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all those eyes are all it takes

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1.

 

“Really? No one?”

The room is tense.

Louis feels a drop of sweat begin to form on the back of his neck at the pressure. Perhaps that’s from the lack of proper air conditioning in the room, though, because Louis’ never given much of a fuck about school. Still, it’s an awkward situation. His maths teacher has just spent half an hour giving a huge lecture on a concept they’ve been reviewing for days, and still nobody’s able to come up with a response to the problem he’s given them.

Louis lifts his head and scans the faces of his classmates. No one seems to have a clue, averting their gazes as is commonplace in this sort of situation. One unlucky student is going to get called on, and it’s usually the one who accidentally makes eye contact. The blue-eyed boy knows it won’t be him. His teachers had all given up on engaging him in their lessons long ago, when it became clear that the only way he would respond to a question would be by making a crude (if clever) joke.

He catches Zayn’s eye from the desk beside him and sighs. It’s been a long day. Zayn chuckles silently and then looks back to the front of the room.

“Fine,” their teacher says harshly, like it’s not fine at all. “I’ll just have to start forcing you lot to participate seeing as no one will do so willingly. Mr. Styles, then? Care to share an answer with your peers?”

Immediately, Louis directs his focus to the back corner of the room, where Harry Styles the sophomore sits with his curly hair and his glasses. They’re Harry Potter the wizard glasses with round frames, which Louis finds somewhat annoying, but it’s okay because Harry Styles the sophomore has very nice green eyes that those glasses magnify just the tiniest bit. He’s got nice skin, too, Louis’ always noticed.

Not that he pays that much attention. Harry’s a quiet kid, always hanging around in the background of things, never showing up to school football matches or dances. Louis thinks he might spend a lot of time studying. He’s clearly not too bad at the whole academics thing—the boy’s in Louis’ maths class despite being two years younger.

However, it seems that he, too, is stumped by the question up on the board. He jumps in surprise at the mention of his name, knocking his pencil onto the floor. His blush is quite cute, Louis admits to himself. It makes him think of other circumstances in which Louis could be the cause of that blush, which is uncomfortable because Harry’s so young and probably very innocent.

“Um, me?” Harry gulps, eyes shifting in panic. “Well, er, I…I…”

The boy’s clearly in complete distress.

“Yes?” Mr. Douchebag prompts. “We’re waiting, Harry.”

“I got…” Harry gulps. “I think…I…”

A little alarm goes off in the back of Louis’ head, telling him that Harry needs to be saved and Louis needs to be the one to do it. Harry’s fully startled and his face is reddening further with every awkward second that ticks by; Louis feels his pain second-hand. That, and the humiliated expression on his face doesn’t become him quite as well as his rare smile does. Before Louis knows what he’s doing, he finds himself standing up from his seat.

“Mr. Tomlinson?” Mr. Total Asswipe asks, bewildered along with all of Louis’ classmates. “Care to explain your tactless interruption?”

“Yes,” Louis says, not letting his tone betray his inner astonishment at his own actions. “I have the answer. To the question.”

His teacher narrows his eyes skeptically. “You never have the answer,” he drawls.

“I do now,” Louis insists. “Here, I’ll show you.” And then he’s walking to the front of the classroom and picking up a worn-down piece of chalk, and his brain says this is not good news Tommo but he ignores it as usual, beginning his explanation.

“It’s simple really,” he says, drawing on the chalkboard simultaneously to illustrate his point. “You’ve just got to take the antiderivative of the original equation and figure out what the value of the variable is, so you can plug your specific solution back into your general solution, which, when you work it all out, will give you your final answer to the problem.”

He puts the chalk down and steps back to examine his work on the board. He’s drawn what looks like a primary-schooler’s unimaginative sketch of a dick.

Louis gets detention. It seems his teacher is unimpressed by his spectacle, but that’s not what the boy really cares about. When he’s sent out of the room, he glances up, hopeful, to see if Harry’s giving him the same wide-eyed gaze that the rest of the students are, but he’s not. The boy with the curls just fiddles with his own hands, head ducked low, breathing a sigh of relief because nobody’s focus is on him anymore. Louis wonders if Harry cares that it was him who provided the distraction.

 

2.

 

Everyone looks at Louis at least sometimes. He’s loud. He’s funny. He’s generally considered the school’s resident troublemaker. Just the fact that he can often be found publicly making a fool of himself for the sake of his own entertainment is enough to capture the attention of many people. So a lot of the time, Louis’ schoolmates are watching him go off on his usual antics, Zayn and Liam most likely at his side.

Also, he’s not bad to look at. Louis is, in fact, quite attractive if you ask him or maybe some of the girls that he goes to school with. Sure, he may be a bit insecure about his tummy (an insecurity that is completely irrational, he tells himself), but he thinks overall, he’s a pretty good-looking guy. So people occasionally look at him for that, too.

But it’s just over the next few days that Louis notices that Harry Styles in particular never looks at him. To be fair, Harry doesn’t look at much of anything. He’s got his head down too often, which Louis thinks is a shame when he has such a pretty face. Harry mainly just looks at Niall, though, because Niall seems to be his best mate and one of the few people that he feels comfortable openly talking to.

Louis’s not vain. It’s not like he needs everyone to be in love with him. It’s just…Harry never spares Louis even a glance—not when they pass each other in the corridors, not when he drops his books on purpose in class, not when he slams his locker shut especially loud if he sees Harry walking by. He's not sure whether Harry just doesn’t notice Louis or is purposefully ignoring him, but it doesn’t matter either way. It’s simply very irritating. It calls Louis to action.

So on a Thursday at lunch, he spots Harry not looking at him as always while Louis makes his way to his usual space outside with Liam and Zayn, and resolves to change that.

It takes a little bit of time for him to come up with an idea, during which he sits on their bench near the quad, pulls out his sandwich, tunes out of Liam and Zayn’s chatter, and discretely eyes Harry Styles the sophomore.

Liam’s oblivious, but Zayn can clearly tell Louis’ checked out of the conversation. He clears his throat and narrows his eyes at the shorter boy. “Lou? What are you looking at?”

Louis purses his lips and looks at Zayn. “Zayn, you must never interrupt a man while he’s busy.”

Liam stares down at Louis from where he’s stood in front of Zayn, who’s sitting next to Louis now. “Busy with what?” the brown-eyed boy asks, frowning.

“Nothing,” Louis huffs in response. His gaze returns to Harry, who’s laughing now at something Niall’s said. He feels the corner of his mouth turn up.

“No, Lou,” Zayn begins to say, “I know that face—“

But before Zayn can even finish his thought, Louis is standing up and stepping onto the nearest unoccupied bench. He checks back for round glasses, green eyes, and dark curls. All of which are still firmly not looking at him.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” he booms across the courtyard in his best imitation of a presenter’s voice. He can see Zayn sighing in his peripheral vision. “It is my great pleasure to introduce to you the amazing Louis the Great, performing an intense acrobatic skill he calls ‘the Tomlinson’!”

When a fair amount of students have looked up from their lunches with mild curiosity, Louis proceeds to do a substandard cartwheel on the bench. His legs are bent and he’s fairly sure his bum is sticking out an awkward amount, but it’s fine because he has a nice bum, and also he lands on his feet without dying. He takes a curtsy and peeks up, hoping to meet Harry’s eyes in the distance, but the curly-haired boy is turned away.

Louis seethes.

Liam chuckles as Louis slumps dejectedly back into the seat next to him. “What are you playing at, Louis?” he asks light-heartedly.

“Nothing,” Louis bites out. “I’m not playing at anything.”

Zayn shakes his head. “You’re always playing at something.”

It’s true, too. He can’t even deny it. With Louis, there’s always an ulterior motive or suggested innuendo behind his words. Even in more serious situations, he’s generally always carefully considering his intentions, but never stating them outright. He doesn’t give up much information very easily.

Louis remembers the stunt he recently pulled in maths class and can’t decide if that was out of character or not—sure, he’d had a bit of a hidden agenda, but there hadn’t been much forethought with that decision. He lets out a breath, vision zeroing in once more on Harry, who’s eating his sandwich with his gaze on the ground.

He doesn’t know what it is about the kid, why he has a presence at all in Louis’ thoughts lately. Sure, Louis is used to receiving a fair amount of attention, and Harry defies that normality, but he can’t figure out what else there is to it. Harry’s just so shy and it confuses Louis because he can’t understand how anyone is wired like that, and he really thinks that the curly-haired boy is weird but he kind of likes it.

The bell rings and Louis walks with Liam and Zayn until they have to split up to get to their next classes.

 

3.

 

Louis is ditching.

It’s not really an irregular occurrence, considering the kind of student he is. Usually, though, it’s because he’s unprepared for a test, hasn’t completed some work, maybe wants to leave campus to go do something else. He thinks that if he were ever put in prison, he’d be a master of escape, judging by the way he’s able to maneuver his way out of class and campus. Really, if he’s motivated, Louis will find a way to do anything. But anyway, today he’s not avoiding an impending due date or going to pick up some soup to make for his sisters later.

He’s looking for Harry.

The curly-haired boy had been at school in the morning, Louis’d seen him. Louis had noticed him strictly because he had been wearing boat shoes, of all things, which made for an odd contrast with his round glasses and green knit jumper. It had made him look a little bit knobbish, if Louis’ honest. So, yes, Louis had seen those boat shoes make their way past him in the corridor just that morning. And right before history class. And at lunch.

But then, Harry hadn’t been in maths class, their second-to-last class of the day. And sure, he could’ve just gone home sick, or left for a doctor’s appointment, but Louis feels like he hasn’t, because Harry’s a good student, and if he were leaving he’d have come into the beginning of maths and asked for the night’s assignment. Louis feels like Harry is somewhere at school.

He checks the football pitch first. It’s ideal for ditching, because school staff never goes anywhere near it when there’s no game going on. Harry’s not there, though. So next, he checks that crevice between the auditorium and the cafeteria that nobody actually eats lunch in. Zayn goes there a lot when he’s ditching. However, it’s empty again. After he checks a few school toilets, Louis starts to feel very stupid and like he should’ve known that he’d come up empty-handed, but then he remembers the garden.

He’s never set foot in it before. It’s smushed between the staff parking lot at the edge of campus and the science building. It’s mostly attended to by the gardening club (lame) and Environmental Science and Honors Biology students (lamer, why would anyone take those fucking classes on purpose?), so Louis doesn’t much frequent the garden. At all. Ever. But he believes that Harry is taking both Honors Biology and Environmental Science, so he probably likes the garden. Louis checks.

Sure enough, Harry’s there. He’s sat on a bench and he’s got his boat shoes off, placed neatly beside where his ankles are crossed together. He doesn’t see Louis, or at least not yet. Louis has to announce his presence.

“Do you often ditch class shoeless?” Louis asks.

The younger boy’s head whips nervously, like he’s afraid the question might be coming from some sort of school faculty. He relaxes slightly when he sees who’s addressing him, but still glances around uncomfortably.

“Um, no,” Harry says, pushing his round glasses up on his nose with two fingers. He leaves it at that.

“Right,” Louis nods, taking a few steps closer. “So just enjoying the garden, then? ‘S the freshness rejuvenating your aching feet?” Louis wonders if this is rude, if he’s coming off as an arse right now.

Harry doesn’t much seem to mind, though. He just mumbles, “I guess.”

Louis smiles, now standing in front of the sitting boy. “Very naughty of you, Styles, this ditching business.”

“Me?” Harry’s eyebrows go up. “What about you?”

“It’s alright for me to do it,” Louis rolls his eyes playfully, “but not you. In fact, I’m scandalized. How often does this happen, Harry Styles the sophomore?”

The curly-haired boy lets out a loud bark of laughter that he quickly contains, snapping his jaw shut and looking horrified. It’s the kind of odd noise that Louis would normally laugh at if he had heard it in a different situation, but he doesn’t laugh now. He thinks that if he laughs Harry might be embarrassed, so he just smiles.

Harry starts, “This is the fir—“ but his voice breaks and he clears his throat quietly before continuing, “this is the first time I’ve ever cut class.” His voice is a drawl that paints the air surrounding him, covering it up, low and slow.

“Why start now?” Louis inquires.

Harry’s eyes grow a little rounder behind the frames of his glasses, like he’s bewildered that Louis’ even asking. “It’s these shoes,” Harry says. No additional explanation is offered.

“…What about them?”

He sighs and doesn’t say anything for awhile. Louis thinks he might be contemplating whether or not to tell. Harry’s clearly a private person, and Louis’ surprised that Harry’s even speaking to him at this length.

Then, “My mum bought them for me. She was so excited about how darling they were. I hate them, but I had to wear them. I couldn’t let her be disappointed.”

“So you’d rather ditch class just to take off your shoes than hurt your mum a little?”

Harry does a one-shouldered shrug. “Guess so. I mean, she does so much for me and my sister, it’s good if I can make her happy. At least a bit.”

And in that moment, Louis knows everything he needs to know about Harry.

He’s not sure if he can handle the sweet expression on the younger boy’s face, so he flops exaggeratedly into a bed of flowers. His back hits the soil and he knows he’s squashing some sort of pretty plant, but Louis doesn’t much care. He thinks he might like Harry Styles the sophomore.

            “Um,” Harry bites his lip, standing from his bench. “I think you’re killing the pansies.” He crouches down at Louis’ feet to examine a bloom. “It’s okay. I can pick them and give them to someone so they don’t go to waste.”

            The older boy cracks an eye open. “Who would you give them to?” It feels like a loaded question.

            Harry tilts his head. “Maybe Ms. Archer, for being a good Environmental Science teacher.”

            Louis lets out a breath. “How nice of you.” Harry doesn’t really react to that. “C’mere,” Louis tries, patting the space next to him on the pansies. He’s so far away, and Louis doesn’t have a particularly good view of Harry’s face from their current position. Plus, it might be pleasant to like, lie in the flowers with Harry, however ungracefully.

            The boy with the green eyes visibly hesitates. “I…don’t…” he mumbles, but Louis picks his head up to shoot a smile at him, and his shoulders relax. He scrambles onto the pansies.

            Louis surveys the boy’s body from head to foot, lying abreast to him. Harry’s nose and toes point up into the sky. Louis rolls onto his side to face him.

            “Harry?”

            “…Yes?”

            “Do you know any jokes?”

            He blinks, looks at Louis. “No.”

            “Not one?” Louis presses. “Come on, we have to pass time somehow.”

            “Well, I guess I’ve got one,” Harry says, wiping under his nose with one finger. “It’s pretty good, I think.” A tiny smile starts to creep across his face.

            “Go on, then,” Louis urges him.

            “Why did the elephants get kicked out of the swimming pool?” Harry sets up. He’s biting his lip now, the corners peeking up despite his attempts to stay stoic. Louis already knows it’s going to be a terrible joke.

            “Why?” he asks warily.

            “Because they kept dropping their trunks!” With that, he snickers to himself continuously for about a minute before he realizes that Louis isn’t laughing. “Sorry. I thought it was funny.”

            “It is,” Louis lies, sucking his upper lip into his mouth to keep from breaking into a grin that’s less amused and more in love. He finds the skewed sense of humor adorable on Harry, like it matches with the rest of what Louis knows of him. But the problem is, Louis is realizing he wants to know what he doesn’t know of Harry. He wants to know what Harry sounds like when he’s loud, what he looks like when he’s sleeping, what he tastes like when he’s kissing Louis. And that last part is distressingly easy to imagine now that Harry’s turned over to completely face him, and they’re closer than Louis had expected. “You’re lovely,” he says to Harry.

            Louis already knows he’s gay. It’d taken a few short-lived girlfriends and porn site explorations to figure it out, sure, but he knows now. He still doesn’t know if he’s fully comfortable with it—he doesn’t want to struggle with figuring out who asks whom out, who pays for the first date, who proposes, who walks down the aisle. He doesn’t want to spend his whole life coming out to new people and waiting for their reactions. But those are things he tells himself when he’s alone at night, contemplating it. Right here with Harry, he knows he wants to kiss him, and that feeling isn’t wrong or bad. All the rest of it will come in time, happen naturally.

            But just as Louis inches forward a little bit to try it, Harry noticeably stops breathing, and he remembers that he doesn’t know if Harry’s gay. And he just can’t make Harry any more uncomfortable than he already seems on a day-to-day basis.

            That, and he’s a fucking chicken.

            So he repositions himself on his back, a few more inches of space between him and the other boy. “Good joke,” Louis coughs weakly. The bell rings, signaling the end of the school day.

            “It’s alright,” Harry sighs suddenly, sitting up. “I know I’m lame. You don’t have to like, talk to me and stuff. It’s fine.” He stands up hurriedly, slips his shoes on, and leaves with his head down before Louis can even form the words to reply.

            And on his way home, Louis gets really sad, because he thinks about what that meant. He guesses that Harry thinks Louis feels bad for him and was talking to him just to ease guilt he might have over how Harry gets picked on sometimes, or is shy. So he goes and finds some old paints and steals Daisy and Phoebe’s paintbrushes.

            The next day at school, there’s a huge banner hung up on the maths building that says “YOU’RE NOT LAME” in all capital letters, but Louis didn’t put it there.

            No way.

 

4.

 

            He’s started to try saying hi to Harry in school hallways. At first, the taller boy would just make shifty eyes in response, like he couldn’t tell if Louis was talking to him. But after a couple (twelve) times now, he’ll usually give Louis a wave back, maybe even a slight smile. On his way out of maths class, Louis makes a habit of being slow out the door. That way, he sometimes can ask Harry if they have any homework or if he has any weekend plans. He thinks one day he’ll actually make weekend plans with Harry, but so far nothing’s come out.

            He just can’t make himself say anything to Harry that comes with any remote risk. It’s odd for Louis; usually, he’ll be the first to shout anything embarrassing that you dare him to. But when it comes to the curly-haired sophomore, he can barely get beyond pleasantries because he’s nervous. So he’s left without Harry’s phone number, without a date, and without any confidence.

            It’s in French class that he gets an idea. They’re taking a quiz, and while Louis is still working on it (read: staring blankly at it), Liam next to him has been done for a few minutes. Louis watches as he takes out a piece of paper and doodles on it aimlessly. Soon, Liam is bored of that too and begins to rip the paper into shreds quietly, his drawings fragmented on the pieces of the page. Finally, the brown-eyed boy pushes the shreds together, crumples them all up, and gets up to throw them away.

            And for whatever reason, this sparks Louis’ imagination.

            That night, he goes home and gathers a collection of loose-leaf lined paper. He’s got his black felt-tip pen at the ready, and he’s playing Lottie’s Parachute album to get him inspired. Personally, Louis thinks Parachute is a bit sappy, but he’s trying to be a sap here. A cool sap.

            He sits and writes out everything he wishes he could say to Harry but doesn’t have the guts to, like:

            You’re adorable

            Sometimes my neck gets really sore from turning around to look at you during maths and it’s really unpleasant

            I’m scared I might have liked the boat shoes

            You don’t know you’re beautiful (that one’s pretty lame, Louis thinks)

            Last week Zayn asked me if I fancied anyone and I said no and he choked on his water laughing at my lies

            I want you

            Before he realizes it, he’s written at least thirty notes. When he’s done, he gathers up all of the pages he’s written on and crumples them up. Then, he retrieves an old shoe box from the closet and shoves all of the papers in, so that they’re portable. He’s got to take them to school tomorrow.

            And when tomorrow comes, Louis finds himself at school earlier than ever before, faced with an empty hallway and Harry’s locker staring him down. For a moment, he hesitates. Is this really a good idea? It’s going to change things, there’s no doubt about that. It feels safe, because there’ll be nothing there that explicitly indicates that Louis’ behind it all. But the notes mention Zayn and Liam, and Harry’s intelligent; he’s going to know who put them in his locker. This is Louis’ confession.

            His trembling hand comes up to thumb at the knob as he swallows his shivers down. He knows Harry’s locker combination. He’d looked over the younger boy’s shoulder once, just because he was curious. He hadn’t meant to retain it. Louis thinks back to the way he had stood on the tips of his toes to peer at long fingers twisting the knob with practice. After Harry had opened his locker, Louis had fallen back onto flat feet and glanced around, bewildered at himself. People had probably noticed him wide-eyed and wet-lipped with desire for just another trivial piece of information about Harry. God, Louis' a freak.

Now, he clicks the numbers into place slowly, grasping the knob tightly to stop his hand from shaking. He’s Louis. He’s confident. He’s capable. He’s unabashed.

But with Harry, that gets harder every day.

The locker springs open. Louis takes the shoebox from his bag. Opens it. Takes the crumpled papers. He puts them into Harry’s locker. There’s no intended pattern. He tries to avoid rhyme or reason. He does so mechanically. It’s the only way.

            Louis closes the locker with a deep exhale. It’s too late to take it all back—kids are going to be coming into the corridors any second. So, he closes his eyes and backs away. Starting toward his own locker, Louis shakes his head out. Everything’s going to be fine. If Harry seems really uncomfortable, he can just do what he does, what he’s expected to do: make it out to be some huge joke.

            He wonders if I don’t think you realize how special you are is enough of a cliché for that plan to work.

            Soon enough, the hallways fill up and Liam and Zayn join Louis. They’re yawning and messing about as is usual, and Louis almost forgets that he’s just spilled his guts to Harry, even if the other boy doesn’t know it yet. But then, Harry Styles the goddamn sophomore stumbles into the building with his curls askew and his eyes thin from sleepiness, and Louis knows he could never forget, not really. Especially not when Harry’s catching Louis’ eye across the distance, giving him a tiny wave, and maybe…blushing? Is he blushing?

            Louis waits with bated breath, watching Harry over Liam’s shoulder. Harry opens his locker, and his brows furrow at the mass amount of paper balls that tumble out. He bends over, plucks one up from the floor. Louis is so consumed by the sight that he doesn’t notice when Liam frowns and waves his hand in front of Louis’ face to see if he’s paying any attention to their conversation. The blue-eyed boy can’t resist; he sidesteps Liam and Zayn, walks forward a few paces until he’s just a couple of feet behind Harry, whose back is to him. He’s reading the first note. Louis wonders which one it is.

            Harry reaches down for another one, and then another one. Other students start to notice, make bemused faces, but they don’t say anything and pretend not to be watching. Somewhere halfway through the notes, Harry looks over his shoulder and sees Louis sweating nervously behind him, stock-still.

            And then, the most beautiful thing happens. He smiles at Louis.

            It’s so small that it’s barely there, but it feels like hope.

            “Those must be nice,” Louis gulps, “since you keep reading them.”

            “They are,” Harry says back, turning fully around to face the other boy. “They’re so nice.” Louis feels like some sort of silent understanding is passing between them.

            After that, Harry turns back to the messages he hasn’t read yet, goes through all of them dutifully. But he turns back and grins at Louis after every single one, lips curving farther and farther upward each time.

 

5.

 

            So perhaps Louis thought something was going to change. After all, you don’t just confess your feelings to a boy and not get some sort of response from him. Like, a yes, Louis, I’m completely obsessed with you also would have been nice.

            But Harry hasn’t said anything about the whole incident, not directly. He’s talking to Louis more, but it’s always about classes, or homework, or a funny (eh) joke he came up with. He smiles at Louis more often, exposing all of his white teeth and his dimple to boot. In fact, it’s while he’s grinning at Louis during lunch break one day that Louis decides to take some sort of action.

            He approaches Harry with an air of false confidence. He’s giving the other boy a crooked smile and flicking his fringe across his forehead, but really it’s all just one foot in front of the other, Tomlinson. Don’t fuck this up. “Hey Harry,” he says Capital ‘C’ Casually. “Alright?”

            “Hi,” Harry responds, biting down on his grin slightly. His green eyes are bright behind his round frames.

            “How was your last class?” Louis asks, just to make conversation before getting into it.

            Harry shrugs with one shoulder and answers, “It was okay, I had art. I don’t really have any fine motor skills, so painting and stuff is difficult for me.”

            “Yeah,” Louis says. “That might be why you have a little blue spot on your cheek.”

            Harry’s eyes inflate and he starts pawing at his cheeks with both hands. “Where?” he demands frantically. There is a little dot of paint on his cheekbone, below the outer corner of his eye, and his hands are scrubbing nowhere near it. His blush is obvious.

            “Here, let me,” Louis tells him. He can’t help but smile at Harry when he drops his hands carefully to allow Louis access. The older boy licks his thumb quickly, takes it to the mark of blue. He’s wiping at it softly, delicately, and then it’s gone but his thumb still lingers. The rest of his hand uncurls slowly until his fingers rest just below Harry’s ear, and he knows that this is odd and this is different, but he likes it and Harry doesn’t seem to mind, he’s looking back at Louis with an unusually calm gaze and a slight quirk to his lips.

            “Is it gone?” Harry’s the one to break the silence.

            “Yep, all gone,” Niall says, and Niall, when did Niall get there?

            “Oh, hey Niall,” Louis breathes, retracting his hand awkwardly from Harry’s face. “When did you get here?”

            The Irishman furrows his eyebrows in confusion. “What do you mean? I’ve been here the whole time!”

            “Oh,” Louis says.

            “Oh,” Niall says.

            “Okay…” Louis trails off, not sure how to continue. He’s a bit thrown off his game. “Hello, then.”

            “Hi,” is all Niall gives him in response. He’s  peeling an orange now, then stuffing the whole thing in his mouth at once.

            “Right,” Louis clears his throat. “Anyway, I’ve been thinking, Harry,” he licks his lips nervously, “you’re into history and all that, yeah?”

            “Of course!” he brightens up at the mention. “My favorite’s history of religion, I think the story of Judaism is really interesting, it’s pretty cool how it's survived for so many centuries even though it's way less widespread than Christianity or Islam, right?"

            Louis has no idea what he’s talking about, but he’s really glad that Harry’s opening up and talking to him with less prompting, so he agrees, “Yeah, that is cool.”

            Harry beams at him and continues, “I thought so. But anyway, what were you saying?”

            The blue-eyed boy sucks in a breath and steels himself for what’s about to come out of his own mouth. He’s got one chance, and this is it. “I’ve just been wanting to go down to Conisbrough, and I thought maybe you’d like to, ah…come? With me?” He pauses for a moment, tacks on, “Saturday?”

            Conisbrough Castle is about a half hour southwest of Doncaster. Built in the twelfth century, it’s lasted years upon years, diminished to just a circular enclosure of worn walls and six buttresses. It’s got a visitor’s centre now, and displays all along inside of the castle grounds that tell about its history. So, it doesn’t really seem like anywhere Louis would ever want to go. He’s not really one to voluntarily spend his day around clueless tourists, and he’s not all that into, like, medieval shit. Harry might like it, though. He thinks Harry would be really interested in Conisbrough Castle. And Harry could likely instill dull, old historical facts with a new vigor if he was reading them out to Louis in that voice of his. Brush off the dust, squint a little harder, yeah, Louis could take a look at those old stones and chandeliers. Especially if he could see Harry’s luminous smile on top of a hill with Yorkshire as his backdrop.

            But when Louis shucks his daydreams aside and tunes back into the present moment, Harry’s not smiling at all. He’s quite frowning, really, and Louis wants to grasp at the air before him and catch onto his words, shove them right back where they came from. He watches as Harry’s mouth drops open just the smallest bit, and his eyes shine with some sort of awful, tender compunction.

            “I,” Harry begins, “I have a mock trial competition on Saturday.” It doesn’t sound like a completely fabricated excuse, but he doesn’t exactly look like he’s about to suggest an alternative time slot. His lips twist up and he averts his eyes, pressing his glasses higher on his nose. Louis’ stomach has dropped to his toes.

            “Well,” Louis finally mutters, “alright then. Good luck, I s’pose. I’ll, erm, see you in maths.”

            Harry winces. “I—I guess. See you in maths.”

            The older boy turns his back and starts the painful task of walking away. It’s more agonizing than he could have ever fathomed it would be. He had gone into it knowing his crush on Harry was unreasonable, seeing as they were so different, but Louis had still been hoping. Really hoping. Hoping to a great extent. And now, he’s just greatly disappointed. And a little bruised. And he doesn’t think he can talk to Harry anymore. And he really wishes he could. And he hopes Liam and Zayn are right when they say Louis makes everything worse than it actually is.

            He’s consumed with his thoughts when Harry’s voice sounds off from across the distance between them, a little stronger and a little braver than he’s ever heard it before. “Wait! Louis!” he’s calling.

Louis wheels around instantly, thinking what a fool he is for already hoping again.

“Do you possibly want to, um, watch my competition?” Harry asks him, and then Louis’ in front of him once more. The proximity clues him into the way that Harry’s holding his breath, and Louis is hanging onto the impossible idea that he actually has a chance with Harry.

“Of course,” is Louis’ only answer. He doesn’t think he could say anything else if he tried.

He would tease Harry for the dopey smile that creeps onto his face, but he knows he’s wearing a matching one.

“Here, text me the details,” he pulls out his phone with a breathy chuckle.

So, Louis goes home that day with Harry’s number plugged into his contacts and a glow to his cheeks. On Saturday, he’s at the Doncaster Crown Court at half ten in the morning with Liam at his side. They’d tried to get Zayn to come, but he’d adamantly declared that he’d rather drink his own piss than get up earlier than noon on a weekend.

They go inside and bumble around a bit before they see a friendly face in the courtroom; Niall’s taken a seat in a chair in the back of the room, and he’s waving at them with an open smile on his face. Louis and Liam go and take the seats next to him.

“You’re just in time,” Niall tells them, signature grin strong. And if Louis’ not mistaken, Niall’s looking just at him when he tacks on, “Harry’ll be so glad you came.”

“Glad to be here,” Louis smiles easily. “Reckon we’ll understand anything that’s going on?”

“I can give you the basics,” Niall assures him. “This is the last pre-regional competition, so if they win this one, they go to Sheffield in two weeks for Regional Championships. And then they could move on to Nationals. Harry’s playing an attorney. I’ll let you know the rest as we go along.”

Niall doesn’t let them know the rest, but that’s okay. Louis doesn’t need him to. As soon as he catches sight of Harry, he thinks he might go deaf, because the sight of him is taking up Louis’ entire sensory capacity. He’s in a suit and a striped tie, his dress shoes are polished impeccably, and Louis doesn’t know if he’s ever been so attracted to shoulders (sharp, clean, outlined). It’s still Harry Styles the sophomore, though. His curls, while tame, are still present, and his usual glasses are on their usual perch atop his nose. He’s just beautiful.

Harry argues flawlessly. His trademark timidity is lost somehow in the courtroom, and everyone in the sparse audience is captivated, but no one more than Louis.

They wait outside of the building while Harry gathers his stuff up and talks to the mock trial coach inside. When he emerges, he’s glowing with pride. “I think we won! We don’t find out for a couple of days, but I really think we won!”

Louis beams at him. “You were excellent, Harry.”

Harry bites his bottom lip, but he’s smiling through it, face starting to flush. His voice has dropped to a whisper when he says, “thanks.” He’s adorable. Louis can’t resist stepping closer and looping his arms around Harry’s neck, pulling him in for a hug. Harry’s arms come up to return it, hands resting flat on Louis’ back. Louis feels giddiness bubble up in his chest; despite the reality of the situation, the embrace feels coupley.

Liam interrupts tactfully with a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Great job, Harry,” he congratulates when they pull apart. Liam continues with a sheepish smile, “everyone else was a bit boring to be honest, but you weren’t at all.”

“Right?!” Niall’s saying, and then he, Liam, and Harry launch into a whole recap of the match while Louis drifts off to the side a bit. It’s then that he catches sight of two boys standing by the curb. They’re from the opposing school, and they’re not facing Louis’ direction, but he can hear them perfectly.

“Looks like we’re not going to Regionals,” one comments.

“Yeah, what a load of shit,” the other adds, frustration clear in his voice. Something doesn’t feel right. Louis’ heartbeat is speeding up and his brain is racing and then it all comes to a head in one awful half-minute. Harry breaks away from Liam and Niall, smiling at Louis and coming toward him. Louis’ stomach drops. The kid continues, “You know I heard their prosecution attorney is a faggot? I bet he sucked the judge’s cock for the favoritism he got in that trial.” Harry is prosecution attorney. It’s clear who he means.

Harry’s smile shatters and reforms in a heart-wrenching frown. His eyes squeeze shut behind their round frames.  And maybe he shouldn’t be, but Louis’ more pissed off than he’s ever been in his entire life.

The culprit of the insult turns his head to check over his shoulder. It’s just enough. Louis punches him square in the face.

The other boy is a scrawny little thing, and he falls to the floor easily. For an instant, Louis feels gratified. But then, he looks back and sees Harry’s horrified face. His expression is mirrored in the features of the rest of his mock trial teammates and coach, whose faces are coming into focus now.

The boy Louis punched pops up and darts into the court building. In his wake, whispers of disqualified and misconduct echo around Louis. Surely that’s not possible. How could he have disqualified Harry’s team? He’s not even on it!

But the way Harry’s looking at him seems to confirm the notion. Louis opens his mouth to explain, to apologize, something, but Harry beats him to it. “Did you have to do that?!” he’s yelling, eyebrows pulled down. “We were going to Regionals, but now that’s been ruined!” His mouth is set angrily when it closes.

Louis feels panic rise in his body. “Harry, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize, I was just angry at him for saying that, I wasn’t thinking about how it might affect you—“

Harry huffs furiously. “Of course you weren’t. Do you ever?”

Louis mouth drops open in confusion. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“God, nothing!” Harry shouts. “Could you just not make everything such a big fucking deal?!”

oh

oh

oh god

Louis doesn’t say anything. He just drops his gaze and leaves.

 

1.

 

            He wakes up on Sunday feeling like he hasn’t slept at all, even though he has. Louis rolls over in his bed. He doesn’t plan on getting out yet, as his bones feel too sore. He wishes he could, though. Perhaps if he was doing something it would be easier to avoid thinking so much.

Had he really been that much of an arse? He’d only been standing up for Harry. In a violent way. Which is maybe not the best way. But still. What Harry said had hurt, because he's right, Louis does make everything a bigger deal than it has to be. But that’s just who he is. And if Harry doesn’t like that…then he doesn’t like Louis. Certainly not how Louis wants him to, at least. Having knowledge of that is what genuinely hurts him.

Despite his disappointment, though, he can’t bear the thought of losing what little friendship he does have with Harry. He’s grown increasingly fond of the boy, and it’s snuck up on him a little. In any case, Harry’s far too important now to let go.

So Louis has to apologize. They have to still be friends.

He walks to school on Monday. He wouldn’t usually, but the cool air is good for slowing down his thoughts. It makes him feel less nervous. He doesn’t want to think about how Harry might look at him when he gets to school. Would he still be really angry?

Louis’ almost there when he spots a daisy in the yard of a neighboring house, just off the pavement. He stoops down to pick it up. It’s white and pure, and reminds him a bit of Harry, so he keeps it. Maybe he’ll give it to him. Louis knows that it wouldn’t be just friendly, per se. But he wants to.

He’s lucky enough to spot Harry in the corridor within a few minutes of entering. If Harry’s seen him, he doesn’t give notice. So while Harry fumbles with his locker, Louis approaches.

“Harry?” he says cautiously.

Harry turns around and locks eyes with him for just a brief moment before he drops them, moves them, looks at everything else in the hall. “Hi,” he replies as his eyes flicker to Louis’ feet.

“Look,” Louis begins, quiet. He's trying really hard not to make this a big fucking deal. “I really am sorry about Saturday. Sometimes I go overboard when I, erm, care about something, so. Yeah. I’m sorry, Harry.”

Harry breathes a sigh. “Me too, I’m sorry too, Louis. I was just upset about getting disqualified after we’d had such a good trial. And that guy had it coming to him, I guess. I shouldn’t have been such a baby about it.”

“No, you weren’t,” Louis immediately reassures him. He’s so glad that Harry isn’t mad at him, he could cry with relief.

“What’s that?” Harry asks, his brow furrowing and nose wrinkling cutely. Louis looks down to see that Harry’s referring to the flower that lies in Louis’ weak grip, hanging loosely at the end of his arm.

“Oh,” Louis laughs shakily, bringing the daisy up so Harry can really see it. The green-eyed boy blinks slowly at it, cheeks pink, almost as if in wonderment. “It’s for you,” Louis confirms. He can’t not.

Harry looks up at him and his lips part a tiny bit. “Really?”

“’Course.” And then, on a ridiculous gut whim, “Hey, do you maybe want to, like, go to a film sometime?”

Harry’s hands wind their way into Louis’ collar, and then he’s being pulled forward with a force so surprising that it takes him a second to realize that Harry’s lips are definitely on his. He’s kissing Louis boldly, and the swoop in Louis’ tummy directs him to kiss back. He does so enthusiastically, because he wants Harry to know that he means it.

When they pull apart, both of them are breathless and grinning. The daisy's on the ground, but no one cares. Louis finds his hands on Harry’s hips and Harry’s arms around his neck, and he leans in to give Harry one more little kiss on the corner of his mouth. “Well, Harry,” he teases afterward, “look at you making a scene in the middle of school.”

Harry chuckles and presses his smile into Louis’ shoulder. They stay like that for a short moment while Louis looks down at his curls adoringly with what he knows are crinkly eyes and a thin, fond smile.

“Hey,” Harry tells him when he looks up. “I think we’re learning from each other.”

Louis tightens his arms around Harry, and as he places another light kiss to the nook where the underside of his jaw and his neck meet, where nobody else can see, he thinks that he agrees wholeheartedly.