is laughing still when he ducks down and closes the inches between them.

It’s kind of a filthy for a first kiss. It’s kind of filthy and kind of uncoordinated—with teeth clinking and lips searching for the right fit—and Louis thinks, kind of amazing.

Harry’s coat is off almost immediately, hitting the carpets with a dull thud as Louis grips his T-shirt and backs them up the few paces to his bed. He pushes Harry down and climbs on top of him, kicking off his shoes as Harry fumbles to do the same while still cupping Louis’ face with both hands, fingers scratching through his hair.

Louis sits back on Harry’s thighs to tug at the hem of his shirt until Harry gets the hint and helps him pull it over his head. He just has time to spot the black-inked lines of tattoos littering Harry’s skin before he’s pushing himself up on his elbows and pulling Louis back down by the shoulders to meet him halfway, biting at his lips, then his jaw, hands spanning Louis’ sides and pushing his shirt higher and higher until Louis straightens up again and shucks it off.

“God, you’re really fit,” Harry says, dropping back onto the mattress once Louis’ shirt is on the floor, then bites his lip like he hadn’t meant to say it out loud.

Louis smirks and braces his hands over Harry’s flat stomach, feels the muscles jump under his fingers when he rocks forward on his hips. He gives a little disapproving tut, starts to say, “is that another attempt at wooing me, Harry Styles? Because if it is then I’m—” and is cut off abruptly when Harry slips a hand under his thighs, flipping them over on the mattress so quickly that Louis’ brain is still registering that he’s now staring at the ceiling when Harry surges up and connects his mouth to his throat.

Harry makes a low hum of approval against Louis‘ skin—or it might be a retort to the question he didn‘t let Louis finish, either way, he chooses to ignore it—when he cards his fingers into his hair, tugging gently with one hand and reaching the other out to the desk drawer right beside the bed. He pulls it back before he gets his fingers around the handle, though, instead slipping it into Harry’s hair alongside the other one as he feels Harry slide his own hands under Louis’ waistband, palming at the skin above his arse, making Louis groan. He stretches his neck back to look at the drawer again, considering.

It’s just that Louis’ probably had too much to drink—and probably, he thinks, so has Harry. Harry, who he met what had to have been less than an hour ago. Harry, who for all he knows could be a total creep, after all, and just be really good at hiding it so far. Harry, who Louis was told has some sort of vague association with a band and has tattoos under his arm, and who has just timed sinking his teeth into Louis neck perfectly with a long roll of his hips against Louis‘ crotch. He can feel the hard outline of Harry‘s dick even through the two layers of denim still separating them.

He reaches out one more time and pulls open the drawer with a little more force than he had intended.

“I—can you,” he mumbles to Harry, out of breath now as he pushes the handful of assorted junk he’s just grabbed blindly from of the bottom of the drawer into Harry’s chest. There’s a strip of condoms tangled in there somewhere. “You can—” he says when Harry draws back to look down at him with heavy eyes and shiny lips

He takes the condoms Louis hands him after extracting them from a tangled up rainbow-coloured slinky and a plastic bendy straw. “Yeah?” He asks quietly. He’s still grinding down idly onto Louis’ lap, biting down on his bottom lip and letting his eyes wander down Louis’ torso before locking back onto his face, questioning.

“Yeah,” Louis breathes, nodding, because yeah—he most definitely can.

They make quick work of the rest of their clothes, not bothering to pause for anything else now that there’s a clear goal here. Still, Harry’s hands are scratching up his back and kissing his neck distractedly as Louis cranes over the side of the bed, searching for the tube of lube he knows was thrown under there. God, he really ought to try and perfect the whole 'coming prepared' thing, too.

Harry runs his hand down Louis’ side, finds his hip and squeezes right below it.

Louis makes an impatient noise as he turns over. “Are you finished, then?”

Harry huffs a laugh, dragging his hands up Louis‘ chest now. “No, not quite,” he says, then eyes the tube that’s now in Louis' hands. “I’ll do it, yeah?”

“Okay, yeah,” Louis says and Harry takes it, slicking his fingers before clicking the cap shut and tossing it next to them on the bed. He bends over, cold fingers running lightly down the inside of Louis’ thigh, pushing it out as he goes, and then landing a gentle pinch at the soft skin under the dip of his arse, making Louis jump with a sound that comes out much too high-pitched to fit the mood.

He composes himself and then hums, whispers into Harry‘s ear, “I don’t think I like you very much,” and Harry laughs again, low and raspy against Louis’ shoulder.

“I’m okay with that,” he says as he moves his hand in until he’s right where Louis needs him to be, sitting back on his heels and hitching Louis’ thigh up before sinking one long finger in, working it past his knuckles easily.

He’s studying Louis’ face instead of what his hand is doing, and Louis feels his mouth go a little dry as he watches Harry’s eyes go dark and glassy, staring down at him like—Louis doesn’t know what—not like he usually gets looked at when he does this, and not like he usually gets looked at by someone he’s just met. It’s almost enough to sober him up, let him think fully for the first time in what feels like hours.

He’s still okay with this, though, when he feels his mind clear a fraction; still okay with the way Harry’s fitting another finger alongside the first, his other hand spanning Louis’ stomach as he does, hot when it presses into the skin there, making Louis relax back onto the mattress, his breath evening out in time with the shallow thrusts of Harry’s fingers.

“I don’t usually do this,” Harry says suddenly, and Louis tries to keep his eyes open long enough to register his quiet words.

“Don’t—“ He breathes out, then, a little more alert, “oh, Jesus, are you straight?” He doesn’t know why he’s whispering. Incase the fucking pillows might hear, maybe.

Harry‘s eyes widen. “What, no!” He hisses, and then a little calmer, eyebrow quirked dubiously, “you usually lure straight guys half-way across campus and into bed with you, do you?”

Louis waves a hand airily. “It’s been known to happen,” he gets out, a little broken at the end when Harry’s fingers twist up, dragging expertly inside of him, and Louis drops his head back, moves a hand down his stomach to stroke himself lightly, watching Harry’s face again as he does.

“Do you need another?” He asks, and his eyes are focused still, unblinking.

“I dunno, do I?” Louis challenges, biting back the sounds that threaten to escape him when Harry scissors his fingers again.

“Yeah, maybe.” There’s no slyness there, but Louis still narrows his eyes, shakes his head stubbornly.

“Nope, I’m good,” he says quickly, tapping Harry’s hip with his toe. “C’mon, then, Harry Styles. Have at it.”

Harry laughs—he’s always laughing, even as he’s rolling the condom on and settling between Louis’ legs again, hand coming up under his knee.

Louis slips an ankle around Harry’s middle as he leans over him, pushing into him slowly until they‘re flush against each other.

Fuck,” Louis breathes out, hands sliding up Harry’s arms to grip at his shoulders, holding him there.

“Okay?” Harry asks then, quiet and tentative, and Louis fights back the urge to laugh at that—at the fact that he could be asked a question like that right now, when he’s so okay he thinks he might explode from it, from the stretch of Harry inside of him, from the white-hot pleasure searing through him in the best way possible. Instead he arches into it, urging Harry on with his mouth at his throat, and Harry moves, picking up pace and biting back moans into Louis’ hair.

He feels like sounds are being pushed past his lips every time Harry rocks into him, and he hears his breath, hot against Louis’ cheek until Harry drops down to one elbow to kiss him again, other hand digging fingers into Louis’ waist, probably pressing bruises there that will turn into long, narrow shapes, purple-coloured by morning.

Harry’s moving faster now, with more purpose, hitching Louis up the mattress by fractions each time they move together. Louis doesn’t know if it’s the alcohol or the anticipation for this that he’s had all night, but he can feel Harry everywhere. Can feel his hands every time they move to grip a different space of skin, his arms, bearing him down on the mattress, his lips covering Louis’, dragging across his cheek to mouth at the skin under his ear.

When Harry comes, rhythm stuttering and eyes squeezed shut, he keeps his hips pressed firmly into Louis, snaking fingers between them to cover the hand Louis has fisted over his own cock so their fingers are interlocked, pulling long strokes together, making Louis groan as he thrusts into their hands.

C’mon,” Harry breathes into Louis’ jaw, then arches up to connect their lips again, muttering into them between messy kisses.

And then Louis’ coming, too—over Harry’s fist and across his own stomach, breathing hot and open-mouthed against Harry’s lips, his hand going slack as Harry works him through it.

He lets go of Louis with slippery fingers, easing out of him finally, gently, reaching down to blindly peel off the condom and toss it away.

“Have you got anything?” He asks, straightening up after a long moment. He looks unsure of where to put his hand, holding it palm up in mid-air as to not ruin the sheets, Louis presumes. He wants to tell Harry that he doesn’t really mind, that these sheets are from the bargain bin at a Tesco in Yorkshire, but he’s kind of enjoying the look on his face too much for that.

Instead, he relieves Harry by gesturing to the floor. “Under the bed, there’s tissues,” he says, voice cracking, chest still rising and falling heavily as his heart rate slows.

Harry bends over the side of the bed, comes up a moment later with a box of tissues. He pulls out a couple for himself, then hands the box to Louis, who cleans up the mess streaking his stomach and chest, running a hand through his hair to wipe sweat off his forehead.

Once he’s thrown them in the bin next to the desk, Harry ducks down again, pulling up a bag of crisps that he must have spotted there as well.

Louis gives his best indignant snort. “Help yourself,” he says, to which Harry laughs again, ripping open the bag with his teeth and offering one to Louis with a smug eyebrow raise. Louis rolls his eyes pointedly first, and then reaches a hand into the bag.

It should be very weird, he thinks, that Harry is still in his bed. Weirder even, that he’s helping himself to Louis’ food and lying back next to him, pulling the bed sheets up over the both of them like he has no immediate plans to put his clothes back on. He remembers what Harry had said, about not doing this often, wonders if by this he just meant going home with random blokes at parties. If that’s the case, he guesses Harry probably wouldn’t know that most people might have left by now. Louis would have left by now.

It’s a few more moments of comfortable silence—Harry humming happily, absently staring at the ceiling as he chews—before Louis realises how cold it is in the room, almost as cold as it was outside, he guesses; he has goose pimples rising everywhere but along his left side, where Harry’s pressed up against him still. He realises then that he doesn’t care all that much that Harry hasn’t left yet. It’s nice, actually. So he turns toward him on his side, locks his ankles around Harry’s calves, just incase he decides to.

Harry turns his head on the pillow they’re now sharing and smiles quietly, crumbs dusting the edges of his mouth that Louis has the sudden urge to taste.

“That guy you were standing with—before.” Louis asks. “Did you go to the party with him?” For some reason it comes out as a half-whisper, and it makes this seem much more intimate than it probably should feel. Than it normally feels. Again, Louis can’t find it in him to worry too much.

Harry’s shaking his head, talking through a mouth full of crisps, “Zayn? I went with him, but not as like—we're just friends," he says. "Just really good friends."

The longer he‘s been around him, the more Harry seems to be talking, saying more than one sentence at a time and Louis likes it, wants to coax more out of him, just to hear the way they‘re falling out so slowly from Harry’s mouth and vibrating against the pillow when they reach him. "Have you known him long, Zayn?”

Squinting one eye, Harry stares at the ceiling for a moment like he's trying to recall. "Forever, it seems like. Since we were kids. Twelve, thirteen, maybe?" He laughs, a little shyly, like maybe he thinks he's letting Louis down by not naming the exact time and date.

Louis shifts so he's facing Harry fully. "Is he your best mate, then?" He asks to his profile, watches Harry nod.

"Him and Niall," he says to the ceiling. "He’s always saying me and Zayn don’t have enough fun, so he insisted we go out tonight. As like, a kind of celebration, or something. I guess.”

“What’s not to celebrate on a Friday night in the middle of the term, after all?” Louis jokes.

Harry makes a sound. “Yeah. Anyway, he taught me how to play guitar the summer after year eight when we met, Niall did. I remember that."

"Oh, yeah?" Louis' remembering what he'd learned earlier, before going into that kitchen. He props his weight on his elbow, looking down at Harry with interest. "You any good?"

"Utter shite, really," Harry responds, turning his head so Louis can see his dimple again when he grins in what he expects is a politely self-deprecating way. "Complete and utter shite. But that's why we've got Niall, yeah, makes us all look a hundred times better. I just like, stand there and try to keep up with him. Sing some words every once in a while."

"So... You're in a band, then?" Louis notices he's fully leaning over him now, he can see the hair above Harry’s ears flutter a little when he speaks.

"Yeah, the three of us, we're a band."

Louis’ grin widens. “Are you really famous?" He asks, crossing his fingers close to his chest hopefully. "Oh, please let me tell Aiden that I fucked a proper rock star tonight.“

Harry barks a laugh at that. "No such luck, 'm afraid," he says, giving an exaggerated sigh, like he's let down by this information as much as Louis is pretending to be.

Sitting up on his knees, Louis shrugs. “Future rock star’s good enough for me.” He looks around the room thoughtfully, bouncing a bit as he leans back on his ankles. “Don’t suppose you’d let me take a few pictures, would you? I’ll contact your people before I sell them to the papers, obviously, so you’re prepared and everything. We could time it with like, the start of your second word tour, even!” He adds cheerfully.

"I don't think they‘ll be worth more than the bins the papers’ll get tossed in, " Harry admits, grinning amusedly still. "We're just messing around, really. It's just for fun." He shrugs, looking down at his hands, which are folded across his stomach.

"I don't think that's true," Louis says. Smiling, he leans down close to Harry again, voice still lower than necessary, considering there's no one around to hear them. "I think you’re one of them kids who had dreams about selling out arenas, yeah?” He continues, nodding as he thinks about it. “And planned all the answers you’d give on those late night chat shows, probably. Won all the talent shows at school, too, I bet… Drew pictures of you and the Queen shaking hands, even. Hung them next to your posters of Lennon and I don’t know, Mick Jagger—Your idols.”

He’s teasing, because that’s what he does, but Harry’s got this small smile playing around his mouth, staring unblinkingly up at Louis. He thinks he sees something bright, indiscernible, flash across Harry’s features before it’s gone. “Yeah, I think you’d like that, Harry Styles.” He finishes, almost a whisper now.

Harry breaks into a slow grin, spreading across his face until it meets his eyes, which he rolls sarcastically. "Right, that'd be a sight—the three of us in the middle of a fucking arena,” he laughs, but It's still there, the way Louis can tell he’s not letting himself take the words too seriously, the way he’s trying, and failing, to keep his face indifferent. It makes the corners of Louis' mouth twitch down a little, but he's not going to press.

"A three person band is weird," he says instead. "What’re you guys like, Green Day or something?"

Harry laughs again. "No, we're not like Green Day," he says, putting a hand under his head on the pillow. "And It's not that weird, the White Stripes are only two people."

Louis settles back against the wall, pulling the corner of the bed sheet up to insure he's respectably covered. Modesty, and all that.

"Yeah, but one of them's a girl," he points out, picking up the crisp bag where Harry's left it next to his head and waving one it front of him before popping it in his mouth matter-of-factly. "You've got a girl, it ups your cool factor like, like—I don't know, a lot."

Harry hums, his other hand is resting on the knee of the leg Louis has thrown over his torso now, his fingers curving to fit the shape. "You know any girls who might be up for it? Ones who play an instrument, obviously."

"Obviously." Louis purses his lips, pretending to consider. "Know a set of twins who play some sick clarinet," he says and Harry raises an eyebrow, nodding contemplatively. Louis notices he seems to be holding back a smile with some difficultly.

"They‘re really good, come as a pair, of course. Could be difficult to introduce the clarinet into the mainstream market, though. Also, they're eight years old. So that might pose a problem or two."

"We could probably work around it. No gigs on school nights, or something." Offers Harry.

"Sure," Louis agrees, nodding. "There's just one other problem.”

"What's that?"

Pushing away from the wall, he climbs over Harry on the mattress, knees bracketing his thighs, a hand balanced on either side of his head. "You'll have to get their big brother's blessing first.” Louis says as he looms over him.

Harry smiles up at him a moment, face thrown into dark shadow, before saying, "should be easy.”

"I dunno. Heard he's a mean bloke, yeah? Proper terrifying and all that. Pretty much everyone I know is afraid of him, actually.”

"Doubt that,” Harry counters easily.

"Yeah, they say he’s real tall and intimidating. Great biceps, is what they tell me. Like, pretty sure he wins awards for them. Gold medals,” he continues, settling down so he's lying flush along the firm line of Harry's body, toes curling against his ankles. "Giant dick, too. So I’ve heard." He shrugs and folds his hands on Harry’s chest, resting his chin there to look up at him.

“I think I can take him,” Harry says and Louis shrugs again.

“Suit yourself.”

They’re quiet for a few minutes, and then Louis thinks of something.

He looks at Harry, cocks his head to the side. "How‘d you end up at that party tonight?

“I told you, Niall wanted to celebrate. He knows the girl who’s house it was, she invited him.”

“Right,” says Louis. “But do you all take classes here, too?”

"Yeah,” Harry says, and then shakes his head. “I mean, no—I was. I'm, um, I’m taking a break, though. For a little while."

Louis frowns. "Do they just let you do that?"

Lifting a shoulder, Harry doesn't elaborate. His hands have moved to rest in the dip of Louis' waist, holding him steady on top of him. After a moment he asks, "what do you do? Here, I mean."

Louis turns his head to the wall. "Uh, I write, kind of.”

"What d'you write?"

“Stuff." Says Louis.

"What kind of stuff?" Harry asks, then, "will you read me some?"

Grinning, Louis shakes his head timidly. "Nope."

Harry‘s brow creases. "Why not?"

"Too shy," Louis answers, hiding his face against Harry's chest. He feels it shake a little when Harry laughs.

"Right,” he says. "Shy little Louis. Had about ten people trying to take him home tonight, by the looks of it, but he can’t even work up the courage to read one of them a bedtime story.”

Louis gives a short laugh and reaches a hand to tug Harry's hair half-heartedly. "Maybe another time,” he mumbles, keeping his head down, so he doesn’t have to see what Harry’s response may be to that. Because sure, he’s still lying in Louis’ bed, and his breath smells like Louis’ secret stash of snack food, and his thumb is drawing tiny shapes over the skin above Louis’ hip. But that doesn’t mean that this is anymore than what it is. What it was supposed to be, anyway.

He pushes himself up from Harry’s chest after it’s quiet for a moment, sliding his hands down the length of Harry’s arms until he reaches his hands, locking their fingers together and bringing them up until Harry’s arms are stretched above his head and pinned down against the pillows. Harry’s scanning Louis’ face as he stares up at him, and Louis thinks he looks a little lost, like he’s fighting with something internally. Louis can’t figure why that would be, so he doesn’t say anything.

They stay like that for a minute—Louis thinks he can hear muffled noises coming from the corridors outside; far away conversations and drunk snickering of people returning from their own nights—and then Harry swallows, seems to decide something.

“Maybe I could play you something, too.” He says, almost a whisper. “Another time.”

“Okay.” Louis’ still got his fingers stapled in between Harry’s when he pulls himself up to look down at him properly again.

He‘s gorgeous, is the thing—even in just the narrow slice of moonlight coming through the shades thrown over Louis' window—and it's just, Louis usually makes it a priority to find people like this. They attract him like magnets, really; people who are witty, but not obnoxiously so, people who are effortlessly appealing and quietly interesting. The fact that Harry's got this pale skin and these swollen pink lips and is a singer in a fucking band, on top of all of that, just makes him seem all the more unreal.

"How come I’ve never met you before?" Louis asks him, his voice sounds hoarse.

Harry‘s eyes are still searching, Louis can feel them flicking and stopping at his mouth, his eyes, where his hair is certainly sticking up all wonky on the side of his head. "I told you, I don't get out much,” he says simply.

Louis wonders if that's really it, the only reason this—whatever this is—is happening now instead of any other night. Like if Harry had just been invited to a few more stupid house parties then Louis might've spent the last months—even years learning everything about him, more than just who his friends are and what instrument he plays in his spare time.

And that should be weird, right, that he suddenly has this desire to know what Harry’s voice sounds like in the daytime, dead-sober, or what he is—or was, apparently—studying in school, or what kinds of toppings he takes on his fucking pizza. Louis’ brain seems to be accepting that he wants these things out of a complete stranger easier than he thinks it has any right to be.

He ducks down then, pressing his lips to Harry’s, parting them easily with the tip of his tongue and Harry turns pliant underneath him, sighing into his mouth and opening his legs a bit to let Louis slip in between them. He rolls his hips a little then and feels Harry bite down hard on his bottom lip. So he does it again, pulling himself up by the hands he still has stretched above them to get a better angle, moving in little circles until they’re both making quiet sounds against each others lips.

Harry tilts his head back to break it after a minute, breathing heavy, and Louis presses his mouth under Harry‘s jaw instead. With what seems like some difficulty, Harry cranes to see the clock on the edge of Louis’ desk.

"It's getting late," he says. His voice sounds strained now, verging just the slightest bit on breathless.

Louis' own breath hitches when he shifts down. He can feel Harry half-hard, brushing against his hip. "It is," he affirms, lips on Harry's throat.

"Listen, do you mind if I sleep here," he gets out as Louis works on sucking a bruise into his neck. "I haven't really got—" he pauses, seems to give up on finishing that sentence, instead arching a fraction off the mattress, moaning when Louis grinds down to meet him.

Squeezing Harry's fingers tighter above them, Louis shakes his head against his shoulder, enough to let Harry know he doesn't mind. He thinks that staying was probably the only option all night, anyway. Inevitable from the second they made it past the threshold of Louis' room.

He drags his mouth up the sharp line of Harry's jaw then, skimming his teeth over the skin, teasing. He stops just behind the shell of Harry's ear, and whispers there, "I’m gonna blow you first, though, okay?"

The way Harry drops his head back against the pillow, making a low noise in his throat that sounds entirely involuntary is enough of an okay for Louis, so he releases Harry's hands from his grip and slips under the sheets.

**

There’s warm sunlight spilling into Louis’ room, and what are probably robins chirping outside his window, and he definitely senses the smell of something freshly-baked somewhere in this building. It’s like the beginning of a bloody Disney movie, Louis reckons—except for the condom wrappers on the floor, and the pounding headache between his eyes, and the fact that the sheet covering the naked boy in his bed is resting a little too low on his bum to be considered family-appropriate.

He’s waited as long as he can, he really has, but now he’s fully dressed and has his bag packed, slung over his shoulder, and is bordering on late as well as being a very rude sleepover host if he doesn’t wake Harry up in the next five minutes.

He pokes a finger into his cheek and then springs his hand back quickly, too quickly it seems, because Harry doesn’t even flinch. Not when Louis does it again either, harder this time, and not even when he lets out a loud giggle at the snorting sound Harry unconsciously makes in his sleep when Louis pokes him on the tip of his nose.

Glancing at the clock on his desk, he takes a second to go over his options and then decides on carding his fingers through the matted hair at the top of Harry’s head and tugging gently, then a little harder, and Harry finally stirs.

Louis waits until he rolls over and blinks into at least semi-consciousness before he chimes, “G’morning!”

Harry has one eye still squinting closed against the little amount of sunlight streaming through the half-closed curtains, but he lifts one hand in a floppy wave, a lazy smile appearing as he does. The sheet has ridden even lower now, Louis notices.

“I thought I might’ve lost you, you know.” Louis laughs. “Was about to pull the fire alarm, or something drastic, like.”

“What time s’it?” Harry yawns, scrubbing a hand over his face and rubbing his eyes with his fists.

“It’s 8 am,” Louis tells him brightly. Harry grumbles and buries half his face into the pillow, Louis bites back the urge to giggle again.

“Why?” Is all Harry answers with, voice muffled slightly.

“I have class,” Louis says.

Harry groans again, rolls over and sits up slowly on the edge of the mattress, causing the sheet to slip even more.

He looks up at him. “You have class. At eight in the morning?”

“Well, eight-fifteen, but. Yeah.” Louis nods, smiling at the way one side of Harry’s face is pink where it was pressed against the pillow.

“On a Saturday?”

He shrugs. “It’s the only time they offer this class. The professor, though? He uses these little clip-arts in his presentations. And sometimes he brings us muffins, so it‘s actually not that bad.”

Harry shakes his head, laughing, and it’s low and raspy and sleepy and a lot of other things that are sure to distract Louis from learning about much of anything today.

He scratches his nose and eyes the sheets around Harry’s thighs one more time.

“Um, the class, though. It’ll be over by ten?” He says sheepishly, it comes out as a question, more tentative than he’d have liked.

Harry‘s smiling, though. Smirking, is more like it. Louis guesses that‘s what he deserves for managing to be fucking shy in front of a stark-naked boy lying in his own bed, for Christ’s sake.

“Kinda swept you off your feet, yeah?” Harry asks, grin widening by the second.

Louis rolls his eyes, laughing to show he is not at all amused by Harry‘s newly recovered cheekiness. “Whatever. I just thought I’d be a nice bloke, buy you a coffee or something, but—”

Kicking a foot out, Harry hits Louis’ shin with his toes and says, “I’d like that. A coffee or something.”

“Yeah, I figured you would.” Louis says smugly and Harry huffs out another sleepy laugh, rubbing at his eyes again. “There’s a shop, uh, near the bus stop on the other side of campus? I could write the address down, if—”

Harry shakes his head, yawns again. “I’ll find it. Erm, and just meet you there later, then? Once I’m presentable, or whatever,” he tells him, gesturing down to the sheet that’s barely covering him now, but still making no effort to pull it up.

“It’s a plan.” Louis doesn’t say date. Because it’s not, not really. It‘s just Louis being polite. Mostly. And anyway, he usually doesn’t go on first dates with someone he‘s already seen come. Twice.

He bends down to balance his hands on Harry‘s knees, leveling their faces. “I would probably kiss you right now, but I already smelled your morning breath,” Louis says, scrunching his nose.

Harry sniggers and leans back on his hands, smirking a little as he surveys Louis from the bed. “Can I watch you walk away, then?”

“Absolutely not.” Louis answers firmly, turning slowly to sashay the entire four and a half steps to the door. The effect is ruined just a bit when he trips over a pair of trousers still thrown on the floor from last night, but when he pauses before closing the door to throw an exaggerated wink over his shoulder, Harry’s still grinning from the bed.

It’s not until he’s halfway to the lecture hall that Louis realises he’s just left a near-complete stranger, naked and alone in his dorm room along with most of his belongings. There was something his mum always used to tell him when he was a kid, though—about good-looking people not needing to resort to crime. Yeah, that was probably it, Louis thinks, and decides he’s not too worried.

 

He skips out of the lecture a few minutes early to make the walk to the coffee shop and finds Harry there, sitting at a tiny table tucked away in the far corner, a coffee already in front of him. He stands when he catches sight of Louis waving through the crowd of people waiting to order.

“Oh good, you’re still fit,” Louis says brightly when he reaches him, throwing Harry a winning smile.

Harry laughs at that, spinning in a full circle and then giving Louis a little bow, which is ridiculous, in the middle of the positively packed shop. A few people eye them with concern, trying to discreetly put more space between them, but Harry looks utterly pleased with himself all the same. Louis wants to hug him.

He notices then that Harry’s in the same clothes as he was last night, coat pulled over a slightly wrinkly white T-shirt, the bottom of one pant leg tucked sloppily into the top of his boot. He wonders if Harry had stayed in Louis’ room until he left to meet him here. That should probably seem weird, too, but Louis brushes it off.

“Is this okay?” Harry asks, indicating the corner they’re being pushed further and further into every time the little bell at the door chimes with more customers. “This place is like, really popular, yeah?”

“It’s not usually this crowded,” Louis tells him, meeting Harry‘s eye and grinning as he says, “all probably a bunch of hung-over knobs, emerging from a wild night of reckless drinking and sex. Here‘s good,” he adds, dropping his bag over the back of a chair.

“Irresponsible, they are.” Harry smiles. “Are you going to order?”

Louis glances around, catches the eye of someone behind the counter and waves, then sits down across from Harry as he does the same. “No, they’ll bring it to me in a minute.”

Harry lifts an eyebrow. “You come here often, then?”

“A bit late for the chat up lines, honestly, Harry. And yeah, I come here very often.” Louis says. “Like, 20 hours a week. Extended shifts during Christmastime, though, because we get the gingerbread flavoring, which I think is completely vile—and probably illegal—but everyone here goes fuckin’ mad for it, so what‘re you gonna do?” He shrugs, bouncing a little in his chair and checking the counter again.

“You mean you work here?” Harry frowns down at his mug. “Bet an overpriced cappuccino tastes a lot better with an employee discount,” he mutters.

“I know, would’ve liked to act a proper gentleman for you and all that, too, if you‘d waited.” He tries to smile, but ends up stifling a yawn into his sleeve.

“Are you tired?” Harry asks, he’s already half-smirking.

Louis shakes his head, pushing his fringe out of his eyes. “Me? Nope, I always function best on a solid three hours of sleep and a wicked hangover.” He says. The truth is Louis usually tries to make it a point not to be awake more than twenty minutes before he has a steady flow of caffeine running through his system. He thinks he definitely should’ve sneaked a starter-cup on his way to class this morning, he’s already starting to feel restless just being in close-proximity to Harry’s cappuccino, and he mustn’t give in. His mother raised him to be stronger than that. Stronger than coffee.

Harry scoffs then. “Pretty sure it was your decision to pass up on the extra sleep?” He points out. “That slinky thing took an extra hour, at least—”

“—Liam Payne!” Louis interrupts—a little too relieved, probably—as someone finally approaches their corner with a tray and a set of mugs.

“Hi, Louis,” he greets them, setting Louis’ things down carefully in front of him.

Louis smiles wide up at him. “Liam’s my best friend,” he tells Harry brightly, pulling the mugs closer and starting to dig around in his coat pockets.

“Oh, yeah?” Says Harry, grinning at Liam, then looking between them; Louis, who’s nodding enthusiastically, while Liam shakes his head back and fourth, a little confused line appearing between his eyebrows.

“Um, I just started last week,” Liam says slowly, staring down at Louis. “We met three days ago?”

“An instant connection,” Louis adds cheerfully, giving Liam a fond pat on the elbow, despite his insistent head shaking.

“Okay, well. Enjoy,” Liam says as he backs away from their table, adding a, “nice to… Kind of meet you,” to Harry before he turns back to the front.

Harry’s sniggering into his cappuccino, Louis shrugs.

“It’s a work in progress. I’m not worried.” He waves a hand in the direction of Liam’s retreating back.

Harry peers across the table into Louis’ mugs. “You’re just having hot water? With a… Side of milk?”

Shaking his head, Louis finally extracts what he was searching for in his coat, holding a tea bag, still in its wrapper, up for Harry to see.

“They don’t make anything close to a proper cup here, so I bring my own. It’s actually tragic,” Louis says, genuine disappointment in his sigh. He gets upset sometimes just thinking about how he regularly accepts payment from an establishment like this, honestly.

He prepares the rest of his tea in comfortable silence, just the bustle of the people around them, the whirr of the machines every time someone at the front places an order. Harry seems to be looking around, taking it in, but Louis can feel his eyes flick to him every once in a while.

“So, listen,” he says suddenly, and Louis looks up, blowing steam off the surface of his mug. “I’m actually, um. I’m leaving.”

“Coffee that bad?” Louis smiles. “Do you want me to tell Liam he’s fired? I think I’ve got him well convinced I’m the one in charge of him here.” He turns in his chair, trying to spot Liam behind the queue crowding the front counter.

“No, it’s not Liam,” Harry interrupts. He sets his mug down, then puts his hands in his lap underneath the table. “I’m leaving London. And like, the country? I’m leaving the country.”

“You’re—oh,” says Louis. He stares at Harry across the table for a moment. “Um, but when?”

“On Monday.”

“Monday.” Louis frowns. “Monday?” He asks, trying to catch up, which in theory should be easy at the rate Harry speaks, but he’s still finding himself a little confused.

“It’s our manager,” Harry’s saying. “He knows people out in LA, people who could like, want to listen to us, and maybe more?” He pauses like he’s waiting for Louis to show he’s listening, so Louis nods. “Niall and Zayn, they think it’s a really good move, they’re excited. And I am, too, I just—I thought I should tell you that I…” He trails off, making a vague gesture that Louis can‘t really decipher the meaning of.

He has a feeling that Harry might be minimizing again, he thinks there must be people who are promising more than just listening for them to be up and moving to a whole different country. And he wants to tell Harry that, that they must be really talented, bloody amazing, even, for things like this to be happening for them. But for some reason the first thing Louis thinks to ask is, “manager?”

Harry nods. “Yeah, we. Yeah. I don‘t really know how that happened? He just came up to us a few months ago, started talking about demos and… It‘s all really fast, I don‘t—It‘s like, a lot, actually.”

Louis looks down at his mug, knits his eyebrows together in confusion. “You said it was just for fun,” he says quietly, and it’s out before he can realise how accusing it sounds. How ridiculous it might sound to Harry, coming from the mouth of someone he met less than twelve hours ago. He shakes his head, giving an embarrassed laugh. “Sorry, that’s—I didn’t. You don’t, like, owe me anything, that’s stupid.”

Harry’s got his bottom lip pulled between his teeth, looking across the table with wide eyes. They’re brighter in here, more green in the daylight, and more focused than they were last night, too, Louis thinks. He wonders if Harry’s eyes might just change entirely every time Louis looks. He can remember them this morning—red-rimmed and bleary, and he missed them last night in the dimness of his room, but he bets they’d look different then, too, if he got another chance to look. Tired and dark right before Harry falls asleep, maybe.

And that’s too much to bother himself with thinking about now, when Harry’s just confirmed that that won’t be happening. Probably too much to think about at half-ten in the fucking morning, when Louis’ not even touched his tea yet.

“So, Monday.” Louis says when Harry stays silent. “That’s, what, two days? You must—you have to be packed already and everything?”

“Everything’s in my car.” Harry nods. “M’driving up to see my mum and sister tomorrow, they’re excited, too; mum and Gemma—my sister. They‘re, like, really excited. Wanted to throw me a going away party and everything.” He laughs, looking down at where he’s now fiddling with the sugar packets in the middle of the table. “Um, I told them not to, though.”

He pours some sugar out on the table, drawing circles in in with his fingers, and Louis hates when people do that here—he‘s always the one who has to clean it up, but for some reason he doesn’t want to tell Harry to stop.

“Anyway,” Harry continues. “I have a few suitcases, and then mum’s gonna ship the rest of my stuff over in a few weeks, I guess. And they’ll drive me to the airport Monday morning, and then, like, that’s it.”

“And, like, for how—until when?” Louis asks.

Harry looks up, lifts a shoulder. “I don’t really know? It just kind of depends if something clicks, I guess. But we’ve got gigs lined up—really small things here and there. Meetings maybe, too—for the next couple months, at least.”

“That’s—I mean that’s like, really great, Harry.”

“I’ve heard.” He makes a short sound, and Louis thinks there’s definitely a bitterness to it, but Harry seems to catch himself quickly, bringing long fingers to shake the hair out of his eyes, then fixing Louis with a smile that doesn’t quite reach past his lips, it‘s the first controlled emotion Louis’ seen out of him since they met.

Louis hits Harry‘s ankle with his shoe under the table. “Hey, you’ll have to like, send me an autograph or something, yeah? Find me on Facebook once you’re all proper famous. Say you knew me when.”

“I’m not on Facebook,” Harry replies and Louis gives him an affronted look. “I’ll get one, though! Yeah.“ He reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out his phone. “I’ll sign up, erm, here help me, I don’t really know how to use this… it’s a new phone…”

“That’s okay, Harry,” Louis laughs, and his skin feels hot with something, he doesn’t know what. Affection, maybe. “You don’t—you don’t have to do that just for me.”

Harry drops his shoulders, slipping the phone away again. “Okay, email, then. How about email? Or, no! Letters, yeah? Old-fashioned, keep technology out of it.” He takes a sip of his drink then with a satisfied nod.

“Letters.” Louis deadpans. “You know the world isn’t actually a Nicolas Spears—or whatever that bloke‘s called—movie, right?”

“Sparks. And I dunno, we might not be as fit as McAdams and Gosling, you and I, but I’d say we’re at least on par with the two who played the older versions.” Harry takes second to lick the cappuccino foam from above his upper lip. “You know, the ones with the dementia and all that?”

Louis stares, cocking his head to the side a bit. “You’re a fucking weirdo, you know that?” He says, catching sight of Liam behind the front counter just as he knocks an entire bag of sugar onto the floor. He laughs a little, then says, quieter, “maybe it’s good I’ll probably never see you again.”

He watches Liam scramble for a minute, the woman at the front of the queue offers to help, but he shakes her off. He’s searching for a broom, it looks like. Louis should probably go up there and tell him it’s stashed behind the espresso machine and not in the storage closet he’s currently rummaging through.

“I’d like to see you, though. Again. Or, like, still.” Harry says after a moment, then pauses to consider his words. “On going seeing of each other… If you’re not doing anything the rest of the day?”

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Louis looks at him again, thinking about flights that are two days away and promises that weren’t even made and getting attached to things that are unattainable. Fleeting, is the word that keeps popping up.

“I don’t really care.”

Louis bites his lip, thinks for another minute, which is proving difficult with Harry staring at him so intently. Finally, he asks, “Do you watch X Factor?”

Harry slaps an excited hand on the table at that, making their drinks wobble and the sugar packets jump. “Yes! And I was planning on missing it tonight, ‘cause the backseat of my car doesn’t get ITV, you know. Perfect.” He says, like it’s decided, then adds, “the groups are shit this year,” as an afterthought.

“The groups are total shit this year.” Louis agrees, quietly. He‘s still thinking, way more than he normally allows himself think about things. It usually sets off a chain reaction of thinking, is the problem, and then he’s all but hopeless to stop it. Louis always thinks that thinking is just one of many downsides of having an unfailing need to bring logic into every situation he gets himself into. “But,” he says. “Don’t you have like, goodbyes or something? I mean, It’s your last day here.”

Harry nods, stretching his arms above his head. Louis sees a slice of bare skin below the hem of his T-shirt when it rides up, a hint of a tattoo he must‘ve missed in the dark last night. “I’ve already said bye to Mrs. Campbell in our old building, and I’ve got the numbers of my friends from uni,” he tells Louis, listing them off on his fingers. “My favourite professor, my boss at the pet shop I work at—worked at; he almost cried when I told him I had to quit, that was satisfying. And Niall and Zayn are taking the same flight out tonight. That’s everyone.” He finishes with a long exhale that ruffles the messy curls falling over his forehead. “In London, at least. So, yeah, I’m all yours. If you’ll have me, ‘course.”

Louis looks at him again, probably doing a very poor job of hiding the smile that he can‘t seem to will away. “I meant it, you know. This isn’t a romantic comedy,” he says, and Harry leans forward on his elbows with a smug little smile that Louis is already thinking of ways to get rid of. “We can‘t like, fall in love tonight. And then I convince you to ditch your friends and your dreams and the California blondes and I don‘t know, fuck off with me to South America, or something. Never to be seen again.”

Harry barks a loud laugh and a few of the people at surrounding tables look around, startled. “I promise, I’ll try not to let that happen. But, you know, I don’t even like blondes all that much, anyway. So that wouldn‘t really be a loss,” he says, defiant glint in his eyes. “Is that the kind of stuff you write, then? Epic love stories and fairytales. Two star-crossed lovers, kept apart by the evil obstacles of the universe and the big bad Atlantic Ocean.”

“Harry.”

Sighing, Harry sits back in his chair, watches Louis from across the table for a moment and says, quite unconvincingly, “I just really don’t want to miss X Factor, Lou.”

Louis rolls his eyes, huffs a sound, trying his best to seem impatient instead of hopelessly charmed. “You have literally known me for hours, you cannot call me anything other than my full name, it’s ridiculous.”

Harry smirks, he’s getting a thrill off being difficult, Louis can tell, but then his expression shifts and he’s looking across the table through his eyelashes, unsure. Louis should be annoyed at that, how Harry keeps going from cheeky dimples one minute to wide, questioning eyes the next. But he‘s not really, not when, in reality, it’s sending a spark through him just trying to keep up, guessing where he might go next. “What about later? Like, what about tonight?” Harry asks.

“What about it?”

He switches to challenging in a millisecond. “Think I’ll know you pretty good by then?”

Louis leans forward, takes a sip of his tea. It‘s lukewarm at best now, but he isn‘t really bothered. “I guess we’ll see, won’t we?” He says, watches Harry’s eyes light up across the table with something that looks kind of like a promise.