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The Finish Line (Is A Good Place For Us To Start)

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"So he asks me, who's your driver? And I say, Louis Tomlinson. So he goes, he one of them Renault shitheads? So I punch him with the Union Jack."

"Liam Payne, you did not."

Liam ducks his head. "Okay, I might have gotten him a pint and sat him down to watch you race on YouTube."

Louis throws his head back and laughs. Even Zayn's chuckling, and he's usually quieter when he's drunk. "He was American, innit?"

"No!" Liam shouts. He's enthusiastic when he's drunk. "He was bloody Irish!"

"The fuck?" Zayn asks. "An Irish mechanic thought a world champion from the UK was fucking French?"

"Oui!"

Louis' still laughing when he says, "Merde. Il faut que j’aille aux toilettes."

"What's that, mate?"

"The first race we ever won was in France, have you learned nothing?" Louis snaps. Liam's at a complete loss. Zayn's rolling his eyes, since he probably speaks fluent French. Louis still has no idea what he does in his spare time. He might be a French runway model. All those trips "back home to Perrie" might be a huge cover. "It means I need to piss."

Liam rolls his eyes. "Petit driver, petit bladder."

Louis makes sure to elbow his head when he gets out of the booth to find the toilet. "Fuck off, petit dick."

They're at an American sports pub, which means even the bathroom has speakers broadcasting some American football game. Louis' never cared for it. "Why do they even call it football?" he asks no one in particular. "Their feet aren't even involved."

"Right?" No one in particular answers. "And then they come across the pond and call football soccer."

Louis turns his head to agree with whoever it is, but his tongue sticks to his mouth when he sees him. He's tan, and there's a US flag wrapped stylishly around his forehead, but this man is British and this man is gorgeous. He's in skinny jeans and a flannel button-up that's not really buttoned up, and he's tall and pretty and familiar, somehow, though Louis blames that on being smashed. He's probably another Gucci model or something.

He doesn't even realise the man is staring at him just as intently until he says, slow and smooth, "Are you Louis Tomlinson?"

"That I am," he answers. "Wish I wasn't holding my dick so I could shake your hand."

"Forget that, I want your autograph," the model says, unashamed, and then comes to the urinal next to Louis and unzips. Louis does not peek. He zips up and goes to the sinks.

"Okay, but I can't promise I'll get my name right," Louis says as he washes his hands. "I'm very drunk and I didn't go to celebrity school."

Pretty boy has a pretty smile. "You've been a celebrity for six years, mate."

"You a fan?"

"You know us British boys." Louis has no clue what that might mean. He's never met a British boy with such perfect teeth, let alone such a perfect face. Finally, he adds, "When we're not dreaming about racing at Grands Prix, we're dreaming about racers at Grands Prix."

Louis' heart positively hammers in his chest. "You're a bit of a tease, aren't you?"

The man's laugh is the best thing Louis' ever heard, even better than revving Jeanne's engine or Zayn singing. "You're the one who brought up your dick."

He walks up to him with a warm smile and an outreached, large hand. "Now that you're not holding your dick," he explains.

Louis shakes it emphatically, and then, well, it's just so big, Louis doesn't quite want to let go. He pulls out a pen he nicked from Zayn earlier and scribbles "Lewis Tommo" on the boy's arm, under some silly tattoos. "Cheers," the boy says.

"Sure," Louis says, admiring his handiwork. Or rather, the guy's tattoos. Or biceps, whatever.

The guy pulls on his own elbow to try and see Louis' autograph, actually scrunching his nose, and then a huge disarming smile spreads on his face. Everything about him is disarming. Louis is without a single arm.

"Christ, I need to wee again," he announces and shuffles back to the urinals, pissing away two pints.

When he turns back around, he's alone. It's fabulous, really. For four months he's only been inside of Jeanne; it's no wonder he's imagining tall, flirty, English petrolheads when drunk. It just means he's being a good boy after last season's fiasco.

He washes his face after his hands, fixes his Cowell cap, and marches back to their booth.

"I am never drinking again – well." There's someone in his seat. A blonde, tank top-wearing someone, who's got his arm around Zayn's shoulders. "Who's this then?"

"'m Niall," he slurs, definite brogue in his voice.

Louis narrows his eyes. "Are you the one who thought I'm French?"

"Scuzi 'bout that, Lou-ee," he says with an exaggerated half-French, half-Italian accent. "It was a joke that Liam took too seriously." Then he stands up and hands Louis the Holy Grail. "I felt bad enough to get ya a pint, though."

"All's forgiven," Louis says, immediately snatching the pint from his hands. His annoyance is rapidly turning into curiosity. He remembers Liam saying Niall's part of a pit crew. "Which team are you on, then?"

"Not so much a team as a driver. Harry Styles," he answers easily. Louis nearly snorts Guinness up his nose.

Liam, obviously not suffering from the same problem, says, "Has he finally picked a team – " but Louis' having none of that.

"Harry Styles is here?"

Niall looks delighted. "You know him?"

"Are you kidding, ever since talk started he was leaving Ferrari? Cowell Racing would kill for him. If I don't win this NASCAR thing he'll replace me on the roster in a heartbeat." That's not really true. The motorhome has been looking for a new driver ever since Oliver retired, for some ridiculous reason like starting a family or something. Plus, Simon Cowell himself signed Louis for two more years after he won the driver's championship in 2011. They like Louis, warts and all.

Still, Louis' heard so much about Harry fucking Styles breaking the record for youngest driver to set fastest lap (22 years old, 2012 Canadian Grand Prix, not that he felt threatened enough to investigate while dealing with his own shit). He could either be paranoid or infatuated.

"You reckon he's better than you?" Niall asks, not actually trying to shit-talk. He's a very mild-mannered lad.

Louis tries being honest. "I dunno, I had a pretty shit year, I didn't keep track of who beat me on the grid."

Niall shrugs. "Then why're you scared?"

"He's scared of how much he wants to bumfuck him," Zayn puts in helpfully. Louis' eyes snap to him, shocked, but Zayn gives him a tiny chill sign. That, plus Niall's arm being wrapped around him, means he's already established Niall's trustworthy. Zayn's sharp like that.

Louis is too buzzed to even care. "Well, it doesn't hurt that he's the most attractive thing on the track after my Jeanne, and I would like a go at both, but – why are you laughing?"

Niall is basically snorting up his entire pint. He's pointing helplessly at Louis. "Mostly because he's standing right behind you."

"No," Louis says, turning around as slowly as any soon-to-be-axed character in a horror movie. There's no one there but gorgeous bathroom boy.

"Oh my god," Louis says.

"No," Louis says.

"Hi," Harry Styles says, smiling winningly.

Louis wants to say something cute and sitcom-worthy like "oops!" but all he manages is, "Fuck me."

Harry Styles gives him an obvious once-over. "Not when you're this drunk."

"Classy," Louis comments into his pint. Yes, Louis definitely feels like a class act. "I. Um. I didn't mean that."

Harry Styles crosses his arms over his broad, broad chest. "That I'm less attractive than your girlfriend?"

Zayn is shaking with laughter when he says, "His what?"

Louis feels a bit like crying. "Jeanne is my car. I'm not dating my car." Where's the fucking zombie apocalypse when you need it. Where is Simon Pegg. "You are fit, like. I meant that I didn't mean that I wanna start you up and give you a ride." Niall is laughing like it's the funniest thing he's ever heard. Louis gets the feeling Niall's not even being flirty, just easily amused. That feeling resembles nausea. "That. Oh Jesus."

Liam gently pries the pint from his hands and gives Zayn a look, probably the only thing stopping him from humiliating Louis any more than Louis' humiliated himself. If that's possible. Liam's a good guy, all things considered. He takes care of him on the track, that's all that matters.

Thinking about the track soothes him a bit. He collapses into the seat next to Liam, so he can properly glare at Zayn if need be. Everyone's looking at him like they expect him to decide whether to carry on the conversation, or break up the group that assembled while he was harassing Harry Styles in the loo. Like he's their leader. He sighs. "Pull up a chair, then," he tells Harry, who's still hovering by their booth a bit awkwardly. "I don't see how I could possibly make a worse first impression."

"Well, I'm sure you'd find a way if you tried hard enough," Zayn says, earning himself a world-class glare. In his big brown eyes there's nothing but stories of Louis fixing up his Clio and installing the side-mirrors backwards, or accidentally directing Liam into backing up on his own foot, or his secondary school production of Grease. Yes, Zayn could probably help Louis make a worse impression.

But he won't. Because Zayn's a good guy, all things considered. He commands the crew that takes care of Jeanne and makes her fast and shiny.

Harry pulls up a chair and sits at the head of the table. He seems uncomfortable with that, so Louis takes over the conversation. "Niall here thought I was French. Just so you know."

Harry stares at Niall in shock. "How many fumes have you been huffing in the garage?"

Niall shrugs. "I dunno mate, I only like the fast cars."

Zayn raises his glass to that, and Niall clinks it so enthusiastically that he spills half his beer on himself. Liam rolls his eyes and gestures to Zayn. "We've been in the team for six years and he still doesn't know the first thing about racing."

Harry snorts. "I think Niall forgot it all when he took up smoking."

"I know enough not to let you drive while high," Niall asserts. "Not after last time."

"What?"

"Oh, no one got hurt," Harry assures him when Louis sputters.

"Yeah, except me. He drove us to a sex shop and then a bowling alley. I'm a terrible bowler after a few hits. And even worse at picking out dildos, apparently."

"It's true," Harry says gravely, in his pleasantly morbid voice. "He just got all the dildos with the funny names. He still scares me sometimes with the Destroyer. Sneaks it into my car." He picks up a banana Louis hadn't even noticed he'd been holding all along, what the fuck, and waves it in Louis' face like a scary weapon, or a decent dildo.

He doesn't even believe him when Harry whispers, "We were just messing about, I'd never ever drive under any influence."

As far as first meetings go, this one has been interesting.

*

Louis wins the NASCAR thing. Harry Styles still joins Cowell Racing.

*

 
 

There's a huge party in honour of Harry signing with Cowell Racing for the 2013 season, and Harry could not feel more out of place. And he once showed up at the Superbike World Championship. The fact he flew in from Florida only twelve hours ago is not helping matters, nor does Niall fucking off to god knows where.

Four champagne flutes in, Harry finds himself a cosy hiding place behind a trendy potted plant, and checks his Twitter feed. He doesn't actually notice he's being watched until someone says, "Life of the party, are we?"

He straightens up guiltily and is about to offer an apology, when he notices his observer is none other than Louis Tomlinson, world champion and all-around hot shit. Louis Tomlinson, whose F1 Racing covers were carefully kept under Harry's bed for years. Louis Tomlinson, who couldn't have flown in earlier than Harry, yet still looks fresh and fit in a blazer and nice slacks.

Flustered at being caught, Harry blurts out, "Ball of the belle." He can actually feel his body lock down and the blood draining from his face. "Belle of the ball. Shit. Sorry, I'm nervous and this is my last drink before the season starts."

Louis stares at him for a moment, probably contemplating taking the piss, and then steps up and wraps an arm around Harry's shoulder, miraculously not spilling a drop of champagne on his Burberry button-up. "That just means we've both made tits of ourselves in each other's company now."

Harry remembers their drunken exchange in Daytona and cracks a smile, the first real one since he came to his party. He wonders if Louis came here because all the drivers had to. Probably. "True," he agrees.

"Why are you hiding, Styles? This whole thing is for you," Louis says, gesturing around. "Champagne fountain, karaoke machine, WAGs in waiting."

Harry becomes more uncomfortable with every word. He shrugs. "I'm not really into all that."

Louis taps his shoulder once, causing him to look down. There's a mischievous smirk on his face. "Wanna sneak out?"

Harry grins at him. "Won't we get in trouble?"

"Nothing could be worse than the bollocking I got when me and Zayn sprayed purple penises on half the Cowell cars."

Harry must be drawing unnecessary attention to them, but he can't not laugh at that. "Why would – you know what, I'd rather just not know."

Louis bumps his nose, casual as anything. "Smart lad. Don't wanna be an accessory after the fact. Now, we're gonna need to piss off without anyone noticing us."

"We could just take the plant with us," Harry suggests, attempting to look serious for five seconds.

"Or we could operate my minions." Harry looks on curiously as Louis texts someone, smiling to himself. Mostly he's looking at Louis' face. His smile has the sun pouring out of it, it's ridiculous.

Five minutes later, Louis' pit crew chief and team boss – Zayn and Liam – are stumbling to the karaoke machine for an obnoxious rendition of "I Got You Babe".

"What is that?" Harry asks as an audience gathers by the stage.

"They dominate couple's karaoke, even though they refuse to dance. And aren't actually a couple. Probably."

Harry would like to question some more, but then a new voice is doing their background vocals, and it's Niall, crashing to the stage and hugging them both like they've all been mates for ages. Then, Harry's distracted for a whole other reason: Louis' just taken his hand and is leading him to some huge balcony. Harry probably would've just followed him, but he's not too keen on dropping Louis' hand. He might also be giggling like a gigantic child who knows he's being naughty.

As soon as he's outside, the breath is knocked out of Harry; the cold, the view of London, the tacky fairy lights knotted through the rails, Louis burrowing into his blazer and restyling his hair quickly, like he hopes Harry won't notice. It's just. Louis' small but strong, and masculine but beautiful, and Harry had an actual emotional crisis when washing his signature off of his left arm.

Like a gift from heaven, Harry spots a tray of champagne flutes. "Wait, Louis," he says, dragging Louis back.

Louis huffs and squeezes his hand, but when he turns around and looks at what Harry's pointing at, he smiles impishly. "That works."

He grabs two flutes and hands one over, but Harry hesitates. "So I already had, like, five?"

"Hey, we're celebrating," Louis assures him, clinking their glasses. "Welcome to the team."

It's still weird to hear. He shrugs and downs the champagne quickly. "Thanks."

They finish up their drinks quietly, but Harry doesn't quite fancy going back in and it looks like Louis doesn't either. He turns to him and asks, "Wanna hang out, Harry Styles?"

"Sure, Lewis Tommo," Harry says with a big smile, because he might actually be a little shit. "It's not like I know anyone here."

They eventually find some posh sofas and settle down. After some consideration, Louis climbs over his seat for no discernible reason, and then hops back with the entire tray of champagne. Instead of sitting in his own seat, he spills himself onto Harry's sofa. "Are we still celebrating?" Harry asks, raising an eyebrow.

"You seem cold," Louis says, waving his hand about. Harry has no idea if that's a come-on, a remark on his visibly hard nipples or just an innocent observation. He lays his arms on the backrest, just in case he might need to opt for the faux-yawn reach-around.

"So why were you hiding at your own party?" Louis asks, looking up at him, London lights in his eyes.

"Um, because it's my own party?" Harry says, playing with the stitching of the sofa. "Like, I don't really wanna be some star. I wanna be part of a team."

That's actually why he left Ferrari. He might tell people it's because of the carbon footprint, but really it's because ever since he'd broken that stupid record, they'd been parading him around like some sort of rock star. The glitz and glam wore out after a year. If signing with Cowell Racing meant being overshadowed by drivers like Louis Tomlinson, and not appearing in tabloids, that's all he could hope for. Harry just wants to race, for the speed, for the rush, for the win.

Louis' sort of staring at him. "That's very..." he trails off.

"Stupid?"

"No, like, I get it." Now Harry's staring. Louis continues like it pains him not to say something sarcastic. "Just because you're alone in the car doesn't mean you have to be lonely. And having my best mates in the crew – it's like we're all behind the wheel, you know? I couldn't do it by myself." He pauses, and then cracks a grin. "I would, however, knock myself out if there was a party in my honour."

Harry snorts. He's actually quite touched by what Louis' said, but he doesn't comment on it, accepting Louis' deflection. All he would do is weep over his boundless love for Niall, anyway. "You realise I've never seen you sober so far."

Louis gulps down more champagne, pointedly. "You're really not gonna drink during the season?"

It'll probably come down to Niall's persuasion techniques, if he's honest, but he will pretend to try. "I wanna be at the top of my game. I've got a new team to impress, after all."

Louis turns sharp eyes to him, and pokes Harry's thigh. "So you are gunning for the championship."

Harry thinks he reads Louis well enough to smirk at that. "You can't win 'em all, Tommo."

"Oh, you are so on. And here I thought you were some harmless, sexy care bear," he mutters to himself. Harry barks a laugh and gently tugs the champagne tray away.

Louis rolls his eyes. "I am not an alcoholic, Harold. And I do have some restraint during the season. No shagging."

Harry widens his eyes. "As a general rule?"

"No distractions," Louis says firmly, waving his hands and then resting them on Harry's thigh. Which is a cruel thing to do, really, while he talks about not fucking Harry. "I used to – " he huffs. "Just, I've learned my lesson. I fucked up last season. I wanna win this one."

"You probably will."

Louis hums, running a distracting finger along the inseam of Harry's jeans. "Here's hoping." He's quiet for a moment, before he snaps, "So, Harry Styles," his voice low and blue blue eyes boring into Harry's. "If you don't wanna be famous, and you don't wanna win, what are you excited about?"

Harry gulps, wracking his brain for any response that isn't dirty. "I get to see my car tomorrow."

Louis' eyes light up. Harry likes that, likes that the mention of cars jolts him out of flirtation. "Really? What're you gonna call it?"

"I'll have to see it first, but I'm thinking Marcel?"

Louis laughs. "You're naming it after a guy? That's unconventional."

"And why is that? Why do drivers insist on naming their cars after women, if not to objectify them? The patriarchy, that's why."

Louis actually bites his lip. After a few moments he says, "I like Marcel. Sounds French."

Yes, definitely not after Ross' monkey. "Are you already setting him up with Jeanne?"

"Obviously."

Harry actually likes the thought of having car play-dates with Louis, even if it is insane. "Why Jeanne, by the way?"

"It's sort of after 'Jay'," Louis explains.

"Right, right, Liam said something about Jay Z."

"When did – " Louis chortles. "No, it's after my mum."

Harry quirks an eyebrow, trying to keep the smile off his face. "Your mum's name is Jay Z?"

"Why do I even associate with drivers, Jesus Christ," he huffs, leaning back so his head's on Harry's arm.

"To start us up and give us a ride," Harry reminds him, casual as anything.

Louis actually sputters. Harry becomes increasingly aware of the hand on his thigh. "I was drunk. That's not my usual tactic at all."

He can't just let that go, can he? "What's your usual tactic?"

Louis considers it for a few moments, giving Harry a once-over, and then looks at the view. "You couldn't handle my usual tactic."

I can't handle your profile right now. "I can't handle your profile right now."

Louis twists around to look at him, alarmed, and actually flushes when he sees that Harry's completely serious. Harry just smiles at him. "I." Louis opens his mouth and closes it a couple of times, before regrettably taking his hand off Harry's leg and sighing. "I think you need a mate right now. Let's just be mates, yeah?"

It's not like Harry was going to shag him right on this sofa, or even tonight. They're both drunk, and he does realise he'll have to go back inside eventually. Hands to be shaken, quotes to be given, photographs to be taken. The rejection still stings a bit, but Louis is right. Harry could use a mate. And Louis seems brilliant.

He draws back and away from Louis, just to put some distance between them, and smiles. "Sure. Let's be mates."

Then, because he's apparently big on mixed signals, Louis leans forward and kisses Harry. It's only for five seconds – shit, Harry doesn't even close his eyes – but it's there and it's soft and lovely and he's a bit breathless when Louis pulls back. "Sorry," Louis says immediately, biting his lower lip. He continues in a rush, "I just needed to get that out of the way before the season started. I'm not good with things I can't have."

Instead of a cheesy "you can have me", Harry ducks down and kisses Louis back, this time making sure to close his eyes and put some effort into it. By the time they separate, Louis' hand is back on his thigh, while Harry's hand is in Louis' thick hair. Louis' just staring at him, and it takes all of Harry's strength not to lean in again.

He tries to think of an excuse. "Right, uh, I just wanted to kiss you."

Louis' grin is blinding. He backs away from Harry, and then just gets off the sofa altogether. "I'll see you in Australia, cheeky Harold."

He's too pumped from the kiss to even be disappointed. "Right."

"Good night, mate," Louis says and, still smiling, walks back into the house.

So anyway, Harry thinks his new team is okay.

*

Louis doesn't know why he even bothers with cool one-liners. It's not like they ever hold up in reality. Of course he sees Harry before they leave for Melbourne.

Their last outing before the season is in London, and Louis spends the day looking forward to hanging out with Zayn and Liam for the last time before they get to work. It should have been a threeway bro-out with the usual suspects.

What actually happens is that he's hailed to a booth already occupied by Zayn, Liam and Harry's Irishman. Which would have been okay, had Harry not been there too. This time his hair is neither gelled up nor pushed back by a headband, so Louis has to deal with a windswept fringe, because apparently Harry is a curly motherfucker. Not even wild curls like the ginger Disney princess, but as if each curl was individually styled by angels.

To be fair, Louis doesn't generally obsess over people's hair. His scrutiny is mostly limited to people he randomly kisses. (It's been a week and he still hasn't decided if that particular stroke of stupidity was a good idea or not. Right now, upon realising he's actually stopped in his tracks like a knob because of Harry's hair, he's leaning towards "not".)

"Hi there," he says, planting himself in the seat next to Niall so he won't have direct eye contact with Harry. They haven't talked since the party. He doesn't even have his number. He should really have his number. He's a shit mate.

"Yo," Zayn says, because he started using it ironically a couple of months ago and then hasn't stopped. Same goes for bro and sick. He's basically a teenager; Louis has no idea how he got engaged to Perrie Edwards. "What's up?"

"Nothing much. I see I'm behind." He points at the three pints on the table. In front of Harry, there's a giant smoothie. Harry Styles is pretty weird.

"You were late," Liam points out, sliding his pint towards Louis.

"I ran here, had to get changed," Louis explains before latching onto the pint gratefully.

"Why the fuck didn't you bring a car?"

Instead of saying "I was hoping we'd go clubbing and I'd get shitfaced," he gulps his beer. "I can't drink this much beer and not do cardio. A driver's gotta stay fit, unlike you grease monkeys."

Niall laughs uproariously and slaps Louis' back. "Harry insists on taking his baby everywhere."

It would be rude not to talk to Harry now, right? He must lean forward and glance at Harry – who is slurping on his straw rather obscenely. Louis has to blink a few times before getting words out. "Your lips are so full I just want to kiss them for hours," is what he narrowly avoids saying. "How's your car? Is it really a Marcel?"

Harry turns his head to him and smiles brightly. "He's gorgeous. I've always loved Cowell's cars, but actually having one is amazing. I can't wait to race him."

"Still think you can beat Jeanne?" That gets a cheeky smile out of him, and a long "whoa" out of Zayn and Liam.

"I'm gonna try," he drawls eventually, making Niall roll his eyes at his lack of fighting spirit.

"You shits are gonna be chasing our fucking taillights!" Niall cries, raising his pint in challenge and blocking Louis' view of Harry. Which was the original plan of sitting here.

"Yeah, when we're two laps ahead of you," Liam says, getting a high five from Zayn and Louis.

It devolves quickly into "old-timers" and "cunts", until they're rudely interrupted by Zayn's annoying ringtone. He drops the beer mat he'd been holding and picks up his phone.

"Yeah mum?" He answers, flipping them all off when they aww. "Nah, I told you, four in a row make the stripy ones." He rolls his eyes at Louis and gets up.

"Is he – "

"Walking his mum through Candy Crush? Yeah," Louis tells Niall. Niall actually sighs.

"Well, now that he's gone, it's time for another round," Liam says, sliding over Zayn's vacant seat.

"Oh, get me one too," Niall asks.

"You want me to choose beer for an Irishman?"

"He'll be happy with anything that's wet, really," Harry assures him.

Niall gives him a dirty look and shoves Louis off his seat so he can get up pointedly. "Like you'd know anything about getting something wet," he says, and before Harry can even think of a comeback he drags Liam off to the bar.

And then there were two. Harry's still sucking on his straw, so Louis figures it's up to him to start a conversation. He might also slide across the seat a bit. "I think Zayn and Liam adopted Niall." Not his wittiest opener, but Harry Styles is sucking on a straw in front of him, so.

Harry detaches from the straw and smiles at Louis. "Yeah, they're cool. The rest of my pit crew is twice our age, so I like that he has friends from his generation."

Louis snorts. "Should we set the three of them up?"

"Only if they play nice during the twenty-two hour flight to Melbourne. There's nothing worse than a screaming Niall on a plane."

"Ah, yes, that's why I crush sleeping pills into Liam's bottle."

As if they've been listening in, Niall and Liam start roughhousing by the bar. "Don't drop the pint!" Louis shouts, keeping a close eye on the drink clutched in Niall's hand while Liam tries to drop him on his arse.

Harry rolls his eyes exaggeratedly, as if to say boys. Louis elbows him, because he's quite funny and should be appreciated. "Are you ready for tomorrow?"

"Oh, Niall packed for both of us. He's quite anal when it comes to his things, so I just let him do his thing. I downloaded all the seasons of How I Met Your Mother, though. I can't remember the flight from last year. And since it's Australia it's like you're going back in time? Or forward, I can't remember."

It takes Louis a second to make out the question from the ramblings. "Forward ten hours, I think. We'd beat everyone to the United-Chelsea match."

Harry doesn't even question it. "Yeah, or get infected first in the zombie apocalypse."

"D'you reckon as racers we'd have the upper hand on zombies?"

"Because we're fast?"

"No, because we could turn our cars into badass zombie-killing Humvees."

Harry hums for a second, sips the last of his smoothie as he thinks. "I guess if our engineers don't get infected… It depends on the zombies, I think. If they're scary as shit like in Resident Evil, I guess I'd have no problem, but if it's like in Shaun of the Dead and the zombies can be reformed, I think I'd feel bad about shooting them with our laser beams?"

The little speech, delivered with big Bambi eyes, leaves Louis speechless. For two seconds. "You're so weird," he says, and nudges Harry again so he knows he doesn't mean it in a bad way.

Harry flips him off and fixes his fringe. "Please let's talk about cars."

"Fine." Louis taps his fingers on his mouth in thought. Harry stares. "Was the testing alright?"

"Yeah, amazing. I can't wait to break him in on Albert Park, though. Or to meet Jeanne in person."

Louis smiles probably too widely at that. Harry immediately lights up. "She's a good girl. We could definitely make Marcel jealous."

"Yeah, yeah, we'll see you at the first practice session," Harry says, then sticks out his tongue. His tongue. Like, there's nothing remarkable about it, except for it being attached to Harry's remarkable mouth.

"What about your other car?" he asks, most certainly to distract himself. "The one you brought here?"

"Oh, that's Toto. He – actually, wanna go for a ride?" Louis can only hope that lifting his eyebrow conveys the emotional turmoil Harry's brought upon him with that smirk. And that question. And those curls. It must have; Harry's flirty expression crumbles and he's left with an embarrassed little smile. "Not a line, I promise."

Louis has to think about it for like five seconds before nodding. Maybe Harry will bring him back to the pub and he'll still go clubbing and maybe get laid. Maybe he won't. Louis lives in the moment. Harry smiles so wide he dimples, and Louis has to look the fuck away.

Luckily, Niall and Liam are still messing about by the bar, so it's a clean getaway. Of course, when they reach the door Zayn appears out of the corner of Louis' eye. Harry doesn't notice, and Zayn doesn't actually say anything, just quirks an eyebrow at Louis. He shrugs and vaguely gestures at how tall Harry is. Zayn's eyebrows climb even higher.

Louis doesn't get the subliminal message, as Harry opens the door for him and Louis needs to stomach Harry opening the door for him. "Why thank you," he says, pulling the sleeves of his jumper over his hands to fend off the cold.

"'Course," Harry replies, burrowing into his jacket. His shoulders are so broad, Louis is surprised he even made it past the doorway. Then they're just standing for a moment, still close enough that Louis has to look up, still chilly enough that Louis wants to get even closer. Harry keeps biting his lip and batting his eyelashes.

The pub's door thuds closed behind Harry and startles them both. Louis can breathe again. "Right, your car?"

Harry shakes his head, then pushes his curls to the side. "Yeah, the car park's…" he looks around a bit helplessly.

Louis puts a hand on the small of his back (like anything about Harry is small, Jesus, Louis' hand is dwarfed) and leads him to the car park behind the pub.

He recognises the car immediately, somehow. It's a gorgeous, gorgeous fifth generation T-Bird, perfectly restored and teasingly gleaming at Louis. He doesn't wait for permission to touch it, just runs his fingers over the Patriarch Blue bonnet. Harry's explaining something – possibly how it's the first model to have seatbelts as a standard option, probably how he sings it to sleep every night while stroking the beautiful upholstery. It's quite enough to hear Harry's raspy voice while staring at his stunning vintage car, Louis doesn't really need to listen to him talk about hardtops. He doesn't want to get hard in the middle of a car park.

"Um," Harry eventually says, a bit awkward, and Louis needs to get his shit together.

He forces himself to stop looking at the car like he wants to spread Harry on the bonnet and have his way with him. "Wow," is all he manages. He clears his throat and looks at Harry. "You know how you always read about these nutters who are attracted to cars? This is the car they wish they had."

A pleased expression spreads on Harry's face immediately, and if he tosses his fringe one more bloody time Louis will quiff up his hair himself. "Thanks, I think."

That's enough with all this fondness, Louis thinks. "I must say I expected a Bentley. This is very American of you."

Harry looks appropriately offended. "And what do you drive?"

"Oh please, I've been driving the same dumpy Clio since I was eighteen. We're not all record-breaking billionaires."

Harry snorts. "I think your shoes cost more than my shirt."

Louis shrugs. "Guess I'm just sentimental." He walks back over to Harry and brushes his hand up his arm. "How about that ride now?"

Harry widens his eyes, but the surprise only lasts a few seconds before he gathers himself. He gets his keys out. Just the fact it's an actual key he has to stick into an actual lock is attractive. Louis considers campaigning to drive, and he figures Harry might actually let him, but decides against it. He misses his window anyway, as Harry's long legs get him to the driver's seat before Louis even made a move.

Louis can't help but moan at the first touch of posh leather to his bum, and then he's just rubbing the perfectly maintained upholstery. "Are you actually a wizard?"

When he gets no response he looks over, and Harry seems transfixed by Louis' hands. Louis – yeah, should stop teasing him. He tucks his hands behind his back, and then draws his legs up to rest on the upholstery so he could lean his chin on his knees. Harry's still staring. At least he manages to speak. "Are you trying to play cute?"

Louis gives him a sweet smile and Harry rolls his eyes and starts the car. Louis' never actually driven a restored American car, so he has no idea how much concentration is involved in starting the thing. He tries to keep to himself as much as he can (which really isn't much – he touches every button he doesn't recognise and rubs his cheek against the upholstery).

When he thinks it's safe, he actually looks at what Harry's doing. It's – weird. As he can't remember racing against him, to him Harry Styles is just Harry, the celebrity he met in the bathroom in Florida. The guy who wears tight Henleys and even tighter jeans to the pub. Yet, when he shifts gears or automatically reaches for the brake balance switch that isn't there, he's every bit the track superstar, and it's weird. Weirdly hot, maybe.

Louis cracks open the window discreetly and looks outside. He barks a laugh. "Either everyone's trying to avoid looking at your million-quid classic car, or you drive like my nan."

"I'm not showing you all my cards two weeks before a Grand Prix," Harry says, like they'll actually be racing each other.

"Pussy. I bet you're a terrible poker player."

"It's true, I'm a shit liar," Harry concedes. "I also just strip regardless of the rules."

"Now that I do like in a man," Louis blurts. The urge to smack his head into the window is rising. Before Harry can even think of a cheeky reply, Louis says, "Where are we even going?"

"Dunno, really. Let's find an open road. If you play your cards right, I might let you drive."

Louis has Google Maps open before Harry even shuts his mouth. He directs Harry to the most secluded spot he can find, and Harry drives on in silence. They both appreciate the rev of the engine, Harry's control over the car, the open top, the crackling of the radio.

When Louis finally opens his mouth to speak, Harry beats him to it. "Did you really run to the pub?"

It was more of a breezy walk, but Louis has no problem puffing his chest. "Sure, yeah. It was either that or rollerblade."

Harry snorts a laugh. "You're ridiculous."

"What, it's good cardio. All the Cowell racers do it." Harry glances at him just to check if he's serious. Louis sticks out his tongue at the rear-view mirror.

"I'm sure it is. I'm also sure I'll be bloody awful at it. Ice-skating, too. My sister loves to hold that against me."

Louis laughs. "It can't be that bad. I'll take you rollerblading in Australia."

"You will?" he asks, changing lanes smoothly and not looking at Louis.

"Sure, it's what mates do," Louis tells him, patting his shoulder.

"Right." Harry doesn't sound all too convinced that's what mates do. Louis should probably change the subject.

"We could be mates, right?" He probably should have changed the subject.

Harry cracks a smile at that. "I dunno about that. You did kiss me and never called. Terrible indication of character."

Louis gasps. "I'll have you know I'm very much a gentleman! Give me your phone right now."

The amount of time it takes for Harry to squeeze his massive hand into his skinny jeans to pull out his iPhone is staggering. Louis' still thinking about it as he rings himself, and is surprised to already find his number programmed on Harry's phone under "Louis fucking Tomlinson". Harry catches him, and were he a lesser man, he probably would have driven them straight into a fence in his effort to snatch his phone back. He is, however, an F1 driver. With extremely long arms.

Louis truly believes ribbing someone is a sure-fire way to cement a friendship. "How did you even get my number?"

Harry's making an awful face that Louis' come to associate with embarrassment. "Niall knew a guy."

"So I suppose I should save you as Harry fucking Styles? Or would you prefer motherfucking? Or, like, Harry fucking Louis – "

"Please don't," Harry begs, fingers tapping on the wheel.

Louis contemplates it for a second. He saves Harry's contact as "Potter", eventually, until he finds something funnier. He stays quiet for a while, just so Harry would get that false sense of security people other than Liam, Zayn or his mum still seem to possess around Louis. Then, when Harry makes a turn, Louis subtly steals Harry's iPhone back. While Harry's focused on switching lanes, Louis changes his own contact from Louis fucking Tomlinson to Albus fucking Dumbledore.

Harry catches him and doesn't really throw a fit, just raises his eyebrow. Louis still gets defensive. "What? I judge people by their level on Candy Crush."

"I deleted it," Harry says.

Louis gasps. "You're one level above us all. What on Earth do you do when you're bored?"

"Oh, you know. I look up random things on Google? And I use Instagram occasionally."

Louis is 390% sure Harry has a million photos on Instagram, neatly divided between nature shots, his family and his cats. Harry Styles probably has a billion cats, all named after cartoon characters.

"I also look up knock-knock jokes. I know really good ones."

Louis rolls his eyes. "Hit me."

Ten horrible jokes later, Louis is ready to either: a) denounce ever having known Harry, b) crash the car to save the human race from hearing the jokes or c) piss himself laughing. "Please, please know I'm laughing at you, not with you."

Harry brakes the car abruptly, tossing Louis forward. "Don't go breaking my heart!"

Oh god, he does puns too. Louis lets him have this one. "I couldn't if I tried."

Harry looks appropriately pleased. "Now can I have my phone back please?" He asks, polite as ever. "You seem like a snoop."

Louis dangles the iPhone between his fingers. "What are you afraid I'll find? The nudes? The porn? The pictures of me you wank to?"

"The time," Harry says earnestly. So Louis has to look. It is nearly midnight. Wow. He couldn't ask Harry to take him back to the pub, since Zayn and Liam have probably already left. He couldn't ask Harry to go clubbing with him, since it'd be weird to get off with someone while Harry's just outside. He's trying to establish matehood here.

"Wanna find a spot before the car retires?" Louis suggests.

Harry smiles. "I think I know where we are. Wanna see what Toto can do?"

It's hardly the G-force they're used to, but the roads are clear and Harry expertly takes them to an unknown location, fast enough that Louis feels nearly swallowed by his seat. Where he'd usually look at the road, he can't stop staring at Harry's hands, gripping the stick and the wheel surely.

He slides into a parking spot and revs the engine once, just to be a twat, before he turns it off. Louis still can't breathe.

"Well?" Harry asks, somehow both smug and endearing.

Louis clears his throat. "Well, you still drive like my nan. But I do see potential."

"And all I wanted was for Louis Tomlinson to notice me," Harry says, fluttering his lashes.

He's just – weird. Whether he's being sarcastic, curious or telling god-awful jokes, his morbid tone never changes. He speaks as slow as he drives, and Louis has no idea how he made it past karting. Not because he's a bad driver, but because his mum probably shouldn't have let him out of the house alone. "He did," he says, finally.

After driving around for so long the car is deathly silent. Louis doesn't know whether his heart is pounding because that's his Pavlovian reaction to a car, or because now that Harry isn't driving, he's staring right at him.

"I do look forward to racing you," Louis admits for whatever reason.

"Did I really impress you driving around London?" Harry asks, then catches himself. "I don't usually, like, let people into the T-Bird."

"Really?"

"Yeah, it's been a while since I drove with someone else in the car. It's weird. But – nice."

"I guess you don't get to tell a lot of knock-knock jokes on the track."

Harry does, though. He's ridiculous. Louis did an extensive YouTube search after kissing him and found more than five occasions where he told the journalists and fans bad jokes at the podium, right before lecturing about safety. He doesn't know why they call Harry "The Heartbraker", other than the uninspired pun. He should be, like, "The Sweetheart". Whatever, Louis' just happy he made "The Rogue" happen for while. (He gives himself a pat on the back every day that he's not "The Gay One".)

"No. I suppose there are advantages to you being in the car with me," Harry says.

Louis nods. "My wit."

"To be honest, I'm just waiting for a snog."

And Louis' beyond ready to snog him just for being so forward. He can feel a smile taking over his face. Before he manages to say anything, though, his phone starts ringing. Versace, Versace, Versace, Versace, I do it Versace, you copped the Honda, I copped the Mazi.

Harry starts laughing and his hand immediately shoots up to cover his mouth. Louis groans and fishes out his phone to answer Zayn begrudgingly.

"I'm just saying, like, All You Need Is Love came out at the same time same-sex sexual activity was legalised in England."

"Fucking what?" Louis asks, both mystified and annoyed.

"Lou," Liam greets him with a sigh, like he hadn't been the one calling (and from Zayn's phone at that). "In your professional opinion, were Lennon and McCartney gay for each other?"

Louis pinches the bridge of his nose. "In my professional opinion as a homosexual, I hope you choke on a dick tonight."

Harry's laugh booms in the car. Even Liam can hear it. "You're still with Harry Styles?" he asks, sounding more surprised than generally smashed.

"Yeah," Louis grits out.

"Then in my professional opinion as your best mate, I hope you choke on a dick tonight too."

Louis glances at Harry quickly. He probably didn't hear that, still giggling over Louis' line. "Yeah," he says, even though he knows Harry and he aren't going to do anything tonight. He'd meant it when he said the time isn't right: Harry's new to the team and is probably just trying to fit in; Louis' decided after the last season that he was done with random hook-ups; they're going to be in direct competition in two days. Of course, the more he thinks about it the more attractive Harry seems, even snorting to in the dimly-lit car with the engine off.

"Get it, love you," Liam says, hanging up before Louis can squeeze in a "you too".

He discreetly puts the phone on silent, and pulls up his legs so he's folded in on himself. There is no physical way to appear more defensive. He's not even rejecting Harry, he's just trying to keep himself in check.

Harry doesn't seem bothered. He navigates between moods as smoothly as he does between lanes. His dimples are still there when he asks, "Can I tweet you said that?"

Louis feels weirdly embarrassed. "The, uh, dick thing?"

Harry nods excitedly. Louis could say they shouldn't go public with their friendship. He could say Harry should be more careful before a GP, when everyone's eyes are already trained on him, rising star that he is.

He just goes with the truth, in the end. "I'm not actually out."

Harry's smile falters for the briefest of moments, and then he's back to his pappy self. "Right, yeah, I would've heard if you had come out, right?"

"Google me often?" Louis asks in a lame, lame attempt to get them back on track.

"You did say to my face that you wanted to sleep with me," Harry justifies.

Louis thinks there's a recent event that is way more evident of homosexual conduct, but if Harry won't bring up the kiss, neither will Louis. He huffs and unfolds himself, changing tacks completely. "That was before I realised your car is much more appealing than your body. Can I drive us back? Please?" He even softens his tone and does his best puppy eyes, the look that convinces Zayn to let him into the garage after hours and Liam to let him stay in the garage for more than two minutes.

Harry chews on his lower lip, then thumbs at it, and his eyes are huge and his fringe is floppy and his eyebrows are pinched in concentration and Louis never ever wants that look on him again.

After an eternity, Harry says, "Alright. But I'll collect the favour in any way and time I choose."

Louis perks up immediately, ready to clap and maybe dance a little. "Yessir."

They only get lost twice, so when Louis lets himself into Zayn and Liam's flat, they're still up  watching telly. So he could, technically, ask them if that counted as a date.

He doesn't.

*

They land in Melbourne on a Thursday, just before noon. Since Harry's spent half the flight sleeping his nerves off (the other half psyching himself up), he's refreshed and ready to work as soon as they hit the racetrack. The entire Cowell Racing team swarms the massive dining area, but really, Harry can't take in more than a few bites. At least Niall's there to eat for both of them. (Or all five of them, really). He spends lunch bantering with Louis about Australia, the other teams and basically anything that comes to Louis' mind.

"We were worked to the bone before they cut the testing allowance, but at least we got to spend time with the car, y'know?" Louis says with the air of a sixty-year-old reminiscing about the time petrol cost 50p per litre. (Harry's known Louis for a few weeks now and one thing he can say for certain: Louis is mental.)

"It's not like we're living it up Monday through Thursday, though," Harry points out. "We've still gotta meet with the team, work out a strategy, go to press conferences, sign autographs, go to sponsor shit."

"We're the ones who have to fix a car without knowing if anything's broke," Niall puts in, face stuffed with bread and chicken.

"Yeah yeah, we know you're the ones working the magic Nialler," Louis says, patting his shoulder, and it gives Harry unexpected warmth to watch Louis act so casually with his best friend. "We just write the cheques."

Niall pretends to choke and gasp for breath. He ends up grabbing Zayn's shoulder. "You get paid?"

Harry rolls his eyes and gets up to find himself a juice box. He doesn't notice Louis' followed him until there's a hand on his elbow. "We're going on an adventure," Louis announces in his ear. Harry thinks he's about to burst into a Disney song any second.

"Um, can I take an apple?" he asks.

Louis huffs. "Fine, take as many as you'll need."

Harry grabs a couple of apples in case Louis winds up wanting one too, and then he sees oranges so he picks up a few, and finally his eyes land on bananas so he squeezes them to see if they're soft enough. When he's set to go and looks up, Louis is gawking at him. "How big are your bloody hands?"

Harry lifts his hands innocently. He may have picked up more fruit than strictly necessary for unknown adventures. "Hey Louis, what kind of key opens a banana?"

Louis blinks at him. "What?"

"A monkey."

"Oh for fuck's sake." He takes half of Harry's fruit and then leads him away from the teams.

Harry doesn't even feel the need to ask what the adventure will involve. It's a bit alarming.

The familiar smell gives Louis away. "Are we going to the garage?"

"Don't tell me you were willing to wait out lunch to find our cars."

He spots the Cowell logo and starts walking faster, the knot in his stomach only twisting further. A few team members are already milling about inside, so the garage doors are wide open and the light hits Marcel like he's actually on display at a motor show. The breath is knocked out of Harry, which is totally his excuse when he trips on thin air and oranges go flying. The only reason he's not lying flat on his arse is that Louis has rushed to hold him up.

"Alright?" Louis asks.

Harry adjusts his headband and smiles at him. "Fucking brilliant. Look at him."

"Can't, my babe will get jealous."

Harry snaps his gaze to where Louis' looking, and there's the 70 he's seen on the track so many times. If he could shake hands with cars, this would definitely be the point where he'd shake Jeanne's. Instead he stumbles forward and runs a hand over her nose, mindful not to interrupt any of the mechanics. "She is a babe."

Jeanne looks much like Harry's own car, since they have the same constructor, only she's bright red and the wings are tricked out. The big sponsor logo on the nose is subtly drowned out by a beautiful swirl of colour Harry suspects Zayn's responsible for.

Harry rushes to his own car and strokes up and down him as well. "He's a babe too, right? I don't have an artist in my pit crew but he's more – classic, y'know?"

Louis' completely absorbed in his own car. Harry doesn't mind watching for a few moments: the way Louis darts around the car, opens, closes and presses everything he can while annoying the mechanics. "Hello sweetheart," Louis practically purrs.

It's very macho, Harry thinks, humanising and womanising cars. Normally it rankles him, but Louis doing it – stubbly, tan, strong-legged Louis – makes him feel inadequate. Harry is pretty far removed from manly F1 drivers, himself. He knows most of Love, Actually by heart, he likes wearing women's jeans sometimes, his sexual orientation is pretty undefined and he couldn't grow a beard if his life depended on it. (Mostly he just wishes Louis spoke to him with such sweetness. Or possessiveness. It's a bit of a fine line.)

It suddenly registers how creepy it is that he's just staring at Louis, so he asks Josh if he can get in the car.

"Sure, but it's jacked up so don't even think about tearing off onto the track," the mechanic warns.

Harry chuckles, in what he hopes sounds like "do I look like an idiot?" and not "no way am I trying that one again". He slips into the cockpit and can't help but laugh. Being here without a helmet is weird enough; wearing skinnies and a plaid button-up is absurd. "Lou, do I look as ridiculous as I feel?" he yells.

When he looks up he sees Louis leaning against Jeanne and just staring at him. Harry gets the sense he doesn't seem ridiculous to Louis. So he stares back. One doesn't need to be macho to appreciate a race car, and one doesn't need to be ashamed to appreciate a casually-dressed man in a race car.

Instead of replying, Louis says, "Tell us another joke then."

Luckily Harry has like fifty at the ready. "What did the bacon say to the tomato?"

"Oh no. What?"

Harry smiles winningly at him. "Lettuce get together."

Louis sort of crumples at that – burying his head in his hands and then climbing on his car overdramatically. The weird staring tension is officially broken. "I swear to god, you're lucky you're pretty."

Harry tries not to preen. "I'm hilarious."

Louis looks like he has a few choice words to add, but then a blonde human wrecking ball zooms into the garage. "Oi, get the fuck out of my car," Niall demands, staring Harry down.

Harry pouts. "But I just got in your car!"

Niall bristles. "J, you just let him?"

Josh shrugs, and disappears under the car again. He maybe mutters, "He made this face".

"It's true, he did," Louis says, earning a glare from Harry.

Niall sighs. The fight leaves him in 0.3 seconds. "Whatever, I don't care, just don't bother us." He whirls on Louis. "You, on the other hand, should get sorted before – "

"Tommo, suit up or fuck off," Liam yells from the garage door. Zayn doesn't say anything, but there's something in his expression that implies he'd rather Louis be crushed under the wheels than lying on their beautiful car.

Louis and Harry exchange a look, and then slink away from their cars like misbehaved children. They're not allowed to touch the cars until practice tomorrow, but Harry's content just hanging around and watching Niall, Josh and the rest of the guys work on Marcel. There's a buzzing starting in his ears, pulsing under his skin. He's so close to the opening race he can taste it.

He drifts towards Louis unconsciously, nudges their shoulders together. They don't talk. It's still nice.

An hour later they're sitting on the floor of the garage, hopelessly dirtying their jeans and sharing an orange. "I love this smell," Harry comments.

Louis wrinkles his nose. "What, petrol, oil and sweat?"

"More like… men at work. I dunno, smells like sex to me."

He can feel Louis stiffen against his side, but he recovers quickly. Too quickly for Harry's liking. "Like you've ever had sex in a car."

Harry gapes at him. "Excuse me?"

Louis waves his hands around. "You're so gangly and – big, you'd probably break the gear or rear-view mirror."

"Ah, your mind went straight to giving road-head," Harry notes with a grin. "I'm more of a backseat kinda guy."

Louis elbows him hard enough to hurt and sputters a bit. "You need to be stopped."

Harry glances at the huge digital clock overhead, and startles. "Jesus, we've got the FIA press conference in thirty minutes."

"Shit."

The next half hour is a blur of getting dressed and finding the media centre, while trying to avoid the reporters and fans prowling outside. There are only five drivers at the opening conference, it's not like two being late will go unnoticed. He thanks god that he's on Louis' team – if it weren't for Louis bulldozing through the crowd, Harry would have probably missed the conference entirely to sign autographs and take pictures.

At the conference, naturally, the first question from the floor is for Harry. So is the second. And the third. The room is small and hot and teeming with people, and every bloody one of them wants to know why he moved to Cowell Racing. He knew this would happen, of course, he got enough media attention even before dumping the oldest team in Grand Prix racing, the glorious Scuderia Ferrari. Harry's sweating, blubbering his answers.

"Has the transition been smooth so far?" an English reporter from Press Association asks.

His words die in his throat when Louis grabs his hand under the table. Maybe it's because he'd been gesticulating too wildly. Maybe it's just for comfort. Whatever it is, it doesn't stop there. Actual angel Louis Tomlinson (who'd so far shown very little interest in the conference, opting to chat with the rest of the drivers) taps his mic obnoxiously and says, "Can I just interject there? I can attest that it's been very smooth. The whole team welcomed him with open arms. Simon Cowell himself made him chocolate-chip cookies. You know what I got when I joined Cowell Racing? One of them nasty mints your nan keeps in her purse, that's what. So really, I think you should stop asking him questions before he gets too full of himself."

Harry doesn't know what's better: that that little rant was aired live on Sky Sports, or that Harry's resulting full-body cackle was aired live on Sky Sports. He covers his face with the hand that's not squeezing Louis'.

"I've got one for you," announces a British reporter Harry vaguely recognises. "Tommo, what did you think of the United-Chelsea match and how that affects their chances in the cup this year?"

Louis' whole face lights up, and he pushes his cap back. "Now you're talking, Hanns. I think I can't believe I was too busy with silly car races when I could've been at Old Trafford, and that it's extremely rude they're doing the replay fixture when I'm on a flight to Shanghai. You know who I'm rooting for, of course!"

Harry laughs again, trying not to stare at Louis too intently. He doesn't want this bright, fond expression to be committed to his memory.

The reporters leave off the Cowell team for the rest of the conference, thank god. Louis lets go of Harry's hand, but keeps it near, brushing their fingers together occasionally. Harry can't stop smiling. When it's finally over, they slip out the back and head right over to the garages. Before they reunite with their cars, though, Harry pulls Louis to the side. He stops when they're mostly secluded behind the garage, and the noise from inside isn't too awful.

"Are we going to pick fruit or something?" Louis asks, looking around. There are no trees within a three kilometre radius.

"No, I just – um. Wanted to thank you. I swear it's not my first conference, I'm not usually so hopeless."

Louis smiles at him viciously, and strokes his cheek. "It's okay, I know Cowell signed you for your pretty face, not your verbal skills."

Harry knocks his hand away and tries not to smile. "I'm serious."

"I know." Louis drops the malicious expression and sort of shrugs. "Look, it's fine, I know you can charm the pants off that lot. But you're wearing a new kit and you're getting new questions and it's okay to get flustered. Just thought I'd help. They already know I'm an idiot."

Harry giggles. If he thanked him again he'd hear another self-deprecating response, so he just smiles at him, and gets a nice smile back. He can't help it. "Did you have to make it sound like they're doting on me?"

"Obviously. You're too pr – "

"Stop calling me pretty, for fuck's sake, I'm a racer. I can feel it in my code."

Dead silence for a full minute. Then Louis' freakishly blue eyes widen in recognition. "Did you just." Harry's starting to smirk. "Did you just quote Wreck-it Ralph?"

"Dunno, did I?"

Louis' still staring. It's making Harry a bit uncomfortable. And by that he means hot. "I'm pretty sure you did."

"Well," Harry says slowly. "It was either that or Fast and Furious."

Louis laughs for, like, two minutes, it's fucking amazing. By the time his cackling dies down he's wheezing and leaning on Harry's shoulder. Harry would like to sign a petition to make Louis belly-laugh like that all the time. "Bloody Americans," Louis manages to say between chuckles. "I only remember Ludacris is in it because Liam's in love with him."

"Likes rap, does he?"

"He only got in this business because he watched too much Pimp My Ride."

Harry snorts. "Please tell me after every pit stop he tells you you've officially been pimped."

"Please don't ever, ever suggest it to him," Louis pleads.

"Because he'll do it?"

"Because he'll propose to you."

Harry pretends to consider it, tapping on his lips. "That'll be nice. The driver and the boss, the indie kid and the rapper. They'll make movies about us."

Louis looks a bit annoyed at this point, hands on his hips. "They will absolutely not," he says severely.

"No, no, I'm into it now." He closes his eyes to imagine it. "I've seen his biceps, we'll have to get him a very fitted tux for the wedding."

"Harry –"

"Niall will obviously cry at the reception. Maybe Simon Cowell will propose a toast, since he's really the one who brought us together. I guess you could be the best man."

"Harold."

"Could you ask Zayn to get Little Mix to perform at the wedding, or – "

He's cut off by Louis' mouth on his. It's a rush – from the second they make contact to the point Harry knocks Louis' cap off and runs his fingers through his hair. It's also over way too soon, not even because Louis realised he'd made another error in judgement, but because they hear footsteps.

Louis immediately takes a leap back. His eyes are still hooded as he wipes his mouth. Harry doesn't bother; he likes the feeling of being kissed. He likes that his lips are tingling from Louis' touch. He likes Louis; that sums it up.

"Lou?" they hear Zayn ask as he rounds the corner and spots them, cigarette halfway to his mouth.

Louis curses. "I swear they have a GPS tracker on me," he whispers.

Harry's still a bit dazed, and doesn't reply. That doesn't stop Zayn from walking up to them. "Did the conference go alright, babe?" he asks Louis. Harry only gets a wave that isn't particularly friendly.

"Yeah, I talked all about the brilliant mechanics on my team," Louis replies, folding his arms across his chest.

Harry fucks off as soon as it's acceptable for him to do so. Louis only nods at him.

He likes Louis, but that doesn't stop him from occasionally hating him.

*

Of course they share a hotel room.

Louis used to share with Olly. It makes perfect sense for drivers from the same team to share rooms. It's logical.

It is also a disaster waiting to happen.

Louis' been avoiding Harry ever since he accidentally fell on his lips again (what do you call it? Temporary insanity? He'd like to plead that, please). He's also trying to avoid Zayn, because he's getting far too suspicious of Louis and Harry's thing, and Louis knows he'll disapprove. Not even because Harry's anything less than a sweetheart, but because he was there to pick up the pieces after last season and probably wouldn't want a repeat.

So Louis sticks to Liam's side like a leech. It's okay, up until the point when he has to skip the press dinner to go to the hotel gym. Liam works him hard as ever, and doesn't ask questions. When they go to the reception after a quick shower and change to ask for their key cards, Louis is informed he'll be staying with H Styles. It occurs to him that if that's the arrangement for the opening race, there's no reason it won't be like that for all the rest of them. It occurs to him that nine months of sleeping with Harry could make a saint or a sinner out of him.

He'd like to cry now. "D'you reckon I could bunk with you and Zayn?"

Liam raises an eyebrow at him. "Uh, sure you want to?"

Louis suddenly recalls Liam and Zayn's arrangement. Or rather, Zayn and Perrie's arrangement, in which Liam gets a free pass during the season. At least, that's what Louis' gathered. He has enough tact not to ask too many questions. (A blatant lie, he'd ask thirty times a day if he thought he'd get an answer. Zayn can be surprisingly vague, for how many heart-to-hearts they have.) "Great, everyone's getting shagged but me. Can I retire now? I think I have more to offer than racing. I could, like. Babysit, I'm good at that. Or be a pilot – a cockpit's a cockpit, yeah?"

Liam thumps the back of his head. "Don't say that two days before the first GP, you twat. And don't bumfuck Harry Styles."

"That's what I'm trying to avoid, Payno, by not staying in the same room as him." Honestly, Louis needs to get some credit for his restraint. He's had plenty of opportunities to bumfuck Harry Styles over the past month and he's kept his hands mostly to himself.

"Hey, I know that," Liam says honestly. Wow, Louis must really seem distraught if it's softened Liam up. "We're just trying to look out for you, but I know you'll do fine. Just, y'know. Count sheep or something."

Right. Sheep. Louis thinks about farm animals as he trudges to his floor and slips the keycard in as quietly and discreetly as possible. He needn't have bothered – Harry's not there, probably still giving autographs at the dinner or being dragged to some sponsor event.

The room is very nice – two queen sizes and a huge window. Someone put Louis' luggage in the closet. He takes his time changing to track bottoms and brushing his teeth. It would be ideal to already be asleep by the time Harry comes back and avoid any interaction, but Louis' always been a glutton for punishment.

By the time he stretches his overworked muscles on the bed, it's rather late and Harry's still not back. Some crazy part of him is trying to encourage him to actually text Harry like some mother hen or jealous boyfriend. Louis resists.

It takes him a while to fall asleep. He's still sort of buzzing from the adrenaline, and the more he tries to clear his head, the more he thinks about the first practice tomorrow, and the more alert he becomes. He never knows if it's excitement or nerves that keep him up on nights like this, but at least it's a comfort to know it's not just Harry troubling him.

Harry. Who's still not turned up at… 11:48, according to the television clock.

A new, unwelcome thought filters through Louis' brain, and he snaps his eyes wide open. What if he's spending the night with someone?

Okay, so fans aren't exactly throwing their knickers at them like they did in the seventies, and they have wholesome sponsors to worry about now (see: The Closet Thing), but Harry's too fit for his own good and could have easily been dragged off to some seedy place.

Before Louis has too long to entertain this thought and possibly call Harry in a panic, he hears some banging outside the door. Like the coward he is, Louis quickly turns over and shuts his eyes to pretend he's asleep.

The door opens and shuts subtly enough, but two seconds later Harry bumps into something and starts cursing. Louis turns over to peek. So Harry's still in his Cowell overalls, and it doesn't look particularly sexed-up, though it is dark and none of Louis' business so he tries not to dwell. Harry's stumbling through the room until he finally finds the light switch to the ensuite. "Louis?"

Louis quickly closes his eyes, and when he dares to open them again, Harry must have determined that he was asleep. That's, at least, one explanation to why he's stripping in the middle of the room when the ensuite's just there.

He doesn't stop at his pants, either, because of course he sleeps naked. And Louis watches him because of course Louis' a creepy creeper. It's just that. His shoulders are broad and he arches his back a bit when he takes off his top and he's so lean and broad and tattooed everywhere and his bum -

Is where Louis draws the line. He flops on his stomach and closes his eyes for the last time, tries to calm himself down.

Harry isn't awake to judge him when two hours later, he sneaks to Liam and Zayn's room.

*

Harry wakes up just before 6 am, and promptly dashes to the toilet to throw up. It's a good sign, actually, wouldn't be a practice day without it. He'll tell Nick about it, Nick will say he should have at least gotten drunk to warrant the nausea, he'll roll his eyes, Cal will take over the meeting, and they'll get down to business.

Suddenly it hits him. Nick and Cal aren't on his team. They'll be strategizing with Fernando and Felipe.

He hurls again.

"Uh, Harry?"

Of course Louis would catch him while dry-heaving and panicking. He tries to take a deep breath and answer, but the smell just catches up to him and he's back to the toilet.

"Harry, you okay?"

"Fit as a fiddle," he croaks out.

"You must have some very sick fiddles," Louis comments. Even first thing in the morning, and through a door, he sounds like a sarcastic little shit.

"Does a guitar count as a fiddle?"

"I think it's just another word for violin. Wait, you play the guitar?"

"Not really."

"Then why – " Louis starts, sounding exasperated, but then trails off. "I play the piano."

Harry perks up a bit. "Yeah?"

"And some bass. It's all very amateurish, though, not like I had time to start a band between kart races."

"Still ended up a rock star." Harry likes that thought. Louis being too bright to end up as anything else.

Louis scuffs the door. "Look who's talking. With that voice you probably could've been a singer, you know?"

"Yeah, the slowest singer in the world."

Louis laughs. "Say, can I come in now? So we can talk like normal people? Or at least let me hold your hair while you vom?"

It occurs to Harry that he's smiling down a toilet without much of a reason. He chucked all he could. "Yeah, just a sec." He flushes the toilet twice and thoroughly washes his face and mouth, and then sprays enough air freshener to nearly trigger an asthma attack. He still looks like a mess, but there's not much he can do about that in the three seconds it'll take for Louis to break down the door. "Okay, I'm good."

Louis waltzes in, and immediately doubles over. "Jesus Christ, if Zayn so much as stuck a finger in here the whole room would blow."

"Excuse me for trying to make it smell nicer than sick for you," Harry replies, crossing his arms. Louis tracks the motion with his eyes. He's really doing a swell job of not looking at Harry's dick.

Harry wraps a stray towel around his waist anyway, and nearly drops it when Louis throws him a water bottle. Louis snorts. "How do you corner with those reflexes?"

Harry glares. "My team…" he trails off, remembering what caused the breakdown in the first place.

Louis catches on fast and approaches Harry like he might a skittish animal. Harry tries to make himself look as available as possible. He's a cuddle first, ask questions later kind of guy. Louis ends up leaning against the sink next to Harry, so close their shoulders are touching. From here, Louis looks about as well-rested as Harry does. "Sorry I woke you up," he mumbles.

"Oh, I didn't sleep here – now, I wasn't asleep. Wanna hit the gym, get some time in with the team before the practice." He shrugs against Harry. "I'm guessing you didn't get up with the alarm, though."

"No, I." Fine. He'll just say it. He's an honest man. Random kisses or no, Louis is his teammate, which means he could either be his biggest rival or his best friend. Harry could use friends. "I lost my team, y'know? I've been with Ferrari since the start and – "

"And it's scary to start over. But it's not like you're trying to fit in at sixth form. It's your job, and you're brilliant at it, so the rest is easy. Plus, you dragged Niall with you, right? And you've probably already memorised the names of every Chris, David and Matt in your pit crew, maybe not including their wives and kids."

It takes Harry a second. Then he bursts out laughing. "Did you just name Doctors?"

Louis huffs and nudges his shoulder. "Look, I'm just saying I'm pretty sure your team's already half in love with you, if they've got a head on their shoulders. You're – loveable. Very charming, Harry Styles."

He tries not to read into it, and just takes the compliment. "I guess."

"Plus, you've got me," he adds, wrapping an arm around Harry's shoulder and gesturing from Harry to himself. "And I'm top of the social food chain. No one's gonna fuck with you."

Harry carefully leans his head on Louis, starting to curl in. He might get that cuddle after all. "Right. Will you take me to school formal?"

Louis pokes him for being cheeky. "That depends. Will you wear a dress?"

Harry inches his face towards Louis' neck, so that he's mostly talking in his ear. "Hmm. Maybe after."

"And scene," Louis exclaims, disentangling from Harry completely and clapping his hands together. "Right! Are you coming to the gym or are you gonna stay here and cry?"

Two hours later, Harry's strapping in for the first practice and it's only under the helmet that he can finally breathe in deep. If Louis' managed to distract him from his panic, the meeting has subdued it and the race has him antsy. It's deafening here, but a quiet calm settles over him, a focus that's crucial for racing. It's far from his first season, but he feels like it's his debut. It's just practice.

They're all on the grid. The last thing he looks at before the green light is Louis' 70. It's somehow comforting.

*

Coming in third gives Louis a rush. It lasts for maybe half an hour. In the second practice session he beats his own time by nearly an entire second, but still comes in after Red Bull. Louis tries not to let it get to him; it's only Friday.

The day passes in a blur. Three hours on the track, plus technical debriefs and performance evaluations, plus giving nice quotes, plus having slept briefly and badly all mean Louis' dead on his feet by the evening. Harry looks as cheery as anything; surprising considering Louis found him crouching over a toilet this morning.

"Trying to make me look bad, Styles?" he whispers while signing a few notebooks, subtly coming up next to Harry.

When Harry looks over, Louis wants to vault at least eight countries away. He is beaming. His curls are pushed back and his cheeks are actually rosy. "Did you see the dad with his son's toy car?" he asks. His inflection isn't excited (it rarely changes), but his eyes are shining.

"What?" Louis asks, moving down the line and waving.

"There's a dad who asked me to sign his kid's car because he's a big little fan. Isn't that adorable? I mean, he also mentioned having to buy a tiny Ferrari uniform only to have me switch teams, but like, I think it was more cheeky than angry?"

Louis stares at him until Fernando jostles him forward. He sighs. "That is cute, I think. Is the kid here?"

"He's gonna come with his mum on race day. Wouldn't it be great if I found him?"

The chances of that happening are subzero. But it's Harry, so who knows. Louis quite badly wants to pat him, at least for distracting Louis from his thoughts, but the cameras are everywhere. He settles for a quick nudge, and then focuses on the crowd again. He loves meeting fans, he really does, but the sponsor parties are exhausting. He's just glad Eleanor has to deal with the post-practice press conferences. (He's just glad they're on good terms after the disaster that was last season.)

When the dinner party's finally done, he and Harry slip out and head to the hotel. They don't actually talk until they're both in their beds with the lights off, too caught up in their thoughts. So the race saved Louis from focusing on Harry stripping again. Just as well; bunking with a mechanic and an engineer two days before a Grand Prix is a recipe for disaster.

Louis, being Louis, breaks the silence. "What are you thinking?"

"I'm still thinking about that kid," Harry replies quietly. It's a bit unfair, seeing as Louis' half-deaf from being in the car all day, but he's started to attune himself to Harry's drawl.

"Bullshit. You're thinking about qualifying."

The qualifying session is tomorrow at five, after a last practice. It's the session that determines their grid places, and if Harry's looking to make an impression he won't settle for anything lower than top five. If Louis remembers correctly, Harry came in sixth in the first practice, but climbed to the third in the second one, right after Louis. Still, Louis knows he's got much more in him. He's probably better than Louis himself.

Maybe that's why he makes him nervous after all.

"I'm trying to compartmentalise for now," Harry admits. "Tomorrow I'll wear myself out thinking about the race. Tonight I'll think about today."

Very Zen for someone who compartmentalised himself into morning sickness. Louis doesn't say that.

"And cute kids."

"Exactly. What are you thinking about?"

Louis rubs his eyes. "The grip was a bit shit during the first practice, made me run wide at the corner. I'm thinking if I stop at the pit lane before – "

"Lou," Harry cuts him off. "Stop thinking about that. Tell me something nice that happened today."

It's a bit unsettling, how long it takes him. Louis' always liked to work as hard as he played; he was extremely focused and dedicated when he wasn't pranking the mechanics by leaving dirty pants in tool boxes. He's got so much to prove after the last season, too. But he guesses Harry gets that. They both have a lot riding on this.

One sheep. Two sheep. Something nice. "I was glad you didn't throw up again."

Harry snorts. "You thought I was gonna throw up during the practice?"

"Hey, it happens. My first ever GP I threw up. Right on the grid, too, ten minutes before the first lap." He wrinkles his nose at the memory. It's good that he's at the stage where it's an anecdote and not The Worst Moment of His Entire Life.

"Oh god," Harry says, poorly concealing a giggle. "I remember that. No one even cared who won, it was all HQ shots of you vomiting."

"Thought for sure Simon was gonna fire me personally."

"Then you won the two following Grands Prix. Moved from Vomit Guy to The Rogue."

Louis smiles into his pillow. "You've done your research."

"Mate, I wasn't lying. When I was still in GP2 I was your biggest fan. You're gonna do great tomorrow."

At their level, racing is all about luck. But maybe it won't hurt having Harry Styles believe in him. "You're my biggest competition anyway." If they're being honest. Whatever, it's late and Harry seems to be in a perpetual need of reinforcement.

"D'you think it's weird the big guys haven't decided on a favourite yet?" Harry asks after a minute.

"I think they're waiting to see how it plays out," Louis answers, though he's as baffled as Harry. Last night when he tried to fall asleep he asked Zayn about the differences between Jeanne and Marcel. Even if Zayn knew which car was better, Louis nodded off three sentences in, so he has no idea. Maybe during the race he'll get the order from Liam – let Styles through. Maybe Harry will get it from his boss, Paul.

Maybe Harry's compartmentalising is worth shit. "I'm gonna go to sleep now," he announces.

"You won't be able to," Harry puts in.

"Probably not. Are you going to tell me to count sheep?"

Harry scoffs. "I was going to offer you my Harry Potter audiobooks, but I don't think you'd appreciate them."

Louis won't admit to anything. He lets the silence rest for so long Harry might have fallen asleep himself. Then he whispers, "Which books?"

It only takes Harry a second to answer. "The fifth and sixth ones."

"Wow mate, you really are trying to put me to sleep."

So Harry puts them on speaker. Louis actually goes to sleep amused two days before a Grand Prix.

*

Louis almost forgot how mad it is on race day. They're only starting in the afternoon, but people are flooding the racetrack well before that, and the only ones more stressed than the drivers are the mechanics. Louis' pretty sure Liam would have slept in the garage if he were allowed, and he's not even technically a mechanic.

Harry started the day by vomiting again, and this time he actually let Louis hold his hair back. It would have been nice if it weren't so gross. Still, he indulged; hugging Harry tightly and whispering to him how amazing he did in qualifying, how he and Louis were only a hair's breadth apart.

It's that hair's breadth that kept Louis confident, though. It's the first race of the season – as much as he likes Harry, Louis' going to fucking get first place if it kills him. Which is, of course, a stressful aspiration. In that case, comforting Harry is somewhat calming for him. Like talking him up takes some of the pressure off himself. He doesn't have to be the star if he and Harry are almost-equals.

Never mind the fact Louis was the reason Cowell had to sign a big shot like Harry Styles in the first place, after epically fucking up, after how much he's cost them. He is not minding that. He is doing the opposite of that.

He also doesn't think about the way Harry glows with every compliment. That definitely doesn't calm him.

So he turns to sarcasm. And when the reporters huddled at the paddock entrance shout about Louis' redemption and Harry proving himself, Louis sort of fucks up. He throws an arm around Harry's shoulders and says loudly, "I'm gonna crush you."

Harry raises an eyebrow, and then grins. Right, after a whole day of buttering him up Louis had no chance of upsetting him. "I think your time's up," he replies.

"Harry, you lagged behind Louis during qualifying. Do you think you haven't adjusted to the team yet?" a reporter asks.

"I think my amazing team is gonna blow Louis out of the water."

Maybe Louis hasn't fucked up after all.

"Well I think your beginner's luck is gonna run out," Louis retorts, hoping he sounds serious. God's obviously on his side, since they're ushered to the grid and he got to have the last word. Harry actually makes a cutthroat gesture before putting on his helmet. He's an idiot.

If Friday was "just Friday", and qualifying was "anything can change", this is fucking it. It's 58 laps, 307.5 kilometres, nearly two hours of trying to overtake 22 skilled drivers. While not suffocating in his uniform, not losing focus for even half a second, and not crashing into anyone, or worse, falling behind.

And Louis thrives. He might be insane. He might have gone insane the moment he got into his first crummy go-kart, or when he signed up for his first championship, or when he did the NASCAR meets Formula 1 special to bounce back from the last season. It was probably the first time Liam and he went on a rollercoaster, and he's been chasing that rush ever since.

During the race he feels suspended in time – each lap brings a new challenge, until he realises he's actually ahead and the only one on his heels is 17 Black. Harry. They have ten laps to go and Louis steps it up, brings the car to its limits once, twice – sixteen turns. He's buzzing on adrenaline and speed and Jeanne's roar, has nothing but Liam's voice in his earpiece to ground him. He doesn't get an order to let Harry shine. All Liam says is, careful, yes, no, now, take it, crush him.

After the race, though, it's a whole other thing. It's the sweet minute of the engine cooling and feeling high as a fucking kite, limbs numb, mind whirring. It feels like coming really hard, only Louis has no down time. He has to get out of the car, has to go to the fucking podium, and by the time the rush leaves him all he wants to do is get back on the track.

Only this time is a bit different. Because Harry's to his right, climbing to the podium. His legs are shaky and his face is flushed and his hair is messy and Louis' completely overwhelmed by the urge to fuck him raw right there.

That, that is the tricky bit. Because The Fuck-Up resulted from  a random hook-up gone awry, something he did out of boredom or a sense of adventure. This is completely different. If first place isn't enough to fulfil him, if this crippling lust he's feeling right now is something that sticks – well, he can just fucking go home, can't he?

He's already lost.

*

 
 

Harry's phone has been ringing off the hook. Like, if phones still had hooks and stuff, that's definitely what would be happening. It's Cowell people, it's cordial buddies from Ferrari, it's Gemma, it's mum and dad. All to congratulate him. Even though Louis won first place and he won second, Harry's still getting an enormous amount of attention for going through a transition and still racing beautifully.

For once, Harry doesn't really mind. He feels amazing. The race is a blur, everything but crossing the finish line for the last time hazy. Scarily enough, seeing Louis was almost as exciting as seeing the score. Louis looked wrecked and overjoyed and like nothing Harry's ever seen before. It left him with a dry throat and a blank mind.

From there to the post-race press conference, Harry'd had an hour to change and clear his head. At least with only three drivers on this side of the cameras, Harry's able to keep some distance from Louis. (It's unreasonably hard, when Louis can't stop smiling. He's practically radiating and Harry just wants to stretch out all over him and soak it in.)

The questions from the conductors are easy enough. Louis answers about coming back from a bad season and winning the opening Grand Prix, about the conditions of the circuit and the cheers he got at the podium. Then it's over to Harry, and he manages to stumble through a few answers about his performance with a different team and the overtaking he did at the beginning of the race.

The questions from the floor are more cutthroat, about the apparent brutal competition between Harry and Louis. Harry's absolutely baffled for a minute, wondering why he'd want to overthrow Louis when mostly he just wants to throw himself over Louis. Then he remembers their little jibes from the grid.

Before he snorts himself into oblivion, Louis taps the microphone and manages to keep a straight face when he says, "Yes, I'm quite pleased I put Harry in his place."

"Harry? Comment?" the reporter asks.

Harry considers nipping it in the bud. But then Louis' eyes turn to him, screaming challenge, and yeah, Harry wouldn't mind playing a game with him. "I'll see you in Malaysia."

The post-race events are insane. There are photo ops and signings, then a huge dinner, a concert by an Australian band called 5 Seconds of Summer (which must be ironic, they should be at least British with that name), and a party. Harry loses Louis during the dinner, and though he thinks he sees a Louis-shaped person downing a few shots at the party, he's soon being dragged off by Niall. Who is apparently the biggest fan of said Australian band. So Harry spends his victory night hanging out with four teenagers and a very drunk Niall. It's no worse than any night out with Nick, so Harry counts that as a positive.

Their room is empty when Harry makes it back to the hotel. His buzz has definitely died down by now. He briefly considers logging onto Skype, but as soon as he sits down to peel off his jeans, he sort of collapses on the bed and blacks out for two minutes. Okay, he probably won't survive a shower.

Harry settles for stripping down and throwing himself on his bed. It's been an amazing day, all in all. Second place, great car, great team, great show. It hits him suddenly. This is the first time he's felt absolutely convinced this wasn't a mistake. He grins to himself, totally not like a lunatic, and tweets one last time before going to sleep.

He wakes up in immediate panic: it's 7 AM and he needs to go to the gym and prepare for practice and go to the garage and – no, it's still dark out. Harry closes his eyes in relief, only to snap them back open when he realises that 1) he has ten blessed days before he has to think about the next GP, and 2) he was woken up by a noise.

More precisely, Louis stumbling into the room.

"Bro, you gonna be okay?" someone whispers (Zayn, probably; it's mostly dark in the room).

"What do you take me for?" Louis replies, loud and obnoxious.

"Shut the fuck up, can't you see he's sleeping?"

"Who?" Louis asks, making his way through the room. Zayn stays by the door. Then, "Oh, Haz. Harry." He says it quite… fondly. Harry tries not to react, but his acting is horrendous on the best of days. He bites the inside of his cheek and hopes Louis' as trashed as he sounds.

"I have to go help Li but promise me you'll drink some water."

"Yeah." He sounds quieter, maybe distracted. Harry really wishes he could see his face.

"And sleep in your own bed."

Louis makes a frustrated sound at that, which has Harry biting his lip. "But I'm horny."

Zayn huffs. "You swore. No shagging."

"But I won first place, I just want a prize, my just rewards. Desserts. Yeah."

"I don't care, Jesus Christ, we've just been over this half an hour ago. I'll check in with you in the morning. Keep your hands to yourself."

Louis whines to himself as Zayn closes the door behind himself. The room is completely dark. If Harry's heart weren't hammering in his chest, if he weren't attuned to every sound Louis' making as he drunkenly gets ready for bed, he probably could have gone to sleep.

But Louis' just called Harry his prize, his prize for winning first place, and Harry's senses are in overdrive. It's got to be the worst of it, though.

Until it's not.

No, it's the cursing. At least, in the beginning. Because he could attribute the sheet rustling to Louis settling in, he could even attribute the spitting to his foul vodka-tasting mouth. But when Louis mutters fuck and breathes in deep, Harry knows what's happening.

It's not, like, traumatic. He guesses there are worse things than having Louis Tomlinson wanking in the bed next to him. The problem is that Harry's horny too, and he hasn't even thought about it since finishing the race – caught up with so many other things – but now it's dark and quiet save for wet noises and Louis' hitches of breath, and Harry can't think about anything else.

He… yes, fine, he turns over quietly so he's facing Louis' bed. And he might be peeking. And he can't believe it, but there's a strip of light from the gap between the curtains that's illuminating Louis' face, and Jesus. He's totally foregoing all furtive-wanking etiquette. There's no pinched expression, no lip-biting to stay quiet. His mouth is wide open to suck in gulps of air, and his eyebrows are slightly drawn in concentration.

Harry can't see his hips, but he hears him moving, going fast, a jerk for a gasp. He's always viewed Louis as a ball of energy, but. He's never thought about this situation. When Louis brings his free hand up to grasp the pillow by his head, Harry basically stops breathing. His muscles are clenching, fingers bunching the pillowcase tight. When he turns his head to bite his own bicep, it's even worse than when he had his mouth prettily agape. Because Harry knows that's going to leave a mark. Because Harry has that knowledge in his head that Louis likes to dig in. He can't just unlearn that.

(Well, he probably could, if he were a normal person who could close his eyes and give the sneaky masturbator a modicum of privacy. But when one sneakily masturbates, does one deserve privacy? Harry should ask someone. Ed'll probably know, Ed's smart. Maybe he should tweet about it.)

Jesus Christ, Harry has to think about Ed because Louis starts making breathy noises again. It's sort of amazing, really – Harry's a one-grunt guy, but Louis has, like, range, that somehow skips "embarrassing weird noises" and just goes from "really nice" to "fucking hot".

It doesn't actually take him that long to come, but these are exactly the stressful situations where Harry feels like time's slowing down and he's in some sort of limbo with his car or – in this case – his Louis. When he finally does come, he lets out this desperate groan and his bed shakes a bit. He looks completely serene.

Harry knows two things:

1) Louis' going to regret falling asleep like that.

2) Harry's achingly hard.

At least he has the brains to shuffle to the ensuite and wank in the shower. He's not an animal.

*

 
 

Louis must have slept for barely five hours. He wakes up to fierce light filling the room, and a nasty taste in the back of his throat.

The first thing he does is fumble a text to Liam. what happnd last night

To which Liam replies, ahah u flashed some paps and twitted that niall's pregnent

He knows it'll hurt, but Louis still has to roll his eyes. He ends up texting Zayn instead. what happened last night

got smashed but i pulled you out before you rlly embrsed me. were are you?

So Liam really was joking about the flashing. Good. bed.

yours???

Louis perks up to scan the room. Yes, his bed, yes, the room is empty, what, his clothes are neatly folded on the armchair. yeah did you fold my clothes?

no weirdo i don't love you that much

Which is a bold-faced lie. Louis just sends text me if your leaving oz xx and pulls the duvet back over his head.

Five hours later he wakes up to his phone ringing. He curses, still disoriented and possibly suffocating on a duvet. "What the shit who even – "

"It's, uh, on the nightstand," a deep voice cuts off his ranting.

Louis turns over to see Harry sprawled on his bed in some weird robe, tapping away on a laptop. He looks freshly-showered and particularly fluffy-haired. Louis chokes on his tongue. He shakes himself when the phone keeps ringing.

He gasps when he finally finds it. "Hello sir," he answers, hoping against hope he sounds like he hadn't been out drinking.

"Louis, how are you?" Simon Cowell asks.

"Great, really great." He sounds clipped even to his own ears. Harry raises an eyebrow at him, and Louis mouths what the fuck. He's already spoken to Simon yesterday, of course, after the double win. They both did. Two calls in as many days is bizarre.

"I trust you're still celebrating the win, so I'll keep this brief. Have you seen some of the headlines?"

"Uh." A split-second decision later, he's climbing into Harry's bed and taking his laptop. Either Harry's stunned or overly nice, but he doesn't bat an eyelash. "Yeah, I did," Louis says, while waiting for the BBC Sport page to load. Harry's leaning on him from behind, curious. Louis just puts the phone on speaker.

He's a bit shocked to see himself and Harry staring back at them from all three headlines: one covering Louis' win from yesterday, one quoting Ferrari about "not feeling snubbed by Styles' win for Cowell", and one about Harry and Louis' struggle for dominance on the team. He's annoyed by two out of three, which is better than most days.

"So are you and Harry Styles mortal enemies?"

It's quite funny that Simon Cowell would ask that while Louis is sitting mostly naked in Harry's lap. Louis snorts. "No. I mean, he is a bit shit – " earning a vicious pinch from Harry – "But we aren't trying to kill each other on the track or anything."

"Well, I need to know you'll inform us if there's an actual problem between you and Harry. We can't have tension ruining your focus, or worse, affecting your performances."

Harry chuckles into Louis' shoulder. This conversation has just passed the line between amusing into ridiculous. "I can assure you it's bullshit, sir. A joke that got out of hand. We'll tell everyone we're good next week."

"Actually, you won't. You're still our front-runner, but the media thinking there's friction or competition between you two creates some talk." Buzz. And the more people talk, the more exposure the sponsor gets. Louis sees where this is going.

"Right. Friction," he says dumbly. So Harry rubs his knuckles over Louis' spine, because he's a cheeky little bastard.

"Precisely. So really, I'm asking you to remain friendly but also to continue what you're doing."

"No problem," Louis says, missing the way Harry's hand falters. He's good at stirring shit, thinks of it as a game. It's not like it matters. Making it sound like he's in some glorious catfight with one of the most successful racers today is hardly a chip on his shoulder. These are the most flattering headlines he's gotten in six months. "We're not bothered."

He's really not.

Simon hangs up quickly after that, and then it's just Louis between Harry's legs. It's quite comfortable. Like, generally, Louis feels weirdly comfortable around Harry, talking to him and touching him. Okay, yesterday was a prime example of being impossibly uncomfortable around him, but it was a race day. Now he's just warm and sleepy and could do with a cuddle.

Wait. He's oddly sated for being hungover.

Oh god, he suddenly remembers the furious wank from last night. He's sure he was sneaky about it, he's not that much of an idiot – or maybe he is, since his boxers are sticking to him and he's in Harry's bed why is everything happening.

"Right, don't tell anyone, but your mortal enemy needs a shower." Louis extracts himself as smoothly as possible, and catapults to the ensuite. Which means that when he steps out of the shower, he has no clothes to change into. He peeks into the room, hoping that Harry's stepped outside, but he's still there – long legs stretched on the big bed, laptop still perched on him.

He slips back into the room quietly and turns around to drop his towel and change into track bottoms. Harry might have looked at him. Louis will never know.

"Alright?" Harry asks.

Louis turns around, is faced with how long Harry's entire body is, and then feels a distinct lack of something to do with his hands. So he picks up the towel and hangs it on the chair. "Did you fold my clothes or summat?"

"Might've done. Could you – d'you wanna sit back down?" he asks, closing the laptop lid. He might as well have crooked his finger and actually said "come hither". At least, that's what Louis thinks as he makes his way to Harry's bed.

He leans against the wall to Harry's left while Harry scoots towards the headboard. Harry just looks… extraordinarily pleased when Louis knocks their knees together and tucks his feet under Harry's thighs. He might just like being touched. Louis doesn't mind that.

"So I was thinking, like, you know how you still owe me a favour?" Harry starts.

Louis doesn't actually remember that occasion, but he says "Yeah" anyway.

"I figured that we only left home four days ago, and it was a bloody long flight, yeah? So there's really no sense in flying home to England and then flying out to Malaysia in three days. So what if we stay in Australia for a bit? Hang out? Do stuff?"

Louis manages to stay quiet during the pitch, but he can't not sigh when he processes what's just been offered. "You know – "

"Yeah, totally, no dates, it'll be date-free. I mean, Niall will be with us so that'll be a bit awkward anyway."

Louis eyes him. Harry smiles big enough he dimples. Oh god. "You can get away with murder, can't you?"

Harry just widens his weird Furby eyes. "You're the one who's folding himself on the edge of my bed, mate."

Louis brings his knees up to hide his face behind. It's almost sad, how much he'd like to just take Harry to the Carlton Gardens and then dinner under the stars and then kisses. He hopes hang-outs will be enough. "Sure, okay. What'd you have in mind?"

"Well." Harry looks like he hadn't expected Louis to actually agree to spending ten days with him, which is weird both because they have nine months of being in each other's pockets ahead of them, and because his smile grows into painful-looking proportions. "I'll have to think about it."

"You mean you haven't already? What have you been doing while I was sleeping off my hangover?"

"Mostly chicken fights with Niall. I don't understand Aussies who exist outside of pools."

That explains the wet hair and pink skin. "You're outside of a pool right now."

Harry smirks. "Liam came by on his way to the gym and suggested I return the favour and check you haven't choked on your own vomit. Apparently someone told him I'm inclined towards throwing up?"

"Oh god." He could respond in a number of ways. He chooses the one that would implicate him the least. "So you've been watching me sleep? Inclined towards voyeurism?"

He gets the weirdest reaction – Harry actually stammers and blushes, running his fingers over his lips. "Currently wishing you'd choked on your own vomit."

Louis laughs and leans on Harry to poke his sides. "That why you asked me out?"

"Hang out," Harry wheezes, pushing Louis away. "I asked you to hang out."

Louis launches one final attack and Harry shoves him so hard he slams his head against the wall. While Louis would have crowed in victory, Harry crawls all over him to make sure he's alright and, "Shit, I'm so sorry," and, "Show us if you've got a bump."

Really, Louis' just saying Harry could use help with his wooing techniques.