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reeling through the midnight streets

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Louis’ three steps from the front door when he hears a voice behind him.

“Lou,” Zayn hisses, head poking out his bedroom door, “it’s three in the morning. Where the fuck are you going?”

Louis stops, closes his eyes for a second before turning on his heel.

“Out,” he says shortly, and then for repetition’s sake, because it’s the same discussion every time, “couldn’t sleep.”

It’s a warm night, or at least as warm as October nights ever are. He’s in sweats and a t-shirt, his hair is probably everywhere, an old pair of Vans he scrounged up from his bombsite of a bedroom floor on his feet. He hadn’t bothered looking in the mirror; he’s probably not a vision of perfection, though, if Zayn’s face is anything to go by.

He just needs to get out.

“Louis, take something,” Zayn whispers. Niall’s room is closest to the door, and if they wake him there will be hell to pay. “Just take something to help you sleep. I’ve got a load of Perrie’s herbal shit in my room, c’mon.”

“M’okay,” Louis says, “really, I’m—“

Zayn opens his mouth to interrupt, but Louis holds a finger to his lips, nodding over to Niall’s door. Zayn just raises an eyebrow, glowers at him, and Louis winks.

“Sorry if I woke you,” he whispers, before blowing him an obnoxious kiss and stealing out the front door.

The air hits him right in the face and for the first time since he turned in at half eleven, he feels like he can breathe properly. He feels the air rush through him, rubs his hands together – probably should’ve bought a jumper, but fuck it – and sets off down the street with a yawn. Irony, or something.

He doesn’t know how long he walks for, never does really, but it’s always the same deal. The air is sharp and the streets are blissfully silent, save for the low rumble of a car every now and then, and the lights are few and far between. Tonight, there’s a lamp on in an apartment that must be twenty storeys up, one of the street lights are out, and there’s something very bright in the distance Louis assumes is a McDonald’s sign. It’s a good thing he’s never hungry in the early hours of the morning, because he’d be there every night.

The route changes every day, the destination rotates between a few, when he’s suddenly had enough of walking. Sometimes he goes to the park a few blocks away, sometimes to the old train station about half an hour north, sometimes he just finds a park bench and sits there till his head feels soft enough to go home and sleep. Tonight, for no real reason, he wants to see water. He wants to go to the river and he wants to stand on Millennium Bridge and he wants to hear the rush fill up his ears.

It’s certainly not in walking distance, and he certainly doesn’t have the money to blow on a cab, but not sleeping leaves him with a recklessness above and beyond his usual. Fuck it, he thinks, hails one down anyway, and he’s there in ten minutes. So he’ll go without coffee and drinks on Friday, whatever. The coffee, at least, is probably a good thing.

The air is cooler down at the river and he laughs to himself as he walks across the bridge, stops in the middle. He’s such a fuck up. This is so fucked up, all of it, sneaking out every night like he’s a fifteen year old with a case buried down at the playground in the hopes of not rousing too much suspicion from his housemates, the aimless walks, the fucking urge to see water. All of it is ridiculous, and in his more lucid moments it’s terrifying, and then without any real warning Louis’ brain sticks like it has so, so many times before, because she loved the water.

She loved the water, he remembers it so sharply, loved nothing more than the two weeks a year they spent at White Cliff when they were kids. She had blue bathers and Louis’d helped her dip dye her hair purple there once. She wanted to learn to surf. Fuck, he whispers, and he loses his breath at the thought, has to close his eyes and count to ten, and suddenly the rush of the river is too loud.

Maybe he should go home, he thinks, maybe this isn’t a good place to be. Maybe it’s time to turn in and try and sleep a few before work, and it’s as he goes to turn back to the road that he hears the flick of a lighter and has to clap a hand over his mouth to stop himself yelping.

He wheels around to the other side of the bridge, and there is someone standing directly opposite him. He’s in a coat and black jeans and boots, Louis thinks, so oddly formal for whatever time of night it is. As though he feels Louis’ eyes on him, he turns, smiles around his cigarette as he leans back on the side of the bridge.

“Hi,” he says softly, “sorry. If I scared you, or whatever. Not used to people being here so late, is all.”

Louis blinks through the dim lights, tries to make him out more clearly. He’s very beautiful, Louis thinks. Tall, too, long and lean and lazy limbs and long fingers curled round his cigarette and hair he’s tried and failed to keep under control blowing in the wind. Louis can’t see much of his face, but his jawline casts shadows down his neck and his lips are bitten pink, and yeah, he’s very beautiful.

“No, s’okay,” he says, and for no reason whatsoever walks over to him, rests his forearms on the overhang of the bridge and waits for this boy to turn back to the water, too. “You got a smoke?”

“Mm,” he says, pulling a box from his pocket and passing it Louis’ way. Louis lights up and watches as the little flame seems to perch itself on the water, like a fire across the city. It looks interesting, he thinks.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” this strange person says, dropping his head to run a hand through his hair, “if you stay long enough, you see the sun start rising up over the buildings, s’amazing.”

“Huh,” Louis says into the dark. They exhale at the same time, smoke running together before it disappears, “you come here a lot, then?”

The boy cocks his head, non-committal, looks at Louis for a moment.

“Love the water,” is all he says, and then, “I’m Harry.”

“Louis,” he says, “shouldn’t you be asleep, Harry?”

Harry laughs at that, deep and rolling, and he has a dimple. He looks warm. Louis’ cold.

“Something like that,” he says, “yeah, probably. To be fair, you’re here too.”

“Yes I am,” Louis says, blowing a thin stream of smoke up over the water before nudging his hip, “your powers of deduction are rivalled by none, mate.”

Harry hums another laugh; Louis likes it.

“Shouldn’t you be asleep too, then?” Harry asks.

“Absolutely. I absolutely should be. My housemates are gonna kill me.”

They fall into a silence at that, and the water is loud and Harry’s arm is warm where his coat brushes Louis’ elbow. God, Louis misses bed, misses being warm, misses sleep. He’s exhausted all the time, shaky from it, and yet he’s looking over the Thames just shy of sunrise.

“Why can’t you sleep?” Harry asks suddenly, and the water is quiet again.

“Don’t know,” Louis says coolly, “you?”

Harry shakes his head. “Couldn’t tell you.”

“Liar,” Louis says with a smile, and Harry grins over at him, raises an eyebrow.

“You too, though.”

Harry drops his cigarette to the ground and stamps it out quickly, sighs and rests his head on his forearms.

“Reckon I could fall asleep here,” he murmurs, “dumb, isn’t it. Could fall asleep right now, and then when I get home I’ll just…not.”

“Mm,” Louis says, checks his phone. It’s late. He has to be up at seven. Jesus Christ, he thinks, and it’s always the early morning panic, the, Oh God I haven’t had enough sleep to do my day that sets in. He always does, always manages in the end. Right now, though, his breath is coming a little too fast and he thinks it’s time for bed.

“I should go,” he says, “thanks, though. For the light.”

“And the cigarette,” Harry points out with a smile. Louis snorts.

“And the cigarette,” he says. Harry stands up with a yawn, rolls his eyes at himself. Louis’ had many odd experiences out so late and sober night after night. He thinks this is by far the nicest.

“You headed that way?” Harry asks, gesturing up the bridge. Louis nods, and he smiles, a little goodbye.

“Okay,” he says, “well. It was nice to meet you. You’re welcome to a smoke any day.”

“Cheers, mate,” Louis laughs, and then, “get some sleep.”

Harry laughs as he walks away. Louis sleeps for ninety minutes, and dreams green.

**

Morning is always terrible.

“He lives,” Zayn murmurs the next morning, raising an eyebrow at him as he stumbles out of his room. He must look like a fucking train wreck, God.

“Ugh,” is all Louis says. Zayn’s all showered and dressed, blue button up and tight jeans and boots that look like they belong in an army barracks. He looks fucking gorgeous, just like he does every other second of his existence. Louis hates him.

“Move,” he croaks, headed for the cereal, and is met instead with a sleepy and smiley Niall coming over from the kettle and thrusting a cup of tea in his direction.

“Happy fuckin’ Christmas,” he says groggily, and Louis groans his appreciation, buries his head in Niall’s neck for a second as he takes it, downs half of it in four gulps. He doesn’t even care that it’s one of Niall’s trademark awful cups of tea. It’s fucking beautiful.

“You,” is all he gets out to begin with, and Niall laughs, ruffles his hair, “are all I love.”

“Good. How was the midnight adventure, then?” he asks, and Louis tries to blink himself back to life. He smiles at the memory. Zayn and Niall exchange a worried glance, as though he’s maybe finally gone off the deep end. Louis doesn’t smile before breakfast, like, as a general rule.

“So fucking weird,” he says, and grabs the Coco Pops.

**

He sleeps properly on Wednesday for no other reason than the girls come over and they all drink themselves under the table. Not even Louis can stay conscious in the face of a Perrie and Eleanor devised drinking game, and he wakes up feeling, well, hungover as all hell, but not entirely brain dead.

It’s wishful thinking when he goes to bed on Thursday expecting a solid eight hours. He admits defeat and gets up at quarter to three, and is at the bridge by quarter past.

Why he goes back is a mystery to him. It just gets lonely, a lot, being up at all hours. It’s lonely awake in bed and it’s lonely walking out those few hours before sunrise and it’s lonely, lonely, lonely sitting there and trying to get out of his own head. He wasn’t lonely on Sunday night. The bridge doesn’t scream lonely to him. It’s a nice change.

“Louis?”

He looks up from his phone in surprise. It’s like, he wasn’t actually expecting to see him here. Was coming for the memory, or something. But he’s there, Louis thinks, can see his coat billowing in the dark.

“Harry?”

He hears a laugh, and Harry stands under a light so Louis can see him. The whole stranger-in-black thing is in equal parts cool and terrifying.

“No, your other bridge pal,” he drawls, and Louis laughs, “long time no see, though.”

“Just came back for the cigarette, mate,” he says, and Harry smiles at him, moves over a little to Louis can stand in the light too. It’s colder tonight, biting; Louis’ wearing two sweaters he has balled at his fists and has traded his Vans for uggs. He probably looks awful; then again, it’s dark anyway.

“So d’your housemates give you shit for last time?” Harry asks, and it surprised Louis he remembers him mentioning that.

“Nah,” he says, “they’ve given up, really. What about you?”

“Hm?”

“You got anyone keeping tabs on your midnight sojourns?”

Harry huffs a laugh. It sounds sad.

“No,” he says quietly, “no, not exactly.”

Louis feels guilty instantly, wants to lean in and give him a cuddle until he smiles again. What a weird fucking thought. It’s like, the nicest thought he’s ever had in the middle of the night.

“Hey,” he says, smiling as Harry turns to him, “I’ll hound you, if you want. Go to bed, Harry,” he says, eyebrows raised disapprovingly, “you shouldn’t be out so late, Harry. Take a Valium, Harry. You know. Et cetera.”

It takes Harry a second, and he blinks at Louis like he doesn’t quite know what’s going on. For a moment, Louis feels like a giant fuckhead, and then Harry laughs, properly, claps a hand over his mouth to stop it echoing downstream and running with the wind, and Louis doesn’t think he’s ever liked the sound of a laugh so much in his life.

He remembers the first time he made her laugh; he was seven and holding her while his Mum made him a sandwich for school and he’d blown a raspberry on her tummy.

It takes him a second to realise everything’s gone quiet.

“Sorry,” he breathes, shakes his head, comes up for air, “sorry, I—“

“You look nice,” Harry murmurs, and he runs a hand over Louis’ arm, “hey. It’s okay.”

“Yeah,” Louis says, swallows and blinks everything away. He’s on a bridge with a boy in black, that’s all there has to be. “Why’re you so dressed up, anyway? You do realise no one can see you, right?”

Harry smiles gently. Louis hates that usually, hates being treated gently by anyone. It’s nice tonight. It’s not lonely.

“Dunno, really,” he says, “it’s like? It makes me feel a bit like a spy? Stood on Millennium Bridge in a long coat?”

Louis blinks at him.

“Oh my god,” he says, “oh my god, you’re a child. Are you fourteen? Is this like, dreadfully inappropriate now?”

Harry smiles, looks out to the water.

“Very funny,” he drawls, “no, I’m twenty one.”

“And you dress up like a spy every night,” Louis muses, “amazing.”

Harry laughs, shoves him gently.

“Shut up,” he says, “I was kidding. Well. Mostly. I dunno, I don’t have like, a lot of stuff in London yet? S’mostly just nice shit in case I have to go out, or whatever.”

“Oh,” Louis says, “oh, okay. Where’s your stuff?”

Harry’s silent for a while. “Home,” he says.

“And where’s that?”

Harry smiles down at his shoes, expensive looking black boots with little scuffs all around.

“I’ll let you know when I figure it out,” he says, and that perplexes Louis enough to shut him up.

He wonders why Harry doesn’t sleep. He thinks he’d probably like to know.

“S’cold,” Louis murmurs, “does it ever annoy you that like, nothing inside is open this late?”

“Could go to a club, or something, I guess,” Harry points out.

“In uggs?”

Harry smiles, rests his head down on his forearms again, looks up at Louis. He’s very beautiful, Louis thinks again, in a sort of startling way. Everything about him is pronounced; big green eyes, tongue, lazy lips, pale skin, ridiculous hair that works for him, somehow. Everything about him seems noteworthy.

“I like you,” he says simply, “want my coat?”

Louis can’t help but smile back at him, yawns and rests his head so it’s level with Harry’s on the cool metal of the bridge.

“Chivalry lives,” he notes, and Harry buries his face in the crook of his elbow as he laughs, “no, I’m okay. You’re a beanpole, Harold, you’d catch your death.”

“Hey,” he says slowly, “harsh.”

“Not in a bad way,” Louis says, “you’re like, a looker of a beanpole.”

Harry blinks slowly. He looks tired, and cute. So, so cute.

“And you’re fucking ridiculous,” he says, “I’m tired.”

“Me too.”

“Why can’t you sleep?” Harry murmurs. Louis smiles at him. It doesn’t feel invasive, somehow, like it does when everyone else asks. It feels simple. Like he’s not really expecting the answer, just asks for honesty’s sake.

“Dunno,” he says, “you?”

Harry shrugs.

“Liar,” they murmur at the same time, and Harry’s eyes light up, don’t move from Louis’ face. Then again, Louis does much the same.

They stay for a long time, sit down and overlook the water through the slats of the bright. They stay till the sun breaks over the banks of the river and the light starts to sparkle in their too-tired eyes. The water is quiet as the streets grow loud, and Harry is beautiful.

“Bed time, I think,” Harry says, and Louis nods his agreement as they stand. It’s a soft moment, soft enough to rival the sharp light hitting the water. “Bye, Lou,” he murmurs, and Louis returns it.

He trails his fingers across Louis’ as he walks off, and Louis gets in as Niall heads to his early lecture.

**

“M’ just worried, a bit, is all,” Zayn says, throwing a handful of spring onions into his stirfry, “that’s all I’m saying. Just worried. A bit.”

“I’m fine,” Louis says again, stifling his yawn. Perrie raises an eyebrow at him from over her bowl of cereal. Why she’s eating cereal when Zayn’s cooking dinner is beyond him, but he supposes it’s a little too motherly to say anything.

“Okay,” Zayn says slowly, “but typically, like, fine involves a semi-regular sleep cycle.”

“Zayn Malik,” Louis says slowly, using every ounce of energy within him to pull himself off the couch and jump on the bench, where Zayn is cooking, “when have I ever been typical?”

Zayn pushes him away. Louis laughs. “I’m fine,” he says again, and Zayn looks like he can’t decide if he should furrow his brow in concern or slap him.

“Just saying,” he settles on, “worried. That’s all.”

“Who’s worried?” Niall asks, slamming the front door behind him, and Louis sighs dramatically. He takes a piece of chicken from the pan and eats it, before scrunching his face up. It’s only half cooked. He’s probably going to die.

“Zayn is worried for my sleep cycle,” he says grandly, “and my wellbeing more generally. I’m worried Pez isn’t going to eat dinner because she’s stealing my Coco Pops. There are a plethora of worries.”

“Oh, yeah,” Niall says, making the same chicken mistake as Louis and grimacing as he swallows, “you should like, stop fucking off at three in the morning. Don’t think I can’t hear you, these floorboards hide nothing. You going and meeting some mystery boy we don’t know about?”

Louis grins, slaps him on the arse as he walks past.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he says, and when he finds himself headed up to the main road to find a cab that night, thinks Niall is probably more unwittingly perceptive than he gives him credit for.

Harry is at the foot of Louis’ side of the bridge shivering to death when Louis arrives. This must be the fifth or sixth time they’ve done this, and it’s the first he’s seen Harry’s coat done up. It is, to his credit, motherfucking sub-Arctic.

“We,” Harry starts, “cannot. Stand out here tonight. I am so. Cold.”

“Fuck,” Louis mutters into the wind, “yes, good. Where are we going?”

Harry’s flat is a ten minute walk away, and Louis doesn’t argue when he offers it up.

Harry looks at him oddly when he quietens down once they reach his floor, kicks his shoes off as soon as he gets inside.

“Um,” Harry says, as Louis tiptoes over to the couch, “what you doing?”

Louis looks over at him.

“Don’t you have, like, people living here?” he whispers, “who don’t particularly want to be woken up by you bringing me in off the street?”

Harry laughs like he can’t quite believe it.

“No,” he says, flicking the lights on low and walking over to the fridge, “no, just me.”

Louis blinks. Now he doesn’t have to concentrate on being quiet, he takes a look around. The place is fucking gorgeous. Like, fresh paint job every year, high ceilings, fancy TV and sound system, art on the walls gorgeous. He looks back at Harry, who offers him a beer.

“Uh, did I miss the part where you’re Richie fucking Rich?” he asks, opening it and taking a sip for resolve, “because I definitely did not live alone with fourteen speakers and a Jeffrey Smart on the wall at twenty-one. Or twenty-two. Or now, or like, ever, probably.”

Harry rolls his eyes.

“Shut up,” he says flopping down on the couch. Louis joins him, perches himself next to Harry once he’s curled up, “parents.”

“That’s the only explanation I get?” he asks, and Harry nods.

“Okay,” Louis says, “well. Tell them thank you for the warmth.”

“I’ll pass it on,” Harry laughs, “how’s your day?”

Louis has another swig of his beer, curls up on his allotted piece of couch. His feet almost tangle with Harry’s, but he stops. It’s oddly intimate. It’s odd full stop. Everything about this is odd. It somehow seems okay, though, so he doesn’t think too much about it.

“Okay,” he says, “I had work, and then I got home to an intervention and fried rice.”

“A sleep related intervention?”

“Mm,” Louis says, “s’been a while since I had one. Overdue, I suppose.”

“From who? Your Mum?”

Louis’ chest grows tight. He can’t even remember the last real conversation he had with her, without her spacing out or turning monosyllabic or falling asleep on the phone or crying and trying to be quiet about it. He blinks.

“No,” he says softly, “no. Just friends.”

“S’nice,” Harry says, “that they, like, care, and shit.”

Louis rolls his eyes, points his beer at him accusingly. “It’s annoying, is what it is. What about you, hm?”

Louis means to ask how his day is; Harry doesn’t take it like that, though.

“Not really. I had a few friends back in Zurich who would, like, get thingy about it. In a nice way.” He shrugs. “The people I know here aren’t like that, really.”

“You lived in Zurich?” Louis asks, surprised.

“Yeah,” Harry says, “for a few years.”

“And before that?”

He smiles, thumbs at a thread on his jumper. It’s the first time Louis’ seen him without a coat, he realises. He has a sip of his beer.

“Um, Munich. And Singapore, and Chicago, and Dubai. I lived in Cheshire till I was six, till my Mum got married again.”

“Wow,” Louis says. He’s not sure enthusiasm is what Harry’s looking for. It’s not what he’s displaying, at any rate, so Louis stays quiet.

“Yeah,” he laughs, “wow, I guess. Where’re you from?”

Louis snorts, snuggles down into the couch. “Oh mate, all over,” he drawls, “by which I mean, like, Doncaster. And Doncaster. And Doncaster again.”

Harry smiles.

“Can smell the Yorkshire on you,” he says, and Louis kicks out at him. It’s half four. Harry rolls his sleeves up, and Louis sees a flash of ink.

“Hey,” he says, sitting up and taking Harry’s wrist, beer forgotten on the floor, “hey, give us a look at that.

He turns Harry’s hand until it’s palm up, and it’s not a flash of ink so much as an armful. He has tattoos everywhere, words and drawings and less than professional doodles all congregated on his left arm. There are a couple on his right, too, and Louis looks up to find his eyes trained on him. He blushes a little, feels himself turn hot, doesn’t let go of Harry’s hand.

“Quite a collection,” he says, smoothing his thumb over Harry’s pulse, “I like it.”

“Yeah?” Harry asks, eyebrow raised, “most people think they’re sort of dumb.”

“Oh, they are,” Louis says earnestly, “but I like ‘em.”

Harry laughs. “You’re ridiculous.”

“You got any others?”

Harry nods. “Yeah, a couple. Birds. A butterfly, which, like, probably was a dumb one. A G for my sister. A…”

Louis doesn’t hear the rest. He keeps his eyes trained on Harry’s wrist, thinks about the birds and the quotes and the stag and the fucking Pacman on his own arm and wonders why, why, why, he can’t quite bring himself to go and get the C that’s been sat in his draw, just a design, for so long now. His grip tightens on Harry’s arm. He notices.

“Hey,” Harry says gently, “you alright?”

Louis blinks. His eyes feet too bright, blurry, his chest feels too fast.

“What’s your sister like?” he asks out of the blue, and Harry smiles. Surprised by it, maybe, but not in a bad way.

“Great,” he says, “she’s like, the coolest person in the world. I love her more than anyone. It’s so weird, like, we’re in our twenties and I still just wanna be like her? So dumb. She’d laugh if I ever told her that but it’s true. She stayed with my Dad, when we moved away. I dunno. I miss her a lot.”

Louis can’t think of anything to say, can hear himself breathing. In and out, like the water, only louder.

“Hey,” Harry whispers, brushing the hair off Louis’ face, “hey, c’mere.”

He sits up properly and tugs Louis closer, slowly, like he doesn’t want to frighten him. Louis just follows him blindly, wraps his arms round Harry’s waist and lets himself bury his head in his shoulder, just for a minute. Harry smells fresh, lovely, his hair tickles Louis’ face and his hands move up and down Louis’ back in smooth, soft strokes.

“You okay?” he murmurs, and Louis nods.

“Mm,” he says, “sorry.”

“S’okay,” Harry says, “you want to listen to something?”

“Like what?” Louis murmurs into his skin. He almost forgets to feel odd, to remember that this is somewhat irregular, that he’s in the home of a person he met on a bridge going out of his mind with sleep deprivation, when he’s being held like this. He could stay here forever. Closeness is his favourite thing in the world.

“Like a record, or something,” Harry says, “I have a cool turntable.”

“You have a pretty cool sound system from the twenty-first century, too, you know,” Louis says, and Harry laughs. Louis starts to feel lighter again.

“Eh. I like records. What music do you like?”

“Beyoncé,” Louis says to his collarbone. Harry snorts, and Louis wonders if he can feel his smile. He keeps going just to annoy him. “Backstreet. Sonny and Cher. Shakira.”

Harry laughs, and Louis feels it right to his bones. He sits up at that, blinks himself into the real world. Harry watches him, and he brings himself to lock eyes with him again.

“Sorry,” he says, “I’m, like, not usually a total fucking space cadet.”

“I am,” Harry says, smile small and knowing and all for Louis, “so it’s okay.”

Louis smiles. He thumbs over Harry’s wrist again.

“So come on, indie boy, dazzle me with your turntable,” he says, and he leaves after Some Girls fades out forty minutes later, Harry’s number in his pocket and the heat of his hands still on his back.

**

Come over the text reads the next night, before another comes through, Unless you’re sleeping. In which case, fuck you .x

I have no idea how to even go about sleeping, see you soon Louis sends back, gets up, and breathes around the little needles of panic that set themselves in after four hours of lying there wide awake.

Niall’s at the kitchen table, tapping away furiously at his laptop. He looks up as he sees Louis, big black frames making him look about seven hundred times more studious than he actually is.

“How’s the paper?” Louis asks, and Niall holds his index finger up to his temple like a gun.

“Fucking murder me,” he says, “take me out the back and shoot me.”

“Good luck,” Louis says gravely, “I have chocolate in my room if you need it. Also tequila. But don’t touch that yet.”

“Get some sleep,” Niall says, and as Louis goes to close the door, he whisper yells, “oi, Lou!”

“Yeah?”

“Take my car, if you want. Just fill her up if she’s running low.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah,” he nods, “go for it, she’s just sitting on the street otherwise.”

Louis gets to Harry’s just after three thirty. He buzzes up to Harry’s flat, shivers a little before he’s let in. When he gets to the Harry’s door, he knocks, and Harry opens up in an old white tee shirt, a pair of pyjama bottoms, and flour dotted on his cheek.

“Um,” he blinks, “hi. Sorry, I got bored of lying there. I’m baking.”

Louis wants to kiss him. Wants to kiss the flour off his cheek and the smile off his lips and that flicker of something Louis can’t quite name whenever it clouds his face.

“Well that’s amazing timing, Harold,” he says instead, “because I just donated my supply of sweets to a mate, so. Impress me with baked goods.”

“Come in,” Harry laughs, and he leads Louis to the kitchen.

“What are we making, then?” Louis asks, surveying the toxic waste zone Harry’s kitchen has become. He hops up on a clear patch of bench, and Harry offers him a bowl of something chocolatey.

“Taste it,” he demands, and Louis isn’t one to argue with a head chef so goes right ahead, dips his finger in and tries it.

“Holy fuck,” he says, eyes wide, “that is amazing.”

“Brownies,” Harry says happily. Louis can see it now, the stains on his white shirt and the chocolate underneath his nails. He’s lovely. He’s absolutely fucking lovely. Louis wants to stay here all day. Or night, or both, or whatever.

They sit on the carpet and eat the whole tray of brownies fresh from the oven while Harry watches Simpsons reruns and Louis provides commentary. He thumbs through Harry’s records with a brownie in one hand, leaving Harry bordering on apoplectic, washes up half heartedly while Harry dries and they split the last square for diplomacy’s sake.

“They,” Louis says decisively, “were the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Harry smiles. “I know, right. Love baking at night, it tastes better.”

“Weird,” Louis smiles, burying his head in Harry’s shoulder, “weird, weird, weird.”

“I’m so full,” Harry says, “time’s it?”

Louis yawns. “Five,” he says, “what’s for you today?”

“Ugh. Class,” Harry says, and Louis sits up.

“You’re at school?” Louis asks, surprised.

“Yeah. Business college, blah blah. At Imperial.”

“Hello, posh boy,” he grins pushing at him till he laughs, “you gonna be a businessman? Run the world?”

“I don’t think so,” Harry murmurs, serious in light of Louis’ playful little nothings, “I hate it, kind of.”

His face flickers again. Louis runs a hand through Harry’s hair for no reason. He’s always wanted to touch it, and Harry seems to relax into it.

“Really?”

“Yeah. I got into like, this music school I really wanted to go to? But. My stepdad said no.”

Louis nods, fiddles with the curls at his neck.

“M’sorry,” he says, “if it makes you feel any better, in my experience, stepdads fucking suck.”

Harry laughs.

“Tell me about you,” he murmurs, he seems tired, and then, “why can’t you sleep?”

Louis blinks at him, wants to kiss him so much and yet doesn’t, because this whole thing seems very fragile.

“You wanna sleep?” he asks instead of answering, and Harry nods. Louis goes to grab his keys, but Harry holds him back. Louis turns to him questioningly.

“Stay,” he says, “like it when you’re here. Doesn’t feel so big.”

And who’s Louis to argue with that. He nods, lets Harry take his hand sleepily and guide him to the bedroom. They don’t get changed, don’t do anything, just collapse down next to each other on Harry’s bed. They’re not close like they were on the couch, the space between them is defined, and Harry turns to him with an eye roll.

“S’not good like this,” he says, “c’mere. You look like you want a cuddle. I want a cuddle.”

Louis wonders, as he laughs and buries his head in Harry’s chest, how much of this is the days of sleeplessness talking, and how much is Harry. He knows the divide all too well, but when Harry breathes him in, the smell of his hair and his skin and probably his shirt, he thinks he maybe doesn’t mind, so long as he gets to fall asleep for a few fitful hours with this boy.

**

The next night, they make jammy dodgers and play Mario Kart – Harry, apparently, does not own FIFA on account of the fact he’s terrible at it – and Louis stays over. The night after, they turn all the lights off in Harry’s room and talk quietly for hours, and Louis stays over, sneaks out at seven the next morning after an hour and a half of sleep for work. They clean out Harry’s wardrobe the night after, go to the park near Louis’ and sit on top of the monkey bars with a pint of ice cream between them after that, and on Friday Louis takes Harry to the old train station he used to comb through aimlessly, alone, before the bridge and the cigarette and all of this. Louis stays over all those nights, too.

“You have smiles on your shoes,” Harry says one night, driving while Louis is rugged up in his passenger seat.

“Yes,” he says, “I do.” His chest feels tight.

“How come?”

He could lie. He’s never told anyone why, before, and has been asked a fair few times. He doesn’t feel like lying tonight. Too tired.

“My sister used to draw smiles on her shoes,” he says quietly, and then they’re on Camden High Street and people are having fun and stumbling drunk and they park outside a shitty little pub and eat chicken kebabs while the lights flash around them.

They go back to the bridge one night, just for kicks. It’s too cold to be out, and Harry’s an idiot for suggesting it, but they do go.

“Are you happy, then?” Louis asks, “fulfilled your weird nostalgia thing?”

Harry laughs into the wind; and the water is quiet.

“I don’t think you get it,” he says, voice a little loud over the sound of the weather, “like. I came here every night for...God. I don’t even know. Ages. And then you showed up.”

“Sorry to break the trend, Styles,” Louis says, “I can just fuck off, if you’d prefer.”

Harry laughs, makes a sound of protest as Louis makes a show of walking off.

“Nooo!” he calls after him, laughing and jogging down the bridge till he can wrap his arms round him from behind, “don’t leave me!”

Louis laughs, throws his head back against Harry’s shoulder till he’s looking right up at him.

“You’re very tall,” he says, and Harry grins. He wants to kiss him. It’s three in the morning and they’re yelling through the fucking streets of London. Louis hates himself for unwittingly starring in an indie film, and loves himself for it just a fraction more.

“No,” Harry says, “no, you’re actually just very small.”

“Rude,” Louis says, and Harry smiles, turns Louis in his grip so they’re facing each other properly.

“Blah blah,” Harry says, and presses a kiss to Louis’ cheek just as a drop of rain falls on his nose.

“Oh my God,” Harry says, as Louis blinks at the sensation, “oh my God, that’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Shut up,” Louis says, scrunching his face up and pushing him away, and he’s not smiling, not at all, “shit, it’s raining.”

A few more drops start to fall, and Louis groans, watches as Harry laughs and opens his mouth and takes a few steps backwards trying to catch them on his tongue.

“Harry,” Louis says, “let’s go. The rain is not a toy.”

Harry ignores him, laugh as Louis gets another drop on his nose.

“Harry.”

He gets nothing but a victorious cheer as Harry finally gets a drop, looks over at Louis like he’s expecting applause. Louis just raises an eyebrow.

“Okay,” Harry says, rolling his eyes, “okay, fine, killjoy. I’ll race you back.”

And Louis takes that challenge and, well, runs with it.

They start out fast for the first few streets and bends before they realise they’re not exactly match fit and this is a longer route than they anticipated. Louis’ always just a hair’s breadth in front, looking back at Harry getting progressively more frustrated that he can’t keep up. Louis laughs as they take a corner and Harry tries to jostle him against the wall to get ahead, only for Louis to expertly jump out of the way of his tackle and get his biggest lead so far. The rain’s pouring heavily now, running through Louis’ hair and down his back and into his shoes; both of them are drenched. They echo through the smaller streets and their footsteps pound down the larger ones, Harry’s cries of you fucking cheater! shooting right up the walls and into the windows of people sane enough to be sleeping.

When they turn into Harry’s street, they launch back to breakneck speed, laughing breathlessly as their far too unfit legs carry them to the front of Harry’s building. Louis’ nearly made it when he feels a hand on the back of his shirt, dragging him back, and with a victorious little laugh Harry makes it up the stairs about two seconds before him.

“Not fucking fair!” Louis yells, pushing at him with an outraged smile on his face, “look at you, Harry Styles, bloody yelling at me about integrity of the race until the last hurdle, you fucking—“

The rain is falling like shards of glass onto his skin and the quiet of the street compared to their ridiculous noise hits Louis every time they make a sound, and yet when Harry kisses him, lips smiling and tasting like rain, all of it sort of disappears.

Louis’ pushed back into the brickwork, Harry’s hands cupping his jaw like he’s known how to kiss Louis for all this time, and has just never gotten around to it. He laughs a little – Louis can just hear it over the thunder – as Louis twists a hand in his soaking wet shirt and pulls him closer until they’re pressed up against each other, rain running between their skin as Harry bites at Louis’ lip, trails kisses down his jaw and his throat before coming back up and licking into Louis’ mouth. Louis groans at that, pulls Harry closer, shifts until Harry’s got one hand up against the wall and one on Louis’ waist. His hair feels nice in the rain, heavy and unruly and soft; his fingers are warm pressing into Louis’ rain cold skin, tongue sliding past Louis’, feeling out his mouth one kiss at a time. Louis pulls him closer by the damp denim of his jeans, laughs as Harry tugs on his hair to open his mouth up properly.

“Hi,” Louis says, as Harry takes a breath, and they look at each other properly for the first time this side of the line. Harry laughs, kisses both of Louis’ cheeks and the corner of his smile and the crinkles he knows have popped up next to his eyes.

“Hey,” Harry says, “is this, y’know, is this okay?”

Louis shakes his head, pushes him away.

“No,” he says, “definitely not okay. I’m mortally opposed to fantastic boys kissing me in the rain. It’s actually really fucking offensive to me.”

Harry blinks, opens and closes his mouth. The rain is relentless, falling in his eyes.

“Oh my God,” Louis says, “oh my fucking God, Harry. It’s a joke. I’m joking.”

“I knew that,” Harry says after a second, “good. Okay. Good.”

Louis laughs, presses up to kiss him again. His hands are soft, sweet the way they move; his lips are gentle and just bordering on filthy. Louis’ whole head is swimming with him. He brushes a hand under his shirt where it’s sticking to his skin, can feel the muscles taut in his back, the way his shoulders move. Louis closes his eyes, kisses him again, moves with him and it’s so much, probably too much for a set of front steps, but it’s late. No one’s looking.

“Upstairs,” Louis says right in his ear, and Harry groans as though moving is too much, as though it’s an inconvenience to have to go all the way upstairs to have sex.

“You’re not fucking me on the porch,” Louis says decisively, before he manages to convince himself that’s a reasonable course of action. Harry looks genuinely put out by this turn of events, hands dropping ever so slightly to Louis’ bum as he pulls him closer, presumably trying to make him reconsider.

“C’mon,” Louis laughs, and unlocks the door with the key he fishes out of Harry’s back pocket.

**

A week later, the air is freezing, and they’re on Harry’s back balcony looking over the city, wrapped up on Harry’s outdoor couch with his duvet from inside.

“Cold,” Louis whines, and Harry smiles, brings him in closer.

The sun is verging on rising. Neither of them have slept properly in days. Louis dropped off at work on Thursday, which he’s never done before. It’s like, probably disgraceful, and fucked up, and like, a problem he should address. He doesn’t really care.

“Still cold,” he murmurs into Harry’s shoulder, biting down, and Harry rolls his eyes.

“S’pretty out here, though,” he says, “the sunrise is nice.”

Louis agrees with him silently, snuggles in closer and feels Harry kissing his temple, anywhere skin he can get to without moving. His eyes feel heavy. He won’t sleep, he doesn’t think, but he feels relaxed about it. He feels okay. It’s nice.

Louis took Harry back to his place the other day to get some new clothes and drop Niall’s car over. They’d sort of been camped out together since the thunderstorm, breaking apart for work and class and coming back for shitty Chinese delivery and late nights. Always late nights with Harry, and it’s good. He doesn’t know what he did, before Harry, how he filled so many sleepless hours. It feels like a very long time ago. Zayn has admitted, begrudgingly, that he seems better than he has in a while. It’s a win-win, and Louis’ so quietly happy about it sometimes doesn’t know what to do with himself.

Harry shifts, makes a little noise of vague contentment and takes a sip of the cup of tea they’re sharing, because he’d run out of clean mugs. He’d forgone sugar in it too, just for Louis, and Louis figures that if nothing else, a boy like that’s worth keeping around.

“Look,” Harry murmurs, “sun’s coming.”

“How d’you know?” The sky, as far as Louis can tell, hasn’t changed. Harry smiles.

“Right down there,” Harry says, pointing at building far off in the distance, “can see the light on the glass. Give it a halfer, it’ll be daytime.”

“H,” Louis asks, yawning, shifting into his side, “why d’you like it so much?”

“What?”

“The sunrise.”

“Oh,” Harry says. He shrugs, leans his head on Louis’. “’Cos I hate the night. Since like, I moved here. Hate it. S’just thinking, isn’t it. About not being asleep and why I’m not asleep and why I should be asleep. Hate it. But when it’s day time, like, it’s okay. You can do what you want, or something. I dunno, really. I like it when the sun comes up and I’m not meant to be asleep anymore.”

Louis doesn’t say anything; for some reason – the tiredness, maybe, or maybe not – feels a lump rise in his throat. Because he gets that, so fucking achingly understands it. Has understood it for four and a half years, really. His breath is coming quicker, and Harry sits up, looks at him for a moment.

“You okay?” he asks, and Louis nods.

“Yeah,” he says. The light is rising steadily now, through the cracks in the city. It looks fucking magnificent, like nothing could touch it. He feels safe here. He feels warm. He feels like Harry gets it, imperceptibly. He feels like he could sleep, not now, but soon.

“You sure?” Harry asks, rubbing circles into his arm.

Louis thinks he has something to say, maybe, and nods.

He swallows, takes a breath, tries to remember how to talk about this. It’s been a while, to say the least.

“I think I wanna, like, tell you a thing,” he says. Harry doesn’t flinch, just squeezes his arm a fraction tighter.

“Okay,” he says, “then I’d like to hear it. What’s it about?”

In, and out. He feels remarkably calm. He’s never felt calm, telling anyone before. Never known absolutely that they’d have a reaction he could deal with, not like this.

“About why I can’t sleep, I guess,” he says.

“Yeah,” Harry says softly, and then, in a move Louis is absolutely not expecting, “what was her name?”

He looks away from the skyline for a minute.

“What?”

Harry’s face is gentle, careful.

“What was her name?” he asks again, “your sister. Only if you, like. Wanna tell me. I don’t mind. You don’t have to say it.”

Louis thinks, vaguely, he’s probably going to say everything to Harry.

“How’d you—“

“Just did,” Harry says, “sorry. I interrupted. Go ahead.”

So Louis does. He swallows, and says her name for the first time in years, lets it roll off his tongue once, cautiously, and then again. He thinks Harry will keep it safe, just like Zayn did, just like Niall, all those years ago.

Louis talks for a long time, and then Harry does too, painfully slow and furrowed brow that smoothes out by the end. They fall asleep in the brilliant morning sun, empty mug and cold toes between them, and it’s the longest Louis’ slept since he stole out all those mornings ago.

He thinks he probably likes the sunrise too.