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Louis expects to find Harry sprawled on the bed when he lets himself in, gone soft and loose in sleep after a day of tense shoulders and pointed silence. It’s nearly four in the morning, and Louis intends to check up on him, is all, maybe curl up in one of the loveseats and let the slow rise and fall of Harry’s chest ease some of the jitters even two cups of tea hasn’t been able to shake. He’d sneak out before Harry woke up, of course, because it’s not about them anymore, not something they do—just him.

He doesn’t doubt that Harry knows. He’s been caught cutting his eyes away one too many times when Harry’s snapped awake from a nap at the airport or in the van or in a familiar lounge of a new hotel, but he doesn’t mention it. Doesn’t seem to care, or at least—not like he used to, back when he’d squint at Louis through the sleep-haze and murmur, “Watching me sleep again. Bit creepy, innit?” and Louis would say, “Yeah, sounds like something you would do,” and get a pillow to the face for his trouble.

They’re not as prone to pillow fights anymore. Louis reckons it’s just another side-effect of growing up he hadn’t bothered to read the fine print about.

It’s all right, because he doesn’t need that to unwind. Just being in Harry’s orbit is enough, most days, and he’s made do with watching instead of touching, eyes hooked on the curve of his spine instead of a hand at the small of his back. They’ve got most of tomorrow off and if Louis wants to spend it out on the town with Liam he needs at least a few hours of sleep, some way to get rid of the anxiety clogging up his chest. So he gyps the room key off Paul and sneaks in, prepared to feel his way around in the dark and tug the curtains open before he can settle.

But the lights are on, and the bed is empty. Steam escapes from the bathroom in steady puffs.

“Dammit,” Louis sighs, and spares a second for indecision before toeing off his trainers and sitting down on the bed.

He’d have an easier time of it if he left. Harry’s been in a mood all day, the kind brought on by little things like getting a crick in his neck from sleeping wrong, or not liking the way his hair looks, or running out of his preferred flavor of gum, and Louis always gets the brunt of it.

He’s unfailingly polite to everyone else, even if the cheer is a little forced and he doesn’t laugh nearly as often. He slums around with the crew and hangs off of Lou anyway, cuddles up to Niall and messes about with Liam and Zayn as he always does, but he’s frosty when it comes to Louis, ice cold and mean about it, like Louis is to blame for everything that’s gone wrong in his life thus far, with his shitty hair at the top of the list.

The silent treatment puts Louis on edge no matter who he’s getting it from, but he can’t stand the way Harry’s eyes slide over him like he’s not even there. Harry knows it—probably gets off on it, that’s how much of a fucking child he is—but even the awareness that he’s playing right into it can’t keep Louis from wanting to fix him. It’s a compulsion he doesn’t think he’ll ever be rid of, this incessant urge to make sure he’s all right, and it’s what had him gravitating toward Harry the whole day, so caught up in trying to get a reaction out of him that he damn near forgot anyone else even existed.

It’s what has him sprawled across Harry’s bed now, arm over his eyes, listening to him shower, of all things. He’s going to come out of it reddened and sensitive, because he goes in there to fucking boil, and his skin will prickle in the cold air of the room. Goosebumps will rise as water drips from his hair and paints a trail down his back and Louis pinches the bridge of his nose to keep from thinking about it, sits up and scrubs his hand over his face. Reconsiders staying.

Harry’s mobile is on the side-table, and would provide enough of a distraction if Louis could be bothered to crack his lock screen again. His journal lies next to it, so inconspicuous Louis doesn’t even notice at first, pages neat and empty when he snaps it open. It’s the new one, only a dozen or so pages filled, and Louis hasn’t been through it yet. He’s seen Harry curled up with it next to Zayn, both of them doodling intermittently in the margins, and nearly snatched it then, but they both looked so tired that it wasn’t worth it. There’s no point to making off with something unless someone’s going to chase you for it, and Louis could wait.

He planned on waiting, anyway.

It’s full of the same stuff the other one was. Zayn’s drawings are easy to pick apart from Harry’s, and there’s a few hangman games Louis reckons were played with Niall. Someone lost trying to guess ‘BOOBIES,’ and they had to have been fucking stoned at the time, because come on. All the things in quotes are what Harry’s bound to tweet at some point, and the neat, block letters are for lyrics, or what’ll turn into them, anyway.

Harry always finishes his sentences. It’s a funny contrast to Louis’ own half-formed thoughts, scribbled on napkins and receipts and stuffed into the pocket of someone’s jeans. Louis runs his finger over the bits that Harry’s had to come back to and finish off with a different pen, his prim little full stop. GIVE ME EVERYTHING, it says, underlined four times, and next to it, hesitant: IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?

“No, Louis, I don’t mind you reading my diary. Thanks for asking.”

Louis doesn’t know how he missed the shower turning off. In his periphery he can see Harry toweling his hair, frowning. Louis ignores the way his heartbeat picks up and flips the page. “Stop calling it your diary. How am I meant to take the piss out of you if you do it yourself?”

Harry hangs the towel over the back of a chair and flops onto the bed face first. He hasn’t bothered to put on any pants and his legs are splayed open like he’s waiting for Louis to settle in between and fuck him, the way he would have, not so long ago—just stretch out over his back and fit their hips together, rock into him slow. His arms are under the pillow, hands flat against the mattress. Louis would’ve threaded their fingers, squeezed.

Louis can feel the heat rising off of his skin. If he stretched his arm out he’d hit Harry’s shoulder, so he doesn’t.

“’s rubbish, anyway,” Harry says, and it takes Louis a second to work out what he’s talking about.

“Mm,” Louis hums, tearing his eyes away from the curve of his back and making a show of peering at the journal. “Well, not all of it. I quite like this bit, here.”

Harry turns his head, wary but curious despite himself. Louis props the journal up and leans in to show him, waiting until Harry’s looking at the page before tapping the lines he’s scribbled out, drawn neat little boxes around and filled in so thoroughly there’s no hope of knowing what they once said. There are a few on every page, and more than a few on some, his agitation obvious in the indents the pen left.

Louis scrambles away, laughing, when Harry scowls and swings at him. So easy.

“Prick,” Harry mutters, and turns his face back into the pillow. Louis bites the inside of his cheek to keep from sinking his teeth into the meat of his shoulder, climbing over and nuzzling into the sweet spot just beneath his ear. Tension still rides the long line of Harry’s back, and Louis isn’t as sure-footed as he used be, not when it comes to him.

So he clears his throat and goes back to the journal instead. “You’re only supposed to strike it through once, you know that? Just in case you change your mind later and decide it wasn’t as shitty as you thought.”

He’s silent for long enough to make Louis twitchy. “Liam tell you that? And I won’t.”

“Yeah,” Louis says. Liam’s turned into their resident songwriting guru, and his methods are more organized than Harry’s, serious and elaborate. The page Louis is on now is only half filled, mostly messy, random script, something about froyo and elevator heels. At the bottom it says, I WANT TO START AGAIN. “Won’t what?”

“Change my mind.”

Harry’s voice is muffled, face pressed into the pillow so hard it’s a wonder he can even breathe. Louis looks at him, easy now that he’s not looking back. “That bad?” he asks mildly. “Soppy, was it?”

“Stupid,” Harry corrects, and then, challenging: “I like soppy.”

“News to me,” Louis says, and snaps the journal shut before tossing it at him. “There’s bits where I couldn’t tell whether you were writing a song or throwing a tantrum, to be honest. You might want to work on that. Cut out a few hundred I don’t cares.”

“Fuck off.”

“Just some friendly advice, Harold,” Louis says, cheerful, and swings his feet off the bed. Heat is gathering in the pit of his stomach and he feels even more unhinged than he started out, but it’s only going to get worse unless he leaves. It never gets any better. A year ago he was convinced it would, so certain that he’d get used to it—that they’d drain each other of everything, burn out, get bored, because nothing this overwhelming could be sustained forever. Now, he’s not so sure.

But the thought that he’s never going to escape it is one he doesn’t like to dwell on unless he’s got alcohol on hand, so he shakes it off. Laughs a little at himself and prepares to spend the rest of the night staring up at the ceiling, wide awake and wondering.

He’s about to get up when a hand clamps down on his wrist. Harry’s face is still buried in the pillow, and his grip isn’t tight enough to keep Louis in place. His fingers wrap all the way around Louis’ thin wrist, obscuring the rope, hesitant. Louis could get free in a pinch and be out the door, well on his way to pretending Harry never asked him to stay.

Louis pulls his feet up and settles back against the headboard again, close enough now that Harry’s arm falls over his thigh, gut tightening, prepared to wait this out. He never makes the first move anymore, not unless he’s pissed out of his mind and no one’s around to remind him he shouldn’t. He rarely remembers those nights anyway, and they never bring them up, so it doesn’t even count, not really.

It’s different when Harry starts it: not as messy, harder to forget. His palm feels like a brand on the inside of Louis’ wrist, making his pulse throb. When he slides his hand up Louis’ bare arm Louis nearly wrenches away, prickling all over, cock chubbing up in his briefs, just like that. So easy.

Harry’s hair is beginning to curl. The small of his back is damp.

“Look at me,” Louis says, because he can’t do this if he doesn’t. For a second he thinks Harry won’t, that he’ll come to his senses and let him go instead. Crisis averted with nothing to show for it but the lump in Louis’ throat. But Harry’s nails dig into Louis’ bicep, and his eyes, when they find him, are that awful, familiar green. He pulls him down and Louis goes without protest, until they’re lying side by side, just looking.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Harry says, and his voice sounds hoarse, like it scraped its way out. The corner of his mouth is scabbed from where he’s been picking at it with his nails. Louis wants to put his tongue to it. “Did you know?”

“I can see that,” Louis says, and then, “no,” though maybe that’s not true. Had he known? Sometimes he can’t tell whether his restlessness is his own or a product of Harry’s, a feedback loop he can’t break out of. Louis doesn’t like being so attuned to him. He doesn’t know how not to be.

“Were you going to wake me up?”

“No,” Louis says, because there’s no use in lying if you’re not going to get away with it.

Harry sighs, and his eyes flutter shut. His hand moves from Louis’ arm to rest on his chest, thumb catching against his nipple accidentally-on-purpose and making him stiffen. He does it again, and Louis teeters between the urge to squirm away and the urge to arch up into it, shrug off his vest so there’s skin on skin. He’s sensitive enough that his gut cramps with each brush, nipples tightening up until they hurt a little.

Harry bites the corner of his mouth while he plays with him, eyes closed like he’s learning Louis’ body, like he doesn’t already have every bit of him memorized. He plucks at his nipples so gently Louis’ toes curl, and then digs his nails hard enough to make him hiss; knuckles at his sternum and sweeps over his ribs, lazy, rucking the fabric up under his hands. Louis catches his hand when it settles on his belly, cock throbbing where it’s trapped in his briefs.

“Come here,” he says, and grabs him roughly, furious at the way his voice shakes. He couldn’t move Harry if he didn’t want to be moved; he’s a fucking dead weight at the best of times, though he used to be so pliant Louis didn’t even notice. He does now, and the solid, heavy, press of him when he settles on top makes Louis snap his hips up, helpless. “What do you want?”

“Wanna touch you,” Harry says, slow and slurred, but he grimaces when he leans down, hands curling into fists on either side of Louis’ head. Louis knows that look.

“Back hurt?” His skin is so hot under Louis’ hands, muscles tensing as Louis runs his palms down his spine. He makes a noise, low in his throat, when Louis digs his fingers in. “’s that why you’ve been such a cunt all day? And here I thought it was something I’d done.”

Harry gives him a look and ducks his head to bite meanly at Louis’ jaw. His hips shift, restless, and he could still fuck him like this—Louis knows he wants to, likes it best when Louis’ all folded up, legs hooked over his shoulders, every pump of his cock driving the breath out of him—but his back would twinge something fierce afterwards. He’d spend the rest of the night squirming, wake up in a foul mood again, and there’s going to be enough shit to plow through tomorrow without adding that to the mix.

So Louis wraps his legs around his waist and flips them over, bracing himself on Harry’s chest. He yanks the pillows away so Harry’s flat on his back and wriggles until he’s settled astride, arse pressed against the jut of Harry’s cock, teasing. “Looks like I’m doing all the work, princess. Lucky you.” And then, because Harry’s still too quiet, sullen brat that he is: “What was his name, again?”

Harry frowns at him while Louis tugs off his vest. “Whose?”

“The Hunchback of Notre-Dame’s,” Louis says, and ruins it by laughing, squirming away when Harry smacks at his dick. “Ow, fuck, fuck off!” He yelps when Harry grabs him by the waist and yanks him close, until they’re face to face, and Louis’ laugh catches between their mouths as Harry kisses him.

It gets wet right away, so sloppy. Hungry. Harry’s lips are chapped and he tastes like he’s spent an hour brushing his teeth, minty enough to sting a little. When Louis tongues the cut on his lip it goes metallic, and Harry pulls away to bite him.

“Quasimodo,” he mumbles against his throat, because he can’t help giving Louis ammunition, and Louis gasps out a laugh. Harry’s tucked his face into his neck so Louis can’t see his dimples pop, but he knows they’re there. It’s that grin he’s been looking for all day, still wan but getting brighter.

When Louis ducks down to kiss him again, he shifts so Louis catches his chin. “You forgot to say what a bad idea this is.”

“How careless of me,” Louis says, raising his eyebrows. “This is a very bad idea.”

Harry hums and looks up at him, mouth hooked in this self-satisfied way that always makes Louis’ insides flip. “I don’t care.”

Louis has to pinch him, because he’s a twat. His journal’s still on the other pillow where Louis tossed it, and Harry grabs his hands and pulls him in before he can lunge for it. They’re pressed together and Louis’ cock is caught between their bellies, hard and aching, and this is a bad idea. The worst. They’ve been through it enough times that Louis can almost feel the frustration that’ll come from not being able to touch him tomorrow, the strain a few feet of distance will put on them. They’ll snap at each other and whoever else gets in the way, on edge until the daily grind wears them down and they settle on miserable.

They’ll regret this. They always do, just—never enough to stop.

So Louis leans their foreheads together and kisses him, a quick buss. “Dare you to make that the chorus.”

“Maybe I will,” Harry says, and Louis starts singing I don’t care, don’t care to the tune of Friday until Harry’s shaking with laughter and slapping a hand over his mouth. His eyes are bright. “Fuck you, I’ll do it.”

Louis bites at the fleshy part of his palm. “Fuck me, then.” He reaches back and grips Harry’s cock, gives it a firm stroke. It’s gone all drippy, and Louis mouth waters a little at the feel; any other time he would have already sucked it down, but right now he’s reluctant to pull away from the slow catch of Harry’s mouth against his, the way it lights him up inside. He can’t stop kissing him. “You wanna? Come on.”

From there it’s a fumble to get the lube and Louis’ briefs off, elbowing each other in the process. The briefs end up hooked around his ankle and the lube smears all over Harry’s stomach and the backs of Louis’ thighs, but he’s got two fingers in him and Harry’s mouth is still on his, so Louis doesn’t care. His own fingers aren’t really long enough to find the spot, not unless he strains his wrist and gets the perfect angle, but Harry’s tuck up right against it, knead firmly until Louis goes all red and shivery. He could come from this, probably, from just a loose fist around his cock and Harry fucking him with his fingers, but neither of them are patient enough to try it out. Nothing ever feels as good as getting Harry’s cock in him, and they’re—greedy.

“Thought you said you were going to do all the work,” Harry says, pumping his fingers a little harder while Louis pants against his mouth. His other hand’s squeezing Louis’ arse, holding him open, nails digging in just enough to sting. The muscles in his forearm are straining, shoulders tight, and Louis can see his jaw tick.

“And you believed me?” He laughs at the look on Harry’s face, but it’s strained, half a moan. “When have I ever—

He loses his train of thought when Harry slips his fingers out, lube-tacky fingers clutching at his hips and manhandling him into position. The head of his cock nudges up against Louis’ hole and fuck, he always gets so wet, he barely needs to lube himself up at all. But he does, because he likes it slick and sloppy, for all that he complains about the mess after.

Louis twitches his hips away just as he starts to press in. “Didn’t say I was ready yet.”

“Louis,” Harry warns, brow furrowing when Louis shifts back and forth, hitching up to rut his cock against Harry’s stomach. He’s trying to scowl, big hands kneading Louis’ arse, rough, but his face is too flushed for it, mouth too slack. He opens easy when Louis kisses him, sucks his tongue in and cuts off on a whine. A year ago he would’ve gone hoarse from begging by now, eyes wet. These days it takes a little more effort. “Lou. Don’t be a—”

“What were they?” Louis asks abruptly, reaching back and guiding Harry’s cock into place. He’s not sure why he’s asking now. Maybe because it’s his best chance at getting an answer. “The bits you kept scratching out. What were they?”

“I don’t know,” Harry says, and Louis swallows his gasp when he sinks down on him slow, working his hips back and forth, easing him in. The stretch is always something else, even with all the prep, and Louis revels in it. Harry’s eyes are fever bright, and he winces every time he tries to pump his hips up, so Louis bears down, pins him in place with his weight. “It was something about—I don’t know. Forever.”

“Terrible,” Louis murmurs, knocking their noses together. “Keep it.”

“Yeah?” he says, and cuts his eyes away, embarrassed, when his voice catches. Louis kisses his temple and his cheek and his soft, vulnerable mouth, sighs, “yeah,” as he starts to move.

He keeps it slow and careful. There’s something fragile about the press of their bodies that he doesn’t want to think about, like the familiar thump of Harry’s heart against his chest and the taste of his mouth, that little cut he won’t stop picking at. Maybe he’ll never get used to it. On some days forever sounds like a gift, and on others like a fucking horror story; Louis isn’t sure what today is, but he keeps it slow and careful because it’s four in the morning and Harry’s got his eyes closed, hands gentle when they sweep up Louis’ back.

Harry comes first, and slides his fingers back in Louis once his cock slips out. “Keep kissing me,” he says, so Louis does, cupping his jaw with one hand and stripping his cock with the other, kisses him until his orgasm coils at the base of his spine and he has to press his face against Harry’s sweaty throat and bite.

He comes in his fist and then smears it all over Harry’s chest just to hear him curse, laughs in his face when he’s ordered to get the flannel immediately. They end up wiping what they can with Louis’ vest. It’ll still dry tacky and Harry fidgets like he’s tempted to take another shower, but he pulls the duvet up and curls around Louis anyway.

He presses his face between Louis’ shoulder blades and sighs when their legs tangle together. They’re facing the big bay windows, and the sun’s going to wake Louis up in a few hours despite the heavy curtain. He’ll have to get up and head back to his own room, but for now he feels loose and hollow, like someone’s gone in and scooped all the worry out.

Harry snuffles against his back and Louis can’t help himself.

“You gonna hold me while I sleep?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Harry says, and pinches him until he stops laughing. Louis presses his smile into the pillow and tangles their fingers together. Thinks, my hands, your hands.