It’s late, past 3 am. The window is open, muggy air rolling in, and with it comes the soft symphony of cicadas outside in the grass. It’s quiet otherwise; the distant close of a door, the long and low wailing of a solitary siren in the distance. Harry can hear his own breathing, every rustle of the sheets as he shifts his legs. A streetlamp outside the window casts a gold haze into the room, creating shadow everywhere: in the swoop of Louis’s angular collarbones and along the wall where Harry’s photos are hanging. Most of the photos are of Louis. Louis sleeping, arm flung over his face to block out sunlight. Louis in class, chin digging into his palm, eyes soft and focused on his notes. Louis at the club, hair wild and eyes glowing, his body covered in a thin sheen of sweat, smile with those sharp little teeth grinning wildly at Harry from across the dance floor. The wall is a shrine to Louis, and it would be embarrassing, how deeply Harry has fallen, if not for the fact that he knows the small boy across the room from him shares his feelings.
There’s a small desk lamp on, the only other light in the room. It’s blocked partly by Louis’s body where he’s hunched in Harry’s horribly uncomfortable desk chair, and over his shoulder, Harry can see Louis gnawing on the pen in his hand, fingers twisting around and around anxiously.
“Lou,” Harry says softly, and Louis looks over his shoulder at Harry. His hair is damp still, wet on his forehead from the shower they’d taken earlier together in the communal bathrooms. Sometimes they shower so late at night, because they know nobody will walk in on them, and they can dream of when they graduate and can get a flat together, where Harry can suck bruises on Louis’s collarbones in the middle of breakfast, and no one will bat an eye, because it’ll just be them, alone, in their own space.
Louis’s eyebrows are furrowed, dents arching across his forehead where he’s frowning worriedly. His eyes are rimmed in red, with exhaustion and anxiety. “What?” His voice is scratchy with disuse, from lack of sleep.
“Lou, it’s almost,” Harry glances over to the glowing green numbers of his alarm clock, “four. Aren’t you going to come to bed?” He opens the sheets invitingly and Louis gives a sleepy little snort.
Harry smiles at him, and the side of Louis’s mouth quirks up a bit, tired. He twists in his seat, his back cracking in a series of pops that sound quiet and satisfying in the dark of the room. Sometimes, after a long day at the library, Harry will stretch Louis out on his stomach and knead his spine until Louis is half-sunk into the sheets and whining, and now, Harry aches to go over and dig his thumbs into the join of Louis’s neck and shoulder, release all the tension sitting there, but. Louis likes distance when he’s studying, when he’s writing, when he needs to be alone with his mind and his thoughts.
Louis slumps back down in his chair, massaging the back of his neck with his hand, and picks up his pen again, making a small mark on his notes. There are several notes in the margins, and knowing Louis, they could either be pieces of brilliant analysis about the novel he’s studying, or poetry about sunrises and skeletons, or the name of a character that he’s thought up for the novel that he writes by the moonlight. He looks ready to sink back into his studying, so Harry calls him out of his reverie again.
“Lou?” he tries again, and Louis looks up again, his face confused as though Harry has pulled him out of his focus for the first time in hours, not the second time in two minutes. “I love you.”
Louis’s face softens, his eyebrows pulling down from their arches, and his eyes are heavy and dark in the dim twilight that emanates around their room. He smiles at Harry, and Harry feels like he did all those years ago, when Harry was just a small freshman in high school and Louis was his biology lab partner, overwhelmingly cool and completely unhelpful during class. Louis would smile at him as they dissected fish and Harry would accidentally stab the fish in the eye.
Louis slowly caps his pen and turns all the way around, resting his hands on the back of the chair, and letting his chin fall softly onto the backs of his hands. He tilts his head, looks at Harry lounging in the shadowy sheets like some kind of Rembrandt painting. “It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight,” he says quietly. He says it in his quoting voice, the one with love sewn throughout it, as if he’s in love with both Harry and perfect literature.
Harry shakes his head. He’s not a literature student.
Louis laughs softly, choky and sad like he’s been living in the pages of his books for too long and has felt too much history, read too many deaths, underlined too many beautiful phrases. “Nabokov. Lolita.”
Harry just nods and laughs a bit. “Come to bed, love. Nabokov will be there in the morning.”
Louis shrugs and reaches over to turn out the light, but instead of standing up and walking over to the small bed against the wall, he leans over and picks up the ukulele that rests against his backpack. It’s small, a dark brown color. Unassuming. There was a period, about a year or two ago, where Louis had given up all hope of being a writer and decided that his life’s calling was to be a street musician. He ordered the ukulele online and then promptly forgot about it, called back to his writing like a bee to flowers. The ukulele had sat under his bed collecting dust until one day, Niall had picked it up and started playing it like he’d been doing it since birth, and Louis had at once demanded lessons.
He cradles the instrument gently in his hands, unsure as always, and holds it against his chest like a newborn baby. Hair falling across his forehead and eyelashes brushing his cheeks, he gently plucks a few chords, the notes floating gently into the darkness, across to Harry in bed. Louis’s fingers are small, slight, but they pick carefully at the strings, delicate and hesitant.
“Play me something.” Harry loves the look of Louis with the ukulele, the way he seems like something out of a story, out of a watercolor painting.
Louis plays a sequence of notes, and then looks up. The moonlight shining through the window glances off his cheekbones, off his collarbones, off the small angular slope of his shoulders. He looks like he’s made of the moonlight, silvery and effervescent. “What do you want to hear?”
Harry shrugs. “What’re you thinking about?”
Louis snorts, and the sound contrasts with the soft chords rippling out from beneath his fingers. Gently, he plays a few chords that don’t sound like anything, before settling in, his fingers pressing into the frets of the instrument.
Harry slides down into the sheets and turns on his side, watching as Louis strokes the strings, a quiet and simple melody echoing across the room.
“Come with me, my love, to the sea, the sea of love,” Louis sings quietly, voice scratchy but clear, high and lilting. “I wanna tell you, how much I love you.”
The cicadas provide a background to the shakiness of Louis’s voice, the soft rasp of it in the darkness, muted and gentle. Harry almost can’t hear him, and he closes his eyes.
The song dies off, and Louis just hums along, laughing a little bit at himself and Harry doesn’t know why, but Louis’s laugh is like music anyways so he smiles to himself and breathes in the scent of Louis’s cologne that lives in Harry’s sheets.
“Why’d you stop singing?” he breathes quietly, his voice too loud in the darkness.
Louis laughs and there’s a small clunk. Harry opens his eyes and sees Louis setting the ukulele carefully down on the ground, before pulling his tshirt over his head and letting it fall to the ground in a heap. He steps out of his sweatpants, kicking them off to the side, and crawls into bed next to Harry, the heat of his body immediately making it warmer under the sheets. “Don’t know the rest of the words,” he giggles quietly and presses his nose into Harry’s shoulder. His hands find Harry’s hips under the sheets, scratching gently. “It’s something about you being my pet.” He bites at the skin on Harry’s neck, and Harry is too sleepy to react, but he reaches an arm around Louis and pulls him in so the younger boy is lying all along his side, tiny and squirmy and skin hot against his own.
Harry presses a kiss into the top of Louis’s head, the scent of his shampoo thick and comfortable, the softness of his drying hair tickling Harry’s nose. “Lunch with the boys tomorrow? In between studying?”
Louis nods sleepily, his ear crumpling against Harry’s chest. He yawns once, huge, like a lion. “Miss tha’ boys,” he mumbles. “I hate finals week.”
“After this is all done, let’s go to Paris,” Harry whispers into the dark, and he hears Louis let out a breathy giggle next to him. “I want to kiss you on the Eiffel Tower.”
“I want to read poetry to you along the Seine,” Louis murmurs into the skin of Harry’s chest, and drops a kiss on his collarbone.
“I want to take pictures of you eating croissants and moaning about how it will all go to your hips,” Harry laughs quietly, and Louis pinches the skin of his stomach.
“Rude,” he whispers into the darkness.
They’re quiet for a couple moments, listening to the soft noises of the night outside the window, the distant calls of an owl.
“Love you, Lou.”
“Je t’adore, je t’adore ,” Louis mumbles, his French accent perfect and smooth even as tired as he is.
“English, Louis, English,” Harry sighs, but he secretly loves when Louis speaks French. He says it’s because he can easily imagine Louis twirling a long mustache and smoking expensive cigarettes, but it’s mostly because he likes the way Louis’s mouth looks when he says the French words.
“I am madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly in love with you,” Louis sighs, and Harry can hear the quotation in his voice, but he lets it go, and strokes his thumb up and down the back of Louis’s arm, absorbing his shivers.
They’re quiet, and Harry thinks Louis is asleep, before he shifts slightly. “I love you now, and I will love you even when the sky is starless.”
Harry smiles into the darkness, even though he knows Louis can’t see him. He has his eyes closed where he’s curled up on Harry’s chest. “I like that one.”
“What book is it from?”
He feels Louis’s smile against his chest, his fingers stroking gently at his hip, and he can hear the soft rise and fall of his breath before he answers. “No book. It’s just me.”