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Grenadine Sunshine

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Didn’t anyone ever tell you
It’s okay to shine?
-- “Bel Air,” Lana Del Rey

When Louis sees Harry for the first time, before he has his name or knows anything about him, the word that flashes across his mind is beautiful. It’s like lightning streaking across a storm-black sky, sudden and hot and electric, blinding him before it’s gone, replaced with a creeping, distant, hard-to-pin-down sensation fluttering in his chest. It’s not shame, exactly, but maybe something like it. After all, Louis should not be thinking that boys are beautiful right now, not when he’s in line to audition for the X Factor with the whole of his future ahead of him and at stake. He should focus. He shouldn’t fuck up.

It’s not like Louis has a habit of thinking boys are beautiful, though. It’s always a private fit. Like, when he sees an older boy playing footie in the park with his shirt off. God, he’s right fit, Louis will think with a distant longing, half-imagining a different version of himself, a version with different friends, who lives in a different town. A town where there are more lads than the ones he’s grown up knowing, close like brothers, too close to think of in any other way save for that. Then, maybe, Louis would know for sure what he already sort of knows.

See, Louis has never thought a girl was beautiful before either, not authentically. He’s never truly fancied a girl, and not for a lack of trying. He knows that they're supposed to look a certain way, and years of spending time around the blokes from his football teams have taught him which ones he should comment on. It’s all a code, though, trained into him so that it’s something he understands based on context and experience over true, gut reaction. Louis has never actually called anyone beautiful, not really, not even in the privacy of his own head. It’s a scary word, too big and too embarrassing to think about a real person, too heavy, cumbersome, and grave, like it would hurt his back to carry.

But here he is, thinking it about a boy he’s never met, in line for the fucking X Factor. Like a knee jerk, like a reflex.

He looks for him again, even though he shouldn’t. There are loads of people milling about, all thrumming and nervous, making it hard to find this single boy amid the crowd, but when he does, Louis feels like he’s been struck in the stomach. He sees the dark mop of floppy curls and the slow, blinking eyes crinkled at the sides from smiling, and again he thinks beautiful, so it must not be an accident, it must be true.

Louis cranes his neck until the boy turns in his direction before he looks down abruptly, not wanting to get caught. Once he’s swallowed nervously a few times, he looks back, far enough away that he can do it safely, unnoticed. And just…study him.

He’s beautiful, he thinks again, trying it on willfully. All that weight, all that gravity. Pretty, even...a pretty boy. It’s something about the wide splay of his mouth as it laughs, like a spill, cranberry juice tipped over on a white page, a butterfly opening its wings. Or maybe something about the sparkle to his eyes, light and dark at the same time, multifaceted like a raw cut of gemstone, something golden or green or both, Louis can’t tell from this distance. Something about the pale of his skin, creamy, like it would be soft and smell nice if Louis ever got close enough to touch him, kiss him.

Louis’s stomach tightens up spectacularly at the mere thought, and he looks away. This is the absolute worst place for him to be finding boys to fancy, so he decides he should lose him in the crowd instead. It’s the right thing to do, in this case.

—-

He doesn’t lose Harry.

He sees him again later that day, over by the refreshments table, and it’s even worse up close, the softness, the prettiness. It’s improbable how pretty this boy is, and Louis is usually loud and forever plotting, seeking any opportunity to make a joke and steal the limelight, but he’s quiet now. Reduced to stutters as he loads biscuits onto a paper plate with trembly hands, making small talk, learning this boy’s name is Harry Styles, which already sounds like the type of name you see on a marquee.

Louis tells him so, and Harry explodes into animated, snorting laughter at that, his smile like a fucking prism it refracts so much light, mouth huge and open and wet-looking, something Louis could drown in. Harry makes a joke about being a stripper if the X Factor doesn’t work out, and Louis manages to not flush too deeply, laughing it off and saying something at least half-clever in response, and soon after that they’re giggling together, stealing all the watermelon chunks from the fruit salad and towering them onto a plate, shooting furtive grins over their shoulders to ensure they don’t get caught.

They collapse into a pair of folding chairs to snack, and Louis learns that Harry takes bites of things by sticking his tongue all the way out first, pink and obscene and innocent all at once, like he doesn’t even know what it looks like, how suggestive it is. Louis isn’t sure, though, maybe he does know. Maybe this is deliberate flirtation, and he’s too dumbstruck to realize it. He’s watching with a bubble of helpless awe expanding in his chest when Harry says through a full mouth, “What do you do? M’a baker...I bake at a bakery.”

“That’s usually what one does when one is a baker, yeah?” Louis jokes, but now he’s imagining Harry dusted in flour up to his elbows, Harry sucking cake batter off his long, pale fingers with that raspberry mouth.

Harry giggles and says, “S’actually a sorta fun job, I mean, I get loads of free pastry, anyway. I have to wake up really, really early, though, for the morning shift. When it’s still dark, so, like, I get on the train when it’s black outside. And really cold,” he adds, taking his time while he pushes a lone red grape around on his plate in a slick of watermelon juice. Louis watches, chewing on the inside of his lip, feeling like this is the first day of the rest of this life.

“Sounds dreadful, if I’m honest,” Louis admits, shrugging, self-conscious but pretending he’s not because he knows it’s a terrible way to make friends. And god, does he want to be Harry’s friend. “At least you have a job! I was late one too many times for m’last job at me mum’s friend’s convenience store. She sacked me, even though she’s, like, our friend. I guess I was unreliable, but the shop was ages away, and I have to pick m’sisters up from school, so it just didn’t work.”

“You have sisters?!” Harry says, eyes wide, like sisters are exciting, and it takes Louis a few seconds to realize that maybe they are to the type of lad who thinks girls are beautiful. Something deflates inside of him, but he tries to ignore it, reminding himself that maybe he’s making a friend, but first and foremost he’s here to sing. It doesn’t actually matter if Harry’s gay or could like him back. (He already likes Harry, and it’s stupid and illogical, but he can’t help it, he likes his sweet smile and absurd dimples and the slow, methodical way he talks, like talking is wandering and he has no real place to go. He’s already had to resist the urge to playfully wrap one of his curls around his finger and tug, teasing him, flirting. He likes Harry so much, too much for a boy he’s only just met, too much for the X Factor.)

“Yeah, but they’re all younger than me,” he says, crunching through a piece of apple.

“Oh, and how old are you?” Harry asks.

“Eighteen,” Louis tells him, noticing with certainty now that Harry’s eyes are green, green like hard candy, like the inside of a kiwi fruit.

“You’re older than me,” Harry says sagely, like he doesn’t care, like he has so many friends who are older than him. It’s silly, so Louis laughs at him, and Harry laughs, too, even though Louis’s pretty sure he doesn’t actually know what they’re laughing about. Still, it feels good, giddy and lightweight and dangerous and safe all at once, like he’s teetering on a precipice but knows in the back of his mind that he can just…sprout wings and fly, if he falls.

It’s a sort of crazy feeling to have the first time you meet someone. Louis spreads his hand over the wild thrum of his heart and wonders if it’s ever beat so hard before, or if Harry’s already changing the way he works.

—-

Hannah isn’t Louis’s girlfriend, but everyone back home thinks she is, even though he did pretty much nothing to convince them so.

Two weeks before his first audition, he told them, “Hannah and I are dating,” and they said, without batting an eye, “Oh? Good, mate, she’s fit.” No questions, no skepticism, no Hannah, really? Are you sure? He told them, and that was all it took, which Louis thinks is both brilliant and sort of sad, how little it takes to sell a story that’s been sold one hundred times before.

Louis has auditioned twice for the X Factor already, beginning as soon as he could, really, when he turned sixteen. He hasn’t made it past the first round of auditions either time, however, and something in him suspects it’s not entirely because he was too nervous to project properly.

This year, his Nan’s old friend from London who used to sing in French nightclubs way back when comes up for the weekend to hear him, to give him advice and her honest opinion. She listens with a stoic face but tells him he has a good voice when it’s over, a lovely, soft thing, like a nightingale, she says, and Louis thinks that’s not too bad.

Still, she cocks her head and toys with the end of her silk scarf, sitting in Louis’s drawing room, looking entirely too posh for his small, homey-home with Barbies strewn all over the floor, his sisters giggling and shrieking from the kitchen. “Louis, love. Do you have a girl you’re seeing?” she asks eventually, lips pursed in a careful way and in this moment, Louis knows she knows. What she’s implying, where she’s going with this suggestion.

He colors and swallows thickly, says “No,” like a confession.

She nods crisply and knowingly. “Well. Your business is your business, but this type of business? That sort of thing…they’re cruel, love. It might help, actually, if you show up with a girlfriend. You have a dear, dear voice, but that isn’t always enough, not now. They’re going to want the complete package, something they can sell to young women. You’re so handsome, Louis. Girls, they like you.”

But you don’t like them sits unsaid between the two of them, and Louis nods stiffly, because…he understands. That whether or not he can sing is secondary to whether or not he can be sold, wrapped up and tied in a neat, likable, uncontroversial ribbon. He’s watched enough seasons of the X Factor to know the type of singers who make it, let alone the types of singers who win. He inhales raggedly and tells her, “Thank you for being honest.” Then, as he picks at the dry skin around his nail bed, “So...you think if I get a girlfriend and sort of, like… bring her to auditions, it might help?”

“It wouldn’t hurt. Keep them from wondering about things that aren’t their business and make them listen to that lovely, lovely nightingale’s voice instead,” she says gently. And it stings, but Louis is not a child anymore. He practices singing in his room, records himself, plays with effects on the computer, and posts the videos online for criticism because he can take it. He’s ready for anything.

Two days and two weeks before his audition, Louis works up the nerve to ask his theatre mate Hannah, the only person he’s ever come out to officially and even then only because she flat out asked him one day backstage, if she’d consider pretending to be his girlfriend. Just for these auditions, he says, chewing on his lip, feeling guilty and apologetic and awful for asking a nice, fit girl like Hannah, someone who could easily get a real boyfriend, to do something like this for him.

She cracks her gum, checking out her reflection in a compact mirror and picking mascara clumps out of her lashes. “I don’t mind, really,” she says for the third time, making a goofy face at herself before snapping the compact shut. “But, like, will anyone really believe it? No offense to you, it’s not just that, but, like…I dunno, I went out with Robert only a month ago...will they think it’s too soon? Especially if we only say we are but don’t do anything?”

Louis shrugs. “I don’t care if people here don’t believe me. It’s for the X Factor, really.” He’s not so sure, though; the idea of all his and Hannah’s theatre friends raising their eyebrows and interrogating them about it and asking them to kiss to prove it makes his skin feel all hot and itchy. “I’ve had girlfriends before, y’know. In fifth form and at college. M’not an idiot...I know what to do. We could convince them...s’just like acting.”

“Could we?” she asks, raising an eyebrow skeptically. “I doubt you want to snog me, and holding hands won’t convince anyone,” she explains, and it’s true. In theatre, there’s all sorts of platonic, meaningless contact, lap-sitting and hand-holding and dramatic, smacking cheek kisses. If he and Hannah are suddenly dating, there will inevitably be an expectation for more than that.

“I’ll change my Facebook status,” Louis says. “And we can take pictures. Couple-type pictures. With kissing.”

Hannah wrinkles her nose. “Won’t you be grossed out to kiss me? We should practice...c’mon,” she mumbles, beckoning to him impatiently. “To make it more believable.”

It’s strange, leaning into Hannah and kissing her, because it’s not gross or bad or anything, it’s just…nothing. She tastes like lip gloss and powder and licorice gum, and Louis keeps his hands palm down on his thighs while he does it because he has no instinct to touch her, the wet sounds of their lips and tongues sliding together, too loud for the tiny bedroom Hannah shares with her sister. When she pulls away, they laugh nervously, and Louis wrinkles his nose, noticing a smudge of mascara on the high point of her cheekbone. “You’re not half-bad at that,” she admits, shrugging.

“Of course!” Louis snaps, offended. “Who do you think I am? M’not a bad snogger just because…,” he trails off, because saying I’m gay is something he’s never actually done. He wipes his mouth on the back of his hand, thinking how weird it is that something that’s technically so intimate can feel so vacant, so free of sensation or thrill or feeling. He leans back in, distantly curious as he kisses Hannah again, brow furrowed like he’s trying to find something, answers or clarity in the soft sweetness of her mouth.

He finds nothing. It’s exactly like all the times he faked his way through kissing his exes, like all the times he kissed his friend Margret when she starred opposite him in their production of Grease. A stage kiss, a performance. He pulls away from Hannah again and says, “Okay, get your mobile so we can take some pictures.”

“Let me fix my makeup so I look good,” Hannah says, petting her hair and batting her lashes.

They make a whole photoshoot of it and spend more time flung out on the floor cracking up than they do anything else, but by the time Louis drives back to his house at sunset, he has a whole collection of semi-believable shots of himself looking positively boyfriend-y.

It’s easy, an easy thing to do, and even Stan believes him the next day, which makes him seriously wonder how close they are, or if his whole social existence with his theatre mates is just something Stan writes off without thinking about too much, like it’s all part of Louis’s other life, his other friends. Now, his theatre girlfriend. Not to be questioned because you just don’t question that sort of thing.

Louis takes Hannah with him to his first audition, so she’s there, fingers twined in his as he scans the crowd for dark curls and a smile like sunlight. She plays her part; everyone he introduces her to nods and shakes her hand like she’s not a giant lie, and it’s all so effortless, convincing the world he’s someone different than he is. They just look at his exterior, his arm tossed over his girlfriend’s shoulders, no idea whatsoever that Louis’s insides are knotted up over a boy right now, that every chance he gets, he’s looking for Harry Styles.

Louis makes it past auditions for the first time, and he knows it’s not a coincidence.

—-

They make it to bootcamp together, and Louis and Harry become fast friends.

Louis learns that Harry is lovely, sure, but he’s also weird, and that’s somehow an incredible relief. Harry talks too slowly and takes forever to tell stories; he’s cheeky and silly, but he also needs a lot of reassurance and attention, and he turns into a sulky child when he’s ignored. (Louis doesn’t ignore him, so he only sees this side of Harry when someone else is doing the ignoring, but he gets to swoop in and save Harry from his boredom, and he’s not sure anything else in his life has ever felt so right.)

Harry has only been outside of Cheshire a handful of times, so train rides are still exciting to him, London still glittering and mysterious and full of promise. Louis likes that Harry is unashamed of being less than worldly, that he says things like, What’s caprese? I’ve never eaten real Italian food before, not really, with a shrug, like he doesn’t even know that it could be something to be embarrassed about.

Harry’s generally soft-spoken, but he can get so loud, screaming about nothing and busting into the toilets when people are in there to serenade them with Beatles songs, exploding into riotous, snorting laughter at all of Louis’s jokes in this way that makes him feel brilliant. Harry can also get shy and blushy and shuffle his feet together (like when Louis pokes him in the side and asks him how many girlfriends he has back in Holmes Chapel, for example), but he’s wildly, improbably confident at the same time, nodding eagerly with a serious crease in his brow when he gets constructive criticism about his singing, which is much more mature than the way any of the other sixteen-year-olds in bootcamp act, anyway. He’s effortlessly charming, and everyone’s drawn to him, even the older contestants, and Louis feels both very complacent and like it’s some kind of happy accident that he is the person Harry chooses to spend most of his downtime with. It’s sort of like winning the lottery.

All the little things that make Harry weird aren’t observably, specifically, or particularly gay-seeming, but there’s something about his weirdness that Louis relates to, or that he at least recognizes. It’s like a code, and although he can’t decipher it, exactly, the fact that he recognizes it’s a code in the first place makes him feel like he’s meant to decipher it, eventually. That it’s for him, about him, like him. It could simply be wishful thinking, but he hopes it’s more than that.

It’s during an afternoon when Harry isn’t glued to his side that Louis learns about the makeup.

They’re on a break, and he’s wandering around, trying to find Harry without looking like he’s trying to find Harry, when he stumbles upon him in the middle of a crowd of tittering, giggling girls. Everyone is flushed, and there’s a sort of charged euphoria to the air, a sensation Louis remembers from the first parties he ever went to where there was alcohol and backstage during theatre productions, the air sticky with hairspray and nerves.

Curious and a little sick to his stomach because he hates missing out on anything where Harry’s concerned, he approaches, craning his neck to get a good look, nudging his shoe between Cher and Sofia. “What’s going on here?” he asks, mouth going dry as his eyes fall on Harry, who Cher is holding down by the wrists as he playfully struggles, face scrunched up in a puff of shimmery powder. “What are you getting up to with poor Harold?” he forces out, trying to keep it light, trying to keep it easy, even though it’s not light or easy because Harry. Harry has someone else’s hands on him, is splayed out, knees spread and legs everywhere.

“We’re giving him a makeover,” Cher explains lightly, pursing her lips and twirling a mascara wand. “How does he look?”

Louis stares. He’s supposed to laugh at Harry, he knows that’s what he’s supposed to do, that he’s supposed to say he looks ridiculous, but of course that’s not what he thinks. Harry looks up at him with glittery green eyes lined in smoky kohl, glossy lipstick-smeared lips twisted up into a smirk. And of course Harry looks beautiful. He’s beautiful with or without makeup, and it doesn’t make him look better, necessarily, but it’s different and taboo enough to make Louis’s stomach tighten into a knot before it plummets, like a stone into icy water. He swallows thickly and manages a nonchalant, “Could use more concealer on his left cheek. Lookin’ a little spotty there.”

Cher breaks into sudden, surprised laughter, and Harry scowls, yelping an affronted, “Heeeeyy,” before he pouts. “I thought you’d like it.”

Louis tries not to think too much about why Harry might have thought that. “I don’t not like it…s’just a bit amateurish is all I’m saying. I doubt Cher knows much about cosmetology. Unless she’s a beauty school dropout,” he jokes, sitting down next to her and trying not to let his eyes rove too much over Harry’s face, the sparkle of the gaudy silver shadow on his eyelids as he blinks.

“Well, aren’t you some expert, then!” Cher snaps, brandishing the mascara wand like it’s a small sword. “You wanna help?”

Of course he does. Heart pounding so hard he can’t even begin to speak, Louis’s gaze cuts down to Harry’s wrist, to where Cher’s still holding him down, even though he stopped struggling the minute Louis joined in. Her grip is tight enough that there are bloodless nail marks in his forearm, and Louis hates seeing marks on Harry’s skin that he didn’t make.

Like she’s reading his mind, Sofia pipes up and interjects, “Louis can keep him still...hold him from behind! Gives you both your hands to do him up. You can fix that blush, s’awful.”

“No, he’s just red because he’s embarrassed,” Louis taunts, eyes locked on Harry’s as he maneuvers behind him, wrapping his arms tight around his chest and shoulders, constricting when Harry half-heartedly thrashes. “Oi! Harold! You’re surrounded by beautiful women, why are you putting up a fight?” Louis asks, and he’s just talking shit, has no idea what’s even coming out of his mouth or why. He feels like he’s drunk; his blood is rushing in his ears, and he’s trying to play the part he’s supposed to play at the same time as he’s trying to get away with touching Harry Styles, and it’s all melting together into something confusing, Neapolitan ice cream turning into pink-brown syrup in the sun. His face is in Harry’s hair, and he smells like rain and brandy snaps and roses, and it’s what Louis wants his pillows to smell like from here until the end of forever.

Harry stills, reaching up and squeezing Louis’s bicep experimentally, like he’s testing the hold he has on him. “Why are you siding with them?” he grumbles, scrunching up his face as Cher comes back at him with a brush. She swipes it just under the cut of his brow, and he giggles, squirming.

Louis tightens his grip. Because I want to see how flushed you get when you’re embarrassed. Because I want to have my arms around you. Because you look so fucking pretty in makeup, and I want to watch. Instead he swallows evenly, cocking his head so his cheek brushes the side of Harry’s head, his curls tickling. “S’just a bit of fun, Harry,” he says, which isn’t an answer, and he knows it. “You’re getting all kinds of attention, and you love that. Just enjoy it.”

“But it’s makeup,” he complains.

“Relax your mouth and quit talking,” Cher orders, and Louis bristles at her tone, even though he’s technically her accomplice. He doesn’t like other people telling Harry to do things. “I want to fix your lipstick.”

As Cher does her work, Louis becomes somewhat superfluous. Harry has sort of slackened and softened in his arms, sagging into Louis’s chest and just letting Cher tidy up the corners of his mouth and the tails of his eyes, her brow furrowed in concentration. His eyes twitch under the lids, but save for that, he’s placid, body calm and subdued, even though just minutes ago, he was pretending to hate it.

Louis watches him closely, and by the time Cher finishes up, drops all her supplies into her lap, and announces, “Ta-dah...he’s all done,” Louis’s pretty sure Harry doesn’t hate getting his makeup done at all.

For one thing, he has this sort of dreamy look on his face, his eyes dark and blinky and glazed over, like he just woke up. Then, there’s the fact that he paws at Cher as soon as he comes to, pursing his pretty, shining lips. “I wanna see,” he slurs, and Louis’s heart clenches up, hands sweating where they’re clasped in front of Harry. “Don’t you have a mirror?”

She hands him the foundation compact, and he flicks it open to survey his appearance, turning left and right to check himself out in the smudged circle. He’s fighting a grin, but even if he can keep it off his mouth (just barely), his eyes are giving him away, his dimples. He looks pleased, even as he’s trying to look disgusted, and Louis has never had a conversation with Harry about sexuality or anything, but there’s something so terribly relatable in that mess of warring responses, and his stomach tightens around the familiarity of it all. “You look gorgeous, simply stunning,” he says in a posh accent, hooking his chin over Harry’s shoulder, and he says it like it’s a joke, sure, but he means it fiercely. Harry looks so pretty that Louis’s breath catches when they meet eyes in the mirror for a fleeting moment.

“It’s weird,” Harry grumbles, probably because he’s supposed to say it. “I look like a girl.”

“You don’t, you look like a very pretty boy,” Louis observes, a wave of chilling vulnerability washing over him as he realizes he’s said something so very true, and without a silly voice or something sarcastic tacked on to take the edge off the rawness. But Harry’s smiling freely now, at least, so he squeezes him once gently before letting him go to catch his breath. “Nicely done, Cher! If singing doesn’t work out, it looks like you have a future in—”

Louis is cut off as Savan announces over a megaphone that their break is over, and Harry panics, eyes getting wide. “I’ve gotta get this stuff off!” he whines, and Louis grabs his elbow, hauling him up to steer him to the toilets because he’s not going to miss out on anything where Harry is concerned.

He stands quietly by the sink as Harry rinses his face with warm water, coming up a few times with eyeliner dripping down his cheeks in rivulets, lovely and dramatic, like he’s been crying. It’s too much, so Louis looks away, studying his own guilty, flushed reflection in the mirror. “It won’t come off,” Harry groans, rubbing at his eyes. “I shoulda just left it on and pretended I meant for it to look like that. I mean, people wear loads of makeup on stage, yeah? Boys, too? I sorta liked it, anyway.”
Louis’s heart speeds up, thrumming its way into his throat. “Why did you pretend you hated it? You seemed like you were enjoying yourself,” he says with a dry mouth.

Harry glares at him, eyes still dark and painted and faintly glittery, even as he drips. “I did not,” he lies. “Only a little.”

Louis rolls his eyes and kicks Harry gently in the shin. “Yeah, you did. It’s okay...s’not that weird. I would get makeup put on for theatre productions, and it was nice, you know, calming-like. S’not a big deal.”

And Louis is two years older, which is enough for Harry to sometimes trust him on things, even if Louis is just making it up, winging it. Louis loves having this easy power over him, even if it’s a lie, and he’s just as confused, winging it every time. “Is it? Not that weird, I mean?” Harry asks.

“Yeah,” Louis says, shrugging, like it’s the silliest thing in the world. “It’s fine.”

“I feel like…I dunno. Like I’m supposed to hate it? If I act like I like it, they won’t put it on in the first place...they’re only doing it because they think I’m grossed out or something,” Harry explains, like he’s had extensive experience manipulating girls into doing his makeup, which is…interesting. Louis is intrigued. “Plus, you get more attention that way…s’like flirting, you know? It makes girls flirt with you, touch you, if you, like…pretend you want them to leave you alone,” Harry adds, speaking more quickly than he usually does so it’s almost a normal speed.

“Do you want them to flirt with you?” Louis asks, crossing his arms over his chest and flicking his fringe out of his eyes. “Or do you just want them to do your makeup?”

Harry furrows his brow, like he’s never considered that there might be a difference between these two things, like he doesn’t know you can tease them apart because they’ve always existed twined in his mind, one a product of the other, one a necessary evil in order to obtain a desired result. He looks like he’s just now realizing the desired result might not have been the flirting, and the makeup itself might not have been the necessary evil. Louis watches the cogs turn in his brain and thinks about kissing his stained, chapped lips.

Harry’s only sixteen, it shows right now, and Louis wants…he wants so many things. He wants to taste the faint, sugary ghost of lip gloss, he wants to cup Harry’s face between his palms and swipe the shimmery wet shadows from beneath his eyes. He wants to show him everything he knows, even though he doesn’t know anything about this, about kissing boys or flirting with them or doing their makeup or even showing them it’s okay to want to wear makeup in the first place. Still, Louis just wants, wants and wants and wants. It’s what Harry does to him.

Harry eventually says, “I don’t…I don’t really know. I just. I sort of like the makeup part of it, I guess. It feels nice.” He shrugs and blushes, and Louis swallows nervously.

“Well,” he makes himself say, staring at his own hands as he plays nervously with a loose string from his hoodie pocket. “If you ever want to get your makeup done and not pretend you hate it, I’ll do it. I do my sisters’ hair and makeup all the time, and I’m not half-bad at it. Could work at a salon with Cher, probably.”

“Would you flirt with me anyway?” Harry jokes, but it doesn’t feel like a joke. It feels like a knife in Louis’s gut, sudden and white-hot and searing, twisting deeper as he adds, “Even if I don’t struggle?”

Louis’s stomach is fluttering; he’s hot-faced and stunned, and there’s a heat pooling in his gut, a tight and coiling arousal even though Harry probably has no idea what he’s implying, no idea what it does to Louis to hear him say shit like that, even if he’s messing about.

Still, Louis manages to shrug and say, “Sure.”

 

——-

 

Everything is rushing by. Days tumble rapid-fire into the next, and Louis has never fallen in love before, so he does it swiftly, easily, recklessly. He’s falling for Harry when they both get cut from the X Factor, he’s falling for Harry when they get magically called back and put in a band together, like the universe wanted this to happen, for their fates to be twined. He’s falling for Harry in the surreal, awkward week or so between bootcamp and the next time they all see each other again, and he spends a lot of time daydreaming about the smell of spice and skin and boy.

The plan is to spend some time at Harry’s stepdad’s bungalow before they move into the judges’ houses, but until then, Louis is home in Donny, and Harry is heading off to Ireland with Niall on holiday. Louis’s jealous, but he tries not to be.

Home feels smaller and slower than Louis remembers it as he spends an entire afternoon in his room with Hannah, telling her about Harry and wringing his hands and throwing himself onto his back on his bed and groaning. “You like him, “ she says matter-of-factly, more than once. “You’re obsessed.”

“I don’t,” Louis lies every time. “He’s just cool. We’re mates.”

“Hm, sure, right,” she laughs, throwing a wadded up crisps bag in Louis’s direction. “Really close mates.”

“S’not like that,” he grumbles, because it isn’t, not yet anyway, and he can’t get his hopes up. There are so many things he doesn’t know about Harry, so much resting on those unasked, unanswered questions. Plus, he wants to talk about Harry, but he doesn’t want Hannah to talk about him, for some reason. It’s stupid and confusing, and he knows it, so he changes the subject. “Does everyone still think we’re dating?”

“Yeah, absolutely. All the fifth form girls want to be my friend now because I have a boyfriend on the telly. It’s hilarious,” she says, but Louis is only half-listening because in that moment, his phone buzzes, and he’s scrambling for it.

Harry has been texting him for the duration of his holiday, mostly just funny selfies with Niall or scenery pictures, but there’s the occasional wish u wer;e heree :) or miss u cant wai;t for nexxt week!!!!, usually late at night when he’s clearly drunk. No matter what he says, it makes Louis’s stomach clench up in a sick sort of longing, and he’s falling, really, and he doesn’t know how to stop himself.

He flicks open his phone to a picture of Harry standing in a long hallway and holding a red plastic cup with something alcoholic in it, most likely. He’s got a massive cheeky grin on, and he’s wearing a soft, baby-blue onesie that’s clearly too small for him while he pulls that absurd face, and it’s meant to make Louis laugh, probably, but there’s something about the picture that makes him heat up and squirm, even though Hannah’s in the room.

He stares for a long time, chewing his lip.

It’s just…he doesn’t doubt Harry is the type of lad who puts on silly costumes just for a laugh, to mock himself or the existence of fuzzy blue onesies or whatever, but something about this feels different. Louis is again reminded of codes, of symbols, and as he examines the picture with a hot, prickling scalp and a turning stomach, tonguing the inside of his cheek, he feels like Harry is trying to tell him something. Something like, it’s a joke, yeah, but I also really do like soft things...it’s a joke, but do you think I look good in it anyway?

Louis’s cheeks burn and burn, and he waits for Hannah’s mum to come pick her up after dinner before he sits down alone in his room to formulate a reply. cute outfit is what he says eventually, followed by, that’s a pretty colour on u harold :P

Harry texts back immediately, like he was waiting for it, holding on to his phone while he drinks with Niall. lol u think so??

Louis’s halfway through typing out yah. r u having a fun night? to deflect when he gets another text from Harry: it’s for girls. that’s why it's too small.

Louis’s stomach drops, and he’s falling, he’s falling. There’s no smiley or anything else in that text to indicate it’s a joke or meant to be laughed at, instead it’s a confession, a secret. Harry wants Louis to know he’s wearing a girl’s fuzzy blue onesie somewhere in Ireland, drunk and soft and pink-cheeked. Louis can’t breathe right; he’s lightheaded and unexpectedly half-hard as he texts back, that’s ok. u still look cute. And he doesn’t know if it’s reassurance or validation of flirting, really, and if at this point there’s even a distinction; all he knows is that his hands are shaking as he wipes his sweating palms onto his joggers, waiting for Harry to reply.

louis were u being serious when u said u wud do my mak up if i wanted? he sends, and Louis has to close his eyes for a moment, everything suddenly feeling hot and close and overwhelming as he reads it. Even then, he’s smiling to himself, smiling to his phone.

of course. u think i would lie bout something like that? he responds, hitting send with a tremulous thumb.

no!!! i just wanted to make sure :( Harry replies. Then, soon after, think u could do it next week sometime? when u stay at jy house?

Louis’s mind is racing, and so is his heart. He’s not sure why he’s turned on, but he is, his cock hot and thickening against his thigh, distracting enough that he palms up the length of it experimentally through his joggers. It’s not just the idea of Harry in makeup, Harry under his hands while he carefully dabs glitter onto his papery eyelids, lovely and soft. It’s the fact that Harry is asking him to do it, thinking about it while he’s on holiday and texting Louis about it while he’s tipsy and nervous. The whole of that, the shimmer and the vulnerability and the carefully worded texts, that’s what’s turning Louis on. All of it. It feels intimate.

I’d love to, he thinks, heart leaping up into his throat. I’d absolutely love that.

He doesn’t say that, though. It’s too much. Instead, he swallows methodically, listening to ten seconds of his own frenetically thudding pulse before typing back, sure! do u have makeup or should i bring some of my sisters lol? He hits send and continues to idly touch himself through his clothes, heat bleeding through the worn cotton, his whole body tight and itchy and aroused. Harry…Harry does this to him. Makes him trip, makes him fall.

l don’t have any, haha. so plz bring some if that’s ok. thx!!! also i’m excited :) Harry sends, and Louis’s stomach is plummeting, his hands are sweating, he’s made of fizz and fireworks and not just the fireworks but the fire itself, burning him out from the inside.

I am too haha, he texts back, and even with the laughter, it’s the truth. It feels terrifying to tell the truth over text, but he’s doing it anyway because Harry makes him insane, he makes him want to drop all pretenses and come crawling up on his hands and knees and confess, I’m falling for you. In fact, here I am, on the floor. I’ve already fallen.

The next morning, while the girls are eating breakfast, he sneaks into Lottie’s room, snatches a pink vinyl zippered pouch of makeup she has resting on a shelf in her bookcase, and puts it in the duffle he’s packing to take to Harry’s. There it sits, and Louis thinks of it often, aching with dual pangs of anticipation and yearning.

—-

It’s not like Louis was actually expecting to be alone with Harry. He knew the other lads were coming, that it was the point, really, to get to know each other before the next stage of the competition so that they could gel as a band. He hasn’t forgotten that bit, but somehow, he also hasn’t been anticipating having to share his time and Harry’s attention so much. It’s been two days already of swimming and footie and drinking around a bonfire singing along to Niall’s off-tune acoustic, and Louis’s having fun, sure, but he also misses Harry, misses the way they were a duo during bootcamp instead of two-fifths of an ensemble.

He doesn’t really know of a way to get Harry alone without making things weird or obvious or awkward, so he pretends he’s fine with it, that he’s just as interested in getting to know Niall and Zayn as he is interested in Harry. (He can’t really fake it with Liam, but that’s fine. Liam is just so uptight, and it’s sort of a riot to fluster him, so Louis might make it one of his priorities. It’s something he can devote special attention to that isn’t Harry, and he needs a distraction, otherwise he’s obvious, it all leaks out.)

If Harry misses him back, he doesn’t say anything. There are some private, knowing smiles and some sustained eye contact across the bonfire that make Louis’s stomach clench up, but he could be imagining it. Or it could mean nothing.

made a move yet? Hannah texts him on Wednesday, and he turns so red at the breakfast table that everyone notices.

no! he hammers back, fast and hard. what r u even talking about?

harry!!! she fires back, calling him out, and no one at the table can see, but they’re all staring at him anyway. “Your girlfriend back home?” Zayn asks, a sly smile quirking up the corner of his mouth, and Louis flicks his fringe out of his eyes, suddenly affronted by his own lie. He doesn’t want Zayn thinking Hannah makes him blush, he doesn’t want Harry thinking that.

“Shut up,” he grumbles, and everyone at the table catcalls, save for Harry, who pokes his bangers around on his plate with his fork, making them swim in their river of syrup. Louis swallows thickly and pockets his mobile.

Later, they swim until the sun shifts, the point when the pool grows too chilly in the shade. Louis scrambles out before everyone else and takes it upon himself to steal Liam’s towel and chuck it up onto the roof, cackling all the while. Remarkably, Liam breaks his very strict no running by the pool rule to chase Louis, who had been sort of counting on Liam remaining weird and rigid, so he’s caught off guard, yelping as he runs into the house, dripping everywhere. He vaults up the stairs and into the master bedroom’s en suite before slamming the door behind him. “M’naked!” he bellows when he hears Liam enter the bedroom, and there are some rules Liam just won’t break, like the one about not busting in on anyone while he’s changing. Liam sulks off, leaving Louis panting against the door, his trunks wet and clinging to him but still very much on.

It’s been two days since he had a wank, so he eyes the shower, shrugging. He supposes he deserves a bit of self-indulgence after an entire day of enduring Harry Styles fucking skinny-dipping, his pretty tan back angled sharp until it gives way to a childish softness at his hips, just above his tan line. His arse is so white, like two perfect scoops of vanilla ice cream, and that shouldn’t be sexy, but it is, and Louis has been feeling weak all day just looking at him, stealing furtive glances and pretending he isn’t ogling so much delectable skin drawn tight with goose flesh.

Louis’s already chubbing up, even in his wet trunks, so he turns on the water, shuffles out of his shorts, and watches the room fill with steam before stepping into it.

He’s thinking about Harry’s arse, the soft, sweet jiggle of it and how perfectly it would fill his hands if he ever got to kiss him while he’s cupping it and holding him flush up against his body, when he’s startled out of his idle wanking by a sharp rap at the door. “M’still naked, Payno,” he snaps, rolling his eyes.

“Lou, it’s me!” Harry yells, and Louis staggers, breath catching, heart pounding. He feels so caught that his prick actually softens a little, guilty. “Can I come in?”

“Sure,” Louis says, too fast, too eager, even though any idea he has when he’s startled out of a haze of steam and arousal can’t be a good one. He turns the water down so that it’s lukewarm because he has to make his boner truly disappear if he’s inviting Harry in here. “I really am naked, though.”

“Don’t care, I am, too,” Harry mumbles through chattering teeth, letting himself into the en suite and dropping his towel into a pile on the floor. “Budge over, I’m freezing,” he says, and then without any fucking warning, he’s opening the glass door to the shower, and Louis is suddenly paralyzed, hair a wet slick across his forehead, dripping into his stuck-open mouth.

Harry doesn’t notice that he’s falling apart. He just wrinkles his nose and turns the water up. “I like hot showers, sorry,” he says, nonsense that Louis can’t comprehend in this moment because Harry is naked and in the shower mere inches from him, shivering and slick and too close not to touch, at least on accident.

Louis’s a good actor; he recovers quickly, or at least he pretends to. “Is Payno crying downstairs?” he asks nonchalantly, bending down to grab a shampoo bottle off the tile. He stares at Harry’s weird bony feet shuffling together by the drain for a moment and thinks he must really fucking love this boy because he wants to kiss his ankle on his way up, he wants to brush his cheek up the odd jut of his knee. He likes the human, ugly parts of Harry, in fact, he doesn’t even think of them as ugly because somehow every strange, mismatched, or remotely awkward feature just seems to…work, or something. Harry’s always pretty, always an angel. Louis has heard of rose-coloured glasses before, but he doesn’t care. Harry is lovely cast in a faint haze of pink.

Louis sighs, rising to his full height as Harry explains, “He’s not sad, he’s mad. Says you’re gonna make the band fall apart because you’re volatile. Such rubbish, I had to leave. Couldn’t listen to it,” he explains, ducking his hair under the spray.

Liam is rubbish,” Louis retorts, squeezing a dollop of shampoo onto his palm. It’s vanilla scented, so now the billowing steam smells like milkshake and chlorine, and Louis is dizzy, floating in a dream, as he adds, “Let me wash your hair.”

He says it because he wants to and because you can say anything in a dream. Harry stands tall, rights his shoulders, and blushes all the way down his neck. Or maybe it’s just the hot water staining his skin pink, Louis doesn’t know. What he does know is that Harry’s throat bobs around a measured swallow, and he says,”Okay,” like it’s no big deal.

And maybe it isn’t for him, but Louis feels like he’s won something. Some silent struggle between what they’re supposed to be doing in the shower and what they're going to do. He feels like he’s one step closer to kissing this boy, one step closer to breaking down the barriers of ice and protocol and performance that stretch between them, simply because they’re lads, and they’re already doing things that not all lads do together. Texting about makeup. Standing inches apart, naked in a shower, eyes locked to keep from looking at one another’s bodies. Louis smiles without meaning to, a mix of reassurance and triumph, and then he plops his soapy hand right on top of Harry’s head.

He washes, holding his breath while he does it. This is harder than he expected, rubbing the shampoo into Harry’s wet, pool-water-sticky curls with his open palms, working hard to keep the hair off his forehead so that nothing drips down his face. He’s careful, so careful, making the gentlest scrunching motion, distributing the suds evenly, actually washing Harry’s hair, so that it isn’t obvious he’s looking for any excuse to touch, to baby, to take care of him. He wants Harry in so many ways, not just naked and slick and panting up against the glass shower wall but every other way, too. He wants to make him feel secure and safe and spoiled, like it’s not only okay but wonderful that he likes makeup, that he likes to smell of milkshake. “Curly,” Louis says faintly, pushing his hair up in a twist on top of his head and grinning. “S’thicker than mine, gonna need more shampoo.”

“Oh, it’s thicker than yours?! I wasn’t looking, to be honest, but if you say so,” Harry says cheekily, sticking his tongue out, and Louis instinctively covers his crotch, mouth falling open, scandalized.

“Harold! Mind your manners,” he snickers, but he can’t help letting his eyes skirt down Harry’s body now that below-the-belt territory has been brought up and not by him. His gaze sweeps easily over Harry’s skin, his muted musculature still visible under the layer of boyish softness, stomach tensing as he laughs. Louis blushes as his eyes fall inevitably on Harry’s dusky happy trail and then down to his cock, big and pretty even now, when he’s mostly soft, foreskin closed over the crown. He wants to pull it back, flick his tongue up into it. He wants to just cup Harry in his hand and feel him out, his shape and length and the weight of his sac, he wants to feel a boy get hard in the heat of his hand, this boy. His own cock is thickening up at the mere thought, which is terrible, so he bends down to cover himself up under the guise of getting more shampoo. “You are bigger than me,” he says in a conversational tone while he’s bending over, so that he doesn’t have to look at Harry, doesn’t have to make a fool of himself. “I wasn’t looking, s’just hard not to notice. Absolute massive beast you have there between your legs. Just saying.”

“Stop,” Harry giggles, covering his face. “You make me sound like a mutant.”

“Ideal sort of mutation to have, if I’m honest,” Louis says, righting himself and shrugging. “Close your eyes,” he tells Harry, wondering why he didn't think to ask for that earlier.

Harry obeys, lids fluttering closed. Louis wants to kiss them, but instead he lathers Harry’s hair again, tugging fistfuls of curls out to their end to coat them completely in shampoo, massaging it into his scalp, stealing lingering glances at Harry’s slick body while he’s at it. It’s the most thorough shampoo job he’s ever done in his entire life. He’s stalling.

“So,” Harry says, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, frowning. “This is gonna sound stupid, but, like, does it make it even sillier that I like to wear makeup since I have a decent-sized dick? Like, should I just be happy with what I have?”

Louis’s stomach seizes up. He’s naked in a shower with the boy he likes, and they’re talking prick sizes and makeup while he’s wrist-deep in his hair, and he’s not sure how he’s supposed to deal with this, if this is normal, or if he’s fallen into some sort of unintentional mentor role with Harry because he doesn’t tease him about his gender identity issues or whatever. And he’s not sure if that’s a good thing or not. “I don’t think it’s silly that you like to wear makeup. And I don’t think it has, like, anything to do with whether or not you’ve got a massive cock…unless you're more comfortable with stuff like that because you have a massive cock. Nothing to compensate for.”

Harry’s lips quirk up into a smile, and because his eyes are closed, Louis gets away with staring at them, the raspberry cupid’s bow shape, so kissable, bitable. “Thank you,” Harry murmurs, breath ghosting out over Louis’s face, which is terribly close, too close, probably. “For talking to me about this sort of stuff. S’really nice of you.”

“No problem, Curly. It’s simply part of my job at the salon,” he sighs, mostly joking, but he really is doing a spectacular job of shampooing Harry’s hair. His arms are starting to ache from holding them up for so long, but he doesn’t want to stop touching Harry; he wants it to go on forever.

Harry snorts. “But really, I appreciate it because, like, I’ve never really had someone to talk to about this stuff before who didn’t laugh at me.”

“Your friends are idiots,” Louis says dismissively, shrugging, wondering about that mentor role again, if he’s being weird, taking advantage. “Okay, I’m gonna rinse you now. So, like, tilt your head into the water?” he suggests, and Harry looks confused, so Louis just takes his shoulders in his hands and backs him up into the spray gently. “Tip your head back…yeah. Perfect. Okay,” he murmurs as he finger-combs Harry’s curls out in the water, canting his hips away from him because he’s definitely half-hard, definitely a mess. A rivulet of soapy water slides down Harry’s forehead, sluicing over his temple, and Louis winces. “Can you cover your eyes? Don’t wanna get shampoo in ‘em.”

Harry whimpers, pouting, but then his hands come up tentatively so that he can put his index, middle, and ring fingers together over his scrunched-shut eyes. Louis’s gaze flickers instinctively down into the few humid inches by which their separated, and he realizes with a dumb sort of shock that Harry didn’t want to move his hands because he was using them to cover his cock. Which is at least partially hard, bobbing noticeably, thick and red and hot, and oh. Louis’s hands stop moving, his heart stops beating.

“Sorry,” Harry whispers sheepishly, mouth twisting up at the corners. “S’not my fault. Just…you know. M’sixteen.”

Louis swallows noisily and doesn’t say anything because he can’t; his throat is thick and silent and aching, Harry’s hard, and Louis’s touching him. Maybe he’s even hard because Louis’s touching him. Louis is ten different kinds of hot and cold all at once, shivering as his stomach and cheeks burn in dual arousal and shame, too turned on to be properly mortified over the way his own cock further thickens, flexing so he has to step away because what if he and Harry touch, brush together in the space between their bodies? It’s not something he’s sure he could survive. “It’s fine,” he eventually makes himself say, even if it’s not, even if he’s lying. He wrings out a fist of Harry’s hair, watching as the lather slides down his wrist. Then he steps away. “Clean!” he announces brightly.

Harry’s eyes snap open, locking on Louis’s for a moment before flicking decidedly down between his thighs, where he’s cupping his hard on. Louis has small hands, and even though he’s not particularly big when he’s hard, it’s noticeable if not obvious, but Harry knows. Louis can tell by the way he pulls his plush lower lip between his teeth and bites down. By the way he gets blotchy and red, pupils all black, but he doesn’t say anything.

They soap themselves up silently and awkwardly, taking turns to rinse in the spray before turning the shower off, pretending that nothing has happened, that this is normal, that no lines have been crossed at all. And maybe they haven’t, Louis thinks as he dries his legs hastily, hair dripping onto the mat. Maybe this is normal for Harry, maybe he shares showers with his friends back home all the time and doesn’t have a crisis about it. Or maybe there aren’t lines to cross because Harry is taking cues from Louis, waiting for him to draw those lines, and Louis isn’t drawing anything at all because there are no lines for him where Harry is concerned.

“So tonight...,” Harry starts, making Louis flinch, startled out of his thoughts. “Tonight, maybe after the other boys are asleep, d’you think maybe you could do it? My makeup, I mean? If you’re still okay with it, anyway. Like…no pressure, I just…,” he trails off, shrugging, flushing so spectacularly that Louis has to choke back an audible gasp.

“Yeah, I’m down,” Louis manages to say, and Harry grins up at him brilliantly, dimples and white teeth and green eyes, and he really is so pretty, prettier than anything Louis has ever seen in his entire life, and he can feel his stomach plummeting before it ties itself in a knot. This is what Harry does to him.

“Cool,” Harry says. “We can, erm, do it in my room? The door locks, and there’s a big mirror and good light,” he explains.

“Great,” Louis says, feigning nonchalance. “I’ll meet you there once the other lads knock out. My blush brushes await, Princess.”

And Harry looks so grateful to be called such a thing that Louis wishes he could rewind time, if only to see his face awash in relief over and over again. Princess, princess. New and bright and awed, every time.

—-

After dinner, Niall puts on a horror movie without asking anyone. They all complain but plop down on the couch in a haphazard pile anyway, and Liam keeps threatening to turn it off, but he doesn’t, likely because Louis told him to shut up, and he and the rest of them sort of just do what Louis tells them to, whether or not he’s serious. He’s still getting used to the power; it’s just so easy, and he’s done nothing save for be older and louder than everyone else to earn it. “Sit by me,” he tells Harry, poking him in the dimple, and Harry sidles up next to him like a lap dog, warm and solid and thrumming, perhaps in anticipation of what’s happening later tonight, behind a locked door. Louis’s princess, who he watches in the dark, the soft round white of his cheek cast in flickering blue light from the telly. Louis sighs, shifting against Harry’s weight, wondering how fucking cliche and obvious it would be if he nonchalantly put his arm on the back of the couch, strategically behind Harry.

Luckily, he doesn’t have much time to deliberate because the music has gotten tense, and everyone knows a jump scare is coming, so Harry whines, ducking down to hide his face decidedly in Louis’s shoulder. All other thoughts suddenly vacate Louis’s mind, leaving him empty and buzzing and nervous and delighted, like a shaken up bottle of fizzy drink. He worms his arm around Harry’s shoulder (it’s okay because Harry touched him first), threading a hand into his downy, recently washed hair. I did that, he thinks as he makes a fist, pushing Harry’s head down further into his own shoulder so Harry sputters. He’s sweet and soft and shower-warm from me.

Louis’s heart flutters as something jumps out on the screen; he’s startled, but mostly it’s Harry’s sharp intake of breath, Harry flinching and burying his face in Louis’s neck, all gasps and shivers. “Get a hold of yourself, Harold,” Louis teases, pushing back against him, wrapping his arms around his shoulders and pulling him close to shake him up a little. The room is dark, and no one notices; Liam’s pretending not to be scared, Niall’s laughing at Harry for being scared, and Zayn’s eyes are fixed on the screen demurely while he munches crisps, like he’s too old for everyone here.

Louis’s happy to be ignored as long as he has Harry’s attention. Harry snuggles up against his side, brows knit together in worry, hands twisting in the sleeve of Louis’s hoodie as he squints at the screen like things will be less scary if he’s only half-looking. “I know it’s coming, every time, but I still end up startled,” he murmurs, and Louis’s eyes are on his lips, the periphery of his curls where they’re sticking up in front, fringe swept over his brow. Every curve and angle of him, lit up in blue glow.

“Do you need me to hold your hand?” Louis teases, and it’s a joke, he’s joking, even if that’s absolutely what he wants, wrapping his yearning up in laughter, in carelessness. It’s a trick, but he doesn’t care.

Harry keeps his eyes trained on the screen but mumbles, “Mmmhm,” before disentangling one hand from the mess of blankets between them and offering it to Louis. “Give it here.” They twine fingers, and Louis is certain Harry can feel his heartbeat through his skin, pulsing from his palm. Harry doesn’t look at him as they rest their joined hands on his lap, he just whimpers as the music changes again, shaking his hair out to cower behind a little. “Ugh, see, I know what’s gonna happen.”

Niall pops up before the actual jump scare, launching himself off the floor and out in front of Harry and Louis, obscuring the screen. Louis’s heart is in his throat, and he ends up digging his nails into Harry as they catapult together clumsily, and there’s a single moment of their skin brushing together in searing, perspiration-slick contact before they’re springing apart, as if they had been caught doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing. Louis’s stunned, confused, and reeling back onto the couch while Harry’s falling away from him and onto Niall, trying to land at least one of many ill-timed punches. “You fucking twat,” he yelps above Niall’s hysterics, going limp and collapsing to smother him since he can’t hit him.

Louis suddenly wishes he had been the one to scare Harry so that he could end up under him right now, in this moment, as Niall is. It’s an absurd thing to wish since he was holding his hand only seconds ago, but things move quickly, and his heart is everywhere Harry is, following him into every hallway, every dead end. He sighs, leaning forward and wedging his hands under Harry’s underarms to haul his laughter-weak body up next to him again. “You two are both embarrassing,” Louis sighs, patting the top of Harry’s head.

“Shut up, m’trying to actually hear,” Zayn gripes, and everyone gets quiet, Niall and Harry still stifling giggles. Harry shoots Louis an anxious look even though he’s still smiling, dimple a single dark indentation on this face, and Louis wants to rub his thumb over it so badly.

“Hey,” Harry whispers, learning in, breath all over Louis’s face, tickling against his ear. “You want…you want to? Now? I hate this movie.”

Louis closes his eyes, stomach dropping, everything sudden and hot. “Won’t they notice?” he whispers back, turning his face so that his nose brushes against Harry’s cheek gently, just a half-second of barely-there touch, but it feels so intimate that his breath catches. They have secrets, and they’re telling them.

Harry chews his lip and hisses, “Yeah, but who cares?” then he turns away from him abruptly and announces, “Guys, m’too scared, and this sucks...Lou and I are gonna go play Wii in my room.”

There’s a unanimous grumble of acknowledgement and a snicker from Niall, but nothing beyond that, so Harry beams, standing up and hauling Louis to his feet after him, bright eyes glittering in the dark. See? he mouths, and Louis does, even if he’s nervous, wound too tight as he pads along behind Harry down the hallway and into his room.

They lock the door behind them, wheezy laughter and the kind of energy that flickers, like a flame held up to an unsteady breeze. “Ok,” Harry says, bright pink and all pupil. “Let’s do it.”

—-

Louis insists they play at least one game of Mario Kart, just so they aren’t lying. And he doesn’t care about lying, not on any other day, but he desperately needs to buy time, get his hands to stop shaking. How is he supposed to touch Harry and use those ridiculously small, fiddly eyeshadow applicators if his hands are shaking?

They finish the round, and even in spite of his trembling, Louis comes in first, and Harry doesn’t even place. “Are you nervous?” he asks, making it sound like if Harry is nervous, he’s ridiculous for it. “M’not judging you, y’know. And m’not gonna hurt you,” he promises, swallowing thickly as Harry drops his gaze, playing absently with the controller in his lap, stalling.

“I know, s’not that, s’just…it’s, like, basically the first time I’ve ever done this type of thing, but, like…seriously. Without having to make a joke of it. I’m just…I guess I’m excited. I don’t know,” he shrugs, flushed and sheepish.

Louis beams. “Good,” he says quietly. “I’ll try and make a decent go of it, then.”

“You said you were practically an expert, I thought,” Harry teases, crawling over to Louis on his hands and knees, gaze shifting to the door to make sure it’s locked before he deposits himself on the carpet, legs loosely crossed. “Was that false advertisement?”

No,” Louis chides. He’s rummaging around in his duffle, lips pursed as he uncovers the pink vinyl zippered pouch. “I get put on makeover duty a lot when I’m babysitting, but that’s, like…with me sisters. And the oldest is eleven, so I wouldn’t say they’re, like, the most ladylike makeovers. I’ll see what I can do.”

Harry grins, toying with the strings of his purple Jack Wills hoodie, watching intently as Louis dumps the contents of the pouch in a puff of glitter between them. It’s sort of a mess; an eyeshadow or something got crushed into an iridescent dust in transit, and everything else is coated in a fine silver sheen because of it. Louis’s fingers come away shimmering as he arranges everything, compacts of blush and sticks of eyeliner, tubes of mascara, lip gloss, other things he only half-recognizes. “Okay,” he says, taking a deep breath. “You don’t have, like, an elastic or a hair grip or anything?”

Harry shakes his head. “Do we need one?”

“No...,” Louis starts, reaches out and brushing his fingers through Harry’s fringe, feeling brave and high, even, dizzy with the way they’re sitting close and conspiring, the way they have secrets locked behind this door. A muffled scream followed by some laughter comes from the other room, and he’s so relieved that he’s in here with Harry instead. “Just...I’ll need to have your curls off your forehead, out of your eyes. So I can see you properly.”

“Hmm, I might have, like, a headband, from sports…,” Harry trails off, cocking his head before getting back on all fours to dig through his chest of drawers.

“For sports,” Louis mocks. “Very manly, for the boy I’m about to make over.”

“Heeeey, you said you wouldn’t tease me,” Harry pouts, pulling out a black elastic headband triumphantly and tugging it down over his head before pushing it back up, lifting his hair off his brow. His face is so pale and glowy exposed like this, with nothing to hide behind, and he looks a little older to Louis, an actual teenager with his spotty hairline and peach fuzz on his jaw. It’s sort of breathtaking. He settles back down in front of Louis, closes his eyes, and mumbles, “Have at me.”

Louis swallows, and his throat clicks. “Okay,” he says with fake confidence, grabbing a big blush brush and a compact of pale foundation because he’s pretty sure that’s where he’s supposed to start. He’s seen his mum cover up blotchy bits and spots with a cream foundation before the powder, but he likes Harry’s spots, and he doesn’t want to cover them up, plus he doesn’t see any of that stuff anyway. He clicks open the compact with his thumbnail and gets some of it on the brush before experimentally sweeping it across the slope of Harry’s cheekbone, gentle and soft, just to make sure it’s the right color. Harry flinches, then smiles, then tries to stifle his smile, and Louis has to close his eyes for a second and take a deep breath. He’s in love, and he doesn’t know what he’s doing; everything is charged and tense and tender all at once, and he doesn’t want to break anything, he doesn’t want to ruin it. “You have the same complexion as Lottie, apparently,” he offers, brushing more foundation over Harry’s cheeks and forehead, just getting him sort of powdery in the spots where he’s faintly shiny with oil and perspiration. He puts his tongue in his cheek while he works, trying to focus, trying not to think too much about the way a flush is climbing up Harry’s neck, the way he can smell candy and popcorn on his exhalations, sweet and salty.

“Tickles,” Harry murmurs, lips twitching up into another smile.

“Shh, Harold, you’ll mess me up,” Louis tells him, but they’re both sort of giggling, quiet and nervous. “Okay, your face is done. You look very…even.”

“Even? Is that good?” Harry asks, cracking one eye open to peer at Louis, who’s spreading out a few different eyeshadow sets, sort of overwhelmed by all the options. “What next?” Harry adds.

“Well, m’gonna put some eyeliner on you and then eyeshadow…what color do you want, though? There are, like…a lot. We’ve got brown, gold, purple, blue, pink….,” he trails off, gaze flicking up to Harry, who’s chewing his lips in contemplation. Lips that Louis is going to be glossing up soon, lips Louis has fantasized about entirely too many times and in too much depth, endless late nights and early mornings with hazy versions of those lips in his mind’s eye, parted and spit-slicked. He looks away, cheeks suddenly burning.

“Purple,” Harry says, nodding to himself. “I mean…m’gonna do this if m’doing this, yeah?”

“That’s the spirit!” Louis tells him, nodding encouragingly and grabbing the purple eyeshadow. It’s not a nice, plum purple or anything, it’s sort of gaudy and cheap, with fine glitter crushed into it, but Louis supposes that’s just what happens when you steal your eleven-year-old sister’s makeup to seduce boys. “Eyes closed,” he orders.

Harry’s lashes flutter against his cheek, nose wrinkling as Louis tries to do his eyeliner, which is actually…really hard. It’s crumbly and dry, and his eyelids are crinkly so it comes out uneven, and Louis panics a little before he remembers that his mum always holds her eyeliner pencil up to the light above the bathroom sink to soften it up a bit before she puts it on. He follows suit, pursing his lips as he moves to heat up the eyeliner with Harry’s bedside lamp. “What are you doing?” Harry asks, shivering.

“Mum tricks,” Louis explains, examining the pencil, satisfied. He crawls back to Harry and gets to work. “Ah, better,” he whispers, holding the tail of Harry’s eye to the side with his thumb and pulling the skin taut so he can draw a nice, decent line across his upper lid. It’s much easier, thick and smeary this time, so he can blend it with a tentative fingertip.

“S’warm,” Harry says.

You’re warm,” Louis fires back, and it was meant to be a joke, same as anything, but it comes out wrong, gentle because everything he’s doing right now is gentle; he has Harry under his hands, and he doesn’t want to stab him in the eye, he wants to make him feel pretty. And Harry is warm, he really is, radiating so much heat that Louis’s sweating, trembling, wondering how many more weird things he can say before Harry catches on to what’s happening.

“Thank you,” is all Harry says, muffled since he doesn’t want to open his mouth too wide.

Louis does his other eye, making sure they’re at least sort of even before moving on to the eyeshadow. He uses the little foam-sponge wand thing to brush it over Harry’s eyelids, breath held as the loose powder drifts down a little onto Harry’s cheeks, but it mostly stays where it’s supposed to. He carefully smudges it in with his thumbs, then decides in a fit of inspiration that it would look nice with some gold, so he puts a little of that above the crease, blending them together into a messy, but pretty, shimmer. “Okay, mascara next,” he murmurs, unscrewing the tube and making a face.”Smells weird,” he says.

“I think it smells nice,” Harry shrugs. Then, “Should I open my eyes for this?”

“Right, I suppose you should,” Louis tells him, and he should be, like, prepared for the way Harry looks all made up since he fucking did it, but as Harry blinks, batting his lashes, Louis feels like all the air has been sucked forcibly from his lungs. Harry looks gorgeous, sort of tacky like a little girl wearing makeup to a birthday party, but the purple goes really well with the green of his eyes, they’re even bigger and more stunning ringed in kohl, and Louis…Louis loves him, so he’s staring.

“What?” Harry asks, raising his brows. “Did you fuck up?”

“No!” Louis snaps, poking him right in the center of his chest with the mascara wand, putting a black smear on the W of Wills. “Just...you look different. It surprised me.”

“Good different? Or, like…stupid different?” Harry asks, brow knit in genuine insecurity, and no, Louis doesn’t want that.

“Not stupid,” Louis says quickly. “Just…different. I dunno. You need mascara, so can you keep your eyes, like…half-open?” he orders, desperate for a job, a subject change, anything to take attention off the fact that he’s stunned and dry-mouthed and wants so desperately to touch.

Okay, bossy,” Harry sighs, smiling again, cheeks so pink he won’t need blush. Louis tries to get a hold of himself, tries to breathe. He carefully, so carefully applies the mascara, then decides on tinted lip gloss instead of lipstick for Harry’s mouth because there's only fire-truck red and orange, for some reason, and neither of those will look good with the purple.

He needs Harry to pucker up, but he can’t make himself say the words, so he just says, “I’m gonna do your lips,” which isn’t actually all that much better. He’s blushing spectacularly as he smudges the gloss on with the brush, stomach in knots because he’s basically touching Harry’s lips, watching the plush swell of them get shiny and lewd and glistening with each stroke. Harry purses them when he's done, getting an even sheen, and Louis sits back with his heart in his throat.

“Am I done?” Harry asks, eyes flying open, a sucker punch to the gut again.

“Yeah,” Louis says, sort of strangled. “It’s not a half-bad job, either. Wanna see?” He’s reaching for a compact mirror, but Harry’s already standing on unsteady legs to check himself out in the big dresser mirror, eager even as he’s trying not to seem that way. “What do you think?” he asks, throat still stuck.

“Oh, wow,” Harry breathes, turning left and right, tilting his chin down his chest and looking up coyly at his reflection through clotty black lashes. Louis’s eyes burn; they’re hot and teary, and this…it shouldn’t feel like such a raw, private thing to watch, but it does. “I look…wow. That’s a lot of eyeshadow.”

Louis releases a breath he didn’t even know he was holding. “Too much?”

“No, I love it..it’s just…crazy. I can’t even believe it’s me,” Harry murmurs, leaning so close to the mirror his nose brushes against it, like he’s trying to fall in. “It doesn’t even look like me.”

“Yes, it does, it just looks like a preteen-girl-at-her-birthday-party version of you,” Louis says lightly, half-kidding. Harry turns to him, though, shiny pink lips twisted into a pout.

“Really? Preteen birthday? That’s terrible,” he sighs, sinking back to the floor in front of Louis. He tugs his headband off carefully and shakes his hair out, and it only makes the whole thing prettier, Harry’s pretty face framed in his pretty curls. Louis takes a deep breath.

“I was kidding, Harold. It doesn’t look like that...it looks cool,” Louis says, finishing lamely with cool because he doesn’t trust himself to say good, to say nice. Everything is too much and not enough, and the truth is that Harry looks beautiful, and Louis wants him, wants to pull him in by the strings of his hoodie and get his fingers in his mouth.

“Cool?” Harry says skeptically, eyes scanning the tubes and compacts still littered in a mess all over the carpet. “No lipstick?” he asks, poking at the tube of orange.

“None of the colors would have worked, really. Plus, your lips are already, like…so pink, they don’t really need it…,” Louis trails off, regretting it the second it’s out because what boy notices the pinkness of another boy’s lips, if he’s not looking at them all the time? It’s a tell, and he knows it, but Harry’s half-smiling at him anyway, poking at the corner of his mouth with his tongue.

“They’re really pink, I know, I used to hate it. I thought it made me look too girly, but it’s fine now, I think...I don’t mind it too much anymore,” he shrugs.

“Now that you’ve embraced your true self?” Louis jokes, even though none of this, none of it, is a joke to him.

“Yeah,” Harry mumbles, gaze dropping to his lap before he sits up straight, righting his shoulders and looking Louis in the eye, sharp and intentional. Louis’s heart leaps into his throat. “So, how do I look? Satisfied with your makeover?” Harry asks, batting his lashes and pursing his lips, and Louis’s still reeling from hearing Harry say that he used to hate his own devastating, life-ruiningly perfect mouth, so maybe that’s why he says it, why he doesn’t land the joke just right.

“M’pretty satisfied,” he answers, before it just falls out, heavy, blood-slick. True. “And you look…you look kissable.”

It hangs in the air between them, no lilt and no humor. Just bare and raw and trembling, that Harry looks like he’s meant to be kissed, that Louis is the one who should be kissing him. Louis is stuck knee-deep in the quicksand of his own mortified silence when Harry looks at him, eyes locked like it’s a challenge, and says, “Then kiss me.”

Louis sputters; maybe he hasn’t heard him right, maybe he’s deaf, maybe he’s dreaming, but Harry’s looking at him with those black-ringed, purple-gold eyes, glitter on his lips, and all Louis wants is to know how sweet he tastes. To suck the gloss off him until there’s nothing left, nothing but Harry’s spit and his mouth, raw and swollen between Louis’s teeth, faintly metallic because Louis would never be able to get through it without biting him. He inhales raggedly, and asks, “…what?”

“Unless you don’t want to,” Harry adds, chewing his bottom lip. He sounds uncertain, and Louis’s heart sort of cracks. He’s supposed to do something else, he’s supposed to say, It wouldn’t be fucking around with one of my mates if I kissed you, Harry, it would be the end of one world and the beginning of everything else. It would be my first kiss with a boy. It would be my first kiss with someone I loved. It would be an earthquake, a storm. He can’t say any of those things, though, so his silence stretches on, and Harry says, meekly, “You don’t have to if you don’t want to, I just thought—,” but Louis cuts him off with a nervous, reflexive laugh because what?! The thought that he might not want to…that want or lack thereof is the issue here, that it’s anything other than him worrying that if he kisses Harry he might not ever be able to stop is laughable.

“C’mere,” he says weakly, because anything else might make him buckle, too much weight to bear. “Just...c’mon.”

Harry blinks for a moment, startled, as if he didn't hear Louis right, but then his eyes flash. He pitches forward on his hands and knees, and Louis gets a hand in the neck of his purple hoodie and pulls him in, shaking all over, shaking and shaking. Harry climbs onto his lap, straddling him there on the carpet with his knees splayed awkwardly over Louis thighs, his fringe brushing against Louis’s forehead as he gets close, hot breath, jelly-sweet. Louis looks at his soft, parted lips for a single moment of suspended shock and disbelief before he’s taking Harry’s powdery face between his palms and kissing him.

It’s soft, at first. Just their lips bumping together, breath trembling out, and Louis can feel Harry’s heart beating in his throat where one of his pinkie fingers is resting, or maybe it’s his own heart? He doesn’t know; the blood in his ears is deafening, and Harry smells like makeup and sugar and boy and sweat, and even before they’re truly kissing, it’s the sharpest, hottest moment Louis has ever lived through. Like he’s been asleep his whole life and is just now waking up under the weight of Harry’s body, against the trembling velvet of his mouth as they share a few slow, dizzying presses of their lips.

Louis wants to taste, but he can’t make himself do it, too many things are overwhelming him, like Harry’s skin getting sweat-dewy under his palms, and the almost inaudible whimpery sound he makes when Louis instinctively slides his fingers up into his hair to anchor himself, making a fist. He wants and he wants, but before he can lick up into the heat of Harry’s mouth, Harry is doing it first, prodding gently with the tip of his tongue, and Louis groans without meaning to, stunned. He opens up, and then he’s falling back onto the carpet, Harry following, Harry on top of him, and everything is fire and ash and eyeshadow and gloss and wet.

Their tongues swirl together, and Louis is pulling Harry’s hair with one hand, sliding the other down the neck of his hoodie to find skin, to rub a desperate palm over the knobs of his spine where his fingers seem to notch perfectly. He licks the sugar from the corners of Harry’s mouth, everything sticky until it’s slick, and all the while, Louis thinks broken things, like please, and god, and over and over again, is this really happening?

Harry’s panting like he can’t breathe, grinding down against Louis’s stomach, wild and graceless, and Louis realizes that he’s hard, burning up between the drag of their bodies. “Fuck,” he gasps as he feels it, head falling back so their kiss breaks, leaving Harry to mouth messily down the ripple of Louis’s throat. He’s seeing stars, and Harry is suffocating and clumsy, and Louis can’t, can’t get enough of him, wants all of him, everywhere and forever.

“I want…can we get off together?” Harry asks in a rasp, looming above Louis and blocking the light, hair a wreck and makeup smudged down one cheek, like a solitary tear track. Louis’s chest gets so tight because he loves him, loves this boy so much and so dangerously that he feels like he’s splitting apart, like he’ll never be the same again.

“Yeah, okay,” he mumbles. Getting off together isn’t the same as making each other come, it’s like sharing a wank with your mate instead of sex, instead of fucking, but Louis will take what he can get where Harry is concerned. “Up…get on your back,” he says, because he knows how he wants to get off and where. He pushes at Harry’s shoulders and is moved at how easily he goes, how he allows Louis to put him down and lay him out on the carpet, creamy skin flushed and streaked in glittery eyeshadow. Louis rolls on top of him, hikes one of his legs up so he can fit himself between them, and then they’re grinding for real, cocks rubbing together between two layers of fabric, and still, Louis can feel the heat bleeding through, can feel Harry twitching and flexing against him.

It’s so much, and again he wonders, is this really happening? Harry’s noises cut through the sudden humidity of the room, loud enough that the other boys could hear if they were listening, but Louis wants Harry all to himself, so he bends and catches his mouth, swallowing all his groans. They dry-hump rhythmlessly on the floor, time getting lost, the world reduced to labored breaths and kisses so sloppy that Louis has spit all over his chin, his tongue stinging. When Harry gets close, Louis knows. He can tell by the whining sounds he’s making deep in his throat, by the way he pulls away from their kisses to let his head fall back, rolling against the carpet. “Oh, my god,” Harry groans, clutching desperately at Louis’s shoulders, holding on. “Oh, god, fuck, Louis,” he gasps, and Louis wants to cry because his name has never sounded as good as it does in Harry’s ragged, fucked-out voice. It’s the prettiest thing.

When Harry comes, Louis’s heart stops. It happens in a series of big, lurching snaps of his hips, like his whole body is lightning, and Louis is stunned, gasping as he watches it, cock dripping in his joggers. When he gets himself off, he usually comes silently and with little movement, never like this, with every nerve and muscle pulled tight and eyes rolled back. He wonders if this is new for Harry, or if it’s always this good, if he always just lets himself go. Harry’s still shivering with aftershocks as he finishes, and Louis pulls him close, kissing his slack, gasping mouth, down his jaw, and over his Adam's apple as he fumbles into his own pants to bring himself off, Harry’s sweat still salty on the roof of his mouth.

It takes close to nothing with Harry right here, Harry trembling, all breath even as he gives Louis his tongue to suck on, reduced to whimpers and shivers. And that’s how Louis comes, gasping into Harry’s open mouth, their legs twined, light exploding somewhere inside him.

He rolls off Harry to breathe, and they lie side by side, staring at the ceiling, chests rising and falling rapidly and in tandem. Seconds pass, maybe minutes, maybe a lifetime, maybe everyone else in the world has died, and Harry and Louis are all that’s left, two boys floating in nothing, alone in this room. Louis blinks and blinks; it takes so long for the haze of static to fade. He can hear Harry’s breathing still as labored as his own slows, and he’s terrified to look at him, at Harry, who he kissed so roughly, teeth in his lip, tongue in his throat. Harry, who has his nail marks in his back now, who he loves so much it hurts him, like deadweight in his heart now that the orgasm high has worn off, and he’s sweaty and heavy-limbed and scared.

“Wow,” Harry says eventually, rubbing his foot up Louis’s shin, a touch so sudden it makes him flinch. “I…god.”

“Yeah….,” Louis manages, voice so hoarse he has to clear his throat to actually make sense, to be heard. “Are you alright?”

“M’hmm,” Harry mumbles, lifting up a hand to shield his eyes from the light that’s still on above them, bright enough that Louis has two spots obscuring his vision when he blinks. Harry spreads his fingers in the air above them, and Louis notices that there’s a tremble to them, that they shake against the glow. “I was hoping you might want to do that with me,” Harry adds.

“I...me, too,” Louis answers after a moment of caught breath. It’s too little for such a big thing, but his heart is choking him, his voice is so wrecked, and he doesn’t want to fuck things up before they even really get started, before he knows what this is. “Was the makeup, like…a ploy to get me to this? Or did you really want me to do it?”

Harry laughs, but it’s more like a bark, loud and sudden and snorting. “No, no, no, I really did want you to do the makeup. I like it so much. Like…the way it looks, sure, but also, just…you doing it. I dunno. It was so nice,” Harry confesses, rolling onto his side and throwing his arm over Louis’s ribcage, over the frantic thud of his heart, and it startles Louis, but he doesn’t want him to move, so he grabs his arm and holds it fast. “Thank you,” Harry mumbles against his shoulder, “for fooling around with me but also for the makeup thing. I felt really pretty. Might not have been brave enough to do anything if I hadn’t felt pretty like that, so…yeah.”

“You’re very welcome,” Louis says, so happy that Harry is still touching him, that he hasn’t rolled away and pretended like nothing happened, which is what he’s always been half-worried might happen with his first boy.

His first boy. Louis’s stomach drops, twisting at the realization, hot and dirty. He turns his head, burying his face in Harry’s curls. His first boy, with his cherry-red mouth and mascara smudges down his cheek; his first boy; who’s also his first love, and all of it, all of it, seems so huge. He inhales shakily and shuts his eyes against the overhead glare. “M’glad you feel pretty,” he admits eventually, trailing his fingers up Harry’s arm gently, stunned that he’s getting away with such soft, idle touch. “You are pretty, by the way.” His cheeks burn as he says it, and he’s glad Harry’s not looking at him, that he can’t see his blush.

“Really?” Harry asks, sounding sleepy.

“Yeah. A pretty, pretty princess,” he half-jokes, referring to some kid’s toy he thinks his sisters once had, a dress-up board game, maybe. Harry shivers against him, and he can feel his smile against the skin of his arm, his mouth twisting up against him.

Louis smiles to the ceiling, wondering, is this really happening?

—-

They end up changing out of their sticky joggers to play a few more rounds of Mario Kart and then pretend to sleep when Niall comes and knocks on Harry’s door, asking if they’re still alive. Harry’s waiting the other boys out so he can wash his makeup off properly without the risk of anyone seeing, but Louis secretly hopes he’ll go to bed with it on, so that he can see it smudged onto his pillow in the morning, rubbed off and down his cheeks. Louis’s pretty sure they’re sleeping in here tonight alone together, which is thrilling but also terrifying because he isn’t over the magnitude of kissing his first boy, of feeling Harry come against him, the most perfect and wondrous thing.

At some point, the other lads fall asleep, and Harry and Louis are free to sneak out to brush their teeth and wash up. Louis leaves Harry in the bathroom to deal with his makeup alone; he wants too much, and he doesn’t know how to check himself, how to keep himself from pushing Harry up against the counter and kissing him again, getting his hands up under his hoodie. Louis wants and he wants and he wants like an avalanche, like a tidal wave, and he has no idea what Harry wants or what they’re doing at all, so he needs to keep a distance, for now. Sit on his hands, fix up his sleeping bag on the floor while Harry washes his face so it doesn’t seem like he wants to be sharing space with him constantly. (Even if he does.)

Harry comes back bright-cheeked and shiny and scrubbed looking, and Louis wants to kiss his cheeks, but instead he shakes his fringe out of his eyes and says, “You want me to take the floor, or are you feeling hospitable?”

Harry shrugs, turns down his sheets, and says, “I don’t mind sharing, if you don’t.”

“I don’t mind,” Louis says, swallowing.

They talk about everything and nothing for the better part of an hour then, lying side by side on Harry’s single bed, close but not touching, as if they didn’t get off in their pants together earlier that night. As if Louis can't still feel the way Harry’s mouth spread open under his, molten and perfect, the hottest sweetest thing he’s ever tasted. He’s worried, but he’s trying not to be, and anyway, he loves talking to Harry, learning about his past and his history and about the things he loves, his favorite songs, his more embarrassing stories, his ex-girlfriend who lived a whole forty-minute train ride away. It hurts distantly to hear about a whole life that doesn’t involve him, about girls he’s loved, but at the same time he wants to know everything there is to know about Harry. He’ll swallow every detail, even the ones that taste bitter.

Eventually, they start to yawn, and Harry’s eyes get heavy, lids half-shut, so they flick the light off and kick their way under the duvet. Louis’s heartbeat is like a metronome in the night, quick and steady and entirely too loud. They lie back to back, but now that he’s here, Louis isn’t sleepy anymore; he’s tense and scared, and his stomach keeps dropping every time Harry sighs or shifts or exhales. He can’t stop thinking about the fact that they kissed; they kissed so much his lips felt raw and swollen, and now they’re lying with their spines aligned, cold and too far apart, and it’s a small thing, a thing that shouldn’t matter because Louis shouldn't have expectations, but Harry is right there, and Louis just… wants to hold him. There’s not a single thing he wants more in the world, so he lies there for entirely too long to work up the nerve before he rolls over and gently, gently curls his arm around Harry’s ribcage, holding his breath. “Is this okay?” he whispers, lips ghosting against the curls at the back of Harry’s neck, soft and ticklish.

“Yes,” Harry mumbles, finding Louis’s forearm and squeezing it clumsily. “S’good. I hoped you would, actually.” And Louis lets himself be comforted to sleep by the thought of Harry’s hope.

When he startles awake hours later, he forgets where he is. It’s too black to see, and he’s so hot that he’s sweating, perspiration making his shirt stick to him as he shifts under the duvet, kicking it off reflexively. It’s with a sharp, overwhelming stomach plummet the he remembers it’s Harry who’s so solid and burning against him, and even then, he only remembers because Harry is moving, shifting back and forth, nudging up against Louis’s hips with his arse, and oh. That’s why everything is so hot, why Louis is breathless and hard and damp in the middle of the fucking night. Harry’s rubbing his perfect little bum against his cock, rocking into him rhythmically in his sleep. Fuck. Louis’s arm tightens around his body, pulling him closer even though he doesn’t mean to, he probably shouldn’t. It’s just that everything is hazy and too-dark, and he can’t fucking breathe because everything smells like Harry, and the scent of his hair and his breath and his ripe teenage sweat makes Louis hungry, makes him harder, makes him insane. He thrusts back against the curve of Harry’s arse, dizzy and confused and unbearably turned on, so hot he’s on fire, he’s burning up, and then Harry makes a sound. Something cut off and quiet, involuntary, like his breath is stuck in his throat and trying to get out.

Then, unmistakably, “Lou? Are you awake?”

He doesn’t sound like he’s been sleeping. He sounds like he’s been awake for longer than Louis has, like he’s been lying here grinding against Louis consciously, and Louis is still so delirious he doesn’t know what that means, but he knows it’s the fucking sexiest thing that’s ever happened to him, and that he’s the luckiest person alive, probably. “I think so,” Louis murmurs, hips stuttering, shifting.

Harry is all gasps, backing his tight arse up so that Louis’s cock lines up against the crack, nudges up against his tailbone through a thin layer of cotton because Harry’s wearing nothing but a pair of tiny grey threadbare pants. Louis tried so hard not to stare when they got into bed, but now that they’re grinding in the dark, panting and shifting and humping, slick with sweat, he’s remembering in stark clarity how good Harry looked, all that golden skin.

His hands are suddenly all over Harry without him even making the conscious decision to touch, pushing up under his tee-shirt, rubbing over his padded hips, the downy hair below his navel, his chest up to his nipples, which are drawn tight and puffy under Louis’s palm. Fuck, fuck. Louis is in heaven and dying all at once, he’s touching Harry Styles, he’s making him whimper, he’s fucking the hot crease of his arse. He doesn’t even know what he’s doing or how he’s doing it because he’s sleep-drunk, and every second is so searing and perfect that he’s only half-sure it’s real, just soft skin and nervy pleasure and heat, heat, heat. Harry’s voice muffled against his pillow, Harry’s body moving shamelessly, Harry’s sweat, Harry’s breath.

I love you, Louis thinks, because it’s easier to think huge, devastating, scary thing when he’s half-asleep and lost in darkness. I love you, and I love your body, and I love your laugh, and I love everything about you. Want to fuck you, want to get my hands between your thighs and feel your prick, want it in my mouth, want to choke on you, want to come inside you. Want you, want you. Love you.

Louis gasps wordlessly as he thrusts, vision nearly whiting out from overwhelm, so close that his abdominals are tightening up, but then Harry reaches around frantically, getting a hand between their bodies, messing up Louis’s rhythm.

Louis thinks he’s gonna touch his cock, and that thought alone has him half-sobbing into the damp crease of Harry’s neck, but then he realizes that Harry’s fumbling with his own waistband, pushing his pants down around his thighs, putting one less layer of cotton between them, and jesus. Louis’s choking back tears as he does the same, struggling out of his joggers so he can have Harry skin to skin, and in seconds, his cock is nudging up against the soft curve of Harry’s arse unobstructed, then into the crack of it because Harry’s holding himself open with one hand, wanking furiously with the other.

Louis has never felt anything like it. Harry’s sweat-sticky and soft and absolutely on fire, so hot at his core where he’s split open for him.

There’s nothing but hot and wet and ache. Louis opens his mouth on Harry’s neck and comes, fucking his crack so deeply that the head of his cock is rubbing against Harry’s twitching hole and slicking him in come, getting it everywhere. It’s messy and filthy, and Louis’s falling apart, tensing and spasming so much that the mattress creaks underneath them. The sound Harry makes into his pillow is so loud, entirely too loud, broken and animal, the hottest fucking thing because it sounds like he's coming, but Louis knows he isn’t, that he hasn’t yet. He’s about to unstick the hand he has glued to Harry’s side so he can touch Harry’s cock (he’s so desperate for it, god, so desperate, he wants to so badly he’s shaking), but before he recovers enough to move, Harry lets out a plaintive yelp and grinds down hard into the mattress, fucking his own fist to finish.

Louis holds him through it because it’s all he can do.

When Harry finally rolls over, it’s to find Louis’s mouth in the dark, and thank god because Louis has been dying to kiss him. Their kisses are sloppy, dirty. Tongues fucking lazily in and out of one another’s mouth, no grace and too much spit, and Louis wants this forever. He wants Harry to be his so he can kiss him like this whenever he wants, roll around in bed with him and snog him so hard he sees static, hands everywhere, come slick on his thighs as Harry tangles their legs, every morning and every night. Always, for the rest of Louis’s life.

They kiss and kiss, and Louis doesn’t slow down until the sun begins to creep up over the horizon, the dawn light bleeding in through the curtains. Louis can see Harry’s wreck of hair, or at least the shape of it, see how fucking obscene his mouth has gotten from so many bites, swollen and huge and dark. Louis has to stop himself then, sweeten his kisses so they’re tender, so there’s no teeth, so he’s suckling gently where Harry’s raw, where he’s broken him. It’s just because it wants to look at him, now that he can. See what he did to him. God, you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, he wants to tell him, but speaking seems impossible since they haven’t in so long, so he tries to just kiss the words into him, burn them into his pulse, his shoulder, his temple.

Eventually, Harry sighs and settles back, pulling away when Louis tries to chase that terrible mouth again. “What?” Louis whispers, studying Harry’s blinking gaze in the cool grey of morning.

Harry looks down and brings his hand up, chewing on the side of his finger thoughtfully. “Can I ask you a question?” he rasps after a moment.

“Of course,” Louis murmurs, smoothing a hand down Harry’s shoulder to his elbow, where he gently fits his thumb. He’s too dizzy-drunk on everything still to anticipate what’s coming or even to worry about it. He can still taste Harry, and that seems like the only thing that matters, somehow.

“You won’t be mad?” he asks, eyes flicking up to meet Louis’s.

“No,” Louis whispers, and he won’t. No matter what it is.

Silence stretches between them, and there’s nothing but quiet breath, their fevered heartbeats. Then, Harry inhales shakily, like he’s about to plunge head first into cold water.

“Are you pretending that I’m a girl?” is what he asks.

Louis’s eyes get wide, his stomach twists up. It’s so far from anything he was expecting that he doesn’t know how to respond. He’s so confused, so caught off guard that he actually sounds offended when he replies with a sharp, “No! Not at all… not even a little bit. God. Why would you ask that?”

“Heeyy,” Harry murmurs, even though he looks a little relieved, softening like taffy in the sun. “It’s a legitimate concern!”

“No, it isn’t! Why would you…have I done anything…,” Louis sputters, still stunned, and then Harry stuns him even further by making an incredulous, skeptical noise in his throat.

“Yes, you have! Like, just now...now that it’s getting light and you can see me properly, you stopped snogging me so hard, and last night, I had all that makeup on, but I don’t now. And then before, you were behind me, against my back,” and he flushes so deeply at this point that Louis knows he means arse, you came against my arse, didn’t feel my prick, didn’t touch me there. He trails off, staring decidedly at the center of Louis’s chest so he doesn’t have to meet his eyes. “And you have a girlfriend,” he adds quietly. “So I don’t know.”

And Louis…well. He had forgotten, really, about Hannah. He’d been so wrapped up in having his first real gay experience that it hadn’t even occurred to him what Harry might be thinking this whole time, that he was just messing about with a boy when he had a girl back home. That he might be confused. He squeezes Harry’s arm tightly, dragging him close enough for their foreheads to bump together on his pillow. “Harry,” he says voice so quiet. “Hannah isn’t my girlfriend. I lied about that to get on the X Factor...because...otherwise, it’s really, really obvious...that I'm gay.”

It sits there, in their nervous combined breath. The first time Louis has ever told someone out loud, let alone another boy, and it’s the craziest feeling, really. Like his chest is a whole entire flock of birds suddenly startled into flight, frantic and terrified and free, all at once. He swallows thickly, and Harry blinks. “Oh,” he says eventually, soft. “So you are.”

“Yes, I am,” Louis says, inhaling shakily because he’s got to keep going while he still has all this adrenaline, he’s got to keep telling the truth. “And I didn’t stop snogging you in the light because I could see you. Or I did, actually, but because I wanted to look at you. Because you’re the fittest boy I've ever seen, and I…god, Harry. You’re so pretty. With makeup and without makeup and always, basically, and I just want to stare at you all the time,” he admits, suddenly shaking, heart thundering, but it doesn’t matter because Harry’s shaking, too, pulling him in and opening his mouth over the cut of Louis’s cheek, tongue sweeping desperately over the bone. Louis can taste the fear on his breath, and he wants to sweeten it up. Hasn’t anyone ever told you how lovely you are? Why aren’t all the boys tripping over themselves to have you?

“And before…you aren’t scared that I have a prick? I was just being paranoid?” he asks, voice all tremble, and Louis’s laughing now, a little hysterical, like the sound is being ripped out of him. Harry is absurd; he’s absurd and he’s perfect and Louis loves him.

“Jesus christ, no, no, I’m not scared about any of that. Not one bit, I was…I was trying not to scare you away. I know you have a prick, I mean, it’s fucking huge...I saw it in the shower earlier, and all I can think about since then is sucking it, fuck, Harry—,” but he can’t say anymore because Harry is kissing him, choking him with his tongue.

“Please, please,” he whimpers, hands all over Louis’s shoulders, in his hair. “Please.”

He’s begging, and Louis can’t fucking believe it. He doesn’t think people get what they want, not just like that, so he isn’t going to waste time while the universe tries to catch up with him. He pushes Harry onto his back, shifting his weight so that he’s straddling him. Then they’re kissing again, fierce and hot with teeth and tongue, and this, Louis thinks, heart in his throat, is only the beginning.

—-