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It all starts when Louis walks in on Nick looking at dresses.

He stops for a second, then leans over the end of the sofa, and watches Nick scroll through a page full of dresses on his laptop, curious.

"Are you writing another fashion article?" Louis asks.

"I'm trying to figure out my Halloween costume," Nick says. "How did you remember I've written fashion stuff?"

Louis ignores him. "You're going to wear a dress?"

"Probably," Nick says. "No, definitely. It's the only time I can get away with it."

"Huh," Louis says, because he doesn't know what else to say. "But Halloween isn't for months."

"Yeah," Nick says. "I'll probably change my mind a bunch and then figure out some last minute thing."

"Then why are you looking at dresses now?" Louis asks.

Nick cranes his neck to look back at Louis. "You don't have a problem with it, of course?"

Louis drags his eyes away from the laptop screen and meets Nick's gaze. Nick's voice is light, his expression seemingly amused, but Louis knows it's a real question.

"No," he says, shrugging. "Of course not."

His eyes flick back to the screen. He's seen Nick in a dress before; only in pictures, but still. Nick looks good in them. Louis doesn't have any sort of problem.

"Just don't see why you're wasting your time on that now," he says. "When you could be entertaining me."

He moves swiftly, plucks Nick's laptop from his hands and closes it.

"Hey," Nick says. "I was working!"

Louis raises his eyebrows.

"I was supposed to be working," Nick says, wrinkling his nose. "I need to go over a script for something we're filming tomorrow."

"Well," Louis says, takes Nick's laptop and puts it on the coffee table, and climbs in Nick's lap. "I suppose I can see why you'd get distracted by dresses."

"Wasn't my fault, technically," Nick says. "Daisy sent me a link." His hands settle on Louis's thighs.

"That's very unprofessional," Louis says, and kisses him.

Nick opens his mouth, immediately deepening the kiss. His hands move up Louis's thighs, and grip his arse, pulling Louis closer.

Louis really enjoys kissing him. They've been doing it for months, almost half a year now, and fuck, he still loves it; always gets a thrill from it, whether it leads to something more or not. Even the soft little pecks they share in the mornings after Louis has stayed over make him feel warm and tingly. It's awful.

He does plan on this kiss leading somewhere, though, so he clutches at Nick's arm with one hand and kisses his way down Nick's neck, going right for the really sensitive area. They don't have many days left before Louis is off for another short leg of touring.

"I really do need to work," Nick says, but he's not letting go of Louis.

"Later," Louis says. "Right now I'm saving you from buying some ugly dresses."

"You know," Nick says softly, the way he sounds when he's just thinking out loud, "you would look pretty good in a nice dress."

Louis bites at Nick's shoulder, and pretends he didn't hear that. Instead he sticks his hand down Nick's pants, distracting both of them.

Nick ends up staying up late, going over his script. Louis makes coffee for him in apology.

~

Louis has tried on a dress before. It was his girlfriend's; he was a bit drunk—or, like, a lot drunk, maybe—and he remembers being disappointed it didn't really fit right, and his girlfriend and her friend laughing and telling him he looked good.

That's all it was, a laugh.

He can't pretend like he hasn't thought about it since.

He wants to pretend, and he's tried, but it never really works out. Sometimes he thinks about it. Sometimes he looks at a skirt or a dress or stuff, and thinks, "I wonder how that'd look on me?"

He's never taken it farther than that. He never really had any plans to take it farther, but hasn't been able to get Nick's comment out of his head.

It's been weeks, and Louis is still thinking about it. Sometimes when he can't sleep, and can't call or text Nick, he lies awake in his bunk and tries to picture it.

He sort of wants to bring it up to Nick, but he thinks he'd die of embarrassment, before he even got the words out. It's one thing to do it for a laugh, but it's completely different to want to do it just because. Just to look good or whatever. He's afraid that's what Nick would think this is.

Louis isn't vain. He knows he fusses over his hair, but he's not, like, young Zayn levels of obsessed with looking at himself in the mirror. (For one thing, he doesn't look nearly as good as Zayn, but that's besides the point.)

He's just curious. That's it. He's just curious about whether a skirt would fit him, or whether he could pull off a dress. It's a completely normal thing to think about.

That's what he keeps repeating when he finds himself out in the lounge with his laptop around two in the morning, scrolling through skirts on ASOS.

He's sure he got the idea from Nick. God damn Nick and his dresses and Halloween costumes and Louis remembers the pictures, from before they even started dating. Nick wearing fucking fishnet stockings and short black dresses, and Louis thought he looked ridiculous, and so fucking fit.

The point is, he could order a skirt. Or a dress, maybe, but this is one of the instances where he feels starting small would make more sense. (Or it's just that he clicked on the skirts first and now he can't click away.)

This leg of the tour is short, and will already be over soon. It doesn't mean Louis hasn't felt homesick, though—and Nick-sick, which is a weird way to put it, but not any less true. He's allowed to do something stupid and impulsive.

He spots something called a skater skirt and clicks on it. It's quite short, black and has lace. He likes it. It says "skater". It can't be too bad a choice then.

He adds it to his basket, and goes back to browsing, absentmindedly chewing on his nails. He spots another black skirt, a bit longer this time, but with a similar style, even though there's no lace involved. Fuck it, he might as well go big as long as he's buying.

They look nice, the skirts. He doesn't even have to wear them. He can pretend they're presents for his sisters. He finds one more, a black one with red at the bottom, and throws that in the basket, too.

The only hard part is figuring out the sizes; he goes with something he vaguely remembers being the size of his usual trousers. It doesn't matter much if they don't fit, he figures. He's being stupid ordering them anyway.

He stares at the screen, something like shame and excitement curling in his stomach. He likes buying things. He shouldn't like buying these, but he does, and he's not sure whether to feel embarrassed or be angry at having so little control of his own emotions.

He forces his hand not to shake and quickly types in his credit card info and address and then it's done. He's bought three skirts.

"Hey," Zayn says.

Louis slams the laptop shut and shoves it off his lap. "What?"

"I said 'hey'," Zayn says. He walks into the lounge and settles next to Louis on the sofa. The laptop sits between them.

"Right," Louis says. His heart is beating fast. "Hey."

Zayn leans against the end of the sofa, stretching his legs out, looking content and sleep-soft. Louis twists his fingers together. "Can't sleep?" Zayn asks.

"Not really," Louis says. "Why are you up?"

Zayn shrugs. "Missed your, like, presence in the bunks."

"Ha," Louis says weakly.

"Want to watch something together?"

"Sure," Louis says. "Yeah."

He's still feeling a bit on edge from almost being found out, but, well. It's Zayn. If there's anyone he could tell, it'd be Zayn. He doesn't want to tell him, but if he did, he could.

"Want to tell me what you were up to?" Zayn asks easily.

"No," Louis says. "Not really."

"Okay," Zayn says. He picks up Louis's laptop, and Louis almost lunges for it, but forces himself to sit still. Zayn wouldn't. Louis knows Zayn wouldn't.

Zayn puts the laptop away to the side and scoots over, throws his arm around Louis's shoulders and pulls him in.

"You want to pick the movie?" he asks.

"You do it," Louis says, and rests his head against Zayn. He loves Zayn.

They watch about half of Iron Man 2 before Zayn is snoring next to Louis. Somehow, miraculously, Louis manages to get him awake enough to drag him over to his bunk and help him in. He climbs into his own bunk and checks the time.

It's four in the morning, which means it's ten over in London. Louis briefly panics, thinking he's missed Nick's show—he listens every day he can, no matter what he tells Nick—but then he realises it's a Saturday. He wonders if Nick is up that early on a Saturday.

Fuck it, he can try anyway.

Hey, you up?

He's half dozing off when his phone buzzes in his hand.

Where are you?? Nick asks.

Louis frowns, squinting at the bright screen. In my bunk?

I meant what city [dog emoji]

Can't fucking remember, Louis says.

What time is it? Nick asks.

Like four

Why aren't you asleep? Nick asks. Everything okay?

Louis sighs. I'm fine, he says. Promise.

Go to sleep, Nick says. Skype tomorrow, right?

Louis breathes in deep, feeling his eyes droop again. It's fucking stupid, but just talking to Nick via text makes him feel better. He never wants to fuck this up.

Yeah, he sends back. Talk tomorrow!

He's asleep before Nick can reply. He wakes in the morning to a row of purple heart emojis and a selfie of Nick with Pig, and grins.

~

The skirts are waiting for Louis when he gets home.

They're stacked with all the other shit he orders on tour or gets sent, in a corner in the hall. Small, unassuming packages.

Louis stares at them, tired from the flight and a bit cranky. He didn't manage to really forget he'd ordered them—it hadn't been that long ago, anyway. Also, when he went to Skype Nick the morning after he opened his laptop to the order notification still sitting right there in his browser.

So, yeah, he didn't forget he'd ordered them, but he would have liked to have gotten at least some sort of buffer zone. Not like, "Hello, welcome home, hope you had a nice trip, here are the skirts you bought!"

It's fine, though. It's fine. He doesn't have to deal with it.

He takes the packages to one of the spare cupboards where he keeps everything his mum would call "useless junk" and he categorises as "maybe I'll look at these at some point". There, it's dealt with. He never has to think about them again. Maybe he'll dig them out at some point and actually give them to his sisters, like he'd planned. They'd make a nice gift.

If he's a bit dramatic in slamming the door then no one's around to see.

He drops his dirty laundry off in his living room, picks himself a new comfortable hoodie from the wardrobe, and bounds back down the stairs. It's almost noon and Nick said he'd managed to clear up the rest of his day. Louis has places to be.

~

He texts Nick as he arrives, a quick, Made it to yours! He doesn't even have time to start digging for his own key before the door's being pulled open.

"Hey," Nick says, beaming wide.

"Hi," Louis grins back and lets Nick pull him inside.

"Missed you," Nick says, and leans down to kiss him. Louis tugs him over so Nick's got him leaning against the wall, bracketing Louis with his arms. It makes something warm settle in Louis's stomach.

"Wasn't even gone that long," he says between soft kisses. God, Nick.

Nick pinches his side, and Louis yelps.

"Fine, fine," Louis grumbles. "I missed you, too."

"Good," Nick says, and pulls Louis in for a hug, strong arms wrapped around Louis's shoulders. Louis inhales deeply and lets himself melt against Nick.

He did miss Nick, really. Maybe even a stupid amount.

"Tired?" Nick asks.

"Mm," Louis says. "A bit. Didn't sleep well on the flight."

Nick drops a kiss to his hair, and Louis would accuse him of being soft, but he suddenly feels like he's ready to fall asleep standing up. Besides, it makes him feel good.

"Hungry?" Nick asks.

"Could eat," Louis says, and pulls back a little. "Where's Pig?"

"Managed to lock her in the bedroom," Nick says. Louis can hear quiet whines coming from the distance.

"Cruel," he says.

"Go let her out," Nick says. "I'll make you a toastie. Or cereal?"

Louis wrinkles his nose. "Toastie," he says, and goes to rescue Pig.

Pig is delighted to see him, obviously. After all, she has excellent taste. He scoops her up after she's done running around him in circles and carries her over to the kitchen. She's wriggly, but warm and solid in his arms, and he likes it. It makes him feel important.

"Are you carrying the dog again?" Nick asks as Louis and Pig grandly enter the kitchen.

"I'm very strong," Louis says. "Pig loves it."

Nick glances over at them from the counter, looking so very fond. Louis looks away and tries not to go all red. He blushes so easily when it comes to Nick, it's fucking embarrassing. Nick doesn't even have to say anything, for fuck's sake.

He puts Pig down and settles behind the kitchen table. "So, where's my toastie?"

"On its way," Nick says. "Relax."

"But I'm hungry," Louis says, and rests his chin on his arms, huddling down. "I've been away for so long. I've forgotten what good toasties taste like."

"Thought you said it wasn't even that long," Nick says.

"I'm tired and hungry, how dare you use my words against me."

Nick laughs softly, and Louis closes his eyes for a minute.

"Louis," Nick says. "Lou. Hey."

Louis blinks his eyes open, confused. "Yeah?"

"You fell asleep for a second," Nick says. His hand is on Louis's shoulder, squeezing. "Sure you don't want to just go to bed now?"

Louis sits up straighter, and slowly shakes his head. "No," he says. "I'll just wake up starving, then."

"Alright," Nick says, and puts a plate in front of him. "Eat up, then."

"Cheers," Louis says, and takes his first bite. He's sure it's what heaven tastes like. "This is what heaven tastes like," he says, mouth full.

"Aw," Nick says. "I'm flattered."

He joins Louis at the table, and stretches out his long legs, bumping his feet against Louis's.

"So how was tour?" he asks. "Looks like you guys were having a good time."

Louis nods. "It was fun. Could have even done it for a bit longer, I think."

Nick hums. "Cool," he says. "Get up to anything wild?"

Louis doesn't mean to think it, but the first thing that pops into his brain is the night where he had a brief—whatever that was, and bought those goddamn skirts. He chokes a bit on his toastie, and reaches quickly for his milk.

"No," he says after he's cleared his throat. Nick's looking at him curiously. "I mean, nothing wild. Checked out some of the venues in the middle of the night, went shopping with Niall and almost got ambushed. That kind of stuff."

Nick smiles at that, soft.

"What?" Louis asks.

"Just, you told me about those," Nick says. "And that time Harry almost crashed the golf cart, and Liam slipped and took Niall down with him, and, like, all of that."

"So?" Louis asks.

Nick shrugs. "Nothing. It's just nice, you know. Realising that, I suppose."

Louis furrows his brows. He's a bit too tired to follow the conversation. "Right. Wait, did I beat Harry to telling you about the golf cart thing?"

Nick laughs. "Nah, he texted me right after, I think."

"Bastard," Louis says. "I totally thought I'd get there first."

"Have to be faster next time," Nick says.

"Oh, just you wait," Louis says. "We're going to make it into a thing."

"Please don't," Nick says. "You'll end up breaking your own leg just so you can tell me about it before Harry gets to it."

"Well," Louis says. "As long as you think I'd never break Harry's leg."

Nick rolls his eyes and Louis laughs. It might be a bit weird sometimes, but it's nice, dating someone Harry's close with. It made Louis feel oddly guilty at first, but Harry was so happy and excited about it; it made Louis feel less like he was stealing one of Harry's friends.

He finishes off his toastie and yawns wide, jaw almost cracking.

"Right," Nick says, and pulls Louis to his feet. "Bedtime."

"Just a quick nap," Louis says. "Don't let me sleep too long or—"

"Or you get a headache, I know," Nick says. "Don't worry."

"'M not worried," Louis says, and leans against Nick.

"Yeah, you're just dead on your feet," Nick says. "And heavy."

"Hey," Louis says. "I object."

Nick laughs, his whole body shaking. "You object?"

"Yes," Louis says. "Take it back."

"Fine, I take it back," Nick says. "You're light as a feather. Oh, look, here's the bed."

"Bed," Louis says, and climbs onto it. "Thank god, it's a bed."

He curls up and presses his face into a pillow. It smells like Nick. It feels good to be home.

~

He only lasts a few days.

A few days spent at Nick's, only venturing home in passing, until it gets to be too much. There's like a weight at the back of his brain, pressing on everything, and constantly reminding him that he has something at home he's even hiding from himself.

Eventually, the curiosity gets to be too much. He ordered himself something, the least he could do is take a look.

Maybe try them on. Maybe.

He has breakfast at Nick's while listening to the show, leg bouncing under the kitchen table while Nick laughs about something on the radio. It helps him focus, a bit. But soon he's done, and the show's over, and Louis feels like it's now or never.

He takes his time when he gets home. He doesn't want to, really, he wants to get it over with—just a look, it's not that weird—but he can't make himself do it.

He's on edge and twitchy, but he sits down in his living room, tries to focus on telly for a while before abandoning it in favour of his laptop. He falls asleep for a bit, tired from the tour and the cold weather creeping in faster than usual this year.

He considers texting Nick after he's woken up, but he thinks Nick had meetings and recording today, well into the late afternoon. Besides, he's not sure what he'd say. "Hey, what's up, I think I'm about to try on a skirt, what are your feelings on that"? Stupid.

He wonders if Nick will worry, though, when he gets home and there's no note from Louis. Nick's weird about stuff like that sometimes. He sends off a quick dinner at mine tonight? and leaves his phone on the sofa when he goes to piss.

He catches sight of himself in the mirror in the bathroom and stares. His hair's getting long again, hanging limp around his face. His beard isn't the wildest it's been, but today it's bothering him. He frowns and reaches for the razor.

Shaving makes him feel just a bit calmer. He traces his fingers over his jaw after he's done, pleased with the way it feels. He looks younger. Something tugs in his belly, and he growls quietly, annoyed with himself, and stomps out of the bathroom.

He can fucking do this. He can do whatever he wants, and if he wants to do this, then he bloody well can.

The packages are just where he left them, waiting. Louis grabs them, and marches upstairs to his bedroom. He's never been absolutely sure about this house, but he's slowly making it his own. His bedroom is the place where he often feels the most comfortable. His bedroom, Nick's bed, the tour bus he and Zayn share. Three places he can call home that aren't in Doncaster.

He tears all the packages open and drops the skirts on his bed.

The first one that catches his eye is the one with a wide red stripe at the bottom. It looks—it looks cool.

He picks it up, feeling the fabric. It's soft, pleasant to the touch. The skirt looks great.

He really wants to try it on.

He takes his hoodie and trackies off, chucks the t-shirt he stole from Nick for good measure. It's warm in his bedroom, and he's sure the shirt would look wrong with the skirt. He wants an objective picture.

He thinks about stepping into the skirt at first, but then remembers the way he's seen his ex-girlfriends do it, and slips it over his head. He realises his hands are shaking when he tries to zip it up. He holds his breath, and finally manages, and turns the skirt around so the zipper is on the back, and then it's done. He's wearing a skirt.

He's wearing a fucking skirt.

Louis covers his face with his hands and takes a deep breath. Right. Okay. So, he's wearing a skirt. It's fine, he bought it, it's his fucking skirt, he can do whatever he wants with it. It was made to be worn. There's really nothing else he can do with it, is there?

He really needs his brain to shut up.

He runs his hands down his face and shakes his head. It's pointless to just keep standing around. There's a floor mirror in a corner next to his wardrobe; he stands in front of it and just looks.

It looks good. It doesn't look quite as good as it did on the model in the picture, but it was probably stupid to expect that it would. It doesn't look bad, though. It fits nicely, he'd say.

He runs his hand over it, watching the way it falls. Then he takes a step back and takes in the whole picture. Himself, completely naked save for the skirt, and the boxer briefs he's wearing underneath it. His face freshly shaved, hair quite long, his chest narrow, and his belly slightly soft.

He doesn't think he looks like a girl, but that wasn't what he was aiming for. He looks a bit awkward, the way he has his arms wrapped around himself, hugging himself tight, but he looks—good. Or, like, he feels like he looks good. He probably looks stupid as fuck, but he feels like he looks—pretty, or something absurd like that.

He turns away from the mirror, oddly overwhelmed. The skirt moves as he does, flaring and then dropping again, soft against his thighs. It makes something pleasant shoot up from his belly.

"Fuck," he whispers, and covers his face again. "You're being ridiculous."

He drops down on his bed, and the wide waistline digs into his stomach, the skirt a bit tight. It makes his breath catch. He runs his hands over his thighs, down the length of the skirt. It really does look lovely.

He jumps up again and does a little twirl, the way Harry and Liam are always moving on stage. The skirt flares again, and he feels even stupider, even though he fucking likes it. He likes it.

His heart drops when he hears a door slam downstairs. What?

"Louis," Nick calls, loud as anything. "You better be here, because you didn't text me back, you twat."

Louis is going to be sick. He's literally going to be sick all over himself and his new skirt.

Oh god. Oh god, the skirt.

He scrambles to get it off, his hands shaking, heart beating impossibly fast. He almost rips it, fumbling with the zipper. God, why did he ever give Nick the code to his gate? Why did he give him a key?

Because Louis is terribly, horribly in love with Nick Grimshaw, that's why. And all of that is going to be over, because Nick is going to walk in here, and see Louis wearing nothing but a goddamn skirt, and Louis is going to die. He won't survive this.

"Louis?" Nick calls again. Louis swallows a whimper and tugs at the skirt.

He manages to finally get it off and throws it under the bed. He shoves the other two under there as well. No one ever looks under the bed. Nick would find them in his wardrobe—he sometimes likes helping Louis pick out clothes. God, god, why did Louis buy them?

He grabs his clothes and dresses in a hurry. He can hear Nick coming up the stairs. Fuck.

He rushes out of his bedroom, and slams the door shut behind him.

Nick's paused on the top of the stairs, looking confused. "Hi?"

"Hey," Louis says. "What are you doing here?"

Nick frowns. "I said I was on my way. You didn't get my texts?"

"Oh," Louis says. "I didn't check my phone."

"Huh," Nick says. "I thought we were having dinner together?"

"At yours?" Louis asks.

"No, here," Nick says. "I mean, I thought. You texted me earlier. Did I get completely mixed up?"

"No," Louis says, suddenly remembering. "No, no. I mean, yeah. I texted you. Uh. Are you hungry?"

"Are you alright?" Nick asks. "What's going on?"

"Nothing," Louis says. "I'm fine."

"Okay," Nick says slowly. He seems to come to a decision then, and asks, "Dinner?"

"What are you making?" Louis asks. His heart's still beating too fast, and he's sweating a bit, but he can do this. He can wing it. It'll be fine.

Nick leans against the banister. "If we're eating here, aren't you supposed to be cooking?"

"You know I'm rubbish at cooking," Louis says. "Now let's go, I'm starving."

Nick rolls his eyes, but marches back down the stairs. Louis follows him; considers reaching out and brushing his fingers over Nick's back, just a, "Hey, I know I'm being weird, sorry", but doesn't. He feels too on edge.

It turns out he doesn't have anything in the fridge that'd make a proper meal. Actually, he doesn't have much in the fridge at all.

"Wow," Nick says. "I remember when my fridge used to look like this."

"Yeah, when was that, a week ago?" Louis asks, annoyed.

"Have you not been to the shops since before you left?"

"I haven't ordered any groceries since then, yes," Louis says. "I've been at yours, remember?"

Nick closes the fridge. "Alright, let's go to Waitrose."

"We could just order in," Louis says.

"I like going to Waitrose," Nick says. "And you said I should cook, so."

Louis sighs, loud and obnoxious, but Nick pays him no mind and starts pushing him towards the door.

"Come on," Nick says. "We'll argue about what sort of cereal to get. I'll let you load the cart with sweets and crisps, like you're a child."

"Rude," Louis says. "You're the child."

"Sure," Nick says, and pulls Louis close for a moment, arm wrapped around his chest, a hug from behind. "Come on, it might make you feel better."

"I don't need to feel better," Louis says.

"You're buzzing out of your skin," Nick says. He squeezes Louis's hip, a quick touch, and then steps away. "Let's go."

Louis swallows hard, trying not to get emotional over the fact that Nick can read him that well. It's annoying sometimes, but in instances like this it just makes him feel warm and cared for.

They've been together for a while. Nick knows a lot about him, and still wants to be with him, which seems ridiculous to Louis some days.

Louis just isn't sure if he's ready for Nick to know what Louis hid under his bed earlier. Not yet.

~

In the end, he doesn't get much of a choice.

It's not even a week later when Nick texts him. Can I come over to talk? There are no emojis. Louis is immediately suspicious, and just a bit nervous.

Sure, he says. When?

Right now? Nick asks.

Louis's stomach goes tight. Okay, he sends, and then pockets the phone. He's sure it's nothing. He saw Nick only last night, and he didn't seem any different. It's nothing.

Nick turns up on Louis's doorstep only around fifteen or twenty minutes later, which means he was probably already ready to leave when he texted Louis. Louis lets him in and tries to not jump to the worst conclusion.

"So," Nick says, and sits down on Louis's sofa. Louis thinks it's a good sign. It must mean Nick doesn't want to immediately run out, right? Louis is terrible at signs.

"So," Louis echoes. He stays standing. "Is everything okay?"

"Yeah," Nick says. "Are you going to sit down?"

"Nah," Louis says, and wraps his arms around himself. "What did you want to talk about?"

Nick runs his fingers through his hair, and bounces his knee around. He's nervous. He can join the club.

"This might sound odd," Nick says. "Or stupid, maybe."

"Hasn't stopped you before," Louis says. He tries to make it sound like a joke, but it comes out a bit weak. His throat is tight; his stomach turning. Please don't let Nick be breaking up with him.

"Ha," Nick says. "Alright. Just. Are you hiding something from me?"

Louis swallows hard. Oh. "Why would I be hiding something?"

"I don't know," Nick says. "I mean—god, I wouldn't usually be even doing this, you know?"

Louis doesn't know. "Doing what?"

Nick shrugs. "Asking you, I guess. Usually when things get weird I just think, okay, there goes that then, or pretend it isn't happening and let it just...fall apart on its own. Great at being an adult, me."

"Are things falling apart?" Louis asks, his breath getting faster.

"No?" Nick asks. "I don't know, no. I don't think so? It's just you've been acting strange for a bit now, after you got back from tour, and I was wondering, and Harry said—"

"Harry said?"

"Harry said, that if he asked you or Liam for advice when it came to something like this, then you'd just tell him to, like, go and ask about it. So now I'm asking you."

Louis hugs himself tighter. "Why would you think I'm hiding something?"

"It just feels like you are," Nick says quietly.

"Well, I don't know why you feel like that," Louis says, voice rising. He hasn't—well, he has been hiding something, but not on purpose. It's nothing huge, it's nothing that matters.

"You've stopped spending the night," Nick says. "You're always on edge, like you're afraid of something. When I tried to follow you to your bedroom the other day you snapped at me."

Fuck. Louis didn't realise he'd been so obvious. It's just, his brain hasn't shut up for days now, ever since he threw the skirts under the bed and left them there. He's constantly afraid someone will somehow find out, and then everything will go to shit.

"Well," Louis tries. "Fine. What if I am?"

Nick frowns. "What?"

"What if I am hiding something? Do I have to tell you everything?"

"No?" Nick asks slowly. "I just—"

"Like, we're allowed to have our own lives, aren't we? I don't need to tell you everything I get up to."

Nick rubs at his forehead. "Of course not," he says. "Like, if it's nothing that affects us—"

"It's not," Louis says quickly.

"But it feels like it is," Nick finishes. "I miss you. Like, fuck it, maybe I'm being too clingy, but we've been together for a long time, and we did the whole "not talking about our feelings" thing already, and I don't want to do that again. It fucking sucked."

"This isn't that," Louis says, voice quieter again. That did suck. He doesn't want to go back to that. He doesn't want to hide a part of himself. Fuck.

"So tell me what it is," Nick says. "Please? Because I'm going out of my head, jumping to the worst conclusions. Like, completely ridiculous things, like in fucking Corrie or something. Like you having a kid or you cheating on me or—"

"You think I'd cheat on you?"

"No!" Nick says. "No, I don't bloody think that. I just want to know what's wrong!"

"Fine!" Louis says, close to shouting. "You want to know what I'm hiding? Fine, I'll fucking tell you."

He doesn't wait for Nick's reaction; he rushes upstairs to his bedroom, goes down on his knees and fishes the skirts out from under the bed. If Nick wants to know so badly then Louis can fucking tell him.

If Nick thinks Louis is...that Louis would ever hide something huge and terrible, then he can deal with this. He can deal with it, and Louis won't be hiding anymore, and then it'll be Nick's problem.

He marches back into the living room, and throws the skirts at Nick. Nick flinches back, his expression going from confusion to shock and then plain curiosity.

He picks one of the skirts up and stares at it. It's the one with the lace.

"I ordered them," Louis says, defiant. "For myself."

He takes a deep breath, fighting the urge to cross his arms again or run away and puke up his lunch, and waits.

"Huh," Nick says, after a long minute. "Is that it?"

Louis stares. "What?"

"Well," Nick says. "I mean, it's not really a big deal, is it?"

Louis growls, turns on his heel, and stomps back upstairs. He slams the door of his bedroom and sinks against it, distantly aware that he's shaking. He can't tell if it's from anger or something else.

He expected to feel like shit after telling Nick; god, telling anyone at all. He didn't expect to feel quite this frustrated and embarrassed. Or this lonely.

He rests the back of his head against the door and closes his eyes. Fuck.

~

Nick texts him. Come downstairs, I have food.

Louis isn't sure how long he's been sitting on his bedroom floor. His bum has started to hurt. He stares at his phone, not quite sure what to do. He thought Nick would have left by now.

Please? Nick sends.

Louis sighs and heaves himself up.

It smells good downstairs, and Louis's stomach growls. He can't remember what he had for lunch. He's been ordering pizza lately, holing up in his living room. No wonder Nick thought something was up.

Nick is waiting for him, his expression nervous. Louis looks away, his gaze stopping on something else.

The skirts sit folded on the coffee table.

"You folded them," Louis says.

"Cleaned them a bit, too," Nick says. "They were dusty."

"I hid them under my bed," Louis says.

"Yeah, that would do it," Nick says.

"What did you cook?" Louis asks.

"Just pasta," Nick says. "You didn't have much in the kitchen, and I didn't want to leave."

"Okay," Louis says.

"I'm sorry," Nick says. "Can you come here?" He holds his hand out for Louis.

Louis rolls his eyes, and walks up to Nick. Nick gathers him in a hug, arms strong around Louis.

"I'm sorry," he repeats. "I didn't mean it like that."

"Okay," Louis says again, softly, and rests his head against Nick's shoulder. "Can we eat? I'm starving."

"Yeah, of course," Nick says, and steps back, keeping a hand on Louis's elbow.

They settle behind the kitchen table, and Louis is glad to focus on eating. Nick waits until they're done with most of the meal before he brings it up again.

"I really am sorry," he says. "I probably made you feel like shit."

Louis shrugs and chases a piece of pasta with his fork. "A bit."

"I was just prepared for something, you know, a lot worse," Nick says.

"Like what?" Louis asks.

"I have no idea," Nick says. "I thought you were getting bored of me. I thought you wanted to break up."

Louis frowns and kicks at his shin. "Shut up."

"I told you," Nick says, and makes an apologetic face. "I was jumping to the worst conclusions."

"Well, you're an idiot," Louis says.

Nick laughs at that, covering his mouth with his hand, and Louis really does love him a lot. He nudges at Nick's foot with his own, and Nick smiles at him.

"Well, it wasn't anything like that," Louis says. "Just a bloke in a skirt. Nothing special." He tries to make it sound flippant, but it catches in his throat a bit.

Nick's eyes go soft. "I was looking at it from my perspective," he says. "I know I got it wrong. Sorry."

Louis shrugs. "You stayed. Fixed us dinner."

"Of course I stayed," Nick says. "I mean, unless you'd have wanted me to go."

"No," Louis says quickly. "I mean. No."

"I was just relieved," Nick says. "And confused, I suppose, because I didn't understand why you'd hide it from me."

Louis pushes his plate away and chews on his lip. He gets it. Nick didn't mean to hurt him, at all, in any way. He probably thinks it's completely normal. Louis wishes he felt the same.

"But it's obviously a big deal to you," Nick continues. "I'm sorry if I pried it out of you, if you weren't ready to say something."

"No," Louis says. "No, I decided to tell you."

Nick looks sceptical.

"I did," Louis says. "I didn't want to hide, really. I wanted to tell you, I was just—scared."

"But why?" Nick asks.

"Because it's weird!" Louis says.

"Lou—"

"It's weird. I mean, it's weird for me; I know you wear dresses sometimes and you like it, and I am okay with that, I am. I think you look great in them. I just never—I just never thought I would do something like this. Ugh. I hate talking about this."

"Sorry," Nick says again. "I mean, we don't have to. You know I'm bleeding allergic to these kinds of conversations, too."

"I know," Louis says. But Nick's still here. And he's trying, and he's probably worn a dress a million times, and he's fine with it. And he still gets that it's different for Louis, and fuck, Louis really fucking loves him. Like something awful.

"Anyway," Nick says. "I texted Daisy. Told her to take Pig for the night."

"You're staying the night?" Louis asks.

"If you don't mind."

"No," Louis says. "Don't mind."

"Great," Nick says, smiling briefly. "I kind of missed you."

"Sorry," Louis says, wincing.

"Nah," Nick says. "It's fine, love. I get it, okay? You needed a bit of time."

"Yeah," Louis says, sinking lower in his chair. "Well, I missed you, too, so."

"I feel all special," Nick jokes, but his smile is genuine.

"I wore a dress once," Louis blurts out.

Nick pauses with a glass halfway to his mouth. "Yeah?" he asks.

"It was my girlfriend's. It was for a laugh."

"How was it?" Nick asks, and sets the glass down again.

Louis shrugs, and looks down. "It didn't fit me right. It just looked awkward."

"Yeah," Nick says. "Hate when that happens."

Louis bites his lip and nods.

"How did the skirts look?" Nick asks.

"Only wore one," Louis says quietly. "The one with the red. It was nice, though." He can feel his face flushing.

"Yeah?" Nick asks. "Want to show me?"

"Maybe," Louis says. He does. He just doesn't want to look stupid. "Not tonight, though."

"Yeah, of course," Nick says. He reaches over and takes Louis's hand, squeezes. Louis looks up and meets his eyes. Nick looks so gentle, Louis can't bear it.

"Let's just," he says, and untangles their hands, "let's just finish this and go and watch telly or something."

"Sure," Nick says. "Let's do that."

It's Nick who picks up the skirts when they leave to go up to the bedroom. "Do you want to put these in your wardrobe?" he asks.

Louis looks at them. "Well, I can't just leave them lying around."

"I can find a place for them for you," Nick says.

"Alright," Louis says, and leads them upstairs.

They sit around in bed, Louis on his laptop and Nick on his phone, the TV playing, until Nick is yawning every two seconds.

"Go to sleep," Louis says, and turns the TV off. "You have to be up at five fucking thirty."

Nick groans and puts his phone away. "Fine." He curls up on his side, facing Louis.

Louis watches Nick's face for a while, illuminated by the glow from Louis's laptop, and feels horribly fond. He puts his laptop away and lies down as well, pulling the covers over them both.

"Hey," he whispers.

"What?" Nick asks, not opening his eyes.

Louis shuffles a bit closer to him. "Thanks. I guess."

Nick throws an arm over Louis's waist, comfortable. "Love you," he mumbles, clearly close to sleep.

"Same," Louis says, and closes his eyes. He feels calmer than he has in days.

~

"Should I leave the shirt on?" Louis asks.

They're in Nick's bedroom, the skirts all laid out on Nick's bed. Louis vaguely feels like he might throw up. Nick's being great, though.

"Yeah, keep it," Nick says. "It won't get in the way. Besides, you'd get cold."

"Alright," Louis says. He's standing around in just his pants and t-shirt, about to try on a couple of skirts. It's fine.

Nick's sitting on the bed; he picks out one of the skirts and holds it up for Louis.

"This one first?" he asks.

Louis swallows hard. He steps forward and snatches it out of Nick's hand, quick. It's the one with the lace.

"Okay," he says. His voice may be shaking.

"Wait, come here," Nick says, and pulls Louis down for a kiss. He runs his fingers through Louis's hair, and Louis melts into it, tension slowly starting to seep out of him.

By the time Louis pulls back he feels marginally more settled. Distracted, at least.

Nick smiles at him, and brushes his hair away from his face. "It's getting long," he says.

"I like it," Louis says. "For now, I think. I don't know, maybe I'm just lazy about getting it cut."

Nick hums. "It looks nice," he says.

Louis looks down at the skirt he's clutching in his hand.

"I don't have to do this, right?" he asks.

Nick frowns. "Obviously not. Of course not."

Louis nods. "Okay. I want to."

He pulls the skirt over his head in a quick move. It gets caught on his shirt for a moment, but he's able to tug it down until the waist is more or less in the right place.

It's smaller than the other skirt was, and a lot shorter.

"It's too tight," Louis says, frowning. "Fucking uncomfortable."

"You can exchange it for a bigger one," Nick says, fingers trailing over the lace. "It looks beautiful."

"I don't know," Louis says. He does like it, though.

"I could handle that for you, if you want," Nick offers. Louis is filled with terrible fondness.

"Yeah," he says. "Maybe." He pulls the skirt off again. It was barely on, it's like he didn't wear it. He doesn't have to feel weird about it, or worry about how he's wearing a skirt in front of his boyfriend, because, well, he's not currently wearing a skirt. He's fine.

"Hey," Nick says, and touches Louis's hip. "You alright?" He helps Louis tug his shirt down again.

"Yeah," Louis says. "Fine."

"Do you want to try on another?"

"The all black one," Louis says, pointing. "I know what the other one looks like."

Nick hands it over; it's heavier than the other one, and Louis has a bit more hope for it. He gets it on easier, too, and it fits—it fits really well. It goes down almost to his knees, falling heavily but feeling comfortable.

He steps back and does a little half-turn. Then he remembers that Nick is in the room and promptly wants to die of embarrassment.

"Uh," he says, throat dry.

"It looks beautiful," Nick says. He sounds like he means it. "D'you want to try heels? It'd look great."

"No," Louis says quickly. "Or. Maybe."

"Yeah?"

"Not today," Louis says, running his hands over the skirt. He can't look up at Nick. "Just. Shut up for a minute."

Nick doesn't say, "Okay". Louis loves him.

He turns away from Nick and goes to face the tall floor mirror next to Nick's wardrobe instead. He still feels horribly awkward, but the skirt really does look good.

Louis takes a deep breath. "It's nice, isn't it?" he asks.

"It looks great," Nick says. "You look great."

"Thanks," Louis whispers, his face flushing. "It's, like, simple, right? Not flashy."

"Flashy can be fun," Nick says.

Louis rolls his eyes. "Yeah, you'd know."

Nick laughs softly. "It looks great on you, love. Good choice."

Louis sucks in a breath. That's right; he picked all of these out himself. He didn't get it totally wrong, at least. That makes him feel a bit better.

"I think I still like the red one the best," he says. "Or, I don't know. This looks okay." He can't stop running his fingers over it.

"Do you want to put the red one on?" Nick asks. "I'd love to see it."

Louis bites the inside of his mouth. Then he turns around quickly to face Nick. "You don't think I look stupid, right?" he demands.

Nick's brow furrows. "No?" he asks.

"Are you sure?" Louis asks. "Because if you do then just tell me."

"No," Nick repeats. "Why would I think that?"

"Just," Louis says, and looks down, the fight seeping out of him again. "I'm wearing a skirt."

"And you're rocking it," Nick says.

Louis laughs at that, loud and unexpected, and covers his mouth with his hand. He feels horribly nervous.

"You look lovely," Nick says, voice softer again. "That's not stupid, is it?"

"I suppose not," Louis says, and crosses his arms. "Just, it—I don't know. You usually wear dresses for Halloween. Like it's a joke."

"Well," Nick says. "Maybe it is a bit for me. Or, like, the joke is me, you know, but at the same time I look fucking fabulous?"

"Right," Louis says.

"But that's not what it's like for you," Nick says. "What do you think you look like?"

Louis swallows his first instinct to say "ridiculous". It's just him and Nick. Nick wouldn't call him ridiculous right now or anything like that, so Louis doesn't have to beat him to it.

"I don't know," he says instead. "Pretty? That's stupid." His face burns.

"It's not," Nick says. "You do look pretty. It's nice to know you have eyes."

Louis snorts. "Yeah. Anyway."

"The one with the red?" Nick asks.

Louis notices suddenly that Nick's sitting on his hands. Interesting.

"Yeah," Louis says, and unzips the skirt, pulls it off. He throws it on the bed, where it lands in a heap.

"I don't know why I assumed you'd be more careful with these," Nick says, laying it out nicely.

"I don't know why either," Louis quips, and takes the last skirt.

It goes on fast, like last time, and yeah, it's still Louis's favourite. It might not sit as comfortably as the longer black one, but there's something about it.

"Whoa," Nick says. "Yeah, that looks amazing."

Louis looks down at it, feeling pleased. He might still be embarrassed about this whole thing, but at least he has damn good taste.

"Can I—" Nick starts, and clears his throat. Louis looks up at him, curious. "Can I touch it?" Nick asks.

"Um," Louis says. "Yeah, okay."

Nick gets up and comes to stand in front of Louis. His hands go to Louis's waist, fingers trailing over Louis's sides and the soft fabric of the skirt.

"It looks really good," he says softly, and runs his hands over Louis's thighs.

"Thanks," Louis says, something warm twisting in his belly.

"It suits you," Nick says. His hands go to Louis's arse, squeezing.

Louis realises suddenly that he's getting hard—he's not sure if it's from the way Nick sounds, or just the fact that he's wearing a goddamn skirt and he likes it.

"Looks good," Nick says again, and meets Louis's eyes. Louis stares back at him, biting his lip.

"Yeah?" he asks.

Nick goes down on his knees and Louis's breath catches.

"Can I?" Nick asks.

"Fuck," Louis says.

"Is that a yes?" Nick asks. "Like, I don't want to make you uncomfortable—"

"Shut up," Louis says. "And fucking blow me already."

Nick grins up at him. His eyes are dark, and happy, and Louis feels overwhelmed about how clearly he wants this.

He pushes the waistband of the skirt up a bit, and tugs Louis's pants off. He doesn't waste any time in taking Louis into his mouth, and if Louis wasn't hard already he'd get there because of how eager Nick seems.

Louis can't see Nick's face underneath the skirt, and fuck, he didn't realise how hot that'd be. He grips Nick's shoulder instead, trying to stay standing as Nick sucks him off.

"Fuck," he says. "Fuck, Nick."

Nick's fingers are digging into Louis's hip, just on the right side of painful, something to help keep Louis grounded. He can't stop thinking of the skirt, of the way it looks with Nick under it, the way it fits around Louis's waist, the fact that Nick's being so fucking great about it, and Louis is doing this. He was scared as shit, but he's fucking doing it, he's wearing it. No taking it back.

Nick does that thing with his tongue Louis loves and Louis groans deep, clutching Nick's shoulder tighter.

"I'm close," he says, squeezing Nick's shoulder in warning. "Close, Nick."

Nick hums, but he doesn't pull off, and Louis can't hold back anymore, coming down Nick's throat.

"Fuck," he whispers, his stomach tight, and watches Nick emerge from under the skirt, his face flushed, watches him swallow. "Fucking shit, Nick."

"Didn't want to get any on your skirt," Nick says, and idly wipes at his mouth.

"Yeah," Louis says, gasping. "Yeah. Do you want me to—" He gestures at Nick's crotch.

"Uh," Nick says. "Already handled."

Louis stares at him. "What? When?"

Nick shrugs, not even looking embarrassed. Louis would be mortified. "This was really hot for me," Nick says. "Basically."

"Oh," Louis says, blown away. (Ha, blown.) Nick came in his pants. Because of Louis, and Louis didn't even have to do anything. "Oh."

"So, yeah," Nick says. "Let's go to bed?"

"Yeah," Louis says softly. "Okay."

Nick moves the other skirts off the bed, and Louis curls up on top of the covers, feeling tired but content.

"You should probably take that off," Nick says.

Louis looks down at the skirt. It is a bit uncomfortable, the way it digs into his stomach when he curls up. "Yeah, alright."

He works it off carefully while Nick cleans himself up in the bathroom, and places it on top of the others, before lying down on the bed again.

Nick tugs the covers over them both when he joins him in bed, and pulls Louis close. "Hey," he says.

"Hi," Louis says.

"We can't sleep for long," Nick says. "Have to take Pig out."

"And they say romance is dead," Louis grumbles.

Nick laughs softly. He cards his fingers through Louis's hair.

"So," Nick says. "Did you like that? How do you feel?"

"Good," Louis says, and hides his face against Nick's chest. "Feel good. Thanks."

"Of course," Nick says, and rests his hand on the back of Louis's neck.

Louis falls asleep quickly.

~

Louis is curled up on the sofa next to Nick, trying to focus on Arsenal vs West Ham on telly. It's a boring game, though, and his eyes are starting to hurt, so he looks over at Nick's laptop instead.

"That's not work," he says.

"I'm done for now," Nick says. "Halloween is next week, me and Rita might coordinate our outfits this time."

"How Teen Awards of you," Louis says, and watches Nick open several dresses in tabs.

"Ha," Nick says. "I don't know, maybe I'll just borrow something from Kate. Oh, hey, this blue one would look great with your eyes."

"I'm not wearing a dress for Halloween," Louis says. His stomach churns at the thought. "Or a skirt."

"I know, love," Nick says, and presses a kiss to his hair.

"It's just," Louis says. "It's private. It's just for me."

He's worn his skirts a few times in the bedroom, and Nick had one of them exchanged for a bigger version, but that's as far as he's comfortable going with it. He might buy a new one at some point, or try a dress, but that's it. It's his. It still makes his face flush, just thinking about it.

"I know," Nick repeats. "What do you think of this one? For me."

It's a half-thigh length black dress with sequins on the side. Nick would look great in it.

"You'd look great in it," Louis says.

"I feel like I should go with some other colour this time," Nick says.

"Nah," Louis says. "Also, I'd be really looking forward to taking it off at the end of the night."

"Oh," Nick says. "That's a good selling point."

Louis chuckles and presses his face against Nick's shoulder.

"You know," Louis says after a minute of Nick flicking through various dresses, "you're a pretty okay boyfriend."

"High praise," Nick says, and runs his fingers through Louis's hair.

"It is," Louis insists, patting Nick's thigh.

On telly Arsenal scores, and Louis is off the sofa in a second, whooping. "Shit, did you see that? Came out of nowhere!"

"Wahey, footie!" Nick says. "They did the thing with the ball!"

"You're hopeless," Louis says, fond. "Also, you should go with the dark purple dress, or whatever that colour is."

Nick grins and pulls Louis back down for a kiss.