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Louis

 

Louis has been looking at the same damn floor plan for what feels like hours now. If he has to read the phrase ‘spacious three bedroomed family home with a modern kitchen and two parking spaces’ one more time he’ll throw his stupid computer out the bloody window.

“Tina!” He hears his office manager Andy bellow from his office, footsteps approaching quickly. “Teen, have you got the figures from the- oh! She’s not here.” Andy stops as he bursts into the office to see Louis sitting solo at his desk, not another soul in sight.

“She’s gone home already.” Louis explains, looking up from his computer screen only very briefly. Lucky cow, he adds in his head.

“Oh,” Andy says, looking at Louis as if he’s waiting for him to offer to do whatever it is he was looking for Tina for. Well, Louis isn’t going to. He’s got five minutes until home time and-

Louis does end up doing the figures for Andy. He exports them from the database and imports them into Excel, formats the document and emails it out to all and sundry. He is pelted with out-of-office auto responses from seven out of eleven of the recipients and he hangs his head in his hands in frustration as they ping at him.

He makes it out the door at 5:45, only three quarters of an hour late, but if he thinks he can waltz in the door forty five minutes late on Monday morning he’s sadly mistaken. He’s just finding a song for the journey home when a text comes through.

It’s from Niall: a beer emoji, a clock emoji, the number 8 emoji and the question mark emoji, three boy emojis and one girl emoji. Four X’s and a kiss emoji.

Roughly translated, Niall is requesting the pleasure of his company at the public house for a beer, at eight o'clock tonight, along with his girlfriend Amy and their friend Zayn. Louis shakes his head and smiles reluctantly at the childlike display in front of him. He taps out a quick reply and settles for Brand New on the stereo.

*

He vents to Niall and Amy, Zayn quietly brooding in the corner, listening and taking everything in but saying next to nothing. Zayn is a lot like that; observant and almost mute at times, but he remembers everything.

He escalates his concerns quickly, starting off grumbling about his unwilling overtime and the traffic and the flickering light above the bar that is really pissing him off, to quickly turning onto the real sore point of this whole Godforsaken week. His troubles and woes, of which he has many, are quickly forgotten though once he’s got a few beers down his neck. He gets over his impromptu overtime with some helpful commentary from Niall, and he’s well on his way to getting drunk.

Fast forward an hour and a half, and hey presto, he’s drunk. Very drunk.

He isn’t, however, drunk enough to ever consider speed dating a good idea.

Five minutes ago, Amy and Niall returned from the bar with the last round; Niall with the beers and Amy brandishing a magenta coloured flyer. She’d slid it across the table proudly towards Louis, who had promptly ignored it. She’d yelped at him and forced him to look at it, and when he had he’d rolled his eyes so hard he could practically see his brain. Gross.

“C’mon! Do it!” Amy repeats, for the millionth time. “It’ll be a laugh!”

Louis buries his head in his hands again, sticking the heels of his palms into his cheekbones and covering his eyes with his fingers until he can see stars. Why he has to be friends with the only two people in the entire universe that read the notice board in pubs, Louis does not know.

“No!” He answers sharply, parting his fingers to look at Amy. “A laugh for who exactly? You gits, yeah, but not me!”

“How long’ve you been single now, Tommo?” She asks, eyeing him closely with a smirk. She knows it winds him up, that question. He loves his best mates’ girlfriend, he really does, but she is so interfering.

“Too long!” Zayn quips before Louis can answer, and who made Zayn the expert?

“Oi, I’m perfectly happy as I am thanks!” Louis pouts. He is fine in his routine, cheers. So what if he hasn’t held down a steady relationship before? He’s only twenty six. Besides, he’s done plenty of other things. “I don’t need to be in a relationship, I’m not co-dependent like you two!”

“Doesn’t have to be a relationship!” Amy counters, implying all sorts of debaucherous things that Louis isn’t in the mood to deal with.

“I don’t need some saddo convention to get laid, cheers.” Louis retorts, a bit more candidly than he’d prefer, but he’s drunk so he can be excused, right?

“Why not give it a go?” Niall pipes up this time, giving Louis a happy-go-lucky grin that makes Louis want to deck him. He wants to spit back, ‘why don’t you give it a go?’ but of course, that makes no sense.

Louis stares back disbelievingly at his so called 'best friend'. "Um, maybe because I’m not sad and desperate and pathetic?”

"Who even are you?” Niall asks, tone grave but face grinning broadly. “What happened to Louis ‘give anything a go once’ Tomlinson? Wasn't that what you once said?"

"Yeah, and look where that's got me in the past!" Louis argues. “Twice!”

"Oh come on, what's the worst that could happen?"

"Shut it, Dr Pepper."

"Good one!" Niall laughs. "Seriously though, best case scenario is you meet a nice girl-"

"Or guy!" Amy interrupts, rubbing Louis' knee for support, for some reason.

"Yes, or guy, to take out on a few dates, y’know. All that jazz. ‘Get laid’ as you so beautifully put it."

"Yeah, and worst case scenario, I meet a loopy fucking idiot who turns up at my window in the dead of night refusing to take no for an answer! I’ve got to consider these things!"

"Oh come on, that sorta thing doesn’t happen in real life!"

"Yes it does, don't you watch the news?"

Niall and Amy laugh at him, and he shakes his head in disbelief. "You two honestly, I weep for humanity, I really do."

"Shut up, you're just being a wimp!"

"A wimp? Sorry if not wanting to be murdered by a crazy stranger makes me a wimp!"

"So shall I sign you up for it?"

“No! When is it anyway, it’s probably on a week I can’t do.”

“It’s next Saturday night.”

“Ah, no can do then.”

“No, you’re free for the next two weeks, remember?”

Louis’ weekend shouldn’t be free, but due to ’ unforeseen circumstances’ , he is going to be free. He sort of regrets even mentioning it now, because he can’t come up with a good enough excuse fast enough.

“No, that’s untrue.” He lies weakly.

Amy gives him a look. "So I’ll sign you up then?"

"No you bloody well won't!"

*

But she bloody well did.

Eight days later, the 'big night' as Niall had infuriatingly been dubbing it, is finally here and Louis is no more in the mood for it than he was last time. He’d spent most of the afternoon in a rather clipped text message exchange and had only had time for a quick shower so needless to say the last place he wants to be is here, standing in the queue to get in with Niall, Amy and Zayn.

He pouts.

"Stop pouting." Zayn tells him.

"Am not pouting." Louis says, jutting his lip out even further and turning away pointedly. In a stupid posh accent, he mutters to himself, “Bloody interfering old witches.”

Amy is chatting to the people in front of them in the queue, the social butterfly that she is, and Zayn’s muttering something to Niall that Louis can’t quite catch. He resorts to scowling and sighing loudly several times but they are all ignoring him. He’s never been clubbing against his will in all his life - this is very new territory.

“He’s signed up for it too, haven’t you Lou!” He hears his name, and zone back in to see Amy grinning excitedly with a blonde girl next to her smiling quizzically.

“If I could count the things that are wrong with that senten- yeah, hi!” He mumbles then brightens up falsely, smiling lightly then turning away again.

Zayn rolls his eyes at him but smirks, and Louis revels in the fact that he’s pissing Amy off. The queue begins to move, eventually, and with a drink in his hand Louis feels slightly more placated. He’s still not happy though. There are posters up everywhere for the speed dating, he can’t escape it. The club is an L-shape and the speed dating is set up in the smallest corner of the place.

They stand together near-ish the bar; the place is packed. Getting elbowed and shouldered is hardly helping in improving Louis’ mood, and the amount of times he has been told to lighten up and chill out is starting to get silly.

It is getting closer and closer, and by the time Louis is on his second drink he’s starting to shift from petulantly reluctant to downright angry about the whole thing.

“I’ve changed my mind, I’m not going. They don’t know me; they won’t know it’s me if I just don’t go.”

"C'mon, if you don't go willingly they'll put out an announcement and then you'll be embarrassed." Niall says, raising his eyebrows and pointing at Louis with his drink.

Louis stops to consider this and hates how torn he feels, hates how true that is and how much sense Niall is making.

"Amy, can you control your boyfriend please? He’s doing stupid things like making sense when I don’t want him too, thanks." Louis mutters. Amy cackles and Niall throws his arm around her shoulders. The two of them share a peck and Louis turns away.

He throws down his glass and plucks a familiar fuchsia flyer off the bar, like he hasn’t read it a million times already, and jabs his finger at it.

"The cheek of this place, honestly, 'mix and match and have a little fun',” He sneers, flaring his nostrils and glowering at the paper so it knows it’s offended him. “That is just basically turning bisexuality into a joke! Like a girl and a girl or a bloke and a bloke matching on one of these things would just be funny? This is a bloody gay bar, you’d’ve thought they’d have more bloody nous than that!”

"Someone shut this tart up!" Niall looks to Zayn. "Are you hearing this?"

"Yeah, you’re soundin' a bit... whingey, mate." Zayn agrees, shrugging his shoulders.

"Whingey?" Louis repeats, aghast.

"Yeah, you've been spending too much time with Emmie!"

"Oi! That's my dau-"

"Look, c'mon it's starting now!"

Zayn points to where the closed off area is now being opened up and a surge of pathetically like minded people are making their way over.

“No!” Louis tries one last time, hopelessly, as Zayn has him by the shoulders. He is led unwillingly through the crowd, his so-called mates following behind him.

In the alcove – which is bigger than it looked from where they were previously stood - there is a row of square tables a foot or so apart, a chair on either side adorned with a garish fuchsia bow. Niall pushes him over the threshold, into the point of no return, and someone appears in his face.

“Speed dating?” A dark skinned guy in a slogan polo is staring at him, thoroughly uninterested and flustered. Louis hasn’t even nodded yet in response and the guy is thrusting a blue plastic baton thing into his hand. Louis stares at it in one hand and his drink in the other. He looks up and over at the group. Amy is stood in front of Niall, his arms draped over her body and they’re swaying like the disgusting humans in love that they are. Zayn is standing off to the side, clutching his drink with both hands and his hip is cocked. All three of them are purposely avoiding his gaze and he could kill them, he really could.

Huffing under his breath, he looks away from those three traitors and peers around at the other poor idiots here for the speed dating. He purposely makes a point of not looking too closely at anyone, because he isn’t bothered about them, he tells himself. He stays in his corner, turning his back on the other three and leaning against the railing behind him. He’s pretty sure he can pick out Niall’s goat-like laugh over the music and the chatter, but he’s not turning back around to verify that.

There’s a bloody fanfare and everything as some idiot with a microphone welcomes them all and runs through the rules and a brief overview of how the dating will go. Louis tries not to listen, but it’s unavoidable, so he puts on an aloof pretence and stares at the wall blankly as the words sink in but don’t settle.

He notices that the blue plastic thing in his hand has a number on it, five. He also notices that the same batons the girls have are red. There are six girls and six boys and they will rotate around until everyone has ‘dated’ each other. Louis’ permanent state of eye-rolling is about to give him an injury, he’s sure of it.

He listens; they have four minutes with each person. “Four minutes?” Louis mutters to himself. “What a stupid amount of time! Why not five minutes exactly? Why four?”

Thinking about it, he’d better nip the talking to himself in the bud if he is to get through this with a scrap of his dignity still intact. Maths has never been his strongest point but even he can work out in his head that twelve people and four minutes is forty eight. So this ordeal will be over in less than an hour. He supposes he can get through it.

He sits down in the fifth seat along from the right, or the second seat along from the left, depending on which way you looked at it, and puts his blue plastic thing – he still doesn’t know what to call it – down on the tabletop. He sips his drink, reminding himself to set a steady pace as he may need it later and there’s no chance of getting a refill.

The female number five that sits down opposite him just so happens to be blondie from the queue that Amy had befriended. Now Louis has a chance to look at her up close, he sees she is considerably younger than him. She’s clutching a pink drink and starts chattering nervously before their four minutes have even started.

"Hi! This is gonna be fun, right! I mean, I think it will be. And we’re only on date number one! This is so exciting! I’ve never done anything like this before, have you?"

Louis goes to reply but all he gets in is a head shake.

"And… go!" He hears the MC boom through the mic, and his four official minutes with Queue Girl begin.

"Hi, so I'm Amber!" She holds out a small hand across the table for him to shake, and he takes it weakly.

“Louis.” He introduces himself shortly, smiling politely but forcedly. He’s unsure if Amy had name dropped him in the queue or not.

"It’s quite exciting, like I said, to be in such a rush, it’s like, adrenaline I dunno! So what’re you into? Do you work? Where are you from?"

Louis’ eyes bug in his head a bit, unsure of which question to answer first. Tracking back to what Amber had asked, he remembers ‘do you work’, so he goes for that one. “Uh, yeah I work for a letting agency.”

“Oh cool, what’s that all about?”

“Uh, flats and houses mainly?” Louis says, wondering if she even knows what he is talking about. “Y’know, renting and- stuff?”

“Oh cool!” Amber says with a smile that is requiring little effort on her part. “So do you like, show people around?”

Louis had scraped through with average GCSE’s apart from English where he’d perhaps surprisingly excelled. He went on to do customer service at college and ended up in a letting agency for his workplace apprenticeship. Fast forward six years to today and he’s still there; he’s worked his way up a bit from office apprentice, of course, but something tells him Amber isn’t interested in hearing about that.

“Yeah, sometimes!” He says with a purposeful intake of breath. “What about you?”

“Hairdresser,” Amber replies. “I work with my mate Lissa. She got loadsa money when her dad died so she opened her own salon last year. Dead posh place, like, all gold mirrors and wooden floors, white walls and that.”

Ah, so it’s not talking that Amber is uninterested in, it’s just Louis talking. When the topic is herself she doesn’t seem to shut up.

“Cool, so what’s the best part of hairdressing?”

“Oh the social side, for sure! I love chatting, me!” Amber enthuses and Louis nods, smiling as genuinely as he can muster. “So are you bisexual?”

Louis is surprised at the question, given their current surroundings in a mixed boys and girls speed dating. “Uh, yeah?”

“Oh cool, I never know these days by looking. You don’t look it, I couldn’t tell.”

He keeps a cool exterior but inside he’s heating up. “What do you mean, I don’t look it?”

“Well, you know!” Amber says dismissively, but no, Louis does not know.

“So… aren’t you bi then?”

“I dunno really, I don’t know if I count.”

“How so?”

“Well I’ve snogged a few lasses on nights out; it’s all a bit of fun really isn’t it?”

Louis moves his hands to under his thighs, worried what he might do if he doesn’t. “What’re you doing here then? Not being funny but...”

She looks a bit like a rabbit caught in headlight, and she just shrugs. Louis can feel himself getting more and more irritated. This is the longest four minutes of his life.

“So you’re just here for a laugh really? You’re really not that interested in dating girls?”

“Why is it a problem, you’re not a girl.”

Louis laughs. “That wasn’t my point.”

Louis’ last two long term relationships were with girls and most of his one night stands were with men but that’d just been how it had worked out. His first ever relationship was with a boy and that lasted almost three years. He’d been on both sides and he’d enjoyed varying levels of affection and attention from both genders, but there wasn’t a tally chart in his bedroom comparing the two and how they differ.

Flippant attitudes of people just here to experiment for a bit of a giggle but not with any actual intention of considering half the contestants suitable potential partners is exactly what had irritated Louis about this whole set up to begin with. Thankfully, a claxon sounds and it seems their four minutes are up.

Saved by the bell, Louis thinks to himself as Amber gathers up her clutch bag and adjusts her hair. “It was nice meeting you, Louis! Take care!”

“You too. See you ‘round.” He nods and waves her off with a small smile and then gathers his hands in his lap under the table as everyone on the opposite side of the table shifts round one place.

His next suitor is a guy; quite handsome, gruff voice and light hair. Louis’ usual technique with guys is to play it coy and right into their hands, give them a feeling of power over him to get what he wants. His track record with men is a successful one, really, were success to be measured in pulls and one night stands. But after he’s left their bedroom, he seldom hears from anyone twice.

Shrugging it off, he smile and introduces himself. Handsome and Gruff isn’t much between the ears, it turns out, and Louis finds himself with zero inclination to try and make this work. He doesn’t even learn Handsome and Gruff’s name, so that’s a measure of how bothered he was about him. Disinterested, is probably the word Louis would use.

Next up is Alex; a frankly beautiful girl with olive skin and hair dyed jet black into a sharp shoulder length bob. Straight away, they launch into friendly conversation that flows easily and never feels forced.

Louis is still laughing residually at Alex’s comment about sexting while on the bus as she picks up her Long Island Ice Tea and holds it out for him. “Try this.”

“It’s just Long Island Ice Tea, what’s so special about it?” He asks, inspecting the glass and trying out a flirty, coy smile.

Alex smiles broadly back at him. “Have you had one from here, though?”

“Nope,” Louis says, popping the P. He sways the glass carefully so the liquid sloshes and the straw spins around. “Special, are they?”

“Very,” Alex says, cocking her head and leaning forward, elbows resting on the table and hands clasped together. “Try a sip.”

Dutifully, Louis directs the black straw into his mouth and takes a sip. The hint of orange from the triple sec and the caramel-sweetness of the splash of Coke are very indeed very nice, and the intensity of the combination of alcohols in the drink seem to amplify the longer he tastes it. “Mmm!” He says as he swallows. “Yum.”

“Told you!” Alex says, reaching up to tuck her hair behind her ear, showing the beginnings of a sleeve tattoo that disappears into the peach coloured blazer she is wearing. He watches her as her eyes sparkle and she holds up a finger. She reaches for her phone and smiles at the screen.

“Am I boring you that much you have to resort to going on your phone?” Louis asks, laughing as Alex does too. She cocks her head and pouts at him with a small shoulder wiggle. He can feel himself slipping further into the rabbit warren.

“No, I just thought of something and I wanted your… input?” She says quizzically as she taps away, concentrating hard on the screen.

“Okay…” Louis agrees with a slight chuckle. He’s really forgetting himself now and the fact that he is supposed to be loathing every second of this farce, but he actually likes this girl. She is fantastic and absolutely too nice to be resorting to speed dating.

Alex smiles, pearly whites bitten down on her plush bottom lip as she taps away at her phone, face illuminated by the white-blue light. “Anything ideas?”

She hands him her phone and he reaches out for it, feeling hot with anticipation. Their fingertips brush a little bit and she settles back into her seat with an expectant, nervous look on her face. He turns the screen around and sees it’s on her contacts. She has started a new contact entry, called it Louis with the cocktail logo – makes sense – and the cat with heart eyes emoji.

“Ohh-hhh very smooth!” He laughs, his shoulders collapsing in on themselves in the way he has a habit of doing when he’s loose with alcohol and physical attraction like he is now. “That’s... that’s impressive.”

“I know, right?” Alex throws her head back and laughs, enrapturing Louis with just how beautiful she is, not in a put together and stoic way but in a natural and real way. “By the way, I wouldn’t normally have the balls to do something that bold! I’m embarrassed!”

“Don’t be!” Louis smiles as he taps his digits into her phone, checks twice to be doubly sure, and then saves it carefully. He hands her phone back, light bouncing off the gold glitter case on the back. “I’m impressed. And flattered.”

He wonders for a second as the words are coming out of his mouth whether he is making a mistake, but once the words are out Alex’s smile grows and he thinks he probably hasn’t.

Not too much longer after he’s given Alex his number, the change around claxon goes. He’s reluctant to see Alex go; they were getting on so well, but she moves along to the next table and her replacement is a guy with soft hair combed over to one side and black-rimmed glasses. He’s a bit nerdy and a bit of an oddball; he reminds Louis too much of his college boyfriend Nathan.

The boy is sweet enough though, although again seems to be younger than Louis. Not that that’s a bad thing necessarily, just something to note. Yeah, Louis isn’t paying as much attention to his dates as he should be, but considering the fuss he made about doing this in the first place, he thinks he’s doing an all right job. Of course, there was one exception to the rule that had left him a bit giddy, Miss Alex, but he’s still not having fun. He’s not.

After… God, what was his name? The nerd with the specs? Nathan Two - that’s what Louis had been calling him in head anyway. After Nathan Two, the next few are okay. One guy has two drinks so gives Louis one. Not even stopping to worry about what might be in the drink, Louis gratefully accepts.

However, since the second to last rotation, Louis had been noticing a boy. During his ‘date’ with the last girl, he’d found his eye wandering several times. Now, the guy is up next and Louis feels bad for the girl that he's currently supposed to be entertaining because his attention keeps slipping. He smiles awkwardly and looks away as the guy catches his eye and smiles back; all lopsided and cheeky.

"So, uh, what're you into normally? Dating wise?" He asks his girl, and he was this close to calling her Chloe but he stops himself at the last available second because he's not one hundred percent sure that's what she told him her name was.

"Oh you know, nice meal somewhere. That's a safe bet right? Cinema too, a nice walk out somewhere if it's the right time of year. You?"

"Yeah, I mean same really. Nice to get out and about isn't it?"

Louis is trying earnestly to concentrate on what she is saying and seem interested, even try and think of something reciprocal to say back, but he's having a tough time. He finds it funny how each person that he’s ‘dated’ this evening has come with different levels of interest, and each separate four minute period seemed to go by at different speeds. With Alex, it was over too soon. With Amber it took far too long. And with this girl now, he’s sorry to say but it’s dragging too.

The guy at the next table along seems to catch his eye too, and Louis tears his eyes away, feeling embarrassed. He puts all his effort into dedicating himself to this girl – definitely Chloe – for the next four minutes. He owes her that much at least. However, at the end of their ‘date’ it’s clear to see that there are no hard feelings. Chloe moves on to her next date with a genuine “it was lovely to meet you.”

So. His name is Harry and he’s just turned twenty one in February. Louis being twenty six doesn’t seem to bother him, though Louis feels just a smidgen strange about it at first. His hair, as Louis already knew, is brown and long, a gentle curl to the ends and the tendrils around his face. His jaw could cut glass, and his eyes, well. Louis hasn’t seen eyes this sparkling in ever.

“How did you end up here then, what’s your story?” Harry asks, voice lolling and slow and deep; Louis wants to listen to it forevermore.

“Urgh!” Louis rolls his eyes but smiles. “The interfering old goats known as my best friend and his missus. Thought it’d be ‘a laugh’ and ‘an experience’.”

“That’s exactly what my so-called best friend said too; ‘it’ll be an experience, Harry’.”

“I mean, I’m not the only single one in my friendship group, dunno why they pick on me!”

“It seems like we are of the same opinion of this whole… mess.” Harry says, snorting as Louis nods. “Oh well, got to meet some nice people.”

“Are you for real? This has been largely very painful.” Louis snorts, though he quickly amends himself. “Present company excluded, of course.”

Harry laughs. “Thanks, I think.”

“Are you always this polite?” Louis asks him, picking up his drink though he doesn’t lift it to his lips.

“Pretty much, yeah.” Harry admits, shrugging his shoulder. “Is it too much?”

“No, not at all!” Louis says quickly, softening his eyes. “It’s nice. Refreshing.”

They don’t get much chance to exchange anything too specific. A lot of the chat is basic getting to know you stuff – interests, music, TV, worst date ever, best date ever, longest relationship, etc. Louis is automatically elusive when it comes to relationship based questions, and vaguely reveals that his longest relationship was almost three years, through the last year of school and the two years of college. He doesn't offer anything more than that. He almost lets slip that one of the people here tonight is that exes doppelgänger but he stops himself just in time.

However, he revels in hearing Harry’s long and winding rambles. Turns out, Harry’s longest relationship was between the ages of six months and three and a half years, and that was with his mum’s best friend’s daughter Olivia. Louis had laughed and bugged him for the real answer

“Well, I guess, if we’re being literal, and you’ve been good enough to give me a proper answer, I should too.” Harry says, deflecting and it’s driving Louis crazy with anticipation.

He rolls his eyes. “Yes, you do. C’mon, spit it out! I’m dying here.”

“I haven’t really had a relationship last longer than a few weeks.”

“Oh,” Louis says, unsure for a second how to respond. “Any, particular... reason for that?”

Harry shrugs, maybe a bit sadly. “I dunno, it’s just never happened. Can never find the right person, y’know? It’s not through lack of trying though.” He says, perking up slightly as he goes, then his eyes widen as he realises what he thinks he’s implied. “Not that I date loads and loadsa people, I just mean… shit, sorry I’m rambling now!”

Louis snaps out of his reverie, just watching Harry talk. “It’s all right. You had me hooked.”

Then it’s Louis’ turn to realise what he’d just said. They share awkward, embarrassed smiles and Harry is the first to break eye contact, pressing his chin to his chest and grinning into his shirt. It makes Louis’ heart swoop. He has no idea how long he and Harry have had so far, but hopes that the end isn’t approaching too quickly.

When he sneaks a quick peek down the row of people on the opposite side, he realises he’s been with them all. So his final date is Harry. What a way to make a lasting impression. At least, he hopes he makes an impression because this guy is devilishly handsome and it’d be a shame not to make the most of it.

Louis picks the conversation back up again, steering it away from their respective dating highs and lows to something a little lighter. They laugh in tandem about something that Harry says that he obviously hadn’t intended to come out with, and Harry is sharing a little anecdote with him when the final claxon goes. It’s got a lot of grandeur to it, this final alarm, and Louis winces as it blares out of the speaker just above his head.

“So! Thank you for…” Harry gestures to the table and in the air around him. “It was really great talking to you.”

“You too,” Louis says, leaning back in his chair and looking up as Harry climbs slowly out of his seat. Harry leaves him with a half-smile, motioning that he’s going over to submit his outcome sheet.

Louis remembers then. On the table at the start had been anonymous scorecards basically to fill in at the end of every four minutes, and so far he’s only given largely positive outcomes for one person out of six, no prizes for guessing who. Although, he had felt bad and given Nathan Two a middle-of-the road rating for all aspects apart from looks, which he’d given a ‘Quite Interested’.

It he was being objective, Harry would get a full house of ‘Extremely Interested’ too, and he’d had no trouble awarding those results to Alex because she was beautiful and edgy and seemingly up for a laugh, but Harry is something else. His looks alone would be enough, ordinarily, to get Louis through, and he knows that sounds awful and shallow but there’s actually much more to Harry that they barely managed to scratch the surface of. And so, Louis feels wrong scoring him like the others.

He huffs as he gives ‘Quite Interested’ as his answer to all questions, and he huffs as he pushes to stand. He rolls his eyes as he sidesteps his way out from behind the row of tables like a crab, and then huffs again as and drops his scorecard into the large post box made out of MDF and covered in purple glitter.

As he turns around, irritated by the crowds once again, he bumps into Harry.

“Hello, fancy seeing you here!” Harry jokes, wiggling his eyebrows weakly.

Louis giggles, actually giggles. Kill him. “Quite the surprise, I must say!”

“Are those your friends?” Harry asks, and Louis swivels around, looking through the sea of shoulders and heads to see Amy peering over excitedly, Niall and Zayn a little chiller in the background smirking and sharing some stupid joke or comment.

“Yes, that’s them.” Louis nods, turning back to Harry. “That short red-head, Amy, is the one who set me up here.”

“I should go and thank her.”

Louis blushes. “And why would you do that?”

“Wouldn’t’ve met you otherwise.” Harry says, low and slow.

Louis fixates on the way he says ‘otherwise’, a short -o sound and a long -i sound. He feels like he could melt. He raises his eyebrows, feeling out of his depth and struck by Harry in a way that he’d usually relish. The height difference between the pair of them isn’t astronomical, usually, but Louis has one hip cocked slightly and is slumping all of his weight onto his back leg, so he’s lost an inch or two of his already restricted height. Harry looms over him by a good three or four inches and my God Louis wishes there weren’t a million other people around.

“You’re quite the smooth talker aren’t you?”

Harry laughs and a bit of the tension is relieved. “Do you think?”

Louis laughs and nods earnestly. “I definitely think.”

“You staying for a bit longer?”

“Probably,” Louis shrugs, looking back over at his trio of idiots. “You?”

“Yeah. I’d imagine so.” Harry says, looking out over the crowd too. “Try and find Liam.”

Louis can only assume Liam is the aforementioned friend that set him up. Liam is to Harry as Amy is to Louis. And shit, he’s too drunk to be forming thoughts like that.

“Well, good luck.”

“See you out there,” Harry says, smiling, adding on the end a bit quieter, “maybe?”

Louis’s heart leaps into his throat again temporarily, and he could just keep on giggling like a school girl all night. “Not if I see you first.”

Smooth.

Harry laughs, softly, and seems to study Louis for a moment more before he breaks away with a small half-wave. Louis tries not to stare as Harry goes; shoulders deceptively broad for such a long-legged, slim body. He disappears into the crowds and Louis snaps himself out of his daze. He heads over to where Amy and the boys are stood, feeling maybe slightly less irritated now - not that he'd ever let on.

“So, how was it?” Amy asks, grinning like a pig in shit because she can see the look on his face, she knows he actually ended up quite enjoying himself, ergo she was right to sign him up for it.

“Shit, I hated every minute of it.” He says, trying to scowl but he ends up laughing and betraying himself. “‘Ere, one of them looked like Nathan.”

“What, Nathan Nathan? Your Nathan?”

“Yeah,” Louis confirms with a grimace.

"Aw, remember him?” Niall sighs happily. Louis throws him a look.

“Okay, but more importantly, who was that bloke with the hair?" Amy asks, folding her arms with interest. She means business, clearly.

"Harry." Louis says, trying to suspend the smile that is tickling his cheeks. "Why?"

"Hmm, very impressive..." Amy remarks, and Louis knows she means in looks but when Louis nods and agrees he's actually thinking of Harry on the whole rather than just his God-like looks, which are just a nice added extra.

"I got a number." He tells her proudly.

“What do you mean a number? A phone number?”

“Yes Aims,” Louis says slowly, patting her shoulder for effect. "A phone number."

"You were just bleating about serial killers at your window an hour ago!”

Louis shrugs. "Yeah, I know, but..." He has no excuse.

"So are you gonna text him?"

"Her."

"Eh?" She quirks a confused brow.

"It wasn’t Harry who gave me his number, it was a girl called Alex."

"Oh!" Amy yelps with a smirk. "You sly dog, you!"

Louis doesn’t feel like a sly dog - quite the opposite really, but he goes along with it and smiles anyway.

He's rewarded with free drinks all night courtesy of Niall and Amy for taking part even though they basically forced him when he didn’t want to, and so Louis definitely isn't going to spill that he’s actually quite happy he did it.

*

They drink, and drink, and drink. Zayn, no matter how much he ingests, never does anything more animated than a foot tap and a head nod. Even when Amy tries to prise his drink out of his clutches and pirouette with him, he just awkwardly shoulder dives with her a few times then goes back to nursing his drink.

Louis, however, is less inhibited than his dark and mysterious friend. With more booze than he could shake a stick at in his system, Louis is glad Harry hadn’t (yet) reappeared because he'd only make a fool of himself in front of him and that wouldn’t do at all. Not that he's obsessing over Harry, of course.

Two minutes later though, Louis thinks he sees Harry in the crowd, maybe by the bar? But he's not sure and downing the rest of his drink doesn't help at all. And, he’s still not obsessing over Harry, by the way.

But then a short time later as he is sashaying with Niall, he sees him again. He makes doubly sure, this time, and watches him the whole time as he leans in close to his friend, the one with the stubble and the nice hair, throws his head back and laughs, and then gestures towards the toilets.

Louis seizes the opportunity, ducking out on Niall without so much as an explanation. He’s sure Niall will understand though. Or he hopes he will.

His previous thoughts about being too drunk to be safely around Harry go out the window as he makes his way towards the doors. He must admit he feels a trifle less confident than his broad strides would lead you to believe, but he’s committed now and no-one has made any efforts to stop him. He will just blame them if this goes wrong.

A guy in a striped shirt holds the door open for him as he approaches, and Louis slips in under the guy's arm with a deft little shoulder wiggle and a grateful smile. It's only marginally quieter inside the toilets, the throb of the bass vibrating through the walls and he comes across Harry right away. Heh.

Harry, with his back to Louis, looks up in the mirror above the basins, their eyes locking. His neutral expression turns mischievous as he recognises Louis.

“Hello again," Harry goes first, which thank God because Louis most certainly wouldn't be able to.

And so, he just smiles. Harry turns around and he leans back against the basin, one hip cocked and legs crossed at the ankles. He oozes a confidence that Louis can only aspire to.

“All right?”

Louis nods.

"Cat got your tongue?" Harry asks, laughing softly and his chest shudders underneath his shirt.

Louis is across the floor and pressed up against Harry's languid form in a millisecond. Luckily there is no one else in the toilets, as Louis hadn’t actually stopped to think about that possibility before following Harry in. He presses his hips into Harry's and presses his forearms against the plane of Harry's chest. He tucks his fingers over the curvature of Harry's built up shoulders and digs his thumbs into the skin directly under the jut of his his collarbones. He keeps his head bowed in a way he hopes is teasing. He’s done it a million times before, playing coy to give the guy he’s with the feeling of control, but this with Harry feels different. His light submissiveness has always been an act before, but with Harry he actually feels like he wants to be led.

He waits, some of his confidence seeping back, for Harry to reach out and lift his chin up. Which he does do. He brings his left hand up from the edge of the basin and his skin is cool as he crooks his index finger and tucks it just under Louis' chin, in the scruff that grows there.

Louis lets Harry lifts his gaze. The dim lights above the mirrors flicker and shadows cast over Harry's face as he broods; his pale green eyes glowing in the dark shadowiness of his sockets, what little light there is bounces off the high points of his face and more shadows catch along the line of his nose and the sinfully chiselled V of his cupid’s bow.

Harry knocks the breath well and truly from Louis' lungs. He swallows, his throat feeling thick and dry. He licks his lips swiftly, Harry taking that, as Louis had hoped, as his invitation to kiss him.

There is nothing timid or held-back in Harry's kiss. Harry's hands make almost more of an impact on Louis than his lips; confidently carding through his hair and down the column of his neck while the other presses into his chest, between his pecs. He’s firm, like he’s trying to leave behind an imprint.

Louis breaks away first, desperate to take a breath. He rests his forehead against Harry’s, their breath mixing between them, and Harry flexes his fingers in his hair, tugging him a little closer. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s enough to make Louis' already compromised breath hitch in his throat.

Louis moves then, nuzzles into Harry's neck. He breathes in his scent, admiring his hair and the strong edge of his jawline, the thick muscles that make up the firm column of his neck and the smell of fresh linen on his shirt.

He feels Harry's hands slip down his body then, from firm on the back of neck, down the curvature of his spine, then settling at the bottom of his back, fingers kneading through the denim as if he could get any purchase. As he massages the swell, Louis rocks forward involuntarily, feeling the suggestion of Harry's cock in his jeans.

"You're so hard," Louis murmurs into Harry's warm skin, more as an observation than anything else, but he feels the tendons in Harry's neck move as he laughs softly and he looks up, breath taken from him once again as he meets Harry's gaze.

"You do that to me," Harry tells him, and holds him in his eyes as if he's making sure Louis fully understands. Louis feels himself heat up with an embarrassed blush but can't bring himself to care. "You're the most amazing person out here tonight."

"You're just..." Louis attempts, voice hoarse where his throat is so dry. He swallows. "...saying that."

Harry shakes his head gently and then leans in, presses the firm structure of his nose against Louis' cheek, coaxing him into looking up. Louis shifts his attention in the direction Harry was prompting it and bites down hard on his dry bottom lip as Harry makes quick work of the exposed skin of his neck.

His kisses are impossibly soft, lips plump and soft and just the slightest bit slick from the slide of his tongue. "Beautiful," Harry murmurs, and Louis shudders as goosebumps spring up all over his body. His clothes create an unbearable friction against his skin and he wants to burst right out of them. "Smell so good. Tastes-" he presses his lips firmly into Louis' neck and audibly groans. " So good."

Harry's hand on his crotch, albeit through his jeans, is not something Louis' would readily turn down, but he's painfully aware they could be discovered at any time by an innocent bathroom-goer.

"Harry, we- we're..." He breathlessly moves his head, looking around the place to convey what it is that his mouth cannot.

Harry nods, doesn’t move his hand but moves his head. He nods towards an empty stall; Louis can see them in the mirror behind him.

"Bit o' privacy?" Harry rasps, unhooking his leg from around Louis' ankle and pushing himself off the sink. Louis steps backwards in sync, Harry's hands now back around his waist, the fingertips of one hand slipped inside the pocket on the bum of his jeans.

They move back across the room together; it's only a few short steps and Louis' can't see a thing but their distorted reflections backing away in the mirror. They crash through the stall door, Louis only yelping a tiny bit as his back is the first thing to hit the door. They spin around to switch places as the door slams closed against the lock, a move that Louis is surprised to find so easy to execute. It's cramped and there is a coat peg precariously close to the back of his head but Harry working to unbutton his jeans distracts him from his peril sufficiently that when he does catch the very top of his crown, he doesn't care. Because Harry is on his knees before him, his left hand sprawled over the expanse of his thigh, thumb pressing hard into the firm plate of muscle and fingers pressing into the softer skin of the back of his thigh.

Harry's right hand is looped loosely around the base of Louis’ cock, ring finger and thumb joining and the other three fingers languidly sprawled through his sparse smattering of hair. He comes in a matter of minutes; one and a half at most, probably.

He drags Harry back up to his level. They kiss, Louis fumbling blindly for Harry's cock to bring him to orgasm too. Louis can taste himself on Harry's tongue and with the heat of his breath against his skin, Harry comes hard into his fist. Louis cowers as Harry slams a palm against the door, making it shudder on its hinges.

"Fucking hell, Harry," Louis utters, astounded and thoroughly breathless. It was only head; he shouldn’t be this in love already. "That was... you were-"

"You're amazing," Harry interrupts, sliding his hands into Louis' hair and cradling his face, forcing him to look up. "You get that? Tell me you get that?"

Louis, suddenly feeling shy and painfully aware they've both still got their dicks hanging out, shrinks back and makes a noise in his throat he hopes Harry will take as a confirmation, an acknowledgment.

Harry doesn’t let go, not immediately, but keeps watching Louis. Louis watches his eyes move, taking in every aspect of Louis' face, so much so Louis can see himself reflected in the pupils. He's sure that if Harry doesn’t let go soon, all of the atmosphere will turn to custard and he'll drown in it.

Maybe that metaphor isn’t appropriate?

When Harry lets him go, he can feel his traces all over his skin and in his hair. They burn and he feels like he has whopping great welts everywhere for all to see, but once he's back in jeans and has taken a few breaths, he steps out of the stall and steals a cursory look in the mirror. There are no signs of Harry ever being on him.

He turns as the man himself follows him out of the stall.

"Are we..." Louis doesn’t know what he was going to say.

"Get back out there," Harry says, softly. Almost too soft for the bass that he is competing against. "Your friends'll be lookin' for you."

Louis picks the words out of the background noise and savours them. If they're one of the last things this beautiful boy will ever say to him, he wants to try and cherish them for at least a few minutes.

"Thank you?" he says, unsure if that’s right. "I don't mean, just... for tonight. All of tonight."

"That's okay," Harry smiles, self-deprecatingly. He looks away then back, a shy vulnerability to him that hadn’t been there while they were in the stall. "I meant it, you know? You deserve the world, not some shitty blowie in the club toilets. I’m sorry."

Louis slips a hand around the back of his neck and lets it hang, staring at the terracotta floor tiles. “I don’t.”

“What?”

“I don’t deserve the world. What you just said, I don’t.” Louis says, lifting his head and looking past Harry to the doors. “I should go, like y’said. They’ll be looking for me.”

Harry nods solemnly, then lifts his hand to his mouth and chews on the edge of his middle finger. “Once you step outta there, is it gonna be like this never happened?”

Louis stares back, feeling an uncomfortable knot in his stomach that he’d never experienced before.

“I had a good time tonight,” He says, not really answering Harry’s question, maybe purposely. Definitely purposely. “Really good.”

“Can… can I have one last kiss?”

Louis has to smile; the innocence of it all, Harry standing there with his shoulders hunched and heart on his sleeve, like he wasn't just on his knees with Louis’ cock pressing into the back of his throat five minutes ago. He steps forward and lifts onto his toes, cradles Harry’s face with one hand and presses their lips back together again. Their noses press against the other’s cheek and Harry is smiling by the time they pull away.

“Go on, get out there.” He says, trying to tamp down his smile and failing. Louis feels so endeared. “Your adoring fan club awaits.”

Louis snorts. “Adoring? More like abhorring.”

“Come and say bye before you go?” Harry asks, delicately. Louis nods.

It’s only slightly bittersweet, walking away from Harry. Louis creeps out of the toilets, leaving Harry behind. He doesn’t look back, because he can’t.

Two steps over the threshold, he glances up and sees that, somehow, by complete chance, Zayn and Niall and Amy are all standing around. Looking at him. He pauses, feeling like he’s been caught, because that’s precisely what’s happened.

Before he can register and realise that there is nothing he can do to stop it, Harry follows him out, acting far too casually to be believable. Louis cringes internally as he watches Harry head into the crowd, stopping to carefully sidestep a rowdy drunk girl who is waving her arms around wildly to the music.

Rolling his eyes in anticipation of the ribbing he is going to get from the others, he approaches them sheepishly. He doesn’t have to think of an excuse because Amy is on him before he can even get his mind straight.

“Tommo?!” Amy squeals, half in disbelief and half loving it. “What happened to everything you said?”

“I believe the words he used were: sad and desperate and pathetic, Aims.” Niall butts in, grinning smugly.

Louis realises how it looks now, and he smiles awkwardly. "Yeah, so... I’ve changed my stance?”

“Oh Tommo!” Amy sighs, folding her arms but smiling.

“Sorry but he was bloody beautiful. Like, masterpiece in a museum levels of beautiful!” Louis argues, throwing open his arms in defeat. “And he didn’t kill me, so… everyone’s a winner."

*

Louis drinks to forget about the fact he really wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Harry. The club seems to have multiple happy hours that all merge into one, but all Louis knows is the fruity drinks keep on coming and for a good while he feels nothing, then all of a sudden he feels everything at once.

When he feels the weight of someone, definitely a bloke, behind him he’s ready to turn around, entertain the idea for a minute and then slink off again, but-

“Hello again,” A dark, rose water splashed on gravel type of voice slurs in his ear. Louis can’t help but smile; feels the light brush of Harry’s lips against the rise in his cheek as he smiles.

He turns around, keeping his body close to Harry’s, and allows himself into Harry’s arms, keeping his drink aloft in one hand and snaking the other around Harry’s hip.

“Can’t keep away from me!” Louis shrieks over the music, though he can barely hear himself.

“Can you blame me?” Harry bellows back, leaning in closer to Louis can hear him.

They’re as close as they were in the toilets, but this time they’re surrounded by people and there’s not much room to do much else than just move together in synchronicity. It could be the booze finally beginning to take effect or it could be the effects of Harry, but Louis feels considerably less stable than when they were together in the loos. He moves his free hand up Harry’s body, propping himself up with one hand on his shoulder.

Harry kisses him as though they are the only ones in the room though, stopping periodically to just be close to each other. Harry breathes him in and it feels like not one single inch of exposed skin goes ignored. It makes him shiver and his heart beats irregularly in his chest, out of sync with the bass of the music. He feels giddy to the point of in pain as the organ hammers against his ribs and threatens to leap right out of his chest.

Harry’s friend, Leo or whatever the hell his name is, snatches him away again much too quickly for Louis’ liking, jerking his thumb towards the doors.

They’d been holding hands, in between their red hot bodies. Louis had lost his drink and they’d got so close and he hadn’t even noticed until Harry is being dragged away from him again. Harry leaves him with a gentle knuckle squeeze and then his hands drop back to his sides. They share a brief smile and then Harry is gone.

It certainly doesn’t feel like any other random club hook up that Louis has had before. He pats his pockets for his phone, suddenly panicking when he can’t feel it, only to discover it in his back pocket. Funny, he doesn’t remember putting it in his back pocket; he never does because he’s prone to sitting down with force and cracking the screen.

Nevertheless, he moves it to his front pocket and meanders back towards where he last remembers Amy, Zayn and Niall being.

*

They have one more round of shots, Louis silently mourning the missed opportunity, then he allows Amy to chaperone him towards the exit, in Harry’s path, out into the early May air that is quite chilly at this unholy hour. They cross straight over the road to the nearby kebab shop, raucously ordering food to eat on the way home.

“Did you see him though?” Louis carries on crying about Harry as they continue down the street, kebabs in hand. He’s getting louder and louder as his enthusiasm grows, but he doesn’t care. “The eyes! The hair, oh my God, the hair! It was like… nothing I’ve ever seen before! This is a tragedy, honestly.”

"You sound like a twat,” Zayn contributes, helpfully, with a mouthful of chips.

"Sorry Zayn, just because you are limited to only twenty minutes of human emotion a day doesn’t mean the rest of us are!" Louis slurs, jabbing at Zayn's shoulder to annoy him.

“Fuck off,” Zayn elbows him and separates himself from them, stalking on ahead.

Amy and Louis look at each other and snort loudly, Amy’s cackling laugh echoing up and down the empty street. They carry on up the road; Louis shovels strings of doner meat into his mouth, tipping his head back and dangling it in. Niall, with splodges of garlic mayonnaise down his front, leads a chorus of Tubthumping by Chumbawumba. Amy sticks two drinking straws over her canines and pretends to be a walrus, and Louis finds himself holding a sliver of doner meat up to his lip and pretending it’s a moustache. He then pops it in his mouth, wrinkles his nose in disgust at the smell lingering on his top lip and wipes the grease off his skin with the back of his hand.

They head in the direction of Louis’ house first, as Zayn is going to crash at Niall and Amy’s for the night.

“Thank you mum, dad, little brother. I must now bid you all a fond farewell.”

“Shut up you tit,” Zayn rolls his eyes and tips the greasy wrapper of his food into the wheelie bin by Louis’ front door.

“Bye lover, see you soon.” Amy trills loudly, right in his ear, as they embrace. Niall claps him on the back firmly, almost sending him flying.

“Night losers!” He calls as they make their way on down the street. He can hear Niall’s singing until they’re out of sight, then he lets himself into his house, suddenly really ready for his bed.

*

He finds it on Wednesday evening.

It’s so deathly quiet at his house, though it shouldn’t be, and the sound of his phone vibrating on the table top scares him half to death. It illuminates with a number Louis doesn’t recognise, and he doesn’t answer it on the first ring. But seconds later, it’s at it again. Cautiously, he slides the answer bar across and puts it to his ear. There is wind and bustle on the other end.

“Hello?” He says, slowly.

“Lou? Lou, it’s mum!” His mum’s shrill voice cuts over the speaker, shouting to compensate for the background noise. “Can you hear me love?”

“Yeah!” Louis winces and pulls the phone away from ear slightly. “What’s up, whose phone are you on?”

“Ali’s!” Jay shouts after a brief pause. Her friend from work. “Listen love, can you tell me dad’s number, my phone has gone dead and I need to reach him.”

Louis feels a pang of residual adolescent irritation at his mum referring to Mark as his ‘dad’, but he lets it slide. “Hang on, I’ll have to look. Wait a sec.”

He switches her to loud speaker and scrolls his contacts until he finds Mark’s entry, under ‘H’ for Hellboy, appropriately.

Something catches his eye as he’s reading the number out, and he only stumbles very slightly. He’s glad (as bad as that makes him feel) that his mum doesn’t want to stop and chat because he’s tapping back to the contact above Hellboy and staring at it as she finishes up and rings off.

There, in all its glory, is Harry’s number. Well, presumably Harry from the club on Saturday night.

Of course, this could all be a practical joke. Could be a different Harry, one that he met years ago, got the number of and promptly forgot about it. Except Louis doesn’t know any other Harry’s, he knows that for sure. He’d named and shamed Harry in conversation to Niall, Amy and Zayn, any one of them could’ve done this to make him look stupid. But then he remembers that neither three of them had been anywhere near his phone to do it.

He closes one eye and grimaces as he sends a message to this number. To ‘Harry’.

‘Hi… so im gonna look really stupid if it’s not but is this Harry?’

He only has a few seconds to wait before he gets a reply.

Harry: Yes it is. How are you?

‘Im good. Yourself?’

Harry: ‘Yeah, all the better for hearing from you.’

Louis can feel himself blushing already, it’s quite pathetic.

Then, a thought dawns on him.

‘How do I know this is actually Harry?’ He types quickly. ’You could be Catfishing me.’

He is partly serious as he sends the message, but he’s glad ‘Harry’ takes it in a joking way.

Harry: ’It is me. I pinky promise.’

’Prove it.’

There is a pause and no bubble pops up. Louis starts to lose hope. Sure, it’s only been thirty-two seconds but all of ‘Harry’s’ other texts had been almost instant.

Then two messages come through one after the other.

The first is a picture message and the second is a brief message, three little words: ’told you so’.

Louis is not ashamed about the amount of time he spends studying Harry’s picture. It’s definitely him, definitely as perfect as he was in Louis’ memories. He suddenly feels bashfully embarrassed, tries to suppress the childish little giggle that erupts from his mouth as he remembers that night.

‘Okay, I believe you now.’

Harry: Good. You know I’d never lie to you.’

And no, Louis doesn’t like that. It seems too… personal.

To be honest, he doesn’t remember getting Harry’s number. He’s not sure if he demanded it from him or whether Harry voluntarily gave it to him, whose idea was it? The fact that Harry’d seemed to automatically know who he was when he sent the first message would suggest that Louis had given him his number too, but he can’t be sure of anything. Maybe Harry is just a nice guy who, when faced with a text from an unknown number, knows exactly who it is from because there is only one person he’d recently given his number out to.

Louis makes it another hour, barely, before picking his phone up again and tapping back into Harry’s message thread. He scrolls up, looks again at the selfie Harry’d sent, then taps in the text box. He tells himself over and over that he’s just after one thing, and he can’t understand why his tummy feels as jumpy as it does.

’If you’re not doing anything, fancy meeting for a drink or something? x’

He toys with the idea of adding an x on the end before doing it anyway.

Harry: Sure. I’m not dressed for going out, wanna come to mine? I’ll text you my address? x’

Louis knows what that means. At least Harry is on the same page as him.

’Sounds good to me.’

Louis involuntarily squeals as he sends the last message. It’s just a one night thing, he reminds himself over and over. The first night they met doesn’t count because nothing really happened, unless you count… well. There is nothing out of the ordinary about this situation, apart from the fact that he’s instigated it, rather than the other way round. And that he’s got this one's number. Saved in his contacts. And he sort of really likes him.

But no, it’s no different.

*

Louis falls back onto Harry’s bed, loosening his hips as Harry grips his shins. He rolls his body up and over so his knees are up by his ears. He shuffles his bum clear off the mattress and takes a second to be self-absorbedly smug at the look on Harry's face as he does so.

As Harry lines himself up, bottom lip bitten down as he does so, Louis watches with his own breath bated the changes Harry’s expression goes through as he initially breaches and then pushes all the way inside. As Harry bottoms out, Louis’ attention fritters away to his own sensations that he’s feeling and his eyes flutter closed. He’d anticipated the first push of Harry's cock inside him was going to be a lot, and he's not wrong.

“F-fuck, this is, you're...," Louis rasps, breathless in the best way from the feel of Harry's weight on top of him, skin hot to touch and sheened with sweat. He doesn't finish his sentence but it doesn't feel like he needs to. Harry draws back and pumps in three or four times, carefully at first as they get accustomed to each other. Louis can feel his hands shaking with the expectant exhilaration and he hopes Harry doesn’t notice it as he slips his hands around the man’s sides, fingers skimming the broad, wriggling skin of Harry’s flexed shoulders.

Harry lowers the rest of his body and Louis takes some more of the tension out of his lower back and thighs by wrapping his legs around Harry’s slim frame. Strong arms with defined wraps of muscle encase Louis’ head and he can’t help but whimper as the shift in Harry’s trajectory hits a new angle inside him and sends jarring shudders through his entire lower abdomen.

“You feel so good,” Harry tells him, craning his neck to catch Louis’ attention, locking eyes with an overwhelming sincerity that makes Louis’ heart swoop again.

“More,” He breathes, digging his heels into Harry’s lower back and letting the last bits of residual tension in his lower half drop away. “Harder, please. Give me more.”

Harry does so accordingly. He redistributes the weight on his arms, propping his entire weight plus what he’s carrying of Louis up on one arm momentarily while he shifts. When he settles back, he’s strengthened his stance on his knees and his arms are stronger than ever.

Louis clamps his eyes tightly shut as Harry fucks into him deep, an involuntary yelp expressing itself with every inward thrust. His own cock is hard between their bodies, crying out for attention but what Harry is doing to him feels too good and from the look of deep furrowed-brow concentration on Harry’s face when he does open his eyes, he mightn’t be too far off.

“So good,” Louis murmurs again, high and soft and scratchy. “Y’fuck me so good.”

Harry cries out at that, dropping his head to hang heavy between his shoulders as he spills into the condom, stilling his hips with his length pushed deep inside Louis.

“Fuck,” Louis breathes hard, unwrapping his legs and letting them fall to the side, knees bent and heels digging into the mattress as best he can when his limbs feel like helium filled balloons. He feels Harry twitch inside him as they move, and Harry murmurs a quick ‘ready?’ under his breath before pulling out.

Louis doesn’t watch Harry move away, take off the condom or move back into the space between his legs, just rubs his eyes with his fists, completely bulldozered. His feet slip down the bed and he sprawls his legs out, sucks in his tummy muscles and puffs out his ribs, desperate to fill them with air.

He’s just about to reach down and languidly bring himself to a muted orgasm when he feels Harry’s mouth close over his leaking head. His hips jolt off the bed uncontrollably and he throws an arm over his eyes as Harry sucks him back to rock hard and then to the point of coming in no time at all.

Harry sinks down next to him after he’d popped off the tip, wiping at the corner of his mouth obscenely with his thumb. He leans in for a kiss that Louis is happy to reciprocate, but his heart rate has barely returned to normal resting pace and he’s scrambling to leave.

He makes his excuses, and though they’re hurried he laces them with an air of apologetic regret as he shoves his arms into his jacket and heads for the door.

“Louis, wait.” Harry calls after him softly. He scrambles out of bed, the corner of the duvet cascading over the parquet flooring. His cock bobs between his legs, soft now, as he moves. He puts one hand flat against the wall, next to Louis’ face, and absentmindedly grips the lapel of his jacket with his other hand.

Louis turns his face away slightly, just enough so that he has to look up through his lashes to see Harry. He knows he’s being shameless, he knows there’s nothing natural about this look at all, but he doesn’t care.

He’s not sure what Harry was planning on saying, but what he ends up communicating has nothing to do with words.

*

Come Monday morning, Louis still can’t stop picturing the way Harry had vaulted out of the bed as he was leaving - the view , oh my God.

It was a good way to say goodbye, at least. Sitting in the car, engine off, Louis deletes Harry’s number while he still has the strength to do so. He feels mildly horrified as the pixels disappear, forever, but he turns they key over in the ignition and pulls his seatbelt across his body. He peers in the rear view as he backs out and thinks about nothing else but Harry the entire way to work.

To compensate, he blocks him from his memory the second he steps into the office.

*

In a very déjà vu but thoroughly unsurprising turn of events, Niall invites him to the pub on Friday evening. He doesn’t mind, as long as he doesn’t end up being cajoled into speed dating again.

He spots Niall at the bar as he arrives, chatting to someone Louis doesn’t know – though that isn’t surprising. However, on closer inspection this guy does seem familiar. His hair, well it’s pretty impressive, and Louis racks his brain trying to think where he knows him from.

“Tommo!” Niall spots him and breaks away from the mystery guy for just a second. He ushers him over and looks weirdly pleased to see him. Louis smiles awkwardly and watches Niall out of the corner of his eye as they approach the guy at the bar. Louis’ still thinking. Christ, he hopes he hasn’t slept with this bloke. That’d be embarrassing and also quite strange. It definitely wouldn’t make any sense for Niall to be hanging out with him. So that can’t be it.

“Lou, this is Liam, remember ‘im?” Niall says, slapping an arm around apparently Liam, and then it clicks.

Louis’ heart almost falls out of his arse. Behind Niall and Liam, around a square table in the corner by the fruit machines, is Harry. Harry, sat with Louis’ friends. There’s Amy, and Zayn, and three empty seats where Niall, Liam and ultimately Louis himself would sit.

That’s why Liam looks familiar. They’d met, very briefly, at the speed dating. Liam was Harry’s equivalent to Amy, the one that had roped him into the speed dating in the first place.

“Uh… y-yeah, hi.” Louis stammers, trying to remember his manners. He pries his eyes away from the back of Harry’s head and focuses on Liam. He’s smiling and his face is kind, brown eyes that make Louis feel secure. What the hell?

“Hey mate, how’s it going?” Liam holds out a hand and Louis takes a second to realise he needs to shake it. Feebly, he shakes Liam’s hand and wishes he was dead as Niall asks him if he wants a beer. He nods blindly, yes he wants all the beers, and takes the cold pint glass once it’s served to him.

He knows, realistically, he should be stopping Niall right now and asking him what the hell is going on. Niall and Liam begin to move towards the table and Louis has no choice but to follow, lest he make an idiot of himself in front of the whole pub.

Amy and Zayn sit next to each other on chairs, Niall and Liam next to each other on the bench and Harry sits on the corner. The only seat left for Louis is at the opposite end of the table, directly facing Harry. He drags the chair out with a trembling hand, sets his beer down and sinks down into his seat, feeling flushed and hot as he lifts his head for the first time to risk a look around the table.

Amy and Zayn greet him and he tries his best to act natural. He catches Harry’s eye down the table, and the younger boy smiles at him. Louis thinks he just about manages to smile back, but he feels like he’s going to throw up.

The banter and chat that had been going on without him carries on quite seamlessly. Louis sinks back into his seat with his beer and tries in vain to collect himself.

“How did you track these two down ‘en, Nialler?” He asks once he’s calmed down and there is a gap in conversation. He tries his best to sound casual and nonchalant.

He sees Zayn raise his brows and look away and Amy giggle behind her hand. A speckle of irritation and discomfort makes its way across his back and he looks pointedly at Niall, trying to block out Harry’s face in his periphery.

Louis can feel his cheeks burning with embarrassment as Niall tells him, completely seriously, that he’d found Liam on Facebook and then Harry. They’d chatted, briefly, at the speed dating – something Louis wasn’t aware of, and this meeting here tonight was scheduled pretty easily between the four of them. The only person that didn’t know, other than Louis, was Zayn.

“Facebook?” He repeats. Niall nods. “God what are we, fourteen?”

There is a bit of an awkward laughter that goes round the table but they manage to keep things afloat. Awkward confrontations roll off Niall like water off a ducks’ back, and the table is soon roaring with laughter again. Louis keeps his mouth shut, against his preferred desire, and tries to relax.

Tries, being the operative word, as Niall is still trying to play Cupid and keeps swinging the conversation round to Louis, bringing up things that are only just relevant to the topic.

Mentally plotting the Irishman’s death, he goes along with it as sparsely as he can. He laughs when he should and agrees at things that he finds acceptable, scolds Niall when he makes a ‘funny’ remark at Louis’ expense, and just hopes Harry doesn’t find this whole thing completely weird.

He wouldn’t be here, though, if he thought this was weird. He wouldn’t have showed up if he didn’t want to, he’s a grown man who can make his own decisions. Louis mentally tells himself off for letting his brain wander into those sorts of thoughts and blinks furiously to try and banish them away.

“All right there, Tommo?”

Louis snaps back to reality, seeking out Zayn’s voice. He lands his eyes on him, Zayn looking bemused at him sat there blinking like a weirdo.

“Yeah, fine.” He says promptly, reaching for his beer. It’s empty. He tries to remember whose round it is. “Just. Fucking. Peachy.”

They start talking about school and college, something Louis has zero interest in rehashing. School was not his finest hour, let’s just say. There’s no need to dredge it back up.

Niall is amazed to learn that Harry and Liam had gone to the same college as them, just at different times, and it turns out Harry and Zayn had worked in the same café after school, again just a few years apart. Niall coos ridiculously about how they could’ve become friends years ago instead of wasting all this time.

“I know, small world, huh?” Liam asks, laughing dreamily.

“It’s probably best we weren’t there at the same time, you’d’ve hated Tommo!” Niall contributes, directing his next comment right at Harry.

“Oh, a little rebel was he?”

“Less of the ‘little’.” Louis says quietly, only Niall to his left picking up on it. He reaches under the table and jiggles Louis’ knee playfully with his hand.

“Let’s just say, young Louis wasn’t one for conforming. Or rules.” Niall continues.

“Or actually turning up!” Zayn adds.

“Oi, what’s that supposed to mean!” Louis defends himself weakly. “I was a delight in college. And my attendance was fine.”

“You were a delinquent in college, more like!” Amy contributes, and what the hell, she wasn’t even there! Of note, Harry is cackling with laughter at the banter, at Louis’ expense.

“You weren’t even there!” Louis cries, rolling his eyes and glowering at her. “You lot piss me off.”

“Nah, to be fair, by the end of it he was a bit better.”

“I dunno about you but I wouldn’t change him for the world!”

“Yeah, exactly! Without these experiences, he wouldn’t be the Tommo that we all know and love today!”

“Oi, I’m sat right here, y’know! Stop talking about me like I’m not here!”

“There were a few bumps along the way! But he’s a cracking lad today!” Niall cracks, and Louis’ life flashes before his eyes as everyone apart from Harry – thank God – cottons on to Niall’s joke and makes awkward, stilted chuckles.

As far as Harry’s concerned, there is nothing untoward about the turn of phrase. Good.

“Niall, a word?” Louis says sharply, signalling to his Irish friend.

Louis carries himself away from the table without bothering to worry about how bratty he appears right now. He hears Niall make some smart remark before he gets up and follows him out, but Louis is heading away from the group at such speed he doesn’t hear anything apart from a ripple of laughter.

Louis leans up against the bar, the look on his face enough to keep the unsuspecting young barmaid from approaching and daring to ask him if he’s ready to order.

Niall falls into place next to him; they face each other and he looks so carefree and unbothered it temporarily makes Louis want to slap him.

“Niall, I know you think you're being funny but you're really fucking not. Just stop, okay?”

“All right, keep your hair on Tommo!" Niall holds his hands up in defence, and Louis automatically feels bad for snapping. Luckily, Niall is still laughing, albeit a bit cautiously.

“And anyway, what the hell are you playing at bringing him here?”

”I thought you liked him?” Niall says, shrugging his shoulder like he can’t understand what he’s supposed to have done wrong. “I knew you would drag your heels to do somethin’ about it so I thought I’d push you along a bit.”

“I do like him,” Louis says quietly, which isn’t what he’d planned. “I mean I did. But fuck, that doesn’t mean I want you lot inviting him out with us and becoming best mates with him. And dropping hints about the kids like he’s really not that thick he won’t figure it out.”

“Oh, c’mon, no one got that but us lot.”

“Well it won’t take a genius to put two and two together!” Louis hisses. “Look, Harry’s- he’s not, y’know… long term. He shouldn’t be here!”

“Not long term?” Niall repeats, eyebrows sky high. “Really?”

Louis can’t help the pangs of irritation that accompany his next move.

“What? Why are you judging me? You know how it is for me, with the situation as it is. No one gets close and no one gets hurt, it’s as simple as that. That’s the way things are.”

“No, Tommo, that’s the way you’ve made things.”

“What’s that s’posed to mean?”

“You don’t have to push people away, you don’t have to resign yourself to a string of mindless shags and think that’s all there is.”

“I don’t-”

“Oh really?” Niall interrupts. “What’s the plan, Tommo? Huh? Carry on as you are, work your way through as many nameless conquests as you can? Every few years go back to Jess and have another kid until you’ve got enough to fill the gap in your life caused by whatever it is that’s making you such a martyr?”

Louis is stunned into silence. With eyes wide, he struggles to breathe for a second.

“Well, fuck me Niall, say how you really feel, please!” He exclaims, laughing because he’s got absolutely no clue how to deal with what just happened.

Niall softens and Louis feels conflicted.

“I’m sorry mate, that was… that was harsh. You know I love you and the little ones, but the basic premise is true. You don’t have to put up with that. You don’t have to limit yourself to that life if you don’t want to.”

“Who says I don’t like that life?”

Niall shrugs, looks thoroughly disbelieving. “If you say so, Tommo, but for the record, I don’t believe you.”

Louis looks over at Harry, and when he looks back, Niall is grinning softly but smugly at him.

“Lou?” Niall says, attracting his attention back. “That guy is out there making friends with your friends, barking out laughing at every ridiculous thing that comes out of your mouth, and he’s been watching you like a hawk all night. What more do you want?”

“Niall, what twenty one year old in their right mind is gonna take on someone with two kids? Forget all the rest of the drama, that’s enough to make him run a mile. So what’s the point?”

“You don’t know that.” Niall says. “You’re underestimating him, I think.”

“Like you’re the expert on Harry all of a sudden!”

Niall just looks at him.

“I just thought we’d… y’know , and then he’d be gone. Like the rest of them.” Louis admits, feeling a bit crushed. He wants to go home.

“Well, I hate to break it to you mate but I don’t think Harry’s on the same wavelength.”

Louis hates that Niall is right.

He hates that he’s already way past the point of ‘one night stand’ with Harry. His plan is unravelling fast and he’s got no idea how to fix it.

“Goin’ to the loo.” He mumbles, sighing heavily and pushing off the bar. Niall doesn’t follow him.

He shuts himself in the stall furthest away from the door, slides the bolt across, puts down the seat and settles on top of the porcelain, phone in hand. Hating himself a moderate amount, Louis opens Facebook - having to go through Safari because he deleted the app – and goes to Niall’s profile. He studies his profile picture, him and Amy in Tenerife last June, then scrolls down a bit.

Lo and behold, there it is at the top: Niall Horan became friends with Harry Styles.

That must be his Harry. No, no – just Harry. He doesn’t belong to him, or anyone.

Curiosity gets the better of Louis and he clicks on the hyperlink. Harry’s profile is minimalistic in this view, his privacy settings prohibiting Louis to see anything more than Harry’s profile picture, gender, current location and pages he has Liked.

He stares until it goes blurry, then, feeling just a little bit egotistical, Louis goes onto his own profile and quickly changes his profile picture from one of his girl with her newborn brother propped up on her knee in swaddling blankets to a picture of him and his mum taken at Lottie’s birthday party last August.

Not that he expects in a million years the first thing Harry will do is look for him in Niall’s friend list.

*

Later on at home, as Louis’ laying on the sofa, the Sky box in sleep mode and his cup of tea long since gone cold, Louis thinks about what Niall said, thinks about Harry and Liam and this night that they’ve just shared together.

Niall’s scathing words repeat in Louis’ head; ‘that’s the way you’ve made things’ , ’such a martyr’ . Just who the hell does Niall think he is, bloody Jeremy Kyle? He doesn’t need to listen to anyone’s advice; he doesn’t want a relationship, he doesn’t want to introduce his kids to anyone.

He’ll find a way to exact his revenge on Niall, for opening up the can of worms in the first place, but for now all he has to do is cut ties with Harry completely. He’s already deleted his number, he’s halfway there.

That’s why, when a number he doesn’t have saved texts him just before one am wondering if he might want to get together tomorrow, Louis politely declines, turns his phone off and falls promptly to sleep.

Except he doesn’t do any of those things.

*

He’s back at Harry’s again the next afternoon. He arrives twenty minutes’ late, breathless and a hairs breadth from turning and bolting but Harry pulls him in through the door as if he senses Louis' unease and has him up against the wall in a second.

"Nice to see you again," He says, his breath hot on Louis' cheek.

"Hmm," Louis makes a noise, because he can't find the words. Harry’s kisses feel like the sweetest compliment, each one a whispered bouquet of honey and rose petals, and Louis has to put a stop to that.

They crash backwards through Harry's flat urgently, into his room and memories of the last time they were here come flooding back. Harry opens him up and he rests on his knees on the edge of the bed, Harry behind him gripping his hips tighter with every thrust. He’s positive Harry’s fingers are going to pierce right through his skin to the bone with the strength at which he holds him. He gradually inches his way down lower, closer and closer to the mattress until eventually his chest sinks down into the mattress and his bum is awkwardly raised, his weight on one hip as Harry fucks into him shallow and lazily.

Harry collapses down on top of him, his chest pressed to Louis’ back as he comes, hips stuttering and then stilling before drawing back and lifting himself off again. Harry doesn’t try and cuddle him this time after he’s rolled onto his back and brought himself to orgasm. He wipes himself down with the t-shirt he’d been wearing and goes home in his hoodie with nothing underneath.

He repeats to himself over and over. This is the last time. It is. It has to be.

*

It’s finally Sunday.

The past two weeks have felt uncontrollable and unending, but today, now, it’s finally Sunday. Life is getting back to normal today.

Knowing that peace will soon be shattered, Louis takes advantage of the opportunity to have a lie in. He stumbles to the toilet at about seven but gets straight back into bed, pulls the covers up to his ears because the house is still cold at seven in the morning, and promptly falls back to sleep until quarter to twelve.

He’s got washing up from Friday evening to do, as well as washing to hang out and dinner to defrost for later. It keeps him busy and the only time he thinks about Harry is when his phone vibrates and his stomach lurches, thinking for a second it might be him. The disappointment that lingers for a moment when he sees it isn’t Harry is quickly pushed aside.

At just after four, Louis hears a car pull up on the street outside, a door clunking open and then slamming shut, then another door opening a second later. He hears her first; she sounds stressed. Then he hears thunderous but tiny footsteps approaching, then a muffled, stumbling knock of tiny hands on the door.

His heart is in his mouth with giddy excitement as he leaps up, dashing to the front door to open it.

“Emmie!” He whoops as he opens the door to find his three and a half year old daughter Emilia standing on the porch step with her snuggle blanket in one hand and a battered box of Cornish clotted cream fudge in the other.

“Daddy!” She squeals over and over as he scoops her up into his arms and squeezes her tight. She wriggles as he does, and he settles her on his hip as he watches the other two approach.

His boy, Archie, is passed out in his car seat; Louis doesn’t get a good look at him until he is set down on the porch step.

“Jess,” He greets the blonde woman, trying to be nice. “How’re you doing?”

“Fine thanks, you?” She says, handing him Archie’s changing bag and Emmie’s Peppa rucksack, Emmie’s spare blanket and Archie’s green body warmer. He peeks in at Archie; cheeks pink, white-blonde hair fluffy and eyes fluttering open and closed. “He’s just waking up slowly, he’s been asleep for about an hour on and off.”

Louis’ dying to get his hands on his son but with his daughter on his hip and his arms full, he has to settle on waiting. “Hey sleepy dude, I missed you.”

Archie smiles almost bashfully and closes his eyes again. Louis nods for them to go inside, Jess picking Archie up and following them in. She doesn’t normally come in, but it’s only slightly awkward. She puts Archie down in the front room and his tiny hands grab at his blanket and pull it up close to his face, his blue eyes closing again.

“So, thanks for bringing them back.” Louis says, and Jess makes a face, as if he’s implying she wasn’t going to. “Did you have a nice holiday?”

“Yeah, was good. Nice weather, mostly.”

“Well that’s good.”

“Yeah.”

“How’re your mum and dad?” Louis asks, though he’s not really interested. The extent of his concern about Jess’ family is how well they treat Emmie and Archie.

“Fine too, yeah.”

“Good.”

Jess nods, looking around the front room before looking back at Louis. “Right, well I’m off now. See you in a week?”

“Yeah you will.” Louis agrees.

Jess cuddles Emmie and kisses Archie goodbye and then she’s gone, an awkward and stilted shrug and a goodbye for Louis. He takes Archie out once Jess is gone and lifts his warm, slightly sweaty body out of his chair. He lays his son over his chest and holds him tight, breathing in his smell. Archie snuggles against his chest and together they settle down on the sofa next to Emmie. She scrambles to his side and tells him in her own garbled, roundabout way about the past week, her holiday with mummy and Archie and nanny and grandad.

Louis’ irritation about the whole thing has dulled now, now that he has his two little monsters back. He still, if he thinks about it enough, wonders why the hell Jess just had to take them away with her parents on one of his weeks. They’d agreed on a week-on-week-off arrangement for the kids and it had worked perfectly well for three and a half years, why rock the boat now?

But he lets it go because Emmie seems to have had a whale of a time. She tells him about Fizzle (Fistral) Beach and St. Ives, eating chips with grandad and that her and mummy and Archie had a sleepover on the last night and she stayed up until ‘minnight’.

Louis indulges her, acting completely shocked and in awe of how amazing her holiday was.

“But did you miss me? Because I missed you loads and loads.” He asks, tapping her little button nose, making her giggle.

“Yes!” She answers. “How much you miss me, daddy?”

“This much!” He lifts his hand up in the air as far as it will go and she dissolves into giggles again, rousing Archie from his precarious sleep.

He kisses Emmie and then slides to the floor, peels Archie’s layers off, changes his nappy and sets about making the tea. He’s busy for the rest of the evening; having them both back gives him something to focus on, something else to focus on, so he’s too busy to sit around thinking about Harry. Mostly.

*

His plan seems to be working perfectly. With work and getting Archie to playgroup and Emmie to nursery, bath time, tea time and bed time, his days are back to the hectic routine that he loves. He doesn’t think about the fact next week he’ll be empty again. That’s a problem for Future Louis.

He hadn’t tied up his thing with Harry in a neat bow, is the thing, and because it’s still open and so much has gone unsaid, there’s been no closure. So when Harry texts him on Monday afternoon, he opens the message, reads it once and immediately locks his phone.

Thursday morning sat at his desk spinning aimlessly from left to right on his office chair and staring at his keyboard blankly, he finally replies.

He wasn’t going to, but he does anyway. Of course.

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