the air is all winter chill and the ocean is a light, foaming green-grey. harry’s hair flutters over his eyes and he pushes it back with one numb hand, staring into the water as his father steers their boat smoothly around the headland. he’s meant to be keeping an eye out for stray rocks, but he is searching for something else. he plays this game with himself where he tries to see as far down into the sea as possible, focusing down past the surface and the gentle swells and looking for the sea floor, for glimpses of darker shapes, creating shadows and shimmers with his mind. there’s a kind of stillness down there that reminds him of snow and light and the moon. it calms his jumping heart.
the hull clatters softly against the small chop as they speed up a little, and harry shivers.
‘are we heading back now?’ he calls to his father.
‘yes,’ he replies, voice raised to be heard from the back of the boat. then again, his voice is always raised, so harry shouldn’t assume. ‘come get the fenders sorted.’
‘yes sir,’ harry says - its instinct now - and stumbles to the back of the swaying boat. he ties four fenders to the freezing silver rail on one side, then leans on his elbows to watch the water again.
the sun is seeping through a thinner patch of cloud, shifting weak patterns onto the surface of each little swell. the sea is lighter suddenly, a kind of gentle grey-blue. harry thinks he sees a dark swish, down deep, and it’s nice to know that he isn’t alone.
when they reach the dock, harry’s hands are working, but his mind is still in the sea. the boy working at the jetty is small and his bare feet and exposed collarbones are golden. when he looks up, reaches for the rope harry is holding out, his eyes are oceans.
his father gives him a stern look for fumbling with the rope, but harry can’t pay him any mind because the boy has tied up the boat and is now offering harry a little brown hand. and he has to concentrate hard on not tripping into the surging water below or drowning in the boy’s eyes. because honestly, harry isn’t sure which is deeper.
‘how was it out there today, sir?’ dock boy asks harry’s father as he helps him out of the boat next. harry blinks and tries not to feel so endeared, but sir.
‘fine, thank you,’ his father replies, clipped, already digging in his pocket for a tip. ‘take it out to mooring fifteen. you scratch it, you pay for it.’
it’s rude, straight up, and harry is used to it but he can tell dock boy isn’t. harry’s dad has this idea that anyone who doesn’t live on the hill and attend fancy dinner parties doesn’t deserve his respect, and harry has seen him treat the ‘help’ this way so many times that it usually doesn’t offend him anymore. this time, though, harry feels a little pang of something like annoyance. but he won’t say anything. he has learnt that he should never try and stand up to his father; it always ends in days of digs and punishments, subtle little things that harry’s mother doesn’t pick up on (though even if she did notice, she wouldn’t say a word either).
harry sees a flash of something on the boy’s face - a small narrowing of his eyes, a tightening in the corners of his mouth - but then he swallows hard and takes the money and the keys in his little hand.
‘yes, sir,’ he says, eyes so wide and obedient that harry thinks he must have imagined the defiance there before. the wind ruffles the boy’s salty fringe as he turns to walk away. ‘have a nice day.’
harry watches him climb gingerly into the boat and wonders why he isn’t cold in just his thin, white t-shirt - thinks that maybe it’s because there’s fire inside him; sunlight. despite his icy eyes, harry wouldn’t be surprised.
he thinks about dock boy for a little while on the drive back home. he sits on the cold leather passenger seat of his father’s porsche and wonders what would have happened if he’d caught the boy’s eye, flirted a little. he wishes he could even entertain the thought without flinching. harry knows the theory of how to charm people – it’s something he learnt way back at prep school, how to make people comfortable with gentle smiles and guiding hands – but it’s not something he’s ever been able to do in real life. he is quiet compared to the blaring confidence of his classmates at the private school, unassuming compared to their flashiness. he is one of the most well off, but he isn’t crazy about showing off his money; he is invited to most of the big parties, but he can never find the courage to go. he doesn’t know why he never seems to fit into his own life.
harry thinks dock boy would see straight through any false charm harry could manage. he’s warm, golden, and people like that can melt harry and all his hesitancy, all his chill, until freckles pool at their feet.
harry pushes him out of his mind, because obviously that is one of those never ever kind of things, and it’s a week before he crosses his mind again.
harry can see the sea from his window. he has a house on the hill, on the same sloping road as ten other kids from his school. it’s all angular white houses and shiny cars and shoulder-high fences, but past that is the beach and the endless heaving water. in the mornings it’s pink and orange, blinding bright. it wakes him up by stroking the shore, up and back like ‘shhh’.
tonight the sound makes harry restless. it has been like this for a while now – as soon as night comes, his stomach starts churning and his head starts pounding and he starts thinking mad things, like what am i even doing here and what would happen if i went into the ocean and never came out. he leans on the window sill for a long time with his forehead pressed against the glass, straining to be closer, closer. it isn’t enough.
the cold of the road seeps through his socks and he doesn’t look back at his open window. it’s easier than he thought it would be, to finally stumble away from his house, let the ocean tug him down.
he feels drunk, like his mind has been thrown off-balance. the moonlight makes everything look like a stop-motion film, everything he sees flashing in strobe. he finds himself at the dock with only a vague memory of walking there. there are no lights on this late except the sweeping silver beam from the lighthouse. harry stands at the end of the dock and watches it melt across the stars.
he thinks about his father, hears his voice pounding against his head like an explosion. he didn’t even do anything wrong. a breath catches in his throat and then he’s crying, eyes burning and a furious ocean roaring in his ears. he closes his eyes and clutches his arms around his middle; lets himself tilt forward a little, just to see how it feels. the salty breeze is freezing against the wet on his cheeks and the sting is strangely nice. it makes his heartbeat pick up and his mouth open around a sob. but none of it is enough. he wants freefall. he wants to hurt so much that he doesn’t feel anymore.
‘you alright mate?’
he almost falls, catches himself at the last second and takes three stumbling steps back. he opens his eyes and smears at his cheeks while his vision adjusts to the starry half-light. his breathing is too loud against the softness of the sea.
he turns around and it’s dock boy, the boy with sunshine inside him. his ocean eyes are harder to see in the dark, but harry knows they’re there and it somehow satisfies his need for the water, if just for a minute. he’s wearing a loose t-shirt again, but maybe nothing can stay warm all the time, because he’s in a hoodie as well. it’s unzipped, and after a moment of silence he pushes it off one shoulder.
‘here, you must be cold,’ he says, and it’s only then that harry notices he’s shirtless. he doesn’t move as the guy steps closer, presses his fingers, whisper soft, onto his bare arm. ‘let’s sit.’
‘okay,’ he says, and his voice comes out cracked, rough.
somehow he makes his legs work enough to sit down on the dock, the salt-splintered wood that his toes had curled around minutes before.
‘i’m alright,’ he tells dock boy as he drapes the hoodie over harry’s shoulders and sits down next him, not because it’s true but because it feels like something he should say.
‘yeah, i know,’ he replies. he swings his legs out over the dark water. ‘just don’t want you to catch a cold or anything.’
harry nods. he looks out at the blurry silver horizon and tries not to start crying again.
‘i’m louis.’ dock boy is still swinging his legs. ‘you’re mr. styles’ son, right?’
harry nods again, ‘yeah. m’harry.’
he isn’t quite sure what he is meant to do. his heart is still going a bit too fast for it to be comfortable, and he feels like he should explain what he is doing, crying on a dock in the middle of the night, but doesn’t know where to begin. he realises that the wind has picked up, and he can see the curls of foam on top of waves and hear the way they slap against the wooden poles beneath him. he feels like he’s been floating, and has now been jerked back to earth. it jolts, stings a little, to suddenly see things so much clearer.
‘i had to stay late to pack up some stuff,’ louis says. his voice is low, and harry likes how careful he is with the silence.
‘oh, okay,’ harry replies. he pushes his fringe out of his eyes and looks over at louis.
he is leaning back on his hands, looking out at the water. his own hair blows into his eyes, but he doesn’t push it back. suddenly he looks at harry and says, ‘well? how come you’re here?’
the question is so much more direct than he’s used to (harry lives in a world of gentle euphemisms, of skirting around the edges) that it catches him off guard.
he speaks without thinking, stuttering out, ‘i’m not sure. i mean. i think i was going to-’ before he realises what he’s saying and stops.
louis nods slowly. ‘yeah, okay.’
harry takes a huge, shuddering breath, like he’s trying to get the heavy night air right down to his bones. maybe he is. it would be nicer than the fire that he feels smouldering there now.
he wonders what the fuck louis is doing here with him. he can’t think of any reason that he would want to be sitting on an old jetty, probably freezing cold (though harry still isn’t sure whether that’s actually possible for this sunshine boy), staring at the black ocean with a broken boy who doesn’t have a clue how he got here. he wants to ask, but thinks it sounds too cliché, too soap opera.
he really should go home. he peers at the sky instead, watching more stars appear the longer he looks. it reminds him of his game with the ocean, trying to search for something more than the surface, finding endless shifting shapes to remind himself that he isn’t alone. star seas, he thinks, and feels like crying again.
‘i just don’t know what i do to make him so mad, you know?’ harry whispers. he forgets to worry about what louis might think of him. he is talking to the stars. ‘i’m just never good enough.’
‘yeah,’ louis says, without moving his eyes from the ocean. ‘that’s a shit way to feel.’
harry searches the stars and chokes out a sob, words spilling over now. ‘it’s so hard to please everyone, and i just- i feel like i don’t even fit into my own life, like it was made for someone else, or something. is that mad?’
louis swings one of his legs higher, so his thigh lifts a little off the jetty every time. he is watching harry, and harry can feel it but he won’t look away from the sky.
‘yeah,’ he says again, softly, and then, ‘i mean, no, of course it isn’t mad. that’s- yeah.’
‘i really should go home, sh-shouldn’t i?’ harry says. he sniffs, hiccups, wipes his eyes with the ratty sleeve of louis’ hoodie.
finally he works up the courage to look at louis again, and he is shaking his head. ‘you probably shouldn’t just yet. cry some more. i’ll stay with you.’
when the sky starts to lighten – gasps of lilac streaking up from the grey-black of the horizon – louis walks harry home. he really is okay now, and he tells louis that about ten times, though he isn’t asking. louis doesn’t seem to mind.
‘here, put your number in,’ he says, holding his phone out. his hand is icy when it brushes harry’s, and harry feels guilty for stealing his jumper. he hands it back as he takes the phone.
his freezing fingertips don’t work on the screen; he has to press hard to get the keys to work.
‘uh- i don’t have my phone during school time so, if i don’t reply,’ harry speaks without saying anything, head muddled with the ocean air. ‘you know.’
‘yeah, okay,’ louis smiles and his little hand is a murmur on harry’s arm before he turns away.
‘thanks,’ harry manages, and louis sends another smile over his shoulder. harry feels it hit him in the chest. it feels like sunlight.
harry thinks he might be mad.
he makes it back through his window and collapses on his bed, exhausted like he’s never felt before. he can’t begin to think the night over – it just feels like a haze of moonlight static and a hopeless, soft kind of sadness and endless ocean eyes – so he closes his eyes against it all. he can think about it when he wakes up.
louis texts him the next afternoon, a quick, warm ‘how are you’, then ‘its louis by the way’. he texts without punctuation and harry thinks it fits him, his careless energy.
the surf is big today; the winds that began around harry in the blackness of last night have finally found some force, whipped up enough water to send huge, messy waves to pound at the beach and headland. harry sits at his window, watches the sea heave and crash and spray in all directions, and replies ‘fine thanks :)’ because he can’t find the words to explain the way his mind is churning.
he could just tell louis ‘look at the ocean’ but he worries that that might not make sense to anyone but himself.
but then louis sends back ‘crazy surf today’ and harry thinks maybe he’s wrong.
he tries to keep it light, nonchalant; ‘looks like the inside of my head, haha’.
‘know the feeling hahah’.
‘thanks again for last night,’ harry types, fingers trembling a little. ‘i was a bit out of it.’
‘no worries :) thought you might not be thinking straight :) the ocean makes everyone a little wild sometimes’.
‘like how kids go hyper on sugar?’
‘a bit i guess hahahahha’
harry is smiling before he can think, because he really has never ever met a person like louis. they’re talking about harry almost… almost doing something mad, and somehow this boy from town has turned it into something that doesn’t sting so much to think about. he thinks nobody’s ever done anything like that for him before, but it seems natural for louis, maybe like he does it all the time.
harry feels a little bit less special – knows exactly how to bring himself back down – but then his phone buzzes again.
‘im working today but nobodys going out boating because of the weather so you should come down again and keep me company’.
harry fumbles to text back ‘yeah okay, now?’ and thanks every kind of ocean god for washing up this boy again and again, when he needs him most.
it’s just that although the clouds are thick, harry feels so open and raw that the light of this new day is burning him. he doesn’t want to be on his own for the rest of the afternoon, listening to his father’s footsteps down the hall and the roar of the ocean too far away, thinking things over and under and through until his heart is pounding and everything is in tangles.
and louis has this way of listening that is so careful. it feels like the sea to harry, like tides stroking up the shore, like ‘shh’, like comfort.
so when louis texts back a yes and three stupid, adorable smiley faces, harry grasps at every emotional straw he can still reach and gets dressed. he won’t talk too much, he tells himself as he tugs on two t-shirts and a hoodie. he will take what louis wants to give him, and nothing more. he swallows down endless doubts (because aren’t they always there, always plaguing him) and promises himself that he isn’t being a burden. louis has invited me, he tells his jeans and his socks and his wind-wild hair as he wrestles with it in the mirror. it’s okay it’s okay it’s okay, he tells himself as his voice calls, ‘going to study group at nick’s, back soon,’ and his feet walk him out the door.
the little building at the beginning of the dock looks like it’s been there for a hundred years. the oldest wooden planks are stacked over with fresh ones; shiny, expensive hardwood covering up the places where it’s falling apart. harry thinks it could be him, if not for the fact that this little shack has been worn down by the ocean, and he is buoyed up by it.
and it does give him a certain kind of peace, to be close again. his organs don’t feel like they’re switching places anymore. he watches the swells break around the headland, thrashing foam back and forth, and it’s strangely comforting knowing that the sea will always be crazier than he is.
the need to jump in is easier to push down, when he reminds himself that louis is waiting.
the door is open and swinging in the wind, and harry has to duck his head to lean in the doorway. he sees louis up on a bench with his knees tucked up, thumbing around on his phone, and coughs a bit to get his attention.
‘hey, come in!’ louis says. it’s different to see his face in this light, after the tear-blurry moonlit version harry remembers from last night.
‘hey.’ harry smiles with half his mouth and shrugs his jacket higher on his shoulders as he walks over. louis puts down his phone and points to an old armchair behind the bench.
‘pull up a chair. i’ve been bored out of my mind since eight this morning.’
he sinks into the dusty leather and feels like all his limbs are detached. he probably looks like a baby deer trying to fold his legs underneath him to match louis, but that isn’t anything new – his father started calling him bambi when he was about fifteen, around the time that he lengthened out but never managed to bulk up to match his height. it would probably be an affectionate pet name on anyone else’s lips, but remembering the cruel set of his father’s as he said it makes harry’s stomach churn.
harry almost doesn’t hear louis over the howling of the wind.
‘so what have you been doing all day?’ he is smiling, doesn’t seem to mind that harry hasn’t said more than one word since he arrived, which harry likes. there’s not so much pressure to get everything right.
‘uh, i only woke up about half an hour ago,’ harry half-laughs and feels heat on his cheeks. it’s stupid, but he can’t help being nervous when faced with louis’ immediate warmth.
louis eyes are still so gentle. ‘yeah, you must have been tired. but at least if you were sleeping you weren’t bored.’
‘very true,’ harry nods slowly. ‘what have you been doing, then?’
‘looking through clothes websites, pretending i have the money to buy things,’ louis says, and the words should sound sad, regretful, but he just smiles like it doesn’t matter. maybe it doesn’t, to him; it’s hard to tell. either way, harry is jealous – all his emotions read straight onto his face so everybody can tell what he’s thinking. he wishes he was able to keep some mystery like louis can.
harry doesn’t particularly want to get onto the topic of money, so he just laughs. the wind is wild outside, whipping at the little shack and whistling through the floorboards. louis pulls his jacket around him, eyes crinkling a little as he tucks his chin in. harry is wrapped up in thinking that it might be the cutest thing he’s ever seen, so he forgets to filter his words before he says, ‘so you do get cold then?’
‘what?’ louis says, laugh muffled into the fleece of his jacket.
harry’s cheeks feel like they’re on fire. he stammers, unsure of how to backtrack. ‘uh, i- i’ve kind of had this thing where i, um-’ he laughs a little at himself, takes a deep breath. ‘you’re a really warm kind of person? as in, your smile, and how you didn’t mind taking care of me last night? so i had this dumb thing where i thought you had literal warmth inside you? like the sun, and stuff. also when i first saw you, it was freezing, but you were just in a t-shirt, so. i don’t know?’
nearly every sentence ends in a question, because harry has never been sure of anything.
but louis is pulling his face out of his jacket and smiling that sunshine smile but fonder. more like a sunrise, maybe; slow and soft.
‘you think i’m sunny.’
harry nods. ‘and also you have the ocean in your eyes.’ he says it quickly, like a reminder to himself that there’s no going back.
‘well,’ louis says, face twisting as he tries to control his grin. ‘you’ve put some thought into this, haven’t you?’
harry nods again, not sure if he should smile back. he does anyway, murmurs, ‘a little bit.’
louis stretches his little legs out along the bench and crosses his ankles. harry wants to sit next to him and see how much longer his body is. he thinks he would be alright with his bambi legs, if they were pressed up against louis’ short, curvy ones.
‘i’m not sure if i can be as poetic as you,’ louis says, quiet against the thrashing of the wind. ‘but i’ve been noticing that you’re very careful with your smiles. you don’t just hand ‘em out willy-nilly; they’re special.’ he finishes with a shrug, like it doesn’t even occur to him to be embarrassed at the admission. it feels strange for harry to smile now, but he can’t help it. he tries to hide it in his collar as louis goes on. ‘it’s weird, how much we can get from only seeing each other a couple of times, don’t you think?’
‘yeah, i don’t know. it felt like a proper meeting last night.’ harry clears his throat. ‘i’m not too sure if i like the way i made my first impression.’
louis’ phone buzzes, shifting on the bench next to him, but he ignores it, eyes never leaving harry’s face. ‘nah, i liked it. it was good for me to listen to someone else’s crap for a bit. puts stuff in a new perspective, like?’
‘okay,’ harry replies. ‘well, that’s good then.’
he watches louis push his fringe out of his eyes and suddenly thinks that louis’ lips are a very pretty baby pink. it hits him right in the stomach and he makes himself look away, though louis has been watching his face this whole time and must have already noticed his eyes flick down.
he just smiles like the sun on the blue-green summer sea, and harry thinks, fuck.
on sunday it’s still stormy, and harry has a feeling but he still waits for louis’ text.
it’s an awful biting kind of cold down at the dock, but this time they sit next to each other on a different bench, backs pressed up against a wall. and louis is warm enough when they’re sitting apart, but when he’s right there, shifting closer so his thigh presses up against harry’s, harry starts to think he might never be cold again.
he touches his toes and measures how much his longer his legs are than louis’, big hands pressing into both of their shins, and louis laughs, quick and easy. ‘you’re cute. people probably tell you that all the time.’
harry sits up in a rush, says, ‘uh, no, not really,’ and bites his lip. then, so softly he might not have said it at all, he mumbles, ‘you’re cute too.’
his cheeks are flaming. he clenches his hands in his lap and pretends they’re shaking because he forgot his gloves and the wind off the sea is teeth-achingly cold, rather than because he is thinking about a blue eyed boy in all the ways he shouldn’t.
but louis is still grinning, so maybe everything harry’s thinking is right.
‘thanks,’ louis says. ‘do you want to come wave watching with me next weekend?’
it goes like this:
louis: mondays suck dick xxxx
harry: hahaha, agreed
louis: how did you sleep last night
harry: fine thanks :))
louis: the weather kept me up til all hours schools gonna be hell
harry: is it ever not hell
louis: point taken
harry: the storm got pretty loud though, i’ll give you that
louis: so you were up!!!
harry: caught out
louis: LIES WONT GET U ANYWHERE PRETTY BOY
harry: sorry sorry hahaha!
it’s easy like this, to let louis show him the way. it’s easy without having to worry about trying to control his face or what comes out of mouth. harry sneaks his phone into classes, tucking it awkwardly under the desk to read the live feed of louis’ day. louis is stupid and wild and so fucking endearing that harry almost gets caught out by teachers twice because he’s smiling so wide. it’s overwhelming, that this whirlwind of a boy has blown in and already made his own little place in harry’s life, but at the same time it isn’t unexpected. louis is like that, harry thinks, he doesn’t hesitate. harry hopes it will rub off.
on wednesday, it goes like this:
harry: wednesdays suck dick xxxx
louis: oooooh this is a new one why wednesdays
harry: so close to the weekend but not??
harry: by the way, what exactly does wave watching entail?
louis: my eyeballs + your eyeballs + waves
harry: right, of course :)
thursday is long. one of the seniors shoves harry’s face into a wall and closes a locker on his hand, and lots of people think it’s very funny. harry tries to convince himself that it was an accident, like the senior told the hall monitor, but there is a lump in his stomach that says it wasn’t. it’s not the first time this has happened, and he knows he can’t cry in front of them all, so he keeps his head down and his teeth gritted tight until the last bell sets him free.
that night, harry sits in the kitchen with an ice-pack on his face, ears ringing with his father’s shouts. he had entertained the thought of the incident at school being good for him and his father somehow, like maybe it would make him forget to be mad. but it’s just like every other day. the throbbing bruise doesn’t seem to matter; it’s all about how harry isn’t good enough.
the cold bench digs into his thighs and freezing condensation from the ice pack drips down his neck and his head is pounding, pounding.
everything blurs together until harry can’t distinguish ‘but dad, i couldn’t do anything, he’s a senior and he said it was an accident’ from ‘you’re a fucking pussy of a son, how are you ever going to learn to stand up for yourself if you let people walk all over you, i’m disgusted that you didn’t even give the kid a piece of your mind’.
it hurts even more later, like an aftershock. like when people are saved from the water only drown in their bedrooms days later, water seeping slowly and painfully into their lungs. harry curls up in the middle of his four poster bed and cradles his cheek and his cut hand and wonders what his father would do if he just disappeared.
but then he thinks of that night at the dock, thinks of saturday – he thinks of louis louis louis – and it’s a little bit easier to breathe.
on friday, it’s like this:
louis: fridays suck dick
harry: not as much as the other days though
louis: true but anyway is sucking dick really that bad i mean ;)
harry: hahaha yeah i guess it isn’t
louis: it isn’t?
harry: well i don’t know like i mean. what do you think?
louis: well yeah i mean for me it really isn’t that bad like yeah at all
harry: yeah same for me
louis: cool :)
harry: that’s cool with you then?
louis: well yeah is it cool with you?
harry: yeah :)
louis: wait what are we even talking about
harry: hahahahahahhaha not sure if i know to be honest
on friday night harry dreams of things he hasn’t in a long time. when he wakes up on saturday he doesn’t feel as bad as he thinks he should. he remembers that these are probably things he’s meant to be thinking. after all, sucking dick isn’t really that bad. after all, louis is picking him up at ten.
he wears a long hoodie over black jeans and spends a long time on his hair. he almost sneaks into his mum’s make-up bag when he sees the red-purple mark on the side of his face, but can’t stand the thought of getting caught. jesus, what his father would say about that one. he resorts to tugging his hair down to touch his cheekbone and praying that he can remember to keep his face turned the right way. the last thing he wants is louis seeing the bruise and knowing he’s a wimp as well.
when he looks out his window, the ocean is heaving and the air feels electric. he knows it’s just the static of the clouds (the stormy weather has hung around throughout the week), but it’s kind of nice to think that it could be something to do with the fluttery feeling in his chest when he gets louis’ texts, too.
when he goes down the stairs to spout the study group excuse again, his father isn’t there. he doesn’t need to lie to his mum, so he just tells her he’ll be back later. her eyes are a kind of sad grey-green, but she still smiles like she used to, so harry isn’t worried. he goes out and sits at the end of his driveway. as louis is pulling up the street, he suddenly remembers that he has to delete the row of little pink love-hearts he put next louis’ contact name on wednesday night. his fingers fumble, and if he leaves one or two there, it was definitely an accident.
‘hey!’ louis says, leaning over to open the passenger side door. ‘get in, loser.'
‘are we going shopping?’ harry jokes as he folds his bambi legs into the rusty, off-white car. he feels proud when louis laughs.
‘wave watching is infinitely better.’ louis backs around and drives back down the street. he’s wearing a big grey knit jumper with the stitches coming loose at the cuffs, and his hair looks like it might have a bit of gel in it, which makes harry feel all squishy inside. his hands look tiny on the steering wheel.
the car is cramped and slow and making noises that something with an engine should never make, but, as cheesy as it is, there is nowhere else harry would rather be.
‘but like, i don’t know. it’s got a personality, somehow.’
‘yeah, yeah i get that. but more like multiple personalities.’
harry looks out at the way the waves throw themselves at the rocks below where louis’ car is parked. the sea is grey and white and foaming. he compares it to the night of stars, his first night with louis, and thinks yes.
‘yes. bipolar disorder. utterly fucked in the head.’
louis laughs, leaning his head against the foggy driver’s side window. ‘crazy crazy bitch, the ocean is.’
harry leans his own head back, closes his eyes and smiles without trying to control it. he feels louis' freezing fingertip pressing on his dimple in less than a second.
‘jesus, your hands are ice,’ he complains, softly, but doesn’t move.
louis scoffs. ‘’s not my fault the radiator’s broken.’
‘whose fault is it then?’ harry opens one eye.
louis thinks for a second, head tilted cutely. ‘yours.’
‘obviously,’ harry says.
louis shifts so his back is to his door and plonks his little feet into harry’s lap. automatically, harry rests his arms on top of his legs, before wondering if that’s going too far. he almost moves them again, but then he gets distracted watching the way his thumb fits into the brown curve of skin on louis’ bare ankle. when he looks up, louis is smiling at him.
‘favourite ocean personality, go.’
‘uhmm,’ harry blinks. it takes him a moment to decide whether he should be honest, but eventually he decides that he can trust louis not to judge. ‘when it looks almost, i don’t know, angry? stormy, like last weekend. wild.’
louis eyebrows are furrowed a little. it’s very cute, but still makes harry’s stomach twist up. he worries he’s said something wrong. but louis just asks, ‘why?’
once again, it takes harry a second to work up to being truthful. ‘makes me feel…not so mad? i just like knowing that there’s something crazier than me.’
the wind whips around the car, howling like pain, like loneliness, but harry is okay. it’s safe in here, with louis’ legs flung across him and their breath fogging up the windows, the radio down low, whispering warm nothings. harry looks at his thumb in the curve of louis ankle, feels the heat of his fingerprint like a brand against the brown skin. they are keeping each other warm.
harry looks up in the quiet and finds himself watching louis’ lips again. he doesn’t realise it until they move around a word.
‘harry?’ louis’ shifted closer now, shoulder digging into the side of his seat, legs bent up a little, feet pressing into harry’s thigh.
harry looks back towards the horizon and says, ‘yeah?’ and his mind is screaming don’t be an idiot stay cool don’t make a fool of yourself it’s nothing it’s nothing it’s nothing.
then louis presses a chilly fingertip onto his dimple again and says, ‘harry?’ with something gentle in his voice, and shit, this is starting to look a whole lot like something.
harry turns his head.
louis is close, but not close enough. he licks his own bottom lip and then bites it gently, eyes flicking between harry’s mouth and his wide green eyes. harry lets out a soft, breathy, ‘shit,’ and smiles, and he is nervous, awkward, almost apologetic, when he shifts in his seat to get nearer.
louis looks very fond as he tilts his chin and closes the gap and kisses him. it’s very gentle and very warm compared to the chill in the car. louis’ lips are just as soft as harry thought they would be. louis kisses harry again and again, sweet and slow like he’s teaching him. when he pulls back, harry follows him, reaching up to hold onto the back of his neck with one big hand.
louis smiles into the breath between them. ‘this is okay, then?’
harry feels very much out of his depth, but not necessarily in a bad way. ‘mmhm, yeah, yeah this is- yep.’
louis nods and leans in again, mouth open a little to suck on harry’s bottom lip. he licks out gently into his mouth. it’s nothing like the other times harry’s kissed people, where they just seemed to stick their tongue in his mouth and slime it around. harry is a little stunned. he meets louis’ tongue with his own and the hot, wet slide of them makes him break out in goose bumps and his hand tighten around the back of louis’ neck.
louis strokes a hand along his jawline, thumbs across his cheek, and that would be fine if not for the forgotten tenderness of the bruise there. harry flinches, mouth going slack.
louis licks across his bottom lip one more time before pulling back. ‘what is it?’ he murmurs. his eyes are such a sweet ocean blue when they flutter open.
harry’s heart feels jumpy, out of sync with the rest of his body. he gathers his courage and leans forward to catch louis’ lips quickly.
‘nothing,’ he says against them. ‘nothing, sorry.’
but louis is already pulling away again, pushing gently at harry’s jaw so he turns his head. harry shoves his face into the musty car seat and squeezes his eyes shut, lets him look because he doesn’t know what else to do. he feels sick. wouldn’t it be just typical if this ruined it all, when things were so close to being good.
‘oh babe,’ louis says softly. he thumbs over the aching mark. ‘tell me who did it.’
harry shakes his head. ‘no, no, it’s nothing, really.’
‘come on,’ he presses his lips to harry’s cheekbone, ‘tell me, kitten.'
harry snorts, can’t help it. ‘kitten?’
‘knew that would make you laugh,’ louis smiles small against his battered skin. ‘now come on. tell me who hurt you. was it that person you were talking about at the dock the other night?’
‘no, no, it wasn’t dad.’
‘okay. somebody at school, then?’ his fingers are still light on the bruise, and it feels like waves stroking up the shore, like ‘shh’, like comfort.
louis’ eyes are all heat, but his voice stays calm. ‘right then. name?’
he shakes his head immediately. ‘no, lou, i can’t.’
louis sighs deeply and pulls away, right back so his head is against the driver’s side window again. harry’s skin feels cold. he splays his hands out on the console and watches louis run his fingers through his hair, eyes never leaving harry’s face.
‘sorry,’ harry says. he doesn’t want to cry, but the backs of his eyes are prickling. this has ruined it all, just like he thought it would. ‘sorry, i know, i- dad said it’s my fault because i don’t stand up for myself and i know that, i should, i’m such a wimp, i’m sorry.’
‘don’t be sorry,’ louis murmurs. he wipes a hand over his mouth. ‘it’s not your fault, jesus. why would your dad say that? it’s not your fault at all.’
harry feels like everything is catching up to him. he can hear the waves crashing against the rocks down below and feels like his ribs are getting the same battering. ‘it is, it is,’ he whispers, looking down at his hands where they’re clenched in his lap. he can’t hold louis’ gaze anymore, is too overwhelmed to read what it means. he can still feel louis on his lips when he says, ‘sorry. are you mad at me?’
‘fuck,’ louis surges forward, turns harry’s head and kisses him again like he’s hungry for it, nose pressed against his cheek and hand fisted in his hair. ‘of course i’m not mad at you, fuck. i’m mad your dad, and at the idiot that did this to you.’
harry’s eyebrows pull together, eyes crossing slightly as he tries to keep louis in view. ‘why- i mean, why do you care?’
he kisses him and harry wonders if that’s his answer, but then louis pulls away. he scratches his fingernails across harry’s scalp and says, ‘it’s just that you’re so soft and broken and. i don’t know, i thought about you all week and it just- i feel like you’re mine, somehow? i hate you getting hurt, it makes me- fuck.’
it’s the first time harry has seen louis fumbling for words. his cheeks feel hot.
‘i- thank you,’ he stumbles. ‘wow.’
louis lets out his breath in a helpless kind of laugh. he says, ‘you’re adorable,’ and holds harry’s big hands in his littler ones tight.
it’s stupid, all too soon, and the bruise on his cheek is still aching and his father is probably waiting for him back home and the ocean is wild and always calling, but harry sees the warmth in louis’ ocean eyes and thinks things might just be okay.