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If I May Just Take Your Breath Away

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"Louis!" Harry yells, leaning over the barrier between the concrete and the ice that Louis' currently spinning over. Once again, he's lost in his own world, choreographing a never ending routine full of jumps and turns and twists as he goes. It's an endless competition against himself, always pushing himself to work harder for the imaginary audience filling up the public indoor skate rink.

"C'mon, Lou! You're going to have to stop some time," Harry shouts at him again. Most nights end up like this: with a lonely Louis twirling around an empty rink and Harry waiting until the last possible second to kick him off so he can clean the ice and close up.

Louis glides over to Harry with a pout and his arms crossed over his chest. His calves ache, his back is sore, his feet are cramping, every part of him is screaming to sit down and sleep for a week. "I could go all night," Louis tells him confidently, coming to a stop right in front of Harry. "But I know you must be dying to get home after a long, hard night of selling all that hot chocolate, hm?"

Harry just smiles at him and turns away, jangling the keys from where they hang off his pointer finger. "If you hurry up and change out of those death traps on your feet, I'll let you ride on the Zamboni with me!"

Louis huffs for a moment, too proud to give in and let Harry win this one. But then Harry turns the corner and the Zamboni is really fun to ride on and sometimes Harry even lets him steer them in circles until they're on the edge of puking if he pouts enough. He waits for another minute before finally giving in, scrambling off the ice and onto the concrete to change into the sneakers he's always got in his bag.

"Fine," he sighs, sounding entirely too put out for the smile that's creeping over his face.

-*-*-*-*-

The first time Louis steps foot in the rink is all in all, somewhat of a disappointment.

The rink is big enough, the ice clean enough, and the people seem happy enough, but. It doesn't have that familiar feel that he got back home, like he was settling into a second skin whenever he walked in and waved to all of the staff members who knew him by name. It doesn't feel like home and Louis resents that.

But he's a positive person and knows there has to be a silver lining somewhere in all of this. And he finds just that in the most unlikely of places: the concessions stand.

It's after he's had an hour on the ice that Louis figures if he's going to spend his foreseeable future here, he might as well know where the bathrooms and the lockers are located. So he puts on his explorer hat and pulls on his sneakers.

Nothing special. Pretty standard as far as small town ice rinks go. There are rows of lockers, a section of bleachers, a place where you can rent some skates for the day, nothing really out of the ordinary. And then there's a brightly lit stand in the middle of the east side, a group of teenagers crowded around. Louis' curiosity is peaked, but theres no way he's actually going to try and make his way into the group.

"He did a layback spin when I was out on the ice earlier and I thought I was going to die right there," one girl swears, leaning forward against the counter into the poor concession stand worker's face. She's got her long hair tied up into a pony tail and her eyes are wide, never blinking. "I've never seen an arch so perfect. I'm in love."

Louis stops in his tracks. He had been worried about making new friends as a mid-year transfer, but apparently it won't be a problem seeing as this girl is already in love with him. She looks a bit manic, yeah, but he won't be picky- especially in a small town like this one where everybody's sectioned off into close knit cliques and have been since birth.

Hesitantly, he takes a step forward, pondering how best to slyly introduce himself to his fan club. First impressions are everything so he's got one shot at this.

"He's a show off," interjects the blonde by her side and Louis stops again, sneering at her back from his spot a couple feet away. "Who does a cantilever at a family rink?"

Louis frowns down at his keds, once shiny white, but now covered in doodles and short messages from his friends back home. Well, rude. It's not like he has much choice in the matter unless she'd rather he go hunting for some frozen puddles in the middle of the sidewalk.

"Would you rather me do one out on an uneven lake rink?" he asks cooly, setting his shoulders back, chin high, sliding up behind the group to the counter. He doesn't really want anything to eat, but the entrance was too good to resist so he clears his throat and peers up at the board.

"HOT CHOCOLATE" is the only thing written across it. Louis taps his chin in deep thought.

"Quite the selection, I see," he sighs. "I suppose I'll have a cup of hot cocoa, please."

The girls have quieted around him and he smirks, finally making eye contact with the boy behind the counter and well.

He's got a bright blue beanie pulled down over his ears, but there are still curls peaking out from underneath and he's got a smile that makes Louis' stomach flip over six times in succession. His eyes are as bright as his smile, green green green and focused straight on Louis. "Taylor's just jealous, don't listen to her," hot chocolate boy says, warm just like honey and now warm just like Louis' cheeks. "I'm Harry. You're new here right?"

Harry taps his name tag with one hand just in case he missed it and holds out the other for Louis to take. He's endearing like nothing else and Louis can't help one bit but be charmed right down to his toes. With a smile to match that of Harry's, Louis takes the big paw of a hand and shakes. "Louis. And yep. Brandy new."

And that's the start of that.

-*-*-*-*-

Madawaska, Maine- population of only a little over four thousand and blessed with one of the longest winter seasons in the country. It's got a lot of promise, Louis loves the cold and not just because he spends all of his time on the ice, but he also loves having to bundle up to stay warm and showing off his never ending collection of ear muffs.

But it's a change, a completely different world from back home in Doncaster and Louis' not going to bother lying and say he doesn't miss it so much his chest hurts. He misses his nan and his friends and his rink. Louis won't complain though, wouldn't do anything to make his mom more upset than she already is with this situation.

Louis knew when his plane touched the Tarmac that he was here to finish up his schooling and skate before applying to university wherever he pleased- preferably back in Donny. He was here until his reason for leaving was plausible enough not to hurt his mom and not just because he was homesick- to get in and get out.

Everything is temporary, that's his new motto. It's just like a little vacation.

-*-*-*-*-

"What are you doing?"

Louis jumps a little and whips around to face Harry, whose eyes are trained on the pictures Louis' hanging up in his locker. "Oh. Hello Hot Chocolate boy. I'm decorating my locker, what does it look like I'm doing?" Louis turn back around smacks a magnet over another picture in show.

"Yeah, I get that," Harry nods. "But you're not really supposed to just take a locker. They're sort of public lockers. Like anybody can use them." He gestures awkwardly to the kids and their parents alike around them.

Louis pretends to contemplate what Harry said for a few seconds before shrugging. "Good thing that I'm the public then, yeah?" He pulls the picture of him and his best buddy Stan from his birthday party last year down to eye level because that one is his favorite and then shuffles through the remaining pile in his hands.

Harry hovers there and Louis tries to contain his laughter. He almost feels bad except he doesn't care all that much too. "Why are you still breathing down my neck? Is there a rule stating I can't hang pictures up in the lockers? I use this one every single day anyway."

"Anyone can use the lockers. Someone could steal your pictures and your magnets." Louis rolls his eyes and sticks a mirror to the door as well. "And your mirror."

"Thanks for the concern, but I've got myself a lock."

"You're going to rent a lock every single day? That's a lot of money."

Louis catches Harry's gaze in the mirror and narrows his eyes. "No. I brought my own." He's being difficult, he knows it. But Harry's floundering and Louis really likes the way he keeps chewing on his bottom lip. The poor kid probably doesn't have a mean bone in his body and someone stuck him with the job to wheedle Louis out of the locker he's already claimed.

"Look, I moved here all of two weeks ago and I've already spent more time here than anybody else in the whole county. I think it'd be rude to deprive your most loyal patron of a locker," Louis declares, closing the metal door and clicking the lock shut. "Also, I'm not budging so there's that."

Louis leans back against the locker and stares Harry down, challenging him to say anything more on the subject. Instead, Harry just smiles hesitantly. "Okay."

"Okay?" Louis repeats, because he likes the way Harry's smiling and he wants to prolong it's existence for as long as possible.

Harry nods and then tilts his head to the side, looking at Louis questioningly. "D'you want a Hot Chocolate?" And Louis wants to vomit, but all he can do is bare his teeth in what he hopes is a smile.

"Yeah, yes please. That would be great."

And somehow, Louis' not exactly sure how, between that cup and the next ten, he and Harry breach the line from strangers to flirty acquaintances to actual friends to flirty friends. And Louis' not one for pity or feeling sorry for himself- he's more of a fan of stuffing it all away into a far away place in his mind where he doesn't have to think about it, but Harry's sort of his only real friend in the whole entire country and that's kind of gutting when he thinks about it.

He's got other friends, characters, and personalities that come with being a frequent patron in the rink.

There's Liam, a hockey player who practices almost as much as Louis does, who he skates with sometimes. And there's Niall who is supposed to work the popcorn machine and sell candy, but Louis' never seen him do either. Sophia's a doll, always up to help Louis on the ice or gush about every move he wants an extra set of eyes on. Taylor's a jealous bitch, but she's always good for a bit of gossip when Louis' feeling extra snotty.

But he can't really picture them as more than the type of friends that you love in class, but forget all about once that bell rings.

It'd probably be worse if he spent any of his time anywhere else other than on the ice and had time to think about all the places he couldn't go without friends. But for what it's worth, he picked a pretty damn good friend for the one he has. It's sort of hard to forget that when Harry insists on doodling over Louis' cup with stick figures holding hands and complimenting every single pair of earmuffs he's worn thus far.

For the moment everything is good. Louis is at one with his inner being or some shit like that. Plus, it's just a little vacation, nothing he can't wait out.

-*-*-*-*-

Louis collapses so dramatically against the counter that his earmuffs fall off, exposing his ears to the bitter cold and he hates that more than anything. He can deal with a red nose and frozen fingers, but his ears are off limits. "Harry," he whines loudly. "My ears are cold."

Harry's laugh comes from somewhere above him and the smile blossoms too fast for Louis to swallow back down. "Do you want some cocoa?" he asks, stealing the furry red earmuffs from the counter and shoving them down over his big head.

"I over extended on my Russian split jump and now my legs hurt," Louis moans. Harry takes that as a yes and fishes out the biggest cup he has from the stacks.

"Maybe next time you won't be so huffy about stretching before you hit the ice, huh?" Harry sings teasingly and pats Louis' head. He's right, Louis was anxious to get on the floor after missing a day to go to the stupid dentist and he didn't bother with his stretching as much as he should've. But he's never been one to take responsibility when it's his fault and he's not going to start now.

"Shut up, Harold. You don't know the first thing about skating." Louis props himself up on his elbows and frowns up at Harry petulantly. "Just because you watch people skate all day doesn't mean you get to lecture me about it."

Harry sets the cup next to Louis' head and tuts at him. "Alright, grumpy. Did you forget your tea this morning? And I'll have you know that I made MVP in my junior hockey league. I was a star. Almost to the Olympics, even."

Louis laughs and wraps his fingers around the styrofoam, seeping the warmth into his chilled skin. "Last week you ran on the ice because I dropped one of my gloves and you knocked into three children. I don't particularly believe you," he tells him dryly and takes a sip of his steaming cocoa, squawking obnoxiously when it scorches his tongue.

"Hey! You promised you wouldn't bring that up again," Harry cries, pulling his beanie over his face in shame. Louis takes the opportunity to snatch his earmuffs back and slip them back into their rightful place.

"Sorry," Louis monotones.

Harry stays like that for a while more, swearing up and down that he didn't mean to knock the kids over and that he already promised their mom free hot chocolate whenever he worked. It isn't until an old man hobbles up besides Louis to the counter and asks for some drinks that Harry shows his face again, a heavy pout over his red lips and droopy green eyes.

He's quite possibly the prettiest thing Louis' ever seen.

"Alright," Harry announces, grabbing Louis' cup from his hand and dropping the "On Break" sign down onto the counter. "Let's go."

Louis follows only for his hot chocolate, nothing else. "Are you allowed to just close up shop like that?"

Harry shrugs, never breaking his determined stride of all long legs that Louis has to practically skip to keep up with. "It's not like I'm going to bankrupt the rink."

"Yeah, if that were the case it'd have happened forever ago what with all the freebies you hand out," Louis nods. "Not every kid that smiles at you deserves something free. They could be smiling because they just plotted how to kill their pet squirrel."

Harry shakes his head and by the way his shoulders are shaking slightly, he's laughing. "British people are so weird. Are pet squirrels popular back in your land?"

"My land?" Louis asks, but Harry abruptly stops and swivels around, hiding something on the wall with his body.

Harry smiles down at Louis for a moment and then holds up a long finger in front of his face. Louis moves to bite it, but Harry pulls it away just in time. "Now, what you're about to see will blow your mind. Are you ready?"

Louis rolls his eyes, but nods anyway. Harry steps away to reveal a big wooden plaque, the majority covered with a team photo and Louis squints up at it. It's old, from seven or eight years ago, and he's confused until he spots the cutest thing ever.

Kneeling down in the front row, smiling with teeth too big for his mouth, is Harry. Well, little Harry. He's got a jersey on for the Penguins and Louis laughs loudly at the lack of originality. Underneath the picture lists the names of the players and underneath that sits Harry Styles: Madawaska's Penguins MVP.

"I'm in the presence of a celebrity," Louis shakes his head. "And here I was thinking I was the better skater. Obviously not."

Harry's smiling at the photo fondly, but he still hums disapprovingly at Louis. "Why don't you play anymore?" Louis asks. "Unless you do?" As far as he knows, Liam is the only one he knows on the high school's hockey team, but he's still new so what does he know? There could be another team. Harry could very well be a star.

"Nope. I had a growth spurt and couldn't control my legs anymore. I had to turn in my jersey after I kept falling into the nets when trying to make a goal."

"Sounds about right," Louis laughs and Harry pushes at his shoulder, faking outrage and offense.

"I would be nice to the person that serves your drinks, Lou," Harry warns. "I could spit in 'em."

"You wouldn't do that to your novelty foreign friend."

Harry shakes his head and pulls Louis away from the photo. "No, I wouldn't. But I'd put less chocolate in it so it tastes really watery."

"That's even worse," Louis groans and then turns his frown onto Harry. "You'd do that to me? After everything I've done for you?"

"What exactly have you done for me?"

"After the hours I spend with you at work?" Louis cries, always one for the drama. "You'd toss me aside like that. Am I worth that little to you? Just some almost hot chocolate-y murky water?"

"Shut up," Harry moans and pushes Louis ahead of him, but Louis drops his weight back against Harry and refuses to move. "I was only kidding!"

Louis says nothing, just lets his knees give out so Harry has to hold him up completely. "Louis!" Harry whines, trying to hoist Louis up from under his armpits and get him to stand straight. "You know I was joking. I wouldn't do that to you."

Louis drops his head against the bony shoulder behind him, exposing his neck and peering up at Harry. "Do I?" he asks mournfully.

"You're so dramatic, Lou. C'mon, I can't abandon the stand forever! People could be dying of thirst out there and you refuse to walk!" Harry shuffles forward, careful not to go too fast and slump Louis forward so that he face plants against the concrete.

"I hope you die of thirst," Louis tells him sincerely and grabs a fistful of Harry's jumper just in case the other boy decides to let go of him. But of course, since it's Harry, he doesn't. He just keeps shuffling forward until the snack bar is back in sight.

"I hope all the ice melts in the world and you can never skate again," Harry shoots back with a giggle and Louis doesn't even have it in him to take offense because he giggled. Louis pushes himself upright again and sticks his tongue out at Harry.

It's a lame comeback, but it's Harry so it doesn't really matter. "I'm leaving."

"I'll see you in an hour, Lou!" Harry waves after him.

"No you won't." Yes he will.

-*-*-*-*-

The ice resurfacer is not something to be taken lightly. Or so he's told.

It's big and loud and probably deadly and above all, not a toy. There's only two sets of keys to it in the whole rink, one for the owners and one for, surprisingly enough, Harry. Louis learned after his first late night at the rink that Harry was the one with the privilege to drive around and smooth the ice after a day of skating and ever since then, Louis' hounded Harry incessantly about it.

He wants to drive it around more than anything in the entire world. Except Harry always gets that crease in between his eyebrows and tells Louis that it's not a toy and he could get hurt and blah blah blah. Really, his heart is in the right place, but he's only making Louis want to steal the keys more.

The rink is dead, the only sounds filling Louis' ears are his own breathing and the echoing clanks of Harry soaking the dishes in the big sink over behind the snack bar. He thinks he deserves a pat on the back for turning in before Harry has to come yell at him, but it's not like he's without a motive. Some way, somehow, Louis is getting on that Zamboni.

Louis drops down on a bench, ripping at his mismatch laces until the knot comes free and he can pull off his skates. The cold air immediately bites at his toes through the thin skating socks he's got on and he rushes to pull his favorite fuzzy ones up over his feet. Curling and pointing his toes, Louis smiles at the stretch familiar to a long day of skating and shoves them into a pair of worn keds from his bag.

All in all, he looks a bit ridiculous. His earmuffs are bright green today, matching the pair of socks he's got pulled over the hems of his fleece running tights (because he hates hates hates practicing in his proper skating pants and running tights are way more comfortable anyway). His white shoes contrast harshly with the rest of his black outfit, but Louis could care less.

"Harry?" Louis calls out and smiles when he hears the water shut off in the distance.

There's a moment of silence and then, "Yeah?"

"When are you going to clean the ice?" Louis zips his jacket up to his chin, chilly now that all of the sweat is cooling and he's not out on the ice zipping around. He taps his feet against the ground with every step, loving the way the sound echoes throughout the building and smiles when Harry pops into view from around a corner.

"Uh, now?" Harry says and pats his hands dry against the jeans pulled tight across his thighs.

"Well do you need some help?"

"Eh," Harry purses his lips. And that's not going to work for Louis at all. Harry's going to tell him no and Louis' not going to take it. "Not really."

Louis goes to protest, but Harry beats him to it. "Louis, there's only one seat on the thing, where are you planning on sitting? You'd fall off and then I'd run you over and you'd be dead. Have you seen the size of that thing? Do you really want to be crushed by it?!"

Louis does know that there's only one seat on the Zamboni- actually, that was a part of why he wanted to ride with Harry. Sharing a seat with him wasn't exactly a bad idea nor would Louis having to sit on his lap be either. "The thing moves at like max eight miles per hour. I can skate circles around it. I promise I won't be run over."

"It actually goes a little bit over nine, but I don't like to push it," Harry shakes his head and Louis can see his resolve crumbling. Just a bit more convincing yet and Louis can get his way.

"Harry," Louis sighs and takes a step closer. "You're my best mate in this whole entire country. Are you really going to deny me of the one thing I want more than anything. I just want to hang out with you on the Zamboni."

"Louis," Harry pouts. He looks torn and Louis inwardly squeals. He loves a good guilt trip.

"Please?"

"But Louis-"

"Please, Harry? Please?"

Harry looks out to the ice and then back at Louis whose got his bottom lip stuck out as far as he can, big blue eyes wide and sincere. "Ugh, fifteen minutes."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." Harry smiles and Louis bounces up to wrap his arms around Harry's neck. He pulls him flush against his chest and buzzes happily.

"You're the best mate ever, thank you!" Louis squirms out of the hug and steals the keys from Harry's hands, already skipping away to where he knows he can find his prize.

"Fifteen minutes!" Harry yells after him. "Louis, slow down! You're going to bust your head open before you even get to the damn thing."

Louis thinks it's probably the best part of the night when Harry gets all flustered when they're faced with the one seat and Louis suggests something along the lines of mounting up.

They end up pressed tight side by side, but that's enough for Louis especially with the rosy blush that doesn't leave Harry's cheeks for the whole ride. He's an enigma, a puzzle that Louis' constantly hung up in solving. So calm and cool in one moment, but equally flustered and stumbling and clumsy in the next and Louis' never been more interested.

It's the weirdest thing, looking down upon his beloved ice from up top. It's strangely calming and Louis can't help the way he starts to slump into Harry's side.

"Did you really mean it, Lou?" Harry asks him, voice quiet and unsure. "Am I really your best friend in the entire country?" When Louis looks up at him, his eyes are trained solely on the ice in front of him.

Louis shrugs. "It's not like I've got much of a choice, hm? But yeah. It's all you, big man."

Harry nods. "What about Liam and Sophia? You skate with them all the time."

"Ah, but they don't give me any free hot chocolate. I'm really just using you for free food. I don't rent skates or a locker and now I don't even buy food!" Harry chuckles and shakes his head, taking each turn more carefully so he doesn't jostle them and risk throwing somebody off the edge.

Harry tears his gaze away from the ice and licks his lips. "You're mine too, y'know. My best friend."

Louis thinks that is absolutely ridiculous. He's known him a month, just a drop in the monstrous bucket compared to how long he's been with Liam or Niall or Taylor or Sophia. Harry's sweet and he means well, but Louis doesn't think he knows what he's saying. Louis can't be Harry's best mate already, that's silly.

So Louis just laughs and pinches Harry's cheek fondly. "You're a sweetheart." Surprisingly enough, it's not at all condescending like Louis usually is- just sincere and affectionate.

Harry ducks his head and slowly turns his eyes back onto the rink in front of him so he doesn't crash.

-*-*-*-*-

The posters go up at the end of January.

Louis' walking back from his locker (he's got half the staff promised to keep any and all customers away from his lucky number 17), all ready to get to work in his leggings and his earmuffs, skates in hand, when the garish yellow flyer catches his eye.

Skate Your Heart Out! It screams. Huh, Louis thinks.

It's a competition and a big one at that. A competition for the whole of Maine and it's nearly a month away. Louis chews on his lip as he looks over the details.

"You've got steam coming out of your ears," Liam tells him as he steps to his side and mirrors Louis' position of his arms crossed over his chest.

"Are you thinking of entering?" Niall asks from his other side. Louis finally breaks eye contact with the putrid yellow and glances from side to side, from Liam to Niall. He shrugs.

"Do you think I should?" He wants to. He wants to drop everything and steal Harry's laptop and register right now. He's done shows and competitions and expo's all before and he thrives on the crowd surrounding the ice, all watching the way he moves and executes each spin, turn, and jump. He lives on the applause.

Yeah, Louis loves to be the center of attention, but he also needs the praise to stay confident. There's no way he'd put this much effort and time into skating if he didn't think he was good enough. And sometimes he'll skip the rink for a week and hide his skates under his bed in a fit of misguided insecurity before his mom points out his shelf of trophies and medals. There's no doubt in his mind that he's going to enter.

"Are you kidding, bro? You've got the best shot out of everyone here. You should hear the way Sophia goes on about you when you're on the ice," Liam tells him and Louis smiles weakly.

Niall nods eagerly. "You'd win for sure. Hey, Harry! Tell Louis he'd win for sure."

Louis turns at that to see Harry walking over to their huddle around the poster and waves with a little flitter of his fingers and a smile. Harry smiles back just as big. "You'd win for sure," he repeats back dutifully. "I was getting jealous over there and came to see what was going on. What are you winning at?"

Liam points to the poster and Harry's eyes widen. "You would totally win for sure!" he exclaims once again after a quick scan, but this time more excited and sincere than he's ever heard him. "There's like no chance that you'd lose."

"Mm," Louis hums and then adds mock exasperatedly "There's a chance. But I'll enter if you insist." He's already starting to plan out a routine.

"I insist," Harry tells him as Liam and Niall nod eagerly.

"That'd be so cool if you won! You'd be famous."

Louis reaches up and rips the paper off the wall. "We'll see," he shrugs and folds the page neatly into squares so he can shove it in his pocket.

He'll need to run it by his mum and take care of any conflicting schedules, but his mind is made up and Louis' determined. He's going to do it.

-*-*-*-*-

"One hot chocolate and make it snappy!" Louis demands, trying out the American accent he's been working on ever since he moved. Harry startles from his trance scrolling through his phone and whips his head up, eyebrows raising when he spots Louis.

"I think you should stick to your regular accent," Harry tells him, voice slow and smooth as ever, stirring something in Louis he didn't know he had.

Louis smiles and snaps his fingers around in Harry's face, ignoring the fact that his gloved fingers don't actually make the snapping sound that he likes. It loses some of the effect, but Harry gets the picture. "I'm pretty sure I ordered something."

Harry sets about filling his cup up with steaming chocolatey cocoa and looks up at Louis, chin tipped down to his chest. "You put the hot in hot chocolate, Lou," he smirks and hands the beverage over steadily so as to not spill any drops onto his skin.

Louis hides his smile behind the offered cup, giggling and rolling his eyes because what else can he do? Certainly not hop over the counter like he wants to and get a good snog out of Harry. "What a flirt. Do you say that to all the customers?" The pink spread high across his cheeks isn't from the cold anymore.

Harry bites at his thumbnail and blinks bashfully, if that is even possible. "Only the cute British ones." Louis' stomach swirls more when he spots a similar blush over Harry and for the first time in a very, very long time, he's not quite sure what to say.

Louis can talk for hours and still have more to say, can capture the whole room's attention in one story or monologue, and can get out sentences in the span of a single breath. It's the only thing he's better at than skating. But that's apparently shit when he's faced with Harry, the goofy concession stand boy with hands and feet that are too big for his lanky body.

So instead of spending more time searching for the words that are too far gone under the butterflies, Louis pulls out a dollar from his pocket a hands it to Harry in a way that he hopes is charming.

Harry stuffs his hands into the pocket of his hoodie and shakes his head. "Nah. It's on the house." Louis huffs angrily and shakes the money around at Harry again, but to no avail.

"Can you just-"

Harry laughs. "Nope. It was a gift. Can't pay for gifts, Louis. Then they wouldn't be gifts anymore."

"Harry!" Louis snaps with no real bite. "Stop being so goddamn annoying, you tosser." He stuffs the money into the tip jar- a cheesy snowman mug with a post it note stuck to the top with "tips" and a smiley face scrawled over in Harry's messy handwriting. "There you go."

Ha. Louis wins. "I win," he announces

"What's new," Harry says dryly.

-*-*-*-*-

The ice sort of looks different now. It's laced with hints of anxiety blurred around the edges of his stubborn determination.

His days on the ice aren't just practice now. They're choreographing and rehearsal and pushing his body to move faster and spin tighter.

Louis has to win. He has to.

It has something to do with living and skating in a whole new place against a whole range of new people, but Louis needs to win. He wants to prove it to not only himself, but everybody else in this little town that he can. He wants to hang a medal in his locker and he wants to show Harry his trophy.

Usually he has the option to hire a coordinator of some sort to help with the music and the costume and the routine, but Louis had shot down the idea as soon as his mum had mentioned it. He wants it to be all him now.

When and if he wins, he wants all the credit under his name. So it's only natural that he spends his time skating until his feet are red and sore or until someone drags him off for a break or a snack. Everything has to be absolutely perfect.

-*-*-*-*-

The crowd is wild around them, screaming and shouting at the players on the ice to do this and that and Louis rubs his temples. It's about as effective as yelling at characters on screen in a horror movie, this is, and he's about to start screaming himself.

Though, Niall's one of the loudest, swearing at nothing in general and Louis doesn't want to ruin his fun. At least he's not directly next to the bloke, poor Sophia acting as a buffer between them when all she wants to do is show off the sign she made for Liam who is, not to Louis' surprise, the star of the team. Zayn, a boy Louis recognizes from his art class at school and rarely around the rink, is on the other side of Niall, laughing happily at something another boy he doesn't know the name of just said.

It's weird, but it's nice- hanging out with all these kids like he's part of their social circle.

Harry's sitting on the other side of him and having just as much fun as the rest of the crowd, busy chattering on about the team's (Louis still hasn't bothered to learn the name of it yet, but he's sure it's something equally as creative as the Penguins) statistics or season or something else as equally uninteresting. Louis' not really listening, but his occasional nods and Wow, really's must be enough to satisfy Harry because he hasn't stopped yet.

His eyes follow one of the bulkiest players as they slam into someone else, flipping the other guy over and Louis blinks. He could probably be a great hockey player if he really wanted to. He's fast enough to skate around all the meat heads and he's got a lot of pent up aggression he wouldn't complain about releasing.

The ice has been closed all day to the public which Louis was kind of upset about before seeing as there is only two short weeks until the stupid competition, but whatever. He's over it. A night off every once in a while can't hurt, right? He promised himself that he would take the time to plan his outfit and his music tonight, but then Sophia texted him and it all went to hell.

"Hey hey hey," Louis interrupts, patting Harry's knee until he quiets down and pays attention to Louis. "Hey."

"Hey," Harry repeats and bless him, is nothing but dimples even though Louis' been nothing but rude to him for the past twenty minutes. Harry is the best friend ever.

"What song should I use in my routine?" Louis asks him. He's not exactly sure he wants to know what Harry thinks- he's stolen his phone and creeped through his iTunes enough times to know their music taste differs, but the subject is back on him so he can't complain too much. "I can't decide if I want to go deep and soulful or fun and all good vibes, y'know? I'm stuck."

He's done both before, each one has their merits, but recently he's been struck with a terrible case of indecision. It's his first big show here and he wants it to be absolutely perfect. "I'll burn you a playlist," Harry tells him, already scrolling through his phone and taping away. "And I'll put both types so you can decide. You should listen to it while skating to see which one works best."

"I'll probably get points off if the lyrics are just pitiful moaning so please steer clear of those gems," Louis teases, hand still on Harry's knee because he doesn't really want to put it anywhere else. "Also, it's a family event. Let's keep it appropriate."

"You're such a brat," Harry scoffs, rolling his eyes. "You should be nice to the people trying to help you."

Niall starts yodeling and the crowd all jumps up to their feet to watch their team skate closer to the net with the puck. Sophia's up on the bench, waving around her sign and screaming crazily so Louis figures it's Liam that's about to score. Harry pulls him up to his feet just in time to watch the puck glide effortlessly between the goalies stocky shin pads and into the back of the netting.

The only thing louder than the screaming around him is the buzzer and Louis realizes belatedly that the game is over, Liam having scored the winning goal. He's shouting happily before he knows it, letting himself be crushed in excited hugs from Harry and Sophia and a teary hug from Niall.

Harry's arm around his waist never falters even throughout every conversation or hug he has with another fanatic. The crowd is freaking out about something and Louis picks up that they're going to some type of finals now and are probably going to win the whole season or something.

The team out on the ice are all piled on top of each other, chanting one thing or another and Louis watches as Sophia runs out onto the ice with the rest of the crowd wanting to congratulate the boys.

"This year is going to be wicked," Harry tells Zayn whose standing beside him and nodding. "We're going to have to start clearing some wall space for all those championship banners going up within the next month or two."

Zayn rubs his hands together. "Yeah, man. Two big ones in a year. Something's in the water here."

"Two?" Louis cuts in, tilting his head in curiosity. Every time he thinks he's got this place down pact, something new springs up at him and reminds him that he's the equivalent of a visitor here. "Are the tiny tots league going to the championship as well?"

Harry laughs and presses his fingers tighter against his hip. "We're talking about you, silly. They sponsor the hockey team, but this is your home rink and they're not going to take having the best skater in the skate in their rink lightly. We're all behind you here."

Louis shakes his head minutely, confusedly. "Oh," he says and doesn't quite process any of it.

It's not until Harry's walking Louis to his car outside that Harry brings it up, ducking down into his personal bubble. "Pretty soon both of our pictures will be up on the wall. You know what that means, right?"

"We're both terribly famous? Too good for this town and we should run away together to the bright lights of la la land?" Louis leans back against his old car, needing a smidgeon of space between their faces so he can breath properly.

"No- well, yes if you want to. But no. I was going to say that we're going to be like a power couple." Harry wiggles his eyebrows and clicks his tongue.

Louis' heart has disappeared right out of his chest. It's not even a matter of skipping beats anymore, the organ is just gone. "The power couple of a tiny town's public indoor rink. How charming."

Neither of them mention that they actually have to be a couple first to be a power couple.

"You just have to wait and see. Once you win your first competition here and then you win a couple more and then win the Olympics and become King of skating, you'll see."

Louis can't tell if his vision is blanking out until all he can see is HarryHarryHarry or if he's just leaning in closer, but Louis likes either option. "Is that so?" is all he can pathetically manage. No wit, no heart, no breath, he's absolutely gone for this boy.

"Ay! Go Waska Wolves!" Niall screams, head hanging out the window and hand pressed solidly against the horn. He's got his tongue flapping around in the wind and it's enough to startle Harry into a jump. Louis blinks and promptly scowls at the foot of space left between them now.

The only good that's come out of this is that he knows the team's name- the Wolves. More mature than the Penguins, but unoriginal all the same.

"Eh, well. Have a good night, Louis," Harry clears his throat and pats Louis on the shoulder.

Louis takes his time getting settled in his car on the wrong side because American cars are dumb. His chest is warm when he waves to Harry who doesn't move from his spot, other than to step back when the car turns on, until Louis' gone from the lot.

-*-*-*-*-

The ice is empty except for him, all the family's and the kids tucked away in their cozy homes like the reasonable people they are. And yet, Louis bends into a camel spin for the twentieth time that night, making sure his leg stays as straight as a board.

The competition is in t-12 days and Louis' sort of freaking out.

"Louis!" Harry calls from the side and Louis's leg falters. It's closing time and he hasn't even worked on his cantilever yet. He's sore, so so sore, but in a good way- the way that lets him know he's getting somewhere.

Louis does what he does best and pushes his luck by taking off into an Axel jump. "Lou!" Harry calls again. "Don't ignore me. I'll come out there and drag you in myself!" He makes a move to step off the concrete and Louis curses Harry and his horrible ability to stay in an upright position.

"Stop, oh my god," Louis yells, finally coming back in. "Get back on a bench, I don't want to mop up your nasty blood. I need clean ice for tomorrow, thank you very much." He reaches Harry, placing his palms flat against his shoulders in the position to push him backwards, but not actually using any force. He'd rather not break his only friend's neck. "C'mon, off you go."

Harry closes his hands over Louis' much smaller ones and pulls him backwards gently. With the added height of the blades, Louis is almost at eye level with Harry and Harry never once breaks that gaze. He walks back until Louis' right on the edge of the concrete and then stops, keeping his hands right where they are. "You look tired, Lou."

Louis yawns on cue and shrugs. "Yeah. I feel tired."

Harry tuts at him sympathetically and Louis would snap his jaw at those curls if he wasn't so keen on keeping that look in Harry's eyes on him- like there was nothing in the world except Louis in that moment.

"Why don't you take the day off tomorrow?" Harry drops one hand from Louis' and spans it high across the side of his rib cage, keeping him in place. Even if he wanted to escape, Louis' pretty sure his knees would give out before they broke away from the embrace.

Louis chuckles incredulously. "And do what? Stare at a wall? Do all my homework? Not likely."

"Sleep maybe," Harry starts.

"I've got to practice all I can before the competition if I want to have a shot at winning," Louis cuts in, shaking his head. Louis' love for sleep is unfortunately unrequited. He loves it with his whole heart, but sleep never gives him back what he needs. Whatever, he's over it. Louis fulfills his needs with tea and, as of late, lethal doses of hot chocolate.

Harry rolls his eyes and scoffs. "Are you serious? You could skip practice from here on out and still wipe away the competition. I don't know what any of you do is called, but I'm pretty sure I've only seen professionals do the split spin thing-y you do all the time."

Louis opens his mouth to protest, but Harry shushes him. "As I was saying.. you should sleep for the whole day. Or you can hang out with me in a place where it doesn't feel like the arctic all the time."

"You're just tired of me poking at your nipples," Louis quips because joking is much more easier than admitting he's head over skates for the silly boy. Also because he's found that Harry's nipples are always, oddly enough, hard and perky.

"Heeeey."

"But what would this hanging out entail? You better have something really great planned. It takes a lot to tear me away from here," Louis teases, already knowing without a doubt that he's putting his skates to rest tomorrow.

Harry's fingers press tighter against his jacket, almost pulling him from the ice entirely. "Well, I've been known to make a mean chicken parm. And I don't really see myself doing anything other than laying on a couch tomorrow or sleeping."

"Food and sleep? You drive a hard bargain, Harry Styles."

Harry gives a quiet laugh that seems louder than it is since it's right in his ear and pulls away. And just when Louis doesn't think he can fall any harder, "C'mon, I'll let you skate on the ice while I resurface it for a while to make up for tomorrow."

"A man after my heart!" Louis exclaims, pushing off the barrier so he slides backwards. "Now that's what I'm talking about."

It's crawling towards midnight when they finally leave, huddling together through the back door out into the frigid air. Louis can still feel the place where Harry's hand held him and he's a little more than over tired at the point so it's not all that shocking that his brain is working slower than normal.

"I don't think anybody's going to cheer for me," Louis blurts out, his filter working even less than normal now that his mind is running as fast as Harry speaks. And his filter isn't even that great in the first place, so.

Harry slows his walk and furrows his brow at Louis, burrowing into the tall collar of his jacket. "What?"

"At the competition next week. My mum's going to be the only one there for me, how pathetic is that?" Louis wets his dry lips. "Back home, in Donny, yeah? My mates would make these signs and bring them to all my stuff and now I don't really have very many friends anymore. So if I'm bad, the arena will just be really silent and I'll die right there, Harry, I swear I will."

He'll hate himself tomorrow for all of this, but that's for Future Louis to deal with. Right now he only cares about the way Harry's latched onto his wrist. "I promise you that everybody in there will be on there feet after you skate. You're going to win, alright? I don't want to hear anything different anymore."

"Whatever." Louis' nothing but bitter and Harry shakes his head.

"C'mon. You should get some sleep. And then tomorrow, you can get more sleep, but it'll be better sleep because I'll be there." Harry's ushering him into the car like a wounded animal and Louis does nothing to stop him.

As soon as Louis twists his keys to start the car, Harry leans across his body and cranks up the air conditioner. "Jesus Chri-Harry! What the fuck!" Louis reaches out to turn off the freezing air chilling his skin, but Harry slaps away his hand.

"I'm just making sure you don't fall asleep at the wheel. You look like a zombie."

"You're a dick," Louis snaps and slams his car door closed. Harry just blows a kiss through the window and waves. What a dick.

-*-*-*-*-

For the first time in eight weeks, Louis wakes up and doesn't plan his day around the pair of skates he's got on his desk chair. It's disconcerting, but nice and Louis stretches.

The sky is the same muted white it always is after a new snowfall and the sun shines weakly through his curtains. It's half past eleven, he's slept for ten hours and he's positive that he can sleep for ten more. His phone is lit up where it's lying on the floor, all messages from Harry asking if he's awake yet.

The last one catches his eye though, the one that says 'Youve got so many sisters wow!!!' and what the hell. It's from twenty minutes ago and Louis slowly taps out a 'what ????....?.?.///' before sending.

He gets a selfie of Harry and Daisy back and Louis shoves his head under a pillow.

Are you in my house ?????

The loud laugh echoing from down the hall is answer enough.

His hair is a mess and his eyes are puffy and Harry is already here, what the hell.

"Good morning, sunshine!" Harry leans around his doorway and smiles when he spots Louis' open eyes in between his pillow and his mattress. "So glad you're finally awake."

Louis rolls over and assumes the fetal position, yawning in response. Harry takes the opportunity to sit in the free space between Louis' bent knees and his chin so that he's curled completely around Harry. "Your sisters are lovely."

"I've told you about them before," Louis rasps. He'd love a glass of water right about now, but he would not love moving from this particular position.

"I know," Harry nods. "But it's different when you're in a room with four of them. Very overwhelming."

Louis huffs and pushes at Harry's side. "I'm their big brother. I don't want to hear about how my sisters are overwhelming you."

"Gross," Harry exclaims, pushing back at him. "I didn't mean it like that. They're little girls!" He looks a bit horrified and Louis just laughs at him.

"Louis, you moved here two months ago," Harry trails off after a moment of silence, looking around his barren room.

"Yeah. What of it?"

Harry narrows his eyes at the pile of boxes in the corner and the unzipped suitcase full of clothes laying on the floor of his closet. His room looks un-lived in. "Why haven't you unpacked yet?"

Louis pulls up the blankets to his chin and sniffs indignantly. "I have too. Look over there." He nods to his dresser that's littered with baskets of earmuffs and the shelf above it that proudly displays all his trophies and medals. "That's plenty of unpacking."

Harry smiles at his medals, eyes lingering on one of the pictures of younger Louis with a trophy almost the size of him in his arms. "Yeah, but what about all your other stuff. Don't you have any posters or pictures?"

"Yeah, they're all in my locker."

"You're silly," Harry tells him.

He's got some posters stored away in one of those boxes, yeah. But Louis doesn't really want to bring them out if he's just going to have to take them down again. This isn't home and he's not going to force himself into feeling like it is.

"I brought you your mix." Harry holds up a thin plastic case in front of his face with a blank CD inside. "I'm pretty proud of it, but I don't really know what figure skaters jam to, so. They're just suggestions."

Louis snatches the case out of his hands and inspects it carefully, frowning when there isn't a track list or any hints to be found. "You're the best. Thank you for this," Louis smiles and grabs onto Harry's bicep to pull him into a seated position. "I'll give it a listen a bit later when I'm more awake."

A bit later turns out to be over lunch, or more specifically, a box of pizza between them on the living room floor. Louis' got Harry's headphones in, the wire stretched across the food as Harry taps away on his phone. He brought the CD for no reason apparently because just as Louis got up to go get a radio, Harry claimed they could just listen to it off his phone. Tosser.

Harry took the deep and soulful route for the first track it seems when it starts up slowly with some type of whiney instrument. It'd probably be pretty and meaningful if Louis wasn't looking for a specific something and he shakes his head at Harry. "It's going to be a no from me."

"Yeah, I figured that one was a bit of a stretch." Harry shrugs and plays the next one which he immediately turns with a laugh when Louis purses his lips in disgust.

"What was that?! I'm going for something I can actually move to."

Louis' just about given up all hope, but then this song starts and he's in love. It's more of the good vibes and fun type of song and Louis knows he can rock it. He might have to strip the vocals and leave it instrumental, but he can see the routine behind his eyes and it's all coming together.

"What's this one called?"

"Take a Walk," Harry tells him, bouncing excitedly. "It's by Passion Pit. Isn't it great?! Do you like it?" He looks like the twins whenever they get to stay up a half n' hour past their bed time. It's adorable.

"Yeah, it's fun. I could do a lot with it." Louis pats the space around him in search of his phone amidst the napkins and pillows spread around them. He wants to write it down lest he forget it or something. "Oh my god, this is perfect."

Harry turns up the volume until his ears nearly hurt, but Louis doesn't mind. If he wasn't so preoccupied with hosting a cute boy on the floor of his living room, Louis would by flying out the door to get to the rink and start working with the song.

"Don't look so surprised," Harry scolds, but there's no real heat beneath the words. He looks about as happy as Louis feels right now.

"I was about to lose faith, I'll be honest. But wow, Harry, you really came through. I love it." Louis types the name quickly in his notes and drops his phone into his lap to clap excitedly. "I can't wait to start putting everything together."

"Hey, none of that. This is a skate free zone," Harry says and draws and invisible circle in the air around them. "You're on break today, silly. Now, let's watch six movies and eat more food and not talk about ice skating once."

Louis rolls his eyes and gestures to the cabinet the TV sits on. "All my movies are in there. If not, I've got Netflix so we're pretty much set until the end of eternity."

Harry ends up picking, lord help him, High School Musical, even though the opening song draws every single girl in the house onto the couch. Louis wants to shove his head under the couch for most of it. But the family sing alongs are too much to resist especially after Harry turns on the subtitles for the songs he doesn't have down pact like everybody else.

And by the grand finale, Louis' pretty sure every Tomlinson in the room, including himself, is head over heels for Harry Styles.

-*-*-*-*-

A couple of hours later, after they force the girls down, with much sweet talking on Harry's part and equal amount of threats on Louis', they're alone again in a far messier living room.

It's quiet and they're settling back down into their nest of blankets at the foot of the couch when Harry taps his ankle. "Have it in you for one more?"

Louis just smiles and nods. He's not at all ready for the night to end, not ready for Harry to go home or for Louis to get back on the cold ice tomorrow when his blankets are so warm.

There's something dwelling on the tip of his tongue- a question that he's dying to ask Harry. He side eyes Harry and huffs quietly when he finds the boy enamored with the happenings on screen.

The opening credit's are playing and Louis should probably be paying attention if he doesn't want to be lost for the next two hours, but his mind is elsewhere and it's going to bug him until he gets it out.

The competition is in a week and a half and he really wants Harry and whoever else he can manage to get tickets for to come. He already put in a request for a bunch of seats in hope for some supporters, but Louis doesn't really know how to approach the subject. It's a two hour drive and he's not exactly sure anybody would want to make that for a silly competition.

But now he's requested tickets and if nobody fills them they'll be left empty and Louis will probably die of embarrassment. He's walking a thin line.

"Harry?" Louis reaches over to nudge the boy in question with two fingers.

Harry looks over at him and Louis' lips twitch in a half smile. "Are you working on the 23rd?"

"That's a Sunday right?" Harry asks and Louis nods. "No, I have that off, why?"

"It's my competition. And I have a couple of extra tickets. Just if you found yourself with nothing at all to do." Louis focuses on the actors on screen.

"Thought we weren't supposed to mention skating anymore, Louis," Harry frowns and Louis rolls over so his back is towards Harry. Whatever, then.

"Whatever."

Harry chuckles and spreads a big hand over the dip of his waist, tugging until Louis falls back on his back. Harry's leaning right over his face, so close that Louis would only have to just bop his head up to catch those lips in an accidental kiss.

"I'm kidding," Harry murmurs, his hand burning where it's still tight against his waist. He's pressed along his side, leg to leg, and he smells wonderful. It's intoxicating. "Why do you think I have the day off? I asked for it."

Louis puffs out his cheeks. He's not very sure what to say.

Harry takes the hand from his waist to poke at his cheeks until they deflate and Louis works to keep the pout from his face.

"Oh, well. Good," Louis finally answers. "Did you know the arena is two hours away?"

Harry furrows his brows, but nods in the affirmative anyway.

"Okay."

Louis tentatively lays his hand against Harry's chest and blinks up at his Hot Chocolate boy. "Harry?" he asks, voice small. Harry's eyes are hooded, green directly on Louis' lips. His skin is tingling and he's trying to focus on his next words rather than the way Harry's curls are falling down around his face like a crown and tickling the edges of his skin.

"Yeah," Harry breathes. He's gorgeous. And he's warm and he smells good. It's a very dangerous mix.

Louis flounders with his next words, too many different options and not enough brain power to process them when the beat of Harry's heart can be heard in his own ears. He takes a deep breath and wiggles his fingers where they rest on his chest.

And then he pushes as hard as he can and successfully flops Harry back on to his back. Much better. "We should watch the movie, yeah?"

Harry's laughing weakly when Louis sidles up beside him to watch. Harry crosses their ankles together and Louis pats his knee half in apology.

Later, the room is completely dark around them, the TV screen only playing the rolling credits for a movie Louis barely paid attention to. He shuffles even closer to Harry and hopes the boy is sleepy enough not to think too much on it.

"Louis?" Harry whispers quietly.

Louis hums in reply, just enough to let him know he's awake and listening.

"Why'd you move to a different country if you hate it so much here?"

Louis hums again, but this time it's thoughtful and loaded. "I didn't have much of a choice. Mum got divorced and needed a change. She went through a lot last year and I wasn't about to put her through more."

He remembers the yelling and smashing of cups against walls and the crying, red lobster faces of his baby sister's all too vividly. It was a hard year in the Tomlinson household and Louis would do anything for his family. He's a bit of a momma's boy, truth be told.

"I'm graduating in the summer same as you, though. I applied to a bunch of uni's back home. It's not like I'm going to stay here forever so I don't really mind all that much."

Harry's quiet as he rolls on his side so he's facing Louis, eyes bright even in the dark room. "You don't like it here even a little bit?"

"Everybody here sounds funny and you all drive on the wrong side of the road." Louis half shrugs with the one shoulder he's not laying on. "I like it here enough," he starts.

And it's true. Maine's got Harry and all his sort of friends. Now it's got his family and his sort of rink. He loves his locker and his growing addiction to hot chocolate the color of the walls in his bedroom. He knows he'd miss the Zamboni and his little beaten up car with all of his heart.

"But it's not home," he finishes. "It doesn't feel like home and I don't know if it ever will."

"I hope it does one day." Harry's hand closes around his and Louis bites his lip, thankful for the dark and the way it's covering his dopey face.

"Me too."

-*-*-*-*-

For the first time, Louis walks into the rink with only the shoes on his feet and no plan to get on the ice. It's early morning Saturday, the day before the competition, and Louis has to leave soon.

They've got to make a two hour drive up to some fancy stadium rink and get a room so Louis can get a good nights rest for his big day tomorrow. But his stomach is rolling and he'd rather hide behind the snack counter than have tomorrow come.

Liam pats him on the back as he walks past, all geared up to get on the ice and Louis nods faintly. He's on a mission, there's no time for chit chat now.

There's no line in front of the concession stand, Harry's got a book open on the counter in front of him and Louis swallows nervously and clears his throat.

"How ca- Louis! Thought you were off today! Couldn't stand not saying goodbye, huh?" he smiles toothily.

Louis shoves the creased envelope at him before he loses his confidence. "You said that you'd try to go if you could so I got you some tickets," he tells him quickly. "You don't have to go though. This isn't me pressuring you into going. It's just in case."

Harry's smiling as he opens the envelope and peeks inside. "I got a bunch," Louis rushes to explain when Harry looks up at him. "I didn't know if Niall or Liam or Sophia were doing anything tomorrow and I just figured.. just in case."

"Just in case, huh?" Harry raises his brow, carefully closing the top and sliding it into his sweater pocket. "I'm sure we'll work something out."

Louis shrugs and stands there a moment longer, rocking back on his heels. "Well. I should be going. I've a lot to do before tomorrow."

Harry nods. "Hug for good luck?"

"Yeah," Louis breathes and leans across the counter into Harry's awaiting arms. Just as he's moving to pull away, Harry leans closer and presses his lips against the apple of his cheek.

Louis' positive he hears someone aw'ing behind them, but his skin is buzzing too loud to be sure. They're both pink when they finally separate and Harry can barely look straight at Louis.

"You've got this in the bag, Lou."

"Thanks. See you later?"

Harry nods and waves and Louis really really really hopes he comes tomorrow.

-*-*-*-*-

Louis tugs at his braces uncomfortably, squirming around in his fancy pants and belt and ugh. He's always hated skating costumes. The pants are absolutely atrocious and Louis'd trade them for his running leggings any day.

Honestly, he's just picking at his wardrobe because he'd rather focus on himself than what's out there.

From what he's seen, the competition is nothing he can't beat. Louis' faced far tougher opponents and he's not at all worried about comparing with the other skaters. The one on the ice right now can spin longer than he can, but their jumps are shit, so. It's a simple talent competition- nothing too advanced or anywhere near Louis' level, but the swirling pit in his stomach won't leave just yet.

He knows his mum is out in the crowd with a gaggle of girls on either side, but he hasn't bothered to peek out and see if anybody else has arrived yet.

Louis' without his trusty earmuffs today, too afraid that points on his appearance would be marked off. And he's been known to have a pair fly off in the middle of his routine so he's steered clear. But his ears are cold now and he hates that.

His number is going to be called any moment by one of the judges and Louis really wishes he had his earmuffs to muffle the harsh crackle of the intercom. Also, he wishes he had his phone so he could fiddle around on his twitter or check his texts for any apologies for not making it to the competition. Anything would ease the anxiety at this point, really.

He's leaning against the concrete wall when the applause from the audience reaches his ears. Louis could throw up.

On the bright side, if nobody showed up then he won't make a fool of himself when he inevitably falls or makes a fool of himself or over extends on a jump and dies. He's always one for a good silver lining.

The number that he's spent all day memorizing is repeated over the speaker and Louis rolls his shoulders back. One deep breath, two. And then he glides out onto the ice, face calm and muscles loose. He's got a bad case of stage fright, but he's a good actor when he needs to be.

There's a pause of about ten seconds out on the ice, while the sound tech sets up the music and the judges wait for you to get into starting position, and Louis uses it to do some of those breathing exercises his mom learned when she was pregnant with the twins.

He's blinking slowly, trying to trick his body into a state of serenity, when he hears it. Someone is yodeling in the crowd. Louis nearly loses his footing when he throws a glance to his mum and finds Niall jumping up and down beside her.

And Sophia waving around a sign just like the ones she makes for Liam. And Liam and Zayn clapping beside them. Even Taylor's there. Then there's Harry, standing up and whooping and waving at Louis.

He wiggles his fingers tinily by his side in a wave and exhales. All his seats are filled. Everyone came to see him.

Louis wants to jump and laugh and skate himself dizzy, but the music starts and he counts out his steps in his head. Everything has got to be doubly perfect now, he's got an audience to impress.

His emotion has always bled through into his skating, his turns becoming something harsh (like his first skate after the divorce, the skate after he found out about the move, the last skate in his rink) or gentle (the first skate after he won his first competition, the skate he spent following Harry on the Zamboni) depending on the mood. He either cuts the ice up or slides across it, there's really no in between.

So Louis hopes to god that the emotion is showing through this time because he feels like he could do next to anything.

Everything around him is spinning, blurring into a mess of bright lights and nameless faces.

He doesn't land where he wants after a jump, but he manages to pull it off so nobody would ever notice. And other than that, his routine goes off pretty flawlessly. Louis doesn't like to brag, it's tacky and tasteless, but he's as close to perfect as he's going to get and he's not too worried about how the judges are going to score him.

The only points he'd mark off for, if anything, would be his ending pose. Louis tries to hold it for as long as he can, but Niall's doing that damn yodeling again and everybody else is cheering and he can't swallow down the laughter. It's impossible.

As soon as he's out of his skates and out of the locker room, he's swallowed into the surrounding crowd. There's one or two competitors looking to shake his hand, but they're unfortunately pushed aside in favor for his family and his friends.

His mom is slobbering proud kisses all over his face, his sisters are all tugging at his sleeves and his braces, everyone around him trying to praise him for one thing or another. Harry opens his arms for a hug and Louis breaks away to give him one, yelping when he's lifted off the ground and swung around clumsily.

Harry knocks into Niall and Zayn, but it's so totally worth it. "You did amazing," Harry gushes right into his ear, setting him back down on the ground, but not making any move to pull away.

"Did you expect anything else, Harold?" he quips.

Sophia thrusts a bouquet of flowers between them, forcing Louis to let go of Harry and take hold of the arrangement. "These are from me and Liam! You were so stunning, Louis. Oh my god, you're going to win! Lets get a picture later."

Louis tries to show his gratitude in multiple hugs, holding his flowers like a baby so as to not crush them. He's in awe.

Niall and Zayn clap his back, both telling him that they're not surprised at all and how he tore up the ice. He's going to win, they're sure of it.

Louis doesn't know what to do with himself. There's no way he can thank these guys enough and in a way that would let them truly understand what they've done for him. But he tries hard. "Hey, I just want to thank you all so much for coming. I mean..," Louis shakes his head. "You guys are amazing and I could not have asked for better friends. And, not to be cheesy or anything, but even if I don't win, today has been so great. I'll be happy either way."

He's met with a chorus of coos and another round of hugs. Louis kind of wants to slap himself round the head right about now because he's daft. Harry may be his best mate, but he's in no way, shape, or form his only mate.

-*-*-*-*-

Louis wins first in the Junior Male's and highest score overall in the whole goddamn thing.

-*-*-*-*-

After all the awards ceremonies and pictures and attention, Louis' tired and ready to go home. It's late, late enough that his sisters are falling asleep in their chairs, and he's dreading the drive back home.

The excitement's finally caught up to him and he's ready to crash for the next week or two now that he doesn't have anything to practice for. Louis slings his bag over his shoulder for hopefully the last time that night and pushes the door open to the locker room.

There's someone, Harry, standing against the wall, tapping his fingers in a beat against his thighs, apparently waiting for Louis to finally leave. "Harry? I thought you were going home?" There's no reason for anybody to still be here and Harry has a car full of cranky teenagers to get back home.

"I wanted to say goodbye," Harry smiles, trying to hide a yawn. He stretches, unveiling his long limbs for a short moment before settling back down into his familiar hunch. He's got terrible posture, Louis notices. "I got you something."

Harry reaches into his pocket, pulling out a wrinkly bag and holding it carefully for a moment. "Earlier today I saw that you didn't have any earmuffs on and I thought that maybe you forgot them at home. And I know how much cold ears bother you, so I.." Instead of finishing, Harry hands the bag to him and Louis can't manage to shut his jaw.

"Harry," Louis murmurs. He pulls out the earmuffs from inside and laughs loudly. They're royal blue with big white hearts centered on each ear and Louis' positive they're meant for a little girl. "Oh, H, I absolutely love them. They're wonderful."

Harry smiles shyly and half shrugs. "Yeah?" he asks unsurely, pushing himself up from the wall so he's looking down at Louis.

Louis slides them on over his ears and nods. "My favorite pair of my whole collection, hands down. I'll probably cheat the system and wear these at least once a week."

"Good. They reminded me of you 'cause they're cute and you know, the hearts."

Louis squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head because no way. There's no way this boy is this charming and hot and amazing and sweet. "Shut up," he groans, hiding his face-splitting, toothy smile behind his hands.

"What?"

"You need to shut up and kiss me right now because I can not take anymore of you being all," Louis flaps his hand around in front of Harry's chest. "This."

"If you insis-"

Louis groans and yanks Harry down by the collar.

"You're insufferable," he murmurs against his lips and Harry just grabs the back of his head and tilts his chin up.

Everything is perfect.

-*-*-*-*-

Louis steps into the rink the following Monday and lets out a long breath. He'd never utter a word out loud about it, but for the first time, it feels like home.

It took all of four hours after his plane touched down in the new tiny town for Louis to google the nearest rink, only unpacking his earmuffs and skating essentials from his tower of boxes in his room before flying out the door to check it out. He'd been disappointed. And now he can't imagine anything different.

He drops his bag off in his locker, almost shedding tears of happiness at the balloons and posters everyone's taped to the door in congratulations. And then he makes his way to the concessions stand.

"Is it hot in here or is it just you?" Harry greets, sliding over a cup of cocoa with a lopsided heart drawn on the front in sharpie.

"I think it's the hot chocolate," Louis tells him.

"I like your tights today," Harry smiles and winks. "They match your earmuffs." The blue Nike logo and stitching on the side does go well with the earmuffs he bought at the competition and Louis pushes the cocoa to the side so he can lean across the counter.

"They're not tights, they're mens leggings for running," Louis scolds.

"I like you," Harry amends, smiling like he's the most clever boy in the world.

Louis laughs and leans closer. "I like you too," he tells him.

"Wanna help me clean the ice later tonight?"

"It's a date," Louis nods.

"I'll carry you off into the icy sunset on my mechanical steed." Harry wiggles his eyebrows and Louis rolls his eyes.

"I'm gonna go hit the ice, goodbye."

Harry blows him a kiss and calls, "See you in an hour!"

"No you won't." Yes he will.