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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.

Chapter Text

Harry is a genius. His plan of getting over Louis by overexposure is going perfectly. Here he is, on a yacht with a shirtless, wet and buzzed Louis, and he's totally composed. He's the coolest.

"You're staring, knobhead," Niall says, thumping him on the head. Harry shakes his hair and kicks out, nearly tripping Niall up, if nearly means missing completely and almost sending the cooler straight into Port Phillip.

It's all lies, anyway, Harry isn't staring. He's texting. With the general knowledge that Louis' sucking on a beer bottle somewhere on the deck, beanie pulled over his wild hair and tattoos on display. Anyway, Harry's got his shades on, so Niall can't prove anything.

"Yeah Harold, get off your phone already," Louis shouts. "Come and engage."

Harry sighs dramatically and puts his phone away, knee-walking towards where Louis' splayed. He settles on a pillow next to Louis and elbows him. "Right, what are we talking about?"

"Zayn's dislike of sweets," Liam supplies. Zayn just shrugs, lighting up a cigarette.

Harry smirks. "Wanna see something funny?"

"As long as it's not a joke," Louis warns.

Harry rolls his eyes. "Hey Ni," he calls out.

"What?" Niall asks from somewhere near the ledge.

"What's your favourite dessert?"

Silence for a beat. Then, "Jesus Christ, Harry, what the fuck, that's like me asking you what's your favourite cat, are you fucking kidding me?" he groans, sounding truly gutted.

Louis and Liam laugh while Zayn rolls his eyes. "I just don't get the hype," he mutters.

Niall rejoins them with four cold bottles in hand, and squeezes in between Zayn and Liam rather obnoxiously. "I'll pretend I didn't hear that," he says, passing the beers along. (Harry's been doing a bang-up job with the staying sober thing.)

"Cheers," Louis says. He must be drinking like that on purpose. Harry's been doing a less than bang-up job of ignoring him, but whatever. "So lads, how about we take over this ship and go terrorise the seven seas?"

Liam snorts. "Just 'cause you had a sailor phase doesn't mean you can sail a boat, mate."

Harry quirks an eyebrow. "Sailor phase?"

"There was like, a whole year when Louis only wore stripes," Zayn explains, sounding just judgmental enough of Louis' fashion taste. "Plus he did the compass and rope on his forearm."

"Show us then," Niall says, reaching out to grab Louis' hand. The thing is, Harry's only looked at his tattoos as a clump of ink, he's never had a chance to properly inspect each of them. Most of them are still nonsense, but when he spots the compass he actually recoils. "That's fucking weird," Niall says.

Louis huffs, trying to snatch his hand back. "Oh, cheers for that, you dick."

"No, no, they're brilliant," Niall backtracks quickly. "It's weird because the compass looks exactly like Harry's ship."

Now it's Louis grabbing Harry's arm and pushing his own forearm against Harry's bicep. "Shit, you're right, that's downright freaky."

Niall's saying something, probably about how they're idiots for not noticing sooner, to which Louis replies he hadn't even noticed any ink other than the huge moth. Harry's not actually listening, though, since Louis' hand is still tight on his bicep and he's fighting the urge to flex. So he quite likes being grabbed. Whatever.

"It's gorgeous," Louis says quietly. Not like, quiet for Louis, but actually quiet, for Harry's ears only. His fingers are tracing the shape of the tattoo, and when Harry looks down he sees that Louis' eyes are glued to it.

"Thanks," he whispers back.

Louis' fingers slide up, tickling over another tattoo. "What's that?"

"It's my sister's name in Hebrew," he answers, voice as neutral as possible. "Gemma."

Louis raises his eyebrows. "How'd you know it doesn't say, like, penis or Nando's?"

What the hell. It'll take too long to explain that he knows a bit of Hebrew. "I don't think there's Nando's in Israel? And I trust the artist."

"The same one did all of them?"

"Well." He takes Louis' hand and leads it over his arm. "This one I did in Barcelona last year, and this one was in Germany. This one was right in Melbourne, actually."

"Races you've won?" Louis guesses, circling the rose with his pinkie.

"I wish. Just felt like it. You know how addictive it is." Harry shrugs, causing Louis' hand to drop to his hip. They both read the tattoo there at the same time. Might as well…

It's a good thing Liam chooses that moment to attack them with a water pistol. Well, no, the only good thing is that Harry's phone is tucked safely where he sat before. He jumps up while Liam cackles, hiding behind Zayn. Louis isn't hiding behind anything – he's fucking roaring about his expensive shades or something, and yelling for Niall to get him some ammo.

Harry thinks Niall's defected to Louis' team far too quickly. Then again, he's on Louis' team himself right now, so that works. While Niall's cursing and looking for a water pistol, Liam keeps squirting them. Harry picks up the pillow he'd been sitting on. After so many years, he knows himself pretty well. Enough to know he'll never make the shot if he tries pelting it on Liam's face. So he just throws himself forward and tries thumping it on him instead.

Zayn manages to make a clean getaway from the danger zone. Harry doesn't bother with him, he's too busy chasing Liam. True, Liam's some sort of body-builder and Harry's as gangly as he is spatially uncoordinated, but he is tall and he is armed with a pillow. His war cries are kind of menacing, too.

"I'll squirt all over your face, Harry Styles, and you'll like it," Liam cries back. Harry can't believe he's ever taken him seriously. Liam's just weird.

(He didn't think they'd stay for Harry and Louis' Epic Australian Platonic Hangout. But then while they were brainstorming for said hangout, Louis remembered that last year he and Liam went bungee jumping and surfing. Harry vetoed it after 0.2 seconds, so Louis called Liam to ask if he could think of other activities. Then Liam yelled at him for some reason, and a day later all five of them rented a yacht and sailed off from Victoria Harbour. It's been a great day. Liam and Zayn are good for a laugh, Niall could get along with venomous snakes, and Louis' Louis. And then there were water pistols.)

"You will not," Louis shouts from somewhere on the deck. A minute later Harry spots him, mostly because Louis' right behind him, grabbing his hip, and holding a neon-pink water pistol.

"What are you doing?" Harry whispers, as Liam manages to run farther away from his pillow's reach. There's no use trying to escape from Louis, though. He looks like he has a master plan and Harry should either play his part or fuck off. To be honest, he looks like that 40% of the time. (The other 60% he's fighting to include Harry. It's kind of sweet.)

Louis points to his pistol and then to an actual puddle in the middle of the deck. Liam does not see the puddle. Liam runs straight into the puddle. Liam slips and nearly somersaults in the air before landing smack on his back. Louis cheers for himself and runs straight over to kick him, only to slip and fall himself.

By the time Harry picks up Louis and Zayn picks up Liam, they're all soaking and bruised, and Niall's steering the yacht and screaming over the PA system that he's the "ship captain". He most definitely should not be doing that. At least not while he's high.

The sunset finds Louis and Harry huddled together in the captain's posh seat, pretending that being Formula 1 drivers means they're fit to sail a yacht. Niall made them take over, saying "a cockpit's a cockpit". A part of Harry wanted to argue that that is, like, not true at fucking all, but Louis got so excited and they were all baked by that point. (The actual captain is monitoring them closely anyway. They are worth too much money to Titanic this shit.)

Louis nudges him suddenly. "Sun's setting."

Harry looks away from Louis to pretend he'd noticed. "I noticed."

"Should we turn back?"

He doesn't want to. "I don't want to."

Louis laughs, loud and free. "Would you say this is a… thing you can't?"

Harry wants to say "What I can do is throw you overboard and hope you drown for saying that". He ends up throwing an arm around Louis' shoulder and tucking him in against him. The weather's dropped enough to pull on jumpers, and Louis' soft and small and stupid and perfect.

They're cuddling while literally sailing into the sunset. Harry is a genius.

*

Harry is a goddamn idiot.

"Did you actually forget we're racing this Sunday and not the next one? Is the jet set life wearing you out?" Louis asks, hiding a smirk.

Harry grumbles while looking for his seat. "I just didn't realise it'll be such a long flight."

"S'only eight hours. We can play cards, I brought a deck."

"For eight hours?" Harry asks, eyebrow rising to his beanie.

Louis shoves him against the posh seat. "You don't want me to make more suggestions."

Harry just rolls his eyes and puts both his and Louis' bags in the overhead compartments. Thing #49 Harry Styles is good for: hefting things to put in high places. If he weren't a walking fire hazard, he'd really be useful in a garage.

Two seconds later Harry freezes in his spot and Louis slams into his back. It's probably a punishment for staring at Harry's shoulder blades. "What the fuck?" he asks, leaning up to peek over his shoulder.

Harry's just staring at Zayn, already curled up and snoozing on Liam's shoulder. He's mostly covered by a hoodie and shades, yet still manages to look peaceful and gorgeous. "Sometimes I think he's actually a robot or an alien or summat."

Louis pats him on the shoulder consolingly. "I've known him for a million years and I still wonder."

"Well, he might have just altered your memories to think you've known him all your life. This might not even be his true form. Have you considered that?" Harry asks, sticking a finger in Louis' chest gingerly. Even when he's trying to make a point he's being gentle.

"Sit down already, Christ," he says, instead of admitting he's just made a mental note to check if Zayn's made of metal.

Harry hesitates. "Aisle or window?"

"Aisle please."

Harry obligingly climbs over the seat, and turns a prize-winning smile to Louis. It's a bloody good thing they've been not-dating. The only way Louis will make it out of this season alive is by getting immune and fast. He shakes his head and sits down, immediately pressing all the buttons within reach. Once his seat resembles a spaceship sleeping pod, he looks back at Harry. "Thanks mate. I can't sit down for eight hours."

"I know. You're always climbing the walls at the hotel. First I thought it was just stress before races, but then you did it after a full day of surfing and eating ice cream."

Louis shrugs. He wasn't aware Harry was actually that observant. "If you didn't wanna share you could've said." It was just assumed that they'd continue to share a room during their Epic Hetero Bro-out, since they stayed at the same hotel and Niall was more than happy to bunk with Liam and Zayn and do whatever it is mechanics do when there are no cars around.

"Nah, it's okay. I can tune out most of your nonsense by now," he says, grinning even while Louis tears off his beanie to flick his ear. Then he shoots out one of his unnaturally long legs to kick subtly at Louis'.

Ten minutes later their scuffle is interrupted by a pleasantly polite yet vaguely threatening flight attendant, that suggests Louis get out of Harry's lap so they could both fasten their seatbelts. Louis sincerely apologises, waits until she's turned around, and then crosses his eyes at Harry.

Harry throws a Violet Crumble bar at him – missing horribly and landing it in the seat in front of Louis'. He doesn't feel even slightly bad for laughing while Harry unfastens his seatbelt and launches himself over Louis to apologise to the elderly woman currently holding the candy.

"Shut up," Harry says, poking Louis' ribs.

Louis squirms away and plugs in his earphones. He lasts twenty full minutes before turning back to Harry. "Cards or movie?"

Shockingly, Harry closes his laptop and smiles at Louis. "Slapjack?"

Louis wrings his hands. "I'm gonna smack you so hard you won't be able to steer on Friday."

Harry stares at him for so long Louis bends forward to fish for his card deck just to look away. Finally, he comes up with the fantastic comeback: "You're gonna lose."

"You're really bad at shit-talk, aren't you?" Louis asks, starting to shuffle.

"I'm bad at, like, confrontation in general," Harry admits, now staring at Louis' hands. "Niall handles it for me. He likes to remember he's an Irish badass every once in a while."

"Liam's amazing at it. We were at some sponsor event and I got in a fight with Tom Parker from Lotus, that absolute cock, and Liam just showed up and was like, our pit crew chief has more GP wins than you."

Harry laughs. "I think I was there, actually. Last year in Monte Carlo?"

Louis wants to deny that right away, but thinking back, he actually has no idea. There's a big chance Harry really was there. It's such a strange thought, that they were at the same place at the same time and Louis didn't even notice. That for at least two years they raced each other, stayed in the same places and virtually travelled the world together, but weren't Harry-and-Louis. How could anyone not notice Harry,with his big eyes and big laugh and ridiculous hair?

"Lou?" Harry asks, confused.

Louis clears his throat and divides the deck. "Sorry. Got distracted by future-me thrashing you."

He can think all he wants about how weird their instant bond is, how bad it is that he wants to jump Harry's bones, but it wouldn't change the fact he'd stick within ten metres of Harry 24/7 if he could.

So maybe it's Louis that's the idiot.

*

Pouring Sepang isn't too kind to the Cowell team. Harry blows the timing to switch to dry tyres, and comes a solid fifth place after a long and wet race. Louis beat him a close fourth place, so at least they won't be taking angry calls. Harry still feels like shit.

The problem with being surrounded by his favourite people is that he can't tell anyone how awful he feels. Niall would take the blame on his crew. Louis might feel bad for winning. So Harry sulks internally, until Louis approaches him after a team meeting. It couldn't have been more welcome – Harry's been annoyed with himself and the rain hasn't stopped banging an infuriating rhythm on the tin roof.

"Haz, you know what's great about fourth and fifth place?" Louis asks after pulling Harry aside, close to the garage doors. It's absolutely pissing outside. "We don't have to do any fucking press conferences."

Harry doesn't feel that much better, but he does crack a smile for Louis. He knows Louis must be having it worse than him – falling from second to fifth place isn't as bad as falling from first to fourth place, and Louis has the occasional unexpected self-deprecating spree. Still, Louis' making an effort to help Harry out of his sulk. The least Harry can do is smile. "That is a plus."

"And if I told you I got Eleanor to cover for us if we happened to head straight back to the hotel?"

The longer Harry gapes at him, the wider Louis' smirk gets. "I'd probably kiss you."

If he expected the smirk to drop from Louis' face, it only got more impish. Louis grabs his hand and without warning pulls him out into the rain. His hair is matted over his eyes within a minute, and his uniform weighs on him. Louis just holds his hand tighter and keeps smiling. "Liam's set up a car for us somewhere," Louis shouts over the rain. This plan has actually been thought out. "I say we jump in as many puddles as we can on the way." Harry is actually going to kiss him.

Harry's sure he's looking at Louis like he's actual sunshine, but who the bloody fuck could blame him? Louis is a tiny gorgeous man in a driver's uniform jumping into puddles and stringing Harry along. He can feel the fifth place brand washing off him with the downpour.

And as grateful as he is for the comic relief, he tries to splash Louis as hard as Louis' trying to splash him. To anyone they'd probably look like manic five-year-olds. Harry doesn't really care. It's not like anyone can see them, anyway, Louis' leading them behind the garages and along some made-up path while everyone else is either at the press conference or already at the hotel.

In one jump he manages to soak Louis all the way up to the waist. Only at that point Louis lets their hands slip away and he shoves Harry in a strop. Of course Harry slips and falls right on his bum. Buggering fuck, it hurts. Louis' eyes flare and he immediately drops to his knees, putting both hands on Harry's shoulders. "You okay?"

In lieu of touching his bum to make sure it's still there, he tries to fix his fringe. It accomplishes absolutely nothing, but it makes him feel better. Louis shifts closer like a curious animal until he's between Harry's legs and running a hand over Harry's hair. "Much better than the helmet head," he comments, actually winking.

Harry pushes his personal limit and does three things at once: brings his knees up so Louis' trapped, puts his hands on Louis' hips in a gentle grip, and leans in. Waiting.

Louis' the one that makes the final move. The kiss is mostly rain and silly smiles, but not unsatisfying. Harry's giddy for being so close to Louis.

Louis' the one that breaks it. Harry opens his eyes quickly and bites his lip to somehow preserve the feeling. Louis' just smiling at him coyly, like he remembered a hilarious joke or Harry's hair is as much of a disaster as he'd imagined. He pulls away more gracefully than Harry could ever hope for, and reaches out a hand to help Harry up. All the while, he's twisting his head nearly 180 degrees to check if there's anyone in sight.

So, Louis doesn't seem too horrified by the transgression. Harry mulls that over as they clamber into the car and shake out their hair like wet dogs. Harry thinks about that as they get in the lift to their room, gaining dirty looks from people much drier and cleaner than them. Harry reminds himself of that as he peels off his boots and overalls.

Basically, Harry has to think back to Louis' pleased smile for every second that Louis doesn't resume kissing him.

"Right, so," Louis finally says, apparently thinking the best time to broach the subject is while Harry's taking a particularly hot shower. "How are you?"

"Alright?" Harry answers, washing shampoo out of his eyes. "Showering?"

"Hey, I've been meaning to ask – did you nick the shampoo from the Australian hotel or did you just bring your own from home?"

"Uh, I always bring some from home."

"Oh. Why?"

Harry shrugs, then remembers Louis can't see him through the shower curtain. "Dunno, I like smelling nice. I've got some scented candles in my suitcase, too."

"You do."

"Oh, d'you find them?"

"No, I meant you do smell nice. Kinda fruity but also manly," Louis assures him.

Harry pauses with his fingers still in his hair. "That's actually exactly what it says on the bottle."

Louis snorts. "You shit – okay, I'm spiralling. I need to say something. Are you done yet?"

"Hmm, I dunno, I haven't put my face mask on yet, and I need to take the hair net off so – "

"Oh my god, I'm just gonna leave." Harry waits to hear the click of the door before shutting off the water and stepping out. He wraps a towel around his waist and doesn't spare a look in the mirror. Louis actually sounded serious.

He finds Louis sprawled on Harry's bed, knotting his fingers together. Resolutely not looking at Harry. Harry just ignores him and bends over his suitcase to find clean pants. Louis actually curses. He only picks the conversation back up when Harry pulls his briefs on and sits down at the foot of his bed.

Louis shuffles towards him. "Do you usually like good news or bad news first?"

As per usual, Harry's mostly lost. "Good news, I guess."

Harry's completely lost when Louis leans forward and kisses him again. However, he's learned not to ask questions and just go with it. He rests one hand on Louis' sharp jaw and another in his hair, running his tongue over Louis' lips until he opens his mouth. Louis makes a tiny noise when their tongues touch, and sort of melts into Harry's body. Harry's breath catches, and he turns his head slightly upwards. Louis gets the message and takes over, sucking on his tongue and crawling until he's almost in Harry's lap.

He thinks, this is a highlight. He thinks, what the fuck are we doing. They kiss until he's shivering from the cold and his lips are bitten numb. Louis' breathing heavily, almost laughing on an exhale. Harry keeps bumping their noses, pressing their foreheads together, not quite ready to sacrifice this closeness. Louis whines and paws weakly at his chest, but doesn't actually pull back. Harry's still got his eyes closed, and is contemplating the dumbness of kissing Louis' cheek when Louis reminds him, "The… the bad news."

"Right," Harry agrees, running his knuckles over Louis' toned back.

"This can't keep happening. Especially not outside. I just can't. I'm sorry. I know I was the one but I just. I'm sorry." He actually sounds mournful, so Harry ignores the chill that comes over him and kisses his cheek.

"Hey, I get it," he hushes him. "I mean, I don't really, but I don't wanna make things harder for you."

To feel rather than see Louis smile is really something. Harry has to duck down for another kiss, but doesn't let it turn into a snog. He still doesn't open his eyes.

"D'you think we could still hang out this week?" Louis asks suddenly.

"What, stay in Malaysia?" He definitely ignores the warmth blooming in his belly.

"Yeah. I had a really good time last week. And it's supposed to clear up. And, I dunno. If you don't think it'll be too bad."

What, not kissing you? "Yeah, let's. It'll be nice. I'm in no rush."

Louis sort of sags until he's hanging off Harry's neck in a fierce hug that should not happen with Harry almost naked, but whatever. He holds on tight. There's no rush.

The first day it's still stormy out, so they all raid Liam and Zayn's room to abuse the minibar and watch movies. They bicker over which to watch – Liam wants a superhero movie, Harry votes for a romantic comedy, Niall and Louis lobby for a stoner action comedy, and Zayn's mostly asleep.

Louis tries to kick him awake, but Liam jumps on his bed and bodily protects him. "Stop that, he was up all night on Facetime with Perrie."

"Aw, that his mum?" Harry asks while trying to hook up his laptop to the hotel television. He misses the appalled looks from everyone (awake) in the room.

"No, his fiancée," Niall answers.

Harry pokes his head up from behind the television and looks at Liam, confused. Luckily he catches Louis making a cutthroat motion before blurting that he thought for sure he and Zayn were together. "Cool," he says, and goes back to fiddling with the cables. Two mechanics in the room and no one suggests helping him. He's surrounded by people who want him electrocuted, obviously. "Then I propose we watch something quiet. You know, without any explosions. So we won't bother him."

Liam makes a face. Suddenly Niall says, "You know what would be funny?"

"I am not watching Pineapple Express with you again," Harry tells him right away.

"No, but how about the Ricky Bobby movie?"

Louis snorts. "Isn't it a bit cliché to watch a racing movie?"

"I dunno, it's fucking hilarious. I think we all need something hilarious right now. And I'd betcha models watch Zoolander in their free time. Zayn told me."

"So he's a robot-alien model?" Harry asks.

"What?" Liam turns confused eyes to him.

"It's a theory me and Harry – it doesn't matter," Louis says, patting Zayn's hair.

"Right. Well, did you hear Thor's doing a racing movie?" Liam asks.

"Really? About who?"

"James Hunt."

"The Shunt?" Niall asks. "Is he the one that had a boner all the time and like, raced while high or something?"

Harry isn't that sure, but the safe option would always be to disagree with Niall. "I think that was just you, mate."

"Hey, when I won me first GP – "

"What?" Louis interrupts them, jumping from Zayn's bed to Liam's, where Niall is currently lounging. "When you what?"

"Didn't you know Nialler used to race?" Harry asks.

Louis gapes comically at them. "Are you fucking with me?"

"Nah mate, it's legit," Liam assures him. "Three years ago, remember The Craic?"

Louis' eyes widen even further. "You mean the idiot no one could pronounce the name of? He was the biggest racer Ferrari had before – "

"H here undermined me," Niall agree easily. Niall isn't physically capable of holding grudges anyway.

"But he disappeared! You – I don't believe it." He looks seconds away from poking Niall to make sure he's not a ghost.

Niall belly-laughs. "You're a right arse, Tommo."

"Didn't you have a commentary show on Radio 1? Oh god, it's all coming back to me – it was called What's Craicing, innit?"

"It was a stint."

"It ran for a year, you adored me. If it were on telly I would've recognised you back home, I swear. How the fuck did you end up a mechanic?"

Niall shrugs. "Got bored of racing, I s'pose. All the working out. I try to chill more. But I still love cars and Harry, so there you have it."

Louis looks over at Harry and his face softens unmistakably, so Harry just buries his head behind the television. After an agonising minute of trying to eliminate all fondness for Louis or Niall from his face, Liam says, "It's been connected for like five minutes, Hazza."

"Well why the bloody hell didn't anyone tell me?" he pouts, padding over to pick up his laptop and climb to Liam's bed with it. With no hesitation, Louis brutally kicks Niall off the bed so Harry can snuggle up next to him. Niall doesn't even flinch, just uses his new low ground position to crawl closer to the minibar and pull out a beer. Harry's quite pleased.

They do end up watching Ricky Bobby on Netflix, and then go on to Anchorman (which Louis apparently knows by heart). They consider actually moving their bodies at that point, but it's still drizzling out and no one wants to wake Sleeping Beauty next to Liam, so they watch Thor next. It paves the way to Harry's choice – Love, Actually.

When Zayn wakes up, Liam's stroking his hair, Harry and Louis have merged into one being, and Niall's curled up at the foot of the bed with his fifth bottle of Guinness. "Are we watching Grease?" he rasps out, sounding dazed.

Harry looks over at him and gives him a thumbs-up. "Tell me about it, stud."

"Oh my god," Zayn says, apparently giving up on keeping his head elevated and burying his nose in Liam's shirt. "S'it still raining?"

"Nah, it stopped hours ago," Liam answers, wrapping an arm around Zayn's shoulders.

"So we're just vegging out today?"

"Do I detect a note of criticism?" Louis chirps, lifting his head from Harry's chest. "Because if you have a problem with that you can leave the crew."

Zayn mumbles something that ends with, "Anyone wanna smoke?" and probably started with "shut up dickhead".

"I'll go with you," Liam volunteers immediately. "Couldn't pry these two apart. Left the crowbar at the garage."

"Keep talking bro," Louis says, flipping Liam off.

"Would you all shut the fuck up, the catsuit's coming, I can feel it!" Niall yells suddenly.

Zayn ruffles his hair as he steps over him to reach the balcony. A strong breeze sweeps over the dank room when he opens the screen door, and Louis instinctively curls up tighter in Harry's arms and rubs his head into his bare shoulder. Harry just wants to squeeze him for the entirety of ever.

He can feel Zayn watching them, is the thing. And he knows Niall thinks they're fucking six ways to Sunday (since Niall asks him about it repeatedly and then ignores his answer repeatedly), but he has no idea what Zayn and Liam think of their friendship.

He drums his fingers on Louis back and smiles when Louis makes a pleased noise. He waits for Sandy to come on and distract Niall before murmuring into Louis' hair, "I don't think Zayn likes me very much."

"Bullshit," Louis says, patting the arm that's wrapped tightly around him. "He's really a soft marshmallow under those sharp cheekbones."

"Yeah, but. He doesn't really… talk to me?"

"He just needs to warm up to you."

Harry isn't trying to sound petulant, it's just been bugging him for a while. "He's warmed up to Niall just fine."

"That's because Louis doesn't want my sweet, sweet dick," Niall puts in.

Louis isn't long enough to kick Niall's head, but Harry knows he wants to so he does it for him. He then gives Harry a high five while Niall sputters. "He's just being protective, but he knows you're cool. He'll trust you in no time. How could he not? You're so harmless and cute," he adds in a ridiculous baby-voice, rising on his forearms just to pepper kisses all over Harry's face. It was just a distraction, of course, for sneaking his hands to Harry's armpits and starting to tickle him. Harry flails so hard he nearly knocks Niall's head off and ends up on top of Louis, crushing him into the mattress.

That's when Liam and Zayn come back and immediately climb over Harry to really crush Louis. It takes Niall two seconds to join the fray. They only roll off when Louis' gasping for mercy and banging his fists on Liam's shoulders, threatening to vandalise the cars again.

They all watch the end of the movie in a massive pile on Liam's bed. With the screen door still open, it's more for warmth than the opportunity to kick Louis. It's great.

Harry finds his chance to warm Zayn up three days later. It's not that he's desperate for approval or something, he's just – friendly and… wants Zayn to approve of him. Whatever.

It's Thursday and it's finally nice enough outside to go exploring. Since they have two weeks there, Harry sweet-talks the reception clerk to make them a list of attractions. They figure that they can do aquariums and temples on cloudy days, so the first thing they tick off is FRIM (the Forest Research Institute Malaysia, not that he'll tell Louis or Niall that).

It's basically a tropical rain forest 40 minutes off the city centre, and it's absolutely incredible. They start at the Kepong Botanical Gardens, just to get their blood pumping. Harry busies himself taking pictures of everything and uploading them to Instagram, while Louis attempts to read the names of the plants off the cards. Niall can only take twenty minutes before he announces he's bored and they're taking a sandwich break.

They find the picnic area at the end of the main road, and chat while eating biscuits and looking around. With Niall still stuffing sandwiches in his mouth, Louis announces he's off.

"What are you on about?" Zayn asks.

"There's supposed to be a lot of nature trails around here. Me and Payno are going jungle trekking."

"We are?" Liam seems surprised.

"Yeah mate!" Louis says, clapping his hands and flexing his biceps. Harry should have just burnt all the tank tops in his suitcases.

Liam considers it, then shrugs and gets up. "Guess we are. Do try to keep up, Tommo, wouldn't wanna end up fourth place again."

They race off like cartoon characters. Harry just shakes his head and continues going over the pictures in his phone. Zayn clears his throat. "Well, I'm gonna go find a place to smoke where no one will look at me funny."

Harry immediately perks up. "I'll come with. Alright, Nialler?"

Niall doesn't even answer, too absorbed in his food. Harry and Zayn take off in a random direction that somehow leads them to a nice waterfall. Harry immediately takes off his boots and sinks his feet into a freezing pool of water. Zayn's watching him curiously, and then sits down on the rock next to him and pulls out his pack.

"It's not that cold," Harry lies. "Not a fan of water?"

Zayn hums around his cigarette. "Can't swim, me."

"Guess you don't have to in England."

Zayn laughs on a smoky exhale. "Are you kidding, I didn't even have a passport until Louis started deluding himself into thinking he could be a big-time racer."

Harry smiles uncontrollably. "Really?"

"Totally. I don't even like him that much, he was just my ticket out of Bradford."

It's a joke he wouldn't make with someone he wasn't at least partially friendly with, Harry decides. It's a good sign. "I figured. Did you ever think about racing yourself?"

Zayn seems vaguely surprised that Harry's steered the conversation away from Louis, but he answers easily enough. "My mum would disown me." Harry snorts and splashes weakly at Zayn's feet. Zayn nudges Harry's shoulder. Very friendly. He continues, "Being a mechanic seemed very practical when I was growing up. I just… got good at it, started tricking out cars around town. It was as close to an artist as I could be, y'know?"

"So Jeanne's, like, your masterpiece?" Harry asks. It must have been the right thing to say, since Zayn's face splits with a grin. He's just. An actual robot alien. Harry considers splashing himself with a waterfall.

Then he speaks. "Exactly. Like, no one knows I designed the exterior, but it makes the car so distinguishable that it, like, pops on screen. And I know it's just a shitty design of a Pepsi can and the number 70, but it's mine, yeah? Even during Louis' shit-streak there was at least that."

He's never seen Zayn this engaged in anything. Harry quickly says, "Yeah, it's really cool. And people do talk about it."

Zayn smiles wide again and pulls his beanie down like he's embarrassed. It's just the best. Harry has to go on. "I dunno if Niall told you this, but before we decided to join the team we were watching races and Niall just pointed at Lou's car and went, that's fucking cool, I wanna work in the same garage as that. It takes Niall three days to pick out his sneakers and it took a second to choose Cowell."

Zayn laughs quietly. "That's ridiculous, mate."

"It's also, like, not practical at all, being in a pit crew. You have to travel most of the year and Louis' life is basically in your hands. You're pretty brilliant." Harry keeps smiling at him until Zayn's as soft as butter.

"Are you trying to chat me up or summat?"

Harry rolls his eyes. "Just making sure you feel appreciated." It's not at all his chronic need to please people. Zayn might not say much, but he does open up when it's about things that matter to him, and Harry can appreciate that.

"Well don't strain yourself, we're still competition," Zayn clarifies, but his grin turns cheeky and he pulls Harry into a half-hug half-headlock. Harry doesn't even struggle, too excited that they've reached this level of bro-ness.

When Zayn puts out his second smoke, Harry wonders if they should go look for Louis and Liam. "Just to make sure they weren't mauled by a bear or something."

"Trust me, that's the only reason I left my hotel room," Zayn says. "I reckon we've got five minutes before they get back on their own."

"Really? How's that?"

"I figured Louis' enough of an idiot to choose the steepest hike up the hill, which takes fifteen minutes to lead to a canopy walkway. The moment they see it they'll run back down to convince all of us to risk our lives dangling on a fucking canopy on top of a forest. So that leaves us with five minutes."

Harry blinks owlishly at him. "You pick up a lot when you pretend to be asleep, don't you?"

Zayn just smirks. "I think I can hear Louis saying, 'Shit Liam, we've gotta go back, Harry'll wanna Instagram this'."

"Completely possible. Are you gonna join us?"

Zayn hums. "I'm gonna pull the heavy smoker card and insist on taking the long way there. But I'll go on the walkway."

And it dawns on him. "You're just as bad as them."

"Pretty much. I feel like I've got to prove my manliness, too, after you've soaked your feet in a pool of leeches for the past twenty minutes."

Harry actually hurls himself backwards and checks his legs over while Zayn's laughing hysterically. Harry remembers something about leeches coming out after rainy nights, and he knows they're harmless, but his skin is absolutely crawling and Zayn just keeps laughing.

Once he's sure there's no evidence of leeches on his person, he punches Zayn's arm hard. "I was wrong, you're worse than them."

Still chuckling, Zayn hands Harry his leather coat to dry his feet. Which is mental on twenty different levels. Harry doesn't take it. Zayn just shrugs. "Listen, um. Sorry for being a dick."

Harry's still examining the water, and answers distractedly, "It's cool, who hasn't pulled the old leech prank."

"No, I mean like. Always. I've been kind of a dick."

"Oh." Harry looks up at him. Zayn appears bashful again. "It's, um. Okay."

"It's kind of not. But I'll stop."

Harry hasn't actually expected an explanation, so it's not really a let-down that he doesn't get one. He just fixes his fringe and puts his socks back on. "I'd like that."

They both perk up when they hear screaming from the picnic area. "A fucking walkway? Do you realise how dangerous that is?"

Harry has to bow before Zayn's wisdom. They scramble back to where Niall's currently glaring at Louis and Liam. As soon as Louis sees Harry, his eyes light up and he leaps towards him, grabs him before Harry can even blink. "Harold's going to the walkway, right? He wants to take loads of pictures!"

Niall turns betrayed eyes to him. All Harry can offer is a smile. "It'll be fun, Ni. It's safer than driving a car at 330 kph."

Niall groans, like he does when Harry gets a new tattoo or says something idiotic, but he does stand up and gathers his things.

Just like Zayn's promised, they take the long route. He drifts to Harry, and they talk about music and movies for most of the way. Louis keeps looking back and throwing Harry thumbs-up, which magically transform into a W whenever Zayn looks over. Harry just smiles sweetly. Louis rolls his eyes so hard Harry's afraid he might trip on a root or something equally hilarious.

At the ground level of the walkway they discover it can only carry four people. Louis immediately volunteers to disgrace himself by walking in Harry's pace to make sure he doesn't actually trip and topple over into the jungle. No one even bats an eyelash – out of the five of them, Harry is indeed 500% more likely to become Tarzan.

Liam, Niall and Zayn go first, Louis and Harry following soon after.

To his credit, Louis doesn't give into his curiosity until the first observation stop. Maybe it's the blood-curdling terror of walking sideways on a tiny canopy walkway. Maybe he's grown as a person.

Anyway, Harry's ten pictures in when Louis finally says, "So I saw you and Zayn were hanging out."

"Your point?" Harry asks.

"Don't be a shit. Are you cool now?"

"Yeah, we're cool."

Louis hesitates. Meaning: he waits for another leg of the walkway to bring it up again. "Did he – what did he tell you?"

Harry turns his head to him so fast he nearly fumbles his phone. "Nothing. Really."

Louis seems relieved for half a second. "Okay. So how about this jungle?"

Louis is not smooth at all, but Harry doesn't comment. He just walks slowly enough that Louis scrambles behind him, and then he just stops altogether so they're at a standstill. For once, Louis keeps his mouth shut. They just appreciate floating above a forest together.

The array of greens is enormous, plants big and small, humidity thick in the air. If being in a single-seat racing car often makes him feel like a giant, right now he feels tiny. Louis takes his hand and leans forward dangerously, gasping. "This is sick."

Harry fully agrees. "Let's take a picture."

Louis looks over at him with a raised eyebrow. "Are you gonna upload it anywhere?"

"What, a picture with my mortal enemy? Of course not."

Louis smiles so hard his eyes crinkle, and he plasters himself to Harry's side when Harry stretches out his arm to take the picture. He emails it to himself and deletes it from his phone, just to be safe. Then he kisses Louis' temple, just to be safe.

*

 
 

It takes a month for Louis to realise they've formed a clique. Not, like, a tough or cool clique Kanye could write about, but a co-dependent kitty litter. Which is frankly quite embarrassing. There were signs, of course. Like when Zayn flew back to Perrie before the Chinese Grand Prix and had to take an hour to say goodbye to Liam and then another one to say goodbye to Niall. When he got back and they were so excited that they all kipped in the same room and Harry shaved his car's name in Zayn's leg hair.

When Liam and Louis were bored and wrote a silly song and suddenly Niall showed up with a guitar and Harry and Zayn were singing and now Louis has a file on his phone called "not a metaphor for a small penis.aac".

When Harry wanted to go to the Shanghai Grand Theatre and no one else wanted to, yet 24 hours later they were all sat at a Chinese musical, bored to tears. (Mostly. Niall was cackling wildly and Harry was inhumanly happy and Louis was staring at Harry.)

It doesn't hit him until they're at Sakhir, though. The clues become too obvious to ignore in sandy Bahrain. He even has a list on his phone.

1. NIALL suggested camping and everyone agreed

2. ZAYN LEFT THE ROOM??

3. Zayn registered us in the family area – ARE WE A FAMILY?

4. no one will believe we're bros zayn changed registration to "public area"

5. Liam took directions from harry when building the tent

6. BAD IDE

At which point Louis had to put his phone away because the tent had collapsed. He huffed, got up, shook sand out of his shorts and said, "Alright now lads, let Tommo handle this."

Harry looked like he was about to protest, but Liam hushed him and just cocked his hip, eyeing Louis in challenge. Liam had totally been casting some sinister spell on him with his gaze, because there's no other explanation for Louis fucking up the tent even worse and ending up buried under the shambles of the tent fabric.

"Someone ask Zayn to ask for some help?" Harry suggests, toeing at Louis' foot – the only part of him exposed from under the collapsed tent.

"He fucked off from this trainwreck a few minutes ago," Louis hears Niall say.

Louis closes his eyes and just starfishes on the warm mat for a while. It smells rank under the tent, but failing to set it up for five minutes had been exhausting. He smiles when he hears Liam say, "I'm gonna set up the second tent, you lot just stay the fuck away."

Louis suddenly hears someone pick up one of the poles of his failed tent. When he cracks an eye open he sees Harry grinning at him from the tent door. He doesn't say anything, just taps on the mat next to him. Harry has to push up the fabric as he crawls forward, but eventually he reaches Louis and lies beside him. The fallen poles manage to hold the fabric up just a metre above their noses, so at least they can breathe.

"I don't think camping's my thing," Louis confesses gravely.

Harry gasps. "Did you just admit to a weakness?"

"Oi. I'm still not over you beating me yesterday."

Harry nudges his shoulder with a grin, like he knows Louis' kidding, and damn it, he is. Even though Harry beat him to second place by 9.2 seconds, Louis can't physically be cross with him. He's just such a. Such a muffin. They did the whole "don't get too cocky" cutthroat thing at the post-race conference, but immediately afterwards partied together, and Louis even gave him a celebratory snog in their hotel room.

That is also a thing that's been happening. Louis' started rewarding himself for not shagging Harry by kissing him. Yes, he knows it's counterproductive, but Harry beat him by driving intelligently while he himself stormed after the Red Bull leader, so Louis won't presume to be particularly smart.

(It stung to lose, of course it did; Louis knows first-hand how easy it is to fall down and off the grid. But it's Harry – glowing, disarming, lovely Harry, who always congratulates Louis for his wins. Who maybe got instructions not to pass Louis. Who looks good when winning. Louis just reminded himself that it's only the fourth race and that no one's sacking him. Louis also reminded himself not to fuck Harry on the podium. Daily.)

"Yes you are," Harry says, and nudges Louis' shoulder again, this time with his head, so his bandana falls off and his curls are springy and pretty. Louis sighs and shifts subtly so he can tickle Harry's nose and pat his hair the way he likes. That's when it occurs to him that Harry Styles is a massive kitten.

Enter the co-dependent kitty litter analogy.

"D'you notice we're like a kitty litter?" he asks.

Harry stops making soft cat noises for long enough to answer, "I thought more like a pack."

"Of wolves?" Louis asks, looking down at Harry curiously and dropping his hand.

Harry nuzzles his hand in annoyance until Louis resumes touching him. Then he grins a shit-eating grin and bats his eyelashes. He's really quite beautiful, for the occasional cat. "No, of werewolves."

Louis hums, considering. "That would explain Liam bulking up by 700 percent in a year."

"And why Zayn's moody sometimes," Harry adds. "Where do you think he ran off to?"

"No clue. I didn't even think he'd come camping."

"Well, Niall couldn't do it alone."

Another alarming thought creeps up on Louis. "I don't think I've ever actually seen Niall do anything alone. Does he even exist?"

"There's no way of knowing. Maybe I've just imagined him into life. How creepy would that be?"

"Not creepier than him being a friendly little pixie that can't stand being alone. He's like the anti-Zayn."

Harry bursts out laughing. "They're both softies, don't be daft. I like that they like each other. I like our pack, y'know?"

Louis nods.

Harry looks at him like he's plotting. Then, "Ain't nobody messing with – "

"Oh my god, no, don't rap Harold, we've learned our lesson."

He actually pouts, him with his unnaturally pink and plump lips, he whom Louis probably imagined into life. Maybe Harry won't notice he's staring at his mouth. Maybe Harry won't see the epic blowjob going on in Louis' head.

No. If he can stick to the blue-balls rule, he can stick to the one-kiss-per-week rule. "D'you think Liam's already set up the tent?"

"Are you kidding, he's probably got HBO in there."

Louis snorts. "Wanna check?"

Harry blinks prettily a few times, then drawls, "Not particularly."

The little shit wets his bottom lip. It's so dark under the tent, who would know, really? "Can I – "

"Yo, Tommo, where – are you still under that flop of a tent?" Liam calls out, surprising Louis enough to tug on Harry's curls. Harry actually lets out a soft whine and closes his eyes, and whoa, Louis has like, ten things he'd like to learn more about right the fuck now, but then Liam manages to lift the fabric of the tent completely off them with his massive werewolf arms. Light floods them. Louis' absolutely miserable.

"Come on now, let's get this sorted," Liam chirps, giving Louis a Meaningful Look. Louis gives him a You May Be The Team Boss But You're Not The Boss of Me middle finger. Liam hefts a pole. Louis just grabs Harry and helps him scramble out of there before Liam erects the tent with them as stakes. Harry would probably just compliment him on his tent-erecting skills.

When they come out the sun is even brighter than it was before – or maybe Louis just got used to the dark. Yeah, dark confined spaces with Harry.

Bless Niall's impeccable timing. He appears out of nowhere with two giant tortilla things in each hand, and his tank top wrapped around his head.

"Where the hell did you get those?" Louis asks, eyeing his handful.

"From Ali over there, it's sick," Niall replies, nodding to a random guy with an actual taboon outside of his tent.

"Aw, and you brought some for all of us?" Harry asks innocently.

Niall actually throws his head back and laughs, the way he usually laughs at anything Louis does. Before he can really say "fuck no you ridiculous child", Zayn reappears. He just stares at Niall. "D'you ask someone to bum their laffa?"

"That sounds really dirty," Niall says, snorting. He then stretches his mouth to try and shove as much bread as he can in it, flicking out his tongue so he won't drip sauce down his chin.

"Well, it's erected!" Liam yells, clapping his hands and making them all laugh hysterically. It's quite possible Louis hasn't had sex in too long.

Once they calm down, Zayn stands next to Liam and evaluates the tents. "Which one did you set up, mate?"

"Well, I kind of did both, but that's the one Louis didn't cock up," Liam lies, pointing.

Zayn peeks into said tent, and immediately says, "Is that a fucking satellite dish? I'm totally rooming with Li, this is mental."

Harry elbows Louis' ribs, arching a "told you so" brow. Louis wrinkles his nose. "Whatever, Liam's tent is tacky. Mine is much better."

Niall looks between the two tents, torn for maybe a whole second before he says, "Oh, I've seen Brokeback Mountain, there's no way I'm sleeping in Lou and Harry's tent."

Louis would think "it's more likely Zayn and Liam will end up sharing a sleeping bag", if his brain weren't so busy with "oh shit oh fuck dark confined spaces with Harry for a whole night". He and Harry exchange a panicked look before both grabbing Niall's shoulders. "Come on Nialler, you so had a boner for Heath Ledger, it'll be fun."

Niall just grumbles, but he's far too agreeable to argue. Or maybe he just got distracted by starting a bonfire for s'mores.

A few hours and hilarious hijinx later, they actually have a nice bonfire going, and they're all chilling on folding chairs. It's a nice day, the last licks of winter still crisping the air. Harry's covered his head back up and looks particularly snuggly, but Louis doesn't dare shift closer to him with so many campers around them.

He distracts himself by bickering with Liam. "Well, you can't go to bed without a cup of tea. Maybe that's the reason that you talk in your sleep."

"I do not talk in my sleep, Louis," Liam shoots back, stuffing a s'more in his mouth.

Zayn is half asleep and he still snorts. Louis points at him emphatically. "See, he knows! Just admit you miss my cuppas."

Liam groans for the longest time. "Fine, I miss your fucking Yorkshire tea and I hope Harry chokes on it, are you happy now?"

"Oi, lay off Haz, he can't drink alcohol," Louis defends him quickly.

Harry nods. "His tea is as close as I can get," he explains, dropping yet another s'more into the fire for talking with his hands too freely.

"Cheers," Louis says, toasting their mugs of hot chocolate. They both stare Liam down. They are so the power couple of this clique.

"Who needs tea when you have beer, honestly," Niall mutters through his fingers. After finishing all his s'mores too early, he's been sucking chocolate off his fingers for the last five minutes. And sneaking Harry's s'mores onto his plate. Harry must have noticed – Niall's as subtle as the homoeroticism in American football – but he just lets him.

After this incredibly rude comment, Louis uses his position between Niall and Harry to pass a s'more from one to the other. Unlike Niall, he makes a show of it, handing the s'more over to Harry with flourish and saying with exaggerated sweetness, "Here cutie, have a s'more."

Harry positively preens. Niall just glares. "You're always in your own little world. Can't believe we have seven more months of this."

About the co-dependent part: it took Louis by surprise, how well he and Harry fit. It's like since that first week in Australia, something just clicked and they couldn't leave each other's sides. Louis finds himself craving Harry's attention and approval and fondness, the way his eyes light up when Louis talks to him. They went weirdly fast from team pals who want to jump each other's bones to clingy kittens, but he can't explain it. It just kind of happened.

"Can't believe it's been over a month already," Harry comments, after carefully licking at the melted chocolate and marshmallow between his crackers because he's Harry. "You know how a season ends and you're relieved for like two weeks before you start to miss it?"

They all say "yeah" together. And Louis thinks that really is the thread that pulls them together, their love for racing. Louis had a shit season and he still thought about the track ninety percent of the break. Harry knew he was going to sign with a new team and still looked forward to the season. Niall retired from being a Ferrari all-star and instead of buying a private island and eating his weight in Mexican food he took up the toughest job on the track. Liam's girlfriend of three years broke up with him because he loved his team more than anything in the world. Zayn pushed back his fucking wedding nine months just to stay on the team.

Five months ago, each one of them was terrified of the 2013 season. Now they're eating s'mores at a campfire and having the time of their lives.

Louis thinks his clique isn't all that bad.

A week later finds them in Barcelona, with two whole weeks to burn before the first practice session. Since it's just two hours away from home, last year Louis and Zayn took the first flight back to London after Bahrain. This year they're too committed to this fivesome road trip to head home, so they book a nice hotel and let Niall plan a lazy vacation.

Barcelona is amazing. April is finally thawing into May, and they barely spend any time in the hotel, too eager to soak up the sun. Niall gets to practice his Spanish, Liam gets to show off his guns, Louis gets to tan and Harry gets to watch Louis tan. It's pretty much the most fun he's had since his first win in Melbourne.

They cover the basics within the first week: La Sagrada Familia, museums, La Rambla, the art centre on La Rambla, the art centre on La Rambla again (Zayn rarely asks for things, were they supposed to say no?), Al Raval and the Gothic Quarter.

Louis didn't mind doing the boring stuff, because he got to do tacky poses with Harry for pictures, and it was so sunny and nice and with the Grand Prix two and a half weeks away, there weren't a lot of fans out and about and they could just relax. Plus, Louis had a master plan. He ran their whole lazy group up and down the tourist traps just so their schedule would be magically clear on May 1st.

"Lou, that's the fourth time you've asked me about tomorrow, have you developed some sentiments towards the labour movement?" Zayn asks on April 30th.

Louis just stares at him. "What the fuck does that have – no, okay. I've got a confession to make."

No one seems to care, so he says much more loudly, "I've got a confession to make, twats!"

That gets them all huddled around him. He clears his throat, and then claps excitedly. "Guess what."

"Jesus, Tommo, it's so annoying when you do that," Liam says, exasperated. "Just spit it out."

"Fine. We're all going to the semi-finals tomorrow."

Liam's eyes bug out. "Of the fucking Champion's League?"

"Barça's playing Bayern Munich. Barça as in Barcelona. As in the place we are at. Tomorrow."

"They'll get crushed," Harry points out. "Messi's not fit enough to play."

The excited rush of words dies on Louis' tongue – or rather dries out with lust, because his favourite boy is talking about his second favourite sport. Louis' just staring at him – at how he's tanned the past week, how his ugly hat hides the glorious curls underneath, how he seems unable or unwilling to button his plaid shirt all the way up. Louis' going to pop one out right here in this tea shop, thinking about Harry's mouth and Camp Nou.

Liam jostles him "accidentally" and asks how they're getting to the stadium. As if Louis hasn't taken care of every single detail.

They get to the stadium two hours early, but none of the boys dare to complain in front of Louis. Maybe they're too busy feeling important in the VIP seats with their shades and team caps. Well, a straw hat for Harry. He is not pulling off the tomato farmer look. It's frankly embarrassing to sit next to him, but Louis has to bear the brunt here, since he's the one that dragged everyone to the stadium.

He and Harry are stuffing their faces with FC Barcelona crisps and discussing the thrashing Barcelona gave United at the Champions League final two years ago (well, Harry chatters, Louis literally sticks his fingers in his ears because they do not discuss this), up until the teams spill out onto the grass and Louis feels like his heart is clawing out of his chest.

Harry was right. Barça gets slaughtered. It's actually painful to watch from the moment Müller had connected with Franck Ribery's cross to make it 3-0. (It's also the moment Harry starts patting his leg consolingly, so there's that.) It doesn't really matter, to be honest. It doesn't matter who's playing and it doesn't matter who wins. Louis has now watched a Champions League match at Camp Nou with his four best mates. He's on top of the fucking world. (Harry's not complaining either, both because he called it and because he's been nothing short of unbearably chipper ever since his mum told him she got engaged two weeks ago.)

As soon as they get back to the hotel Louis announces they're free to do whatever they want for the rest of their stay in Barcelona, since he's pretty much fulfilled his dream. He doesn't even care when Zayn decides to go to the Picasso museum again, or when Liam and Niall want to go to the beach. He is sated.

So he and Harry are left alone in their hotel room. Louis flops on his bed and prepares for the best nap of his life. The last thing he expects is for Harry to flick him with a towel and say, "We need to get back in shape."

"Excuse you?" Louis asks, gaping at Harry.

Harry just smiles at him. He's traded the hat for a headscarf. He is a millionaire. Sometimes Louis looks at him and wonders why Harry dresses like a hobo.

He flicks him with a towel again, and Louis rolls away from him. "C'mon Lou, it's almost nighttime, La Rambla should be nicer. We haven't explored all of it." Louis groans. His head does perk up when Harry adds, "We can go rollerblading like you said."

"Done." Any chance to see Harry fall on his face, really.

Louis grabs a quick shower, and when he steps out Harry's dangling two pairs of rollerblades in front of him, complete with knee and elbow pads. "Do you just carry those around? Are you actually part of a roller derby league?"

Harry frowns. "Do I look like Ellen Page?"

Louis doesn't even want to go there. He takes the smaller pair from Harry and they head to the Columbus monument.

Watching Harry attempt to rollerblade is as hilarious as he'd thought. He's actually more awful than anticipated.

The first thing they learn is that they have to practice on a side street that's not bustling with people if they want to make it to the Grand Prix alive. Pigeon-toed, chicken-legged, clumsy coltish racer superstar Harry Styles falls over enough times that Louis considers bumming a helmet from someone.

"You were right, this is a smashing workout," Louis comments, leaning against a tree.

Harry turns vicious eyes to him. "If you'd help me instead of standing around like an arsehole maybe we'd get somewhere."

Louis' still laughing as he rolls over to Harry, graceful as anything. He helps him up and then continues to grab his arm. Harry's actually shaking against him. "Sorry mate, d'you wanna stop?" he asks, serious for once. His goddamn heart is clenching.

"Nah, let's do it," Harry says bravely, and regroups. He straightens his back and tries to steady his legs. Louis leads him to a grassy patch so he'd get used to the stance without the wheels rolling and knocking him on his arse.

He rolls in front of Harry and holds his hands, smiling at him. "Okay, let's not do this the Tommo way." Harry giggles. Success. "So what you don't wanna do is stomp your way forward. The shoes are heavy for a reason, yeah? Just glide with me."

He waits until Harry nods and then rolls backwards and pulls Harry with him. Harry's tongue peeks out as he concentrates on gliding, gaining confidence. He's got a little frown on. He's just such a sweetheart and Louis wants to absolutely destroy him half the time and he doesn't know why.

Harry wobbles before long, but Louis brakes quickly and manages to catch him in time. So he doesn't faceplant on the grass; he faceplants into Louis' chest. Louis wraps his arms around Harry's shoulders instinctively, like his body registers it's flush against a sweaty hot guy before his brain does. Harry's big hands land on Louis' hips, and he gives a soft gasp, possibly from his near-fall. Possibly. Probably.

They stay pressed together for a few self-indulgent seconds, until Louis shoves him back and pulls his shades up to rest on the top of his head. "C'mon, again. We're gliding. Find a focal point to help you, just like driving, yeah?"

So of course Harry's staring into Louis' eyes like they hold the answers to all the world's mysteries. Louis has to stare back into Harry's cartoon green ones.

(Naturally, it's Louis that rolls straight into a tree and topples them both over.)

"See what we learned? Always lean forward when you're falling, so you're sliding on your pads."

Harry just pushes a stray curl off his forehead and huffs. "Right."

Louis helps him up again. "Wanna learn how to brake?"

"I know how to brake, Lewis. This is sorta like skiing."

That's when something smells fishy. "You actually are in a roller derby league, aren't you?"

Harry shrugs and mumbles something noncommittal. Louis gasps in outrage. "You shit! You've been faking it!" he yells and shoves Harry back. Harry immediately latches onto his wrists, until they're gliding into a tree. Well, Harry does. Louis crashes into Harry's broad chest, their clasped hands trapped between them. There's just something about the fact Louis has to look up to meet his eyes. Something that dissipates immediately upon seeing the cheeky expression on Harry's face. "You bastard!"

Harry just giggles and presses Louis closer to him, kind of holding him. Louis gives himself one second, maybe two, before recoiling completely. "C'mon hotshot, let's see your moves."

Louis glides to the main road, Harry hot on his trail. He's not exactly graceful, but he is actually competent enough to navigate between the flooding tourists. Louis can't believe he's been played by Harry Styles. (Maybe he does. Whatever.)

They start at an easy pace, gliding side-by-side. By now Louis' started to feel the burn in his thighs, and when a family of five dawdle in front of him he lets them pass. Harry uses that window to slip ahead of him. "Are you trying to – Harold please, are you trying to block the lane?"

"Thought I'd give you the chance to reclaim your title after the last GP," Harry says over his shoulder.

Louis gasps, and puts his game face on. "First one to the Plaça gets whatever."

Harry doesn't manage to spit out "it's on" before Louis zooms past him. They race past the souvenir stands and art dealers, the cafes and street actors, the florists and the church. Louis reaches the fountain long before Harry, and he feels entirely too pleased with himself. And sweating like a horse and collapsing on a bench.

When Harry finally gets there he looks worse for wear, and oddly enough, holding a bouquet of very colourful flowers and a few bananas. He lands neatly next to Louis, and then sprawls ungracefully on the bench. "You're really fast," he mutters between heavy breaths.

"I had to teach, like, all my sisters how to do this."

"All of them? How many are there?"

"Four."

Harry gasps. "Seriously? I could barely survive growing up with one, how'd you manage four?"

Louis smiles, thinking about Harry's big sister bossing little curly clumsy Harry around. "Well, two of 'em are twins, so it was like two in one. And they all worship me, so it's kinda easy."

"Are they all younger than you?"

"Yeah, way. The oldest one is six years younger than me. Our dad split when I was eighteen, so I kinda, y'know. Helped my mum raise them."

"Oh," Harry says, looking at Louis solemnly with his big bright eyes. He's flushed from the exercise and his quiff has wilted considerably. Louis is overwhelmed by the urge to kiss him.

"Your flowers are quite pretty," he says, elbowing Harry.

"Oh, they're yours," Harry says, presenting them to Louis nonchalantly. "You were way ahead of me, I figured you'd be less unbearable about it if I got you flowers."

Louis can't stop staring. He clears his throat awkwardly. "And the bananas?"

"Oh, those are to just keep healthy. But you need to be quiet about those, before the pigeons hear."

They're flowers. Harry bought him flowers. And they've been travelling the world together and sharing a room and occasionally snogging and Louis' getting progressively less convinced they're not actually dating.

And that's really shitty. Louis has been comfortably not breaking any rules because there weren't actual dates. The outings they went on were far too lame to count as dates. No one's ever taken him out to make flower crowns or play snooker or go rollerblading as a prelude to a shag.

And they haven't shagged, but Louis' starting to want something far more distracting and terrifying than a shag. He's getting attached.

Harry's hopeful expression is starting to falter, and he just looks so miserable holding those flowers he bought for Louis with his floppy hair. Louis takes the bouquet from him and smiles. "Thanks, I think," he says.

Harry looks slightly appeased at that. "Am I still getting punished?"

Louis sets the flowers aside and cracks his knuckles. "Definitely. You tried to challenge my rollerblading prowess. You need to pay."

Harry just rolls his eyes. "Lay it on me."

Louis looks around for inspiration. Genius strikes. "You have to pose with all the street actors in Rambla dels Caputxins. While on rollerblades. And eating a banana."

Harry curses, but he already stands up, that eager to please. "Can we grab a bite afterwards at a cafe? I don't think the boys will mind, it's getting late."

"Sure. Now roll away."

Harry shakes his head and starts to roll back to the Rambla dels Estudis. Louis spares a thought to Harry noticing the vendors selling their small animals. He spares a brief, brief thought to Harry being mystified and adored by guinea pigs and puppies.

He quickly shuffles after Harry. The flowers are left behind. If Harry notices, he doesn't comment on it.

Maybe if he did, Louis wouldn't have a meltdown at a gay beach the next day. You win some, you lose some.

So there's this place called Sitges. It's a city south of Barcelona, and it's apparently been taken over by homosexuals. There's a gay beach, two nudist beaches, twenty gay bars, two night clubs and saunas. Harry explains that there's a lot of rich, gay foreigners living there and it became a popular destination for gay tourism, but really, Louis stopped listening after the third time the word "gay" appeared in a single sentence.

"What are you trying to say?" Louis asks, suspicious.

Harry shrugs. He seemed wound tight enough to crack from the start of the conversation, self-conscious and anxious. "I'm just saying. We've been to ten different beaches. Why not a gay one?"

Louis narrows his eyes. "What even makes a gay beach gay?"

"The gays?"

Louis gulps. His heart's beating overtime for no good reason. This is the first time he's considered doing something along those lines since the last disaster, and there are four factors to take into consideration: his shitty experience; the fact the Grand Prix is only a week away and the footie fans are being slowly replaced by racing fans; Sitges being a small and probably imaginary place that might be safer than a seedy club in Germany; and Harry.

The last point is the most crucial. Because Harry's young and fit and easily manipulated. And if Louis says no, Harry might just go on his own, and then who knows who will pick him up. Sitges sounds like a place with a lot of exposed foreign gay wangs. Harry would be eaten alive.

Louis' been an exceptionally good boy for a long, long time. He doesn't think going to a beach with a mate would shatter all they've built. He could find a way to cover up his tattoos, anyway. People would be too busy trying to chat Harry up to take pictures. Plus, just fuck it, Louis' a confident guy, despite recent events hinting otherwise. He can totally do this.

"I can't do this!" Louis cries out a couple of hours later. "I can't let you get fucking lemon sorbet when there's chocolate ice cream just sitting there."

Harry thumps on his stomach. "I need to be able to fit into a cockpit next Sunday, Lewis."

Louis has a comeback. It'll come out when the time is right. After Harry stops touching his half-naked self right in front of him. (He sees Harry in swimming trunks every day and naked every night. He's not over it. He has bright yellow booty shorts, for fuck's sake.)

Gabriel The Hot Gay Ice Cream Man laughs at them. "Pilot?" he asks, Catalan accent heavy on his tongue.

Harry hesitates. Louis shakes his head quickly and says, "We sail. I'll take two scoops of chocolate. Princess here will take strawberry and pineapple."

Gabriel The Hot Gay Ice Cream Man smirks and starts scooping their orders with flourish. "You are a couple a long time, yes?"

Louis' eyes are burning a hole in the ice cream. He's quick to say, "We're just best mates." Maybe too quick.

"So you're single?"

Louis looks up, slightly annoyed that someone would try to seduce Harry so ungracefully, only to realise Gabriel's staring at him. With open interest. It's just been so long since he'd gotten male attention, or any attention at all. He straightens up uncontrollably, catches himself fixing his out-of-control hair.

Harry clears his throat next to him, and when Louis looks over he nearly jumps out of his skin. Harry looks absolutely murderous. It grounds Louis enough to remember where he is and what he's doing. So he wraps an arm around Harry's waist and doesn't spare Gabriel a glance when he pays and takes their ice cream. He figures it's the safest way to not get hit on without offending anyone. He leads Harry back to their beach chairs and gives him his cone. Harry scoots back on his chair like he expects Louis to settle between his legs. Louis just flops on the chair next to him and buries his feet in the sand.

They don't speak for the longest time. When Harry finally says, "I just don't get you," he's hunched in on himself and playing with the ends of his cap awkwardly.

A story:

Growing up, Louis had to entertain himself most of the time. Too many people living in a too-small house often drove him insane, hyperactive as he is. So he spent most of his formative years outside: playing footie, running around with Liam and Stan, sledding and go-karting and camping. The hill behind his house was his favourite place to be, scraped knees and all.

That hill was also the home of his real archenemy. A huge beech tree right at the summit. The three main things his mum told him, ages four through fifteen, were: "Be quiet", "help your sister", and "don't you dare climb that tree".

When he was sixteen he won third place in the British Formula Renault Winter Series, and realised he had a shot at this racing thing. For the first time in his life, he could actually see his way out of Yorkshire, could imagine a better life for him and his family. So the first thing he did when coming home was to get slightly drunk and climb that fucking tree.

He should have remembered Jay Tomlinson was always right. Secondary school would have been a lot fucking easier if he were quiet. Raising his sisters made him more proud than any Grand Prix win. As for climbing the tree – he barely made it two metres before falling and hurting his shoulder. He didn't even think about his next race, or the shooting pain. When Lottie ran up to him the only thing that came out of his mouth was, "Do not tell mum. I'll get a fucking lashing."

Lottie still looked upset, but her reaction was to laugh at him. "You weren't scared to climb that bloody deathtrap but you're afraid to tell mum?"

This is important, because from a young age Louis' had to shoulder a lot of responsibility. So when he did do dumb, irresponsible shit, it was usually extreme, like climbing trees or foregoing Sixth Form to race Formula 1. He would do anything as long as no one called him on it. Still does.

He's brave like racing in Formula 1, but never going over 120 km/h at home. He's brave like going sky-diving but not climbing on the swivel chair to reach the top shelf. He's brave like beating someone half to death for calling Zayn a paki, but ducking his head if someone calls Louis a poof.

He's brave like going with Harry to a gay beach, but not holding his hand.

The Story:

It was after the German Grand Prix, July 2012. Louis managed to drag Zayn and Liam to a gay club, in the hopes of picking up a boy who wouldn't recognise him, possibly using Zayn as bait. They had a system back then, a damn good one. Zayn Malik was the ultimate wingman. He attracted anyone brave enough to chat up a living Greek god, then disappointed them by being engaged to a female celebrity, then introduced them to his attractive gay male friend Louis.

It would have worked that night too, except for one tiny detail. The boy did recognise him. In HD. And the next day, Louis found himself being extorted for money.

It's the worst thing that has ever happened to him, to date. This guy, this fucking cunt, managed to convince Louis that he couldn't even tell anyone what was going on, because, "They'll sack you for sure, you think Pepsi would want to be headlined by a poofter?"

It was quite remarkable that a complete stranger was able to cater to Louis' biggest fears. Growing up in a small town in South Yorkshire was hardly the right foundation to come out, or even come to terms with who he was. By the time he moved to London he was blinded by the limelight, didn't have time to figure anything out. The only ones who knew were his mum, Zayn and Liam. And he was confident and successful and fucked around, but sometimes this little knot of insecurity would expand so much it would suffocate him.

And then he had his worst nightmare dangling over his head. Waiting in terror for either the next payment or the next headline. It affected everything. Louis skipped all the events, he practiced the bare minimum, and worst of all, dropped from first place to bloody fifteenth. He flew straight home on every spare day they had. By the Italian Grand Prix he could barely recognise himself. He'd just resigned to throwing the season.

It was Liam that answered the wrong call on Louis' phone. It took him and Zayn five hours and two bottles of wine just to get the whole story out of Louis, and then Liam stepped outside in lieu of breaking Louis' nose, and Zayn cuddled Louis until they were both a mess.

In the end, they managed to convince him to tell the team principal himself. It wasn't the "we love you" or "he'll understand". It was Liam saying, "What if they sack you anyway just for throwing the season?"

That, Louis couldn't handle. So he told.

He still doesn't have a clue what Cowell did. All he knows is that the calls stopped coming, and he wasn't sacked. He wasn't anything, really. There wasn't a PR meltdown, or any restrictions. He was only reprimanded for not telling anyone sooner. No one encouraged him to come out, either. The general message was: he's selling a sponsor and a car, his personal life has no place in the media, and if he doesn't get his shit together on the track none of it would matter.

And slowly, Louis regrouped. He'd lost too many points to win the World Drivers' Championship, but he was hell-bent on winning points for Cowell Racing. Liam trained him harder than ever, and when November rolled around Louis shocked everyone by gaining pole position in Austin. By then they were on to the next crisis – Zayn going home to Perrie's album release party and coming back engaged, and Liam getting so spectacularly drunk even Louis couldn't keep up.

It was like nothing ever happened. And Louis fucking hated that. He had nothing to show for his misery – neither a prize nor a punishment. Maybe it was that desperate feeling that led him to kiss Eleanor in front of the cameras just before the post-qualifying press conference. He had to climb that fucking tree.

(She knew, is the thing. She's the Managing Director, of course she fucking knew. And they were friends and Louis asked her and she must have felt sorry for him. She agreed they couldn't risk anything like that happening to him again, and though it wasn't the best course of action, at least it was something.)

Louis respected her for "breaking up with him" at the end of the season. She had her own career to think about. A few months of taking bullets for him were more than enough. By 2013 no one cared how Louis Tomlinson was reaffirming his heterosexuality. All they cared about was whether he would pick up the pieces after the last season or finally burn out.

Well, actually they only cared about the rumours that Harry Styles was joining Cowell Racing. So maybe Simon Cowell is a genius.

There's no moral to his story. Maybe he'd feel better if there were. But the fact remains: he was targeted once, he got over it, he moved on. He did idiotic things like faking a relationship and implementing rules, but the sad truth is that it's not even to prevent it from happening again. It's just so he'd feel in control of his life, after losing every shred of it last July.

But there's no lesson to be learnt, no tree to never climb again. He could spend the whole season cooped up in his room and still lose the championship, and he could spend every day shagging Harry Styles in gay beaches and no one would ever find out. He could be the first Formula 1 racer to come out of the closet and die on the track the next day.

So his story doesn't really matter.

May 2013, Sitges:

They don't speak for the longest time. When Harry finally says, "I just don't get you," he's hunched in on himself and playing with the ends of his snapback awkwardly.

Louis sighs. "I'm… I'm a bit fucked up. And you caught me off-guard." Harry doesn't say anything, just takes off his sunglasses to look at Louis attentively. Not realising this isn't The Speech. Louis keeps his shades on. "And I think – I know I should just leave you alone to go after any Gabriel here, but I. I need you here with me now. And I shouldn't and I'm sorry. Fuck. Fuck." He shakes his head and makes to get up, but Harry's on him in seconds, actually toppling him over into the sand.

"Lou," he starts in his ear, still holding him uncomfortably close. "I need you too, okay? Quit thinking you're stringing me along or whatever – if I wanted to fuck Gabriel I would have. Shit, I wouldn't have suggested we stick together since fucking March. You're my mate and I don't care about the rest. Are you listening?"

How could Louis not – he's clinging to Harry like an idiot and drinking in every word. Harry came into his life a whirlwind but ended up his rock. It's not fucking going away. He's not going away.

"You're choking me," he rasps out, and Harry finally lets go of him after the longest hug in recorded history. Louis frowns. "You got your disgusting ice cream on my board shorts."

Harry winks and stands up, wiggling his toes in the sand. "Guess you'll have to get in the water."

Louis gets to his feet and cracks a smile. "Race you?"

Harry runs off without another word. And promptly trips on his feet and lands on a kid's sandcastle. And spends the next hour with the kid and her dads rebuilding fucking Hogwarts.

For such a ridiculous manchild, Harry Styles poses a surprisingly huge problem.

*

Barcelona is a good time for Louis. His tan converts him into the actual sun, he goes to a football match, and wins first place at the Grand Prix. Monte Carlo is less welcoming, though – the Cowell cars are slightly less suited to the street race, and Harry places third while Louis falls off the podium to fourth place. They not-celebrate by taking the first flight out to Canada.

Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean Harry wonders if it was a good idea to leave Europe without visiting home. Then Louis curls up into him in his sleep and Niall reminds him the British GP is only a month away. That only serves to fill him with anxiety at the thought that they'll know. That his mum or Gemma will know something's changed. That he's met his… Louis. And then what will he say?

Whatever. Harry tries hard not to think about it. Like, generally, he just tries not to think when it comes to Louis. Just like he tries not to be annoyed by unanswered questions, and not to die of sexual frustration. They've only become clingier after the Barcelona meltdown, and Harry doesn't know why but he just goes with it. Whatever.

It's Zayn's turn to plan out their stay in Montreal, so naturally it's the place where they have the best lodging. Zayn's booked them a fully-equipped condo on a mountaintop, guaranteeing they won't have to walk for more than an hour to find something interesting to do. They land in Montreal on the afternoon, so by the time they reach the foot of Mont Tremblant it's chilly, and they spend the gondola trip to their condo huddled together, admiring the view.

They spread out immediately to look through the unit. It's posh to say the least – a home theatre complete with a popcorn machine, a fancy kitchen, an Xbox, a hot tub and finally, three bedrooms. Zayn immediately claims the queen size to himself, as he intends to sleep through the next week. Liam and Niall claim the room with the two singles and the honest-to-god pinball machine, leaving the king size master bedroom to Louis and Harry. Who are definitely not arguing.

"How the hell did you find this place?" Harry asks Zayn once he finds him in the kitchen.

"Just got sick of hotels," Zayn explains. "I booked it while we were still in Spain, looked nice enough."

"I think you mean fucking mental, you twatbag," Niall puts in, coming in from the balcony Harry hadn't even noticed. "We're having a barbeque tonight!"

Harry quirks an eyebrow. "There's no actual food here, you know. Just appliances."

Niall frowns. "Didn't we pay a million Canadian money?"

"It's not like Monopoly money, Ni," Liam says, joining them with Louis in tow. "And why would they have food laying around?"

"Relax, we'll go shopping tomorrow," Zayn promises.

"Hey Haz, you can finally cook for me," Louis says, hopping on the kitchen counter and swinging his legs. Human housecat, honestly.

"You promised to cook for him?" Niall asks, sounding vaguely offended.

"Because of a challenge I lost."

"Idiot thought he could outpitch me," Louis says, smirking.

Harry sighs. "I didn't know you could actually sing."

"Aw." He pulls Harry away from Niall and ruffles his hair. "Poor loser."

"You two are weird," Niall announces, turning to Zayn. "We're really doing a barbeque tomorrow?"

"Yeah, I figured we'd get acclimated tomorrow, you know, just mess about and get groceries and sleep. There's like, golf and a spa. We're gonna relax."

"Golf?" Harry asks, at the same time Liam says, "Relax?"

"Already booked you and Niall some tee time," Louis comments offhandedly, still playing with Harry's hair.

An actual gasp escapes Harry. "Seriously?"

"No, I just lied to appear like I'm interested in the world's shittest sport."

Louis in a nutshell: doing nice things while saying the most horrible bullshit. Harry launches himself at him, squeezing between Louis' legs so he can hug his middle. "I know you're not a complete arsehole," he says with conviction.

"Lies," Louis insists. He's tugging gently on the curls on Harry's nape. Harry could stay here forever. Of course that's when Niall jumps on his back, and it becomes a giant group-hug. Over golf, of all things.

They ransack the kitchen, finding some snacks and alcohol, and then shuffle to the living room. Niall is apparently still not over the lack of barbecue. "I do have a proposal, though."

"I do!" Louis answers, jumping into Niall's lap and choking him. Niall struggles to shove him off, until Liam just, like, picks Louis up by the scruff like he's nothing. Liam might actually be a werewolf.

"I suggest," Niall starts again, "We smoke up again."

Harry blinks at him. "We are on a mountain in Canada, where did you find weed?"

"Scratch that, when did you find weed?" Liam asks. "We've been together since the plane landed."

"No we weren't. Remember when I went to buy maple?"

Zayn clears his throat awkwardly. "You realise you can't smoke maple syrup, right?"

Niall widens his eyes. "Firstly, I didn't just get syrup, I got maple lollies, maple bread and maple deep-fried ice cream. Secondly, that was to answer when I was by myself. Thirdly, I know what I can and can't smoke. So you cunts can go fuck yourselves, yeah?"

"Not before you give us a toke," Louis tuts, holding his hands out. Niall just sighs and escapes their sofa pile to go get his bag.

The night takes an unexpected turn after that. Well, not really unexpected, since you're supposed to expect the unexpected when you decide to get high. Though maybe Harry's expected not to expect the unexpected, since he doesn't get high nearly as often as Niall. Whatever, he's high now and they're eating Canadian pizza and playing Mario Kart and Louis' in his lap and life is awesome.

"This is fucking bullshit," Louis says, enraged. "How are me and H losing a fucking karting game?"

Niall just laughs around his blunt. "Did you just expect us to do worse? Because that's rude. For all you know we could be better than you on the track."

"We just don't put it to the test because you'll bitch about it forever," Zayn adds. It's the worst thing that could have happened; anything Zayn says sounds legit. Louis' life is probably flashing before his eyes.

Harry pats his back consolingly. "It's alright babe, we just win so many real races it makes sense to let the kids win a karting game. We're the dream team."

Louis huffs and leans back. He's just so small that his head rests neatly on Harry's collarbone. Harry leans down so his chin is brushing Louis' soft soft soft hair. He contemplates for like, a whole second before drawing his knees up so Louis' actually trapped between his legs.

From there it's a process. Another way to put it: a series of unfortunate events.

So it starts with Louis freezing just as he is, like some subconscious part of him is realising what Harry's doing, but not enough to stop him. The other guys lose interest in them in two seconds, and they play another round just like that. Louis' with the controller and he's doing a good job of appearing focused, but his knees are bouncing against Harry's legs. So Harry puts his hands on them, just to calm him down a bit.

That doesn't actually work. Louis' getting more jittery by the second, probably because Harry's hooked his chin over his shoulder and is breathing near his ear. Louis smells like weed. Probably tastes like smoke. Harry would really like to kiss him now, pizza-breath and all.

Harry constantly has these thoughts. Whether they're sleeping next to each other or exploring wherever they are or eating dinner or taking the piss, Harry always wants to kiss Louis. And even when he gets what he wants, he feels bad because he knows he's chipping away at something – something Louis hasn't told him.

The difference now is that they're both high on Niall's shit and they're daring. Harry counts to five before he nuzzles at Louis' ear and darts out his tongue. Louis freezes again, but after a breathless second he grinds back subtly in his lap. Yeah, that's the difference. It's not a snog and then a wank a few hours later in the shower. It's being close and staying close and getting hard.

And it's hot, Harry always gets so hot when he's high, and Louis' this miniature sun in his arms and he just needs to lose his clothes, he needs to feel Louis' skin like this is actually happening. He feels like he's on fire, like Louis' branding him somehow. He sinks his teeth into Louis' earlobe.

The result is the opposite of desired: Louis crashes their kart and it's so loud, bang crush annoying music, jolts them both to spring apart. Louis' off the sofa entirely, and Harry's just grateful Zayn, Liam and Niall are too busy cheering to spot the obvious tent in his shorts. Harry can't tear his eyes away to save his life.

Until Louis storms off without even making a proper excuse. Harry gets up instantly. "I'll just, uh, make sure he's alright," he mumbles without even looking at the remaining three.

He gets distracted by the pizza box still in the kitchen, smelling extremely appetising. The pizza, not the box, though it is Canada so the box is probably made of maple or something. He should probably get a French dictionary and ask someone. It could be even more delicious than the pizza and they're missing out.

A hand interrupts his important thoughts. More particularly, a hand grabbing the collar of his t-shirt and tugging him backwards. More particularly, Louis' hand. Most particularly, Louis leading him to the master bedroom. Harry doubts he would have resisted for a second even if he were sober.

He pushes Harry into the room and then closes the door. For a terrifying, ridiculous second, Harry wonders if Louis' left him alone. When he turns around Louis' there, though. His hair has grown out of control since they landed in Monte Carlo, and his fringe is hooding his eyes, and he's just all rugged with his stubble and sharp, sharp cheekbones, but so soft and small and Jesus Christ, Harry's never let himself get carried away this much.

But Louis' just standing there, leaning on the door in either defeat or plea. He's wearing a ratty t-shirt and short track pants and Harry's losing focus. His skin gets itchy again, tongue too heavy to ask Louis what's happening. For a change, it's Louis babbling.

"C'mon, let's make out, I wanna make out, come on love," he says, and then runs forward to shove Harry back and, miraculously, onto the king size bed. It's just hot that Louis' smaller than him but can throw him around like that, it's hot that his thighs are more defined than Harry could ever hope for, there's just nothing about Louis Tomlinson that isn't hot and it strikes Harry that Louis is on top of him right fucking now.

He surges to Louis' lips in seconds, wraps his arms around Louis' shoulders to keep him close enough to – to scorch him. Louis' just all over the place. He tugs and nips at his lips, meets his tongue halfway and sucks on it, fucking scrapes it with his sharp little teeth. His hands flit ceaselessly over Harry's sides and stomach, like he's as out of it as Harry is. "You looked so gone for it," Louis whispers, kissing down Harry's chin to his jaw, sucking on his neck. "Eyes all glassy and your cheeks pink. You always look so fucking good, Harry."

Harry's beyond gone for it, loses it at every hint of teeth. He loves that – it makes everything sharper under the fog of his high, like currents running from Louis' fingertips to his cock. He doesn't even try to talk back, just pushes his hips up to meet Louis', insistent under his hands.

Louis shakes his head subtly, tightening his grip on Harry's hips fiercely. If the purpose was to keep Harry glued to the mattress, Louis' a stupid idiot. He just wriggles harder and Louis sinks his short nails in and makes a soft noise. Maybe it was meant to be annoyed. Whatever, Harry can't even process him saying, "We can't shag, I promised."

"We're not – I – Jesus Christ." He's scrambling and Louis' still fucking lapping at his neck. "I drank."

"What?" Louis asks, not even lifting his head.

"I went out with Zayn in Monte Carlo and we did shots so, like, I fucked up too, I broke a rule once, so you can do it once too, innit? Just once, c'mon, I'm – I'd appreciate it." He'd feel less bad about the whole thing if Louis would just stop driving his hips into Harry's.

"Well." He pauses for five whole seconds, and then says, "That makes sense," and ducks down to kiss Harry again.

That sounded a lot like permission. So Harry drops his hands from Louis' shoulders to his hips, then further. It's fucking delightful to find out his arms are long enough to reach Louis' thighs. He's too reverent to touch his arse, though. Oh god, now he can't stop thinking about it. He slides his thumbs up Louis' legs so his shorts are bunching up and his skin is infernal and Harry wants to leave marks all over his muscular thighs and he wants wants wants too much.

Louis makes a disgruntled little noise and lifts himself up on his elbows. Harry's breath hitches when he sees Louis' face. His unreal bloodshot eyes are blown, and his lips are bitten-red, and he's flushed from the weed and Harry and being hotter than the sun maybe. His expression is what gets Harry, though. He looks frustrated. "No," he says, and there's an edge to his usually high voice, one that makes Harry immediately freeze his hands. "My rule-breaking, my way."

Right, so Harry's dick hardens completely at that. Whatever. Louis pushes himself up so he's on all fours over Harry, and for a moment he just stares at him. Then he slides down Harry's body until he's between his legs and not over them. He stares some more. Harry's terrified to breathe too loudly. "Can I just take a moment to thank god you're not wearing your skinnies right now?"

Harry snorts so loudly he surprises himself and clamps a hand over his mouth. "You're so fucking random."

"Whatever, lift your hips a bit, your legs are still inhumanly long," Louis complains, already hooking his fingers under the waistband of Harry's pants. Harry's so eager to lift he nearly shoves his groin directly into Louis' face. Which won't be the worst possible outcome, actually.

Louis struggles for far too long with Harry's pants, but Harry forgets about that the second it's over because Louis' just – hovering between his legs with his hard cock out, like he's having some religious experience. He snaps like that, though, and takes off his own pants. He doesn't allow Harry a similar moment of appreciation. Instead, he immediately shuffles forward until their cocks are grinding together – fuck – and he grabs Harry's thighs to wrap his legs around his hips. That he does comment on, the idiot. "Your goddamn spindly legs, fuck's sake."

Harry tightens them around Louis, just to be a shit, and Louis actually manages to glare at him between groans. And Harry's suddenly thrown back to that night in Australia where he'd watched Louis wank, where he was drunk rather than high, where he was careless with the noises falling from his lips. It's weird that he's getting turned on thinking about Louis being turned on while Louis' actually turned on on top of him, but Harry's brain is pretty scattered when he isn't blitzed.

He squeezes Louis again and Louis sort of collapses from his hands to his elbows, nearly bumping noses with Harry. It's nicer, though – Louis nestles his nose between Harry's jaw and chin and he's breathing so hard, harder when Harry twists his hips. That's when Louis finally bears down and rubs their cocks together. It is possible that there is nothing more beautiful in the world than Louis' eyes fluttering closed, his mouth slightly open on a stuttering groan. Like, maybe some unknown marine organism, but the bar has been set ridiculously high just now.

The second time he does it, Harry's more prepared to actually focus on the sensation of his cock rubbing against Louis', and it's ridiculous how they fit, it's ridiculous how amazing that feels, it's ridiculous they've waited like a million years to do this. He doesn't even notice Louis' hand sneaking up until his fingers are tugging on Harry's hair, and he's sweating so much it's gotta be gross but Louis doesn't stop and Harry thanks god for small miracles.

They're moving more frantically now, rocking hard against each other, and between Louis pulling on his hair and sucking on his neck Harry's head is spinning. He knows they're losing aim, both wet with pre-come and sweat, but it's so fucking good and he couldn't have actually expected slipping until he slips.

Louis, being the majestic higher being he is, rolls with it. Literally, he spreads Harry's legs wide and shuffles up his body, stretching his own legs until Harry's cock is trapped between his thighs, and fuck, it's sudden and tight and hot and slippery and Harry doesn't even think before fucking into it. Louis moans loudly at that, which is both fantastic and horrible. So Harry does it again, holding tight to Louis' back and thrusting up.

He has no earthly clue how Louis manages holding up, other than his beautiful thighs being touched by god himself. It's also a bit twisted because Harry gets this feeling of being engulfed by Louis, but Louis' the one doing the thrusting, hard enough to give Harry a good ride were the position just a bit different. He's just lying there and Louis seems to fucking like it – smacks Harry's hand away when he attempts reaching for his arse. If his head was spinning before, it's swimming now.

Louis' starting to lose control; either he's straining or sweating too much, and it's another slip-up that makes Harry finally come. It's the tip of his cock catching against Louis' rim. It's a bit of a blessing at this point – his brain might have exploded if he hadn't, and Louis couldn't have physically been able to keep it up much longer. The worst, the absolute worst thing is knowing he came down Louis' thighs, and not being able to look at the tanned skin right now.

He does have other things on his mind, like being able to breathe some time in the near future. And giving Louis the best handjob he's ever gotten. They might as well have used lube at this point, so Harry's hand slides easily down Louis' length. It's like Louis' given up his dominant streak as soon as Harry came – he's pumping into his fist desperately now, mouthing aimlessly at Harry's neck.

He's loud when he comes, just like Harry remembered.

*

Well, shit.

*

It's a stark contrast to the silence that follows. It's not exactly awkward, and they're not exactly themselves, and it's not even really quiet. They're breathing hard on each other, and after some time of attempting to calm down Louis starts giggling. Harry joins him, laughing freely. He feels amazing. Like, his legs are cramping up and Louis left a nasty bite, but his brain is currently blocking that out. He's just warm and fuzzy and fucking giddy.

"I feel so disgusting," Louis finally says, still sounding giggly and happy. Harry's grinning to himself. "Should've got a condom."

"Well, it was a bit unexpected," Harry reassures him, slightly alarmed at how his voice has turned huskier than usual.

"Not really. I knew weed would make me, y'know."

Harry's smile might actually break his face. "Up for it?"

Louis bats weakly at his chest. "Are you honestly trying to mock me after shooting your load down my fucking legs?"

Harry generally feels close to spontaneously combusting, yet that comment makes a flash of heat pass through his stomach. "Yup."

"Whatever, shut up. I've gotta clean up before I come down." Harry does nothing to accommodate this. He even tightens his arms around Louis' middle. Louis groans. "You can shower with me, alright? Make sure I don't fall down. Thank fuck the race is two weeks away, my hamstrings might need to be replaced."

Harry laughs at that and promptly picks Louis up, dirty and struggling, and carries him to the ensuite. Louis' legs wobble, so Harry does actually need to hold him up. At least, that's what he tells Louis when he insists on washing his shaggy hair and tattooed chest. And stomach. And hips. At which point he has to drop to his knees so he can scrape his thighs clean. It would have been disgusting if he didn't have Louis' cock bobbing in front of his face as a distraction. A temptation.

Louis swats at his head playfully when Harry makes a move for it, so Harry just sighs and looks at his legs. He's surprised when he feels Louis' delicate fingers going through his hair, massaging shampoo in. He moans and drops his head, accidentally nudging Louis' hip and getting soap in his eyes. He can't stop laughing.

They come down, finally. They try to beat the crash, snuggling on the bed in a desperate attempt to fall asleep before things turn less than perfect. It doesn't work. Harry knows the exact moment Louis comes down: he hears a soft sigh against his chest, and then Louis saying, "I can't do that again."

He could make a joke, maybe twelve of them, but he's growing numb and groggy. "I know. It was good though, innit?"

Louis nods, lightly kissing Harry's collarbone. "Fucking brilliant."

Harry can't help it, he reaches up to tangle his fingers in Louis' drying hair. "Shouldn't we do it again?"

"I just don't wanna get distracted. I have a reputation to rebuild," Louis says, choppy, like a practiced line, and tries to wriggle away from Harry's arms.

Harry can't let him yet. "S'cold," he says, keeping his arm tight around Louis. It's technically true – the cold water did more than sober him up, and they've opened their window all the way to chill the stuffy room and get rid of the smell.

Louis seems to accept that excuse. He nuzzles Harry's chest and adjusts his legs until he's comfortable. Harry drifts off, missing something Louis whispers.

*

Louis has an incredibly vivid dream about Harry in a yeti costume scaring some children. It's nearly as disconcerting as waking up in Harry's arms in the middle of the night.

He thinks he's in the exact same position he was in when they fell asleep – head on Harry's chest and legs resting between Harry's. It could be because it's fucking freezing in the room. It could also be because Harry's surprisingly comfortable and has a death grip on Louis.

It's starting to sink in. They did it, they actually did it. He got a taste. And he's not sure what terrifies him more: how easy it was to lose control, or how it wasn't nearly enough. Harry took a piece of him, a scab that's been itching for so long, but he's left something much more painful in its wake. This confusion and nerves and want. It makes Louis feel hollowed out, like any look or word could unravel him completely, and he doesn't know why Harry's got him so on edge but maybe he does.

Louis' had a very long and successful experience with ignoring his problems. However, though his first instinct is to crawl into bed with Zayn and ignore Harry, he's pretty much trapped, and his legs are still throbbing. Hobbling around the condo naked isn't something he looks forward to right now. So he tries to calm himself down. Focus on his breaths. The pace of Harry's snoring. There's no need to panic. Nothing should change. They sort of agreed it was a one-off, "oh I was so high last night" thing. The tug in Louis' chest is irrelevant.

He manages to drift back to fitful sleep eventually. Sunlight wakes him up a few hours later, sans Harry and with a heavier blanket pulled all the way up to his head. He knows it's boiling under the duvet, but waking up alone just makes him feel a bit colder. Especially since, for such a bony guy, Harry's a human furnace.

He blinks open his eyes carefully. His throat feels absolutely raw and his hair's in his eyes. He really has to cut it. And shave. And take better care of himself. And wash the sheets.

Groaning, he pulls the duvet off him and glances around, hunting for his boxers. He finds a note on the nightstand, instead. His body apparently forgets how sleepy he is and his heart rate picks up ridiculously. "Jesus Christ," he mutters under his breath. It's just a note, fuck's sake. Louis rolls over to the nightstand and picks it up.

Harry's handwriting is as dismal as he'd thought it would be. Not that he actually thought about it, but whatever.

Lou,

when you wake up alone remember it's your own fault for booking our golf round at ten o'clock! we should talk I hope last night you're ok. L apparently went shopping early so there's Yorkshire in the kitchen. Or there will be when you wake up. (Get it?)

H xx

And Louis' heart twists and he's crumpling the note uncontrollably and it's all lies, everything he's ever thought about Harry has been lies. He's not harmless at all, every endearing thing about him is another nail in Louis' coffin. His bad jokes and the way he smiles for Louis and how clumsy he is for a professional sportsman and the little noises he makes when he fucks. Turns out all this damn time Louis' been falling down a rabbit hole, but it took sex for him to realise how deeply Harry's gotten under his skin.

The more he thinks about it the more he's starting to stress out, so he makes himself put on his glasses and stumble out to the kitchen. As promised, there's a fuckton of Yorkshire tea sitting prominently next to the kettle. There's also Liam, leafing through a French newspaper with offensively bright eyes.

"Let me guess," Louis starts, coughing exaggeratedly when his voice comes out hoarse. He really hadn't smoked up in too long. "You woke up five hours ago, hiked up and down the mountain, had breakfast and saved a baby from a fire?"

Liam doesn't even look up at him. "Close."

"It was six hours ago?"

"It was a puppy, not a baby."

"Damn, so close." Louis snaps his fingers and goes to fix a couple of cuppas. "But really, what's everyone been up to?"

He hears rustling as Liam folds the newspaper he couldn't read in the first place. "Well, I walked around and bought us stuff for tonight. Harry and Niall went golfing and Zayn's still sleeping."

Louis hasn't actually found his phone to check the time yet, but he assumes it's late. "Should we wake him up? Before we do whatever?"

"Nah." He pauses for a moment too long, and Louis turns around to give him a once-over. Compared to two minutes ago, Liam's face is stormy. "He was up all night with Perrie."

"Right." He considers going over and giving Liam a hug, but he'd probably appreciate tea more. "Good, it'll be more fun just us. We haven't hung out in a while."

Finally he sets the mugs on the kitchen table, and groans in relief when he sits down again. "Cheers," Liam says, taking a mug. "Now can I ask you something?"

"Sure," Louis says, still preoccupied with massaging his thighs. It might be worse than when Liam made him go bicycling for the first and last time.

"Why are you limping about like that?"

Louis snaps his eyes up. Liam looks a cross between curious and confused, which is better than knowing and accusatory. There are maybe two things in the entire world Louis would like to talk about less right now: his nan's death and his sexuality crisis. That's it, those are number one and two before Harry fucked my thighs for a bit and then we cuddled and I think this is more than a crush.

He takes a long sip, just to savour it. And maybe to stall. But mostly because he's parched. Liam's still giving him a look.

"Shit happens?"

"So the sounds I heard last night were explosive diarrhoea or summat?"

By some miracle Louis doesn't snort tea up his nose. "Liam Payne, fuck's sake."

"Well?" Liam presses. Of the three people Louis can confide in, Liam's definitely the most tenacious.

"Okay, so we sort of fucked."

Liam's grip doesn't tighten on his mug, he doesn't frown and he doesn't shake his head in disappointment. He's sort of indifferent. "And?"

Louis' taken aback. "And I'm going mental, what do you think? I was supposed to stay away from shit like this after last time."

"Look, I can't imagine what you went through. And I get why you have trust issues. But it's Harry, I don't think you should stress over it that much."

Louis taps on the tabletop nervously. "I trust Harry, it's not that. He's got more to lose than me if this goes public. I'm just." He's not going to say he's scared. "I don't think I could survive another shitty year." I think if I let myself touch Harry I won't be able to stop.

Liam nudges his foot under the table. "But what if it's the opposite? I like Harry, I think he like, calms you down a bit. What if the sexual tension is distracting you more than Harry could?"

Louis snorts. "Are you actually encouraging me to shag him?"

He expects Liam to smack him or protest or something, anything other than a resigned, "I think we both know it's more than a shag with you two."

No not happening. "Shut up."

"You're such a dick, I'm just trying to help."

Louis buries his head in his hands. "Well fuck me Liam, I am a dick, and he's like, the best person ever."

"It's true, I have no idea what he finds in you." Louis glares so hard the plaster on the wall behind Liam must be feeling the heat. Liam hurries to raise his hands and add, "I'm kidding, come on, he's been in love with you since before we left for Australia. I guess he likes dicks."

They both stare at each other for a moment.

Then laugh hysterically.

They leave the condo an hour later, and when they return their fingers are pruned from being in the pool for so long, Zayn's sketching in the living room and Niall and Harry are play fighting in the kitchen. Or maybe they really are fighting, Louis doesn't know. They could just be really intense about roasted potatoes.

Seeing Harry is a bit of a shock, to be honest. It's like hitting the apex too early and having his whole life flash before his eyes, only it's seeing Harry's face and having the entirety of last night replayed in his head. If he were looking for blown pupils or blotchy cheeks, it's really the massive love bite on Harry's neck that should concern him.

Maybe the root of the problem is that he can be a nervous wreck sometimes, but as soon as he sees Harry it's like his muscles relax and his rush of niggling thoughts dials back. Shit, just seeing the bruise on Harry's neck makes him flush. When Harry hears them come in he turns around and smiles so hard it looks painful, like he's unhinging his jaw and his eyes are amazed by Louis' very existence, and Harry's just extremely bizarre but seeing him this happy makes Louis happy.

(Liam's always right.)

(Unless it's maths or politics or fashion or music or anything actually important.)

His feet lead him to Harry without his consent, and he only stops when he's directly behind him. He has to stand on his tippy toes to hook his chin over Harry's shoulder and look at the potatoes roasting in the oven. "Smells incredible," he comments.

Harry makes a noise and a vague gesture. Niall just grabs Louis' shoulders and shoves him out of the kitchen. "You stay the fuck out, it's bad enough dealing with one idiot in here. Did you at least bring your better half?"

Louis rolls his eyes and shakes Niall off. "Yeah, he's – "

"Right here," Liam announces, joining them.

Niall sighs in relief. "Good. You're coming with me to the balcony to get the meat – shut the fuck up Tommo – and Harry'll finish with the sides."

"What about me then?" Louis asks, hands on his hips.

"Go ask Zayn if he's got more colouring pages," Liam suggests.

"I hate all of you," Zayn shouts from the other room, just to inform them.

"Not all of us!" Louis shouts back.

"True, I love Liam. The rest of you are rubbish."

Liam looks extremely pleased with himself, for the entire two seconds before Niall tosses him ten chicken wings. They shamble to the balcony while Louis calls after them, "I hope you fall over the railing!"

They don't even reply. After that it's either go out to Zayn or go back in to Harry. So far Harry's proven to be the only antidote to himself, so Louis shuffles his feet to the kitchen. "Guess you're stuck with me."

Harry looks back at him like he hadn't actually expected Louis to choose him for entertainment. He doesn't look as delighted as he should though, it's closer to deer-in-the-headlights. "Um, can you make barbecue sauce?" he asks, but for some reason all Louis hears is "fuck we fucking fucked last night".

He blinks a couple of times. "I can find a ketchup bottle?"

At least Harry's his usual cheeky self when he kicks Louis out of his kitchen. It's slightly less awkward than stepping onto the balcony and realising Liam and Niall had been talking about him. Thankfully by the time he stretches out on a recliner they're back to arguing over brazing techniques.

Twenty minutes later Harry shuffles out carrying a million things in his massive hands. Louis can't stop staring at them, thinking about them, remembering them on his skin, in his hair. Harry resolutely doesn't look at him when he sets the table.

Zayn is the last to join them, rubbing his eyes and collapsing in the seat next to Louis. He reaches for the lighter already sitting on the armrest, then looks over to the grill. "Yo Ni, did we smoke everything yesterday?"

Niall snorts. "Who do you take me for?"

"Ace," Zayn says, getting up again and going inside the house. When he comes back out he's waving the baggie around. "Who's up for it?"

Liam hums. "If you're rolling I'm in."

"Same," Niall says, completely unnecessarily.

Louis considers it, breaks into a cold sweat, and then before saying "maybe" Harry snorts and says, "No, definitely not."

Which is more vehement than they usually get out of him. Louis coughs. "Yeah, me neither. Definitely."

Zayn couldn't be less bothered as he rolls the joints artfully. It affects Louis more than it should; watching his fingers, smelling that smell again. He's saved from drifting off by Harry dumping the potatoes on the table and saying, "We're set, bring on the meat!"

Dinner is stilted. For Louis, at least. Niall, Liam and Zayn are as rowdy as ever, but Harry's awkward and Louis, who's usually the loudest, stays quiet for most of the meal. It's never been hard to figure Harry out; he's an open book most of the time. But right now he's not touching Louis or telling jokes or being ridiculous, and Louis doesn't know what to think.

The distressed little voice in the back of his head intensifies when they wrap up the barbecue and Harry finally comes up to him, not even smiling, and says, "So I thought I'd kip with Niall tonight?"

Of course things changed. And Louis, master of avoidance, has let it fester. "Um, what about Liam?"

"Since Zayn slept all day I think they planned a marathon of something in the home theatre. I'm beat, though."

"Yeah. Cool. I mean, yeah."

What the fuck is happening? They haven't spent a night apart in three months, this is not cool in the least. Louis can't even think about confronting him, though. He's not desperate. He's the one that keeps setting limits. He's the dick. He's just glad he hasn't eaten much, since his stomach is knotting up.

They clear the table silently and head to different bedrooms, and there's this tension in the air, music that he can't hear swelling, some inner monologue none of them can voice. Louis lies in bed for a couple of hours, and he doesn't have an epiphany or out-of-body body experience or any particular meltdown. But he can't sleep. But it's too quiet. But he can still smell Harry.

Louis might be great at avoiding his problems, but he's not much for things he can't have.

It's really late by the time he finds himself in the hallway, so he fumbles in the dark, trying to feel his way to Niall's room. He doesn't have an actual plan. Up to the moment he sneaks into the bedroom and determines which bed Harry's in, all that's going through his head is Harry Harry Harry.

The man in question is currently naked and plastered to the wall, which is weirdly convenient, as Louis can just slip into bed next to him. It's a tight squeeze, and jostling Harry is unavoidable. Harry doesn't start, though, doesn't even open his eyes when he wraps his arms around Louis. It's just sweet and Louis' so nervous he ends up kissing Harry's nose.

He's embarrassingly relieved when Harry smiles. When did he start basing his self-worth on pleasing Harry? How did he end up in a single bed with a yeti?

"Oh Zayn, I've been waiting for so long," Harry croons, devastatingly raspy.

Louis twists his nipple and Harry automatically kicks out, nearly knocking them both off the bed. Harry's giggling when he asks, "What are you doing here, Lou?"

"You said you wanted to sleep here but you didn't say you wanted to sleep alone."

"I thought it was implied?"

Louis shoves his face in Harry's chest. "Well it wasn't. Why are you being weird?"

"I'm…" he trails off, thinks. "I figured it's what you wanted? Like, I thought you'd want some space after last night?"

Louis shakes his head in disbelief. The concept of space has been nonexistent between them since day one, for better or worse. The fact Harry thought he was helping Louis by staying away is ridiculous. He pecks Harry's nose again, and cheek, and neck, and practically anything he can reach, overflowing with fondness. Harry's trying to twist his head away half-heartedly. Louis just pokes him again. "I don't. Space is overrated, I think. If you're not sick of me yet."

Harry hums, pretending to mull it over. If he objects, Louis isn't completely too mortified to tell him about his conversation with Liam. But Harry doesn't. "I guess I could put up with you for a bit more."

Louis burrows into Harry's chest, making him coo vaguely and hold him tighter. "Good. Because I can't sleep without your snoring."

"Excuse me Louis, I don't snore."

"You really do, mate," Niall puts in helpfully.

"Oh please, you're worse than my engine," Harry shoots back.

"Just go to sleep, dickbags."

It's awkward and tight. Louis falls asleep within two minutes.

They're back to inseparable the next day, which backfires when Zayn sends them out canoeing and Louis shares with Harry. It's not even being close to a wet Harry, whose legs are long enough they end up hugging Louis even though they're not in the same seat. It's that Louis' strategy consists of letting anyone but himself paddle while he splashes and shit-talks their competition (i.e. Niall and Liam). It takes him two minutes to realise Harry's completely hopeless at canoeing.

"Why are we going in circles?" Louis shouts back over the rush of the river.

"Dunno," Harry replies.

Louis scoots back and glances over his shoulder. He gapes. "Did you lose a paddle?"

Harry looks from one hand to the other and shrugs, his broad shoulders expanding the excuse of a life jacket on him. "Wet things tend to slip."

"Yeah, I remember." It's out of his mouth before it even registers. Louis never meant to bring it up. He figured after the near-fallout last night they were just going to pretend it never happened. He's staring at Harry in horror, watches as a lovely pink colour spreads over his face. Then Harry lowers the paddle into the water and brings it up to splash Louis right in the face.

He sputters, too stunned to move, and Harry doesn't grin as much as he's smirking mischievously. So Louis launches himself at him, crashing their life jackets together and trying to knock Harry back. Harry's trying to squeeze his hands under Louis' straps to poke or tickle him, but Louis' soaked at this point so all he manages is jostling Louis forward on his lap. Louis' more successful in his attack, since his strategy is sticking with Harry's armpits and pulling his hair.

Harry's wriggling so hard the canoe's tilting dangerously and more water flows in. It unbalances Louis so much he's the one who ends up on his back, crammed awkwardly between the two bars. Harry's still sitting there comfortably and howling with laughter, so Louis breathes deep and stretches up to grab hold of Harry's life jacket and tug it hard.

Harry goes down like a house of cards, sprawled on top of Louis and panting. Louis' breath catches in his throat. Harry's smile seems stuck on his face, and a few wet curls are escaping his ridiculous headband. He's just hovering above him, between his legs. Louis unconsciously brings his knees closer so they're pressed together. It's as easy as always to just wrap his legs around Harry, but this time he knows how it'll feel. He knows how hot Harry's skin is, how toned his muscles are, how his pretty mouth will open up and nothing but soft sounds will come out.

Before he gets too carried away, they're both splashed by what feels like half the river, and Liam's war cries shake Louis up. "Are you just giving up?" he yells.

Louis savours this for a moment longer, and then cracks a grin and shoves Harry off of him. "In your dreams, Payno!" he yells back, and returns to his seat.

In a fair canoe-race Liam would beat them hands down – he's got the upper-body strength of a bear, while it's all about the legs for Louis and a charming smile for Harry. But why the hell would he play fair when he can splash, jump over and topple everyone into the river?

"Because it's bloody dangerous, you dumb fuck," Zayn explains a few hours later, when they're back at the condo and telling him about their day.

"Mate, you gotta live hardcore to be hardcore," Liam says. He spends his life dropping catchphrases and hoping one of them sticks.

"Yeah, be in the moment to… stay in the moment," Harry adds. He's just strange.

"When I get my book deal I'm gonna dedicate a whole chapter to your strangeness," Louis assures him.

"Aw, really?" Harry asks, practically preening. His head being in Louis' lap provides a panoramic view of his dimples. Louis tries tugging on his hair, rather than petting, just to make the menace go away. It doesn't work, but at least his smile turned from pleased to cheeky.

"Oi, will I get a chapter?" Zayn asks, mock-offended.

Louis looks up at Zayn with some difficulty. "'Course. Yours will be just great quotes, though."

"Like what?"

"I love driving with a full tank, it's like smoking right after brushing your teeth or shagging on new sheets," Louis answers, Bradford accent right on the money, he reckons.

Zayn leans over from his seat to high-five Louis. "That was a good one."

"One of the few, I'd bet, since most of what you say is Louis, you fucking idiot."

Zayn leans over from his seat to high-five the back of Niall's head. Niall blows him a kiss.

"Anyway, I hope the next activity I've booked for you lot will be less disastrous."

 *

 
 

It's karting. Zayn's apparently found the one mountain with a Go-Karting Academy, and the owners would let them spend a few hours karting for free in exchange for Louis and Harry to act as driving instructors for the highest bidders. So basically Zayn's pimped them out, but what's 45 minutes training an aspiring racer in favour of watching Liam race a kart?

Liam knows more about race strategy than anyone Louis' ever met, but he's never even attempted to race himself. They get to the track bright and early on Sunday, and Louis' positively giddy. He can't stop babbling. "It's a race day! This is so brilliant."

"Why are you even so excited to race, this is the one Sunday you're not supposed to," Niall mumbles. He stayed up late playing with Zayn on the Xbox and didn't particularly appreciate Louis slapping him awake this morning.

Louis pulls Niall in a headlock. "Because, dear Niall, on December 24, 2001, one Liam Payne said, and I quote: 'this is bloody bonkers, I'm never getting in a go-kart'. And you know what happens today?"

"He's getting in a go-kart?"

Louis nods happily. "And not just any go-kart. Yesterday I signed a bunch of postcards for the boss here and managed to secure a bubblegum pink go-kart and helmet."

At this Niall finally laughs. That's how Louis knows his day's starting, really; the first time he makes Niall laugh obnoxiously.

"I can't believe you're crossing your team boss here," Liam grumbles. Louis doesn't even bother looking at him, he knows how miserable he looks right now. This is brilliant.

"C'mon, it'll be fun. I'll help you," Harry assures Liam.

Louis doesn't even try to argue. They're too far into the friendship to maintain the illusion that he's not an arsehole. Who will try his hardest for Liam to crash into a tree. Hilariously.

There's another Moment, when Harry teaches Liam how to accelerate. "You don't wanna have to look down, so it's mostly by feel," he explains, perched on Liam's tyre while Liam's squeezed into the cockpit. Niall went to grab them some biscuits and Louis' just standing there, watching Harry watching Liam probably fail spectacularly. The poor guy drives a Honda Civic with an automatic transmission at home.

"What the fuck does that mean?" Liam asks, frustrated.

"Harry, do be kind, he's a bit slow," Louis comments. Liam snarls at him. He's just so happy.

Harry glares at Louis, and then leans forward to show Liam something on the dashboard. Louis gets sidetracked ridiculously quickly by that. Harry's ungainly and clumsy most of the time, but when he's near a car there's this grace in him, focus, intent. Louis could watch him stretch out on cars for the rest of his life. He should do a calendar.

"You gotta be gentle," Harry says, practically purring. Louis' throat goes dry. "Let go of the clutch slow and steady when you're looking for that sweet spot."

Harry's looking straight at him, fluttering his ridiculous lashes, and Louis crosses his arms awkwardly and pretends to be unaffected. "That's your best advice?" he blurts out.

Harry smirks, mischievous again, unreasonably hot. "I'm very good at finding it."

Louis just stares back, mind whirling and fingers jittery. Before he gets a chance to react, Liam's yelling. "Please just get a room and stop trying to teach me, fuckin' hell, I'll get it on my own."

Louis doesn't comment on the fact that they actually have a room. Despite recent Events they're still sharing the master bedroom. By an unspoken agreement they haven't gotten each other off again, but they are still prone to cuddling. Louis' getting quite used to wanking as a part of his morning routine.

Louis shakes his head and gets in his fire engine red go-kart, tucking his aviators safely away in his pocket. He doesn't even notice Harry trotting up to him, too focused on calming himself down. "Yo," Harry says, thumping on Louis' kart.

Louis looks up, startled. "Let me guess, I'm going down?"

"If only," Harry says wistfully, and then catches himself and clears his throat. "No, I, uh, made you something. Well, Zayn did, but I thought of it. Like, as a good luck for instructing a bunch of twelve-year-old would-be racers. Not that you'll need it, but."

Louis waves a hand in front of Harry's face to get him to stop. "What is it?"

Harry squeezes his hands into the pocket of his skinny jeans and pulls out a folded piece of paper. Louis blinks. "I already have your autograph, mate."

Harry rolls his eyes and unfolds it. Louis realises it's not paper, but a sticker. And Zayn drew a 70 on it, with the Pepsi can and all. His tongue sticks to his mouth. "Is that... Jeanne's?"

"Thought you might like it?" Harry says.

"I love it, c'mere," Louis says emphatically and reaches out. Harry has to fold himself ridiculously so Louis could hug him without getting out of the kart, but they manage. "Thank you. Now stick it on the bonnet."

"You'll have to let go of me for that," Harry mumbles into Louis' shoulder.

"Right," Louis clears his throat and pats Harry's back aggressively before releasing him.

Harry fixes his slaggy mostly-unbuttoned button-up and slinks his way to the front of the kart. He just looks at the nose for a long moment, before bending forward slowly, giving Louis a nice flash of his chest, and reaching out to put the sticker on the very top of the kart.

Sitting there, flustered in a go-kart with Harry Styles just smiling coyly at him, it hits him. "Are you playing me, Harold?"

Harry actually cocks his hips and tilts his head innocently. "Am I?"

"You said you'd help Liam! This is all a game!" And Louis played right into his hands. If he could buy self control at Tesco's, he would get ten packages.

Harry smiles sweetly and saunters back to the driver's seat. "Not all of it," he whispers, and leans down to kiss Louis' wild fringe before he climbs into his own kart.

So Harry's the devil.

He may not seem like it, when he stays on the karting track an extra hour to instruct a bunch of kids, and takes pictures with each of them in all the two-seaters, and takes the time to talk to their parents about safety.

He may not seem like it when he refuses to race Louis for real because he doesn't want Liam to feel excluded.

But he is the devil.

On their last day in the condo, Louis makes a list, under Liam's instruction. It's entitled things that have changed since sort-of-shagging Harry. He then realises it's a bit too complicated to list. Because they're closer, but not in a physical way, and they're more playful, but not in an obvious way.

Basically:

1. Harry's flirtier

2. Louis' hornier

3. Life is a little less fair

At least he wins first place in Montreal.

Maybe Liam had a point after all.

Chapter Text

  

 

Saying goodbye is weird. The five of them have spent every waking hour of the past three months together. Harry and Louis have practically become extensions of each other. After the last race (Harry coming a disappointing third), they called a group meeting and decided to go home three weeks before the Silverstone Grand Prix. It's a combination of homesickness and the need to hear some English rather than French.

Harry got excited as soon as he thought of coming back to visit his mum and Robin for the first time since they got engaged, but it's dampened by losing his boys. Zayn can't shut up about Perrie, Niall's planning a trip to Mullingar, Liam's already set up a date with his mum because he's a good little boy, and Louis' said something vague about going "home". And they're all happy, riding on the fumes of the last race, but they're also clingy and pile up on the plane ride. It's all five of them, until seven hours turn into two, and Harry's too antsy to go to sleep. If he's jittery, Louis must be ready to parachute out of here.

He elbows Louis and points to Zayn and Liam sleeping on each other with Niall next to them, snoring and still clutching a tiny bottle. "Little angels," Harry whispers.

Louis takes out his ear buds, looks at them critically, gives Harry a onceover, and then gets up to go to the loo. Harry huffs at being left alone and tries to refocus on his book, though the words are muddling and he's lost the plot some time ago.

He's jostled a few minutes later. He looks up, alarmed, only to see Louis frowning down at him. "Yes?"

Louis just grabs Harry's bicep and pulls him up and out of his seat.

So Harry feels marginally better squeezed into the plane's toilet with Louis' legs wrapped around his waist. They say it's just a goodbye snog, Harry fully intends for it to be a snog. They're not even high. Well, like, they're high altitude-wise but not spliff-wise. Whatever. But the first class toilet is luxuriously big they're pressed so closely together, and Louis hangs off him so easily and kisses him hungrily, pulls on his hair. It feels like Harry's been hard since that first night in Montreal. Is there any real difference between a goodbye snog and a goodbye handjob?

(If there is, Louis finds it. "We've gotta stop meeting like this," he says afterwards, splashing water down his thighs. And he's smiling and delivered it like a joke, but Harry knows he means it and Harry's heart feels heavier, a startling difference to the high of Louis pulling his cock with his fingers shoved in Harry's mouth.)

They're being very inconspicuous when they come out, but the purple blooming on Harry's neck is prominent, and he tries not to think it was deliberate. That Louis was trying to state something without saying, mine mine mine. Just like Harry's littered Louis' shoulders with marks saying I'll wait.

Liam's awake, unfortunately, and his eyes follow Harry and Louis as they go. Surprisingly, all he has to offer is a whistle for Harry and a thumbs-up for Louis. He still feels awkward and unsure. He's pretty convinced the sex was meant to resolve this, but as he fastens his seat belt he's more confused than he was when he'd unfastened it.

They're all a mess by the time they're leaving the airport. They waited long enough to get off the plane and find their luggage, and even decided to have a shitty dinner right at Heathrow just to postpone the end for a bit. Then it's just fierce hugs and a goodbye.

By some unspoken agreement, Zayn, Liam and Niall let Louis and him have a little moment off to the side. Harry feels like his throat's being clenched by an invisible fist. At least Louis looks just as distraught, his mouth set in an unhappy line and his eyes without their usual shine.

"This is gonna really suck balls," Louis says.

Harry nods too quickly. "It'll be a lot to get used to."

They stare at each other for another moment before Harry pulls Louis into his arms for a good hug. "I'll miss you so fucking much, Lou," he whispers.

Louis goes boneless, tucking his nose in the crook of Harry's neck. "Me too. Me more."

Harry doubts that, but it's so nice to hear. There's this niggling thought, this fragile piece of his heart that's convinced Louis will forget him the second he goes home. That whatever progress they've made in untangling whatever Louis' built up in his head will be wiped away as soon as he has time to think. To convince himself he shouldn't even look at Harry, for his reasons. Harry wishes he could just untangle himself, that he could walk away from Louis and be done with it, maybe he'll race better, maybe he'll sleep better. But he knows it's worth it.

He knows, maybe has known all along, that Louis' it.

So he'll wait for Louis to figure it out himself. Maybe the heart will grow fonder and all that. If they ever stop hugging.

"What do people even do without itineraries?" Louis asks, maybe trying to lighten the mood, probably just being dumb.

Harry shakes his head, accidentally making Louis burrow into his jacket. "Dunno. Force themselves to get up in the morning somehow."

"With no curly, tall boys to make them breakfast?"

Harry hugs him that much tighter. "Hey, will you write me?"

Louis snorts. "You're not actually Harry Potter, y'know."

"You don't know that."

"He's got black hair, you idiot."

"Polyjuice potion, knobhead. Masquerading as a world-famous racer has been the perfect cover for an Auror on a mission."

"I." He pauses. "I like you. You know that?"

Harry smiles into Louis' temple. "I like you too."Like he likes racing and cats and hats.

"I'll text you, yeah?"

"Yeah." He knows this isn't grade nine but it feels a bit like it. His heart flutters.

Someone clears their throat nearby. "Um, guys?" Zayn says, embarrassed. "Sorry, just, Pezza's here."

Louis sighs. "That's my ride." He pulls back from Harry finally, fixes his fringe and his collar to his liking. "I'll see you in two bloody weeks, no need to tear up."

Harry swats at Louis' head. "This is me weeping for joy. I'm finally free."

"Not really though," Niall put in, wrapping an arm around Harry's waist. "I'm still staying at your sister's 'till Wednesday, right?"

"Of course." He wraps a complementing arm around Niall's shoulders, complete with a hair-pull.

"What – " Louis starts, looking at them funny, but he's cut off by Zayn pulling him away roughly.

"Have a great break!" Zayn says over his shoulder. Louis waves at Harry weakly. He's glad he can lean on Niall a bit, since seeing Louis go is pretty hard.

"Right," Niall starts, thumping on Harry's belly. "I'm fuckin' starving. We're gonna get some proper food, get some booze, and craic until you want to tell me what's going on with you two dickheads."

Harry hangs his head, succumbing to a miserable night with brilliant company.

*

 

 
 

It's been a week, and Louis' going absolutely mad. He's covered the usual: slept for two days, got a couple of tattoos, caught up on his reality shows, went on his morning and evening runs, Skyped with his family and Liam, pretended there isn't something vital missing.

He could've gone through it, too, could've pretended to his heart's content, if it weren't for one tiny detail.

Harry's smell is haunting him. At first it made sense: he nicked Harry's jumper for the flight since he tended to get cold while Harry got hot, and then when Perrie finally dropped him off at his flat he was so tired he just went to sleep in it, making the scent cling to his sheets.

But after so long away, Louis changed them the first chance he got. Three days in he still woke up to that smell, still started talking before he realised he was alone, still looked for Harry in the corner of his eye. Four days in it's just the smell catching him off-guard and reverberating weirdly in his chest, an echo of Harry Harry Harry need need need.

There's nothing really distinctive about it, it's not sweet or smelly or anything, it's just Harry. It just makes him think of Harry when he tries not to, just makes him miss him terribly. Five days in he's sure he's imagining it. Six days in he's desperately afraid Harry's smell has been branded into his skin.

On day seven he finally realises his suitcase, which he hasn't unpacked yet because he is a slob, is half-full of Harry's clothes. So the mystery is solved, and he spends the day wearing a suspiciously oversized T-shirt. Coincidentally, that is the day he realises he's too pathetic for words and should just call Harry and get it over with. ("Aversion therapy hasn't worked, let's just get married and have gorgeous, fast babies". That'll work, probably.)

Now, Louis is facing a much bigger problem than a smell-haunting.

He can't for the life of him remember how he'd saved Harry's number on his phone, all those months ago.

It's the stupidest thing that's ever happened to him, and that is a long and impressive list of stupid. It's just – they spent months attached at the hip, he had no reason to call or text Harry. And now that he's achingly alone and decided that he might as well not torture himself on his two-week vacation, he can't find Harry's number. Not under Harry, Harold, H, Haz, Hazza<3, Styles – nothing.

And it's too late to ask for it – since he can't really say he'd waited a week to text him because Harry was with Niall. It's also too late because they'd exchanged numbers approximately twenty years ago.

No, the person it will be least awkward to beg the number off of is Harry himself, as long as Louis does something nice for him in the process. He's giving his phone one less desperate scroll, clicking out angrily when a Twitter update pops up and interrupts him between "Harrison Lee TEAM" and "HQ Cowell". Then he pauses.

He realises he couldn't look like less of a dumbass. He also realises Harry's obsessed with Twitter-Instagram-Whatever. So he'll probably appreciate it when Louis tweets:

 

(x)

He gets a response in ten nerve-wracking minutes. It's surprising; Twitter addict or not, it is 3 AM and Harry's probably out partying with his old mates. Definitely not withering away in a too-big shirt. Louis checks his phone shakily.

Instead of sending him a direct message like a normal person, Harry has replied for everyone to see.

 

(x)

Louis really wants to throw his phone into the wall the second he remembers. Potter. What the fuck is wrong with him, it's not even funny. He immediately changes Harry's contact info into "Harry Styles Harold H Haz Hazza<3". It takes Louis a bit longer to ring him.

Rudely, Harry calls him in the middle of psyching himself up. "Uh, hi, you up?" he asks as soon as Louis picks up.

"No, I sleep-tweet. It's a condition."

"Shut up," Harry says, snorting. "Can't believe you just lost my number like that. Did you know in certain circles my number is quite prized and valued?"

Louis laughs, which he hasn't done in a week, and curls up a bit into himself. It's so nice to hear Harry's voice. Going without it after four months of Harry being his personal soundtrack had been hard. Left a ringing in his ears, a numbness in his hands. "You know how you're at summer camp and you're in the same room with ten blokes, and after two weeks you're so sick of them you just want some peace and quiet in your own home?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm sort of waiting to... not miss you." It's too late to sugarcoat it.

Harry sighs. "Me too. When did that happen?"

"Fuck if I know. Are you still at your mum and stepdad's or are you at your sister's?"

"No, still in Cheshire with wedding stuff. Mum says it's cool if I stay but I think I'm one knock-knock joke away from being knock-knocked on my arse."

Louis nearly drops his mug. "Well, if your plan was to remind me how I'm much better off without you, it's brilliant."

"Oh piss off," Harry says. There's something so warm in his voice, Louis just wants to wrap up in it. Even the stay in Montreal hadn't quite prepared him for the English chill. It's bloody June. "Are you still – well, you actually never told me what you were up to."

"I'm just in London. Sat about in my house." He doesn't expand on the fuck-all he's been up to. Harry Styles shouldn't think he's a loser.

"Oh," Harry says. "You didn't wanna go home? Visit your family?"

Louis bites a bit too hard into his nail and hisses. "They're coming to qualifying. And the race, of course."

"You're not..." Harry starts, then hesitates. "You're not lonely, are you?"

He scrubs a hand over his eyes. "It can be lonely there too."

He didn't actually intend for this conversation to turn so serious. He was just trying to be friendly. Everything still smells like Harry and he needs this creepy-crawly feeling he gets under his skin when he's around Harry to go away. He's not even around him.

"What if I, like, visited?" Harry asks abruptly, pulling Louis from his thoughts.

"We've only just said goodbye," Louis reminds him, sure Harry's joking.

"Who cares? Come on, I wanna see you."

Something's twisting in Louis' chest. He remembers being constantly out of breath after the first night in Montreal. Harry makes him nervous, when he doesn't make him giddy. "No mate, you have fun with your family. You haven't seen them in ages."

"But I'm driving to Sheffield in two days. I could just, I dunno. Keep going."

This is outrageous. "You're in Sheffield when I'm not in Doncaster?"

"See? So I'll just go to your place until the race? London's closer to Silverstone, innit?"

It's really, really not, Silverstone is like, right in the middle of the way.

And that's how Harry randomly drives down to London, Louis refusing to allow or believe him until the moment he actually rings his doorbell. "Are you out of your bloody mind?" is how Louis greets him.

Harry just leans down and tucks Louis into his chest, hugging him tightly. "I did warn you", and "so good to see you", and "your glasses are sexy" and "is that my shirt?"

At this point Louis pokes his ribs to wrench away from his monkey arms. "All my things are still in the laundry. Had to wear something, it's bloody cold, innit?"

It's not, and they're not, but Harry doesn't disagree. He does smile at Louis knowingly. Maybe that's the worst part of it all – knowing Louis can't hide anything from Harry. Nothing important, anyway. "You're so happy I'm here," Harry claims, and he's absolutely right. Louis feels like he's out of breath again.

"Well come in, I'll make you a cuppa. Did you actually drive down for three hours?" he asks. He honestly means to get a conversation started, to go to his kitchen, but he sort of physically can't turn away from Harry. He's here and he's tall and lovely and real and here. There's finally a person to go with the smell.

And he'll certainly change shirts as soon as Harry's distracted.

"Yeah, just straight down the M1. I missed my baby," Harry replies finally, while shucking off his disgustingly expensive-looking coat.

"Uh."

Harry's eyes flare up and he freezes while unwrapping his wool scarf. "My car, my vintage car, I missed the car, driving the car."

Louis bursts out laughing, feeling infinitely calmer. If Harry's still such a tit, Louis can afford to feel more like himself. Nothing like an awkward insinuation to break the ice. "Wait, what did you miss again?"

Harry just whips his scarf off and smacks Louis' arm with it. "Shut up, please. And show me around the flat."

There's not much to see, really. While the kettle boils he shows Harry the dining room, the bathroom, the guestroom, the knick-knack room with his trophies. True, each of them could house a family of three, but Louis keeps it pretty sparse. It's not like he's even here nine months out of twelve. "Never thought you'd be so practical," Harry says, once they wind their way back to the kitchen.

Louis shrugs. "Not really. It's not very practical to have actual goal posts in your backyard, is it?"

"I said practical, not reasonable," Harry assures him, patting his back patronisingly.

Louis rolls his eyes and starts working on their teas. It takes him maybe half a second to sense that Harry's hovering behind him. He's not bothered in the least. Harry might be quieter and calmer than Louis, but he does fill a room. At least, rooms Louis' in. He's just so tall, and personal space really hasn't been in their vocabulary. Instead of feeling smothered by it, Louis' comforted, somehow. He hates being alone. "Thanks for coming," he finally says, honestly, while handing Harry his disgusting herbal tea.

Harry sniffs it for the longest time and then smiles at Louis sheepishly, lowering his lashes. "Sure thing. I did miss your tea."

Now that makes more sense. "Wanna chill in front of the telly? We can talk tomorrow, you're probably tired from driving all day."

Instead of replying, Harry ducks down to kiss Louis' cheek. Louis takes that as a yes, and just swats at his chest before leading him to the living room. They settle down on the nice sofa directly in front of the television, and don't even look at each other when Harry stretches out an arm and Louis leans into him, folding his legs over Harry's lap. They simply fit.

Harry lasts for one hour of Bake Off before he's snoring into Louis' neck. It would be far, far too sappy for Louis to just sit there and fondly watch him sleep, so he wakes him up and half-carries him to the guestroom.

It must be Harry's tiredness rubbing off on him, or maybe the contentment he can feel settling in his bones. As soon as Louis' back in his room, he's out like a light.

Sometime later he's being jostled awake, and he frowns without opening his eyes. The break was supposed to be about rest, he's resting. Doesn't need nudging and soft noises.

"Lou?" Harry whispers.

Louis curls deeper in his duvet and hums, hoping not to open his mouth or his eyes for at least eight more hours.

"Lou, d'you mind?" Harry asks, already sitting on the bed, probably awkwardly. Louis just lifts the blanket and hums again, groggy and pathetic. Harry slips into Louis' space quickly, first just touching shoulders but then he tucks his arm over Louis' back and spoons him from behind. "Is this okay?"

"'course," Louis says, words chipping at his mouth, probably illegible. He's already settling into Harry's warmth, pressing back against his chest. They'd managed to perfect this during their stay in Montreal. Louis knows not to touch Harry's hair so much that he can't fall asleep, Harry knows not to comment on how "tiny your legs are, oh god, you can barely reach my ankle, you're so – stop hitting me". They're professional cuddlers now.

He's already half-asleep when Harry says, "'cause I'm tired of sleeping alone." (Which is kind of stupid, since if he were sleeping he wouldn't be tired.)

He's definitely pretending to be fully asleep when Harry says, "You're still wearing my shirt."

His next wake-up call is a little more pleasant, if not more surprising. But it is, really, way more surprising, since Louis doesn't even remember Harry being in his bed, let alone naked and plastered to Louis' front. So Harry's somehow the big little spoon now, which means Louis' breathing in his curls (the fucking smell), and his morning wood is quite snug against Harry's bony arse. The biggest plot twist is that it's not bony at all – the working out they've been doing has toned it, made it muscular and yet soft, and he's so naked. Louis did not sign up to sleep with an armful of naked Harry Styles, whose smell probably got Louis hard in the first place.

He then notices that Harry's not exactly still, nor sleeping. He's pretending to be, but he's not sniffling as he usually does, and his hips are moving very deliberately, if carefully. It's like Harry's trying to make sure Louis' still asleep. No, it's like Harry's trying not to wake Louis up, being the considerate guy that he is. Only he's naked and he keeps shuffling and when Louis cracks an eye open and glances over, holding his breath, he gets an eyeful of Harry's own erection. Which is. As impressive as he'd remembered. And currently being jerked by Harry's own hand extremely slowly, like he can't fucking help it.

Louis' awake and bright-eyed in two seconds flat. He's overwhelmed by Harry's smell, his skin, paling since they left Catalonia but still hot and sleepy-soft, his defined muscles, his annoyingly endless legs. Sometime during the last week Louis became half-convinced Harry doesn't even exist, and now he has this long lean line of a boy in his bed, wriggling against him.

And he knows why it shouldn't happen, why it can't happen, and why it's going to happen. He trails his hand from its limp perch on Harry's moth tattoo to his hip, where he holds strongly enough that Harry knows it's not a groggy, aborted move. It's a grip. It's hard enough to bruise.

Harry freezes immediately; Louis can actually hear his breath stutter. "I. Uh." The syllables are ripped from Harry's throat, and his voice is husky from sleep and Harryness. If Louis weren't completely hard before, this is the point of no return. Louis pinches Harry's hip, maybe getting the tattoo there. To soften the touch he presses his lips to Harry's nape. At least that has Harry breathing again. And talking nonsense. "I can, um, finish up in the shower – "

Louis loosens his grip only to trail his fingers lower again, tapping on his thigh. "Now what kind of host would that make me?"

"So still okay?" Harry asks, probably going for hesitant but landing on excited.

Louis responds by shuffling forward to properly align their hips together. He's still in boxers, hard-on trapped against his belly, but he can practically feel the heat radiating off of Harry. It just feels so good. Every little thing feels so good. "Yeah, okay," he mumbles, sinking his fingers into Harry's thigh. "You can. Go on."

It doesn't even take Harry a second to grind back against Louis, making his toes curl. He has no idea how it feels for Harry, considering his boxers are rubbing against his bare skin, but they're both groaning so it must not be too bad. It's the steady pressure on his cock, it's his nose buried in the crook of Harry's neck, it's the quiet of his bedroom apart from Harry's panting. And Louis suddenly wants to hear what he sounds like when he's actually touched. "Hey, you – you've got long arms, yeah?"

Harry reaches back with one to wrap soundly around Louis' bum and press them even closer together, which, wow and no. Louis' never had to use brain function with his hard cock nestled against a guy's arse before. He tries to regroup, and reaches back himself to detach Harry's fierce grip. "I meant, reach over to the nightstand, there's stuff."

Harry's reaction is to grunt into his pillow and give his cock a good tug, like the mere notion of Louis – fucking him drives him wild. He launches his arm forward and opens the drawer, starts scrabbling for the lubricant while Louis continues rutting against him. He's not a very patient person, and every point of friction feels like heaven. Or torture. "Should I. There's some. Condoms," Harry says-asks.

Louis' maybe one second away from just saying yes, and Harry sure as fuck is up for it, but he's still got enough sense in him to know that's a step they really shouldn't take. "No," he finally says.

Harry doesn't seem too disappointed. He just pulls the Astroglide and holds it over his head for Louis, willing to roll with whatever Louis had planned. Louis peppers his shoulder with kisses, to be appreciative, but Harry makes a frustrated noise and waves the lube around. Louis tries not to laugh.

He keeps Harry in suspense for maybe thirty seconds before he spills some lube on his palm and wraps his hand around the base of Harry's cock. Harry squirms wildly but stays completely silent, like he doesn't want to throw Louis off. Louis shifts closer so he can grip him more comfortably and bite his shoulder lightly. That gets him a gasp, at least.

He moves his hand slowly at first, feeling him out from base to tip. He just likes that his arm is resting heavy on Harry's hipbone, that his front is plastered to Harry's back, that this is as close as they can get. Each little sound he gets out of Harry is like music, each time he reaches the head and feels how wet Harry already is stuns him. And Harry's getting worked up, desperate, impatient. Starts rocking his hips to chase Louis' hand. (Which has the side effect of rocking back against Louis' groin, which reminds them both how achingly hard he is.)

"At least get your pants off," Harry mumbles, already throwing a clumsy hand back and slipping it under Louis' waistband. Yet he blurts a needy no when Louis takes his own hand away from his cock to help him out. Louis can't help but snort, even though it lacks his usual sarcasm and comes somewhere between "you're ridiculous" and "fuck me until I can't see straight".

With some concentration and mutually-beneficial wriggling, they finally manage to get Louis' boxers off. Well, to knee level, which is good enough at this point. This position doesn't leave him much room to be very athletic, but he's too far gone to switch.

Harry keeps squeezing his now-naked arse, and Jesus, when they fit together Louis feels like the breath is knocked out of him. He can't help it, reaches between their bodies to slick himself up. And he knows he's not going to fuck Harry, that he can't without a condom and serious decisions made afterwards, but he's so close that with each stroke his knuckles brush over Harry's arse. It's not that much of a leap to slip his cock between Harry's cheeks and move with him, rather than against him.

Harry goes nuts for it, moves his hips like he's actually being fucked, and Louis' quick to return his slippery hand back to Harry's cock. Knows both of them are too close.

He moves his other hand, the one that's been trapped under him, up to tug Harry's head back by the curls. Now he can see his profile, see his blotchy cheeks and gaping mouth, how he's choking on each inhale. Now he can press his mouth directly to his ear and whisper, "Feel that? Feel me?" while he's thrusting up.

Harry nods, can't do much else, but Louis keeps a tight grip on his hair and can't stop babbling, not when it makes Harry tighten up in his arms like a spring. It only takes one sentence for Harry to finally come all over himself.

"Think how it'll feel when I fuck you."

His voice breaks around Louis' name, and he wraps his big hand around Louis' small one to tighten his grip, so he can ride his fist through it. When he's done he recoils from both their hands, which drags him over Louis' cock. Whether it was intentional or not, Louis' coming on his back soon after, feeling like his brain is shutting down.

*

Breakfast isn't as awkward as it should be. Louis, professional sarcastic shithead Louis, seems to be glowing. Harry isn't even sure it's the post-coital thing; he must just like having Harry around. He beams every time Harry kisses or hugs him, and gets just this side of clingy for a while. Hovers behind Harry when he brushes his teeth and pokes his head uselessly while Harry makes breakfast. Harry can't help that he loves the attention, even if it's always coupled with convincing himself it doesn't mean anything.

Maybe Louis decided not to let it spiral like the last time in Canada. Maybe he really just missed Harry. Whatever. Harry tries not to be anxious about the fallout. He convinces Louis to take breakfast to bed, just because he feels safe there and wants to enjoy their giddiness to the fullest. They're halfway through eggs and bacon when Louis mutes the television and turns to Harry. It's not exactly a feat, since they're pressed together in the middle of the giant bed.

"So what have you been up to? How was it with Niall?"

If Harry were less oblivious, he would have noticed Louis' pointed tone at the last word. He just shrugs. "Alright. He only stayed with us for like two days before his flight to Mullingar. Then I went to my mum's and that was a laugh. Did some gardening, chilled out. Played with my cat."

"You have a cat?" Louis asks, quirking an eyebrow.

"Well, not really, but I cat-sit for my family when I can. My mum's got two and my sister just got a kitten with her boyfriend. I guess they're getting pretty serious? She sounded kinda nervous about me meeting him, which never happened before."

"Maybe she wants you to approve of him," Louis guesses.

Harry snorts. "She just doesn't want me to run him off because I'm famous or something. Do you know how long it took her to even tweet me?"

Louis laughs. "That I get. My two oldest little sisters are bratty teenagers now, they want nothing to do with me."

Yet his eyes light up when he talks about them. Harry has to ask. "Why didn't you go back to Doncaster?"

"Because not all of us are homeless like you," he snaps back quickly. Harry pokes his ribs and nearly topples their tray over, making Louis sputter.

"I'm serious," Harry insists.

Louis resets the tray next to them, rather than on them, and wrings his hands. It takes him a while. Harry lets him have it, gently petting his thigh in encouragement. "Last time I was there…" he trails off. After a few seconds he starts over. "My mum hasn't always been very supportive of me racing. Or of the, uh. Gay thing, either." He looks down at his lap. Harry keeps petting him. "Like, she never said anything wrong or threatened to disown me or any of that shit, but even when I had a boyfriend she'd keep saying, 'Why don't you ever bring Hannah round anymore? She's very pretty' and stuff like that. She got over it since then, she had to, but, just, y'know. It was small things. I don't think my sisters know, either. They're just kids, yeah?"

He's silent for a while, like he's lost in thought. Harry immediately feels supercharged with guilt. Nothing should make Louis Tomlinson sad. He probably shouldn't have even brought it up. But now it's there, this dark cloud, and Harry can't let himself try to change the subject with his usual smoothness (i.e. lack thereof). So instead he asks, "And the racing?"

Thank god, the gates of heaven open, the sun's shining down and Louis smiles. "When I told my mum I wanted to be a racer, she thought I was joking. I had to practice in secret places we found around town, all in Liam's dad's car."

"What happened when she found out?"

Louis twists his neck to look at him critically. "Who said she found out?"

Harry laughs. "I'd imagine when you beat Vettel for the world title she heard about it. My mum knows your name."

"What if Louis Tomlinson's not my real name, Harold? What if my mum thinks I'm some lowly barista, bottom-feeding in Croydon?"

He must be okay if he's talking shit. Harry feels vaguely encouraged. "Why a barista? Why not a florist or an animal wrangler?"

"Ah," Louis says, tapping Harry's nose with his index finger. "She knows I'm scared of animals bigger than me."

"Wee little thing like you? Really?"

Louis elbows Harry's ribs, scowling. Harry just laughs and leans down to nose at Louis' shoulder. "C'mon love, tell me."

He clears his throat. "Well, I finally told her when I'd entered Formula Renault."

Harry can't even imagine that. His mum had been there for him since his karting days, and was his biggest supporter in entering the British Formula Renault Championship. She knew he was going to do it anyway. She knew this was his way of dealing with what happened to Arthur, and though she couldn't have known he'd be an F1 celebrity at the age of 22, she never stopped him. "I bet she wanted to kill you."

Louis snorts. "She's so scared of me getting hurt. I told her I could get in an accident being a driving instructor or, well, just crossing the street in Yorkshire, and she screamed bloody murder. Then I… I told her I'm good, that I've won karting titles and once I get picked up by a team I could really help her. You can imagine what happened when I brought up money."

"She screamed some more?"

"Threatened to cut my balls off."

Harry tries his hardest not to laugh. "What then?"

"I finished third my debut season. She got over it. It took her a while to come to a race, and even longer to bring my sisters, but eventually she managed. You know what she did the first time I sent her a cheque?"

"What?"

"She bought me a Renault Clio. I guess it was her way of telling me where to shove my money."

Harry rolls his eyes and nuzzles at Louis' neck absently. "Or, you know, showing her support."

"Yeah, I s'ppose. I still bought her a nice family car. And paid off the mortgage and all that." And all that. Louis is ridiculous.

"You know, you're really great," Harry tells him honestly.

"Meh," Louis mutters, batting Harry's head away from his face unsuccessfully. "I just try to make up for the grey hairs I give her every time I say I won't retire."

"Ever?" Harry asks, flicking Louis' ear. "My deal with my sister was always that I'd retire when she got pregnant."

"I think the best uncles are the ones living off driving around in circles, inhaling fumes and waiting to get into an accident."

Harry frowns and stops annoying Louis to look at his face. "Don't say shit like that."

Louis widens his blue eyes innocently. "What, uncles? I know for nubile bachelors like yourself the thought of children – "

Harry pokes him hard. "Accident, you twat, I don't wanna think about you getting in an accident."

"Oh." Louis turns his face away and settles down against Harry's shoulder. It's probably for the best, eye contact would have gotten Harry nowhere right at this stage of the conversation. He slips an arm around Louis' shoulders and pulls him tight against him. Thankfully, Louis gets the message and stays still. "Hey, it's okay," Louis says, probably quieter and more serious than Harry's ever heard him. "We're almost halfway through, and Jeanne's doing better than ever."

"I know," Harry says in a small voice. Fuck, he hates that he's so affected by a stupid little remark. He just wants to pull Louis into his lap and maybe not let him go ever.

"I have extra motivation, too," Louis adds, reaching over to stroke Harry's face without looking up. His voice has retained some of the usual playfulness, and he seems to be aiming for Harry's nose. Harry retaliates by kissing the tips of his fingers when they land on his mouth.

"What's that?" Harry asks, blissfully distracted. How he ended up being the one comforted, he has no idea.

"I can't exactly fuck up in front of the person I fancy."

The sad part is that Louis must feel it when Harry beams. His fingers are splayed on Harry's lips and Harry can't contain his grin. "Really?"

"Yeah, I mean, what would Niall think of me?"

The only course of action is to open his mouth and bite hard on Louis' index finger. So Louis elbows his balls. The heavy atmosphere is completely diffused by the time they stop roughhousing, and somehow Louis ends up covered in food and Harry's wearing Louis' glasses. They are also cuddling again.

"By the way, d'ya tell Niall you came down here? Or any of the boys?" Louis asks.

Harry tries to remember, but he probably didn't text any of them. It was kind of a split-second decision to come cheer Louis up. "No, why?"

Louis shrugs into Harry's chest. "Nothing, they might get jealous. We should fuck with them, though."

"Ooh, like text the same things at the same time on WhatsApp? Or tweet together exactly at midnight?"

Louis huffs exaggeratedly. "You are truly diabolical, Mr. Styles."

He leaves the pranking to Louis. They spend the rest of the day lazing around the house, either watching television or doing their own things. Usually Louis would be climbing the walls at this point, but right now he seems content just solving the Sunday crosswords with Harry.

Not that it means anything.

And when they go to sleep in their separate rooms and Louis shows up an hour later, hugging his pillow to him and climbing into Harry's bed, all he has to say is "shut up" and Harry does. But it doesn't mean anything.

*

Harry's fucking horrible at football. Louis has known that for months, ever since they played Louis, Liam and Zayn versus Harry, Niall and Josh after one of the first GPs. It was such a heart-breaking revelation for Louis, though, that he sort of blocked it out.

It's coming back to bite him in the arse when Harry trips, again, instead of intercepting Louis' pass.

"Mate, when I said we should get back in shape I didn't mean figure falling," he reminds Harry, running around him to get the ball back.

Harry huffs, rubbing the dirt staining his knees. He's wearing Louis' joggers. Neither of them mentions that they're too short for him, just like they try not to bring up Louis' obsession with Harry's clothes. They also try to leave out the handjob thing from yesterday. (Louis had the best morning he could remember, so he just clung to Harry to make a day of it, and as soon as the high wore off he decided on some football to stop from getting nervous. So far it's working – he's been laughing his arse off for twenty minutes.)

"No, you meant you showing off your footie skills and me running around like a lunatic," Harry shoots back.

Louis preens. "C'mon, I'll be the goalie. Don't give up!"

Harry scowls at him, but stands fiercely in front of the goal, one foot on the ball. That's the thing about Harry – he can fail and fail at something, but still never dismiss it or give up. Even if he doesn't get better, he'll keep trying to make people proud. He's determined and earnest and Louis loves that about him.

He also loves saving Harry's shots by bending pretzel-shaped awkwardly just so Harry feels like he's actually giving Louis a workout. He probably knows Louis' making a show of it, but he's still cheering and swearing revenge alternately.

An hour later they're both sweating and Harry's bending over to bury his hands in the ground and then rub his stomach and chest with dirt and grass, like war paint or… something weird. The moment Louis stops wearing Harry's shirts, he will complain profusely about Harry wearing no shirts.

Coincidentally, that is also when Louis lets Harry score for the first time. Harry gives zero shits about Louis crying foul, he's running around Louis' backyard and thumping his chest like an ape-man, now convinced he's fit to join Real Madrid.

Twelve minutes later Harry's been tackled to the ground, and he's kicking out desperately while Louis tickles him. "You're such a sore loser, Tommo," he wheezes, swatting uselessly at Louis' head.

"You cheated," Louis says, and just to keep himself safe tucks Harry's hands behind his back and sits himself on his lap to stop his wiggling. Harry stays completely still under him for a second, just squints up at Louis and bites his pink, pink lip. He just looks so willing, he always does. Louis knows he's still being played, but there's not much he can do about feeling helpless.

Louis' so into it that when Harry tries to buck him off, Louis actually topples forward. They're saved from a painful head-butt solely thanks to Louis' panther reflexes. His fingers end up buried in the grass around Harry's head, and now he's just crouching on top of him. They're both still breathing heavily. Harry might be hard under Louis' joggers.

"You smell like dirt," Louis comments, sniffing for lack of anything better to do.

Harry smirks up at him, green eyes practically twinkling. "I smell like victory."

"Then you better wash it off."

The smile slips from his face, and it's kind of startling when he releases his hands easily and just grabs Louis' shoulders and rolls them over. Louis needs to stop forgetting there's more to Harry than what meets the eye. He is then blindsided by Harry grabbing a fistful of dirt and rubbing it all over Louis' exposed collarbones. He definitely should've worn a shirt that actually fits him for this. He'll try to remember it for the next time he finds himself trapped under a determined Harry Styles. "Looks like you got some dirt on you too."

Eighteen minutes later he's got Harry on his knees while the shower's running, and if he weren't getting his dick eagerly sucked, he'd kick himself for not planning this whole thing himself.

"I feel like I'm waiting for things to get weird," Harry mumbles later, when they're cocooned in Louis' bed for a post-workout nap.

Louis just nods into his still-wet hair. "You mean kinky? 'Cause I can do – "

"No," Harry stresses, turning over so he's talking into Louis' shoulder. "Like, I dunno. You make me nervous sometimes."

"You make me nervous too," Louis admits. He figures agreeing with Harry will prevent the need to elaborate on how much Harry actually terrifies him on occasion.

"What, were you afraid we wouldn't get along just the two of us too?" Harry asks.

Louis actually lets out a bark of laughter. That was literally the last thing he'd expected Harry to say. "Why the fuck were you afraid of that?"

"Well, I mean," Harry starts, sounding embarrassed. "I wasn't really, but, like, four months is a long time. We've always had the guys as buffers, y'know?"

"But they're always bitching about us ignoring them for each other," Louis says, tapping his fingers on Harry's back. "Unless you really love them more than me. Do you love them more than me?"

Harry snorts. "Do you want the truth?"

"Yes, tell me you love me the most."

"You are so needy, Jesus Christ."

"Harry Styles, do you know how many flat jokes I've had to deal with since I met you?" He needles. "You can at least accommodate my neediness."

Harry doesn't put up much resistance. He can't, really, not when Louis can feel him smile into his skin. Louis' still joking, hoping to prolong the banter. He doesn't actually expect an honest answer. Well, he does, it is Harry after all, but he doesn't expect it to hit him when Harry says, "I do love you." Nothing else.

And it does hit him. It hits him that they've only known each other for so long but were this intense force from the start, it hits him that Harry's always been candid and straightforward with him, it hits him that he probably doesn't deserve Harry's open affection, let alone love declarations. He sort of knew it already, but hearing the words makes something twist in Louis' chest. Maybe an echo of them.

He turns over subtly. The one advantage of being the little spoon: Harry can't see his face. He can probably see everything else. Louis doesn't know what makes him more anxious: the fact he's so close to saying "me too", or the fact Harry probably hears it anyway. (Neither of them falls asleep for a while. Louis can hear Harry's mad heartbeat, but they don't talk or let go of each other.)

He can feel himself losing it. Losing his pretence, losing the control he'd been clinging to. And it does start to alarm him, but he figures that as long as he stays close to Harry, nothing bad will happen to him. Ironically, Harry's doing both the unravelling and the stitching together.

So Louis' breaking the no-shagging rule, but he did draw a line that keeps him in check. So Louis' breaking the no-feelings rule, but as long as he doesn't admit it he should be safe. So Louis still doesn't know what's wrong with him, but for Harry he can be right.

Wednesday comes, and they have to pack up. Louis leaves the comfort of his home first. And after the drive to Silverstone and one last snogging session in Harry's car, they leave their privacy behind as well. As soon as Louis sees Liam, he knows his break from his senses is over.

The British Grand Prix supplies plenty of distractions. For one thing, Simon Cowell himself is present in every team meeting, both for his input and probably to assess that Louis is still on a winning streak. He claps Louis' back with fatherly sternness, and doesn't remove his shades. The only reason Louis doesn't piss himself is that it'll cause Liam to lose his shit too and probably run screaming from the room.

For another, Louis has to sit in on all the press conferences, both because he's currently a serious contender for the title (and apparently they've been through enough races that it actually means something, what the hell), and because everyone's been waiting since 2008 for a British winner in Silverstone. Louis takes it in stride, spews the usual answers about his car being awesome and himself feeling good after the last couple of races. He tries not to let his hand wander over to Harry's.

The final and most important facet of the race is his family coming to see him. Despite what he's told Harry, Louis really fucking loves his family. Maybe more than he loves Jeanne and, like, pizza. But really, his mum and sisters are way up the list. There's really no way around him growing up as the man of the house and looking after his girls 24/7. He loved doing it, and he wants to have a million kids of his own when he's like, sixty and retired.

If the briefings and events and autographs sessions have been grating on him, it takes seeing his mum for the first time in months to perk him right up. It's not that he shrieks when he sees Eleanor leading her into the circuit. It's more like a manly howl, and then he leaps over to hug her. Who the fuck cares if there are photographers around. The Rogue loves his mum.

When Jay pulls back she grabs his jaw with both hands and gives him a onceover. "Have you even cut your hair since January?" she asks.

"Nope," he lies, grinning. "You like it?"

She runs her fingers through his admittedly shaggy hair, and then sort of stops at his ears and pulls him down to kiss his cheeks. He feels warmth knocking about in his chest, even as she says, "Just a trim will do, you don't have to shave it all off like Liam did to poor Karen."

"Promise I won't." They end up in another long hug, until Louis feels an insistent tug to his overalls. "Hold on mum, I feel a sort of mite stuck on my uniform."

She snorts and lets him go far enough for Lottie to wedge herself between them, too cool to hug her big brother but not cool enough to hang in the back with the Managing Director. Louis pretends to be shocked. "Well fuck me, you left your cave to see me race?"

"Oh piss off, don't make me regret it," she says crisply, punching his shoulder. Unfortunately for her, Louis is delighted to embarrass her in front of everyone by crouching down and kissing her cheeks loudly, hugging her tight despite her thumps of protest.

"Who's your favourite brother?" he asks, having long accepted becoming the awkward dad for the girls after Mark fucked off.

"You're the bloody worst," she says, but Louis does detect a hint of hugging back-ness from her. He knows she's glad to see him. Even though he doesn't get a chance to visit home most of the time, he tries to talk to them regularly, and when she does see him it's always an adventure. It's the most he can offer her.

"Well if you're going to be cursing this much, I'd better find Liam," his mum says, tutting.

Louis and Lottie both stick out their tongues at her, while Eleanor politely says, "I'll take you to the team."

"Good." His mum leans up one last time to give Louis a smacking kiss. "The rest of the girls are at home with Dan, so do make sure this one comes back safely."

"Mum please," Lottie says, making Louis snort.

"We're good, don't worry. I've been looking forward to this."

"Oh, so has she, don't let her tell you otherwise. We've all been ticking the GPs on our FIA calendar in the kitchen. She watched the Canadian one before all of us on her computer – I'm still not sure how – and was extremely happy to see her big brother win."

At this point Lottie physically drags their mum towards Eleanor and looks around, paranoid of embarrassment. Louis gets her in a loving headlock soon enough. "Wanna see the track?"

"No, I wanna see Zayn," she huffs.

Louis laughs again. "Good luck getting him out of the garage a day before the free practice sessions. He's worse than you when your band does a thing."

Lottie looks at him with a mixture of horror and joy. She's obviously secretly pleased that Louis keeps track of her interests. It's clear in the way she punches his arm again and says, "You'll have to do."

So he takes her past the fans, the drivers and the team members, all the way to the seats currently being cleared and cleaned for the Sunday crowd. She bombards him with questions about the places he's been to so far, his wins and chances, and his adventures with Zayn. She might have a crush. Louis doesn't judge her for once – everyone in the world should have a crush on Zayn.

He's halfway through a story about pig insides he dared Niall into eating in Malaysia when she asks, "Wait, who?"

"Oh, Niall Horan." It's weird to him that Niall's new to the plot. It feels like it's been the five of them forever. "He's like… Harry's Zayn."

"Harry?" she asks, now even more confused.

Louis just blinks at her. It hadn't even occurred to him that she doesn't know Harry. He's… Harry. "Yeah, Harry Styles, he's the new racer on my team."

"Oh my god, you hang out with Harry Styles?"

Louis narrows his eyes at her. "Now how does a pop princess like you know who Harry Styles is?"

She huffs in mock outrage. "I'll have you know I haven't listened to pop music since, like, five years ago, and Harry Styles is fit as, of course I know him."

That Louis can't argue with. "So as far as racing goes, you only follow the fit ones?"

"And you, yeah."

Louis nudges her hard and she laughs. "But seriously, I thought you two weren't mates! It's always on the news how he's trying to usurp you and shit like that."

Well someone's been watching too much Game of Thrones. It's really on the tip of his tongue, but he can't mock her too many times in a row. He should at least wait until she mocks him enough for a retaliation. "There's a lot of things on the news. But Harry's really, like, amazing. You'll definitely see him after the sessions."

That gets her excited. "Sick. You're better than him, though, yeah?"

"Currently, technically, yeah. But there's a lot of races left," he reminds her.

"Yeah, next is Germany, Budapest, Belgium, Italy, Singapore... Korea, Japan, India, Abu Dahbi, America and... Brazil."

Holy shit, that might actually be in the correct order. "Do you just fancy Harry or are you stalking him?"

"If I can remember every shoddy plotline on Glee I can remember a few races, give me some credit," she says loftily.

Louis gives her a one-armed hug. She's kind of badass, when she's not being a shit. "Hey, d'you know, I've been here for two weeks and I couldn't find the new series of Sherlock anywhere?"

She glares at him. "Very funny."

"I did catch up on Teen Wolf though, and let me tell you, that model-actor does a terrible American accent – "

"Oh my god stop," she cuts him off, shoving him over his seat. "Don't rub my face in Teen Wolf, you twat, that's the one we don't tell people about."

Louis can't for the life of him see how a show about teenage wolves is worse than a show about teenage show choirs, but since he's watched neither he'll just have to trust her. It is his right to tease her, though. "Fine. So I guess I won't tell you that I watched it with Harry Styles."

Her jaw drops. It's hilarious. "You're shitting me."

He would love to keep the story going, but his knowledge of the show is limited to insanely fit Daniel Sharman, and again, he's trying to keep the mocking to a minimum for now. "I am, sorry. But maybe Zayn watches it? Who the fuck knows what that guy does in his spare time. He might actually be a werewolf."

Lottie buries her face in her hands. "I know you're trying to be supportive and all that, but let's stick to racing please."

"No, come on. Tell me about school. How’re your sisters? Are you all getting along with Dan?"

She tells him about what it's been like at home, and what "twats" all her teachers are and how Fizzy's turning into "a right shithead". He only interrupts her when she annoys him, and usually with a silly anecdote, so they don't get into a fight.

Soon enough it's getting dark, and they have to leave the track just as Zayn leaves the garage. Coincidentally. Lottie completely abandons Louis in favour of asking Zayn a shitload of questions. He's not even offended. Zayn's sweaty and dirty with grease and importance. The only reason he's not circling him himself is that Harry steps out of the offices as soon as they pass through, looking bewildered. If a month ago Louis' instinct had been to slap his back, now his first thought is "pretty Harry kiss".

Harry's face splitting in a grin when he sees him doesn't help matters. He stumbles up to Louis, oblivious to Zayn and Lottie. "Did Cowell crash your meetings too?" he asks immediately.

"Every one," Louis says, and keeps walking. He has a sister to return to her mother and a Harry to not kiss in public. What was the point of the distractions again?

Fortunately Harry cottons on and walks and talks with them. "Thought Liam would shit his pants," Louis adds.

"Well, he does take his cues from you. Did you hold up?"

Louis leans slightly towards Harry so their shoulders brush. "'Course, I'm not scared of him. Like, ten percent of the time."

Harry snorts. "You were all pale at the conference, he must have done a number on you with his death stare. Stefano's got nothing on him."

"Don't tell me you'd rather be with Ferrari."

"Well, you know – " Louis cuts him off with a sharp jab to the stomach, and Harry doubles over, half laughing and half wheezing. "I wouldn't, I wouldn't." He gives him a onceover. "You seem... livelier than when I dropped you off."

Louis can't help but smile. "Might have to do with my family being here."

"Oh! Does Liam know Jay Z's here?"

"What?" Lottie pipes up, stopping in her tracks.

Harry tears his eyes from Louis, and then drops them even lower to settle on Lottie. He connects the dots quite quickly for him. "Liam convinced me a while ago that your mum's Jay Z. Hi, I'm Harry," he says with a disarming smile.

Lottie's bemusement is quickly replaced with awe. "Hi Harry."

Louis pats her back. "That's Lottie. She's still a bit dazed from being on the track all day. It's not easy having a superstar brother, innit?" Let no one say he doesn't have his sisters' backs when they need him the most. They can't make fools of themselves, that's his job.

"Nor an idiot of a brother," she quickly says. Somehow insulting Louis helps her get her shit together. She smiles back at Harry and reaches up for an awkward fist bump-hand hold thing. "I've been following the season, you're a great addition to the team."

Harry probably wasn't expecting that. He looks at Zayn bashfully. Zayn's just smirking, probably knows Lottie's angle and offering no assistance. "Well, I'm not as good as your bro, but I try."

"Oh, don't worry about him. He tends to get ahead of himself as the races go on. If you stay tenacious you have a shot at beating him. Not that your car can outperform Jeanne, but, y'know," she adds quickly, looking over to Zayn, who winks at her.

"Such support, so much love," Louis exclaims, thumping her back. She glares at him while Harry grins slowly.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence. If you keep cheering for me I'll definitely beat him," Harry says, catching on that the quickest way to warm up to her is to ridicule Louis.

She leans closer to Harry at that, like she's about to spill a secret. "It's okay, I know you're like, super in love and not at each other's throats like the websites say. It's cool."

Louis, Harry and Zayn all freeze and exchange looks. Louis can actually feel the pit of his stomach landing somewhere near his shoes. Well, that's enough damage for today. "Come on bug, let's find the car to our hotel."

"Oh, you're not staying with – the team?" Harry asks, slightly frowning.

"I booked her and my mum a nicer hotel and managed to convince Liam I could stay with them for tonight," he explains, nudging Harry's shoulder again. "Don't worry, I'm staying with you before Qualifying and the race. Don't wanna wake them up at 5 AM for a 1 PM race."

"No thank you," Lottie chirps.

"That's the spirit," Zayn adds, high-fiving her.

It gives Louis the chance to lean closer to Harry and whisper in his ear, "Someone will have to push your hair back when you puke."

"Oh that's charming," Harry complains, elbowing Louis and shoving him away. "You know that hasn't happened in a while and I always slick it back now and – hey, that your mum?"

Louis looks away from Harry's mouth just in time to spot his mum and Liam chatting by the car. "Yeah. See? Not an American rapper."

"No. Is she actually taller than you?"

"They used to take turns on the stool to reach the high shelves," Lottie lies, smiling shamelessly.

"I was wondering why your flat had no shelves," Harry plays along.

It has the unfortunate result of having Zayn quirk an eyebrow and say, "You've been to his flat?"

"Hi mum!" Louis calls out, jogging toward the car. Plan B was to bury himself in the track, so.

"Louis, is it true you got ten more tattoos this season?" she asks immediately, narrowing her eyes. The track looks extra inviting right now.

Louis quickly thumps the back of Liam's head. "No, not ten. And it was Harry's fault, be mad at Harry."

Harry quickly thumps the back of Louis' head, and then reaches out for a handshake. "I only asked him to come to the parlour with me, I swear."

Jay shakes his hand, giving him a quiet assessment. "Yes, you seem like a nice young man. You were probably nervous about getting your first tattoo and my boy wanted to convince you it doesn't hurt, despite the fact he promised me he wouldn't get any more."

Louis, Zayn and Liam all snort collectively and loudly. "H actually has almost as – "

"Yes, that's exactly what happened," Harry cuts Zayn off, and smiles warmly at Jay. "Lou was just being nice as always."

Louis isn't surprised when she smiles back. He knew she would take to him in ten seconds. He's Harry, what's not to take? "Of course he was," she says. "So you're on his pit with Liam?"

"It's pit crew, and Liam isn't on it, the boss is – you know what, why don't I explain on the way?" Louis says quickly, already sidestepping Harry to open the car door for his mum.

She looks from him to Harry suspiciously, but doesn't argue. "Alright, I'll see you lads tomorrow. Take care of my baby," she says to Liam, before giving him a hug. "And you take care of his baby," she tells Zayn, drawing him in for another hug. There's a second's silence before she inexplicably pulls Harry in for a hug as well. "It was nice meeting you."

Harry nods and smiles charmingly at her. "You too."

Then they all give Lottie high fives, and the Tomlinsons load into the car. The hotel is only twenty minutes away, but Louis manages to interrogate his mum on all the things Liam might have told her. Life-threatening canopy walkway yes, substantial amounts of weed no.

"So you're doing well," she summarises.

"I told you that," Lottie snipes from the backseat.

Louis' quick to diffuse. "Yeah, compared to last season I'm ace."

"That's great. What about Eleanor? She seemed well. Is she still the director?"

His fingers start tapping on the steering wheel. "She's alright. Managing director. Deals with the press and the team and stuff."

Jay hums. Something unknown possesses Louis to change the subject from his mum's weird thing for Eleanor to his weird thing for Harry. "Wanna hear about Harry?"

"Oh, yes. Your crewmember?"

"Oh my god, mum, he's not a mechanic, he's a record-holder," Lottie says quickly.

Louis can practically feel the sharp look his mum's shooting the side of his head. "He's a driver?"

Funny how it sounds like she's saying he seems very well-balanced for a man with a death wish. "Yeah, he's on my team. He replaced Olly this year."

"And his stats?"

"He's good. He's also really nice."

Jay just smiles at him and rubs his arm. "That's great, love. I like it when you make friends."

Louis snorts. "You realise I'm not eighteen, right?"

"Excuse you, the eighteen-year-old in the car has more friends than you," Lottie announces.

"Not that you've met them," Louis snaps back.

She kicks his seat and his mum tuts until he apologises. The subject of Harry is settled for this particular conversation when she says, "Are you on some sort of hair bet, though? You won't cut your hair until he washes his?"

(And him frantically texting Harry my mum thinks youre an unwashed hobo!!!!! ha ha haha xx)

It's only later, when Lottie's distracted by room service, that he and his mum get to talk for real. They're on the balcony, despite the chill. Louis can see the circuit from here. Maybe even the team's hotel.

"So how are you?" she asks, a gentle hand resting on Louis'.

He clasps it for comfort. "I'm doing better, I think. I'm sorry I didn't come home."

"It's okay sweetheart, I know it's hard for you," she reassures him quickly, but Louis knows she wishes he had.

It's just. Last time he’d been in Doncaster it was to hide from his friends, his team, and mostly the train wreck that was his last season. He lurked at his old house for three whole weeks, just playing footie and entertaining his sisters, ignoring the hell that had been the previous six months. It was nice then, and the girls were all thrilled to have him. But from where he is now, it packs mostly bad memories. He was so exposed then, cracked and beaten. It was just easier to stay in London this time. It resulted in his week with Harry, a different type of hiding, so he can't really bring himself to regret it.

It's so good to see them now, though. To show his mum that he's so much better than the last time she'd seen him. From her smile, he thinks he's succeeding. "I'm so happy you're doing well," she says. "On the track, too. I know that… when you're in the middle of the season all that matters is scoring the best, but you should remember that we're all glued to the screen at home and cheering for you."

"Aw, mum," he says, scooting down the bench to hug her close. "Trust me, I think about you all the time."

"Not all of it, apparently," she says pointedly. "Liam told me you're pretty close with Harry?"

Louis freezes. If he could actually freeze time, he'd probably go to the other hotel, murder Liam, and then come back. "Um, yeah, we're good mates."

She nods. Instead of asking the obvious question, she asks, "What's he like?"

"He's a bit younger than me, from a tiny village in Cheshire. He joined F1 last year and broke his record, but I only properly met him when I was in the States back in February? He has a terrible sense of humour, but he's the best person I know." He shuts up when he realises he's smiling to himself. He can practically hear Lottie saying, oh my god, you're so embarrassing. Like she wasn't way more insufferable when she got tickets to a Bieber concert a few years ago.

Now comes the obvious question. "And are you seeing each other?" his mum asks.

Louis gulps. "No. Like. No, I don't think so. It's pretty confusing. I dunno, I don't wanna talk about it," he says honestly. His heart's thumping wildly in his chest, almost pushing the words out of his mouth, what if I'm in love with him, when does it stop.

His mum doesn't press. "Alright. As long as you know who he is."

Louis cracks a smile. "Not as long as I know what I'm doing?"

"Oh love, I've given up on that the first time you got in a go-kart."

He laughs hard. She just rolls her eyes and hugs him again. "I mean it, I don't want you getting hurt again. Lottie says the next race is in Germany."

Of course. The last and foremost distraction the British Grand Prix provides: it's right before the German one, and the anniversary of The Worst Thing Ever.

(Louis chalks up two victories in England: he and Harry win first and second places respectively, and he and Harry don't fuck.

He still can't stop his stomach from turning throughout the flight to Nuremberg a week later.)

*

Harry doesn't get excited during a race. He tries to be as silly as possible in interviews and social functions, but inside the cockpit he's in another world. He's focused, training his eyes on the turn, in full control of the car. There's a reason he hasn't dropped below fifth place throughout the whole season. He's very good at what he does.

However, there is a second during the 50th lap at Nürnburgring that Harry allows himself to feel. It's when Paul says in his earpiece, "You're leading, kid."

Fucking finally. "Lou?"

"Caught up at a pit stop because of the new tyres, he's a few secs behind."

"Oh my god," Harry says without thinking. This is the first time he's lead a race. It's not like Harry begrudged Louis for always being one spot ahead, but fuck if it doesn't feel good to lead for once. "I was starting to think Cowell overpaid me."

Of course he pays for that by having Lewis Hamilton overtake him. He curses and starts manoeuvring. "Don't fuck about now," Paul tells him off. "It's time to push."

And Harry pushes. It bolsters him, not having to look around for Jeanne, knowing he's timed everything right. He corners with an oversteer and corrects it quickly, carrying more speed and flying out the exit. "I'm gonna overtake Hamilton into a corner."

"Now you're just showing off," Paul says, clearly smiling. Harry loves making him proud. "It's a risk but you're in a great position and your grip is good. I'll tell you when."

Harry holds steady, drives aggressively through five laps before Paul finally says, "Now."

He picked the very last corner at the third sector. Harry shuts his brain down and just moves on automatic. Drives offline, holds fast when he reaches the more slippery part of the track, and leaves his braking at – just the right moment not to overshoot the corner or spin off. He's hooting in his helmet like a lunatic when he's propelled into first place again.

"You did it!" Paul's yelling in his ear, the only thing Harry hears over a rush of blood the second he sees the flag waving. He's so dazed he barely manages to steer during the parade lap and navigate to his pit slot.

His face hurts from smiling when he finally removes his helmet and shakes his hair. It then hurts from Niall pinching his cheeks, practically getting in the car with him as he hugs him fiercely and kisses his forehead. "You lucky cunt, I can't believe you just did that!" he screams.

Harry tries to say something clever, but as soon as he opens his mouth he's giggling like an idiot. He's giddy. "Fuckin' hell."

His hearing's starting to come back to him. Over Niall's cursing he hears it: "First place, Harry Styles from Cowell, after an amazing overtake to Mercedes!"

"Fucking hell." His legs are practically shaking as he climbs out of Marcel, and his entire pit crew is on him like he scored the winning goal or something. Christ, he's been spending too much time with Louis if he's thinking in football metaphors.

His eyes immediately flit to the adjacent slot, where he sees Jeanne just as Louis reels her in. It's actual terror that seizes his body, up until the point Louis removes his helmet and balaclava and looks straight at Harry. He blatantly ignores Zayn to just look at Harry, and then, finally, he gives him a small smile and a wink.

Harry finally allows himself to be dragged out of the pit lane by Paul, straight into the arms of TV crews and eager reporters. He can't hear them talking over each other and the roar of the fans, until he hears Louis' name. "You and Tomlinson have been headlining the championship for a while, but this is your first win. How do you feel?"

Harry answers while smiling for the pictures. Well, smiling in general. He's due on the podium. For winning first place. Jesus. "Overwhelmed," he says honestly. "But very pleased. It was a tough race, and got tight towards the end, but my team worked really hard to give me a chance to win this weekend. Just glad I took it."

There are more questions thrown at him – tyres, experience, performance – but it's not a minute before he feels a hand land on his shoulder. He knows who it is even before he hears, "Well well, look who's finally giving me decent competition."

"Tommo! What happened at the 43rd lap?" the reporter from Sky asks, thrusting the mic in Louis' face.

"I was worried about losing my tyre and it bit me in the arse. I'm hardly the man of the hour now, am I?" he asks, his hand still very much on Harry's shoulder. He starts leaning into Louis unconsciously, smiling even wider. This is as much of a compliment as he's going to get on camera.

He's so happy he doesn't think before saying, "You might say I… overtook you."

"Oh my god, Michael, did you get that? Can you please headline it as the worst joke ever told on a racetrack?" Louis asks, burying his head in Harry's shoulder exasperatedly. It only makes Harry want to tell another joke. Louis' proud of him. Louis' touching him.

"Definitely," the reporter answers. "You two Brits were neck-in-neck in Silverstone last week, is the challenge exciting for you?"

Harry's proud to even be standing straight at this point, he can't be blamed for giggling at the choice of words. "Yeah," he starts, grinning maniacally. "The past few weeks with Louis have been very exciting." Louis pinches him lightly, and he only laughs harder. "I guess you could say the challenge drove me to this win."

Louis forgoes pinching and just smacks his arm, shaking his head. But he's smiling, dear god. It's his I Am The Actual Sun smile. "Well, that tells you everything you need to know. Now if you'll excuse us, I only came here to retrieve little boy lost to the podium. Unless he wants to stay here, I'd be happy to accept the champagne shower for him – "

"Bye!" Harry says, waving to them awkwardly while Louis puts a hand on his lower back and leads him along. Harry tries not to dwell on how nice that feels. "You're such an attention whore," he whispers to Louis.

"I am not," Louis claims, while stopping for pictures and hugs with his fans. "I just like to crash your interviews. We're a team, you and I."

Harry would really like to wrap his arm around Louis' shoulders and kiss him maybe definitely. "I like that. You're welcome to crash every time I win first place."

Louis' hand slips at that, from the small of Harry's back to this waist, so he's half-hugging him. Nobody notices. Except for Harry's stomach, which is tossing and turning. It's too much excitement to wrap his head around. He won. "Congratulations, mate." Louis supports him. "But don't get used to it, of course." Louis is a shit.

When they get on the podium Harry stands taller than them all, front and centre, the Union Jack flapping behind him and Louis. He's so happy he could burst with it. He hasn't felt like this since 2012. (Or maybe since he drove to Louis' place two weeks ago.)

After they get the trophies and everyone's excited, Harry leans down to his left and whispers to Louis, "Can you even see me from down there?"

Revenge comes in the form of every picture from the ceremony being of him whispering in Louis' ear. Or spraying him with champagne. Lovely.

Usually the high would leave him quite quickly after the race, but this time it feels like it's fuelling him for hours. The parties and post-race events, the fans cheering for him, the "team meetings" where Niall hands everyone champagne, the celebratory call from Cowell. He tries not to be obnoxious about it, but he feels like he's on fucking cloud nine. He figures he'd get at least a congratulations snog out of Louis, but Paul will not leave Harry alone for a second all day.

By the time Harry barricades himself and Louis in their hotel room, it's way past midnight and he just crashes on his own bed, buzzing on champagne and excitement. He's still awake when Louis slips into his arms, though. Awake enough to snuggle him and kiss his forehead, awake enough to hear "knew you could do it, Haz". It's basically the best day ever.

Which makes the next week weirdly awful. The five of them are back on track with the whole year-long road trip thing, just like they were before England. Since Harry won, he's in charge of their three weeks in Germany. He books a hotel at Cologne for two whole weeks, before they take a train to Berlin and kip there. It is because Cologne is the golf capital of Germany. It is not because Cologne is the LGBT capital of Germany.

He golfs with Niall and Liam all day (Louis begging off, claiming it's boring as shit), and then announces he's just going to chill for the night. Niall won't hear it. "I did some research, there's this student quarter where we can do an epic pub crawl. Do you know how long it's been since we got proper pissed?"

Harry hesitates. "How pissed are we talking about?"

"Just won our first GP of the season pissed," Niall says, waggling his eyebrows. "First of many, of course."

It's still enough to make Harry grin. "I'll ask Louis, yeah?"

"Whatever, talk to your boyfriend," Niall dismisses, already turning to Liam. "You in, Payno? Even losers have to drink."

Liam seems extremely calculated when he says, "Sure, I'll go, but I wouldn't – like, Louis might be tired?"

Harry still isn't exactly over "boyfriend". "Yeah, I'll ask him," he says distractedly, trying to control his facial muscles.

Louis and Zayn are already at the hotel when Harry returns, vegging out in Louis and Harry's room. As soon as Harry closes the door behind him, Zayn wrinkles his nose. "Mate, you smell like the world's shittest hobby. I'm gonna go."

Harry puts his hands on his hips. "I'll have you know golf is a gentleman's sport."

Zayn is apparently not too interested in the story. He just shuts Harry up with a hug, and then exits the room quietly. Harry doesn't really care. Louis' already sitting up on the bed and smiling at him. "Have fun?" he asks.

Harry doesn't skip to him, but there's a jig in his step when he comes to Louis. "Lots," he says, sitting down next to him. He's smiling to himself, can't help it. It feels like he's been smiling for two days straight. It also feels like he hasn't been alone in a room with Louis for ages.

It's not that he's waiting for a kiss, but if one happens to come his way while he's sitting very close to Louis and tilting his head conveniently, he won't object. Louis rolls his eyes at him, since Harry's probably the worst subtle-kiss-beggar in the world, and leans over to peck Harry's lips. It's hardly enough, but Harry's too excited to care. He nuzzles Louis' cheekbone, leans against him even more. "Niall wants us to go out tonight," he remembers.

"Oh," Louis says absently. Then, "Oh," and instead of giving an actual answer he turns his face to kiss Harry like a normal person. Harry makes a pleased noise and trails his fingers over Louis' legs, not angling for anything particular.

"I thought we might go see the Cathedral?" Louis suggests, after Harry had already lost the point. "And maybe some museums? Might be knackering, I dunno if I'll want to go out after."

"Sounds fun," Harry says immediately. Nothing could kill his buzz. The more Louis the better. He intends to say something else, maybe tell him about the museums around here, but Louis' mouth is right there, who the hell is Harry not to kiss it?

So he gets his snog, and then drags everyone to the Cathedral and the pretty Roman churches. The next day Niall suggests the pub crawl again, but Harry already planned a boat trip on the Rhine. On Thursday Niall flat-out demands alcohol, but when Harry brings it up Louis just says he's too tired. And it's not like they can't go out in separate groups, and at first Harry's got half a mind to take the piss and just drag Louis with them, but then he actually sees Louis.

He looks more than tired. He looks actually upset. Harry noticed that Louis' been withdrawn, quiet and fidgeting in his sleep, only willing to spend half-days outside. How could he not notice, he spends nearly every waking minute with Louis. But he didn't think anything was really wrong. He's starting to think otherwise.

He goes to Niall's room straight away and tells him he's staying in with Louis tonight. Niall doesn't give him too much shit. He just says, "Well mate, I won a GP this week, I'm in the country of beer and I'm not whipped. Think I'll go on without you." Harry isn't exactly hurt – it's Niall, he hasn't meant anything by anything for years – but he's still a bit disappointed. He won a GP too. He should get beer too. Fuck the no drinking thing.

So Niall goes out with Liam. Harry, Louis and Zayn hang out at the hotel and watch some German-dubbed show that's frankly hilarious. He doesn't ask Louis what's going on. Well, not directly. He asks if everything's okay, Louis says it is, Harry cuddles him extra at night, and the beat goes on.

The next day he begs for Niall's forgiveness in the form of tee time and burgers. Niall accepts the bribe easily, and doesn't even ask what Harry wants, giving him an out. Harry finally feels comfortable enough to ask after the game. "Say," he starts, clearing his throat. "Did Liam tell you anything last night?"

"Yeah mate, did you know he, like, saved a driver from a burning car with his bare hands?"

Harry nearly chokes on his chips. "What?"

"Yeah, it was really hardcore. Was a mate of his from Cowell. Liam's awesome."

"But how – " No. He shakes his head to focus. "I meant if he's said anything about anything going on with Louis."

Niall frowns, which is already odd, since Niall doesn't usually emote anything other than "happy". "Not really, he just said Louis' down. Can I tell you something though?"

Harry leans in curiously. "'Course."

"I had a great night with Liam, but it'll be much more awesome with you. And, like, I can tell Louis' down over something, but don't let it harsh your vibe. You won a fucking Grand Prix, if he's bitter that you beat him he can fuck right off."

Harry hadn't even considered that. Him being the reason Louis' down. Louis being petty. "I don't think that's the case," he says quickly, not even entertaining the thought.

Niall just shrugs. "Whatever it is, I'm just trying to look out for you, bro. You deserve to celebrate. Get drunk, get laid, do something. Do you know how many gay bars me and Liam found last night?" Harry snorts, but Niall's face lights up. "I'm gonna take you clubbing. It's Friday. Just tell me you'll come, even if Louis doesn't."

Before he opens his mouth Niall flings a chip at his face and says, "Don't make a sex joke."

Harry bites his lip. "Okay. I'll… arrive. To there."

"Good lad," Niall says, thumping his back with greasy fingers.

He gets excited about it before long, tries to remember if he packed any nice clothes. He has no intention of pulling, and definitely not of getting papped or recognised, but he'd still need to look presentable. Especially if Louis will come. His fingers tighten on the steering wheel of their rented car at the thought of Louis, sweaty, happy Louis drinking with him, dancing with him. Wearing tight clothes. Going down on him in some dirty club toilet.

Jesus, Harry needs to calm down. He's driving.

He says goodbye to Niall at the hallway and slinks into his and Louis' room. "Lou? Zayn?"

"He's not here," Louis answers from the kitchenette. "Had to pack up for his flight back tomorrow."

He'd been cooped up in the room all day, probably smoking up with Zayn. Harry's about to ask if Zayn had given up on the sulk, when Louis pops his head through the doorway and gives Harry a dazzling smile. That's the problem, maybe. Although Harry's getting more concerned about Louis' behaviour, when he sees him Louis' as happy as ever. How can he give him shit when all he wants to do is smile back and give him a cuddle?

Harry drags his golf bag into the little closet and leans on the door, crossing his arms casually. Maybe if he appears nonchalant he might stop feeling like an excited puppy every time he's with Louis. Or really, every second since his win. "So, Niall suggested – "

"Is that a ponytail?" Louis cuts him off, approaching him curiously. "Is that a tiny ponytail?"

Harry shakes his head self-consciously, though it doesn't do much. His curls are held safely in check with both a headband and a tiny ponytail. He can't complain about his wild hair; in the occupation they're in he's lucky he doesn't have permanent helmet-head. "Might be."

"You've gotta stop it with the golf uniform, mate," Louis comments, though he keeps getting closer, close enough to corner Harry at the entryway. Harry notices Louis' showered recently. He's wearing joggers and a T-shirt Harry's pretty sure was his at some point.

Harry pretends to be offended. "Why? My pleated golf trousers too posh for you?"

Louis rolls his eyes and takes the final step that brings him right under Harry's nose. "Too hot for me to stand."

He obviously meant that literally, since he proceeds to drop to his knees. He even smirks up at Harry, like he's waiting for Harry to pet his hair and say, "That was a clever pun sweetheart". The most Harry can manage is staring down at him, feeling more flushed by the second. "Golf does it for you?"

Louis frowns, trailing his fingers maddeningly up Harry's calves. "It's you smelling like grass, maybe. Takes me back to my footie days." The cheeky fucker presses his nose to Harry's crotch and takes a whiff. Harry's knees are seconds away from wobbling. He's been kind of horny since the drive here, and Louis doing shit like this gets him hard in minutes.

"The smell of petrol doesn't turn you on, but big lads in small shorts running around for ninety minutes do?" he asks, voice still steady despite Louis nuzzling his growing erection.

"Blowing each other in the showers," Louis adds conversationally. "Think I'm gonna blow you now."

"Oh, I'm not bothered," Harry says just as casually, closing his hands in fists. There's literally nothing he wants more in the world than to bury his fingers in Louis' shaggy hair, but he can't distract Louis from unbuttoning and unzipping his posh trousers. He pulls them down easily.

"See what you get when you don't wear skin-tight jeans?" Louis asks, centimetres from Harry's tented briefs. He has no idea what Louis' talking about. All he sees is Louis' face and his dick.

"Um."

Louis looks up at him, piercing blue eyes and a slight flush on his cheeks. So he's not as unaffected as he sounds. "Keep your hands behind your back for me, yeah?"

Harry feels a flash of arousal at that, and an embarrassing little frustrated sound escapes him. He's quick to clasp his wrists behind his back, and then leans against the door so he won't be tempted to move them. Louis looks at his arms approvingly, and then pulls down his pants. "Jesus," Louis breathes as Harry's cock springs free. Harry has to scratch his own wrist to keep from giggling.

Louis must sense Harry's reaction to him being caught unawares, and he flicks Harry's thigh in response, just enough to hurt. Harry's cock twitches. Thank fuck, Louis arches an eyebrow but doesn't comment. He settles more comfortably into a kneeling position, and instead of bemoaning having such a tease of a… person, Harry worries about Louis scuffing his knees.

(It's not that he hasn't noticed how gone he is for Louis. He drove for three hours down the M1 because he hadn't seen him for a week. Still, worrying about hotel carpeting a second away from getting head isn't usually part of the process. He is gone.)

They both must have overestimated Harry's stability. As soon as Louis wraps a delicate hand around the base of Harry's cock, he's ready to collapse on the floor. When Louis wraps his thin, pouty lips around the head, Harry does sink back on the door, his hands digging into the small of his back, still clasped tightly.

He shuts his eyes readily, breathing hard when Louis sucks and twists his hand. His mind is blissfully blank, the feeling of Louis' hot mouth on him pretty much overriding everything else. When Louis tongues at his tip Harry's hips buck up unintentionally. Louis pulls off at that, making Harry whine. He tears his eyes open and stares down at Louis staring down at his cock.

Louis leans back in after a moment, nosing between Harry's thighs until he gets the message and spreads his legs, shaky. Louis gives him a few tugs in reward, and his mouth finds Harry's inner thigh. It's not so much the bruising kiss as it is Louis' stubble, scratching at Harry's sensitive skin relentlessly, making him hiss and bite down on his lip.

Finally Louis removes his hand and grabs both of Harry's hipbones, shoving him back against the door and reattaching his mouth to his cock, first just licking along the vein from base to tip and then taking him in. Harry's head knocks painfully against the door when he tilts it back. He doesn't give a shit.

Louis makes him work for it, is the thing. Every time Harry's hips move too wildly he pulls back, and starts sucking on the same bruise on his thigh, hand back on his cock so he at least doesn't explode. It happens so often that the spot on his thigh is aching and itchy, and Harry loves that, thinks he can feel it even when Louis' back to sucking his cock.

He comes from Louis' hand eventually – well, no, he comes from Louis biting that sore spot, but he doesn't want to dive into that. He bangs his head again, because Jesus Christ, Louis' milking him through it and he feels like he's floating.

As soon as Louis removes his hand it's like a thread has been cut, and Harry just sinks down on the floor in front of Louis. Thank god for that, because when he opens his eyes he feels floored again. Louis' pupils are blown and his lips and chin are wet and he's flushed and gorgeous and his hand is covered with Harry's come.

Harry stretches his legs and grabs Louis' hips, hefting him into his lap so he can wank him off while kissing him. It's vital to kiss his puffy lips right the fuck now. They stay huddled on the floor after Louis comes, kissing until they're too tired to, petting until they can kiss again. Harry's aware that it's fairly disgusting to rub come off on his fancy trousers, but Louis seems to delight in it and he was bound to wash them anyway. "I think I'm getting a bump on the head," Harry comments.

Louis laughs into his neck. "This fucking door. We should definitely put up a Do Not Disturb sign next time we shag."

Harry's stomach twists at the thought of next time. "Can I remind you of this when you make fun of me and Niall for playing golf again?"

"Can you not talk about Niall right now?" Louis replies sharply.

Harry snorts. "By the way, he suggested going clubbing tonight. To celebrate our win."

"Oh." The change in Louis is quite unsubtle. He goes from happily resting his head in the crook of Harry's neck to shuffling back and off Harry's lap. He feels cold suddenly. Everything gets cold.

"Wanna join?" he tries anyway. "He said he and Liam found some gay clubs, should be a right laugh."

If he'd hoped that would make it better, he was wrong. Harry just blinks at him, stunned by Louis' stony expression. Louis pulls his sweatpants back up, making it awkward for Harry to just sit there with his knob out. He does the same with his pants. This is not how he'd imagined this conversation going.

Louis sounds biting when he says, "I'd rather not."

Harry puts a hand on Louis' knee, trying to placate him, but Louis just scoots back even further. "Why not? What's up with you?"

Louis actually stands at that, looking away from Harry. "Nothing's up with me, Harry, I just don't fancy going to a fucking gay club."

The warm, contented feeling vaporises at once, replaced with hurt and a stab of anger. He gets to his feet as well, grabs trousers from the rack and puts them on. "I just wanted to celebrate my favourite thing with my favourite person, what the fuck is wrong with that?"

Louis seems hesitant for a second, his eyes flitting back to Harry's without the harshness suddenly attached to his voice. It disappears quickly. His tone is steely when he says, "I just told you I don't wanna go. Fucking go with Niall if you're so keen to celebrate, I don't care."

Anger is definitely winning out over hurt and confusion. Harry still has no idea what Louis' problem is, but he doesn't particularly care if all Louis does is lash out. If it really is about Harry beating him, he doesn't intend to find out. "Fine," he spits out, and just leaves the room.

Once he closes the door behind him (gently, still isn't a person to slam the door in a strop), he storms off in the direction of Niall's room and nearly rugby-tackles Zayn, who's just rounded the corner.

Zayn can tell something's wrong immediately, sensitive as he is. "Mate, what – "

"You and I are switching rooms. Text me if Louis stops being a twat," he interrupts, angry at him by association.

He thinks he hears Zayn say, "well, shit" as Harry turns the corner. That sums it up nicely.

When Harry bursts into his room, Niall looks up at him, surprised. He probably notices Harry's upset. Unlike Zayn, he doesn't comment on it. "Go shower," he says instead. "You'll feel better once you're off your face."

"Good."

*

So Louis' drunk off his face. He has no idea how long he's been sitting here with Zayn, could have been hours, could have been years. All he knows is that the whiskey keeps coming, and he doesn't actually feel better at any point. They don't watch television, or talk, or eat. Zayn doesn't even touch him. They just drink on the bed.

Zayn keeps looking at him with these worried, soulful eyes. Louis wishes he could just kick him out like he did Harry. Harry. An honest to god sob escapes him. He forgoes his glass and just goes for the bottle. Zayn grabs his wrist. "Tommo."

"What?" Louis snaps, trying to level a look at him. It's rather hard when everything is blurry.

"Louis. I let you be a giant doucheface all week, but I didn't think you'd set Harry off. Talk." He sounds more concerned than judgemental, in a way Louis probably doesn't deserve.

"I'm a giant doucheface," he says, simply. It covers all the bases.

Zayn might be rolling his eyes. "What happened with Harry?"

"He kept suggesting we went out. Here. Wanted to go clubbing."

"What? After what happened to you last time?"

Louis curls in on himself, having given up on the bottle. He probably had enough. Zayn's smarter than all of them combined, he should listen to Zayn. "He doesn't know what happened to me last time."

At this Zayn puts a stern hand on Louis' shoulder. "You seriously haven't told him?"

"It didn't come up, what the fuck do you want from me?"

"Louis, why haven't you told him?"

Louis scrubs a hand over his face. "I didn't wanna bring it back. It's scary enough just being here, I would've flown back home if it weren't for him. I'd fly out to Perrie with you tomorrow. And this... thing, that happened – it's just a load of bullshit, innit? It's me being pathetic and weak, and it was supposed to stay in the past, it wasn't supposed to fuck me up like this. He isn't supposed to know I'm this fucked up."

He doubts Zayn gets any of his rambling, but Zayn does try. "I think he does, Lou. He fucking cares for you, and you're just laying all this shit on him without explaining anything. D'you know he blames himself?"

That makes it through the drunken fog. "What?"

"He thinks he pissed you off when he beat you."

"On the track? I'm fucking proud of him, what are you talking about?"

"Well, does he know that? Does he even know you're in love with him?"

"Of course he doesn't," Louis says crisply. Then shuts his mouth and widens his eyes. His brain freezes up. "Holy shit. I'm in love with Harry Styles."

Zayn's staring at him in shock. "Mate, I thought you were past all that. Aren't you proper together?"

The only thing going through his head is I'm in love with Harry Styles truly madly deeply I am. Like the most annoying ringtone in the world or something. It makes him feel amazing and shitty simultaneously. Oh god. "We don't. I dunno. I didn't wanna be." Even drunk it's hard to say it, but it's Zayn. "I'm fucking scared to get attached, Zayn, the – the only thing I need is racing, I dunno how to need another human person."

"But I think you already do, you dumb fuck," Zayn says fondly. "And racing is the worst thing in the world you can get attached to, like. Harry's a lot less likely to kill you than racing. One cunt extorting you a year ago doesn't mean your soulmate is your car. Get your shit together, man."

Well of course it all makes sense coming out of Zayn's mouth. Fucking Zayn. "How?"

"I can't tell you what to do – "

"No, please, tell me what to do, I'm in love with him," Louis cuts him off, clinging to his arm. Amazing how it's rolling off the tongue after the first time. "Please, I fucked up. I'm in love with him. Zayn, I'm a douchebag. I'm the cunt. I wanna marry him. Tell me what to do."

Zayn covers Louis' hand with his own. "Just tell him. You'll both feel better."

"Right. Wait, the first bit or the other thing?"

"Fuck's sake, Tommo. Tell him you're arse over tits in love with him. Tell him what happened last year so you'll know to work around that, as far as the gay thing goes. I dunno. Just tell him something."

Well of course it all sounds easy. But what if it is? What if Louis' been tying himself in knots over nothing? What if being proper together isn't this unthinkable faraway dream? What if Harry's in love with him back? And fuck the gay thing, they'll cross that rainbow when they come to it.

He stands up on the bed with flourish. "I'll do it. I'm doing it. I'm in love with him."

Zayn looks up at him sceptically. "Right now?"

"Seriously? After all that you're gonna bring me down?"

Fortunately, Zayn's drunk enough himself not to stop him. He raises his arms. "No way. Go ahead. Storm his castle. Since I'm staying here Liam's staying with Niall, so Harry would probably be in Liam's room."

Louis' head is swimming. "Wait, with Liam and Niall?"

"No, Liam's got a separate room."

He shakes his head as if to clear it. "Why?"

"Never fucking mind that, I thought you had a mission. It's like four AM, Harry's bound to be back by now."

"Right!" Louis hops off the bed and waddles out the door. One, two, three doors – and he's there. That was like, eighteen steps. And a fucking huge leap. That's it, Harry's definitely there. Louis can hear his snoring. His heart's pounding. He doesn't remember what Zayn told him to do. The words stick to his tongue. Well, anything but I'm in love with you. That part he could probably get out.

It's during his moment of psyching himself up that he notices it.

The little sign flapping on the doorknob. Do Not Disturb.

It's basically a bucket of ice water at this point. Louis' hands fall to his sides. His heart falls to his feet. The chorus of I'm in love turns into a string of of course. It's Harry Styles, gorgeous, kind, wonderful Harry Styles, who was pissed off at him and went to a gay club. Who won his first GP of the season and wanted to celebrate. Whom Louis wouldn't fuck. Of course he'd take someone else back to the hotel.

Of course Louis pushed him too far.

Of course this wouldn't have a happy ending.

*

 
 

Harry sleeps in. Like, outrageously. He hasn't slept for so many consecutive hours since getting into motorsports. He sleeps through his alarm, and his hangover, and still feels groggy when he opens his eyes into slits. He makes an inhuman noise at the light spilling into the room. "Lou, the blinds – " he starts automatically.

Then it all rushes back, and he wishes he'd just stayed asleep. Right. Louis was a dick, Harry stormed off, Harry tried to be a badass and drink his sorrows away, Harry ended up crying on Niall's shoulder and had to be sent back after maybe three hours outside.

Harry isn't one to dwell. He tries to compose his list of tasks, heart heavier than it should be on a Saturday morning.

1. fix things with Louis

2. get money from Niall (cocktails can get you pissed)

3. shower

4. eat salad

The very first step, though, would be to get out of bed. That takes him another half hour. By the time he's out the door he can form actual complete thoughts. That includes giggling at the Do Not Disturb sign. It's just so Niall to get him fucked out of his mind and then be considerate enough to lump him in his own room and make sure housekeeping won't bother him.

He tightens his robe around him, and squeezes into his list get pants. He should probably wash the stuff he wore last night, too. Maybe ask Niall to -

He stops at the doorway. Their room is empty. That's mystifying enough as is, since Louis spent 80 percent of their vacation here, but it's empty. Their bed is made perfectly, the blinds are drawn, Louis' clothes aren't strewn on the floor as usual. He braves glancing in the closet. Louis' suitcase isn't there. Harry's heart turns to stone.

It's not a full-on panic attack, but Harry feels shaky and out of breath when he backs out of the room and stumbles down the hall. He forgot to take Niall's keycard with him, so he knocks twenty times in a row, suddenly worried they all left him. His vision's getting blurry. It's not a full-on panic attack, but he is panicking.

"I'm coming, fuck's sake," Liam says from inside, and Harry sags against the door in relief, spills into the room when Liam opens it. "Mate? You okay?"

Harry's throat seizes up. He ends up just shaking his head. Liam's quick to gather him in his arms, gives him a good hug while subtly pulling him inside so he can close the door behind him. "What's wrong?" he asks, petting Harry's head.

Harry shakes his head again, rubbing his nose into Liam's shoulder. "Lou's gone," he mumbles. His breath's coming back.

Liam pauses his petting, but he doesn't push Harry back. "He didn't tell you?"

"I was asleep, I didn't – why wouldn't he – "

"Hey, man, it's okay," Liam says quickly, hugging him tighter. "He flew back with Zayn, remember that Zayn wanted to go back home since London's an hour away?"

"Yeah, but Louis wasn't meant to go with him, he would've fucking told me." The initial shock is starting to wear off. Harry detaches from Liam's embrace and takes a step back, giving him an imploring look. "When did he tell you?"

"Just this morning, it was a last minute thing. Louis' like that," Liam explains, a bit defensive. "You know he hated it here."

Harry doesn't mean to get angry. He's just tired of getting sad. "Yes, I know, we got in a fight about it, but he never mentioned fucking off in the near future. A little warning would've been nice."

Surprisingly, Liam doesn't disagree. "You're right, I thought he'd discussed it with you. Can you blame him for leaving, though?"

Harry throws his hands up. "Yes, I fucking can, what the fuck is so bad about Germany? Does he hate cathedrals?"

Liam's eyes flare. "Christ, me and Zayn were sure – look, you need to talk to him. No, don't," he says as soon as Harry opens his mouth. "I know you're pissed, but give him a chance. Look, I'm calling him right now, don't argue."

His momentum is slightly shot to hell by Louis' phone going straight to voicemail. Before Harry can tear into him again he calls Zayn, who does, thankfully, pick up. "Yeah babes?"

Liam hands the phone over to Harry, who turns off the speaker. "Hi, it's Harry."

Zayn noticeably hesitates. "Oh, hi mate."

"How was the flight?" he asks, banal politeness taking over. He's still Harry.

"A snooze. Pezza was waiting for me and we got home alright. How was the – hangover?"

"Slept right through it. I woke up just now, actually."

Zayn's breath hitches. "Oh. Shit."

"Yeah." Time to cut to the chase. "So Louis won't pick up."

"I know, haven't talked to him either."

Harry arches an eyebrow. "He's not there?"

"No mate, he's in Fiji."

It's just so ridiculous Harry actually laughs. "What?"

"Yeah, he changed flights. That's Tommo."

Harry smacks his own forehead. He ran Louis off 16,000 kilometres. He wonders if Louis can feel all the way over there how much Harry doesn't appreciate it. "So he's in Fiji right now with his phone turned off, and he didn't think to tell anyone but you?"

"He didn't wanna bother you. Thought you were busy."

"What, sleeping?"

Zayn clears his throat. "You had company?"

Harry's unable to get his brain wrapped around this. "Niall isn't – " It hits him like a brick to the head. "The fucking sign didn't apply to Louis, I – oh shit, did he think I...?"

"Probably," Zayn says on a sigh.

"So he ran off thinking I was mad enough to shag some random person? He thinks I'd do that?" Jesus, it was bad enough that Louis went away before they made up.

"H, just. Listen. I know he's been a dick to you, but he's really… Just try to cut him some slack. He'll explain."

"Yeah? From bloody Fiji?"

"That's just his stress reaction. He hides. He's been hiding for a long time."

Harry swallows. "From me?"

"No, with you. Just don't be too hard on him. He knows he's an idiot."

Harry doesn't know if he can agree to that. He doesn't even know how he feels about it all. "Look, I'm just gonna go. I'm sorry you're in the middle of this, I love you."

"You too mate," Zayn says, sounding fond. "Call anytime."

"Yeah." He hangs up without another word, only now realising Liam's been staring at him with a pinched expression. He gives him his phone back. "Louis' in Fiji. I guess we'll see him next week in Budapest."

"Oh. D'you wanna – "

"Not really," he cuts him off. Liam's eyes are downcast, quite puppy-like. Harry could kick himself. "Wanna order in some breakfast?"

At this Liam smiles. "It's four, you idiot."

Oh god. Harry feels like he's aged ten years in ten minutes. "Lunch then?"

"You're on." He then turns on the television and leaps on his bed, leaving room for Harry. Good, reliable Liam. Whatever happens next week, Harry's glad he got Zayn and Liam out of this.

Niall joins them at some point, and they spend the rest of the day planted in front of the television. The next day is more of the same. Harry can't be bothered to move, not when Liam suggests working out or when Niall suggests eating out. It's funny how Louis leaving made Harry the resident spoilsport. At least they never leave him alone.

His mood stays the same for the rest of the week. He holds on to feeling pissed off, because there's not much else he can do. He doesn't understand what happened. All he has to go on is Louis snapping at him over something insignificant and then buggering off to a distant island country. If Harry can't feel mad, what the fuck else is there? Regretful, neglected, detached, sad. That one creeps up on him anyway; when he types up then deletes texts, when Louis doesn't call, when Liam doesn't say something, when Niall ruffles his hair in sympathy. The worst part is that he doesn't have to forgive Louis to miss him. And he does.

The next week is slightly better. Liam forces them to go ahead with the plans to go to Berlin, and Harry decides to stop being so pathetic. He's in a shitty situation, but there's no use shutting himself down, or making it harder for Liam and Niall. How can someone be miserable in such a pretty place?

They do the museum run, go to a movie, do things that require Harry to wear pants and look presentable and less then miserable. And that's the word, isn't it? He can't be mad, so he's miserable. And that's scarier, because it's harder to get over. What if it doesn't go away when Louis comes back? What if it's too late? What if this hollow pang he feels when he thinks of Louis will only intensify when he sees him?

It strikes him that the last time they spent this much time apart, he popped round Louis' house. He was miserable then too, but less desperate, less raw. He knew what he'd find in London. Right now he has no idea what to expect in Hungary. He still doesn't know what Louis was thinking.

That's what sticks with him, really. Louis thinking Harry wanted to go clubbing to pull someone. At this point he's not even offended anymore, he's just alarmed. He remembers Louis breaking down in Barcelona, saying that he is fucked up, that he needs Harry but he doesn't want to. He's starting to realise that things that come easily to him, like love and trust, might not be as natural to Louis.

He doesn't know what to do with that epiphany. Louis' still inconceivably far away, and even more unreachable.

They're four days away from their flight to the Hungaroring, and Harry doesn't know whether he's more scared or expectant.

Chapter Text

Louis is used to being the dick.

He's always been too loud, too quick to make a joke of something. Being a sarcastic little shit is easy. Building up walls is easy. It's also easy to let things get out of hand. When things fell apart last year, Louis just took it, tortured himself to prove that he didn't need anyone.

He's got this sinking feeling that things are falling apart right now, important things, big things, and there's absolutely nothing he can do. He's self-destructed as well as he knows how. He's fled when he should have stayed, got tangled in his own excuses.

The difference now is that everyone knows. They all know it's his fault, and Zayn's the only one who's talking to him.

His flight from Fiji got delayed, so he only got to Budapest late on Thursday. Since then, he managed to switch rooms to bunk with Zayn rather than Harry, which probably only pissed Harry off more,but Louis feels absolutely helpless. He doesn't know how to begin to apologise – or just speak to Harry, so he tries to postpone it as much as he can. (He still loves Harry. He just hates himself a little more.)

He should have called as soon as Zayn told him Harry had spent the night alone. He should've just come back. He knows now that it fucked Harry up – just because he's physically unable to talk to him, doesn't mean his eyes aren't naturally drawn to him. And each time, Harry's staring right back, heart on his sleeve as usual. Big hurt eyes, displeased pouty mouth, a frown creasing his forehead. He looks tired. He cocks up the first free practices, same as Louis, unsurprisingly.

Every time he tries to come up to Louis, Louis ducks away. He thinks it's too late. He doesn't want to be proven right. He can't save himself.

He ignores Harry during the press conferences, until Harry just gives up on him and doesn't even make eye contact. It hurts so fucking much, like peeling off a scab, it kills him to let Harry slip through his fingers, but there's nothing he can do. He missed his chance and he knows it. The least he can do is let Harry go.

"What's the fucking point of falling in love," he asks, two beers in.

Zayn looks at him kind of disapprovingly and takes the other bottles Louis' dug up away. "You'll figure it out babe."

Louis hums into his pillow, disbelieving. "Liam hates me now."

"He doesn't."

"He didn't try to work out with me today."

"I think we're kind of waiting to see what happens," Zayn says, sighing. "Not to pick sides, but, like, to prepare for the fallout."

"For me to crash and burn, you mean?"

Zayn slaps him outright. "Don't say that a day before a race, you absolute shitbag. Just focus on the Grand Prix for now. We'll figure everything out later. Don't… sink into yourself again."

"Whatever." He scoots up the bed and tries to sleep, fully clothed with the lights still on. He misses Harry like this, misses his touch. His smell followed Louis to Fiji. What the fuck had he even been thinking?

He wakes up a few hours later to a hand stroking his arm, and for a second he's so sure it's Harry, his heart's in his throat and he leans in unconsciously and – it's Liam. He'd scream into his pillow if he weren't so tired.

"Mate," Liam whispers, still nudging Louis.

"What," Louis answers, shaking him off.

"Are we okay?"

Louis actually opens his eyes. "You woke me up on the night before a race to have a relationship talk? Who are you?"

"Shut up. Are we okay?"

It's dark now, but Louis can see how uncertain Liam seems. He curses and rolls away so Liam can fit himself into the bed. "I dunno, are you pissed at me?"

Liam hesitates, then slips under the covers and pulls them up. "I think I am a bit. But I know it's not my place. And I'm your boss, I can't have tension between us tomorrow."

"Very professional," Louis comments. He doesn't know how to react to Liam's admission. He doesn't know if there's any more sad in him. "So you'll forgive me by tomorrow?"

"Hey, just because I'm upset with you doesn't mean I don't love you. You're my brother." He scoots closer to kiss Louis' forehead, which makes Louis burst out laughing.

He's known Liam for a thousand years and never once has he done that. "Am I that pathetic?"

"Pretty much, man. Do you trust me?" Louis nods. Liam hums. "Okay. We'll work on the other stuff later. Go back to sleep."

"You're staying here? Wanna spoon me?"

There's a second when neither of them breathes because Louis was obviously kidding but Liam's obviously distraught and they haven't exactly been reading each other's signals lately.

Thank god, Liam shoves him almost hard enough to fling him from the bed, and then turns over stubbornly so they're back-to-back. It's still better than an empty bed. Louis' smiling for the first time in two weeks. "Hey, Li? I love you too."

Liam snorts. "Now you're working on your communication skills?"

Louis rolls his eyes. Liam grins smugly. Zayn laughs. Everyone is obviously out to get him.

He might have fallen asleep to the thought of waking up in someone's arms. Of maybe getting another second of thinking it's Harry holding him, that Harry still cares for him. He needn't have bothered – when he wakes up he's harbouring a mean headache, and Liam's in Zayn's bed.

It's the least exciting race day he can remember. He escapes the press line at the risk of enraging Eleanor, and slips right into the lane. He spots Harry, looking decisive and strong in his uniform. He probably did what Louis should have, and channelled his frustration into giving a good show today. Louis actually considers wishing him good luck, but Harry slips the helmet on before he can.

On the track he's not better off. His concentration is rubbish, and it shows in his driving. By the fiftieth lap he's struggling for fourth place, taking stupid risks and too much out of his car. A few laps later he spots Harry directly in front of him, and of course it's easier to focus now.

Only he has Liam in his ear, instructing him not to pass Harry. "Sorry mate, we need you both to turn your engines into max fuel-saving mode."

Louis knows that makes sense, knows they're at the stage of the race where he can't just catapult past Harry, but he's fucking sick and tired of this Grand Prix already.

"That's bullshit," Louis says, doesn't mind it being broadcast on the team radio to the ears of eager reporters. He stays hot on Harry's tail, half-waiting for Liam to give him the okay. He doesn't.

"Stay focused, Tomlinson," Liam admonishes when Louis corners sloppily and falls another spot behind.

He gives up. He just gives up again. Harry makes the podium by ten seconds, Louis takes fifth place and is more drained than he'd ever been energised by a race. Zayn was right, racing is the worst thing to get attached to. He sneaks away from the events straight to the hotel, doesn't need to hear criticism about his driving, his fall from Germany, how his erratic results are probably fucking up the stats. 179 points are great, but he could have been scratching the 200s by now if he'd gotten his shit together.

He's debating calculating his chances, when the door opens and closes behind him. "Thought you were staying to check up on Jeanne's tyre things?" he asks, not looking up. If he'd won first place right now he would've had -

"I know what Liam did."

Louis actually drops his phone to the floor. It's Harry. It's Harry and he's here and he's looking at him and talking to him. He's still in uniform and he's throwing his arms out, staring at Louis. Despite everything that happened in the past few weeks, the only fucking thing Louis registers is Harry's smell. He's completely overwhelmed to even be in the same room as him, Jesus. "What?"

"I know Liam told you not to pass me even though you could've after the sixtieth lap," Harry accuses, taking a step closer. Louis might actually be near fainting.

"He did. So?"

"So is that why you're being such a dickhead?"

Louis blinks. He doesn't even care enough to make something up. Harry's talking to him. "I, um. No? I raced poorly, it had nothing to do with you. Like, with your car." Jesus, he's fucking up. He hasn't actually breathed since Harry shut the door. Where is his anger? Where's his frustration? He's sure he hadn't built all that just to have Harry take it down by existing. Louis' mind is blank.

For once, Harry's more expressive than Louis is. "Are you kidding me?"

Okay, he's starting to get under Louis' skin. "No, I'm bloody not, it's not about the race."

"Then what the fuck is it about, Louis? You disappear for three weeks without saying shit, and then you come back and you don't even talk to me? Because of a bloody Do Not Disturb sign that Niall put on my door so I wouldn't be disturbed while I was sleeping alone because my fucking – "

"Two weeks." He doesn't mean to say it, it just comes out. He's getting defensive on instinct.

Harry looks riled up – his arms waving wildly, his eyes flaring. "You – can you fucking cut the crap and tell me what's going on?"

It strikes him like lightning. Harry's asking. He's not punching him, he's not saying he doesn't want to see him anymore. He's asking. He might still care.

The fight leaves Louis instantly, making him feel crumpled and small. Hope is a very fragile thing to lean on, but he can't imagine suffering through their summer break like this. "There are things you don't know – don't yell. I'm gonna tell you. If you want."

Harry visibly deflates. Not that he was very intimidating to begin with, or that he's any less broad-shouldered now, but he seems less hostile. The problem is that he's still projecting so much raw emotion, just looking at Louis almost pleadingly. He's so beautiful. Louis shouldn't get a chance to wreck him again.

Louis sighs and folds himself on the bed.

"So you know how we sometimes bring up my shitty season?"

Harry nods and sits down next to him. Louis tells him.

Harry listens carefully – well, Louis thinks he is, he's mostly staring at his knees and fiddling with a tear in his joggers himself. Harry doesn't interrupt him once, nor egg him on when Louis has to stop and take a breath. His hand has somehow crept to Louis' shoulder at some point, just squeezing every now and again comfortingly.

Louis doesn't dare look up at him, but he wishes he – he could lean into him, get him closer, leech some more comfort and warmth out of him. It's not peeling off a scab this time, it's Harry offering a plaster. Louis can't handle that.

It's a memory, a story. It's not something Louis relives every day. If he's emotionally scarred by anything, it must have been done earlier than last year. And he tells it like that, like it happened to someone else. But it's fucking hard when it comes to Harry. Because it's not like Harry's getting under his skin, he's already been there, maybe from their first night together, maybe from the first time they fucking laid eyes on each other. And the more Louis talks, the deeper Harry can dig. That's fucking terrifying. Harry's right here, listening and holding him and offering so much, even after Louis fucked off. It's too much.

He finishes the story. It has a different ending now.

Funny how so we'll have to work around it if we want to make this relationship work doesn't sound anything like, "So that's why I can't afford anything like that happening again. And with you, I just – "

"Hey," Harry cuts him off, finally putting him out of his misery. Surprisingly, he doesn't protest or yell again, he just. Pulls Louis into his arms and hugs him. Louis might be crying. He doesn't care, can forget for a fraction of a second what he's done so he can enjoy feeling Harry again. He loves him so fucking much, Jesus Christ. "And I kept begging you to go out, shit, I'm so sorry," Harry says into his hair.

Louis paws at his arm, held tight around him. "No, shut up, you didn't know, you didn't do anything wrong."

"No wonder Zayn and Liam stood up for you." He keeps whispering, like he's piecing together the last month.

Louis can't help but feel a measure of relief that Harry can't piece him together. He's still missing the biggest part. I'm in love with you I'm in love with you I'm in love with you. It keeps ringing in his ears. "Look, it doesn't excuse me. I'm still a shit for just taking off like that."

"I know," Harry says. Louis considers taking offense to how quickly Harry accepted that, but even as a joke it doesn't feel right. Nothing feels right. "But I can forgive you, I think."

Louis gives a little smile, nuzzling into Harry's shoulder. "Yeah? Can we… go back, d'you think?"

Harry considers it for an inordinately long while. "Maybe," he settles on. "I missed you."

Louis hugs Harry's middle fiercely, and of course topples him over. They end up sideways on the bed, and Louis shuts his eyes automatically. He's completely drained. "Mind if we cuddle for a bit?"

Another hesitation, but then Harry rights himself on the bed and wraps an arm around Louis' shoulder so he can burrow into his chest. "I smell."

Louis smiles again, this time wider. "You do. I missed it, what does that make me?"

"An idiot."

"I'll take it," he decides. "Was that a yes to the cuddles?"

Harry snorts. He buries his long fingers in Louis' hair, playing with it for a bit. "Go to sleep, love. I'm here."

Louis does not need to be told twice.

*

It takes Harry a while to stomach it. Maybe because it's fucking horrible, or maybe because while Louis was telling the story, Harry was more focused on Louis himself. How his harsh voice got quiet, how he tried to make himself small on the big bed. How he avoided looking in Harry's eyes.

And Harry didn't get it, he didn't understand how he could be so infuriated while it was so easy for Louis to avoid him. Holding him now, feeling Louis cling to him and smell him for some reason, Harry realises it wasn't Louis being indifferent, it was Louis being burdened. He doesn't know what to do with him being such a flight risk, but. He's got bigger issues to think about right now.

Like how Louis was being blackmailed for months, how his team handled it by ensuring he wouldn't even think about coming out. How he flipped this year in Germany, how Harry just got mad at him. How intensely he just wants to keep Louis safe.

That part's pretty scary. Harry spent half the story just trying to temper down the protective urge that rose in him, that made him hug Louis despite having no idea where they stood. That solves that mystery, then. Being mad at him didn't make Harry want him any less. Love him any less. It's tricky, that.

He's starting to doze himself, too lost in thought to bother getting up and changing out of his overalls. He doesn't even notice the door being opened, until he hears Zayn saying, "Harry? Are you – what?"

Harry looks up from Louis shoulder to motion for Zayn to be quiet. Of course he gestures too wildly and jostles Louis, making him mumble in his sleep and nuzzle into Harry's neck. It's pretty adorable. Harry might forgive him anything tonight. "I've got a bit of a hanger-on here," he whispers.

Zayn's still staring. "Are you two cool now?"

Harry sighs. The honest truth is that he doesn't know. He's still hurt, this jagged feeling coiling in his gut when he thinks about missing Louis. And he knows how easy it'll be to fall back to where they left off – here they are now, cuddling to sleep – but what if he doesn't want that anymore? What if it's not good enough?

He wants certainty. He wants Louis to trust him. Maybe that's too much to ask, after what he's just heard. He ends up sighing again. "For now, I think."

"Oh," Zayn says, finally closing the door behind him. "That's brilliant, I was scared we were all gonna have to avoid each other. Would've made travelling the world together a bit awkward."

Harry snorts, unconsciously hugging Louis closer. "Right. And making sleeping arrangements would've been a nightmare."

Zayn smiles. He's dirty and smells like a race day, but his smile could still summon angels. "For real though, are you two like – " he points between him and Louis. Not that that means anything; they've morphed into one being now. He's just waving his finger in circles.

"I just can't let him go, y'know? I love him," he admits, under his breath so as not to wake Louis up.

"Aww, bless. I love that."

"Wanna join?" He pats the space next to him. Zayn looks like he's actually considering for a second, then shakes his head.

"Already in a love triangle, bro. I'd rather just shower and go to sleep. You should tell Niall the plan's back on track, he almost shat himself."

Harry nods. Louis' soft hair brushes his chin, so he does it again. "I will. Tomorrow, yeah?"

"Yeah." Zayn grabs some clothes from his suitcases and goes around Louis' bed to the ensuite. He pauses before entering, though, and reaches out to brush his fingers over Harry's. "He loves you too, like. I don't know what he's told you or not, but I think he's ready for you, even if he doesn't know it yet. I think you're the best thing that could happen to him."

Harry has no idea what to say. Zayn looks so earnest, and Harry's actually getting choked up, hearing how much faith Zayn's putting in him. And to think he was sure Zayn hated him at first. "I – "

"Don't say anything. And don't tell him I said it, Jesus, he's gotta keep thinking I'm the best thing that ever happened to him."

Harry nods gravely. "You are, though. I dunno what we'll do when you're sent back to your home planet."

For a fraction of a second Zayn looks confused, but he regroups. "Don't worry bro, I haven't completed my mission on Earth yet." And then he scampers off to the toilet.

Harry feels decidedly warmer. He thinks he just got Zayn's outstanding stamp of approval. Whatever happens, at least he has that.

He detaches from Louis to shuck off his overalls, and then tucks Louis against his chest and pulls the covers over both of them. There's still something broken, still some puzzle pieces that don't quite fit anymore. He ignores it for now. He's got his boy in his arms again.

He falls asleep before Zayn even comes out of the shower.

*

"It wasn't that funny, mate," Liam says, kicking Niall's leg.

Niall tries to reply but all that comes out is wheezing. Louis is so pleased with himself. He thought winning Niall back would take three months and a blood-signed contract never to break Harry's heart, but Niall was over it in ten minutes. All it took was Louis buying them two moustaches and sombreros and suggesting to go on a bus tour of Budapest.

Niall's been laughing for ten minutes.

Liam just gives up on him, and tugs on Zayn and Harry's arms. Harry's still smiling fondly at Niall and Louis, before hugging them both goodbye, lingering for a bit with Louis. He likes that immensely, likes having Harry wrapped around him, even if he has to subtly stand on his tiptoes to give him a proper hug back without feeling tiny. It's amazing how much comfort one person can provide. It's only been two days since they reconnected, but Louis feels a trillion times better.

(It's niggling at him, Harry knowing. Feeling exposed, always wondering if there are some things Harry's not saying. But there are some positives there, too. Like Louis not having to worry all the time about Harry finding out what a fuck-up he is. He didn't realise how much of a toll it'd been until it was lifted. "You should probably tell him you're soul mates, just to get it over with," Zayn commented when Louis told him. Louis just laughed and punched his arm.)

When Harry finally lets go he stays close, looking down at Louis. Well, looking at Louis' lips. To be honest, Louis' been rather missing that too, but there's been a stubborn line between them. They're still trying to get used to each other again. Before Louis puckers up, Harry seems to decide against it and just takes two huge steps back, bumping directly into Liam and sparking another discussion about baby deer qualities in record-holding racers.

So they made plans apart for today, since Louis figured some fence mending was due. Harry wanted to hang out with Zayn for some reason, so the two of them and Liam are starting the shopping earlier at Andrássy Avenue. Louis, out of the misconception he'd have to woo Niall, bought them disguises and printed out a route of a grand city bus tour.

"Come along Neil, we've got many sights to see," Louis says, pulling Niall upright and planting the sombrero on his snapback. Niall's still giggling when he does the same for Louis, and puts on both their moustaches. Before Louis can drag him away, Harry takes a picture of the two of them. "Gonna tweet that, Harold?"

"Betcha," Harry says, complete with a finger point and a wink.

Louis just rolls his eyes and shoos the trio. Liam jumps forward to kiss Louis' forehead. He's been doing that a lot ever since he figured out it disturbs Louis to no end. Harry doesn't seem too pleased either.

Once they finally go their separate ways, Louis wraps an arm around Niall's shoulder. "Are you ready?"

Niall adjusts his moustache. He went for the bushy farmer look, leaving Louis the handlebar. "Think I am. Do we have to take the whole tour, though? Seems kind of boring."

Louis grins. "Precisely why we're going to a pub crawl instead."

Niall's face lights up. "You're the best."

"Westside!"

Niall immediately flips the W sign. Niall's great. He just… lets Louis be silly, rolls with his random jokes and dumb ideas. Apparently finding a good pub in Budapest takes GPS coordinates and a secret password. Instead of looking for the main, brightest strips, they go to a pub recommended to Louis by Laura, the bartender at the hotel, and flirt with a group of local girls to lead them along the crawl.

The ruin thing has its appeal, Louis thinks. It's part of a whole culture in Hungary to set up pubs haphazardly in abandoned places. Louis and Niall go from an old shopping centre to the roof terrace of a pool – it's just different enough not to be shit. Or maybe they're drunk enough. Whatever. Three hours later they're chuffed as can be, stuffed with strudels and Dreher, and yelling some Hungarian tune one of the girls has taught them while hanging off Niall's arm. He and Louis keep exchanging discreet – okay, probably very obvious thumbs up. Anna doesn't seem to mind.

She does mind a bit when Niall pays for her cab home when she does too many shots. "She was gonna fuck you," Louis comments, sucking on another beer while they go back into the pub.

"Wasn't worth it," Niall says, not even the least bit down. He's just this human-shaped ball of sunshine and happiness. "Let's dance! New York, Tokyo, Párizs, Milánó! Mindenhol ugyanaz a szél fúj!"

And so Louis finds himself squeezed between sweaty punters and rocking to some techno beat Zayn would loathe. Niall just does as many ridiculous things as possible. "You're embarrassing me!" Louis yells in his ear.

Niall gives a toothy grin. "You should've seen Hazza when we went to Nachtflug."

Louis nearly collapses from laughter at Niall's failed attempt of a German accent. "Was he twerking?"

"I wish, he was so sad, he just wanted to drink some beer and cuddle up. I had to stuff him in a cab like Anna here."

And Louis knew that. Zayn's told him this much. But to hear it from Niall directly – even as drunk as he is, Louis gets tingly-happy. While simultaneously wanting to punch himself in the face. "I'm sorry!"

"What?" Niall asks, leaning closer and spilling some beer on Louis' shirt.

"I'm sorry for making Harry sad!" he yells louder. "I didn't mean to!"

"Oi!" Niall replies, happy because he got it, or because Louis apologised, or because he exists. "It's cool, as long as you make him happy from now on. Plus I got to make out with a dude!"

It's Louis' turn to spill his beer on Niall's shoes. A second before and he would've sprayed his face, too. "You made out with Harry?"

Niall starts laughing, completely inappropriately considering his emotional attachment to his shoes and Louis' emotional detachment to Niall and Harry's relationship. "Christ no, it was after he left." Louis' still glaring. "I just wanted to connect with you guys."

Oh god, Niall is just bonkers. "And? Are you a flaming poof yet?"

Niall shrugs. "Nah mate, I still don't get what all the fuss is about. Like, I sometimes wank to Zayn but I think Zayn wanks to Zayn so is it really that gay?"

Louis just leans in to hug Niall. "You're great. Straight is great."

Niall laughs so hard he nearly topples them over to get trampled. Louis tucks himself under Niall's arm and carries him to the bar for some water.

By the time they find their way back to the hotel the sun is starting to rise and Niall is giving Louis a piggyback ride. It's because Louis' knackered, whereas Niall's been inhumanly energised by snogging a fantastic Hungarian creature called Barbara. And also because Louis lost a shoe. They stumble into Niall's room and just collapse on the same bed, falling asleep in minutes.

Louis wakes up with his stomach rolling and a horrible taste in his mouth. He tucks his knees up miserably and pulls on the arms wrapped around him. "Babe, I feel sick."

"Me too, mate." And that's not Harry.

Louis' eyes snap open, then he groans and wiggles out of Niall's arms. Niall's not bothered, he just buries his face in his pillow. "Sorry," Louis says anyway.

"It's okay, it was good beer. And I have the number of the most gorgeous girl I've ever seen. So, worth it."

"Right." Hesitantly, Louis shuffles closer to Niall. Just as obligingly as he'd let him go, Niall puts his arm back around Louis and cuddles him. They've never done that before. Louis might still be a bit buzzed, as he stops thinking about anything else to analyse this.

Zayn's an extremely heavy sleeper, so when in the same bed as him you can move him around as you please until you're comfortable. Kind of like cuddling a pillow. That looks like a Greek god. Liam doesn't really like to be touched, and has very strict rules regarding blanket sharing (don't) and being spooned (please don't I hate spoons). Then there's Harry, who's like this cuddling machine and can wrap Louis up in his arms and make him feel so safe and small and sleepy and loved and amazing, but will also flip over and let Louis cuddle him when Louis just wants to hold something. Even though their size difference is so substantial it's like a house cat trying to spoon a curly lion. But they still fit.

And now Niall, who doesn't have much of a technique other than flopping all over Louis and snoring in his ear. He's worse than Harry on that front. Well, on any front, really. Louis can officially crown Harry as the best sleep partner in the group. Without even counting the blowjobs.

Jesus, he needs to go back to sleep.

Niall and he are pretty much checked out for the rest of the day, so Harry, Liam and Zayn just join them in Niall's room and they watch movies and feel sorry for themselves, steadfastly ignoring the knowing looks and "tour bus, eh?"s. It's as it were five months ago, mostly. They banter and chill out and laugh at each other's jokes, still fighting over the films, still finishing each other's thoughts.

But when Zayn falls asleep, Liam doesn't leap to hold him. When Harry says something genuinely funny, Louis has to resist the urge to pull him to his lap. There's this strain of awkwardness between them, covered by the usual brashness of the five of them together. It's there when Harry makes him tea and Louis says calls him babe and unconsciously leans up for a kiss, only to whip his head around and say something obnoxious just to cover it up.

They'd built up to something, before Germany. Having casual sex, Louis realising he's in love with Harry, snapping, tearing everything apart, and now trying to put it back together again. It's a bit fucked up. He knows if he just kissed Harry they might go back to how it was, but now Harry knows and there's all this baggage and Louis feels skittish.

He doesn't want to go back, but he's not sure what going forward means.

His usual tactic is to ignore the problem until it goes away or he goes away. Well, that already fucked him over. He still couldn't have expected what actually happens:

Zayn and Liam go outside to smoke and Niall goes to Harry's room for a change of clothes after spilling salsa on his pants. They leave Harry and Louis lying on the same bed, with the song from the Captain America DVD menu playing on a loop in the background. They keep glancing over, smiling when they catch each other.

"Well, this is proper weird," Louis says, stretching over to put his tea on the nightstand and coming back slightly closer to Harry, so their shoulders are pressed together as they lie alongside each other. At least Harry's propped against the headboard, so Louis doesn't feel that much shorter than him.

"Not that weird," Harry says, nudging him.

Louis' hands creep to Harry's forearm on their own, brushing over his wrist bone, his random tattoos. "I can't change," he reads aloud.

Harry's breath hitches when Louis tangles their fingers together. "I know. I don't want you to, Lou."

Louis looks up at Harry's face, confused. Harry is looking back at him earnestly. Oh. He gulps. "I meant. I saw. The tattoo. Your tattoo."

Harry's face immediately falls when he realises, and he shakes Louis' hand off and crosses his arms. He lets out this awful, nervous chuckle. "Now it's proper weird. Sorry."

"No, it's." Okay, it is weird. But Louis won't bolt this time. His stomach still twists at the thought of having a serious talk about their serious relationship, but he stays right here next to Harry. The same awful giggle now escapes his lips. "Wish I could just kiss you to make the weirdness go away. It's worked before, innit?"

Harry turns to him abruptly, leaning on his elbow so they're levelled, staring right into each other's eyes. "I don't wanna do that."

Rejection stabs Louis' gut, sudden and fierce, releasing another awkward laugh, because that's just how Louis deals. "Of course not, that's why I didn't, I know I've made myself pretty undesirable – "

"No, Louis, shut up," Harry cuts him off, putting a huge palm over Louis' small one and holding it. "I meant I don't want to kiss just to anything. I want to kiss you because I want to kiss you. I always want to kiss you. I." He looks down, bout of courage suddenly weighing on him. Louis' breath is stuck in his throat. "I'm in love with you, you know? I wanna make a go at this, a real go."

Now Louis definitely can't breathe. He's panicking, feeling too much at once. He sort of knew, sort of guessed what Harry felt for him was as fierce as what Louis felt back, but actually hearing him say it… It makes Harry brave and honest and. And just better than Louis. His thoughts are scattered, his chest feels too tight. He loves Harry so fucking much. How can he not see Louis' beyond repair? "H, I told you, what if we get sacked – "

"No, listen," he interrupts him again, lacing their fingers. "I know you're scared of the media, but, like. You think I never had to deal with that? Remember how in my debut season I was sleeping with four hundred women? Remember how I was apparently dating Taylor Swift last year? How my mum would start asking me about girls? How the whole point of being a famous driver was to honour…" He trails off, regroups. It must take a lot of him, saying so much and not getting upset. "Look, all I'm saying is I've been through all that shit with Ferrari. That's part of why I got out. And even if it'll be just as hard to come out as queer when I'm at Cowell Racing, I'm glad I moved because I found you. I'm in love with you. That's not something Simon Cowell or Pepsi or even you can take away, apparently. So, like, we don't need to think about coming out or whatever. I just want you to know I'm in love with you and want to be with you and kiss you to kiss you."

Louis has no idea what to say. He can't look anywhere near Harry's face, his heart jackrabbiting in his chest. It's a good job the door opens and Niall, Liam and Zayn come back into the room, chatting about water polo. All three of them freeze in sync when they realise Harry and Louis were in the middle of an intense conversation, and they sort of stand like knobs in front of the TV.

Harry lets go of Louis' hand and smiles at them weakly. "Well lads, I forgot I had a Skype date with my mum," he announces, swinging his long legs over the bedside and jumping up.

Niall takes Harry's spot, nearly elbowing Louis' face. "Can I have a Skype date with your sister? Or a date date with your sister? She's wicked hot."

Harry glares at him, already at the door. "You can definitely not."

He leaves. They go back to talking about dumb sports. Niall nudges him a few times, but Louis doesn't respond. He basically hasn't spoken in ten minutes. He's trying to let what Harry's said sink in, overwhelmed and unbelieving. He's in love with me. He's in love with me. He's in love with me.

His phone buzzes on the nightstand, and he picks it up distractedly. It's a text.

Harry Styles Harold H Haz Hazza<3:

I lied. I'm in our room. You don't have to say it back. Come to me if you want. xx

*

 
 

Harry's enough of a nervous wreck to actually call his mum and talk about the wedding, just to have something to do. Other than torture himself, that is. He doesn't actually regret telling Louis what he did – he probably would've, like, exploded if he hadn't. But that doesn't mean he's not freaking out. It's been twelve minutes and Louis hasn't said anything. Not in person and not on the phone. Even a "no thank you" would be a relief at this point. Well, no, not really, it would cock up Harry's plans of -

A knock on the door has never sounded so reassuring. Harry shoots up from his bed and drops his laptop to the floor. Whatever. "Yeah?" he calls out.

"I'm here. I'm here. I want in."

It's Louis, thank god. Harry's heartbeat goes from naught to sixty in two seconds. He squeezes his hands into fists and stumbles to the door, cautiously excited. His breath catches when he sees Louis on the other side. His hair's more ruffled than it was when Harry left, a sign of nerves maybe, but his blue eyes are determined when he looks up at Harry. "Hi."

Harry takes a step back to let Louis in. Louis takes the step with him, keeping the same distance like a magnet. "Hi."

Louis licks his lips. "I love you too, y'know."

Harry's smile threatens to split his face in half. Louis kicks the door closed. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. I don't know what we're supposed to do with that either, but I reckon we should start with the sex," he deadpans.

Harry nods slowly, like he's considering it. "Yeah, you reckon?"

"Twat," Louis whispers, rolling his eyes and wrapping his arms around Harry's neck, pulling him down for a kiss, and fuck if he didn't miss this. Harry kisses him back hungrily, darting out his tongue between Louis' lips. He's getting light-headed, feels Louis' tongue brushing his, his hands tangling in Harry's hair.

It's when Louis makes a soft noise that instinct takes over Harry. His hands flit from Louis' shoulders to his waist, his damn arse, and he picks him up. Louis gasps and wraps his legs around Harry's hips, his strong thighs gripping him like a vice. He wants to tell him how good that feels, how much he likes having him in his arms, but Louis doesn't let up from the kiss. It's like these weeks have left him starving, and it's all he can do to taste Harry and breathe him and tug on his hair. He's just so hot and frantic and all over Harry, teasing.

Harry takes a long step and pins Louis to the wall gently, making him squeeze his legs tighter, pressing their groins together. "Fuck," Harry swears, moving from Louis' mouth to his sharp jawline, trailing up to his ear. He knows Louis can hear every little sound he's making, the choked-off gasps each time Louis wriggles, the soft curses when he pulls on his hair a bit rougher. He's so hard. Louis can feel that too.

"No, this – stop that, I don't wanna come like this," Louis grunts, shoving Harry's face away from his ear.

"What do you want, then?" Harry asks, fluttering his lips over Louis' throat. Louis presses into him despite his protests.

"I want the bed. I wanna fuck you."

Heat spreads immediately from Harry's groin to his gut, pulsing, making his cock twitch. Making him shove Louis against the wall so he can grind against him, pleased when Louis claws at his T-shirt. Jesus, he wants Louis to fuck him. His skin is crawling with anticipation already, needy. "For real?"

Louis nods two hundred times. "You said go big or go home."

"I didn't mean your penis," Harry points out.

Louis pulls back, thumping his head casually against the wall. He frowns. "Are you saying I'm not gifted in the penile department?"

Harry snorts a laugh, nearly dropping Louis. "I'm saying if you keep using the word penile my penile department is gonna shut down before you've even made an appointment."

Louis rolls his eyes and lowers his hand down Harry's shirt, until he snakes it between them and palms Harry's bulge. This time it's a miracle Harry doesn't drop him. Especially when Louis leans closer again and says in a deep voice, "I highly doubt that. I missed your cock. I'll fuck you good, come on."

Jesus, Harry instantly forgets what he found so funny just a second ago. He turns around and takes Louis' weight off the wall, stumbling to his bed. He drops Louis rather unceremoniously, both because he's clumsy and because it's hard to balance both Louis and a raging erection.

Louis looks pleased on the bed, keeping steady eye contact as he takes off his shirt, showing off his collarbones, the words on them, how he's gotten even leaner in the past few months of steady work-outs with Harry and Liam. His skin is golden and smooth, not groomed like Harry's but still glowing. Harry wants to touch – wants to lick and kiss and bite him all over, but he can't stop staring. Louis' hooking his fingers in his joggers. Harry gets dizzy again.

"You want me to take it off?" Louis asks, teasing. Harry can only nod. "Then be a good lad and come to bed."

Harry feels a pulse of arousal again, has to squeeze his hands and curl his toes into the soft carpet. Louis shuffles up until he's leaning on the headboard, and he's giving Harry serious come-hither looks.

When Harry finally climbs onto the bed, he's on Louis immediately, kissing him fiercely. Louis makes little breathy noises, tugging on Harry's T-shirt again. Harry lifts his arms so Louis can take it off, but only detaches from Louis' mouth for the second it takes to pull it over his head.

Harry bunches his muscles so he doesn't collapse on Louis, and Louis seems to be fascinated by that, running his delicate fingers over Harry's biceps, his tattoos. They're just groping each other topless, but Harry feels like he's running a marathon. "Your pants, you said – " He's not making any sense, can't. Louis sighs into his mouth, sucking on his bottom lip and digging his sharp little teeth in.

Harry feels so oafish, clasping his big hands on Louis' sharp hipbones, but he can't keep himself from slipping his thumbs under the waistband, just like he can't stop himself from grinding down on Louis' thigh when he realises Louis isn't wearing any pants. "Please," he breathes. He might be on fire.

Louis' nimble fingers unzip Harry's shorts and plunge in, pumping his cock. Harry grinds down on Louis' thigh again, trapping his hand and grunting into Louis' bare collarbone. "Lou, fuck."

"I know," Louis says, getting a good grip on Harry's cock. The pressure feels like heaven. "Fuck, you're hot like this, all desperate for me. If I let you come now could you come again later? With me inside you, like this? Though you'd probably be too useless to be on top, I'd have to lay you out on the mattress and throw your long legs over my shoulders."

Harry closes his eyes and starts snapping his hips down down down, fucking Louis' fist. He wants it so bad, wants everything Louis said, everything Louis wants. "I can, promise, please – God."

Louis twists his wrist and wraps his legs around Harry's hips again. It's got to be hurting his hand, but Harry can't think about it. Louis' mouthing at Harry's neck, and it's suffocating, how close Harry feels to him, how close he's going to be to him.

He comes to the thought of Louis fucking him. The thought. He's definitely in it way too deep.

Louis keeps touching him for a while after, until Harry has to slap his hand away. Louis slaps Harry's thigh in retaliation, making him jerk his hips down automatically and curse. It felt good, any touch feels good. His head's buzzing. Louis could probably torture him right now and he'd ask for more.

It basically is torture when Louis shoves him to the side, forcing them to separate. It's uncomfortable and chilly. Louis must have figured out over time that Harry always feels cold after he comes, as he quickly spreads himself over Harry's body, nuzzling his chest and kissing him softly.

The moment Harry feels collected enough, he tips Louis' chin up and kisses him proper, sucking on his tongue and making him moan. There's nothing in the universe he'd like to hear more. He raises his knees slowly, making Louis rub against him. There's a drawn-out sound, a beautiful sound, and Louis loses it for a second, riding Harry's thigh frantically. He keeps pulling the fabric of Harry's shorts, making it bunch over his cock, and the friction is too much after coming but between that and the fact Louis' dry-humping him Harry's starting to get flushed again, restless.

He doesn't know what makes Louis stop – whether it was a sound or a feeling, but he does, and he just breathes in Harry's skin again. "You're pushing me," he murmurs. His voice is infinitely deeper than normal.

"I'm literally just lying here," Harry comments.

Louis pinches his hipbone hard and lifts himself with some difficulty until he's straddling Harry's thighs. He can't stop staring at Louis' cock, tenting his joggers. They're loose enough that the head of his erection is peeking out, flushed against his stomach and wet with pre-come. He has no idea how every part of Louis is beautiful. It's just a fact of life.

Before he gets a chance to say it, Louis' lifting himself up on his knees – straining his thighs – and finally pulls Harry's jeans down. He isn't wearing pants either. With some manoeuvring they get them all the way off. The hair on Harry's legs stands on end when Louis shuffles back up, the soft fabric of his pants dragging against his skin. He's gloriously naked under Louis. This must be as good as it gets.

Just as he's reaching out to touch Louis' thighs, Louis moves off him. Completely, like, off the bed. It's incomprehensible to Harry. He lets out a whine, and Louis tuts at him. "Calm down," he commands.

Harry bites his lower lip hard to stay quiet. When Louis finally makes it back to his perch on top of Harry, he's naked and brandishing a condom and a tube of lubricant. There's a sunny smile on his face, completely incongruous with how red his cheeks are or how big his pupils have gotten. It's hot, too, everything about Louis is hot. Harry can't believe he has him.

Louis shuffles his arse back and nudges Harry's legs apart so he can settle between them, looking at his cock in concentration. He feels incredibly exposed, immeasurably turned on. As if Louis' been sending it some subliminal message via staring contest, his cock comes to life, starts getting hard again. Louis even dares to smile at it charmingly.

"Am I interrupting something?" Harry asks, then regrets it when he hears how hoarse his voice is.

Louis hums and ducks down quickly to press a sweet kiss to the head of Harry's cock. It's so weird and good and weird that Harry starts laughing.

So it's a bit of a surprise when Louis starts to circle his finger around Harry's hole. But fuck if he's not ready for it. He pushes back, acutely aware of the fact Louis' face is still in the general vicinity of his cock. He lets out a long groan when he feels Louis' finger enter him, up to the third knuckle on the first push.

Christ, it feels as good as he thought it would every time he caught himself staring at Louis' delicate, clever fingers. He's still lax and open from his orgasm, and Louis adds a second finger with no trouble, getting him deep. His back starts to arch, bearing down on Louis automatically. He feels so nice and full just from Louis' fingers in him, from Louis' breath on his dick, fully hard again.

He's trying to find a rhythm, chasing the sparks he feels when Louis pushes a certain way. His hips stutter when Louis twists his wrist and crooks his fingers just the right way, and fucking hell, Louis' such a twat, he actually says, "Got it!" and grins up at Harry while he's just struggling to get air into his lungs.

He's relentless from that point, thrusting into Harry and digging his elbows into Harry's thighs to keep him still, when all he wants is to stretch his legs all the way, push himself. He keeps cursing, has no idea what's coming out of his mouth. His hands are bunched in the sheets, knowing Louis wouldn't appreciate it if Harry pushed his head down on his cock. Not in the way Harry might fancy it if Louis did it, anyway.

"You sound so good," Louis whispers, making him open his eyes. "Could you come from my fingers?" He shuts them as soon as those words come out, because it feels like he really could, might even, if Louis' flawless face stays where it is, if Louis' flawless fingers keep doing what they're doing. But he doesn't want to.

"Please, give me – fuck – " Louis gets him rough, keeps rubbing him just so and stealing his words, his breath.

"Give you what?" he asks, and stops, just fucking keeps his hand still inside him.

Harry curses again and grinds down, trying to get the right angle on his own, not even thinking about it. Louis' left hand digs into Harry's thigh painfully, probably to keep him still, but all it does is make him clench around Louis' fingers. He feels so hot, he can't form a single coherent thought. "Your cock please, fuck me, Lou c'mon, please." He's babbling, hoping something works.

Something does. Louis takes out his fingers, and doesn’t let Harry complain before going down on him, as far as he can in one go and making him buck up, shoving more in his mouth. He takes it, Jesus.

He pulls off with a loud pop that goes straight to Harry's already aching cock, and moves himself so he can align their hips. If Harry's eyes were open, he'd see him tear the condom wrapper with shaky fingers, throw his head back prettily when he lubes himself up. What does happen is he feels the head of Louis' cock nudging at his rim, going in slow circles as Louis grabs the backs of Harry's knees and folds his legs. He's not even doing it to check if Harry's ready, he's just toying with him.

Harry suddenly remembers what Louis' said earlier, and he opens his eyes and grabs his knees himself, pulling them to his chest far enough that he can pin his legs over Louis' shoulders. If Louis were in his right mind at this moment he'd say something snarky about how flexible Harry's chicken legs were. But he's not, he's just staring at Harry with his mouth hanging open. Harry notices for the first time how his wild hair is sex-ruffled, sweat-sticky. How his arms are jittery over Harry's thighs when he touches his legs.

Harry's actually clenching on nothing, so ready for it he could burst. "Please Louis, I'm so – oh god." He's choking on his tongue when Louis finally slips inside, stretching him nicely. He goes so slowly the first time, every inch a struggle on Harry's part to stay still.

When Louis stops moving Harry makes some incomprehensible noise and scrabbles for him blindly, brushing his fingers over his chest hair. Louis lets Harry's legs slip from his shoulders to his elbows so he can lean down and kiss him. Fuck, Harry feels like he's being folded in half, and his thighs are straining and everything is sensitive – his lips where Louis' biting them, his fingers where they're buried in Louis' hair, his whole body pressed against Louis'.

It's not so much a kiss as it is a clash, and once Harry feels relaxed enough he ducks away from Louis' seeking mouth and moves his hips experimentally, his legs falling even further open. Louis looks down between them, then at Harry's face, then down again. "Feeling athletic, are we?" Louis stutters out, not actually expecting an answer.

Harry has a second to brace himself before Louis pulls out, almost all the way, and then snaps his hips forward. Harry gasps, back arching, his hands flying to the bed. Louis gives him another second to breathe before he rams into him again, making Harry cry out. "Yeah, fucking hell," Harry breathes.

Once Louis' convinced he's got the right angle, he keeps at it, pounding into Harry fast enough to rock the bed into the wall. Harry doesn't hear it scrape against the floor, doesn't hear much over the blood roaring in his ears and his own uh uh uh's.

He keeps twisting his head into the pillow, lips open on moans and his sweaty fringe getting into his eyes. His nails nearly cut into his palms on a particularly hard stroke, and he's pretty sure this is it, he's just going to die of a heart attack mid-fuck. He's never going to get off of Louis' cock.

Christ, he doesn't even want to. Louis is excellent at this, keeping a steady pace with Harry just as he does on the track. He's precise and consistent, and when Harry dares opening his eyes he sees that Louis' are closed, that he's biting so hard on his pretty lip it's turned white, that he's flushed and gorgeous in his pleasure.

Harry's hand flies to his cock without his permission, and this must be the best feeling in the entire universe, Jesus Christ, stroking his cock with Louis balls-deep inside him, how is he supposed to continue his life doing anything else, how –

He doesn't actually expect to come before Louis, it just sort of happens. His vision goes black for a moment and he keeps stripping his cock and clenching around Louis, rambling worse than he normally does.

He doesn't expect Louis to pull out, peel off the condom and come all over Harry's chest. It just sort of happens. It sends an extra rush of heat through him, making him shiver. Great, just what he needed. For Louis to mark him. Excellent.

He doesn't bother opening his eyes when Louis collapses next to him. He just spreads his arms and waits. When Louis doesn't automatically jump into them and tell Harry how much he loves him, he asks, "No cuddles?"

"Um. You've got come all over you," Louis reasons. Well, croaks out.

Harry frowns. "You're the one who put it there. Fucking man up and snuggle me."

"Jesus, fine." Louis rolls over him, disgruntled, and lets Harry wrap his arms around him. It's pretty toasty here. Louis' sniffing at him, still weirdly obsessed with his smell. He'd rather just not move. Ever.

He buries his nose in Louis' messy hair and sighs. "That was ace."

"Brilliant," Louis agrees happily. "You're brilliant, love." He presses a sweet kiss to Harry's jaw. "Should've done that months ago."

Harry can't stop smiling. "Say it again."

"You're a fantastic lay, 10/10, would shag again," Louis elaborates.

If Harry's eyes were open, he'd roll them. "The other thing."

"Oh." He pauses for just long enough to make Harry think he fucked up. But then he says it. "I love you. I really do."

"I meant that we could've done it ages ago if you hadn't had your head stuck up your arse, but that's nice too, thank you," Harry says around a beam.

Louis swats weakly at Harry's ribcage. "I fucked some sarcasm into you, who would've thought."

Harry hugs him closer, contented and sleepier by the second. "I feel pretty gross but also awesome."

"Hmm," Louis agrees. "Can't bother to shower, but we don't wanna, like, stick to each other. Not if I wanna blow you in the morning."

"This is the best decision I have ever made," Harry announces, tingly-happy and possibly smothering Louis.

"It is, pal. Think you can unhand me for a sec, though? I have some wet wipes in my suitcase."

Harry grumbles but does, and when Louis returns he wipes them both clean tediously, making Harry feel fresh and groomed and loved. He pulls Louis up for a kiss that turns into a snog that turns into falling asleep in each other's arms.

*

Liam catches them the next morning. It would've been the perfect opportunity to break the news, if it weren't for Louis riding Harry's dick.

Louis doesn't even hear the door open, too busy pinning Harry's wrists to the mattress and bouncing on his cock, blissfully stretched and achy and muttering obscenities. He's trying to focus on pacing himself but he can't stop staring at Harry, who's chewing on his cherry red lip and keeping his eyes tightly shut, throat decorated with angry purple marks.

Harry keeps pitching his hips up to fuck into Louis, despite Louis telling him off because he's too big to take at once. Louis doesn't fight him on it, though. He likes watching Harry struggle to stay still, and when he doesn't manage it and thrusts up, Louis' breath is fucked out of him, and that feels amazing too.

"Jesus Christ!"

The sudden cry interrupts them, and Harry's eyes fly open just as Louis freezes. For a moment he's completely disoriented – his body still chasing his orgasm, still too hot and full, but without the constant rocking motion he's just sitting there and panting.

He turns absolutely murderous eyes to the door, where Liam's still standing, hands covering his eyes. "What?" he grits out.

"I'm sorry bros, I'm so sorry, oh my god," Liam babbles, too stunned to move.

"It's cool mate," Harry assures him quickly, voice devastatingly rough.

Louis swings his head back around to glare at Harry. "Is it?" he asks, giving a little grind just to see Harry bite his lip. "Is it cool?" He rocks back on his dick again, making Harry reach up to take Louis' hands and clasp their fingers together. It's his only choice after Louis ordered him not to grab his hips.

Liam lets out an embarrassing noise, apparently still in the room. "I just wanted to tell you we're gonna get breakfast."

Harry keeps making these soft, addictive sounds. Louis' powerless not to plant his hips firmly, taking Harry even deeper and cursing. He can block Liam out completely – he's seen Louis in much more compromising positions than fucking the guy he loves. "Really?" he gasps out. "What are they serving?"

"I dunno, eggs probably, or one of them Hungarian pastry things that only Niall likes," Liam answers, flustered and probably still covering his eyes and ears with all his might.

"Oh," Louis says, then "Oh" when Harry's hips stutter up, jostling him a bit. Louis tweaks Harry's nipples as punishment, getting full-body shudder out of him. Harry looks wrecked under him, stretched thin in his effort not to knock Louis over and fuck him proper. Either he's oblivious to Liam, or he...

"Yeah? Think they'd have a nice omelette? Could use a good breakfast, we've been working out quite a bit." He emphasises by rolling his hips and coming down hard, punching a breathless, needy moan out of Harry. He's scrabbling for Louis' hips again, forcing Louis to pin Harry's wrists back down. It's not so much that he wants to control the rhythm. He just knows that if Harry's massive hands get anywhere near his cock he'll come everywhere too soon.

Liam splutters. "Oh shit, I'm gonna – "

"Yeah, you can fuck off now," Louis says, leaning down to kiss Harry's bitten-raw lips and change the angle before he even hears the door shut.

They end up missing breakfast, so they order up room service and just stay in bed for the rest of the day. There's this whole list of possibilities suddenly available to them, and Louis intends to tick off as many as he can. Even if it includes feeding each other Dobos tortes and getting drunk on Palinka. Hungary is awesome.

Liam must have passed the message on, as none of the boys dares to disturb them for two whole days.

Louis' dozing on Harry's stomach, too tired to start something and too attached to the air conditioning directly above him to move. It's their hottest day in Hungary yet, 30 degrees with tacky dryness. He's starting to drift off when Harry's stomach rolls, jostling him awake. "Wha – " He realises Harry's laughing obnoxiously. "What is it love?"

"I think the kids miss us," Harry says, dangling his phone in front of Louis' face. Louis snatches it from his hand easily and slides open to see their WhatsApp group open.

(x)

"Our friends are ridiculous," Louis states, tossing the phone back to Harry. Of course Harry doesn't catch it and it lands on the floor.

He doesn't even curse, just moves his hands to fiddle with Louis' hair instead of his phone. "So, dinner?"

Louis shrugs, pushing into Harry's touch. "I guess we have to get out at some point. Maybe it'll finally stop smelling like spunk and sweat in here."

"Hm, that does sound nice. Would I have to wear pants?"

The idea of Harry wearing anything sounds foreign to Louis. The world changed three days ago. Wearing clothes is a thing of the past. "Maybe. We should ask them if they're talking about McDonald's, or, like, actual dinner."

"So for McDonald's I wouldn't have to wear pants?"

Louis tilts his head back a ridiculous angle just to frown at Harry. "You're not even a third of how funny you think you are."

Harry beams down at him, and bends to give him an upside-down kiss. "You love me," he sing-songs.

"Whatever." He's internally freaking out over how he's not freaking out over saying it. It's just one of those true things he sometimes lays out there, like how fit Zayn is or how dumb Liam is or how much he loves Harry. The novelty hasn't worn off, though. He's smiling into Harry's mouth. It's pretty amazing to feel this – connected to someone, knowing with absolute clarity that he loves and is loved. Why would anyone expect him to leave this bed? "Are you gonna ask them?"

"If only someone hadn't thrown my phone away," Harry grumbles, and stretches himself ridiculously on the bed to try and reach his phone. His birdcage tattoo ripples on his ribs, beautiful and tempting. Louis crawls up from his lap to lick along his abs.

So dinner. Liam and Niall make a point of being utter shits and greeting them like they haven't seen each other since secondary school, warm hugs and "how are the kids?". They venture to leave the hotel and go to the City Park, which is apparently massive. (So it turns out there's a bunch of touristy stuff they've sort of been neglecting in favour of sex.)

Though Louis can't hold Harry's hand or anything of the sort, he's incredibly relieved to have gone out of their room, if only for the fresh air. They get a booth at the Gundel Restaurant and stuff themselves with pancakes, along with easy conversation. Louis gets the feeling the boys are waiting for the right time to ask the right question.

Of course it's Niall who says what's on their minds. "So congrats on the sex."

Louis ducks his head, but Harry just grins and gives Niall a dirty high five. "Thanks mate."

"Are you two, like, a thing now?" Zayn asks, looking between them curiously. "Not that you weren't before, but, I mean."

"Yeah," Louis says. His hand inches towards Harry's without his control. He doesn't know how long it'll last, how much time they have before it's fucked, but for once he doesn't let himself think about it. He wants to give it a go. "Yeah, we're a thing."

Harry looks back at him, absolutely glowing when his spidery fingers tangle with Louis' right on the table. "Hear that? I broke him. I broke him with my love."

"I think you fixed him, actually," Zayn comments, always the poet. Louis kicks him under the table, but Zayn's still staring at their hands.

"I was perfectly fine, thank you," Louis assures them all with a mean look.

"Of course you were." Harry buries his nose in Louis' shoulder rather cutely. Louis shrugs him off, scoffing. He will not be patronised.

"Yo, what up with Payno? Shouldn't you weigh in here?" Niall asks, waving a fork in front of Liam's face.

Liam clears his throat. He says "I'm happy for them", but what he means is "I've seen things I cannot unsee". Louis' rather pleased with himself. Then Liam brings up the practical issue. "Is it gonna be weird? With you being obnoxiously couple-y now?"

Harry hums. "Well, we were pretty obnoxious before. I don't think it'll be weird. We're all each other's boyfriends."

A collective nod passes the table. Louis loves everyone in their group. Love, love, love. Incredible how easy it is to say after the first time, like floodgates have been opened. Before he can contemplate drowning, Louis lets go of Harry's hand and claps once. "Fancy a trip 'round the park?"

"It's actually, like, huge?" Zayn reasons, completely unnecessarily. As soon as Louis gets up the rest follow. They start by going to the Heroes' Square, where the other boys have visited this morning, and Louis takes a picture with the statue of King Louis I. From there they wander until they see a sign to The Budapest Zoo, and Niall gets so excited he would've hopped the fence to the closed zoo if Liam hadn't told him they'd all go tomorrow during open hours.

They go back to the hotel soon after, not much to do with everything closed, and camp out in Niall and Liam's room to watch the Madagascar trilogy. If watching means Zayn falling asleep and Harry and Louis snogging occasionally.

They don't mean for it to escalate, but at some point Liam gets annoyed by the noises they're making and flings his phone at their bed, getting Louis' leg and making him roll away. And on top of Harry. He twists around to glare at Liam and bitch about his legs being his livelihood. He sort of misses the point where he settles between Harry's thighs, until he hears his breath hitch.

Harry draws his knees up subtly around Louis, biting his lip nervously and looking anywhere but at Louis' face. Louis throws a blanket over both of them but stays where he is, keeping himself up so he's not rocking into Harry. He knows Harry's waiting, and he knows Harry's flustered, and he's not sure which is feeding which at the moment.

So he doesn't give Harry any friction until he slips his hand under the blanket and palms Harry's crotch, rubbing over the bulge suddenly and determinedly. Harry's eyes are burning a hole in the television, but he makes a tiny little noise through his clenched jaw, hand tightening over Louis' bicep.

Louis would jerk him off right here, surrounded by the boys and watching a film, would whisper to him and go slow so they won't be noticed, and Harry would fucking like it, but Niall throws a shoe at them and kicks them out of the room. Which Louis guesses is fair.

It's sort of the same the next day at the zoo. Minus a semi-public almost-handjob. It's a beautiful Sunday morning and there are far too many families there for semi-public almost-handjobs. They start out all five of them, bright-eyed and excited in the nice weather to explore all the exhibits. Zayn is the first to fall back, when he goes with them into the venomous and giant reptiles house and disappears. After claiming he won't go in there at all, no less (sometimes he claims he's claustrophobic, but they know he avoids closed places just so he's got the option to smoke. They've seen him squeeze into enough small spaces for a nap. Like a cat). The only sign he hasn't been eaten by a viper is the pictures of lizards he floods their WhatsApp group with.

They lose Liam at some turtle exhibit – he actually stops to read all the signs and gets left behind. Niall carries on with Harry and Louis in search of actually cute animals (the red panda, Jesus Christ, cutest thing to breathe) and dumb animals (the monkeys, Jesus Christ, what even made those). The instant they see a sign to a petting zoo, Niall just gets on his Segway and rides off. It might also be suspiciously close to the place desperate mums buy ice cream for their uncooperative children. And Niall. Who was "getting tired".

Louis, obviously, has yet to find something to tire him, and intends to tour the entire zoo. Harry follows him, just as he'd probably follow him to hell and back, and they make their way to the Savannah zone. There's a bridge along it, divided by shaded spots where you can sit and overlook the different yards.

It's not until they reach the last overlook point that Louis realises he's alone with Harry. It's small and secluded and overlooking giraffes or something, and it strikes Louis that this whole thing is kind of romantic. Harry automatically tucks Louis under one arm and raises his other one to point at some rhinos, and Louis feels rather small and helpless because Harry must be the tallest, giddiest person in Europe and Louis keeps tripping over how much he wants to kiss him right now and ride off into the sunset on a giraffe. It's mindboggling.

A little girl interrupts Louis' idiotic musings, probably for the best. She's hunched over her little knees, panting because she must have just run along the entire bridge set. She has pigtails and Louis' heart breaks a little because she immediately reminds him of Lottie ten years ago, when she still gave a shit.

"Hi there," he says in English, unthinking. She looks up at them with a shy smile. "Where're your parents, then?"

She shrugs. "Daddy disappeared like twenty miles ago, he stopped to take pictures," she answers in an American accent. Good job, that, Zayn took the Hungarian dictionary with him. For some reason Louis didn't count on having a chat with a foreign six-year-old. "Mommy and Jake are there," she adds, pointing to the zebras scampering under them. When she realises her mistake she turns her finger to the bridge where she came from.

"Yeah? Which animals did you see?" Harry asks, showing with five words everything he doesn't know about little girls.

"... and the huge peacock and the goat with the horns and the hippies and the rhinos and then I was here and now I'm here," she concludes after five torturous minutes of in-depth zoo analysis. Louis' about ready to jump to the mercy of some elephants.

Harry, of course, looks fascinated by her story. "Wanna see some giraffes?"

She jumps up adorably. "Duh silly!"

They both smile at her and give her a hand when she climbs on the seat in the middle of the overlook. Far enough from the edge, close enough so she can observe. "See them?" Louis points to a giraffe grooming a smaller one.

"Yeah! She's a mom giraffe!" she coos. "D'ya know she has a long neck so she could eat the tallest trees?"

"She doesn't eat the trees, she eats the leaves," Louis informs her.

"Oh, like Grace?" the kid asks.

"Uh, who's Grace?"

"M'sister. She's a vegetarian. She didn't wanna come today and that's why dad's here even though he's a grown-up, because you need two grown-ups to watch over me, and Jake's still little."

Harry and Louis exchange a look. "Well, we're grown-ups and we came here anyway."

"Obviously, but you probably came with your kid to watch over her."

Harry and Louis do not exchange a look.

The girl's mum appears at their lookout with perfect timing, and with such despair in her eyes that Louis and Harry instantly release the girl's hands. "Leah! I told you not to run off!" she scolds her, and then looks at the boys suspiciously. They sprint away like ants under a magnifying glass, laughing and brushing their hands together unintentionally.

"Where d'you wanna go now?" Harry asks once they finally leave the Savannah zone. He's still smiling so wide his dimples are showing. Louis stares up at him speechless for a minute. His heart starts pounding, the way it does every time he thinks about Harry too hard.

So being in love is a bit stressful for Louis. He can ignore it when they have sex, and that works because they've been having a lot of sex, but. There are moments where it feels like he can't contain how much he feels for this boy. And he's always needed his attention, but he's starting to need – his closeness, his affection, whatever Harry can give him. It's overwhelming.

Harry seems to feel the same, only he's not bothered at all. He revels in it, getting to touch Louis all the time. Comfortable being in a relationship, like he'd been waiting for months just to give himself over like this. Thank fuck for that – if they were both as neurotic as Louis they'd be going nowhere. (This would be the time he'd take off to regroup and detach and be himself again, not a part of something, someone. He doesn't.)

He takes a deep breath and bumps their shoulders. "Let's find some penguins. And avoid scarring small children with blatant homosexuality."

Harry barks a sudden laugh and flicks Louis' ear. "I'll try to control myself."

"Haz, you're gonna need to control yourself," is the first thing Niall tells them when they all reunite at a café around midday.

Harry gives him his most passive stare – which is pretty passive. "What."

"Apparently there's a music festival right here in Budapest in two days!"

Harry actually perks up in his seat. Liam seems more sceptical. "Is it gonna be all Hungarian bands we've never heard of?"

"Oh, I dunno Liam, have you heard of Blur and Franz Ferdinand?"

"Oh my god," Harry actually says, surprisingly high-pitched. "We're going."

Liam still looks between them uncomfortably. "I dunno, like, we're gonna waste a whole week here on concerts?"

Niall snorts at Liam's seriousness. "Mate, it's not just concerts. It's a festival. We're gonna camp there and get high and meet people from around the world and occasionally listen to music. I can get us tickets to the whole thing."

Now something registers with Louis. "Camping?"

"Well, yeah. It's on an island in the middle of Budapest or something. We'll set up a couple of tents, just like in Bahrain, it'll be sick."

Harry's eyes are positively twinkling when he looks at Louis. "We'll have sex in a tent, Lou, how sick is that? Just like Brokeback Mountain."

A collective groan passes the other three guys. "You'll have to set up the sex tent on the far end of the camp."

Smiling wide, Harry clears his throat. "You might say we'll… rock out with our cocks out."

Zayn actually gets up and leaves their table.

*

 

 
 

Harry's been through ten races, won 167 points and travelled four continents, and he thinks the highlight of the past five months is Sziget festival. They travel light, bringing one big duffel bag full of clothes they know they'll be sharing anyway and five sleeping bags. Niall assures them they wouldn't need to bring their own alcohol or drugs, because "trust, mate".

That's the great thing about having a Niall in the group. In two hours, they're high as a kite, covered in paint and playing beach volleyball with a group of Brazilian guys. "Trapaceiro!" Niall's yelling, after pitching himself into the sand and completely missing the ball.

Paulo, Lucas and Marcos just laugh and point at him. Harry giggles and gets up to take Niall's place in the Cowell team. It is rather taxing to stop staring at Louis smoking and sunbathing, but he's got to save their reputation.

Of course, he fares much worse than Niall. His coordination is usually quite lacking, being drunk and high doesn't improve his performance for some reason. He spends most of the game faceplanting into the sand and laughing raucously, occasionally looking back to check if Louis' watching him embarrass himself. He always is.

They give him fifteen minutes before Liam decides it's time for another trade-up. "C'mon Tommo, prove we're not all worthless!"

Harry pouts at Liam, but can't really argue. He wipes his hands on his shorts, as if that does anything to rid him of sand, and goes back to their towels. Louis stands up as he does, looking weirdly serious. "It's okay Lou, I'm sure you'll beat them," Harry quickly reassures him.

Louis lifts his shades to the top of his head and Harry realises he wasn't looking at the net, he was looking right at Harry. It might be the weed, but Harry's pretty sure his eyes are darker than normal. "Oh Harold, look at that, you're burnt," Louis says loudly, and grabs Harry's hand to pull him forward.

Harry nearly topples over into Louis' chest, and looks down with confusion. He definitely put on sunscreen after he took off his shirt, he's not -

Oh. Louis edges incredibly close to him, seemingly to inspect nonexistent sunburns, and then whispers in his ear. "You're not allowed to wear anything other than these shorts until I rip them off you tonight in our tent."

Harry balls his hands into fists and gulps, something about Louis' unrelenting tone and the way he's eyeing him up like he wants to push Harry into the sand and shag him right there. It gets him hotter than any drug could. No offense to Niall.

Louis' fingers ghost over the hem of Harry's yellow, low-riding shorts before he backs away and strides towards Liam confidently. "All right, let's kill 'em!"

They still lose, but Louis put up a valiant effort, jumping all over the place in his tank top and board shorts. Harry's been pleasantly turned on for what feels like five hours. After the game and a quick dash into the water, they form a circle around a hookah and chat with the Brazilian guys. "You came here for the festival?" Liam asks through a cough.

"Yeah, we come every year," Marcos answers. "We're friends from work."

"Oh, us too!" Niall says excitedly. "We're from the same team!"

Lucas snorts. "Not a volleyball team, right?"

"No mate, a race team."

He frowns. "A what?"

"Formula 1?" Harry says, passing on the hookah when it reaches him.

"Eh, didn't the girls from España talk about it?" Lucas asks Marcos, who nods and gets up. Two minutes later he returns with four girls in tow. Niall passes them beers, smiling winningly. He doesn't notice they're staring at Harry and Louis.

"Are you…" one of them starts, looking from Harry to Louis to her friends and back. "Sorry, are you Tommo and Harry Styles?"

Harry giggles and tries to hide the blunt in his hand. It's not rare for fans to find them on their off days, but he wasn't expecting it on an island in Budapest. "Yup," he answers simply. "And you are?"

"Martina," she answers distractedly, still seeming stunned. "I'm glad you left Ferrari because I'm in love with Fernando Alonso," she blurts.

Even though he's buzzed, Harry's vaguely offended. Before he can think of a polite answer, Louis puts a hand on his shoulder and says sharply, "Oi, fuck off with that attitude, H is much stronger than Alonso."

Inexplicable warmth floods Harry's belly, even as he's spraying Louis with sand and adding quickly, "Alonso was a good addition to Ferrari."

Martina's frowning at Louis, but one of her friends squeezes herself between her and Harry and slaps her leg lightly. She puts a hand on Harry's knee and says, "Sorry, she's just being rude because we had a bad race last week. I'm Nina. Big fan."

That's better. Harry smiles at her and moves closer to Louis so she'd have space and wouldn't need to hang off him. "I'm Harry. Are you coming to the Belgian race?"

"I'm Lila. And definitely," a third girl answers, sitting down next to Niall. Coincidentally, that's the last thing she says to the group before Niall hits on her so profusely they're both lost to the world.

"All of you?" Harry asks the fourth girl with a warm smile. She looks a bit shocked, sitting between Marcos and Paulo and staring at Louis unblinkingly. Harry just wants to break the ice.

She shakes herself, which is quite an impressive gesture in a bikini, and blinks at Harry. "Yes. Sorry, I'm Elena. My brother races F3, he'll die when I tell him I bumped into you guys at a music festival in Hungary of all places."

Instead of asking the obligatory questions about her brother, Harry's rather high and distracted, and just asks for her phone. "Lou, Lou let's freak her bro out," he says, elbowing Louis quite hard and making him curse.

"What are you doing?" Louis asks, pushing Harry off of him.

"Taking a selfie for Elena here," he explains. Elena, on her part, mutters something in Spanish and her smile is nearly the size of her face. He twists his head around. Louis looks at the phone, unimpressed and suspicious. Harry pouts at him. Louis' expression softens mildly. "C'mon, we could do the shitty gang sign you like."

Louis smirks at him. "If we get sacked it's on you," he says, which Harry takes as permission.

"It's cool, we'll take up florist-ing. Think of the Vines." He leans his head on Louis' shoulder easily so the camera gets them both. He throws up a W, but angles the phone up as soon as he clicks on it, so it looks like only Louis' doing it. Perfect.

They're only vaguely recognisable, faces mostly covered by paint, glitter and Ray-Bans. Louis' even worse than him, since in pictures he's either the fiercely determined big-time racer, or scowling at paps. In this one he's making a silly face and looks bright and happy. "That's quite cute actually, mind emailing it to me?" he asks, giving Elena her phone back.

"Por supuesto, sure, of course," she says, her fingers shaky on the keyboard. Harry gives her Niall's email address, just in case, and then continues to chat with her about racing, vaguely aware of Zayn rolling more blunts for the girls.

Apparently she's been following the season religiously, interested in the sport because of her brother and father. She roped her friends into it, giving them two main reasons ("The cars and the guapos," she says, blushing, and Harry laughs. It's still hard to think of himself as some fit roc kstar, and thankfully he'd been pretty sheltered from that since leaving Ferrari, but he's sitting next to Louis Tomlinson, world champion and sex on legs, so. He gets the appeal. When we're not dreaming about racing at Grands Prix, we're dreaming about racers at Grands Prix). "So who's your favourite?" he asks, passing her a joint.

She takes it and smiles gratefully. "My brother, of course. Then I guess I should say Fernando Alonso, but you boys at Cowell have been making a smash of it this year."

"Cheers," he says, stretching out his legs in the sand. "I won't tell him, promise."

"How would – oh god, I forget I'm talking to Harry Styles." She doesn't sound embarrassed anymore, just amused.

Harry quite likes her. "Happens to us too," he assures her. "Lou says he sometimes catches himself wondering how Cowell doesn't have two drivers. He never counts himself," he explains when she arches an eyebrow.

Louis jumps into the conversation then, probably alerted by hearing his own name. "Excuse me Harold, it's you I don't count."

Elena laughs while Harry frowns. "So who's your favourite then?" she asks.

"Me," Louis says, just as Harry says, "Him."

"I quite fancy Hamilton's chances this year," Zayn puts in helpfully, nipping the awkward moment in the bud.

Elena's jaw literally drops when she looks at him. So Zayn's charm works on Spanish girls as well. Evil charm. That's some dark magic, has to be.

They all go around introducing themselves, and stick in the same group until the girls have to go to a concert at the arena tent, and the boys take off to the cinema. It's just the five of them in the circle now, chatting and smoking alternately.

Niall's the first to get up, clapping sand off his hands uselessly. "Come on then, lots to see here. Let's walk around a bit."

"Away from the beach?" Louis whines. Harry's quite heartbroken just looking at him – he still hasn't asked how Louis gets this perfect, golden tan whereas Harry's skin goes from Snow White to Unattractive Tomato under the sun.

"C'mon, there's bound to be a party somewhere. And burgers. Fuck, I want burgers."

"Shit, me too," Harry agrees, climbing to his feet and getting immediately lightheaded.

Liam's blitzed enough to let them have the greasiest lunch available, and then they drift along the island, occasionally stopping to take pictures with people in costumes, or play footie, or get more beer, or dance around. Harry starts to subtly lead them all to the stages, aiming for Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Bat for Lashes and Flogging Molly. He doesn't think Liam or Zayn will roll with him to all of them, but he hopes at least Louis will.

Louis doesn't have much of a choice, come to think of it. Harry's supporting his weight almost completely, the weed making him clingy and lazy. Plus he loves Harry. He'll go with him anywhere. Tonight's going to be awesome.

*

Everything is flashing. Louis' been on his feet for like, twelve hours straight, and he's fucked on something Niall's slipped into his hand. He's sweaty and splattered in blue and orange, his tank top forgotten somewhere, and he probably won't hear well for days.

He has no idea what band is even playing right now, pretty sure it's not English, but no one cares. Everyone within a kilometre is dancing, jumping around or grinding on each other, occasionally pressing up against Louis. Usually he hates mosh pits, being a small guy, overprotective of his feet and disdainful of being covered by other people's sweat, but right now he doesn't mind any of it. He's off his face and pumped and in just the right mood to let go.

There's not much to be anxious about with Harry there. No one's going to trample him when Harry's right behind him, arms wrapped around Louis' chest and trapping him. He doesn't even mind Harry sweating on him. He likes Harry's sweat. His smell, sharp. He also likes clasping his hands behind Harry's back and pressing them flushed together, so Harry can feel it every time Louis moves his hips.

Feel it, right. He's pushing into the small of Louis' back just as much as Louis grinds back, hanging his head on the crook of Harry's neck so whenever there's a lull in the pounding music, he can hear Harry's heavy breathing. Louis definitely likes that. Likes feeling wrapped up by Harry's big body, likes knowing Harry's right there when he touches his own stomach and thighs. He wants to touch everything. (Harry calls him a clingy drunk. Liam calls him slutty. Louis appreciates neither. He just feels… loose.)

There's another massive bass drop and the whole crowd moves, two scraggly, tall guys practically flung at Louis. If his eyes were open he'd see them giving him a onceover, but all he can sense is Harry hooking his chin over his shoulder and practically growling, tightening his arms around him. Another unexpected like: Harry's random bouts of serial killerness.

If when sober and cool-headed Louis' freaked out by belonging to – with someone, right now he finds Harry's possessiveness extremely hot. He has to adjust himself in his shorts, and then sort of keeps his hand there. There's a subtle difference between adjustment and playing with himself, like there's a difference between Harry dancing in his vicinity and Harry rubbing his hard length against Louis' back.

Another peak in the song, this time sending a couple of girls flying their way. It's more of a nuisance this time, faltering Louis' rhythm against Harry and distracting them. They both make annoyed noises, but really, it's a blessing in disguise. They should've been off the makeshift dance floor ten minutes ago.

Stumbling to their tent is harder than it should be, both because of the sheer mass of people in their way, and because they get lost every few metres and end up making out against trees. When they finally enter the tent and zip it closed Louis prays silently to whatever made him unroll their plush sleeping bags and stack them in advance.

All it takes is a gentle breeze to knock Harry off his gangly legs and straight on his back. He looks even bigger than usual in the small space of the tent, strong hands flexing in the nylon lining of their sleeping bag, a hideous headband almost covering his reddened eyes. No, there's no avoiding the huge tent in his yellow shorts. Heh. A tent in a tent.

Louis shakes his head angrily. He's been spending way too much time with Harry to make inappropriate jokes.

"Lou?" Harry asks, voice absolutely wrecked from screaming through the concerts. He must notice it when Louis does, and bites his cherry red lips hesitantly.

Louis descends upon him quite dramatically, he thinks, straddling his hips and bending down to press their bare chests together and kiss Harry hard. It doesn't take Harry long to get with the programme; his hands trail down Louis' sweaty back and dip under his waistband easily, because some people don't swear by infernal skinny jeans. He cups Louis' arse, and Louis spares a thought to big orange handprints on his skin, before Harry drags him down and over his crotch. Louis curses into his mouth, actually sees a flash when Harry grinds against him – either the drugs, the strobe lights from the show or Harry's nails digging into his arse.

"What'd you – Jesus, Haz." Louis bites Harry's shoulder fiercely to get him to stop humping Louis like an animal, but all that does is get him to grab Louis harder and rut against him faster. Louis' head is swimming uncontrollably enough as it is, he's not in full control of himself when he says, "You like that, don't you? You like it to hurt a bit?"

Harry actually squirms under him, makes a pretty noise and rubs against Louis' cock just right. Louis' the one with the running commentary during sex, can't shut up in the best of times, but Harry doesn't need words to give him feedback. Whether he's flushing or grunting or shivering, he always lets Louis know that he's into it. It's probably one of the top five things Louis loves about him, as Louis' very goal-oriented. That's what allows him to completely forget for a moment how desperate he is for release, and think of a plan.

He keeps his hands on Harry's shoulders and looks down at him, searching his eyes. "Tell me," he insists, sounding as steady as he can under the circumstances.

"I... Louis," Harry whispers, rocking his hips up to jostle Louis.

Louis shakes his head, mentally giving himself a pat on the back for not coming right then and there. "I'll give it to you if you tell me."

Harry's still chewing on his lip, staring up and down Louis' torso, calculating. To make it easier on him, Louis shuffles back and hovers his hand over Harry's crotch, not quite where he probably wants it, where he needs it pumping him fast and steady.

He keeps him in suspense for a second before landing his hand on Harry's thigh, trailing his fingers high under his ridiculously short shorts and scratching the sensitive skin. Harry bucks up instantly, his body flowing with the movement of Louis' hand. He throws an arm over his face and starts babbling in his bruised voice, "I do, I like it, fucking hell Louis."

That settles that. Louis' very self-satisfied when he says, "Turn over then."

Harry nearly headbutts him when he jerks up. "Are… Are you gonna…" His gorgeous mouth opens and closes a couple of times, eyes shining beyond hope. "Are you gonna hit me?"

Louis' smirk slips off his face. "Of course not, love, why would – " Oh god, Harry's face crumples. Louis would hug him consolingly if his dick weren't twitching like mad. "You'd... like me to hit you?"

Harry stares at him, a cross between impossibly aroused and endlessly annoyed. "You just made me tell you, are you trying to take the piss – "

"No, god no," Louis kisses him to shut him up. Harry doesn't hold the grudge for a second, wrapping his arms around Louis' shoulders and kissing him back happily. "I just – there's a difference between biting your shoulders a little and spanking you." It's definitely not his imagination when Harry's hips snap up under him, just at the word. A shot of heat passes through Louis, his breath effectively stolen. "You would like it, you dirty, beautiful little – how did I not know that in the five months since we've met?"

Harry buries his flaming face in Louis' neck. "It didn't come up, what was I supposed to say?"

"I dunno, spank me Louis, I've been a bad boy, I'm gagging for it."

Harry whines against him, his hips rolling in a stuttering rhythm. "Stop that, stop talking, do something."

Louis slides his hands from Harry's shoulders to his hair, petting him for a moment before tugging his head back. He gives him a considering look, and then gets off of his lap, dragging another whine out of him. "Hands and knees, go on then," he instructs. Harry completely freezes up for a second, breathless and wound tight, before he flips over so enthusiastically Louis' surprised he didn't bring the tent down.

Louis stands up on shaky legs and rifles through their bag for lube and condoms, removing his shorts in the process. When he looks back at the sleeping bags, he freezes up himself, his eyes tracing over Harry's heaving back, his broad shoulders, his spread legs. Louis gets on his knees behind him and runs both of his hands down the impressive length of his torso, raking his nails over the painted skin. It's amazing when Harry pushes into the touch, his muscles shifting and moving. He's so strong, and so pliant for Louis.

Finally, Louis fulfils one promise and pushes Harry's shorts down, getting rid of them as gracelessly as the damn things deserve. He can't resist and lays both of his hands on Harry's arse, copping a proper feel. He leans forward and plasters his front to Harry's back, making sure he feels the hard line of his cock. He tries to breathe before saying in Harry's ear, "I'm not gonna spank you now, I don't actually wanna hurt you. I am gonna fuck you really hard, though, if you're not bothered."

Harry snorts and wiggles his hips against Louis' hard-on. "No, I guess that'll do," he croaks out.

And Louis knows it's not terribly sexy, or on par with this dominant thing he's beginning to realise Harry's into, but he's gotta say it. "I love you, weirdo."

Harry bends his elbows so he can hide his face, no doubt blotchy, in his forearms. "I love you too. Fuck me really hard please."

"You got it."

He coats three fingers in lube, spilling some on the sleeping bag in his excitement. He wipes it off with Harry's shorts vindictively and flings them where he'd left the bottle. Upon glancing at it, he realises belatedly that Harry's packed his flavoured lubricant, probably named something dumb like Seductive Strawberry. Louis arches an eyebrow and ponders.

The first finger he slips in slowly enough, mesmerised by the arch of Harry's back, the rustling when Harry twists his hands in the lining. He's hot as ever, loud when Louis squeezes in the second finger without warning. He knows it must burn a bit, but he's not too keen on slowing down. He knew Harry likes feeling full, and now knows Harry likes feeling a lot of things. Instead of letting his other hand just hang at his side, he runs it along Harry's thigh, gently tugging on the hairs and making him rock back against him.

Louis starts thrusting in earnest, drunk on the sound of his hand slapping against Harry's skin, his brain looping on I like it, I like it, are you gonna hit me?

He knows he's got it when Harry's back arches and his knees quake, soft murmurs of "yeah" and "more" filling the tent. When Harry sounds sufficiently distracted, Louis bends down and pulls out one finger. He can actually hear Harry's sharp intake of breath, before he replaces the finger with a sharp flick of his tongue and Harry collapses on his forearms, whining high in his throat.

Louis' not sure how long he eats him out for, but he does manage to discern two things: Seductive Strawberry tastes like hard candy, and Harry's absolutely shameless for this. He's being very good about keeping his hips still and letting Louis decide when he wants to lap around the tight skin and when he wants to lick into him, but Louis knows he'd just as easily ride his face until he came. He can feel it by how taut Harry's thighs are, how his back is shaking, how it sounds like his breaths are forced out of him.

It doesn't really matter how it tastes, as long as Harry keeps making those noises and turning into mush under Louis' hold. He can't really help it, keeps squeezing Harry's arsecheeks when he spreads them, pinching the muscles and making Harry bear down. At some point, when he goes in deep, he notices that Harry's mumbles and sighs are getting more discernible. When he realises it's words he pulls out completely, makes Harry push on empty before he stills and groans in frustration. Louis sucks hard on the skin of his pale thigh, and hazards a playful bite to his arse. He keeps rubbing his stubble against Harry's soft skin, wants that to be the feeling that lasts.

"What's that?" he asks, like he's got all the time in the world. The truth is that he's buying time. If he entered Harry right now he'd come before he's even in all the way.

"Fuck me, you said – you promised, Louis, I'm ready please," he breathes out, petulant and begging.

Louis gulps, then smacks his lips at the tacky taste of the lube. He's sort of desperate to distract himself after being turned on for the last fifteen bloody hours. He drags his teeth over Harry's toned arse, can actually feel the muscles bunch up. "Yeah?"

Harry doesn't even answer, just pushes his hips back rudely and brings his knees together so his foot smacks Louis' leg. Fine.

Louis straightens up and picks up a condom, struggling with the wrapper for an awkwardly long time before he gets it on and pumps himself lazily. He focuses mightily on how his legs are starting to hurt, how Harry's trembling and needy under him, how he's going to get the stupid paint out of his hair.

When he lines up at Harry's hole, his mind goes surprisingly blank. It's like they're suspended in a moment, both breathing raggedly and fit to burst with arousal. When he pushes in for the first time it's quicker than he's normally comfortable with, but Harry sounds exceedingly grateful when Louis' buried to the base. If anything, he's rocking back for more, forcing Louis to get a move on.

A promise is a promise. Louis holds Harry's hips tight enough to bruise and fucks him with shallow, quick thrusts, times himself by the sound of skin slapping against skin. Harry’s moans are dragged out and he arches so hard his chest is pressed to the sleeping bag, arse up in the air. It must change the angle somewhat, because the next time Louis rocks in Harry goes unerringly silent and he plants his hands down like Louis' cut off his strings.

Louis' sure and repetitive, his thoughts and senses slowly consumed by hot and tight and Harry. He closes his eyes when it's too much to see Harry bent over like that, and then opens them, glutton for punishment. He's just gorgeous and wanton and flexible and good, he's so good, fuck's sake.

On a whim Louis slams his cock in deep and stretches so he can grab a fistful of Harry's hair, a sweaty, shapeless mess at this point. He pulls hard enough for Harry's neck to stretch back. It's a shock to both of them when Harry cries out and comes all over himself, snapping back against Louis and clenching tight.

Louis doesn't stand half a chance at the sight, and comes seconds later, hand tight in Harry's hair. He's still reeling when he pulls out and takes off the condom. It feels like he'll be reeling for his entire life.

They just flop all over each other for a long while after, longer than usual. He just wants to hold Harry and kiss his shoulders and face sweetly, tell him he's bloody perfect. Harry probably doesn't even hear him, dazed and drowsy, but he leans into the touch and lets Louis cuddle him for a bit. Louis definitely uses that to bagsie the dry sleeping bag, safe under the one they've defiled.

He also definitely gives in and zips their sleeping bags together. They only slip into the cocoon after Louis spills two whole water bottles down their bodies and rubs them clean with some wet wipes Harry'd cleverly packed.

He expects to fall asleep immediately, but it actually takes him some time, like his body's too excited to have Harry this close, warm and satisfied. Or like too many people are having noisy sex in nearby tents. Whatever's less of a cliché.

When he finally drifts off, his nose is buried in Harry's hair, and it just hits him, this epiphany that he'll surely forget the next morning.

Harry's smell occasionally haunts him because Louis' started to smell like him.

Science is amazing.

*

The matching tattoo is an afterthought. They were drifting around the island all morning, zombie-like after dancing and fucking all night, until they caught up with Niall and Zayn. The former gave them tokes and the latter pointed them to a tattoo parlour. Harry decides to go without a second thought, completely disregarding Niall's suggestion to stop getting dumb tattoos from amateurs. Niall's easy to ignore because:

1. Niall had been paddling drugs for three days.

2. He had no such advice when Harry and Zayn got high and tattooed each other in Monaco.

Louis sort of protests, but his opinion doesn't really matter either, as he's dead weight right now. Really, Harry's been giving him the world's longest piggyback ride. Every time he's tried to put Louis down he's received an earful about how he rudely came on Louis' face last night. One time he didn't warn him and suddenly Louis' a sexual extorter.

Whatever, he also gets (false) comments about how nice he smells, and he'll never say no to Louis hanging off him. Especially since it leads to dragging him to a tattoo parlour. Everyone wins.

The artist is wearing a mask and very little else, which doesn't bode well, but there's a queue, which is probably a good sign. It gives them time to plan, anyway. They sit down on some girl's mat and Louis immediately drapes himself over Harry's back. He has to shake him off so they could at least look at each other. "Tommo, honestly. D'you wanna get anything done?"

Louis blinks up at him, annoyed and incredibly pretty, kind of like last night when he had to wipe come out of his beard. Harry cackles just thinking about it. It makes Louis frown harder. "Maybe I do."

Louis turns over his left arm, like he's looking for free space. Harry rolls his eyes. "Well, what is it?"

"It is what it is," Louis answers sagely. He then thumps on his chest, like it wasn't obvious enough, and Harry giggles. Louis hasn't worn a shirt in two days, and he's borrowed Harry's red headband to wrap around his bicep. Harry wishes he could be a musician and just troll festivals every day ever. He also wishes he could kiss Louis right now, but despite everything he's on, he knows he shouldn't.

"I wanna get something about racing," Harry confesses. "To, like, remember this season."

Louis stares at his tattoos like he's checking if Harry already has something car-related. Or like he likes Harry's arm. He flexes, just in case, and Louis blinks and shakes his head. "What, like a chequered flag?"

"Exactly. Like a finish line. A happy ending."

Louis just looks at him curiously. "Bit premature, innit? It's only the middle of the season."

Harry absolutely cannot look him in the eye when he says, "I already got a happy ending."

Instead of being a shit, Louis surprises him. He doesn't say that Harry's the cheesiest person to exist, he doesn't deflect with a happy ending joke, he doesn't even bury his head in his hands. Most importantly, he doesn't scream that's premature too it's been two weeks. (Harry's been in love with him for five months and he's finally got the boy, he'll be as cheesy as he wants.)

He brushes his fingers over Harry's inner forearm, his things i can. "I think I'll get the starting lights."

Harry snaps his head up to look at Louis. He doesn't look like he's joking.

Okay, so they're getting couple's tattoos, whatever. Harry's cool with it. Down with it. Whatever. His heart's pounding like he's just popped another pill. "Like, all five of them?" he asks, tongue-tied.

Louis just nods. "Yeah, five red lights. Maybe round my wrist?"

"You already have the rope."

"I have two wrists, Harold," Louis huffs.

"But. You don't have anything on your left arm." Harry feels dumb just pointing it out, but something in his head – a red light, if you will – is screaming this is important!!!

Louis shrugs. "Maybe it's time I do."

Oh god. Harry has to bite his lip to not actually scream this is important!!!. "So we're doing this because…"

"We're racers and we wanna remember this season because it's been a very good season for both of us racers," Louis deadpans, looking away from Harry and at his own tattoos. "Also we're high."

Harry can totally accept that. He coughs profusely, this time not to scream I love you so much I want to tattoo a horrible rendition of your face on my whole back!!!. That might be pushing it.

He goes up first, sits in the artist's surprisingly professional chair and looks up the design he liked. It's a cliché from start to finish: two crossed flags, flapping on his inner right wrist where he'd feel his pulse if he pressed down, symbolising his relationship with Louis as the big win of 2013. It's so sappy he can't watch her work, when he'd normally be fascinated and into it. It's also his favourite of his forty-three tattoos.

Louis can't stop staring at it, actually asks the girl not to bandage it for a minute so he can take pictures with his phone. Harry preens at the attention, keeps his arm outstretched for as long as Louis wants, ignoring the pain when Louis accidentally touches it in his amazement. Louis should be admiring this tattoo. It is his.

When Louis' up he shows her a picture of the gantry start lights, explaining in great lengths how he wants it only in red and black, shaded just enough to make it look like lights but still cartoon-ish. He keeps talking until the artist says "bármi" to shut him up and starts cleaning his wrist. Harry takes Louis' other hand, guessing that he's just nervous, and proven right when Louis' fingers tangle in his. Harry traces a heart over the back of Louis' hand with his forefinger, getting a dazzling smile out of him.

It's easier from that point. Harry doesn't say anything when one of the lights, the one directly on Louis' pulse point, is slightly larger than the other four. He just... doesn't even open his mouth, afraid of what might come out. It hits him way too late that they've actually just done this. Like, Harry's always been pretty careless with his tattoos, but this one means more than the others. This one is part of a set.

And Louis' is gorgeous, of course, colouring his delicate wrist vibrantly, and means something too. Means permanent and a constant reminder and a prominent mark of Harry's on his skin. Means belonging. Means a start, and Harry's the finish line. Means Harry's going to tear up if he thinks about it too hard.

"It means we're two bros racing cars for life, what's it supposed to mean?" Louis defends himself when Zayn accuses them of getting matching tattoos.

Zayn just snorts, undignified. "You're not fooling anyone mate. You should've at least let me design it if it was gonna mean something special."

"Whatever," Louis replies cleverly, glancing at Harry. Harry supplies zero backup. He hasn't uttered a single word since they left the tattoo tent, giddy and shell-shocked. He'd think he's dreaming if it weren't for the throbbing pain in his wrist. Jesus.

"Well I think it's sweet," Niall says, clapping them both on the back. "Just don't go to the beach five minutes after getting inked like a fucking idiot again."

Harry scowls and covers his wrist unthinkingly, then flinches. Louis cards his fingers through Harry's hair gently, distracting him. "Don't worry. I think we're gonna go to our tent now."

Harry doesn't need to speak to support this plan. Niall just rolls his eyes. "Fine, just don't forget, you know, Blur."

They make a ritual of it, remove the bandages from each other's wrists and take pictures before washing them with soap and rubbing the ointment into the reddened skin. Harry immediately uploads one of the pictures to Instagram, hashtag vroom. He gets plenty of favourites and retweets, so he feels pretty validated. Like, in his choice of life mate. It's great.

On the morning of the 12th, it takes them hours to pack up and go back to the city centre. Harry edits all the videos he took compulsively, some featuring the people in crazy costumes, some of a red-eyed Zayn trailing his new pet lizard from Louis' starting lights to Harry's finish line, some from the shows and one dedicated solely to Niall learning how to belly dance. Louis' catching the sun at the beach and refuses to leave. Liam's still missing after taking up with some girl and avoiding them for days. Zayn and Niall are trying to say goodbye to all the new people they've met.

It's noon when they finally get a cab to their new hotel, the one Harry had booked before going to the festival and stashed their suitcases in. He's booked three rooms, so the other boys can figure their shit out, but his and Louis' is obviously the best. He's very careful to walk a few steps behind Louis when he pushes the keycard in. After travelling for so long all the hotel rooms look the same, but this one is slightly different, and Harry wonders if Louis will even notice.

He doesn't, at first. He bursts into the room and tosses his suitcase aside theatrically. "I'm going to take the longest bath in recorded history," he announces. "The showers there were shit, innit?"

"Yeah," Harry agrees, neatly setting down the duffle bag and suitcase. He's about to make a comment about baths when Louis stops in his tracks, causing Harry to bump into him clumsily. "Um."

"This is a king size room," Louis observes.

"Yeah?"

"It's not a double room." He turns around to give Harry a pointed look.

"It's not," Harry admits, peeking into the room for the first time. The huge bed is pretty obvious.

They've been sharing a bed for weeks, it's completely logical to get a room with one king size. It's outrageous how nervous Harry is, until Louis says, "Aces. Just brilliant," and pecks Harry's lips.

He's very pleased with himself until Louis adds, "Where are you gonna sleep though?"

Then Harry rolls his eyes. "Niall's room, we haven't really spent much time together lately."

Louis smiles cheekily. "Wonder what could have preoccupied you."

"Yeah, not like I got a boyf – toy," he scrambles. Why does he always make things awkward, Jesus. Louis obviously heard his slip of the tongue.

"A – " Louis shakes his head, then kisses him again, which. Is alright. "You can say it, I'm not bothered."

Harry breathes in deep, his hand automatically brushing over Louis' wrist. "Alright. Boyfriend. I wanna be your boyfriend."

He's not sure what he's expecting Louis to do, there's no telling at this point. One moment they're grinding on each other where anyone can see and getting matching tattoos, and the next Louis doesn't want to partner up with Harry on Tekken because "that's so couple-y". Or maybe because Harry's shit at the game and Louis' a sore loser. Whichever.

Anyway, boyfriend stuff would be stressful to anyone not as emotionally stunted as Louis. And Harry thinks this with love.

Apparently it's one of those things Louis embraces head on. He gives Harry another short kiss and says, "Good, you're hired."

Harry's so happy his toes are curling in his boots. "You're not just saying that 'cause you're still a bit high?"

"Maybe," Louis allows. "I've still got a spliff on me if you – "

"God no, I'm not putting anything naughty in my mouth for the rest of the season."

Louis gasps and pouts at him ridiculously. "There goes your invitation to the bath."

Harry sticks his fingers between Louis' ribs and tickles him until Louis folds in on himself. "You only keep me for my mouth, is that it?" he asks, not letting up.

"Well, it is very pretty," Louis wheezes, slapping Harry's hands away and slowly backing into the ensuite. He's not doing a very good job of it, so Harry only redoubles his efforts and pins him against the sink so he could get his armpits. Louis' yelling at this point. It's great. Harry could never out-shit-talk Louis, but at least he can win a tickle fight.

"I swear to god I'm demoting you to passing acquaintance," Louis cries out, jumping on the sink like a housecat and bending his legs to protect his torso. Harry considers using this to tickle his little feet, but he's sort of struck dumb by how tiny and foldable Louis looks on the sink, especially when glaring at Harry with narrowed eyes.

He raises his arms in final surrender and steps back. Then steps forward and bends to kiss Louis' nose. Louis hisses and shoves him away again, trying to hide a giggle.

"You're cute. Can I be your boyfriend again?" Harry asks, ducking his head again to fit against Louis' neck.

"Yeah, alright," Louis answers after a moment, defeated but indulging. And cute. "D'you wanna put the tattoo ointment on before or after the shower?"

So he's also re-invited to the bath. Brilliant. "Hmm. Shower, ointment, bath. You noticed the massive bath, right? In the posh room I got us, right?"

Louis nods, burying his nose in Harry's hair in the process. "Yes, my hero. Can I wash your hair?"

Harry cracks a smile and kisses Louis' neck. "You're obsessed with my shampoo."

"I'm not obsessed, it just smells good. And I wanna take care of you." He emphasises this by snaking his hands up Harry's chest and unbuttoning the few buttons Harry hadn't already. He pushes the plaid shirt over Harry's shoulders and dances his fingers on his skin. Harry squeezes his hands between his waist and the sink so he can take off his own jeans without moving his face from Louis' neck. He could probably keep it nestled there forever. Let Louis take care of him.

His belt makes an awkwardly loud noise when his jeans hit the floor, along with his pants. Louis makes a questioning noise, and then shuffles forward so he can wrap his legs around Harry's naked hips. His jeans chafe against Harry's sunburnt skin. Harry moves even closer.

They strip Louis together, kissing lazily between layers until they take off the Sziget wristbands, so that by the time they're under the shower head they're both half-hard. They ignore it for now, squabbling for the spray.

"Mate, just because I'm taller than you doesn't mean I'm blocking the water," Harry tries to explain, but Louis only glares harder and steps on Harry's toes. Only the floor is slippery and Harry's a bit tired and uncoordinated, and the only thing that saves him from breaking his neck is Louis grabbing his hand. Of course, wrapping his fingers around Harry's new tattoo.

He flinches, and Louis lets go immediately. "I'm sorry love, does it still hurt?" he asks, taking Harry's forearm and examining the tattoo, as if his touch could smudge it or something.

"Not really, just. Knee-jerk," Harry says, flushing inexplicably.

"Let's wash it then," Louis decides, and puts Harry's tattoo under the spray, shielding it with delicate fingers at first, before scratching Harry's arm lightly to distract him from the ache. He doesn't actually stop scratching while he massages some soap over the tattoo, and the pain isn't – sharp like a cut, it's throbbing like a bruise, it's spreading from his pulse point all along his body. It's something he still hasn't gotten used to. It makes his tongue heavy and brain fuzzy.

Louis notices, maybe from the way Harry fell silent, or the way his cock hardened between them. "Liar, it does still hurt."

Harry nods slowly, careful not to move his hand so Louis won't let it go. He nods again when Louis asks if it's a good hurt.

He releases Harry's wrist, regrettably, but only to wrap his hand around Harry's cock. So Harry guesses it's okay. Louis pumps him in earnest, pinning him against the tiled wall and kissing him, ignoring the water dripping down their faces and into their mouths. The moment he starts to come Louis presses two fingers straight into the tattoo, making Harry jerk and smack his head against the wall. He can't breathe for five solid minutes.

It's really taxing to have so much sex. He's going to tell Louis as much, the moment he stops kissing him and biting his lips. "You're dirty," Louis murmurs.

Harry tries not to squirm. "Yeah." His voice is rough, bounces around the shower walls.

Louis draws back with a smirk. "Not in the naughty boy sense. There's still paint on your belly."

"Hm, wonder if it has anything to do with this elfish creature hogging the shower head."

Louis pinches his sides and takes a step back petulantly. "Well, I'm a very clean elf-boy. Get yourself sorted, I'll start the bath."

"Oh, don't you wanna – " He gestures vaguely to Louis' crotch. He's still half-hard.

Louis smirks again. "I'm good, mate. Did you know depressants like booze and weed decrease your sexual appetite?"

Harry snorts. "If that were true it would've been much easier for me to sit down on the underground."

"Harold." Harry's quite amused by himself as he cleans up more thoroughly. It's like he's shedding three cans of paint and grime.

When he shuts off the water and steps out, Louis' already submerged in steamy water, only his head and left hand visible, clutching the tube of ointment. "Bubbles?" Harry asks, staring at them.

"I'm relaxing. It's been a very long, hard week."

Harry can't argue with that. "Want me to get my cinnamon candles? For extra relaxing."

"No, I want you to get behind me. Don't say it," he warns as soon as Harry opens his mouth. Harry grins, hoping to pass the joke along telepathically.

Louis rolls his eyes and scoots forward so Harry could squeeze himself between Louis' back and the tub. Half the bathwater and bubbles spill over the edge. Louis just laughs and opens the tap again.

Harry groans for the longest time when he feels the hot water lap at his body. He spent so little time sober during the past six days that he hadn't even noticed how tense his muscles are from walking around and dancing all day, how sore his back is from sleeping on the ground. He doesn't feel relaxed, he feels like he's being purified. "Oh my god."

"Right?" Louis' voice floats to Harry's ears through the steam and drowsiness suddenly overwhelming him.

"I just wanna sink in," Harry says, stretching his legs to almost their whole length around Louis, who fits as snugly against him as he does above water.

"Not yet love, we've gotta put the ointment on the tattoos one last time."

"Ugh." Harry waves his hand in front of Louis' face, hoping he could take care of it.

Louis grabs his thumb and leans forward, uncapping the ointment with his teeth. He hesitates before he applies it, clearing his throat. "Will it, um. Like. Would it be a good hurt again?"

His eyes shoot open. Harry leans up to press against Louis' back and kiss his cheek. He should probably explain it at some point, what he likes, but he's never been very eloquent about these things. Or at all. (A few days ago Louis asked him to talk dirty and all Harry could manage was, I know you want it, and Louis said hey hey hey and started giggling, so Harry had to reprimand him about the awful message of that awful song, which only made Louis giggle harder, and then Harry was coming because he'd never been inside a giggling person before and it was very overwhelming.)

Anyway, Harry's always been kind of chill about himself. Accepting, maybe. Like, he never had a major crisis over liking the occasional dick any more than being the most awkward kid in secondary school. It wasn't a shameful secret until he became famous, and even now he's got some wiggle room. He's got a loving boyfriend he adores, for fuck's sake. There's nothing shameful about that.

The… rough stuff, well, he just kind of lucked out there. He never had to explain. Caroline was the one who showed him the ropes, extensively, so she just knew, and Louis doesn't seem bothered by the whole thing. So Harry doesn't know how to say that hurting is a turn-on but it doesn't turn him on unless he's already turned on. Or whatever. So he just says, "No, it'll be a regular hurt."

"Oh." No further questions. Harry's about to wax poetic about how perfect Louis is before he adds, "Good, I don't want your spunk in my relaxing bath of relaxation."

Harry pinches Louis' hip. Louis just kisses his inner arm and starts rubbing the ointment in, making Harry sink his teeth into his lower lip. When it's mostly absorbed Harry tugs Louis against his chest and returns the favour, nibbling on his earlobe to take away from the uncomfortable ache of touching his tattoo.

Once they're finally done Harry reclines until he can rest his head on the wall and Louis leans fully on his chest. They're as close as humanly possible, but Harry still has to wrap his left arm around Louis' chest. To keep him there. His limbs all turn to putty soon enough. "Just what I needed."

Louis hums and pats his hand, a silent "no talking in the relaxing bath of relaxation you shit". So Harry does one better and reaches over to grab his phone from the sink and play some music. Louis purrs happily and sinks into the water, not one complaint about Harry's indie rock'n'roll.

When they get out the only thing holding Harry up is Louis, who's half-asleep himself. They towel off mostly uselessly, and Harry doesn't really think about it before slipping the wristband back on. Louis either doesn't notice or chooses not to say anything.

They intend to fool around, but as soon as their backs touch the mattress – a mattress, a virtual cloud caressing his skin compared to the ground at Sziget – they fall asleep. They don't even wake up cuddling; kind of sticking to their own ends of the bed. It's pretty embarrassing.

They don't leave the bed for a whole day.

*

It's Sunday and Louis' still recovering from the festival. It's been pretty convenient to hide in his and Harry's massive hotel room, claiming he's tired/achy from the tattoo/having sex. But it's been four days and that is, apparently, the peak of Liam's bullshit tolerance. "I just saw Harry leave for lunch, who the fuck are you keeping in your room?"

"Your mum," Louis yells.

Liam kicks down Louis' door and charges into the bedroom. "Tommo."

Louis buries his head in the pillows and whines. "What, Jesus, can't you just fuck off?"

Liam promptly jumps on the bed and kicks at Louis' legs and stomach. "No, I won't fuck off, I've got plans."

He doesn't make a fuss when he falls off the bed. He knew Liam was trouble when he walked in. He just curls up in his blanket and sniffs. Thank god the posh room came with posh carpeting. "Plans?" he asks weakly.

"Yeah, there's still all this stuff we haven't done, even inside the city park. Like, there's an amusement park, and a museum for cars, and the royal palace and Váci Street and on Tuesday there's a national holiday. With fireworks. You like fireworks, yeah?"

Louis peeks up from his blanket fort at Liam, lying on his bed. "When did you become a Hungarian tour guide?"

"What are you on about?"

"I mean, why the elaborate plan to entertain me?" He can already guess Liam's just bored out of his mind because Niall and Zayn have already flown out to Belgium to start working on the packages.

Liam picks at his jeans innocently. "Because, y'know. It's another Sunday without a race and you always go mental when we have long breaks. So I'm trying to have that not happen. So you don't snap at us."

And, shit. It strikes him that Liam's absolutely right. Usually Louis would be climbing the walls after barely a week without his car. He'd start visualizing the next track and badger Liam with tactics during their off-days.

Right now, he doesn't even feel an itch. He feels… settled, content. That's kind of distressing. He sits up at once and stares at Liam. "Li. I feel totally normal."

The look of horror on Liam's face shows how disturbing that is. Which is sad in itself, really. "Normal?"

"Yeah, like. Happy and shit."

He covers his face in his hands, and doesn't notice Liam sliding off the bed until he's got his burly arms around Louis' shoulders. "That's disgusting."

"I know." And Zayn warned him; two months ago he told him he'd already needed Harry – that it was too late. Louis thought he only belonged in a race car, but he's starting to feel like he might belong in Harry's general area, making him tea, making him laugh, making him come. He fits there well enough. He's happy.

Absolutely disgusting.

Liam hugs him tighter. "D'you wanna move to the country with him and adopt a Border Collie and never race again?"

"Jesus, Liam, of course not." He could gag at the thought. "Harry's a cat person."

"Do I even know you?" Liam asks, shaking his head. "C'mon, get up. You can at least go for a run with me."

"Excuse you, I'm having an existential crisis here."

"You're really not, you knobhead. You're at your existential peak."

That's definitely not a thing. "Can you." He buries his head in Liam's shoulder. "Not tell anyone? I just. What if you're right? What if I race worse, now that it's not, like. The only thing?"

Liam huffs. "C'mon mate, that's not what I said at all. It's good that you're not a maniac about it. Keep training and I'm sure you'll do fine. Yo, I actually think you'll do better, now that you're not sexually frustrated. Been saying so for months. I've known it all along, mate."

Like hell. "Whatever. Let's go run around the park, we've got a fucking race in seven days."

He's really on his best behaviour from that point. He works out with Harry and Liam every day, starts going back to eating vaguely healthy food, and doesn't even drink beer when they watch the fireworks on St. Stephen’s Day and the light plays on Harry's pretty face.

He feels better than ever when they finally set foot in Belgium, officially ending their summer break. They land on Thursday morning and spend the whole day with their teams, catching up with the mechanics and reacquainting themselves with their cars. After the first hour of shop-talk Louis feels completely in his element again. Or maybe it's the petrol getting to his head. Either way, he feels extremely well. Extremely ready. Without even biting anyone's head off during the two weeks prior to the race.

"I'm a changed man," he tells Tom from the BBC. "Now that we're past the halfway point it's really all about buckling down and maintaining the lead."

"Yeah," Harry agrees weakly. Right, because it was Harry's interview that Louis crashed.

As much as he's got his head in the game, this is their first race as an official Thing, and Louis hasn't spent two minutes apart from Harry in three weeks. So he stays by his side at the paddock, occasionally brushing his hand across his hip or his elbow. Harry's smiling, so he must not mind it much.

Louis' surprisingly chill about being kind of… obvious. As long as no one calls him on it. He's happy. Enough to be cheeky about it.

Tom asks both of them, "Since Hamilton and Button three years ago, we haven't had a season with two racers from the same team being so tight. How do you decide who's in front and who's in back?"

Louis raises his hand to adjust his team cap. Definitely not to stifle an unholy cackle. "I think we kind of share that, really," he says, glancing over at Harry.

Harry nods gravely. "Sometimes I take the front – "

"Yeah, sometimes you take the front."

"And you know, if he's a bit tired I'll go behind and like, push him along," Harry adds, slapping a hand on Louis' shoulder.

Tom's face is completely impassive, who knows if he's cottoned on. Louis pushes. "Yeah, yeah. But, you know, we're both quite generous with each other. Sometimes he should get to do what he wants and go first."

"Bit of a give or take," Tom finally cuts off their ramble.

"Exactly," Harry says, smiling from ear to ear. This is probably the best interview Louis' ever given. He's about to expand on their pole positions when Jennie cuts in with a question about Jeanne's tyres. Might as well, he hasn't decided if it's better for a penis joke or a stripper joke. Louis will save that for later. He's amassed an impressive number of gay innuendos during his past twenty five years as a hilarious homosexual.

He feels too good to freak out. Instead of stress building up, it feels like layers are being chipped off of him. He feels like himself not just on the track – he feels like himself from two years ago, before the crisis. And he's still in the crisis, really, still trapped, but this time it's not a nameless extorter backing him into a corner, it's Harry Styles loving him unconditionally. He can fucking handle that.

He tells as much to Eleanor when she grabs him for a chat about the blatant closeness of him and Harry, despite the portrayal of them as rivals up until now. Okay, so he doesn't say he's madly in love and all that, doesn't actually want to out Harry. But he does say, "It is what it is."

They pay him to drive. As long as he doesn't show up drunk/high on the track or does anything truly outrageous off it, they probably couldn't sack him. He's fucking leading the charge, racking them up nearly 200 points in nine races. He's too old and too successful to be intimidated by his own management. He's been through too much in the last season. So if he's decided to stop hiding from Harry, he might as well stop hiding altogether.

Eleanor knows that, on some level. Which means that, by extension, so do the heads of the team. So there's not much to discuss, really, until he decides to come out (which, even after all the resolve he's starting to feel, he is most definitely not ready for). She knows that too. She ends up just briefing him on his schedule and waving him off.

He doesn't share any of this with Harry, as it's far too personal and compromising. Plus he's too busy fucking him into the mattress, giving it to him harder than he should right now. When they're done Harry can't even get up to shower, and pouts at Louis to clean him up. "I can't move," he announces.

"Poor babe," Louis coos, kissing Harry's sticky stomach before wiping it clean. "Having to put up with a nice dick in you every few days. Honestly, I don't know how you do it."

"Stop being a twa – ah, what are you – " Harry bites his lip and shushes up. So Louis' fingers might have drifted from his stomach to his oversensitive arse. What, he's just lying here waiting to be played with, what was Louis supposed to do.

"You are a twat," Harry announces some time later, flat on his front and utterly spent. "This is a tactic, innit?"

"What?" Louis asks, groggy.

"You know, wearing me out so you'd get a leg up in the race."

Harry should not be reading him this well. "Are you mental? Like I'd resort to such things. You know I get restless before a race. I'm just fucking away all my nervous energy. I'm doing you a favour, really. Imagine waking up to a blowjob instead of bile?"

"You're not fooling anyone, Lewis." He kisses Louis' shoulder absently and then buries his head in his pillow and closes his eyes. "It's okay to be scared and trying to get an unfair advantage over your devoted boyfriend."

"Shut up," Louis protests, smacking his arse weakly. Harry's eyes snap open and he rolls into the mattress. Right, how could Louis forget.

He rolls away resolutely and turns off the light. After getting Harry off twice, he's hardly leaving him hanging. He's also got plans for tomorrow morning.

He's not actually trying to sabotage Harry's efforts. He just... feels playful. Endlessly curious about how far he could push him. He's so excited to race when he wakes up that he ends up fucking Harry's face, pulling his hair just enough to get him sort of sex-drunk and then sending him out into the wild. He'd feel bad, if it weren't hilarious to watch Harry squirm uselessly during the morning interviews and give unrelated answers with long-winded stories. Every time someone asks if he's alright Louis' there to say, "He's fine, he just tried to outrun me this morning so he's a bit winded." Harry glares at him, but still touches his shoulder gratefully for the save.

The first practice is absolutely exhilarating. Despite not being obnoxious as usual, Louis did miss this. He manoeuvres easily, revels in Jeanne's purr. His hand flies from the wheel to the gear, doesn't even need Liam's instructions in his ear as muscle memory takes over. He's screaming in his own car when the flag waves, thinks about Harry's tattoo. They both do great.

The second practice doesn't go as well, Louis having to pull over into the pits unexpectedly when he feels the car veering slightly. Zayn makes a quick job of it though, fixes the tyres and sets him off not long after.

Harry doesn't miss the chance to rib him for finishing three spots after him. Louis wishes he could smack him to shut him up, but it's Friday and there are too many fans and cameras swarming the place. He jumps when Harry slaps his shoulder repeatedly during the autograph run. "What the fuck?"

"Look," Harry says excitedly, or as excited as his voice gets. He's pointing to a fan who's currently getting an autograph from the Ferrari guys. Louis vaguely recognises her, but he's not sure where from. His attention's on the American guy's T-shirt he's signing, anyway.

When it's her turn her face lights up and she grins at them shyly. "Hi, um. You probably don't remember – "

"Elena from Spain," Harry says immediately, ever the charmer. She squeals. "How've you been?"

"Awesome, you know. Um, trying to recover from Sziget." Louis still can't place her, but at least now he knows why. The whole festival is a bit of a blur.

Harry nods earnestly. "Us too. But don't tell anyone."

Mark Webber snorts loudly to Harry's other side. They both ignore him. "I won't," she promises. "I'm actually here with my brother, but he was too nervous to come up here."

"Oh!" Louis says when it all clicks. She's the selfie girl. "Should we take another picture to show him what he missed?"

He can tell she's freaking out, but she's keeping it together much better than most of their female fans. "I don't think that's allowed," she says hesitantly.

"Oh, fuck that. Don't you really want your iPhone case signed?"

Elena doesn't seem to follow. She glances at Harry, who nods at her until she hands over her phone. Louis quickly signs the cover, and then unlocks the phone to take a clandestine selfie. He makes sure to cross his eyes and stick out his tongue, even when he feels Harry shove himself into the frame and do a lame thumbs up.

When Louis' satisfied with his nice act of the day he gives her the phone back. She's sort of. Staring unblinkingly. "You still have the bracelet on?" she asks Harry, clearly focused on the wrong nice person.

Harry shrugs sheepishly and plays with the tattered wristband. Louis actually hadn't noticed when he slipped it on. It's weird, Harry's usually very good about taking off his rings and bracelets before races. He arches an eyebrow.

"Yeah, I mean." He glances at Louis. "It was an incredible week." He tousles his fringe awkwardly with his wristband-free hand.

"Great tattoo," Elena comments, making Harry brighten right up. Louis rather likes her.

"His is prettier, show her," Harry tells him, nudging his shoulder. Louis sighs and rolls up his sleeve, putting their wrists next to each other to show they match.

Elena makes a noise Louis' never heard before. Before she can explain, the line progresses and she absolutely has to shuffle along to Webber. She does remember to say, "Thank you so much, dream team!"

Louis isn't sure he fully got her, but he does like the dream team thing. It started with their headline after Tom Clarkson's subtly scandalous interview, and since then he's seen it in two other articles about the Cowell team, along with being informed by Harry that they're trending on Twitter. Louis didn't really care; it's been more than a year since he's used his Twitter for anything other than plugging Pepsi products. But he did appreciate the way it made Harry beam.

He's beaming now, still staring at their tattoos. Louis' quick to cover his wrist back up before the next fan hands him a foam finger to sign, of all things. "You indulge them," Louis mutters.

Harry nudges his leg with his knee but doesn't disagree.

Louis fucks him again that night, despite their better judgement, but he does it gently, slowly this time. Completely not trying to wear him out. (Not that it works. The next day Harry gains pole position, proving once and for all that Louis' dick is magical.)

The race itself is fantastic. Louis can actually feel that he's started to race differently, if not better. He's driving by instinct, purely looking for speed rather than that dick from Red Bull or that twat from Lotus. He keeps slipping into this mode where he's in complete control of everything he does, cool and collected so he doesn't show a hint of hesitation. (He'll have to thank Harry for that one.)

"Tow off Styles through Eau Rouge in the first lap and you're golden," Liam tells him just as they enter the turn. Styles, right. Louis can't think of him as Harry when he overtakes him, flying out of the corner and keeping a good pace. He sweeps ahead to Les Combes and from that point it's over, really. Other than a chance of rain towards the end of the race, nothing and no one troubles him.

Harry has a good race, comes in second to Louis. As soon as they're at the pit wall their team hugs merge naturally, since Niall will use any excuse to hug Zayn, and Harry and Louis, well, that's obvious. Harry's gorgeously flushed and sweaty and giddy, play-punching Louis for taking the lead from him. Louis will take any touch he can get, really; after an hour and a half of racing he can still feel the buzz of Jeanne under him, adrenaline curling his toes and making his heart race. He jumps up to get Harry in a headlock, ignoring the flashing cameras around them, for the sole reason of whispering in his ear, "I wanna fuck you so bad, it's all I'm gonna think about during the fucking press conference."

"I know," is all Harry can say back, clutching at Louis' back fiercely.

Louis' absolutely shameless during the podium interview. "Tommo, your fifth Grand Prix victory of the season, that looked pretty easy for you today on the longest track on the calendar," David Coulthard starts.

"Yeah, it was a fantastic race for us, all thanks to the Cowell team. Once I passed wunderkind here at the first lap, I could really dominate the race until the end." His hand inches under the table from his own knee to Harry's. It jerks under his touch.

"And looking ahead to Monza, you were the one who set the lap record there back in 2010. Do you feel lucky?"

Louis smirks and drifts his fingers up Harry's thigh. "Yeah, I definitely think I'll get lucky."

He answers more questions about getting through the massive tow through Eau Rouge by lining up behind Harry. It's a bit of a circus in his head, but he thinks he's being subtle enough. He's only using the already homoerotic vocabulary of racing. It's still hilarious when Harry's asked a question for the first time and Louis gets a chance to look at him. His face is absolutely thunderous. Louis feels zero guilt about getting him flustered. He'd probably be palming him right now if Harry's bear paw weren't clamped threateningly on his.

"Harry, this is your eighth consecutive time on the podium. Again we heard you on the team radio saying you were taking absolutely everything out of the car and the tyres. Looking ahead to the next Grand Prix, what do you think you’ve learnt from this Belgian race?"

"Um." Jesus, his eyes are nearly glazed, his lip bitten red. Harry Styles is obscene. And also speechless. "I learnt a bit of French."

There's a stunned silence, and then most of the floor bursts out laughing. It bolsters Harry, enough to retain some of his well-known charm. "Other than that, I think we'll go away after this weekend and see if we can improve for Monza. But definitely when we get to Singapore, I think we’ll have a much better chance there."

Louis squeezes Harry's fingers, good job. "And again you're sat next to Louis, whose points lead is extended to the largest ever margin he's had, I believe," DC continues. Louis blows him a little kiss, getting another laugh. "How do you feel about your competition within your team? Is there even more internal friction now that we've passed the halfway point?"

They blink at each other helplessly, Louis coming up with 900 anal jokes per second and Harry daring him not to make any. "I, um. I feel that. About the internal. Uh." Oh god, he's going nowhere. If he bombs it Louis is contractually obligated to make a dirty joke. He waits patiently along with the journos. "Well, I definitely don't think there's more internal friction than there was yesterday. Me and Louis got to do a bit of, um, bonding during the break, and it's true that we're up against each other but ultimately our cars are very similar and our pit crews are tight too. So that allows us to be mates, I think. I'm not a very competitive person."

Someone actually drops their pen at that. Louis' in love with a complete idiot. He still glares at anyone who even thinks about taking the piss out of Harry. "What he means is that off the track, where he's a professional racer and fierce competitor, we're both pretty relaxed. We try not to let the friction get to us. I mean, we are the dream team."

Harry smiles at him so widely Louis has to look away so as not to kiss him, as he would, immediately and extensively, if they were anywhere else.

Regrettably, he doesn't get to make any more anal jokes during the rest of the conference. He even takes his hand off Harry's leg to stay focused, and try to answer questions like a normal person. When they finally leave, they're informed they can't miss the huge sponsor bash, so Harry makes an executive decision and pulls Louis into a toilet stall.

"You are insane," Harry claims, while unzipping Louis' purple overalls to get at his pants. He doesn't actually slide them off his shoulders. He, like. Sniffs at them. Harry really isn't winning points for sanity right now.

"Not my fault I can't keep my hands off you," Louis replies, grabbing Harry's own overalls and reeling him in for a kiss.

"Of course." Harry moves from his lips to his stubble, kisses down his jaw. He nuzzles at the Velcro strap over his neck, fitting his mouth at the crook of his shoulder.

Louis puts a pre-emptive hand on Harry's chest. "Don't leave marks, you animal."

Harry growls and sinks his teeth into Louis' skin, making him push his hips up, but doesn't suck a bruise. "Fine. Because I love you."

"Right." Louis rolls his eyes. But he's got to say it, doesn't he? "Love you too."

It still makes Harry smile. Louis might have found his light switch. Amazing.

*

Their hotel at Brussels is less fancy, but adequate in that it has a king size bed and room service. Zayn's in charge of the schedule, since apparently his fiancé's band has come up to record here and he wants all nine of them to hang out. Louis agrees to help plan the whole thing, since it turns out he loves Perrie. Harry and Niall will do whatever they're told. Liam's… being very Liam about this.

"So, like. Is Payno down to go out with us?" Harry asks Louis while they're getting dressed. What does one even wear for a dinosaur museum?

Who's he kidding. He goes for his tattered jeans and moth-eaten shirt. Whatever. Louis' wearing Harry's shorts and a rude tank top, there's no competition. Louis shrugs and fluffs up his hair. Sometimes Harry's convinced it's 65% candy-floss. "If he didn't want to he just wouldn't go. He gets along with the girls, like."

Harry frowns, slightly confused. "For real?"

Louis grabs Harry's denim jacket and sticks the keycard in his mouth while he puts it on. It's either to avoid replying or to look cute. When he finally spits it out, he doesn't have a very enlightening answer. "I dunno, he'll come or he won't. As close as we are, we don't actually talk about that mess often. Or at all. You'd probably do better than me if you wanted to get an answer out of them."

He highly doubts that. "I highly doubt it. You've known them for years."

"Yeah, and our friendship hinges on me being a sarcastic arsehole who shouldn't be trusted with sensitive stuff."

"You're not – "

"Love," Louis cuts him off, stepping closer to place a finger on Harry's lips. "I am. I try not to be like that with you, considering past events. But it's okay. Not everything needs to be said. Ask Liam if you wanna, or just entertain me while the three of them are being awkward as fuck. Now let's go see some fucking dinosaurs, d'you know how long I've been waiting for this?"

Harry would still like to reassure Louis that he's not a complete arsehole, but fine. "65 million years?"

"Exactly." He taps Harry's nose and whirls around toward the door.

The actual outing is less awkward than he'd thought it would be. It's Friday and the girls are performing at the Botanique, apparently booking a gig "while they're here". The first time he sees them, disregarding pictures Zayn's shown him obsessively, is when they go on stage, and he is floored.

"Remember when we went to that karaoke joint before we started dating?" he whispers to Louis, who nods. "This is not like that."

They're fucking talented, and hilarious, as Harry learns when they actually sit down for a chat and a pint. He thinks… Zayn and Perrie fit. Not like Zayn and Liam always fit in Harry's head, but they do. They've both got this effortlessly cool/dorky thing about them, a robot alien look, violet hair for random tattoos. They're also adorable.

"Yo Lou, good job on Sunday," Perrie says, perched on Zayn's lap.

"Thanks babe. I was driving the red one," Louis replies with a smirk.

She swats at his arm. "I know, obviously compensating for your tiny penis."

Louis snorts into his pint and glances at Harry, waggling his eyebrows. Harry's too busy physically restraining himself from hauling Louis into his lap to say anything clever. "It wouldn't cover it."

A delighted laugh spills from Louis' lips and he gives him a high-five. Harry leans in for a kiss unconsciously. (Sometimes he misses summer break.)

"Are we talking about Louis' dick again?" Leigh-Anne asks, stealing Perrie's cocktail unapologetically. "Can we not?"

"I'm with you," Niall agrees readily. He's sitting very close to her. They're both wearing snapbacks. "It's nasty, that."

"Oi!" Louis protests.

Harry quickly puts a comforting hand on his shoulder. "It's alright love, they don't know."

"They don't." Louis shakes his head emphatically. "You should see this one." He points to Harry, spilling some of his beer. He might be a bit drunk. "Could wrap it 'round me head, it's terrifying."

Harry high-fives Louis. Leigh-Anne makes gagging noises and looks away from them to chat with Niall.

So they definitely won that argument. Harry puts his arm around Louis' shoulders and tugs him closer, pleased when Louis immediately burrows into his side. "Want another drink?" Harry asks, mostly an excuse to accidentally brush his lips over Louis' feathery hair.

Louis nods into his chest. Harry tucks two fingers under Louis' collar and pets him for a second, a sneaky show of affection. He gets up and claps his hands. "Ladies, can I get you anything?"

"Isn't he a gentleman?" Jesy asks, arching an eyebrow. "I want an iced tea, Leigh wants a screwdriver and get Pez whatever abomination she's already drinking."

Perrie proceeds to flip her off. Jesy blows her a kiss. Harry turns to the bar, when Niall clears his throat loudly. "Excuse you, aren't you gonna ask the lads if we want anything?"

"Please, you'll be happy with anything I put in your mouth," Harry shoots off. Everyone at the table cracks up. Harry's surrounded by perverts.

He shuffles off to the bar, and doesn't actually register that Louis' followed him until he hears a distant, "D'you reckon he realised you meant an alcoholic iced tea?", and then fingers are hooked in his belt loops. He turns around just as Louis goes in for a kiss, and for a split second that's really all he wants – walking around this beautiful city with his beautiful boy for the past few days made him feel sappy and kiss-starved. But, he is the sober one here. He grabs Louis' shoulders and spins him around for a cuddle instead. Louis pouts but doesn't argue.

After distancing himself from the group, Harry notices a couple of things he hadn't before. 1) The place is full of fans. 2) Not from the racing community.

It's all teenage girls armed with smartphones and cameras, circling around the band's booth. Harry thinks it's kind of cute, really, as he's accustomed to middle-aged, rude, male fans. That is, until he realises some of the phones are aimed at him and Louis. He puts the three pints in one hand and rests the other one on Louis' lower back to lead him quickly back to their booth.

"Girls, think you can sign some autographs to please the masses?" Louis whispers when he passes the cocktails around, careful to sip each one and frown.

"Sure babes." Perrie turns on a bright smile and dismounts from Zayn to address the fans. It's sweet. They're all adorable, really. Jade might have actually slipped out of a Disney movie. If they even have movies so far up North. Who knows. (Maybe Niall.)

The unexpected exposure to "Mixers" has an odd result. Harry finds it hilarious, really. So funny Louis' kicking at him so he'd shut up. "Inconsiderate," he snaps, on the second night of The Worst Hangover Ever. Harry feels zero sympathy. Louis shouldn't have gotten in a drinking competition with Leigh-Anne. He's only tiny.

It also might be the middle of the night. But Harry was in the middle of replying to some tweets and emailing his mum about booking Ed for the wedding, and sort of lost track of time. Louis' already used to the high value Harry places in his phone, it's cool. Harry still leans over distractedly and kisses Louis' forehead. "Sorry, mate."

Louis stays silent for maybe a minute before curiosity gets the better of him. "What's so funny? Did Nick send you another hysterical video?"

He snorts. Louis' disdain for Harry staying friends with people who aren't him that he doesn't even know is absurd. No less than the gold mine he'd just stumbled upon. "No. There are some pictures of us online, from when we went out with Perrie's girls?"

Louis' eyes snap open at that. Then squint at the light. "What kind of pictures?"

"Nothing too telling, don't worry," Harry reassures him. The relief on Louis' face is kind of… upsetting, when he thinks about it. He tries not to.

"Why would they even take pictures of us? None of them could even get a licence."

"Because I'm the super hot tall guy," Harry answers earnestly. Louis cocks an eyebrow. "That's just their commentary. There's a lot of… commentary."

Louis grabs Harry's phone and brings it so close to his face Harry can't even see what he's looking at. He's probably too lazy to grab his glasses. No wonder they're on the nightstand on Harry's side. It takes a couple of seconds before Louis mutters, "Well, this is fucking insane. Like, Lottie-level insane. How did you even find all this stuff?"

Harry gulps, not sure what to make of Louis' cutting reaction. "Remember when I uploaded the pictures of our tattoos at the festival?"

Louis thinks for a second. "Honestly? I don't remember much from the festival."

Well that raises a whole other problem. "Oh. Does that mean..." Probably not the time to bring it up. "Anyway, I uploaded the picture and I think it made a bit of a fuss. Like, I followed back the Spanish girls on Twitter, and I don't think they were expecting me to because there was some stuff? About us?"

"Yeah, I see the stuff. It's a bit shitty, innit? I don't want that out there."

Harry… doesn't know what to say to that. He feels deflated, in a way he hasn't in a while, since they got together for real. And he remembers how reserved Louis is, and knows why he's like that, but still he – he thinks about "out there" a lot. He thought, since Louis' been particularly shameless in interviews and affectionate in public… He thought.

"I thought it was funny," he mutters, hating how dejected he sounds. It's his own fault for getting ahead of himself, really. "They're just playing, they don't know it's real. Thought you'd get a kick out of it, actually. I know how much you like to play."

"If you mean fucking with people – " Louis pauses. "You're absolutely right. Get my phone."

And there go the most ridiculous string of tweets Louis' ever tweeted, ranging from comments on Harry's smell to Harry's favourite breakfast. It's funny now, too, when they get some distressed, overjoyed replies, but Harry still has a weird feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Twenty minutes later Louis gets bored and decides to go back to sleep. Harry turns off the light and lies down, but doesn't hug Louis immediately. "Wouldn't it be nice?" he whispers after a long while, once he's half-sure Louis' asleep.

"What?" Louis asks, sharp and wide awake.

"To make it real."

"Harry, what are you talking about?"

Harry squeezes his eyes shut, tries not to dwell on Louis' crisp tone. It's hard to say, all of a sudden. "Coming out."

Louis doesn't answer. He's perfectly still, when Harry dares to look at him. He does hear him breathe in deep a couple of times, about to say something, but he gets nothing.

Eventually. Finally. "I don't wanna talk about it right now. Go to sleep."

It takes him hours. Louis' stiff as a board next to him, probably awake as well. It's pretty awful.

After finally managing to fall asleep, he wakes up after Louis, who's apparently ordered in some breakfast for him. "So I'm sorry about last night," is the first thing he says.

Harry's still disoriented, doesn't actually remember what Louis' talking about for a blissful moment. "D'ya knock me up or summat?"

Louis frowns and pats Harry's tummy. "I don't think so. That would be hilarious, though."

"Arsebabies are – " And it's all coming back to him. He bunches the duvet up in his arms and wraps it around himself, to feel slightly less vulnerable. Exposed. Obvious. Not that that's even possible when Louis' concerned, but it makes him feel a bit better. "Right, yeah."

Louis wrings his hands, then grabs a cuppa, probably just to have something to do with them. "So. I'm sorry I was a twat. I don't wanna fight."

Harry decides lying would probably be best. Even if Louis could tell right away, it's for his benefit. He won't say anything. "It's okay, I get it."

Louis nods. "Good. How about some pancakes?"

It's an awkward make-up, but he feels better when he finally relents and lets Louis into his blanket pile. Everything is better with Louis around. Even if he is a bit hurt. Maybe that's the pretty awful part.

Because it's been two days but Harry's still obsessed with getting to touch Louis in public, like Zayn and Perrie can. He's bagged Louis Tomlinson, he wants to shout it from the rooftops. The very thought that, on some level, Louis compares him to the guy who threatened to out him is painful. Harry aches all over, missed opportunities, but the one causing the problem is the only one who can fix it. And Harry knows too much to ask him to.

So he doesn't bring it up again.



(x)

*

So the spanking thing happens, eventually. They haven't had sex for a few days, since their mini-fight. Not even because of that, really. They got over it after a game of FIFA and a nice dinner in the city centre. Louis didn't apologise again, and Harry didn't bring it up again, so the subject was comfortably buried on Louis' part.

He doesn't have much to say, really. He's having an extraordinarily good season after an extraordinarily bad season, and doesn't want anything to risk his standing with the team.

(Okay, there's a lot more to say, like how much time Louis' spent crawling inside of a closet after the mess last year for what he thought was good reason, and what if he comes out for Harry and gets sacked and no one wants to hire him, what if Harry, who still isn't even in his prime, suffers for it and dumps him, what if a million other things. Louis' already lived out one nightmare, he has no intention of living out another.)

Anyway, they haven't had sex mostly because of Liam. He's been making a valiant effort to hang out with Zayn and Perrie, and Louis really thinks Perrie likes him well enough, but there's only so much he can take. So Louis made sure to drag him along for shopping and drinking and anything to distract him.

(Louis only knows Zayn's side. A few weeks after the engagement, at the height of drama, Zayn broke down and cried on Louis' shoulder. It was absolutely awful, really, and he kept saying things like, "I fucking love Perrie, you know I'd go on nine flights to see her, but it's very easy to love someone for twice a month. Liam, I. We've been through so much, I know I'll love him forever."

Louis didn't know what to say and didn't know the full extent of their relationship thing, but he did know Zayn. "Mate, you can get so caught up in your head and your words and I think you miss out on how you actually feel. And you're fucking engaged to be married, like. You can obviously see forever with Pezza too. I'm not saying you have to choose, since I don't really know what's going on, but you should at least talk it out."

And he thinks they did, and came up with the current arrangement. It's working out so far, except for when Zayn is being too obviously in love. Louis thinks Liam's getting tetchier as the wedding approaches. It's fucked up, maybe. What would Louis know, he's just the closeted motorsports star with the disapproving family and mishandled management.)

Anyway. He and Harry are back to normal, except for the sexual frustration, and the spanking thing finally resurfaces.

Louis' been avoiding it so far because it makes him kind of nervous, to be honest. Not because he doesn't know how it's done (he's spent a lot of time on Wikipedia kink articles recently), but because he keeps wondering how Harry even figured this stuff out about himself. If he'd been with someone who wanted to really hurt him and fuck him up. It makes his skin crawl, makes him overprotective. It also makes him obsessed with how he wants to do it.

Finally they're at the right place. A week after a race and a week before one, on the night before they leave for Italy. It's the sofa in their room that convinces him, plush and big enough. Plus Harry's between his legs and sucking him off. Every time his hips nudge up on their own Harry moans and sucks harder, until Louis gives up on any pretence and fucks his mouth. (So maybe they've been having a little sex.)

He comes down his throat and Harry stays on his knees, looks up at him with red lips and glassy eyes. He's got this dazed look about him, the one he gets sometimes when he's overwhelmed, has completely let go. Louis knows he wants to get off but he won't ask before Louis lets him. He's a very good boy.

That's how he knows it's time. It's quite odd to reach a point in his life where he'd spank someone to reward them, but he'd do anything for Harry. Still and probably always.

"Love, ready for a spanking?"

He asks to give Harry an out, to see if he even remembers what they'd talked about at the festival. Harry's obscene lips stretch in a wide smile, and he perks up in excitement. So he remembers. "Yes, yeah, ready, fuck. How do you want me? Bent over? On all fours?"

Louis' fingers grip the sofa's armrest. Thank god he's just come. He's already twitching, not even at the images Harry provides him with, but at Harry's willingness. He's a fucking menace.

Harry must notice Louis' reaction, as he smirks down at his cock and has the nerve to lick his lips. Louis needs to regain some control over the situation. He tries to remember his plan, even when it's hard to remember his own name, or anything other than fucking Harry's face again. "No, you're not a naughty schoolboy, I'm not punishing you. I want you over my knee."

Harry stands up so fast he must get a head rush, his hand pressing against his crotch automatically. He looks from Louis' face to his lap and back again, chewing on his lip. Harry Styles snores, tells bad jokes and always forgets to close the door when he pisses, but his very worst habit must be his obsession with his own lips.

He keeps adjusting his pants, and Louis suddenly realises he's waiting for permission to take off his clothes. He didn't have much time to do it earlier, between Louis calling out "babe, come here and suck me off" and Harry dropping his laptop and running into the living area to comply, like he'd been waiting for it. He probably had, since the last time. Louis was already half-naked, and couldn't undress Harry before his dick was being enthusiastically sucked. If it hadn't been, he probably would've just told Harry to do it himself anyway; he's good at taking requests and likes showing off.

As it is, Louis' sat here with his legs spread and cock out, and Harry's just hovering fully dressed. Actually, he's wearing a T-shirt of Louis' that stretches on his wide shoulders and does nothing to conceal his hard nipples. Louis has to palm himself to refocus. "You can undress, there's a good boy."

It does something to Harry, that. The first time Louis' said it, it was a joke; he was trying to rib Harry about his ridiculous need to please people. He'd expected Harry to frown and tell him not to patronise him. That was not what happened. Now, Harry makes a small noise and bites his lip as he takes off his shirt and slides the boxers over his hips slowly, teasing but acting like he's the one being teased.

Louis can only stare at his hard cock, already flushed and wet just from giving Louis head. The sofa is low enough that when he beckons Harry closer it's directly in front of his face. He grabs Harry's soft hips and pulls him between his legs so he can mouth at the tip, getting Harry to sputter and curse.

He leaves off that when Harry starts rocking forward. Louis stands up and buries both of his hands in Harry's hair, giving him a solid, sticky kiss. "Are you sure?" he asks into his mouth, just in case.

"Yeah," Harry says, breathless but confident. His nails are digging into Louis' hipbones. "I'll tell you if I don't like it, I promise. But I will."

"Good. I want you to spread the blanket over the sofa and lie down on your stomach."

Harry looks hotly from the blanket and back to Louis, like he's just now realising Louis' planned this. Planned getting a washable blanket dirty, instead of the sofa itself. Louis is rather clever. He should get more credit for things like this.

Harry spreads it carefully from armrest to armrest and then settles down on the sofa, his elbows digging into the fabric and his bum in the air. Louis isn't sure if it's for him to look at, or just so Harry doesn't rub one off on the blanket. Either way he's not bothered.

Spanking isn't really his thing, but maybe Harry's so eager for it that it transferred to Louis somehow. He doesn't want to pet him anymore. He wants to bring his hand down hard. He wants to make it red. To leave prints. Jesus.

He sits down next to Harry's legs and snaps his fingers until Harry scrambles back and over his legs.

Once he's got his lapful, he knows he's going to start out slow. He rakes his nails down Harry's back, making him arch and raise his arse higher, until his hand settles on a cheek. Harry's breath shorts out in anticipation as Louis psyches himself up. Finally, he raises it and brings it down.

It's nothing more than a tap, really. Louis' given it to him much harder when they were just play fighting. But it's good, he wants to get Harry's blood flowing so he'll feel it for longer, wants to wind Harry up. He doesn't give him a moment to complain, either, before he gives him two light slaps on each pale cheek. Harry whines deep in his throat, shoves his arse higher, so Louis gives him two more, slightly harder. "Fuck," Harry mutters into his forearm, his voice sounding wrecked from sucking cock earlier or maybe just this.

Louis cannot get over how much he's affecting Harry right now. He's never – done that before, had that before. Harry's just so eager, doesn't stop liking it. He's pushing into Louis' hand, wordlessly asking for more. The next slap is hard enough to knock him off his knees so he's flat and pliant over Louis' lap. He likes that more, knows he's getting better at denying Harry what he wants. It's for his own good, anyway. One night Louis made it last for so long Harry was a shivery, sobbing mess, but afterwards he was even more chipper and affectionate than usual. Plus, he gets to feel how Harry's rock-hard, impossibly hot against his thigh, trying not to wriggle.

He's done playing. The next one is a proper smack, the sharp sound of it the only thing that rivals Harry's moan. He can feel the soft skin heat under his burning palm, shake at the force of it. He finds it addictive, spreads his fingers when he smacks the other cheek and back again.

He's going so fast he doesn't even notice the glaring red tracks he's leaving behind, so when he does he's so overwhelmed he has to take a break. If Harry could feel anything other than the bright hurt, he'd definitely feel Louis' cock twitching at the sight of two perfectly aligned handprints on him. Let no one say he hasn't got an athlete's precision.

Harry's completely lost to it, gasping open-mouthed and excited and rocking up to get more touch. Louis isn't ready to smack him again, his hand hurts too much, so he presses his fingers hard against Harry's sensitive flesh, kneading at the pain and getting him even hotter. If he could hear only one sound for the rest of his life, it would be the destroyed moan Harry buries in the cushion.

He absolutely can't help it and spanks him again with the flat of his hand, as hard as he's willing to go. Harry shudders all over, his legs spreading wider and hands braced against the sofa. He's so hard Louis can feel Harry's pre-come gathering at his thigh, and he's helpless not to smack him faster, all over, until his whole bum is marked. "I'm gonna get you red like Jeanne, till you're sensitive and hurting," he says, voice too loud and steely to his own ears.

Harry loves that, writhes as Louis slaps a chanting of "fuck, fuck, fuck" out of him, impossibly hot and bright under his palm. So Louis keeps talking through his pleading, high-pitched whines. "I'll fuck you after, and every time I slam into you you'll feel my hips against your arse, imagine how good that'll hurt."

Harry's imagination must be very powerful, as he cries out and comes all over his lap unexpectedly, his cock untouched. Louis' shell-shocked but doesn't stop, spanks him through his orgasm until Harry collapses face first on the sofa and just shakes wildly for a while, clawing at the blanket. Louis moves to stroke his heaving back then, incongruously tender. He wants to say something sweet, tell Harry what an amazingly good boy he's been, but doesn't let himself, not before he can see Harry's face and figure out his mood.

It's a good job he didn't. When Harry finally gets on his elbows again and looks over his shoulder at Louis, his eyes are darker than he's ever seen them, still hungry. Harry Styles is sinful.

"I need to get you off, please, I. Fuck me like you said, fuck me." He's rambling, voice beyond shot, and yeah, Louis' definitely glad he didn't break character.

It's the only thing that keeps him from crumbling when he says, "Don't you think I've done enough work?"

Harry nods frantically, biting his lips. "I'll ride you, I'll be good, please, I need it."

Louis has no room or intention to argue when Harry crawls over to his lap and makes to sink down on his cock. Miraculously, despite actually facing the sight of the come streaked all the way to Harry's neck and the wild look in his eyes, he's got enough presence of mind to clutch Harry's hips and stop him. "Did I say I'll fuck you dry?"

Harry's eyes shutter at the word fuck, and it's unbelievable how he can be so soft and spent and yet needy at the same time. To his amazement, Harry coats two of his fingers with his own come and reaches back to fit them in. Louis can't see what he's doing, but judging by his expression and the strong tensing of his shoulder, he can tell he's going as fast as he can.

Louis is clever, though, and he'd stashed their lube and a condom between the cushion and the armrest before he'd even asked Harry to come over. However, he'll be the last person alive to ask Harry to stop riding his own hand. He struggles to roll the condom on and get himself slick, wrist already stiff, and as soon as he touches himself it's like his body realises he's actually more turned on than he's ever been in his entire life. He just knows he won't make it two minutes. It's got to be enough.

He puts his hands on Harry's thighs, making him open his eyes, hazy and drunk-slow. "Love, you've been so good for me, I'm so proud of you," he starts. Harry preens, breathless and stunning. "You can have it."

It takes barely a second for Harry to replace his fingers with Louis' cock, and he takes him all the way far too fast. Neither of them care, Jesus Christ, Louis might actually be in heaven and Harry must like the way his no-doubt burning arsecheeks settle on Louis' lap.

It takes him a lot less than two minutes. He thrusts up maybe two-three-four times before he's coming inside him, palms fit tight on Harry's arse.

Harry stays in his lap for a while after Louis pulls out, hugging him tight and panting in his ear. Louis holds him back just as fiercely, muttering nonsensically about how good Harry is, just perfect for him. They're both exhausted, so Louis gets up just enough to yank the filthy blanket off of the couch. He then lies down on his back, careful to keep Harry (who's 100 percent useless) snug in his arms.

Harry's heavy on top of him, crushingly so, but Louis doesn't even think about letting him go. He feels the best he's ever felt. They nap contentedly for about an hour, before Louis washes them in the shower, gets some nice-smelling hand lotion over Harry's pink bum, and buries them in duvets so Harry doesn't get cold.

It takes Harry some time to recover. Louis finds that that's just as intense as the experience itself, having Harry completely reliant on him for a day. He keeps apologising, even as he crawls into Louis' lap and virtually asks to be played with, but Louis just shushes him and kisses his hair. The truth is that he likes taking care of him, doesn't mind making Niall pack their stuff so they can cuddle up until their cab ride to the airport.

He does more than Harry asks, actually. Tells him what to wear and where to sit, gets him snacks for the flight and lets him nap on his shoulder. Zayn keeps arching an eyebrow at him, like they're being weirder than usual. Niall is a lot less subtle when he asks, "D'you break him or summat?"

But whatever, they don't get it. They didn't see him come apart last night, and they don't hear the filth he whispers when Louis pets his thighs or arse.

To be honest, Louis doesn't really get it himself. He thought Harry would just go back to himself, but it's only in the evening while they're settling in their hotel room that something snaps. He answers Louis' questions concisely, putters to the kitchenette to brew two cuppas. "I can do it," Louis says quickly, placing a sure hand on Harry's back and glancing up at his face.

"It's alright, I got it," Harry answers with an easy smile, voice as deep as ever.

"Does that mean you're, like. Okay?"

Harry nods. "Better than."

Louis tugs on his lip, nervous. He kind of spent the day thinking he had broken Harry. "Cuddle?"

"Aw." Harry swoops down and tucks Louis into his arms, letting him have a good sniff. "I'm brilliant."

He isn't convinced until they're cuddling properly in bed, Louis sprawled on Harry's chest and touching his tattoo gently. "Are you still sore?" he asks carefully.

"Yup," Harry answers, but like he's giving Louis a compliment, smiling bright and happy.

Louis buries his head in Harry's neck. He might be blushing. "You've never... got like that, I've never seen you come like that. Why'd you like it so much?"

Harry shrugs under him. "I like that it lasts. I like how it sounds. I like that you did it."

"No, I mean. The whole. Submissive thing." Jesus, it's a lot harder to discuss than to read up on Wikipedia.

"It's like…" Harry trails off. "I dunno, I love… pleasing you, it makes me feel special and weightless and safe. Is it – too much for you? Taking over when you already, y'know, take over everything else?"

"No, I. I liked it too." Why did he even start this conversation. He's not as candid or confident about these things as Harry. "It's not like having to do what I do every day. When you're my – baby, when I take over for you it's like all I need to do, to control. So I guess it's sort of a release for me, too. As long as I know I'm doing it right. Did I do it right?"

"Oh, you were fantastic." He says it matter-of-factly, like he's not just pandering to Louis, which he likes. "Better than I thought?"

"How's that?"

"Like. I thought… after we talked about it at the festival, I thought you'd just, like, rough me up while fucking me, but then. You just. Went all the way with it and it was amazing."

Oh. "Today was kinda scary though. Not because of you – I just didn't know if I was doing it right and you couldn't tell me."

Harry wraps his arms around him and kisses the top of his head. "You were perfect. You took very good care of me. Made me happy."

"Still happy?"

"Yup." He's very tender with him, like Louis' been with him all day. He doesn't let himself get like this very often. He isn't sure if he likes it.

"Maybe we could do it again?"

Harry gasps, relieved. "Yes please, I was thinking maybe I could get on my knees next time and like, count you off? For each, um. Whatever you think I deserve."

"Jesus." He has to close his eyes at the thought, and kisses Harry's collarbone. "I love you."

Chapter Text

 
 
 

"This is bonkers, I don't wanna leave," Niall says, jumping in the middle of Harry's and Louis' bed first thing in the morning. The mattress is actually rippling under him, it's that posh.

Harry groans and wiggles away, sweaty from cuddling with Louis all night under a heavy blanket in this ridiculously humid city. It's one of those things he appreciates during, but regrets after. Kind of like begging to be spanked the night before a flight. "Please leave."

"No," Niall says simply, and throws himself at Harry's torso like a deranged monkey person, giving him both a cuddle and a nipple-twist.

Harry doesn't have any fight in him, and just ruffles Niall's sunshine hair. "Please?"

Niall shakes his head easily and crawls up so he's lying properly between Harry and Louis. He's still in his boxers, how did he even get as far as their room? "Tommo's the one who spent 2,500 Euros on the best hotel in Bologna. I'm just enjoying it."

"2,800 Euros," Louis pipes up, still half-asleep and curled in on himself.

Niall snorts loudly. "I don't think you realised yet that we don't make a tenth of what you guys make."

"It's only for three nights, and Haz was – sensitive," Louis justifies, making Harry smile.

"Plus, excuse me Niall, when was the last time you paid for something?" Harry asks.

Niall gives it a moment's thought, and then taps Harry's arm pointedly. "My Segway. Ha."

"Ridiculous," Louis mutters, kicking at Niall. They all know he's just jealous. Niall's been making a complete mockery of their fitness regimen by gliding along Liam on his Segway and talking shit. Louis has been very bitter. "Why are you really here?"

"Liam and Zayn fought. They made up, but, like, I didn't wanna be there for that shit. So I came to mam and da."

Louis slaps the grin right off his face, and Harry laughs while hugging Niall comfortingly. "What's the plan today? After Niall gets us breakfast."

Niall scoffs. Louis smacks him again. (Niall ignores it when Harry grabs Louis' hand and mutters, "Stop it babe, you'll cramp up your wrist again". He's a good mate.) "There's Neptune's Piazza, where apparently there's a statue of Neptune's boner. There's the two towers, which I figure is some sort of Lord of The Rings reference? The usual cathedral run, San Luca, there's supposed to be all these hidden libraries and nice – "

"All that in three days?" Harry interrupts curiously.

"Yeah, we can do it."

"But why?" Niall pipes up. "We have time after the GP. Or are we flying out to Rome or Venice or summat?"

Harry clears his throat. Louis beats him to it. "H's flying out to Cheshire, you twat."

"Right! Your mam's wedding! Mate, I always thought me and Anne'd have one of those illicit affairs, y'know?"

"Oh my god." Harry digs the heels of his hands into his eyes. "You met her once."

"And it was glorious. D'you know I shagged his sister?" Niall asks, twisting around to look at Louis. It's Harry who slaps him this time, then kicks him out of bed to get them all breakfast.

So far he's gathered that Niall is a twat, this hotel is ridiculously luxurious, and that Louis remembers that the wedding is in two weeks. It's… something to file away. (Because his tactic of asking Louis to be his date for his mum's wedding has been to never bring it up unless he's having an unnecessarily loud Skype chat with his mum, Robin or Gemma. He doesn't want to bully Louis into it. But he doesn't want to borrow Lux again, either. He's got a boyfriend now, he might as well use him.)

They go through Louis' planned schedule, but his heart's not really into it. Like, of course it is when Louis takes him to a romantic dinner at La Taverna del Postiglione (far too posh for the other boys, who opt for the pizza place around the corner). It's nice and Louis dressed up and obviously made an effort, but Harry's rather anxious and keeps thinking about the flight arrangements he's yet to make because he didn't know how many tickets to get. He's the definition of pathetic, really.

He doesn't ask because he has no idea what Louis will say. He was so sure of everything up until last week, when they not-discussed coming out of the closet. He even made Gemma make Louis a fancy +1 invitation and everything. He was going to open it on his iPad and leave it under Louis' pillow and wait. He's an idiot.

What he really isn't willing to do is let it kill his buzz, though. His mum's getting married for the first time since he was born. Exciting stuff. Harry spent his time in England getting fitted for a dinner suit and checking out the venue (and having the sleepover of his life at Louis' flat), so really the only things left on his check-list are show up and wash hair and give mum away. His mum made sure to involve him through the process, though, via email and Skype. Maybe because Harry was excited. Maybe because Harry insisted on paying for the whole thing. (Harry adores his mum.)

Anyway, he refuses to make Louis a source of anxiety. He can totally juggle. Compartmentalise. He spends Tuesday through Thursday with the guys and focuses on how happy Louis makes him, absolutely not thinking about the wedding and the invite burning a hole in his iPad. Then Friday through Sunday is 100 percent about the race. He must be aces at juggling since he ends up winning Monza despite everyone betting on Louis to continue his streak.

Harry's overjoyed and proud and horny, and this barrage of emotions collapses. As soon as he gets the mic at the podium he blurts, "This one's for Mama Twist."

And then he keeps talking about it during his post-race interviews. Like, everyone is genuinely interested in how he fended everyone off despite trouble with the gearbox in the last fifteen laps, how it feels to win Monza, one of the most famous circuits on the calendar, and he can't bring himself to shut up about his mum's wedding.

"Please, someone ask him what he's gonna do while his mechanics strip the cars to find out what happened with the fucking gearbox," Louis snaps.

Harry pouts at him.

Louis doesn't let up. "No, really, who's getting married?"

Harry buries his head in his hands and lets Fernando take the lead with some questions. He's the one in the red, he should be answering all the questions. Harry shouldn't be humiliated. (Maybe it gets him a bit hot. So what.)

They sneak off to the bathroom again, this time Louis dropping to his knees as soon as they lock the stall door. Harry knocks Louis' cap off to the floor and buries his fingers in Louis' silky hair, moaning outright when he feels his tongue.

Naturally he just blurts the question. It's after he's come from Louis' hand (Louis' very particular about when he wants to swallow), and he's lust-drunk and overwhelmed and giddy. "Come with me."

"Bit late for that," Louis snorts, standing up to wipe his hand clean.

"Home. Come home with me. Come – wedding with me."

Louis pauses, hand still flushing the toilet. He doesn't even mock Harry. His heart's caught in his throat. Surely it's not that much of a shock. Dumb dumb dumb. "Um," Harry adds, when Louis doesn't seem keen on saying anything.

"I mean," Louis finally says, which isn't yes of course I'll come wedding with you. "You just said there was a wedding twenty thousand times, what if there'll be paps there?"

Harry frowns. He's starting to sense a pattern of dangerous blowjobs preluding a fight.

So it only happened once before, but. Still a pattern.

"They'll see my best mate coming to my mum's wedding, what's wrong with that?" Harry deadpans.

Louis rolls his eyes. "You know that's the last thing they'll see."

"So they'll see my boyfriend being my date for my mum's wedding, what the fuck's wrong with that?"

Louis gapes at him. "Are we seriously gonna do this right now?"

Harry crosses his arms. Maybe he could've chosen a better location for this particular discussion than a toilet they just had sex in. But he doesn't let his doubt show. He's leaving tomorrow for two weeks and he is not doing it without Louis. "Guess we are."

Six different expressions pass Louis' face, resignation being the most painful one, pissy the one he settles on. Naturally. "I told you what happened."

For once, Harry doesn't let that soften him. "Yeah, and I told you I get it."

"But you don't really, do you?" Louis says. For a moment Harry breaks, both because he's stunned (is he not standing in a toilet because he can't kiss Louis in public?) and because it occurs to him Louis' trying to sound angrier than he feels. He's not even doing a very good job of it, comes off flustered.

It's very hard to stay annoyed when all he wants to do is to comfort Louis. He just wants to understand. "What does that mean?"

Louis ducks his head. "It means of course you're not afraid, in two years you might have a girl on your arm and everyone will forget."

Harry could punch him. "Right, 'cause it's so easy to come out as bi? 'Cause people won't call me an attention whore, think I'm bluffing?"

"That's not what I meant," Louis says immediately, obviously frustrated.

"No, what you meant is that being with a guy isn't permanent for me."

He waits until Louis mutters, "I would've said death sentence, but yeah."

Harry deflates so abruptly he feels like collapsing. He advances on Louis and takes his hands. "It is, Lou. It's pretty permanent. I intend to have you on my arm in two years."

Louis finally looks up, breathless and wide-eyed. "Oh."

"Yeah." Maybe Harry is holding his breath too. He didn't really intend to drop that bomb yet. Well, he didn't intend any of this. He didn't intend to feel so gooey after feeling so upset.

"I don't know what to say," Louis mumbles.

Harry has a fucking suggestion. "Say you feel the same way, for fuck's sake."

Louis actually stands on his tiptoes to give him a hug. "Oh my god, yeah, I do, of course I do, I wanna keep you for as long as I can. I just thought this was heading for a fight but then it was cute so I'm confused."

Harry shakes his head and kisses Louis' shoulder sweetly. "I can't decide for you. I don't wanna decide for you. But we are in this together, and it is a very big deal for me. There's only seven races left. My mum's getting married. I wanna come out."

"I know."

It's not what Harry wanted to hear, but maybe it's all Louis can offer.

Maybe Harry's making too much of a fuss. Coming out doesn't mean to him what it means to Louis, not because of the Kinsey thing but because they're very different people. Harry's always been honest with himself. Harry's always strived to be truthful and kind.

Looking back, he doesn't think he ever put any effort into creating a front. Whenever someone interviewed him about his personal life he either used gender-neutral pronouns or led the conversation back to racing. He wore his pro-gay T-shirts and went to gay pubs. Jesus, his whole reason for being on the track is to be some sort of role model, why not for queer teens who like racing but hate the racing community? Why not educate their fans?

Harry's been shouldering so much responsibility since he was sixteen. It has to mean something. If he can't make a difference they should just sack him right now and he'll become a very rich potato farmer.

(But they won't, as he's secure in his contract with Cowell until the end of the season. He was very careful not to sign an appearance clause. The honest-to-god truth? He would've come out by 2014 with or without Louis.)

"I'm serious about the wedding, though. I want you there. My mum wants to meet you after she missed us at Silverstone. She's getting married, y'know?"

"Yeah, think you mentioned that once or twice," Louis mutters. "I'll think about it, yeah?"

Well, that's rather annoying. Harry lets go of him and steps back without saying a word. He leaves the stall and goes to track Paul down and ask about the gearbox, obviously getting sidetracked for almost an hour by fans wanting to get a picture of him. When he finally makes it inside the party, he has no idea where Louis is. So that's that.

He fishes his phone out of his pocket and books his flight.

*

"I don't… don't know what it is, but I need that – that one thing," Liam whines, rooting around his toolbox.

"The breaker bar?" Zayn suggests.

Louis pops his head out of the car. "There's nothing wrong with Jeanne's – it's for the robot, innit?"

Zayn scoffs. "It's gonna take, what, ten years before we'll replace cars with robots? I'm just planning ahead. You'll thank me when you'll be the first to race a robot."

"So it is for the robot."

"Maybe," Liam says with a grin, and wanders off to find a spare bar.

That isn't so great for Louis. Zayn zeroes in on him within a minute. "So mate."

Louis glares. "If your dirty hands come near my hair I'll fire you immediately."

"You won't survive a lap without me," Zayn says, but he clasps his hands behind his back like a good boy. He's still not to be trusted. Though, it's Louis' fault for hanging around the garage while there's a party raging in his and Harry's honour. He likes being with Jeanne, even when he's not driving her. She's never asked him for anything.

"Maybe. But I made you, and I can break you just as easily. Who pays – "

"Listen, you cock," Zayn cuts him off. "What's going on with Harry?"

Louis has to resist the urge to crawl back in the car and listen to some music while Zayn and Liam help take Marcel apart. "What d'you mean?"

"I mean you're following me and Liam like a lost puppy. I love you bro, but we've got used to you clinging to Harry. It's a lot quieter."

Louis glares at him. "Not a lost puppy." Zayn doesn't bite the bullet. Louis sighs. "He's cross with me."

"Because of the wedding?"

"He told you?"

"Nah, just figured you'd be dumb about it."

This is why Louis would've been better off with Liam here. Liam is nicer. Sometimes. "What's so dumb about – "

"Dumb, dumb, stop talking. Fucking go with him."

Louis shrinks back into Jeanne. "I dunno, it seems like such a big deal?"

Zayn stares at him. He's doing the whole My Beard And Princely Eyes Make Me Authoritative. It's sort of working. "You're touching your stupid matching tattoo right now."

He is. He hadn't noticed that. It's just something he does, it – great, Liam's back. "You watched Titanic the other day and bawled all over each other. You never have with me." Liam is useless, he can fuck off. "And don't even pretend you don't want to meet his mum and find out what Harry's been telling her."

Louis swallows. "Are we – ready for that?"

Liam goes to answer, probably violently, but Zayn puts a gentle hand on his arm. "You're not talking about the family stuff, are you?"

Louis ducks his head. Heavy footsteps are his only warning before Liam and Zayn wrap their arms around him. "Babes, it's alright if you're scared."

"I'm not," Louis confesses quietly. "I don't care, I'm not scared of – love. Fear has nothing to do with reality." He thinks.

"Well, the reality is that if you let him go tomorrow you're gonna be stuck for two weeks without him," Zayn reasons.

When he puts it like that, it does sound unbearable. "No."

"Yeah. You'll be so pathetic you'll just come out for his attention."

Louis snorts into his sleeve. A lot has changed since he found himself in a real relationship with Harry. He's changed, so much, he and the way he felt about certain things, but even if The Disaster of 2012 isn't some dark cloud looming over him all the time, it has made him irreparably hesitant about coming out of the closet. It's just a fact. He's cynical about it. "Can you imagine? Just saying it in an interview. Or a tweet."

Liam shrugs. "I think it'll be awesome. You're so much stronger than you give yourself credit for, Lou. What could happen if you came out?"

Louis gives him a look. Liam shrugs again. "So some people will like you less, whatever. You're not racing for fans. You're racing 'cause you're the best. Who will fire the best?"

"Yeah, plus the dude from Prison Break did it, and no one even cares," Zayn puts in before Louis can argue.

Louis highly doubts it. There must be a reason no one's done it before. Just thinking about it makes him dizzy. There's just no way. It's more than the threat of being fired, it's more than his relationship with Harry or his family. Liam and Zayn couldn't understand – he's not even sure Harry sees it his way. He's not even sure he understands himself.

Sometimes, when he has a (now rare) relationship freak-out, he thinks the hardest part about trying to be honest with Harry is that it forces him to be honest with himself. And honestly? When Harry said that there are only seven races left and he wanted to come out, Louis couldn't relate.

But. Things have changed. Louis can't just keep doing what he did. He can't give up on the closet, but he definitely can't give up on Harry. Or rather, make it any easier for Harry to give up on him. So he makes a choice.

"Let's start slow, yeah?"

"Like the wedding?" Zayn asks hopefully.

"Yeah, like the wedding. It doesn't have to mean anything."

Zayn and Liam high-five each other. They are the worst of dorks. "Don't you think you should tell Hazza, though?"

He leaps out of the car and starts to run out of the garage. Then he backtracks and gives Zayn the hug of his life, and Liam their secret handshake. "I love you the most," he whispers, and skips away.

It's a good half hour before he actually locates Harry. He's kind of breathless from nerves and running around, ducking everyone who might approach him. Tommo is Very Important, especially at sponsor functions after winning second place. At least Harry's hard to miss, between his broad shoulders and tall hair. Then he faces another problem – shoving off the throng of people buzzing around Harry. Why did he have to win, Jesus.

When Harry spots him his face flashes from delighted to annoyed, but he's 85 percent faking that pout. Louis' sure of it.

Finally, he squeezes in next to Harry and nods towards the corner of the room. Harry looks rather confused, so Louis has to lead him away. Honestly, he needs a compass.

"If you came back to be a twat – "

Louis puts a finger on his mouth to shut him up. "I wanna come wedding with you."

Harry's huge smile dwarfs Louis' finger. "Yeah?"

"Yes. You'll need a hot date to distract people from your unwashed hair."

"Actually, I'll definitely wash my hair, I put this reminder – "

"Shut up," Louis cuts him off again. He's excited all of a sudden, butterflies fluttering in his stomach. It feels like he's just asked Harry to formal. Two weeks just with Harry. It doesn't have to mean anything.

Harry chews on his bottom lip, probably in thought, possibly to wind Louis up. "Thanks," he says finally.

Louis rolls his eyes. "Don't thank me, you idiot. I wanna do it. I'm sorry about before." He looks around, and then stands on his tiptoes to add, "I love you quite a bit."

Harry actually blushes. That still amazes Louis, really, that he can take this man, this influential man who has just won a major Grand Prix, and turn him into an overgrown child. He loves him quite a lot, if he's honest.

"Well, this is very exciting," Harry says. He looks seconds away from kissing Louis, but when he ducks down it's just to whisper, "since I already got you a plane ticket."

Walking cheeseball, Harry is.

They spend the flight with Harry babbling about the wedding and Louis listening intently, trying to keep track of all the names. He already met Gemma in Silverstone, and she was a right laugh. Then there's Anne and Robin, and aunts and uncles, and family friends, and Louis gives up and just nods along. They grab a cab to Louis' London flat, so he can dig out the nice suit from his championship party two years ago, and Harry can pick up his precious car. Which he intends to drive them in. All the way up to Cheshire.

"Wouldn't it be easier to take the Range Rover?" Louis asks, stood in his garage with his arms crossed.

Harry pouts at him from the T-Bird. "What's wrong with Toto?"

He considers telling Harry that the three-hour drive will take five hours with Mr. Safety First behind the wheel, but that might be too insulting. "I have this irrepressible urge to have sex in it. So it might be counterproductive."

"Oh." Harry flushes. He shifts from foot to foot, and then lights up when he thinks of a solution. "What if we have sex in it now? Then you'll get it out of your system."

Louis should try not to be too insulting more often. It gets him in the backseat of a T-Bird with Harry's fingers fucking him relentlessly. The setting seems a bit juvenile, but Harry knows what the fuck he's doing. He's got Louis in a state where he doesn't even feel his head banging against the door, his back arching high even with his legs thrown over Harry's shoulders. He bites down hard on Harry's ring, still in his mouth since he'd slipped it off with his teeth while getting Harry's fingers nice and wet.

He's too close just from Harry's fingers stretching him. "Gonna come, want your mouth." Harry's quick to obey, squeezes himself on the floor of the car so he can suck Louis off without taking his fingers out, all just so he wouldn't have to shove Louis up against the door to make room.

"Perfect, perfect boy," Louis murmurs, threading his fingers through Harry's hair. Harry hums around him happily, and Louis bucks down on his fingers, cursing loudly. "Harder – oh – so fucking good," he breathes. "Gonna come down your throat."

Harry moans and crooks his fingers and that's all it takes, really. At least Louis is a man of his word. Harry works him through it, twisting his fingers until Louis' gasping and tugging on his arm weakly. He climbs on top of Louis, waits patiently while Louis unbuttons his jeans. Harry Styles is the only person in the world who wears skinnies on a plane ride.

Finally, he gets his jeans and briefs past his hips and wraps a hand around his cock. It's a tight fit in the backseat, Harry's head almost connecting painfully with the roof, so Louis works fast. He winds him up with sure pulls, lets him thrust into it. He considers blowing him, then remembers the metal band still caught under his tongue. He lifts his free hand distractedly to slide the ring down his middle finger. It fits snugly.

Harry looks up through his lashes, probably because of Louis slowing down, and actually gulps when he catches the silver round Louis' finger. His hips stutter, and he drops his head to Louis' shoulder and says, "Switch."

"What?" Louis asks, picking up the pace.

"Switch hands, I wanna feel it." Louis arches an eyebrow but does as Harry said. He hasn't got time to worry about hurting him, since two seconds after the cool metal touches the head of his cock Harry whispers fuck and comes all over Louis' belly. Which is. Rather hot.

Louis doesn't even give Harry time to catch his breath. "When's the wedding again?"

"Uh, Saturday," Harry mutters, and it's a testament to how out of it he is that he hesitated. "On Yom Kippur."

"What's that? A holiday?"

"No, it's a sad day," Harry explains. "You're supposed to fast."

"So why is the wedding day on it?"

"Oh, we're not Jewish."

Louis rolls his eyes so hard he's surprised he hasn't rolled out of the car. "I've had your dick in my mouth enough times to know you're not Jewish, Harold. What the hell does it matter that it's on yum whatever?"

Harry shrugs and giggles. "It doesn't, I just know it's Yom Kippur because Ben couldn't come."

"What are you even talking – look, my point was, maybe we could stay home for a couple more days?"

At that Harry looks up in interest. "I dunno, what are you offering?"

Louis raises his hand and taps his lower lip with his ringed finger, since it appears to be good teasing material. He remembers way too late that he's still got come on his hand, and well, since it's already here. He looks in Harry's eyes and slips his middle finger past his lips, tonguing at the tip. "Figured I'll spank you again, but I won't let you come this time. You'll have to wait until I'm riding you into the mattress, getting your sore arse to drag on the blanket. Think it'll get as red as last time?"

Harry's mouth actually hangs open for a moment. "Jesus Christ. We can leave on Wednesday."

Louis smiles up at him sweetly. Harry growls and pins Louis' shoulders down, kissing him hungrily.

So after that detour, they make their way to Harry's hometown. They end up taking the classic car, after much begging from Harry, and this ride is mostly Louis babbling. He's actually getting nervous, drumming his fingers on his pulled up knees. Harry keeps sneaking glances at his hands, probably since he's still wearing his ring and Harry's weirdly obsessed with it. Louis said Harry hadn't been good enough to gain the ring back, but it was a blatant lie. They both know Harry's the very best boy when he wants to be. So either he hadn't been trying very hard to win the ring back, or Louis just didn't want to give it to him. "Is there anything I should know? Like, not to offend anyone? Oh, can I curse?"

Harry snorts. "Don't say anything offensive, and only curse around people under thirty. And stop worrying, everyone's gonna love you."

Louis sulks into his knees. "I'm not so sure."

"Honestly, babe, they're nice people. And you've met Gemma, yeah?"

"Yeah."

"So I'll just tell her to keep an eye on you. It'll be great, you'll get on like a house on fire."

Wait. "Oh my god, you haven't told them I was coming?"

Harry narrows his eyes at him through the rear-view mirror. "We designed the bloody E-vite. Chill. I love you, they'll love you."

Louis mouths at the ring absently. "S'not fair. You're the charming one, I'm the bitchy one."

"You say that like we're a couple of criminals. Or a tag-team of cops. In a romantic comedy."

He smiles sappily. The dream team. "I do like uniforms. But I'd be a horrible leading character in a movie. I should be, like. The hilarious sidekick who gets shit done while the hero has dilemmas and shit."

Harry hums in thought. "Maybe. You could be my Ron Weasley. Or the waterbender with the hair."

"He wasn't a waterbender, Harry, that's the whole point. And I wouldn’t be from the water tribe, I hate the cold."

They continue the discussion all along the M40, including food pick-up, until Louis actually forgets his troubles. The last thing he says before Harry's "we're here" is, "In short, you're Kermit, I'm Miss Piggy."

He definitely won that one, since Harry says "we're here" in a somewhat convincing Kermit impression.

Louis rubs his hands on his knees and finally unfolds to climb out of the car. "What happens today?"

"It's about dinner time, so there's that. Just mum, Robin and Gemma. Tomorrow we get to work while Gemma and my aunt take my mum for a surprise. We're gonna finish the reception table assignments, write the final payment checks, get in touch with the photographer. Just help out and stuff."

Louis nods along while they walk to the door. It's good that they have tasks. He'll have stuff to do. Harry unlocks the door and Louis follows him blindly, running over the list in his head. Dinner, table, checks, photographer, guest book ideas?

He hasn't realised he's lost Harry until he finds himself in a kitchen with only Harry's sister. She's on the phone, and looks a bit frazzled. She's in sweats, even though it's already evening. There's still something very… fabulous about her. The first thing he'd said to her was, "Are we sure you're not the celebrity in the family?"

"A bit of shopping, some pampering, it'll be fun," she says, her eyes trained on a calendar in front of her. "Alright, okay." She rolls her eyes to herself. Louis can't help snorting, and she immediately twists her head to look at him in surprise. A pleasant smile spreads on her face. And then she presses two fingers to her temple and mimes shooting herself. Louis puts his hands on his neck and pretends to strangle himself in solidarity. "Right, nan, I've gotta go, the dream team just came home. No, he's not here right now. I'll tell him to ring you after dinner. Love you bye," she says in one breath, and then throws her phone on the table quite dramatically. "Let me tell you, I've spoken to more relatives in the past month than I have my whole life. It's a drag."

Louis takes that as permission to step into the kitchen. "And you let Harry travel the world without a care? Very selfless."

She smiles, more genuine this time, and nods gravely. "I'm a saint. How are you then? Saw you Sunday. Well, saw my brother beat you."

Louis sits down next to her and pretends to pout. "Eh, I let him win, you know how he gets."

"Sure, yeah. Just don't tell him that, he really looks up to you."

"Does he now?" Louis arches an eyebrow.

Gemma shrugs. "Well, I don't know what it's like now that he actually knows you, but since he started obsessing over Formula 1 you became a household name."

Louis puffs up. "I'd like to think he still admires my prowess."

"He adores you so much he's dumb about it, honestly." She says it offhandedly, but the way she watches Louis is telling. He's being evaluated.

He gulps, remembering that the last (and first) time they'd met he hadn't even admitted to himself that he loved Harry. "It's mutual. We've discussed it."

There's a second when she seems to be making up her mind, and then she nods at him approvingly. "Good. I'm not saying I'll break your kneecaps if you hurt my baby brother, but I do know where we keep the rat poison."

Louis gulps again. Gemma smiles at him innocently. "Now let's skip the awkward part and talk about Singapore. What're your chances?"

Well, that's easy, if not surprising. Louis can talk anyone's ear off about racing. Harry finally deigns to join them a few minutes later, carrying the Indian food they'd gotten on the way and a broad smile. "Yo."

"Yeah, yo," Gemma snaps. "You were supposed to be here two days ago."

Harry ducks his head and blushes. "Sorry. I'm super ready to help now."

Gemma huffs. "Super. Honestly, I've been doing all the heavy lifting here. When you get married, I'm not doing shit."

Harry giggles nervously, which isn't the witty retort Louis would've expected, and his eyes dart to Louis' left hand. Where he's still wearing his ring. And Louis finally, finally gets it. Jesus. He has to deflect before Gemma notices. "He'll be rich and disgusting enough to hire someone who'd do it all for him," Louis says.

That shakes Harry up, at least. He glares at Louis and draws up to the table, setting the bags between Louis and Gemma. "Yeah, might even hire a husband," he says pointedly while ducking down to kiss the top of Gemma's head.

Louis sticks his tongue out at him, until Harry walks around and kisses the top of Louis' head, too. His face flushes embarrassingly. They've done much, much worse in front of the guys, but this simple show of affection in front of Harry's sister feels odd and foreign to him. She doesn't bat an eyelash. "How's Dusty doing?" she asks.

"Still old. Mum's good too, she's on the phone with nan. Did you tell her I'm home?"

Gemma smirks in response. Harry groans. "Fine, I'll ring her after dinner. Speaking of, go away while I set the table."

"Alright, but I'm taking Louis with me. You don't deserve help."

Harry looks between them hesitantly, but there's a smile threatening to break on his face, Louis can tell. He gives a tiny nod and Harry shrugs. "Guess I don't. Though the last time I set the table by myself I was in Spain – or Malaysia? Anyway, Niall or Nick went to – "

"Please stop," Gemma and Louis say at the same time. It's like a magical bonding moment, brought upon them by the gods of awkward family/boyfriend encounters. They both stand up and Gemma clamps a hand on Louis' shoulder. Louis can only brush Harry's wrist when she leads him away to the living room.

So after the little iceberg has been broken, Louis only has Harry's mum to crack. Dinner goes overwhelmingly well. Since there's a wedding in two days, Harry's New Boyfriend isn't the spectacle of the night. Harry's mum is as nice as Harry, and Robin and Gemma are hilarious. He doesn't get asked any nightmarish questions, as most of the meal is filled with Harry catching up on wedding stuff and Gemma snarking at him.

He doesn't feel excluded, though, since Anne keeps smiling at him and – more importantly – Harry's hand keeps creeping to his under the table. He reacts bodily every time, whether it's a cough or a blush, because. It's just nice. It's homey and lovely and nothing to Harry but absolutely daring for Louis. Though he's flustered, he tries to soak it up, charmed despite himself. It's just going really well.

Harry must sense Louis' cautious happiness, when he sneaks glances and brushes their ankles together. He keeps smiling at him, a little private smile reserved only for Louis. He desperately wants to kiss him, spicy sauce and all. He probably could. His stomach flutters.

He gets the expected one-on-one with Harry's mum after dinner, when Gemma goes upstairs, Harry goes to chat with his nan and Robin goes to clear the table. Anne gives him a look and nods towards the living room. Louis follows nervously.

"Congratulations," he blurts as soon as they sit down. "On the wedding, I mean."

She smiles, ignoring his awkwardness, thank god. "Thank you. We never got a chance to meet, since I had my fittings when you raced in England."

"Right, yeah. Well, I'm Louis. I'm glad Harry invited me."

She doesn't stop smiling, so. That's probably good. "I'm glad too. He cares for you a lot."

It's a bit of a repeat of his exchange with Gemma, only this is Harry's mum. This isn't the time to be shy. "I know, he's got this… way about him, to make everyone feel loved and cared for. You've raised a very special man."

That must get him some points, as she nods at him approvingly. "Look, I know it's scary to meet the parents for the first time, so I don't want to make it any harder than it has to be for you. But I need to know if you're serious about this."

Louis thumbs Harry's ring unconsciously. "I really am."

"Good lad. So, tell me about yourself."

Louis hasn't been in a job interview since he was nineteen, and has definitely never been in this particular situation, so he tries to stick to his Wikipedia page. 25 from Donny, currently leading for a second world championship, 31 wins under his belt, four little sisters, divorced parents, been all around the globe, is hopelessly in love with one Harry Styles. Well, that one might not be on that part of the Internet. And Anne probably knows it already. But just in case, Louis stresses the point.

By the time Harry stumbles back to the living room, Louis has basically bared his soul to her, and she's called him both dear and sweetheart. Either she's as polite as her son, or she genuinely likes him. It's sort of a success. They both look up and Harry darts his eyes curiously between them. "Nan alright?" Anne asks.

"Yeah, aces. Gem gave me a list of things for us to do tomorrow. Don't worry about a thing."

"Wasn't worried." She stands up to kiss Harry's cheek. "I know you two boys can handle it."

Louis beams at Harry behind her back, and Harry winks at him.

Everything about the wedding is beautiful and elegant, except for the bride's son.

Harry's an absolute mess. He goes from manically excited to sobbing heap every few hours, and Louis' the only one who can comfort him because everyone else is freaking out enough as it is. Two hours before the reception he catches Harry crying in the toilet of the venue, and drags him into a stall for a tight hug. "Aw, baby," he coos, playing with Harry's hair. He calms down considerably in his arms. "Why are you getting so emotional?"

"'S'my mum," is all he says. And Louis' supposed to be the mummy's boy, fuck.

"Are you gonna toast? Wanna work on that?"

Harry snorts wetly. "Have you heard me public speaking before?"

"Yeah, actually, every Sunday. You'll definitely cock it up."

He smiles when Harry laughs. "Yeah, should probably let Gemma do her thing."

"She has got a degree and all." That gets him a pinch. And then a gentle stroke over his dinner jacket. (It took them two hours to get ready just because they kept dressing each other in smart suits and then undressing each other because Harry looks unbelievably fit in a nice suit. Rinse and repeat.)

Harry manages to get a hold of himself by the ceremony itself, leaving Louis to his own concerns. The wedding is small, but some people still approach him and Harry as the celebrities they are. No one seems really scandalised about Louis being there, though, and he makes sure not to take pictures (other than Harry making him do weird things for Vines). So he'll probably make it out of here alive.

He sits with Gemma's boyfriend most of the time, as Harry has guests to entertain. He's a Yorkshire lad who's too serious for Louis' tastes, but they're both too buzzed on champagne to complain about the company. At first Louis thought he was a fan, since he asked about the last GP, but then he realised Will just studied up when he started dating Gemma, because she and Harry are extremely close. "She really loves him," Will says, nodding to where Gemma and Harry are dancing awkwardly. (Gemma leading, of course.)

Louis can relate. "Guess she does."

They toast for no particular reason. "Who're you then?" Will asks.

Louis takes an extra long sip. "Harry's best mate."

"Right, yeah." He doesn't seem to buy it, maybe more perceptive than Louis gave him credit for. Whatever. "Think your boy's looking for you."

Louis looks back at the dance floor, to see Harry gesturing wildly at him. He sighs exasperatedly, but can't help but smile. "Duty calls."

"Cheers."

Louis weaves his way through the crowd until he reaches Harry, notices the empty champagne flute in his hand. "Thought you were staying sober 'till the end. No naughty things in your mouth."

Harry snorts loudly. "We both know I already overlooked that one. How're you doing?"

"Good." He nods resolutely. "Surprisingly welcome."

"Well, I'm sad that's surprising to you, but I'm happy you feel welcome. Wanna dance with me?"

Louis looks around. It's mostly elderly people who don't recognise him and young people who are too drunk to care, but there's still a nervous tug in his stomach. All it takes is a look at Harry, though, giddy and charming and suit-wearing. He takes Harry's free hand and twirls him around twice, releasing some demonic giggle out of him. Neither of them know how to actually dance, so they just spin each other around and laugh, moving vaguely to the music the DJ's playing and making up their own moves.

It's just… fun. Harry's always fun and lively and so sweet, and when the music drops to a quiet love song Louis doesn't dare to slow-dance with him, so Harry just leans down to whisper in his ear how much he loves him. It makes his heart hurt, honestly. His fingers practically shake when he tangles them in Harry's tie. Harry looks around for a second, and then ducks down to kiss Louis' hand discretely. Specifically, his clunky ring.

He's just… happy.

*

"Get the pasta," Harry says, scanning the aisle for his favourite tomato sauce.

Louis huffs next to him. "I already got the pasta."

"The wrong pasta." Harry looks down to flick Louis' nose, before going back to his sauce search.

Louis stomps his feet. "I could be in Rome right now, kicking it at the Coliseum. Dancing my arse off with an Italian model called Leonardo." He even rolled the "r". He's adorable.

Harry peeks around to make sure the aisle is deserted, and then pecks Louis' lips. "But you're grocery shopping with me. How about that. 1:0 for Styles."

"-1 for Tommo." He pouts, but chases Harry's lips for another kiss, so it doesn't really count.

The past two weeks couldn't have gone better if Harry had actually planned them. After the wedding Gemma convinced mum and Robin to jet off to Spain for their honeymoon immediately, rather than wait around, since "Haz and Louis can house-sit, yeah?"

The original plan had been to drive back to Louis' flat and, well, enjoy their break, but Harry guessed they could have sex at home, too.

It feels different, though. It's not a house, it's a home. With a cat Louis resents and a fridge to fill with groceries. With Harry's childhood bed to defile. Louis can complain all he wants, but he must feel as domesticated as Harry does. He's the one who suggested cooking a meal in the first place.

"Have you ever actually cooked anything before?" Harry asked suspiciously.

Louis looked back at him fiercely. "No, but since it's not our kitchen we can risk it."

"Can we though?"

Louis twisted his arm, literally, until Harry agreed to let Louis make dinner. He was so pleased he fucked Harry right against the fridge.

So anyway, yeah, Louis' just as pathetic as Harry, even though sometimes he likes to pretend he's tough. He's still wearing Harry's ring for fuck's sake. At first it was reasonable, made the spanking more fun, but then it just turned into a thing that makes Harry's whole body warmer whenever he notices. He likes that Louis wears his ring, the way he likes wearing the Sziget wristband, the way they share jackets and jumpers even though they're completely different sizes. It's nice. It's comfortable.

They might be house-sitting for three and a half days, but Harry ends up buying two weeks' worth of groceries, because Louis keeps adding shit to the cart like a child and Harry just goes with it, because every time he lets Louis get away with it he gets a kiss. They're in public buying groceries and he's getting kisses. He might be dreaming.

Back at home Louis kicks Harry out of the kitchen to "work his magic", and then drags Harry back into the kitchen because he has no idea where the pots and pans are. He's trying to do chicken stuffed with mozzarella, wrapped in Parma ham with homemade mash. Harry finds that far too ambitious, but Louis claims he got it from Jamie Oliver and "won't go off-script".

"I should probably stay. Just to supervise. I won't interrupt."

Louis squints at him, calculating. "What will you be wearing?"

Harry looks down at his briefs and unbuttoned plaid shirt. "This?"

"With your tits out?"

Harry smirks at him and hops on the kitchen island, spreading his thighs as he goes. "Yup."

It's very satisfying when Louis just stares at him. "Will I be positively reinforced for my cooking?"

He shrugs, his shirt slipping a little over his shoulder. He kicks his feet back and forth. "Depends on whether you blow me while the chicken's in the oven."

Louis looks quite ready to get on his knees right now, but fucking up his first cooking experience might bruise his ego. He just looks so cute, in soft sweats with his glasses on, fierce concentration on his face as he checks the recipe on his phone. Harry takes multiple pictures of the process, cheering him on and checking the recipe himself just in case Louis needs something.

He sort of. Doesn't stop taking pictures when Louis shuts the oven door and crowds between Harry's thighs. He honestly believes there must be documentation of Louis' pretty pink lips wrapped around a cock, his cute glasses still perched precariously on his nose. His beautiful cheekbones even more prominent as he sucks hard. It's like, Harry's political agenda. To promote Louis' cocksucking. He thinks he should switch to video – "Oh Jesus."

He gently puts his hand on Louis' head, looks through the camera rather than the actual sight because he might just shoot his load. His hand looks obscenely big, fingers buried in Louis' messy hair. He can't resist tugging for a second, and Louis doesn't complain for once. Harry realises he's trying to put on a show for the camera. So he gives him more, hitches his hips and gasps when Louis' cheeks hollow. "You look so good," he ventures. He is shooting a porn scene, might as well act the part.

Louis quirks an eyebrow in surprise, and pulls back to tongue at the tip, actually managing to smirk while his mouth is stuffed full of cock. He looks straight into the camera, the little shit, and winks. Harry cannot handle that. He grabs better hold of Louis' hair and guides his head back down, taking full advantage of Louis' cooperative mood.

He should have known Louis had a plan. It couldn't have been that easy. Because the second the timer they put on the oven starts beeping, Louis just pulls off abruptly, leaving Harry's wet cock to slap against his stomach, his hips still snapping up. He can see that Louis' uncomfortably hard, but he still pulls off a perfect poker face, checks the chicken slowly and carefully, consulting his recipe and actually starts working on the mashed potatoes. Harry's just sitting here breathless, cursing and a second away from just wanking off. The moment he puts a hand on himself, though, Louis turns around and tuts at him.

He curls his fingers into fists and presses them against the marble to distract himself. This is not what he asked for. "This is not what I asked for."

Louis laughs to himself. His voice is rough. "Poor Haz." He has the nerve to baby him, the dickhead. "You can wait, can't you? Be good?"

He crosses his ankles, squirming. "Yeah."

Louis actually keeps him waiting up to the dinner itself, snogging him every few minutes to keep him hard and on edge. It's basically torture. Thank fucking Christ he gets him off before they eat, lets him sit at the dinner table and then climbs on his lap and grinds against him. What Louis doesn't let him do is take a shower right away, so he has to go through dinner filthy and sticky and completely dazed. If this was all a trick so Harry wouldn't criticise his food, Louis' an evil mastermind.

So that adds another household chore they have to do: cleaning the kitchen thoroughly, and swearing not to have sex in it again. Harry will never be able to look his mother in the eye.

Despite that, the days pass in a blissful haze. Without the wedding preparation weighing on him, and Niall's constant reassurances regarding Marcel, Harry's completely free to just relax and enjoy having Louis all to himself.

They're just cuddling in front of Gogglebox when Louis realises they've been playing house. Harry's petting both the cat and Louis, commenting on the state of Channel 4, when Louis suddenly turns his head in his lap so he's watching Harry's face rather than the television. He looks confused and scandalised at once. Harry removes his fingers from his hair and quirks an eyebrow. "Lou?"

"I feel like I just time-skipped twenty years."

Harry isn't really sure where he's going with this. "C'mon, with Zayn on our side we'll be chilling in our hovercraft in twenty years."

Louis reaches up to pinch Harry's forearm, like he's trying to say something important. Dusty immediately settles himself in the crook of Louis' elbow, effectively debilitating him. Harry coos. Louis curses. "I mean, like. This is really serious for me." Harry's ready to agree and lean down to kiss his nose, but Louis looks like he's having some sort of revelation, and has more to say. "Like, shit Harry, we've got a race this Sunday and I didn't even think about it until just now because I was too busy listening to your views on pop culture. I'm. I've never. Like, I always thought they'd have to crowbar me off the track when I'm sixty, but now." His blue eyes are huge when he reaches his point. His thumb rolls Harry's ring on his middle finger. "I want us to have ten grandkids when I'm sixty. Oh god. Move to the country and have a Border Collie."

Harry's heart melts in his chest. He smiles brightly down at Louis, warm and tingly all over. He thinks they're both overwhelmed. He shoos Dusty so he can cradle Louis' head in his hands and kiss him deeply. "I want twenty babies," he whispers. "We're good, Lou. This is really good. I wanna make you my spouse."

"Who the fuck says spouse?" Louis asks, momentarily distracted.

"I do. I love it. It sounds like. Spider and mouse."

Louis sighs into his mouth. "Sometimes I feel like I love you so much I could drown in it." He says it in a tiny voice, and Harry gets unexpectedly choked up. It's just. Louis' got so much in him that no one knows about, he packs away all these emotions that he will never show anyone. Except Harry. Who knows him best, who loves him best.

He thinks that's beautiful. "You're beautiful," he whispers back, in a kiss. "Our future is beautiful."

"Christ, I'm growing up."

Harry brushes their noses together. He'll probably never stop smiling. "It had to happen sometime. Think we can talk about it?"

He expects a flat-out no, just like he got the last couple of times he's brought up coming out. Louis takes his breath away when he says, "Yeah. But right now I wanna snog you for hours. After Singapore, yeah?"

"After Singapore."

The last thing they do before the 13-hour flight to Asia is get more matching tattoos, this time on their anklebones: an H for Louis and an L for Harry. It couldn't be more obvious. Harry couldn't be more content.

*



 

(x)

*

The Singapore round starts out well enough.

He had to retire during the first practice due to valve problems in his engine, but Zayn got right on it and Louis wasn't too bothered heading into the actual Grand Prix. It's a tight race with Harry for a while, but Louis manages to snag the lead. He's so excited, so focused on the road, the next turn, that it takes him a few seconds to notice that his tyres are dragging. From there all it takes is two seconds to shunt it.

Two seconds feel like forever in a race car. As soon as he notices something's wrong he has no way to be clear-headed about it, because he and Jeanne are one, when she's lagging Louis stresses, feels absolutely helpless. He doesn't hear Liam's yelling because he's trying to communicate with his car, soothing her through a turn, listening to the noise like it's a language.

He zooms out of the turn, but doesn't have time to hoot before he's slamming into a barrier at full speed. It actually takes him a full second before he realises he's injured: he's absolutely stunned by the lights, by watching Jeanne's parts flying, and all he's thinking is that should be inside and no and she's bleeding. Then he tries to move his foot, some misguided attempt to back her up, and it hurts so much he can't possibly breathe.

The Singapore round started out well enough.

*

It's funny how easy it is to lose perspective on the track. Harry knows he's going fast, but he's only as fast as the driver ahead of him. In most cases, Louis.

It's funny how even on a Formula 1 racetrack, seeing a crash right before your eyes still slows everything down. They all know what to do to avoid a chain reaction, know to gradually skirt to the sides. Harry's been over the instructions dozens of times.

But. Harry recognises the car that's split open, bruised and wingless. And he knows, he knows Louis was going way too fast to make it out with only cuts and bruises, he was right behind him, he was chasing him out of the corner, he knows something's gone horribly wrong, but actually seeing it flips some switch in him.

He just doesn't give a fuck. He doesn't listen to the team radio, ignores practically every safety measure and stops the car and climbs out. It's three seconds that feel like seven hours until he makes his way to Jeanne, his uniform heavier than ever, the noise absolutely deafening when he takes off his helmet and chucks it away. He doesn't think about anything, pure terror freezing his blood and clogging up his mind. If anything crosses his mind, it's shit and not again and what if he -

He hasn't noticed he'd stopped breathing until he sees Louis move. Then it's an hour-long exhale. He rushes to him, faster than he's ever run in his life, and grabs the crumpled cockpit. Louis has thrown his own helmet away, and he's breathing so hard, blinking wildly and sweating and gritting his teeth and he must be in so much pain and when he finally notices Harry his eyes widen in recognition.

There's an irrational urge to just pull Louis out of the car, to save him from this mess and kiss his face and fix him, but he knows he's too shaky and graceless, he's crying too hard to actually help, he doesn't even trust himself to touch Louis. What does happen is he gets as close as he can, trying to will Louis' eyes to focus on him, trying to calm him down with incessant babbling. "Don't move love, you might have whiplash, the R-car will be here in just a tick."

Louis' frantic when he finally speaks, and even though his voice sounds like it's ripped from his throat, it's still comforting somehow. "It hurts, I – my leg – "

"Ssh, I know it hurts but you're alright, I'm right here and I'll take care of you, you're gonna be just fine, Jesus Christ."

Even when the rescue car finally comes and paramedics pull Harry away to attend to Louis, Harry can't physically tear his eyes from him. He looks so scared, tiny in his dismantled car, and if he feels even a fifth of how terrified Harry is, he can't even imagine how Louis' still conscious. They put a neck brace on him and pile him into the rescue car, and he seems unable to look away from Harry, keeps asking for him when he's not screaming from the pain. Harry just wedges himself between the paramedics, knows he's getting in the way but what the fuck is he supposed to do.

His heart breaks in half when he's told he can't get in the car with Louis. He's just – he's so bloody scared, it hurts to breathe, he needs eye contact to keep breathing, he – but fuck, Louis' panicking worse than him. He wipes his face and takes a deep breath, waits until Louis' actually in the car before he tells him, "Love, I'll see you at hospital, I swear it. They're gonna take the best care of you. You're the star, remember?"

Louis bites his already bloody lip, raising his little hand in some attempt to cling to Harry, even though Harry's still outside of the car. Of all the emotional farewells he could have gotten, Louis whispers, "Make sure they salvage Jeanne."

Harry actually laughs, an ugly, bitter sound, not funny at all. When they close the doors and fly off, Harry feels some tether breaking between them.

Knowing Louis' in good hands doesn't help at all. Harry's just dry-heaving, collapsing on the grass because he can't seem to be able to move his feet. He never thought he'd feel this way again. And that's dumb, isn't it, considering what he does for a living. He expected to witness accidents, has gotten in a few shunts himself, but this, this brutal feeling of being torn apart, he could never have imagined this. He could never have imagined Louis, golden and all-powerful and infallible Louis, crashing.

He might be throwing up. He might even be fainting, he doesn't actually register anything even as the guys from the salvage cars mutter "he's not gonna make the restart, he's lost it" and help him into their car. He keeps seeing it in flashes, Louis swerving, Louis slamming into the wall, Louis screaming, blood on the pavement by Arthur's house. He has lost it.

It's maybe fifteen minutes after the crash that he's stashed away at the garage. He knows he's meant to stay active, "reclaim his sense of control", all the psychological tricks, but he hasn't got an ounce of energy in him. He doesn't utter a single word until he feels hands wrap around him, and something triggers him to respond, a sense of familiarity.

"Ni," he whispers, turning wide eyes to the blonde head settling over his shoulder.

"Hi H," Niall says in his ear. He notes that his voice is rough, like he'd been crying his eyes out too. Not that surprising, if he's honest. Niall loves Louis. Everyone loves Louis. A sob climbs up Harry's throat. "How are you doing?"

Harry sniffles. "I'm so scared I can't think."

"I know. But it was fucking brave of you to just toss your helmet like that in the middle of the track and try to help him."

"I think you mean fucking mental."

Niall chuckles. "That too. Did – did he say anything?"

If Niall weren't draped over him, Harry would've curled in on himself. "To take care of Jeanne."

This gets a proper laugh out of him. "Bloody Tommo." Harry finds himself laughing too. What the fuck has he got to lose?

"D'you know where he is?" he asks quietly.

"Yeah, he's at the medical centre."

A tiny measure of relief blossoms in Harry's chest. "It wasn't bad enough for a hospital?"

"Guess not. But I don't know anything. D'you wanna go there?"

Harry nods frantically. "Think they'll let us see him even though we're not – shit, did someone tell his mum?"

"Hey," Niall says, stroking Harry's back soothingly. "Liam said he's on it."

Oh god, Liam. Zayn. He hadn't even thought about the rest of their family. He's such an idiot. "Where are they?"

Niall hesitates. "I don't actually know. Zayn's disappeared and Liam's running around like a headless chicken, handling the repairs on Jeanne. Per Louis' request, apparently."

Shit. Harry rubs his eyes. How is he still crying. "That's fucked up, we should help them, we should – "

"H, we're dealing our own way. It's been twenty minutes, no one knows anything. As soon as we see what's up with Lou there'll be a press conference and – you know how it works. Let them be until then."

Oh god. Press. Fuck's sake, it's the middle of the race still and both the Cowell team members retired. He even feels vaguely guilty. Harry wriggles out of Niall's hold and gets up on shaky legs. Niall doesn't try to help him. "Let's go see him then."

Niall nods and leads him away. He doesn't think he's reclaimed his sense of control, but what the fuck ever. There's no handbook for this. He just wants to see his boy.

*

There's a second when Louis thinks he's died. Before the medics got there he was absolutely convinced he was dying – everything hurt so much and he couldn't make sense of Harry's words but he was the only reason he'd kept his eyes open, really. But then, at the room they loaded him into, at the very last second before they put him under to treat the pain, he really thought this was it.

So waking up, weak but painless in the medical centre, ranks as one of the best moments in his life. He tries to focus on that relief as the doctor gives him the news. Something about the ligaments, something about his hamstring, something about painkillers. The bottom line:

A sprained ankle.

It's hardly as bad as it could've been, but it means eight to twelve weeks of recovery. It means he's got no shot at the championship. It means there's no guarantee he'll ever be able to race as well as he did. It means he has to tell the doctor to fuck off so he can cry into his pillow like a little boy. He feels pathetic and miserable, but most of all, an overwhelming loss.

This was his shot. He put everything into this. 2013 was supposed to be his, his redemption, his recovery, his big chance. He was fucking leading. He could taste it. Just looking at the short cast around his ankle makes him feel hollowed out and sick to his stomach. He's still sobbing when he lets the painkillers carry him off to sleep, just so he wouldn't have to look at his leg.

When he wakes up again he's in a different room and there's all this shit around his bed – get well flowers and candy. He tries to grab one of the cards, utterly confused, when he feels shooting pain down his leg and remembers. "Fucking shit," he hisses, squeezing his eyes shut to contain the pain, or to make-believe it never happened.

"Louis?" he hears a hesitant voice, and his eyes snap open, his heart seizing up. How the hell did he miss Harry's huge frame in the rickety chair by the bed?

God. Harry looks bloody awful – face blotchy, eyes red-rimmed, his limbs floppy on the chair like it takes too much out of him to sit properly. Louis feels so much love for him it floods him like a head rush, leaves him dizzy and scattered. He knows that if Harry's a mess, Louis himself must be ten times worse, bruised and broken and crying. He knows that this is when he would have shut him out completely, focus on his own misery and let Harry be.

He whispers Harry and throws his arms out weakly. Harry doesn't waste a second before climbing into Louis' bed and gingerly leaning on his shoulder. It smarts, but Louis doesn't care. He's got him. Harry's got him. He doesn't even say anything, just shuts his eyes and absorbs warmth and hope and love from Harry, kisses his hair and wraps an arm around Harry's waist.

"How bad is it?" Harry asks eventually, cautious and quiet.

Louis sighs. "Sprained ankle. Eight to twelve weeks."

"God, that's fucking brilliant."

Louis huffs into his hair. "Did you hear what I just said?"

"Are you..." he trails off. Clears his throat. His voice sounds raw anyway. Louis hugs him tighter. "Have I ever told you why I started racing?"

Louis tries to remember. Even if Harry had told him, he wouldn't remember right now, sleepy and fuzzy. "Because you're an idiot?"

"That too," Harry says, smiling weakly into Louis' neck. "But I. I was in an accident when I was fourteen. Me and my mate Arthur were walking home from school and this drink-driver… I only got a concussion but Art was killed on the spot. I just remember – I remember I've never been so terrified in my life. Until yesterday."

"Jesus, Haz." Louis trails his hand up to Harry's hair, aching for his boy. "I'm sorry."

"It's… It was a long time ago. And it took me ages to get on the road myself, but once I did I couldn't get off. And it made me feel – shitty, it made me feel guilty, liking to drive so much, so I decided to go all in. I wanted to be the best racer so I'd be famous, so people will actually listen to me when I preach about safety. Last year after I did those PSAs for Road Safety GB I got so many letters and emails from parents thanking me, and I realised it meant more to me than any record or win."

Louis keeps stroking his hair, breathing him in. Harry's just the best person. "That's amazing, love."

Harry shakes his head, then takes the opportunity to kiss Louis' collarbone. "It's really not, it's the least I could do. But my point was, eight to twelve weeks is nothing."

"It's six races," Louis blurts, still feeling sorry for himself.

"Yeah, six shitty races and then you're good as new. You've got time until you're sixty, remember?"

Louis laughs, actually laughs. It hurts his neck, but he can't stop. "You're so dumb, oh my god."

Harry huffs in outrage. "You're dumb, you scared the living shit out of me."

"Oh." He nuzzles Harry, gets the sense they're not joking anymore. He doesn't know what else to say – sorry wouldn't cut it. It's selfish, and awful, but he feels a fraction better knowing how much Harry cares. Maybe he hasn't lost everything. A thought occurs to him. "You retired because of me."

"You're kidding, I could barely stand, I never would've finished the race." He says it offhandedly, but Louis finds himself clinging to every word, curling into Harry's shoulder despite the intense pain all over his body. "There's, like, world coverage of my meltdown."

"How's that?"

"Well, like." He actually sounds embarrassed, it's quite endearing. "I was, um. Losing my shit a bit and trying to calm you down. And I didn't think about the team radio picking everything up. Until, like, my mum called me in a panic and asked if I was okay, and I said that you were the one who crashed, and she told me that all the broadcasts played my screaming and calling you sweetheart or whatever." He suddenly raises his head to look Louis in the eye, hesitant and apologetic. "I hope that's, like. Okay."

Louis' in a hospital bed with a sprained ankle and a boy who loves him. He could not be less bothered. "What, eternal documentation of you embarrassing yourself over me? I wanna watch it."

Harry glares down at him, a hint of a smile on his lips. He settles back down on Louis' shoulder. Heavy and painful and comforting and lovely. "I'm never, ever watching that video. But considering your thing for torturing yourself, I should tell you there's a, well, press conference in your honour right about now. They waited until you were moved from the medical centre to the hospital for observation."

Louis considers it. It will be painful and depressing and horrible and so he turns the television on.

They tune in just as a reporter asks about Louis' condition. Eleanor is taking the questions in full Cowell uniform. She looks worse for wear, mostly shocked, but she answers swiftly. "Louis suffered a grade two sprain and is now recovering in the medical centre. We're obviously gutted this happened, but he'll be given the best medical care and will make it through this."

"Is he expected to return within this season?" another reporter asks. Louis tries to move his leg and hisses in pain. Harry shushes him with a kiss to the ear. It's just. Shit, really. It's all just shit. Everything but Harry, maybe.

"We trust our Tommo to make a full recovery, so don't count him out just yet," Eleanor finally says. Diplomatic. Nice. Empty. Depressing.

"And Harry Styles? Will he throw in the towel next week too?"

Harry stiffens next to him. "Oh god, I forgot I was supposed to be there," he whispers. Harry is a failure among men.

Eleanor recovers quickly. "As we speak Harry is working hard in the garages to do his best in Korea. Without incident," she adds.

Louis and Harry exchange a look. Then laugh. It sounds pathetic and garbled, because nothing is actually funny about this, but it's not as sad as everything else. "That Harry Styles is so diligent. An inspiration to us all," Louis declares.

"Shut up." Harry pokes him between the ribs, then apologises for ten years when Louis wheezes and squirms in pain. "Maybe I should be at the stupid garage."

Louis twists his fingers in Harry's shirt. "No, you're right where you belong. I imagine Zayn would be less abusive though. Did he, um. Come visit?"

Harry glances at him nervously. "No. He's sort of been, well. I think he slept in the garage last night? Like proper, round the bend, working himself to death."

His heart sinks. Fucking Zayn Malik, blaming himself for Louis crashing their car. It's very like him to get so caught up in his head he didn't even think to visit Louis and talk it out, it makes him sick. "But he knows it wasn't his fault – just 'cause he's the crew chief doesn't mean – like, accidents happen all the time, they just do – "

"Lou, I know, trust me. Me and Liam tried to convince him to come, but he just couldn't. I made Niall join him at the garage so at least he won't be alone."

Naturally. Louis kisses Harry's cheek, forgetting for a second about his stiff neck. "Liam's here then?"

"Of course. He's been harassing the paramedics so no one notices I've been holed up here. Or maybe he just needed something to do, I dunno. We were all pretty scared for a while. Niall stayed with us until this morning. He's probably working on Marcel now. Though I'm not sure why." His babbling stops abruptly.

Louis mutes the television. "What d'you mean?"

Harry sinks lower down his chest so Louis can't see his face. "I don't know if I'll ever be able to get in a car again."

His breath stutters. "You have to love, it's what you do. I won't have a loser for a boyfriend."

Harry pokes his belly button rudely. "Lou."

"I mean it, I." It's been a day since the most terrifying experience of his life; he thinks he's got a handle on things. Harry should definitely listen to him when he tells him to get back on that horse. Louis should definitely be able to just tell the truth. "I don't want you hanging around here while I get my shit together. Last time I crashed it took three weeks to recover and I went mental, now it's gonna be a lot longer. It's gonna be ugly."

"I can take ugly." Louis can hear the pout in his voice.

"But I wanna see you race. I want you to win, Haz. For me. I wanna watch you get first place every Sunday I miss."

He really means it. The thought that he won't be able to race – right now, not ever, maybe probably hopefully – is eating at him, makes him want to crumple and just disappear inside of Jeanne, stripped or not. The thought that Harry won't do what he loves because of Louis is equally as awful. He can't take this season away from both of them. He could win it through Harry. The boys always say they're becoming one person (well, they use the term creepy horror movie twins, but that's the gist, innit?).

Harry thinks for a while. The best he comes up with is, "I love you more than anything. You know that, right?"

It's still incomprehensible to him. But he does.

He's not fit to fly home for several days. He tells his mum he thinks Cowell will spring for a private jet and a daring escape if he asked, but she shouts at him that she'd sooner come to bloody Singapore than have him suffer a stroke airborne, which is a bit melodramatic for a nurse. Louis cuts her some slack, though, as she did have to watch her eldest child crash his race car on live television.

He's pulling through, he thinks. He talks to his doctor with a heavy coat of sarcasm and bitterness. He talks to Liam about practical things. He talks to Simon and Eleanor with false optimism. He talks to Zayn gently but sternly until he cracks him and they just hug for a while. He talks Niall into promising to crutch-duel with him as soon as he's mobile again.

Then there's Harry, whom Louis sometimes shouts at to leave (ineffectively) and sometimes just lays his head on to cry. He's just so focused on the pain and his rehabilitation programme and analyses of what happened and the business that it sneaks up on him unexpectedly. The knowledge that he's finished. And then it's a fucking punch to the gut and he's breathless and achy and Harry doesn't know what to do so he just holds him through it. There isn't anything else Louis would ask him to do. If it weren't for him, Louis wouldn't bother waking up.

However, it's a nonnegotiable no when Harry suggests flying home with Louis. "I just want to help," Harry mutters, hurt.

"None of that," Louis says, crossing his arms. "I've got people for that. You're gonna have the busiest two weeks of your life working on the car and strategising with the poor fuck who's coming to replace me." It takes a lot of work to say that without cringing. But he is trying to shock Harry into compliance. Because he knows one more pout and he's begging Harry to come home with him and help him through the awful things ahead.

Harry probably gets it, he's not cruel. He's still sulking. "You'll call every day?"

"Yes, dear."

"I mean it, you shit. You'll call me any time. 'Cause when I'm not with you…"

I'm weaker. Louis props himself up on his elbows so he can tug Harry closer and kiss him quiet. "Babe, I know. We'll talk all the time. Eight weeks are nothing."

Harry sort of whimpers at the thought. "Love you."

It still gets him warm all over. "Love you too. Pack up my stuff."

"Already did. Side note, it's full of my shirts. Because of your smell fetish." He looks at Louis in defiance, like he's daring him to mock him. Louis purses his lips.

"Just like I wanted, then."

A smile takes over Harry's face, the first real one in a while. It makes Louis a bit happier. He knows why Harry has hardly left his side since the crash, knows it hit him hard. He hopes the separation will make it easier for Harry to take care of himself, to shake it off. He won't traumatise Harry any further. They both have to pull through.

"So, in other matters," Harry starts cheerily. "I know you've got a press ban on you, but can I tweet you're okay? 'Cause people have been asking."

Louis shrugs. Then narrows his eyes. "Asking me or you?"

"Um, me."

But. "Why are they asking you about me?"

Harry looks down at his phone awkwardly. "Remember the epic, well-televised meltdown I had on the circuit?"

He shudders. "Vaguely."

"And remember the Dream Team thing I showed you a while ago?"

Louis rolls his eyes and just grabs Harry's phone. "What are you on ab – oh."

There are thousands of tweets in Harry's mentions about Louis, varying from "You absolutely broke my heart. Hope your boy recovers in no time! #DreamTeam #GetWellTommo" to the obligatory "were you actually crying you fag". Louis gulps, scanning through the supportive ones for a while. It's just Twitter, it's just strangers on the Internet, but they care so much about him, about Harry. His throat feels tight. He's not masochistic enough to check his own mentions.

"Do it, tweet them back." He hands the phone back to Harry, and waits until he's shown a version for his approval.

 

(x)

Louis quirks an eyebrow. "Of all the Twitter handles?"

Harry smirks. If it weren't for the dark smudges under his eyes, it could've been a discussion from two weeks ago. "S'funny."

This idiot. "Go ahead then."

The first time Louis feels remotely normal since spraining his ankle is when he has tea with his mum. It's after the flight from hell, a mild panic attack and some anxiety caused specifically by being away from Harry. He was cranky and miserable and cursing, and then it wasn't Stan greeting him at Manchester Airport, it was his mum. Who immediately wrapped him up in a hug and took over for Alberto and fed him scones.

They're at home now, and Louis' very aware of how his mum can't stop touching him – holding his hand, hugging him, brushing his shoulders. She must be working some mum voodoo into him, since he leans into it, feels young and breakable in his stupid cast. Tomorrow they take it off and his early rehabilitation starts. He knows that's the hard part, but right now he'll take any pain if it means he could move his fucking leg.

It doesn't take long for their chat to turn serious. "What's it been like at home?" he asks, wavering.

He can already tell from her expression, from her tired eyes and drawn mouth. It hasn't been any better than at the hospital. "Tough." It sounds like she's going to leave it at that, but then she covers her face in her hands and says, "I wasn't watching."

He puts his hand on her knee. She's shaking. Jesus, she's already crying. "What?"

"I was making bloody lunch and lost track of time, I thought it was still noon, and – and then Lottie started screaming like she was being murdered, and I dropped everything, and as soon as I saw her with her laptop I could feel it, I knew something was wrong with you."

Fucking hell, Louis can't even move to hug her. He bites down on the pain and inches his chair closer to her, so he could at least wrap his arms around her. "Mum."

"I know you're all grown up but you're still my boy, you're still my baby who broke his leg playing footie or falling down bloody trees. You and I, we chat every day but you don't really tell me what you're going through and I never told you..." She's sobbing too hard for Louis to make sense of her.

"Told me what? Mum?"

She reaches for his hand, holds it tight and leads it to her stomach – oh god. "I'm pregnant. More twins."

Jesus, that's fucking brilliant. Fuck his leg. Louis pulls himself forward to give her the biggest hug he can. More sisters. Babies. Louis can't believe it. He can't believe something so good could happen in the middle of something so shitty. He's warm with it, breathless and happy. Can't stop looking at her belly. "How far along?"

"Nine weeks. So. We need you safe, Louis. A lot of people do now."

He looks up abruptly at that. There are tear tracks on her cheeks but she's smiling at him delightedly. He bites his lip. Since it's already honesty hour… "Can I tell Harry? He loves babies."

There's tense silence for a second, sort of a stare-down, but then she says, "Of course you can, love. Tell him I appreciated the gesture, too."

Louis suddenly feels a bit like a baby himself, feels like curling up in her arms. Giving her the power to take his pain and failures away. Then it sinks. "What gesture? You talked to him? Why?"

His mum squeezes his hand to shut him up. "You were on the Beeb after what happened, we saw the poor lad. I had to send him a message. So he sent flowers. He's quite darling."

Louis' heart flutters. He'll probably never watch that broadcast, is sorry his mum had to, but Harry being sweet is a universal truth. And the shithead didn't even tell him. "It was that obvious?"

"Well, it was after I actually saw you two in July. And with everything you've told me about him… It was obvious to me. And if he loves you as much as he showed on that track, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that."

"Mum," he says for the hundredth time, at a loss. At least he's not crying again. "D'you reckon… maybe I could stay here 'till I'm better? I don't think I'll be too much of a bother, if – "

"Yes, of course you're staying here," she cuts him off, kissing his cheek. "We're all here for you. We didn't let the twins watch it, but Fizzy and Lottie could really use you."

"Yeah. Yeah, I want to. I need that, I think." There's really nothing else he could be doing.

*

The first press conference Harry attends happens on a Wednesday, unusually, right after they land in Korea. It's Harry, Lewis and Fernando. He feels out of place, since the other guys actually stood on the podium last week. He knows exactly why he's there, though. Eleanor gave him the briefing, Louis gave him the encouragement. He still doesn't really feel up to it, but they've given him as much time as they could. The crowd needs to know that Cowell isn't bowing out of the championship. If Harry has to bite the bullet and take questions about his public flip-out, so be it.

He's kind of shaky when he sits down, but as soon as he actually sees the press he's calmer. He's used to this. There's really nothing he can do at this point. "Hello, how are you guys today?"

Shocking no one, 90 percent of the questions are directed at Harry, and 90 percent of those are about Louis and the last GP. "Harry, we've all seen and heard your reaction to Tommo's shunt last week. Do you think it'll affect your racing in this tricky circuit?"

At least this Harry can answer confidently. "Not with my biggest competition out. I'm very determined to win."

There's a moment of silence, like they expected him to break down in tears again. Natalie regroups the fastest. "So you're gonna take full advantage of Louis' absence?"

"Definitely." He shrugs. "I know it sounds, like, insensitive, but he told me himself to keep his spot on the podium warm. I'm obviously gutted about what happened, but it did shuffle up everyone's chances at the championship. So, yeah. Louis Tomlinson's rooting for me. I'm gonna try my best."

"You're in touch then? How's he doing?"

It's exactly the question Eleanor told him to evade. Harry looks straight into the BBC camera, knowing that Louis' watching this. "As amazing as you'd expect of him. The team and the fans have been incredibly supportive of him during these tough times, and I know he appreciates it. He's just jealous he can't be here himself, but that's because he's afraid JJ, his replacement, might outshine him. As I often tell him. I quite like teasing him." There are nine thousand kilometres between them, and he can still hear Louis cackle.

He gets his punishment when the next question is asked. "There have been some rumours that the two of you are involved with each other."

He tries to keep his face completely neutral. He's probably failing. At least they prepped him for this too. Since he's a shitty actor, the game plan is to be as evasive as possible. It shouldn't be too hard, this crowd is more interested in the sport than the gossip. Of course, Louis made the line blur. He looks down at his hands and just says, "Yeah."

They give him a second, but when they realise he's not going to add anything, he's asked, "And we all heard you in the broadcast during Louis' crash."

Harry tries not to look too pained at the memory. It wasn't just the minutes of the crash for him, it was the days at the hospital, it was trying to console Zayn, it was refusing to fall asleep because he had to keep an eye on Louis, it was trying to go back to training without him. It was talking to him and his mum last night and knowing Louis' happy and trying to absorb some of that feeling, because on the track Harry feels absolutely numb. He can't let any of that show, of course. He tries to paint on a smile. "Yeah, obviously I was very upset. I care about Louis very much a lot."

He stops there, feels how he's getting flustered, but the next couple of questions are less needling. At least no one directly asks him if he and Louis are a couple. (That's a lot more forgiving than Twitter.)

When the grilling is finally over Harry grabs a ride to the garage and just stays there for a few hours, lets the work and the smell distract him. Zayn and Niall are completely absorbed in the cars, so Harry hangs back with Liam and talks about new strategies.

"Are you and JJ getting on?" Harry asks, elbowing Liam when he's too caught up in his phone to listen.

"Yeah, he's alright," Liam answers. "There's a lot of pressure on him, but he'll probably make it."

Harry looks around, finds JJ standing with Zayn next to his car in Cowell purple. Zayn's explaining everything patiently and graciously, of course, but Harry can see his heart's not in it. Jeanne still isn't fighting fit, so he's working on a third car they'd flown out. Harry knows he sneaks in here to work on Jeanne during the parties and conferences, though. He knows Zayn still isn't quite alright.

The truth is, none of them are. They work a lot harder, and when they hang out they mostly just watch television and eat. They still joke around and bicker, but it's like they're always… waiting. For the loudest voice to pipe up, for Louis to knock Liam over or throw something at Zayn or dance around with Niall. It's just weird for them all to be missing a part.

He doesn't tell Louis any of it when they speak, afraid he'd feel bad. He probably knows anyway. They're all still connected. "It would be funny if he does better than Lou, right?" he asks Liam.

Liam snickers. "Hilarious. We'll never hear the end of it. Since you'll tease him."

Harry smiles at his feet. "You were watching?"

"Of course, bro." He's surprised by Liam pulling him into a headlock and messing up his hair. Goddamn Liam Payne.

"And? Was I okay?"

Liam snorts, still not releasing him. "I dunno, what did Louis say?"

"I haven't rung him yet? It's still early there."

Liam finally lets him go. He's looking at him curiously. "Mate, you know he got up to watch."

"Well, I." Harry shrugs profusely. "I wanted to hang with you lot for a bit."

Liam smiles at him, not unlike a happy puppy. "Was it weird to be up there without him?"

"Yeah. Everything is kinda weird." He looks around to make sure no one's listening in. "What if I cock up the practices tomorrow? I don't wanna be all talk."

"You won't, come on H. You're just the same as you were last week, only you're this fucking closer to winning this whole thing. I didn't take you for a quitter."

It actually works, is the thing. Ever since he calculated the odds and realised his only real threat at the championship is Ferrari, his nerves skyrocketed. If he were the type to let nerves get to him he never would've survived his debut season. It's just – Louis' been such a focal point for him throughout these past seven months. He's trained his eye to look for Jeanne's bright red. It might throw him off. But he's not a quitter. "Thanks, Li."

"Sure thing. Maybe just go to the hotel, if you and Paul are set?"

"Hm. Think Zayn will keep my roommate for long?"

Liam smirks at him. "He could be persuaded. I wonder what time it is in England."

Harry could kiss him, honestly. The heaviness from the interview is starting to dissipate as he makes his way to the hotel, replaced by butterflies when he finally takes off his clothes and pulls out his laptop.

Up? xx he texts Louis while logging in.

He gets a reply not one minute later. yeah luv 1 sec xxxx

Harry settles down on his bed, fingers jittery on the keyboard. He'd just talked to Louis last night, but he thinks he's having withdrawal symptoms. Going from spending every minute together to thousands of kilometres apart has been hard. The new hotel room doesn't even smell like Louis. It's quite depressing.

Harry can see Louis for a second before Louis can see him, which means he catches the moment Louis does. It takes his breath away because Louis' face lights up beautifully, a bright bright smile welcoming Harry. "Hi sweetheart."

Sweetheart. Harry chews on his bottom lip. "That's new. Have you been spending too much time with small children and your mum?"

Louis rolls his eyes, smile turning cheeky. "Sorry babe. Bro. Dude pal."

"I want to kiss you so much." He has lost control of his mouth. Louis touches his finger to the screen, where Harry assumes his mouth is. He mimics the gesture. His heart aches.

He has to shake it off. "D'you watch the thing then?"

Louis nods. "You did such a good job." It's intended as a simple compliment, but Harry's witnessing the glory that is Louis' face for the first time in a few days and his brain just takes that sentence and runs with it. He preens, a bit hot with the praise. Louis must notice. He must, since he tacks on, "My good boy."

Jesus. "Where are you?"

Louis makes a show of looking around, lifting his laptop. Harry doesn't even pretend to look at the room Louis' presenting him, since all he really reveals is the fact he's shirtless. "My old bedroom. Well, Lottie's room. She's kipping at Fizzy's to make room for her poor disabled brother, isn't that considerate?"

"Very…" he trails off, pulling the screen closer to his face. "Babe, can you wave your hands again?"

Louis looks at him in confusion but does. He might take the piss. Harry has no idea what he's saying, because he's just staring dumbly at Louis' hands. "Haz?" he asks eventually.

"That's. You're wearing my ring."

Louis doesn't look an ounce bashful about it. "You're the one who fucking packed it."

That might be true. "Well you're the one fucking wearing it."

"Well fuck you."

Yes. Harry checks the time. It hadn't been that long. Zayn will probably keep JJ in the garage for at least half an hour. "What's your policy on Skype sex?"

"There there, sweetheart." Louis makes a show of putting the laptop on his knees and looking down, lifting his sweats up and peeking down curiously. "Might be up for it."

It takes them a while to figure it out. They start by just wanking, but the connection's lagging and Louis' being too much of a tease for Harry's liking. He hasn't gotten off with Louis in two weeks, he should be rewarded, not punished. He's about to whine, or maybe bully Louis into domming for a bit, when Louis slows down and says, "This is weird."

It takes Harry a bit longer to slow down his hand, as he was trying to work up a rhythm. "Yeah?"

Louis smiles at him apologetically. Maybe Harry's frustrated kitten noise hadn't been as well-concealed as he thought. "Yeah, 'cause like, I can see myself."

Harry sees no way in which this is a turn-off. "You've never, like, wanked in front of a mirror?"

Louis tightens his fist around his dick. Harry considers that a good sign. "Harold."

Harry shrugs, starts stroking himself leisurely. He catches Louis' eyes following the movement and hitches his hips up so it's more obvious for the camera. "When you've got it…" he mumbles, getting worked up.

Louis hisses in a breath and shakes his head. "Maybe I could disable it if – "

"Lou, you're fucking gorgeous, just look at yourself and enjoy it."

Louis makes a face, but he does place the laptop next to him rather than on top of him, so Harry gets a nice profile of his abs working as he starts to stroke himself again. He's so focused on Louis' cock that he misses the hesitant look Louis' giving the camera. Until he says, "This okay?"

A huge bell starts ringing in Harry's head. Louis wouldn't normally ask that, not this… vulnerably. He risks it and lowers the laptop lid so that Louis can only see from his chest down. "D'you want me to tell you?" he asks in a steady, deep voice.

"What?" Louis asks. He's got a nice flush spreading over his face, down his neck.

"Where to look at. What makes you beautiful."

Louis bites his lip, his eyes darting from himself to Harry on the laptop screen. "That's very cheesy."

Harry snorts. Louis' absolutely not fooling him, not with a front row seat to his flushed, hard cock. "Right, sweetheart. Play with your nipples, that always gets you."

For a second Louis freezes, holding himself so tight like he really needs to consider this switch between them, but then he does just as Harry said. He looks fucking relieved, staring at his own image tweaking his nipples, his cock twitching in his dainty hand.

"That's right," Harry ventures. It takes a lot of self-control to put both of his hands on the bed, because at this rate he'll be tugging himself roughly and coming in minutes. It also gives Louis an uninterrupted visual of his cock, hard and heavy on his stomach. There are beads of pre-come gathered at the tip already. "Look at what you do to me."

Louis only makes a small sound and squeezes his nipple, his hips bucking up slightly. Christ, he's hot. By the time Harry's got him fingering himself, Louis' totally making a show of it, biting his lip coyly and throwing his head back to bare his neck to him. "This is rather sexy, I suppose," Louis comments, voice high and breathless.

He's bearing down on his fingers, got this blissed-out look on his face, visible even through the computer screen. There's little Louis likes more than getting fingerfucked (mainly: fingerfucking Harry), and Harry's own hands are jittery, he wants to be inside Louis so much. "Thinking about me?" he asks, voice rougher than intended.

Louis nods weakly, eyes still fixed on the screen. "Not your cock, though. Your fingers. Wanna – oh – wanna come from them, wanna come all over you, Harry."

Harry can't hold himself back anymore. His hand flies to his cock and he grips it tight and sure, pumping fast. "I'd have you on my chest right now, slamming three fingers into you till you're shooting on my face."

"Fuck," Louis whispers, his pretty eyes snapping shut.

"Your other hand," Harry asks, his eye caught on Louis' left hand, tangled in the sheets. His ring finger. His ring. He knows it's not Louis' good hand but they're both close enough that it doesn't really matter. So he won't be able to play FIFA for the next two hours, whatever.

Louis doesn't ask why, which is surprising, and doesn't take out the fingers already in him before adding his left ring finger, which is mind-melting. Harry can't actually see his ring meeting Louis' rim, but he can damn well hear Louis' pretty moan. He comes with a grunt, caught in Louis' hungry eyes.

He honestly doesn't know if Louis comes from watching Harry or watching himself. He's quite pleased about that. What he does know is that he's absolutely knackered, the seven-hour flight getting to him. He wipes down and considers signing off, but then he looks at his laptop and sees Louis still watching him with open interest and affection. "D'you want a lullaby?" Louis asks.

So he's staying. Alright. Harry puts the laptop next to his pillow and lies down on his side. It's the most horrifically sappy thing he's ever done. He can't bring himself to rethink it, though, not when he feels so settled and safe and sex-sleepy. Louis' basically cooing at him. He'd probably be taking screenshots if it weren't for the part of the screen where Louis' naked and dirty with come on his little sister's bed. "Excited for tomorrow?" he asks quietly.

"Not really," Harry answers through a yawn. "Miss you. Don't know how it's gonna go."

"Well, it's just the first two practices. And you're gonna do great without me. Look how well you just did without me."

Harry smiles widely at him. "Doubt I could do that in front of the press."

"Well," Louis tuts. "You'll still fuck everyone up. I've got your back, just like you said in the interview today."

Harry nuzzles into his pillow, like he would Louis' chest or tummy right now. "What more do I need than my doting partner?"

Louis hesitates, and Harry's sleepy brain suddenly catches up to what he said. Big word. Whatever, Louis just fucked himself with Harry's ring on. They're already pretty big.

Louis kisses his left wrist, right on the pulse point, his tattoo. The big light. Harry's eyes close happily. "Go to sleep, baby. I'll watch you tomorrow. You're gonna do great."

Harry's pretty much out of it, says goodbye with a mumbled "love you when you're sixty" and shuts down the laptop. It's probably unhealthy, but he keeps it in bed when he finally falls asleep. For the first time since the crash, he really believes he's going to do great.

*

Louis wakes up bright and early on race day. For a moment he forgets that he's not the one racing. He's dreamt of the Korean track, and his heart's pounding and he's about to ask Harry if he's okay, when it rushes back. He looks at his leg with utter contempt. "Traitor," he spits.

He checks his phone to see what time it is, and finds six new texts from Harry, along with thirty in their group. He opens the ones from Harry, still bleary-eyed.

Harry Styles Harold H Haz Hazza<3:

where's my race morning bj :(

I forgot to ask you how your appntmnt with your gp went!

hope it went well xx

send pics of you in spin class

no srsly do your squats

love you it's okay if you don't wake up in time!

Louis finally checks. Christ, it's half six in the morning. He gives himself five more minutes to nap, then rolls to his side slowly. One foot after the other. Bed to floor. Sitting to standing. His mum said he should give up the crutches as soon as the pain allowed him to put some pressure on his foot. No one told him how much pain is too much pain, though, so he just grits his teeth and bears through it.

He sticks to the wall as he putters to the kitchen to make a cuppa. The race is on three pm Korean time, so seven am UK time. Harry's at the pit lane right now and away from his phone, so it doesn't really matter that Louis hasn't texted him back yet. He honestly thinks he's got nothing to worry about – qualifying was tough, as everyone wanted to use the advantage Louis' provided, but Harry came out on top and won the pole position. It's a good sign, Louis thinks.

He wraps his hands around his mug, wonders vaguely if Harry's cold or hot. He'd really rather just sit on the table until he finishes his tea, but he should probably find a livestream before he gets too comfortable. The fact that he wants to chop off his foot is irrelevant.

He grips his mug tight and hops on his good leg, sort of dragging himself back to the bedroom. Something stops him on the way, though. There's music wafting through the hall. That's all Louis needs, really, to be in a horror film. He can't exactly run from creepy music with his sprained fucking ankle, can he?

Slowly, he starts moving again, clinging to the wall. The music gets louder as he goes, until he realises it's coming from Fizzy's room. Maybe they fell asleep with the computer still on. He hesitates for a second before knocking gently.

"What the fuck?"

Maybe not. "Language," he admonishes before even opening the door. Once he's standing in the room and sees both his sisters absorbed in their computers, he realises they didn't wake up freakishly early, they're still up freakishly late.

They look sleepy and pissed off and Louis loves them to bits. "What are you doing up?" he asks, crossing his arms, like he actually cares.

"What d'you want?" Lottie asks, tugging on her earphones impatiently. Like she even used them, Louis can hear the music.

He's about to snap something back, but there's just no time, really. He cocks his hip when an idea comes to him. "Just checking if you wanted to watch the race with me."

Lottie looks shifty enough that Louis takes the two steps separating him from her mattress and catches sight of her laptop screen. It's the Korean track, live on Sky Sports F1. Louis' absolutely delighted. "So you started without me?"

"Thought you were asleep," Lottie murmurs.

"Thought you'd be – not willing to watch after what happened last time," Louis admits.

Fizzy huffs. "Oh, I am. Hence the loud music. I'm very traumatised."

"Well, maybe I could help with that?" he suggests. "Just because I messed up doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy the best sport in the world." The more he thinks about it, the more he fancies the idea of educating his sisters live about his job.

Lottie's still considering it. "Will I have to get up?"

Instead of answering, Louis collapses next to her on the mattress. She rolls her eyes and sets the laptop between them. Fizzy's sixteen now, and therefore far too cool to snuggle up with them, but she does stop the music and peeks at them every so often.

Lottie unplugs her earphones and resumes the streaming. Ten minutes until take-off, the press is leaving the pit lane. Louis feels extremely weird just sitting around watching a Grand Prix. It's the first one he hasn't participated in since his shunt early last year. There's still the thrill, though, watching the cars line up, the warm-up lap. He can feel how fast they're going, like he's connected to the noise somehow. It gets his heart pumping without even being on the track.

Finally, the race is ten seconds from starting, and he and Lottie hold their breaths. "Hey, is that your tattoo?" Fizzy asks, cutting the tension and pointing at the starting lights.

"Yeah, that's – oh there he goes!" Harry flies off from pole position, makes it through the first corner without a hitch.

"Styles isn't bothered by Alonso nipping at his heels as the Korean Grand Prix takes off," David Croft starts. "Grosjean seems to be taking the fight to the Cowell man by passing Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes on the opening lap. He's holding him off so far, but Turn 3 just might send him spinning."

"That's a load of bullshit, anyone with eyes can see the Cowell car's perfect for straight-line speed and traction," Louis tells the computer.

"Whoa," Lottie says, mocking. "Tone down the commentary, Lou."

"I'd be a brilliant commentator." It's actually interesting for Louis to watch the action from here. From first place, you can't see the bloody battle for fourth. That's what made him completely miss out on Harry Styles from 2010 to 2012. He's learning that it's a damn shame, because Harry's a top-notch racer. He's careful with his right-front tyre, calculated and clever when he turns, and doesn't get distracted by the mayhem behind him. And Louis' so, so proud of him. Of course Turn 3 doesn't send him spinning. "See? I called it right."

"Ugh, whatever," Lottie says, sounding bored. "Who are we rooting for again?"

"Harry, obviously." He has to resist the urge to tap her nose.

"Who's got the most points?" Fizzy asks from her bed.

"Me still, but the margin is – " Lottie pokes him. Louis clears his throat. "So I was leading before the accident, yeah?" Fizzy nods at him, rolling her eyes like she doesn't appreciate Louis dumbing down his stat talk for her. "But since I won't win points for the next few weeks, the other racers are both trying to catch up to me and beat each other. So right now there's no clear lead. It would've been Harry, actually, if he'd finished the last race after I… Anyway, that means they're racing harder than ever, and that the margins between them are smaller. It's quite interesting, really, since usually the champion is declared as early as the Indian GP, but now it might even drag on to the US race."

"You're quite calm about watching from the sidelines," Lottie points out, blunt as ever.

Louis is – surprised to find that she's absolutely right. He's not wracked with jealousy or pain, not to the level that he'd expected. Of course it stings that he's not leading the charge out there, but he's sort of numb to it, like somewhere deep inside him he's already accepted it. "Just trying to make the best of it, bug."

"Well, are you gonna go back?" Fizzy asks, losing all pretence that she's not involved in this. She's hanging half-off her bed to watch the screen.

Louis cracks his knuckles. Right now, being back on the track sounds… daunting, in a shocking way. He tries to focus on the race in front of him. "Well, when I'm back on my feet, so to speak. But I won't win. So now I'm hoping Hazza does."

"Why? Isn't he your direct competition?"

Before he manages to think of a vague answer, Lottie reaches over to smack Fizzy upside the head. Fizzy curses her out while Louis just stares at her with furrowed eyebrows. And Lottie bloody winks at him. He wonders what on Earth their mum has been telling her. He should definitely talk to her about it later.

They're all distracted from the conversation by Sergio Perez’s McLaren throwing the tread off its right-front Pirelli tyre on the 31st lap, sending safety-cars into action to clear up the debris. Lottie's breath hitches and her hand clamps unconsciously on Louis' arm. He wants to ask her if she's alright, when he remembers the last time she'd seen a safety car it was scraping her brother out of gravel.

He wraps an arm around her shoulders, not giving her the chance to shake him off. It wasn't just a joke to Fizzy, was it? What if she really was traumatised? How is Louis ever supposed to forgive himself? Christ, he could have fucking gone into a coma or been killed and he never would have… patched things up. Known about the babies on the way.

He's never faced this crippling feeling. The risks have never threatened to outweigh the benefits. There's a crisis brewing inside him. He holds his sister tighter and talks, talks about the process and the race and the cars, talks loudly to compensate for the emptiness he's suddenly feeling.

To his amazement, they stay awake for the hour and forty minutes it takes for Harry to finish the 55th lap. They even cheer right along with Louis, so loud their mum bursts into the room in her robe, pure alarm on her face. Louis' hit with another wave of guilt, for his mum who had to watch it on the news, for his sister who had to watch it live. They were all wounded that day.

She does a headcount, and the fear in her face makes way for exasperation. "Why are you making a ruckus on Sunday morning?"

Louis can't stop grinning. "Harry won."

"Oh, that's lovely," she says, genuinely happy for him. For them. Louis is so happy he could burst. "Should that give you a free pass?"

Oh please. "I'm your invalid eldest son, snuggled up with two of his adoring sisters, who woke up early just for this by the way, to watch the most important thing in his life. I am a free pass."

His mum looks at each of her smiling children in consideration, and then just seems to give up. "Alright then. Why don't we make some breakfast and you give me the rundown?"

"For your own safety don't ask him that, he's been commentating the entire race, it was exhausting," Lottie says, yawning for effect. Or just because she was up all night. Anyway, she's still tucked into Louis' side, so he doesn't take her seriously.

"I'll have you know I was witty, hilarious, clever and on-point."

"Whatever. Mum, I think we should just go to – back to sleep," Fizzy says, and just flops over to face the wall quite rudely. Teenagers.

"I'll take you up on that," Louis offers. He gives Lottie one last hug while she's sleepy and vulnerable to shows of affection, and then hobbles off the bed. His mum immediately leaps to help him stand and reach the door. "See you guys in a few hours," he says. The girls don't respond, probably already asleep.

In the kitchen, literally every question his mum asks results in a raving review of Harry in action. That includes "how many toasts?" and "when is your appointment?". Eventually she just gives up and lets him talk about Harry's win and what it means. She doesn't even reprimand him for turning on the telly in search of the press conference while they're eating.

"And Lottie knew what 235 points meant to him. He's such a star." Louis is being stupidly proud, or proudly stupid.

His mum pats his shoulder. "It was really sweet of you to include them. Even if they did stay up about seven hours past their bedtime."

Louis smiles bashfully. Of course she knew. She's a mum. "It was sweet of them to join me, really. I don't think I realised – like. That I've never actually done it before? Really told them about racing and my life and me. It's rubbish, innit?" It's just been so long since he's been home, he got so afraid his sisters would feel more like his fans than his siblings, and then that thought made him panic so he just didn't visit at all. So he wouldn't be able to confirm or deny his theory.

His mum must be touched, as she kisses his forehead and doesn't comment on how long his hair has become. "Better now than never," she says, touching her own belly discreetly. Louis feels inexplicably warm.

Finally the racers pile into the room, Harry wearing a smile that could be seen from space. He sits in the middle and pours water for all three of them, making eye contact with everyone in the room. He's sweaty and giddy and Louis is trying very hard not to let his thoughts derail.

"Man of the hour" is the first thing he's called by the reporters, and Louis wholeheartedly agrees. The race was action-packed and Harry shined and should be recognised for it. He's visibly excited when he answers questions, bolstered by his own performance. He's charming and kind and on-point, actually a lot louder than he would have been if Louis were there. He doesn't know if it's born of being uncomfortable or not, but Harry's trying his hardest to be entertaining.

Louis has to hop on one foot to get closer to the telly, because he thinks he's just – oh god, Harry's wearing the Sziget wristband under his sleeve. He probably raced with it. "Loser," Louis hisses to the television.

And then Harry starts talking about him. Like, he uses every meagre opportunity to gush about his "talented teammate", be it how honoured he is to take Louis' place on top or how his workout routine has suffered in Louis' absence. Actual words that came out of his actual mouth. If they were keeping innuendo scores, Harry might be leading right now.

"He's off the rails," he tells his mum, secretly pleased. "This is absolutely embarrassing."

His mum tuts and stuffs toast in her mouth. It's not the most dignified way to drop the bomb that will change the course of Louis' entire life.

"You sound like you miss him more than you miss racing."

Louis scoffs immediately and dismisses that. "Trust me, there's nothing..." He trails off, protest unfinished, when Harry smiles wide at the camera and plays with his wristband. It takes him a moment to remember what she said, and then he chokes on his tongue.

There's no need to protest. She might be right. She might be right. It's like this whole process Louis' undergone even before the crash, even before the wedding, is finally coming to a head. With this dawning realisation.

The thing he felt when he watched the race wasn't longing for the track, it was longing for Harry.

His. His priorities are fucked now. Oh god, it's like he's flashing back to easy conversations with Harry about their future, to his sister asking him when he's coming back, to ducking Eleanor's calls, to pushing himself only as much as his doctor advised and not killing himself over a chance to finish the season with a bang.

"Love? You're white as a sheet, what's wrong?" his mum asks, suddenly concerned.

"I'm. I need to make a call." Louis stands up, curses in pain, and then staggers to find his phone. He doesn't want to stew in this. He's been stewing for two weeks. He's been stewing for a year before that. His heart's beating so hard he can't even think.

When Zayn finally picks up he sounds cheerful, in complete contrast to how Louis wants him to sound. "Babes, did you call the wrong number?"

"What?" Louis spits, confused for a second.

"Aren't you gonna call your boy to congratulate him?"

His heart pangs. His boy. "Zayn, what if I don't come back?"

"If what?" Zayn asks, crisp and serious all of a sudden. The noise around him dims, like he moved to a quieter part of the garage. Jesus, he sort of won a race an hour ago, he shouldn't even be talking to him. "Lou, you told me the doctor said you were doing well beyond his expectations, you'll be back in no time."

"No, I mean." Christ, he wants to cry. He doesn't know how to piece it together. "What if I don't want to?" He hates how breathless he sounds, panicky and real. "Not because I'm afraid of racing again, but because I just – oh god."

It takes Zayn a minute to come up with the perfect answer, because he's Zayn and he's perfect. "Babe, calm down. It's not the end of the fucking world. You're not nineteen anymore, it's okay to consider new things. If your heart's not in it you shouldn't be in a car. Unless you're waiting for something worse than an ankle sprain?"

He's still hyperventilating, but Zayn is making some sense. "What do I even do?"

"Yo, listen, the first thing you do is get better. Your health is more important than any of this. And use the time to just think. You're not committing to anything yet. Even if you do decide to retire – " Louis cringes at the word. "You can start by taking just a season off. To try something else."

Well. That doesn't sound so bad. He manages to get his breathing right, but his stomach is still turning. "I'm so stressed out, Zayner."

"I can tell. Have you mentioned any of this to H?"

Shit, he's got to call Harry. But what would he even tell him? Hey, I've got this weird feeling and I don't know what I'm going to do with it yet but you should be aware? "No, I. It's his big day."

"And what's the real reason?"

Louis glares at his phone. Zayn has no respect for his epiphany. "I can't tell him yet because I don't know what it means yet."

"What?"

"Like." Louis squeezes his eyes shut. "If I take a year off like you said, what's that gonna mean for us?"

Zayn's got a quick answer for that too, bless him. "Lou, I can hardly imagine you sitting on your arse in England for twelve months. There's gotta be options. You already know the right people."

It's there. There already is a solution, he just hasn't found it yet. He sighs into the phone, and Zayn chuckles affectionately. "Can't believe we're actually talking about you retiring, Tommo."

"Me neither, mate. It's like everything's different now."

"Better though?"

And that's the catch, isn't it. Louis doesn't have to look very far to find the honest answer. Harry's still babbling on his television screen. "Infinitely."

"I sort of figured that. Like, after last year, or maybe always, I dunno, I thought… Can I just say it?"

"Zayn, I'm having an existential crisis, any reassurance could help."

"Well, I thought you... I thought your reason for racing was to… prove something. Like, you know that Marina and the Diamonds song where she says she thinks she's the worst so she acts like she's the best?"

Louis actually bursts out laughing mid-crisis. "Zayn, I said reassurance, are you high?"

"Prick. All I'm saying is that you were gonna burn out sooner or later if you kept with that attitude. And things really are different for you now, with Harry and your family and having nearly gotten yourself killed two weeks ago. You're less inclined to risk everything. Because you've actually got something to risk."

Louis blinks at his hand for a while, noticing the ring distractedly. "That's fucking deep, bro."

"Oi, it's why you rang me and not Liam or Niall, don't pretend."

He huffs. But Zayn's right, of course. If there's anything he's good for, it's soulful advice. Well, not really, he's good for pretty much anything, but the soulful advice is a good trait. He actually feels a bit calmer. He just needed a plan, a direction. He hates feeling lost and helpless. "I love you."

"Love you too. Miss you loads."

Louis clucks at his phone. "You'll retire with me, yeah? I jump you jump."

"Sure, we'll have a double wedding."

"That'll be fucking amazing, actually. You and Pez, me and Liam, Harry and Niall. Then we'll all be a family."

Zayn snorts attractively. "Just don't tell Hazza, he'll start banging on about a group baby."

Hm. They could just wait for Perrie, or maybe steal one of his mum's offsprings. Maybe they should start with a group cat first, though. "We're really unrecognised geniuses, mate."

"True. Feel better?"

He shrugs to himself. "Sort of. Freaks me out to think about it."

"Well, you know what you could do if you're retired."

Oh. Oh. He's got a feeling Zayn isn't talking about shaving off all his hair and moving to Rio. "I can't decide that for Harry."

Zayn pauses, maybe in shock. "That lad is gagging to come out for you, are you kidding? He bought fireworks for when he's shouting it from the rooftops. He's got sky-writing planned. His homepage is Queers4Gears.com."

Louis shakes his head. Coming out of the closet feels even more foreign than not racing. Completely unrealistic. Just like the flicker of excitement that's just sparked up somewhere in his chest. "Yeah, but. Give me Liam."

Liam answers even quicker than Louis' thought. He can see them, huddled in the corner of the garage and fighting for the phone because he called. It's adorable.

Liam agrees with Zayn, surprisingly. He thinks that if Louis' out for the count it's gonna be practically easy for Harry to come out, since it's just one racer and not two team members bumfucking each other. He also sounds pretty confident Harry won't be fired, since he's their frontman and everyone's looking to him for the title. Whatever happens when Harry comes out, it's gonna be bad press just to sack him.

Louis' getting that feeling again, his chest clenching, his head light. He needs to stop thinking about it. "I'm gonna call Harry now, he's probably done with the press things. How brilliant was he out there?"

"Just go call him," Liam snaps.

"I love you," Zayn shouts at the phone just before Liam hangs up on Louis. So that happens.

Just before calling, Louis makes sure to tweet him.

(x)

*

The Japanese Grand Prix is just a week after the Korean one, and Harry doesn't really mind losing to Ferrari because 1) it makes things interesting, and 2) he's already booked his flight to London. For the first time, he's actually excited for a twelve-hour flight. Even the eight-hour flight from London to New Delhi isn't looming. Nothing is looming but the swelling of Harry's heart when he thinks about seeing Louis again. (It's bad enough that he's thinking in horrible metaphors. Similes? Zayn would know. It's been three long, stressful weeks. He's allowed to be prolific and sappy. He's practically dancing around his room, startling JJ and making Niall laugh.)

The plan has been in motion since the moment Louis left, basically. He knew he couldn't come visit before the Korean round, and there wasn't enough time between that and the next one to schedule a visit. There was also the issue of not telling Louis. He just mentioned it when Louis called to talk about the race, and Louis stopped breathing for thirty seconds before yelling, "You're what?"

"Checking up on you, to make sure you're not slacking off. Or slagging off. I'm a jealous man, me." He couldn't wipe the smile off his face.

"Oh god, Harold, shut up and explain."

Harry paused until Louis cursed. "I'll fly in on Tuesday and fly out the next Tuesday."

"But. I told you not to. While I work this out."

"Yeah, and I didn't listen. I can hear you smiling, Lou, it's doing nothing to change my mind."

Louis actually giggled, it was hilarious. "But I've got things. Appointments. Meetings."

"What meetings would – " No, he wasn't going to let Louis distract him. "Then I'll hang out with your mum and talk about babies. Or your sisters. Like, hang with your sisters, not talk about your sisters."

"You'd wanna – okay, just get here, I need to kiss you."

Harry heard distant cries of ewww, which suggested Louis wasn't alone, which made Harry's throat clench because it had only been a day since Louis told his family about them. Louis being comfortable with himself is one of Harry's top five concerns/goals.

His stomach is knotted so tight Harry can't breathe properly when he's finally parked outside of Louis' home. He wonders if this is how Louis felt coming to a stranger's wedding. He's fiddling with his duffle bag aimlessly. It's stupid, he's expected here, it's completely reasonable for him to show up, but he still feels a bit out of place.

Finally his excitement to see Louis overwhelms his nerves. He rings the doorbell, cringing when he can hear it from inside loudly. It's only 10 AM. He should have just rung Louis or –

The door opens. Harry's jaw drops.

It's Louis. It's actually Louis, and he looks infinitely better than he had when Harry'd last seen him at the hospital. His beard is trimmed neatly and his hair is swooping over his forehead and the corners of his eyes are crinkly with joy. Most importantly: he's standing on his own two feet. His left leg is compensating, and he's leaning on the doorway in what appears to be a casual manner but Harry knows is a necessity, but he's okay and happy and bloody gorgeous.

Harry doesn't manage to say anything, so he just gathers Louis in his arms and gives him the fiercest hug in history.

"Jesus, Haz," Louis croaks, but he wraps his arms tightly around Harry's waist. Harry even notices him sniffing his shirt. Strange as usual, especially considering Louis' definitely wearing a shirt of Harry's, but he hardly minds if it means Louis' face is anywhere near his person.

It makes it especially easy to look down and capture Louis' lips in a soft kiss, lingering and relieved. He loves how well Louis fits against him. He loves his mouth. He loves his face. He missed him so much he's shivering.

"Wanna come inside?" Louis whispers into his mouth.

Harry kisses him twice before kissing him again and then saying, "Happily."

It takes them another two minutes to make it past the threshold, busy kissing and hugging and sniffing each other, murmuring sweet things like "I love you", "I missed you", "No one's home, I need your cock in me ten minutes ago". Louis' precious like that.

Harry can't stand to see him hobbling around, so he lifts him easily, smiling when Louis curls around him automatically. His bum leg hangs limply by Harry's side, but he doesn't complain. Harry kisses him harder, grabs his arse for fun rather than comfort, and Louis moans into his mouth.

He slows everything down when he undresses Louis, unwrapping him like an early Christmas gift and kissing him all over. He lays Louis down on his side gently, stuffs a pillow under his injured ankle so it stays elevated, and fits himself behind him. He runs adoring hands over his flanks and back, sucks a bruise on the crook of his neck. Louis' sweating already, keeps trying to shove Harry's hands down, but he's having none of it.

He's gentle when he fucks him, too. The position doesn't allow him any room, but he doesn't need it right now. He wants to fuck Louis slow and deep and close, wants to wrap his arm around Louis' chest so they're plastered to each other, so the only thing he has to move is his hips, rocking into Louis again and again, small whimpers escaping Louis' reddened lips with no respite.

"Fuck," Louis breathes, fingers clenching around Harry's bicep. He looks over his shoulder and his eyes are glassy, cheeks pink. Harry pushes up to kiss his pouty lips, licking into his mouth without stopping the rhythm of his hips.

He can't remember the last time they went for a good, long fuck, but it fits now, it fits because Louis' sweaty and shivery and incoherent, it fits because Harry's so close to him he can't remember a time they weren't like this. He's leaving fingerprints on Louis' hip, lovebites anywhere he can reach. Pushes in in in. Louis' quieter than usual, just gasps every time Harry bottoms out, little desperate sounds.

At some point it's just unbearable, Louis' wiggling too much and Harry thinks he's about to pass out. He finally wraps a hand around Louis' cock, preparing to draw that out too, but Louis comes as soon as Harry touches him. He folds in on himself, wrecked and shuddering, just barely thumping on Harry's arm to let him know he can keep going.

It doesn't take him long from there. He's got just enough presence of mind to pull out and tie off the condom, but as soon as he does he just reattaches himself to Louis' back and cuddles him in, careful not to jostle his leg. He's sure there are words to say, something loving and poetic about how amazing that was, but he falls asleep before he can get them out.

Louis' playing with his hair when he wakes up. He's sprawled on Harry's chest and smiling sweetly at him. Harry feels bathed in light with the blinds drawn shut. "Morning love. Well, afternoon."

"After – wait." He lifts up to kiss Louis. Right. "Afternoon? How long was I out for?"

Louis kisses him back. "Few hours. I guess the flight was knackering."

"Hours? Oh my god. Your bum's to blame." He smacks it without thinking, just brings his heavy hand down on God's finest creation, and Louis' fingers tighten for a second on his collarbones before he laughs it off.

"None of that now. You need to get yourself sorted. I reckon my mum would like to meet the boy I've kept in my room."

Harry hums. He's not nervous at all. Any and all negative feelings and concerns have evaporated while he was fucking Louis' brains out. He could meet Barack Obama right now and be cool as a cucumber. He could meet Michelle Obama right now and be cool as a cucumber. "Maybe if I could get up that'll help?" he hints.

Louis pretends to consider it, tilting his head from left to right and then zeroing in to kiss Harry again, deeply this time. Harry wraps his arms around the small of Louis' back, hugging him close. "Five more minutes?" he whispers hopefully.

"Four. And don't leave marks."

"Deal." He dives right back in, swallows Louis' giggle. He definitely doesn't mention the numerous lovebites already decorating Louis' neck. He thrives on awkwardness, it breeds the best jokes.

So it's just as awkward as he'd imagined. Louis looks hopelessly fucked out, and Harry doesn't think he's faring much better. They should've just done breakfast tomorrow instead of dinner tonight, but the truth is Harry has made plans to ride Louis into the mattress tomorrow morning, so there's no guarantee that that would've been better.

Anyway, it's dinner with Jay, Dan and the older sisters, Lottie and Fizzy, since the younger ones are at a sleepover. Harry has to formally introduce himself to Dan and Fizzy, as he'd already met Lottie at Silverstone and has been chatting with Jay fairly regularly since the crash. She's been pretty lovely to him. He keeps thinking back to what Louis' told him about her, but maybe she's come around. Maybe watching one's son nearly die on a racetrack does that to you. It might also help that they're obviously in love. Harry doesn't know, he's not a dad. Yet.

They settle down with some pasta and nobody talks for like, two minutes. Harry and Louis are sitting next to each other and just fidgeting. These are people that had three days to digest that Louis' gay before having to host his committed partner for a week. Harry gets how that might be troubling.

It's Jay who breaks the ice, bless her. "So Japan was interesting. We all watched it live on the Beeb."

Louis looks like he's about to answer, but Harry goes for it. "Yeah, it was a very tactical race. It was all about timing the pit stops, really. My strategy was with three stops, and it looked good when I swapped to Pirelli’s medium tyres for the last stint with 11 laps to go. But then – " He looks around, bemused. "Wait, this isn't a press conference."

Fizzy laughs politely. "We heard it all from Lou anyway."

Harry smiles at that, sneaking a hand to tangle his and Louis' fingers together under the table. Maybe not so sneaky, as Lottie says, "Can I just ask something? Were you together when I met you?"

Harry bites his lip. He goes with the easy answer. "Yeah."

She smacks her own forehead. "Unbelievable. My gaydar's for shit."

Harry laughs so suddenly and loudly it drowns out Jay's admonishment and Dan's uncomfortable grunt. Lottie's smirking at him with glittering eyes. Harry can definitely see the resemblance to her brother. "Louis told me you knew before he told you, though."

Lottie rolls her eyes, but she does puff up a bit, like Harry's given her a compliment. "Obviously."

Louis leans in to mock-whisper conspiratorially, "She hangs with the Dream Team people."

"Oh my god Tommo, shut up," she hisses while Harry laughs again. "They're called Teammates," she adds quietly.

He's quite charmed throughout the whole thing. Even Dan seems to warm up to him the tiniest bit, when Harry expresses open enthusiasm about Jay's pregnancy. After pudding they all retire to their rooms, not before Lottie grabs Louis for a Very Serious Private Bollocking regarding Buggery In Other People's Rooms.

Louis just kisses her forehead patronisingly and grabs Harry's arm for help as they make their way to their allotted bedroom. "I've got a doctor's appointment tomorrow at around noon. You could, um, come with if you want," Louis suggests while they're getting changed.

"Of course, I'll – hey," he starts laughing again when he looks from Louis to himself and notices that they're wearing each other's clothes. Louis just shrugs and tugs the collar of Harry's T-shirt up to cover his mouth and nose, staring at Harry. Who kisses him over the fabric. "I'd love to come with you."

"Cool. Then maybe we could hang out? Like, outside. I've been cooped up here for way too long."

"Whatever you want." He kisses him one more time and then flops on the bed, grogginess catching up to him.

Louis' GP seems surprised to see that Harry's there, but he doesn't comment on it. He declares that Louis' well into his middle stage rehabilitation and could start with functional rehabilitation exercises. Louis was probably expecting him to say he's fit to run a marathon, but all the doctor says is walk in a straight line for a few steps.

He's so bummed about it, he's just looking at his ankle dejectedly. "Guess we can't hang out outside today."

"What are you talking about? We're gonna tour all of Donny." Louis looks at him with confusion, so Harry holds out his hand and turns around so his back is facing him. "Hop on."

"Harold, don't be ridiculous." But his stern voice is wavering, his pout giving way to a mischievous smile.

"C'mon. Let's get some ice cream in you."

"Sold."

It's odd for a few days. Since hopping on Harry's back, Louis sort of hasn't gotten off. Metaphorically. He's being 800 percent more affectionate and careless in public, suggesting Harry take him to the stadium and the chip shop and the music shop and the movies. Harry's up for anything, of course, but he's not used to Louis hanging off him in front of random people.

He writes it off as injury stuff, as Louis literally needing support lest he'll fall over. Well, actually, he just doesn't think about it a lot. It feels kind of normal, like it should be, walking around town with his boyfriend, going on dates and having dinner with his family.

The only difference between them and a normal couple is the occasional fan that will stop them for a chat. And the only difference between now and a month ago is that Louis actually agrees to take a picture, all three of them. Harry knows there's already solid evidence online that he's in Doncaster, he knows they're stirring shit up. But if Louis doesn't care, Harry's not going to kick up a fuss. He wouldn't even have mentioned it at all, had Twitter not come into play.

"What are you doing?" Harry asks, vaguely worried but mostly lulled to sleep by Louis' clever fingers in his hair. They're snuggled together and watching a film Harry can't, for the life of him, remember the name of. He's mostly been listening to Louis voicing his opinions at an uncaring screen.

"Giving you Miley hair," Louis explains, before tugging half of Harry's hair in a tight bun. He tries not to purr. He's not actually a cat.

"Am I gonna be grinding on you in latex?" he wonders out loud.

He's not imagining Louis tugging the other bun extra hard. "If you're good."

He pouts. "I was promised that about playing doctor."

"Mocking your hurt boyfriend's injury does not make you good," Louis insists, leaning back to inspect his work.

Harry would very much like to disagree, but he's suddenly blinded by the flash on Louis' phone. "You are not sending it to my sister," is the first thing he manages to say after Louis saves the picture.

Louis smirks devilishly. "Only Twitter."

Oh god. Wait, never mind the humiliation. Twitter will definitely know he's come to visit. "Are you sure?"

"Of course, the more publicly you're shamed the better."

"I mean." He's trying to inflect a serious tone, but he's got a feeling it's not super effective. Not with ponytails, anyway. "I mean, are you okay lately?"

Louis sucks his bottom lip into his mouth, eyes fixed on his phone. "I'm trying something out. Is that alright? I mean, have the last few days been alright for you? I've got nothing to lose but you – I mean."

Harry doesn't ask why or what he's trying out, just like he doesn't ask what Louis' meetings are for. After everything Louis' told him, he can allow him to keep a few secrets. He's a very trusting man, who'd like Louis to calm down. "'Kay. You got my good side, yeah?"

"You say that like you have a bad side."

Harry snorts. "Loser."

So Louis posts it, and the world doesn't end. Amazing. He might be getting increasingly worried texts from Harry Magee, but whatever. The only thing he has to say to shut his management up is that Louis' helping him train. Nothing is more important than the championship right now.

Which is what propels him to sneak out of the house at 9 AM and go for an hour-long run. As comforting as it is to spend whole days with Louis again, he can't lose sight of the Indian GP, just a week away. He uses the hour to clear his head, focus entirely on his pounding heart and feet, on the New Delhi circuit.

He also gets lost three times. When he finally makes it back to Louis' house, it's half ten, he's sweaty and refreshed, and the only person up and about is Lottie.

Harry considers sneaking past her and heading straight for the shower, but he was raised better than that. He walks up to the kitchen and leans against the threshold with his arms folded. "Hiya."

She looks up from her phone in surprise. This is probably the first time ever they're alone together. "Hi Harry." Awkward silence. "Where's Louis?"

"Still asleep probably. I don't like training when he's around, I think it makes him feel bad."

"Right."

He clears his throat. "Don't you have school?"

Lottie cocks an eyebrow at him. "No, seeing as it's Saturday." She backtracks from the snark quickly enough. "I like your trainers. Very bright."

Harry grins at her, showing off his neon green shoes. He takes that as invitation to enter the kitchen. "Thanks. D'you want some breakfast then?"

She actually puts her phone face-down, suddenly interested in what Harry has to say. "Do I want Harry Styles to make me breakfast? Of course."

Very good sign. Harry opens the fridge and sets to work. "How do you like your eggs in the morning?"

"Oh, just toast is fine. It's not my approval you need."

Harry whirls around, only to find her smirking knowingly. "Whatever are you talking about?" he asks, mock-offended, and slices a few pieces of bread. Maybe he should make a salad. He should probably make a salad for everyone.

Lottie giggles. "What I mean is, me and Louis… our relationship is a bit weird. As long as Liam and Zayn love you, you're good."

"Oh." That makes him a bit sad. "I'd still like your approval, if that's alright. He loves you a lot."

She smiles at him like he's being cute. "Can I ask a question, then?"

He's never been grilled by a relative of a significant other. This is exciting. "Fire away."

"The ring Louis started wearing all the time. It's yours, innit?"

Harry's staring very intently at the cucumber he's chopping. "How'd you know?"

She whispers a vindicated a-ha!. "We have pics of you wearing it, it wasn't that much of a leap."

"We?"

He glances over his shoulder to see her blushing to the roots of her hair. "The Internet," she finally admits. Harry snorts, and immediately apologises when she frowns at him. "I..." she starts. "We never see him, y'know? He left home six years ago and visited maybe six times since? We talk and he sends stuff over and I love him, obviously, but… I guess my only way to feel connected to him is…" She's trying to find the right words. Then blows Harry away with the blunt ones. "To stalk him online like a proper fangirl. Like I said, our relationship is weird."

She's eyeing him like she's just waiting for him to take the piss. He doesn't. He puts the toasts on a plate and leaves the vegetables for a moment so he could set it in front of her and then sit down himself. "You can't tell this to anyone, yeah?"

She arches an eyebrow and nods. He lowers his voice and leans closer to her. "Before I met him, I was a bit of a fangirl meself. Posters and everything. He was my idol."

She's smiling so wide it's taken over her whole face. "But you did that because you thought he was fit."

"Obviously. Is it less valid than your reason?"

"Absolutely not," she stresses, shaking her head. "Your relationship might actually be healthy."

"Oh come off it, your relationship with him… It is what it is."

She's quiet for a while, in the same way Louis gets when he's not sure whether to insult Harry or not. She makes a compromise. "Wise words. But I guess you're right. It's getting better, though, now that he's actually home and stopped lying to us." Her eyes widen. "Sorry, that came out harsh."

"It's okay. This is between us." He smiles at her, and she smiles back.

"So can I ask another question?"

"You just did."

She rolls her eyes in a very familiar way. "My god, you're an idiot. My question is – a friend told me there were pictures of you guys from the past few days. Like, together. Like, not subtle pictures. Do you… know what you're doing?"

He's not going to lie to Louis' teenage sister. "Not really. But we're both onboard with it." He doesn't tell her how nice it was to be in public with Louis like they're a proper couple, doesn't even tell her about the rush he felt at the knowledge people know Louis' wearing his ring. People know Louis is his. That's something Louis' teenage sister doesn't have to know.

"Alright then. You've really softened him up, y'know?" She says it accusatorily, but Harry just grins.

"Is that so?"

"Yeah, he's proper nice to us. Not bitchy at all."

"That's because he's only bitchy to me."

She snorts. Harry's sure there's a clever answer on the tip of her tongue, but before their conversation can carry on Louis staggers into the kitchen, small and shirtless. Harry really hopes Lottie's brain is just blocking out the bruises and lovebites all over Louis' body. (She takes to looking strictly at his face.) "You guys talking about me?" he asks, sleep-rough, while reaching blindly for his tea.

"No Louis, we have other interests, you know," Lottie snaps.

Louis doesn't bother to stop making his cuppa when he snaps back, "That's definitely a lie, bug, he has no other interests but me."

Lottie looks at Harry in challenge. He's definitely pressured into a scathing retort. "That's not true. I'm also interested in classic cars and wildlife."

Louis laughs at his attempt. He actually puts the mug down and limps over to the table to kiss Harry's cheek softly. Harry just freezes. Usually Louis' a lot more reserved around his family. Maybe Lottie's different. Maybe he's just still half-asleep. "You were discussing wildlife then?"

"Yeah, we both like panda bears," Lottie cuts in. "Bugger off then."

Louis smiles. He's looking at Harry's lips, maybe planning on planting a kiss there, but then decides against it. Harry's miffed. "Alright, carry on then. You stink anyway, Harold."

"See?" he whispers to Lottie, who laughs, crinkly-eyed like her brother. Maybe she will approve of him.

He gets up to finish his salad while Louis perches on the counter and passes him cucumbers and tomatoes and feta cheese. They do it mostly silently, barring the occasional "thanks love" and "sure babe", a nudge or a pet. When he's finally done he realises he might have made enough salad to last through the whole weekend. Jay will be pleased.

"Show the lads," Louis says, like he's trying to distract Harry from the fact he's illicitly munching on cheese cubes.

"When it's this perfect it's going on Instagram," he tells him off while opening his app. That's when he notices Louis' tweeted something new last night, after he ran his secret errand.

(x)

He looks up at Louis curiously. He's oblivious, still scrubbing at his eyes and licking his sticky fingers clean. He's adorable, even when he's acting funny. What can Harry do, really, but play along?

 

(x)(x)

*

 

 


(x)

*

It's exactly five weeks after the accident that Louis gets the job offer he didn't know he wanted. That's very convenient, as he's just rehabilitated enough to travel to the Cowell HQ in Manchester on his own.

He only chatted with James Corden two weeks ago and asked for him to fish around, tell a few key people that Louis Tomlinson is looking for work behind the scenes after his injury. He absolutely didn't think it would take so little time to get such an amazing offer.

"I dunno why you thought that, the broadcasts are always gagging for racers to commentate," Liam said when Louis called him in a panic. "And you're not some stubby dude who raced F3 forty years ago, you're at your prime. Everyone will wanna hear what you have to say. Why'd you think they're offering you so much money? So you don't go to BBC Sports, that's why."

He had a solid point, but Louis just wasn't hearing it. The only thing going through his mind was, and is, co-anchoring with fucking Martin Brundle, covering the whole 2014 season on-site for Sky Sports, doing everything but racing with Harry.

It couldn't be any better than that. He recognises that, even with his stomach twisting and his heart pounding. He knows what the next step is. He's talked with his lawyers. He's already set up the meeting with Simon. But he's fucking terrified.

His mum is the first person he tells, after Zayn and Liam. He didn't actually mean to, but she found him in hysterics in the bathroom, and ten minutes later she was cradling him in her lap and listening to him babble.

"I'm bloody excited, right? It's such a good offer, but. It's huge. Shouldn't I wait before I decide to bow out? What if it's just a stress reaction to the injury?"

"I know, love, I know it's huge," she says gently. "And traumatic experiences have a way of shifting your view on things, but the question is, are you seeing things more clouded or more clearly?"

He thinks about it for a long time. There's really no way of knowing for sure, but now that he's actually got an offer, now that he's got something to consider, he can at least think it over.

He's been in Formula 1 for five years. He's won a world championship at 23, nearly breaking the record for youngest racer to ever do so. He's been at the top of the top and the lowest of lows, be it an injury or a potential scandal. Racing is what he knows. That's all he knows. And that can't last. He was going to burn out either way, just like Zayn said.

He's never been an anchor on national television. He's never been a behind-the-scenes guy. He's never tried looking at the bigger picture.

He's also never been someone's partner.

And he's not quitting for Harry, just like he's not quitting for his mum or his sisters. That's the whole reason he didn't tell anyone about any of this: he didn't want to be swayed either way, so the decision could be completely up to him. He didn't want that hanging over their relationship. He's doing it for himself. Because he wants to explore all those things he's never been. He's only 25 years old, Christ, he's got enough experience and talent to get back behind the wheel in one or even five years if he'd want to.

What's important is what he wants right now. And going back just isn't it. Too much has changed. He's seeing things more clearly.

"I think I'm gonna try it out," he says. It sounds weird out loud, final. The words still swirling around him after he's let them out.

"Okay," she says. She doesn't sound thrilled or relieved, maybe because she doesn't want to impose, or maybe because she's just not. She told him herself, when he asked her if he should come out to Dan and his sisters, that she just wanted him to do what made him happy. "Have you told Harry about the offer?"

"It's Saturday, I don't wanna distract him from the race."

She kisses his forehead, but doesn't let him off the hook. "You know he won't see it like that. This is a big decision."

Louis curls in on himself. "I've been making them for myself for years."

She hums. "Alright, whatever you decide. Just sleep on it. You're giving your two weeks on Monday?"

Louis laughs. "It doesn't really work like that, but essentially, yeah."

"Okay. How about we get out of the bathroom and I make you some tea?"

There's nothing more comforting than that. "I love you, y'know? I'm glad you let me stay here."

"I'm glad you wanted to, sweetheart. Come on, up. Will you need a ride to the HQ? I can change shifts – "

"No, Jesus."

Louis' an adult. He feels very adult-like when he's sitting in a lift, too anxious to actually press the button to the team principal's floor, and writes on his phone the key notes of what he wants to say. It's equally embarrassing when the lift doors open and a startled receptionist stares him down. "Mr. Tomlinson," she stutters.

"Uh, yeah," he says, standing up and trying not to wince. His ankle isn't swollen anymore, but fuck if it doesn't hurt.

She looks from him to the Styrofoam cups she's holding in each hand. "Would you like some coffee?" she chirps.

Louis smiles warmly and shakes his head. "No thanks, love. I just forgot which floor Cowell's office is."

"Oh, it's the last one. I'm going there, I'll. Yeah, I'll just press it."

The ride up to the fourteenth floor is awkward as fuck, as she keeps glancing at his foot and then mentally berating herself. Louis' just trying to regulate his breathing so that he will appear confident when he gives up on the contract of his life, the people that saw him through his darkest times.

He's still mumbling to himself even as he's shown to Simon's office and is told, "Mr. Cowell's ready for you."

Simon Cowell is a very imposing man. His office is no different. The big oak desk, bare walls and heavy bookcases exude power. Simon being flanked by two other businessmen Louis doesn't recognise isn't helping matters at all.

However. They do know each other since Louis was nineteen. He's even had a few crying fits in this very office. He's more welcome here than most, and Simon actually smiles at him when he enters.

"Ah, Louis, good to see you. How's the leg?"

Louis loosens up considerably. Actually facing the beast is better than the dread leading up to it. "Alright, actually. It's looking more like eight weeks than twelve."

"Excellent. Sit down then."

Louis tries not to collapse on the chair in relief. He's very subtle when he crosses his legs so his ankle isn't touching anything. "Thanks."

"Sure. Listen, I'll cut to the chase. I'm glad you took this meeting, since we need to discuss certain things. You know I don't like to meddle with PR affairs, it bores me to tears, but this business with Harry – "

"Actually, uh," Louis blurts. "Sorry, but that's not what I'm here for."

Simon frowns at being interrupted. Louis feels like he's ten and sitting in the headmaster's office after smashing a window with his football. He gulps when Simon asks, "Oh?"

"I'm considering not renewing my contract with Cowell Racing."

His stomach drops. The other two men, who've been chatting quietly amongst themselves, are dead silent and looking straight at Louis. Simon just looks shocked. "You want to move to another constructor?"

Louis nearly leaps to his feet. "No, fuck no, there's no better team out there for me."

"Then what, you want to retire?" he asks jokingly, but when Louis doesn't respond his face falls. "Jerry, Stephen, leave us."

They shuffle off, closing the door carefully behind them. Simon looks deep into his eyes. "Is it because of the injury?" he asks, voice softer than Louis was expecting. They know each other too well for it to be about the money.

He sighs. "Among other things."

"Well, you'll recover long before February. And our losses aren't that significant if Harry wins – " He sits back suddenly. "Is it about Harry?"

Louis shakes his head. "I just don't think I'm cut out for this anymore. And you don't need a driver who's distracted or burnt out. You need a driver like Harry, someone focused and dedicated." He hesitates. "I've got the papers from my lawyer right here – "

"Louis," Simon cuts him off, waving his hand. "I'm not dragging you to court, I realise it's not up to me. Your contract's up, you don't owe me."

"Are you kidding, I owe you everything. No one would have kept me after the fiasco last year, or been so kind to me after blowing the season with an ankle sprain. You saw something in me six years ago and brought me up to be the best racer on the track. I'll never forget it. Let me repay you by knowing when to walk away." He feels lighter once he's said it, the whole manifesto he's typed up on his phone. Just hearing himself convinces him he's doing the right thing here.

Simon surprises him by sighing and rubbing a hand over his face, visibly frustrated. "It's going to be hard to let you go, Tommo. You're my leader."

He's actually touched by Simon's reaction. He built this meeting up in his head so much that he thought Simon would explode on him, but he's taking it as well as he can. "Thank you, sir."

"Oh, knock it out. What are your plans? I could be quite helpful."

Louis just wants to give him a big hug. "Thanks for the offer, but I'm already set up. Anchoring for Sky Sports."

Simon arches an eyebrow, like he's mildly impressed. "Clever."

"Yeah, can't keep me off the track."

"You couldn't anyway, not if Harry keeps competing in your name." He says it offhandedly, but there's nothing really casual about Simon Cowell.

Louis ducks his head awkwardly. "He'll get over it once he wins the championship."

"I agree."

A displaced sense of pride blossoms in Louis' chest, pleased that Harry's appreciated by his boss. "Can I ask if you're going to have him in the leading car next year?"

"You could, but I don't have an answer. He still hasn't signed with us for 2014." Louis frowns, but Simon doesn't let him speak before he continues. "Can I ask if you intend to come out of the closet?"

Louis actually feels himself flushing. Nothing could compare to the humiliation of coming out to Simon while being extorted last year, but just discussing his sexuality with his boss is humiliating enough. However, unlike Simon, he does have an answer. After doing the trial week with Harry when he flew in, after coming out to his family, after quitting his job, he does have an answer.

"I do."

Simon doesn't say anything, positive or negative, but Louis swears there's a proud smile playing at his lips.

Amazingly, Simon closes the meeting with, "You'll always be welcome here."

He can't believe he's got the chance to ask the question that's been plaguing him for two years. "Pepsi would want to be headlined by a gay guy?"

"This gay guy is going to be the biggest sports story of 2013 with or without a soft drink in his hand." He leans forward. "And you, young man, can race my cars better than anyone on two legs. Take care of yourself. Whatever you do next, I know I'll hear about you."

He leaves the paperwork on Simon's desk. Maybe he leaves a piece of his heart with it.

*

"You did what?"

Harry must have heard wrong.  There's just no way Louis said – "I'm taking a gap year."

"You can't take a gap year, you're not in school. You didn't even do sixth form."

Louis huffs. "A metaphorical gap year."

"Louis. What are you talking about."

"I sort of didn't renew my contract and got a job – a sweet job – on Sky TV."

He's still pretty sure he's hallucinating. Way too much time at the garage. "Did the doctor – "

"No, no, my leg's fine. Or it'll be fine. I would've told you if my ankle was getting worse."

Harry frowns hard, even though Louis can't see him. Since they're talking on the phone. Since Louis thought he should break the news over the phone. "I should think you'd tell me that you wanted to leave me here."

"Harold, love, I'm never leaving you. I'm not even leaving the sport, I'm just moving from the car to the pit wall."

Oh god, he's actually serious. Harry falls to his knees and presses the phone painfully close to his ear. "But. Why?"

"It's... complicated. It's the injury and this epiphany I had when I watched you race and something deep Zayn said – "

"Zayn knew?" Well that fucking stings. It shouldn't, but – Jesus, Harry's been transferred to an alternative universe where The Tommo doesn't want to race cars for a living. And he didn't even tell him. He's freaking out.

"Yeah, I. Needed to talk to someone about it and it just couldn't be you."

Harry pinches the bridge of his nose. "Because you’ve known Zayn for longer?"

"No," Louis says immediately. "Because I didn't want you to feel like I'm quitting because of you. Are you pissed?"

"I'm not pissed, Louis," Harry says shortly. "I wouldn't have wanted to feel like I drove you away from the thing you love most."

"But that's the point, innit? Racing isn't what I love most anymore. And I'm an all-in kinda guy."

Harry just. Sighs. "You're such a shit, you can't say nice things when I'm trying to be pissed at you."

Louis sounds appropriately bashful when he says, "Thought you weren't pissed." He's probably making a cute face, the arsehole.

"I'm. I don't know what I am. It's weird that you didn't tell me. It's weird that you're not going to race next year. It's weird to even say it." He feels sort of numb just thinking about it. It's been the best year of his life without even winning a title, he just thought it would last. Thought they'd be sharing everything next year too.

"Well, it's weirder for me, so," Louis says in a small voice.

Shit, maybe Harry's being the arsehole. Just because Louis' made the decision without him doesn't mean he doesn't need him still. He has to get over it. "I know. You're gonna be brilliant on telly, though."

"Yeah?" He actually sounds fragile.

"Obviously, with those cheekbones? Everyone's gonna want a piece of you."

Louis snorts, like he wasn't expecting that. "I'm not a piece of meat, Harry."

"Well, I guess you could also be the most inappropriate anchor. Oh my god, Louis, are you just trying to live out Will Ferrell movies?"

A full belly laugh erupts on the other line. Harry is definitely pleased with himself. "I promise I won't grow out an ugly moustache," Louis says. "Though I am thinking about a proper shave and a haircut."

"Whoa, pace yourself there. You already changed your career path." Harry can't believe he's joking about it, but a laughing Louis is better than… anything, really. It seems to fill the space his shock has carved out. He bites his lip and asks as quietly as he can, "Say it again."

"I promise no moustache?"

"No, the thing. The nice thing."

He waits until Louis pieces it together. His voice is unbearably soft and fond when he says, "I'm never leaving you. I took this job because it'll keep me right in the loop and I could be a good jet setting WAG for you."

Harry makes a noncommittal noise and rubs his right wrist. "Till the finish line?" he pushes.

"Yeah," Louis says, surprisingly easy, like he's not blowing Harry's mind. "I meant it when I said I'm all in."

Well then. Looks like Harry's got a few decisions of his own to make.

He does four things in succession:

Books the first flight out to England

Sets up a meeting with Simon Cowell

Books a flight from England to Abu Dhabi so he doesn't fuck his schedule up

Tells Gemma he'll be crashing at her flat for a couple of nights.

It's intended to be a secret visit, as a small payback for Louis keeping the secret of the decade from him, but of course he caves before even leaving the airport. His phone starts buzzing with two texts from Zayn and one text from Louis, which he tries to ignore for all of three seconds before opening.

Albus Fucking Dumbledore Xxx:

you're not in india m8

Harry rolls his eyes. ssh, it's a secret. I'm running an errand.

Louis responds by calling and shouting at him for not telling him in advance. Harry glares at his own phone. "Right, Mr. Sharing Is Caring. I've only got a couple of days before I have to run off to the next race, I didn't wanna trouble your mum."

Louis' having absolutely none of it. "Harold, I swear to god I will walk there myself if you continue talking shit."

"Fine, Jesus." He's actually flushing a bit. The day he's not excited to see Louis, someone should check his pulse.

His meeting is two hours after he lands in the UK, so he doesn't really have time to stress himself out about it. It also means that when he drives back to the Tomlinson home, the first thing Louis says to him is, "Well? They're gonna let you come out?"

Harry frowns at him. Louis always ruins surprises. He was probably one of those shitty kids who peeked under the tree on Christmas Eve. Who's he kidding, he probably still does. Probably will when he's a dad himself.

His musings take him too long and Louis actually puts his tea down and nudges his head under Harry's chin for a hug. "Sorry."

"Oh, no, they did," Harry tacks on.

Louis scrambles from the hug so he could punch Harry's arm. He'd consider taking offence if Louis weren't beaming at him like a miniature sun. "They – you – how the fuck?"

Harry shrugs. "I reminded them that I'm going to win the world championship and break a record on the way. They can take me as I am, or I can take my business elsewhere. They decided to get behind me. I guess they can't have both their racers resigning."

Fondness is spilling from Louis' eyes, from his whole body. He tucks himself against Harry. They're still at the fucking doorway. "Can't believe you did that."

"It's only a choice I was going to make anyway. Guess now I'll just be more comfortable making it. Kiss now?"

Louis nods and pulls him down for a fierce kiss.

Harry only has two days in England, and they spend almost all of them awake and together. Louis cancels his appointments and Harry doesn't go for runs. They hole up in Louis' room and talk it out. First it was just Louis filling him in on all the stuff he'd kept from him; the crisis leading up to his decision. Then they talked about the future. How they were going to go about their announcements.

The highlight is when Harry asks Louis what he meant by all in, and Louis blushes all over. "Well, like. We're gonna be all around the world all year, yeah?"

Harry nods encouragingly, fingers still tangled in Louis' hair. He hopes he never cuts it. He hopes Louis will become Rapunzel and Harry can play with his hair forever. He's been using his sisters' flowery shampoo so it's extra soft and pretty and Harry's just sighing all over himself.

"But I thought maybe, for when we are home, we could, like. Since you're homeless."

"I'm not – wait." He looks down at Louis' face, finds him staring shiftily at the wall. "Are you suggesting we get a place together?" Louis turns mean eyes to him so Harry rapidly adds, "We should get on that definitely. Yeah. Legit. Wow."

"Since you're homeless," Louis clarifies.

Harry peppers Louis' face with kisses. "Home is where your heart is," he sing-songs into Louis' temple.

Louis shoves him off weakly. "Are you quite finished?"

"God only knows."

*

Louis flies out to Austin. Of course he does. He goes because it's going to be the most dramatic race of the year, he goes because the champion will be determined there, he goes to support his boy, he goes because his ankle finally allows it, he goes to see his crew for the first time in over a month.

What he doesn't go for is exposure. But of course that's what he gets. He can't even blame the press for being all over him, really. Firstly, because he's going to be in their shoes next year (yes, it's official, he signed the papers), and secondly because he's spent eight weeks completely under the radar. The only updates they got regarding his recovery and plans have been from Eleanor. To have him in person on the track is a golden opportunity.

Louis' very grateful he's had the foresight to prepare a sign that read "I'M NOT HERE TO RACE" with a poorly drawn swollen ankle. That takes care of half of the questions aimed at him. He manages to cleverly avoid the press all morning, pisses away hours just reuniting with the lads. Niall is the picture of happiness. Liam insists on carrying him bridal style everywhere, despite the fact he's more or less fully returned to activity. Harry keeps talking nonsense about how they just weren't a complete set without Louis.

Zayn takes the cake, though. It starts with him nearly crying when he first sees Louis, the sentimental idiot. Then he jumps on him for a massive hug. "Bro," is all he says.

"I know," Louis whispers back, holding Zayn tight.

"Getting jealous over here," Harry pipes up. Louis flips him off just as Zayn starts to tug him towards the back entrance of the garages.

"I wanna show you something," he explains. They sneak into the back, with the scraps and the –

"Holy fucking shit." He can hear his heart dropping to his feet. "I don't believe it."

Zayn is beaming. It's not even his Attractive Smile™, it's just bliss in face form. Because Louis' standing in front of a fully restored Jeanne. He falls to his knees smoothly and just strokes her front wing and her board, fluttering over the tyres.

"It's our ride," Zayn explains, without Louis having to ask.

"She's stunning. Zayn, you're fucking amazing." Before Zayn even opens his mouth Louis adds, "And if you say anything about how it was your fault in the first place I will cut off your tongue."

Zayn wisely chooses to stay quiet.

Louis' choked up, for sure, but he managed to survive that mess without openly weeping. Only, they walk across the garage and the whole place is dead quiet all of a sudden, where usually it's mayhem of drilling and shouting.

Then his crew starts clapping for Louis, one by one. He's awestruck and speechless, tries to gesture for them to stop, but then Niall's mechanics are joining in, hooting for Louis' return. It doesn't stop there, is the thing. Other mechanics approach to see what the ruckus is about, spot Louis, and start clapping. Racers start clapping. He's getting a goddamn ovation for no reason whatsoever other than standing on his own two feet. He's never felt more overwhelmed.

So, yeah. His eyes are a tad watery. It gets even worse when it hits him that this is the last time he'll be standing here in this crew in this uniform. He thinks about Jeanne, good as new. He thinks of himself. New as good.

He knows it's time to say his goodbyes.

He pulls Harry aside and whispers, "Y'know how I sometimes make decisions without alerting you?"

"Yeah?"

"Consider yourself alerted."

Harry brushes a finger over Louis' forearm. "Whatever you feel like, babe."

He really wants to kiss him, right here, in front of everyone. It's definitely a contributing factor to his decision.

Eleanor sets the conference up remarkably fast. He only gets fifteen minutes to himself, as he absolutely should – seeing as he's not even racing and the star here should definitely be Harry. It's the reason he decides not to do the conference wearing a uniform. He's gone rogue.

He actually expects to be greeted by, like, the three and a half reporters Eleanor has managed to scrounge up in the short amount of time she had. Instead, the room is teeming with people and cameras.

He feels lonely and exposed, just him up on the stage, but the FIA guys are nice and there's just no avoiding it. It's his show. Harry is somewhere out there preparing for his first practice, as he should be. Whatever happens, it's completely up to Louis.

The first question is easy. Peter Windsor from F1 Racing wants to know if he'll be racing today. Louis just points at the sign still stuck to his chest.

The second question is harder. "Are the rumours true, then? You're facing early retirement?"

This is his moment. He can draw it out, do a quiet announcement during the winter, release it through Cowell after they've found a permanent replacement. But they don't really deserve that. "It's true. I won't be racing next year."

The floor is visibly halved by reporters who've anticipated this development and have a set of planned questions, and reporters who didn't believe the rumours. The problem is that the planned questions are hard-hitting. Peter's quick with the follow-up. "Is it because the injury has proven too overwhelming?"

"Not really. It's so Harry Styles has an even remote chance to overshadow me." The joke slips from his mouth before he even thinks about it, and the crowd laughs. Louis figures it's okay. It's perfect, really. He hasn't given a serious interview in his entire career, why should he give a fuck now? He's known these people for years. He's about to join their ranks.

Racer magazine is quick to prompt, "It seems that the last two seasons have been very disappointing for you. What do you say about retiring without winning your comeback season?"

He takes a moment to mull that over. Because it's true, objectively speaking it's a disaster. His worst predictions came true: another season thrown out the window. But he's just not that torn up about it. Because he found something better. Something that sticks. He touches his tattoo, his ring. Little parts of Harry on him. "It's gonna sound cheesy, but I did win something more important."

A murmur goes through the floor. "What did you win?" someone finally asks.

It's now or never. He'll never be more vulnerable. He goes all in. "I met my partner this season."

More confused whispers. "You mean your teammate?"

It feels oddly like whiplash. Cold waves rush through his body, and he can't really bring himself to move. It's an effort to even open his mouth. But he has to. "No, I mean my boyfriend."

There are no whispers. No murmurs. Chaos erupts in the room. None of the reporters anticipated this development. Louis' face heats up absurdly while they scramble to recover from his curveball. Thank god Eleanor steps in for the director and announces there will be no further questions. His jaws feel like they're bolted shut. He's shivering.

He expects her to tell him off for forty minutes, but she just puts a gentle hand on his shoulder as she ushers him out, and actually whispers, "Proud of you."

Louis nods at her, hopes it'll be enough. Daylight blinds him as soon as they break out of the conference room, so he doesn't actually notice Harry at first. When he does the urge to cry intensifies considerably. Harry's just skulking around, not at all inconspicuously, but Louis doesn't care. He wants him so much.

Harry's face is nothing but sympathetic when he spots Louis. It takes him half a second to grab Louis' hand and lead him to some secluded corner, and then he hugs the living daylights out of him. Louis melts into his embrace, instantly comforted. He still can't speak, but Harry does for the both of them, whispering sweet nothings. "I'm so, so proud of you, you were amazing up there, not taking any shit. I love you so much for doing this. You have no idea how much that means. Not just to me; to the sport itself. It matters so much, whether you're racing tomorrow or not."

Louis' crying into his neck, he can't stop. He's overloaded with stress and fear and relief and love. It feels like if Harry lets him go he'll fall apart into a million pieces. Harry keeps murmuring, "Ssh, love. You matter so fucking much to me, Jesus Christ. You were clever, too, keeping it like an offhand remark instead of a big statement. It was better than our plan."

"I love you too," is the first thing he manages to say in a while.

Harry sighs in relief, but doesn't stop stroking his back. "I know. You're retiring to give me a chance to overthrow you."

Louis snorts, unsettled, since the urge to laugh doesn't quite fit with all the storm clouds in his head. "Overshadow," he corrects.

"Whatever, you prick." He softens it with a kiss to Louis' forehead. "Any better?"

"Yeah, I. I don't know what came over me." He says it like he's not still shaking like a leaf.

Harry's silent for a long moment. "You don't regret it, do you?"

He shakes his head immediately. "No, it had to happen. I know it. I just… felt so weak all of a sudden."

Harry holds him even tighter. "Well, I've got your back. I'll even be in your shoes. Just let me win the championship first."

It's probably mental that Louis forgets his own panic to feel happy that Harry's confident he's going to win. He's such a star, always has been, always will be. Only now he's Louis' star. And he wants to protect him so much. "Not really my shoes. I'm halfway out of the game. You're gonna have to face these people for years, make yourself a role model. People will say so much shit, Haz."

"Hey, we've talked about this. There will always be people talking shit. I'm not backing out now, I'm looking forward to it."

Harry's so sure about this, Louis can't help but absorb some of it. Enough to get a grip, at least. He releases himself from Harry's arms and scrubs at his face roughly, timing his breaths like he's waiting for the starting lights to flash.

Then he looks up, and the world realigns. Harry's been crying too, but his smile is huge and radiant, and his eyes show nothing but love and tenderness and devotion. It's like watching a sunrise. Louis knows that even if he regrets retiring or coming out, he will never regret placing his heart in this boy's hands.

He's not waiting for the starting lights. It's the chequered flag waving right in front of him.

*













*

This is without a doubt the craziest day of Harry Styles' life. As much as he talked about it, there was really no conceivable way to prepare for winning his first world championship. Or for breaking the record for youngest driver to ever do so. Or for having Louis Tomlinson in fucking tears waiting for him at the pit wall.

It's more than adrenaline or excitement or the usual shit that takes over him when he races, it's pure elation, hitting him like a tonne of bricks. He's on cloud nine, unbelievably proud and shocked and amazed. The only thing he wants is Louis. He wants to grab him and dip him and kiss him like a movie star. He wants to whack him over the head with his enormous champagne bottle. He wants to move to the country and have a farm and twelve babies.

In the post race conference, it takes him ages to think of something to say. There's too much that he can't yet. "I'm just speechless, David. It's been a phenomenal season," he starts. "The spirit inside the team has been so amazing that… I said it on the radio, they made me strong. It was a pleasure to jump in the car and try to give all I've got for these guys."

There. Not one mention of Louis' name. The whole point of him waiting was so that later, people will know how professional he is in uniform, that his sexual orientation doesn't change anything. It's all been carefully thought out by the publicists and managers and Harry and Louis themselves.

He's not in uniform at the afterparty, though. In fact, he's in the fancy suit he wore for his mum's wedding, though it's gonna need four cycles of dry-cleaning after all the champagne-pouring and cake-throwing rituals. He and Louis are completely shitfaced. Well, everyone is. Zayn and Liam are doing a karaoke number with no karaoke machine in sight. Niall's in a drinking competition with Harry's German engineer.

Everyone's happy, but none as much as he is. Maybe Louis, though. He's beaming at him, keeps touching him possessively and whispering about his superstar boyfriend. Harry doesn't want to whisper anymore. He's not in uniform. He can't contain his bliss. He's invincible.

He puts sure hands on Louis' hip and leans down to say, "I wanna do it."

"Really? Now?" Louis asks, not taking his hands off Harry's jacket.

"I'd like to see someone tell off a racer on the day he won the driver's championship. In fact, I'd like that someone to eat shit."

Louis' eyes crinkle at the corners, he's smiling so hard. He's radiant and beautiful and his. "I meant because Zayn and Liam are absolutely butchering that Beach Boys song – "

To think he was planning slow dancing to be The Big Move. Or to walk around holding hands. No, it had to be a kiss. A movie star, romance novel, world champions kiss. He dips Louis far back and keeps one arm secure around his waist but another tangled in his hair, possessive and clingy and like he's never letting go. Louis' hands immediately go up to his shoulders and his surprise turns into passion, his lips parting for Harry soon enough. It's sweet and real and desperate and public. It's fucking perfect.

Louis looks dazed when Harry pulls him back up. He looks around for a second, like he's expecting booing or rotten tomatoes, but all they get are catcalls and cheers. At least, that's all Harry registers. Before he registers Niall leaping into his arms like an Irish imp and yelling, "Now do me!"

So he dips Niall too. Louis doesn't look too miffed. He knows Harry plans on dipping him every day for the rest of their lives. He doesn't have to race for it anymore.

He's made it home.

Chapter Text

"So tell us, after winning the championship last year how do you feel going into 2014?"

Harry grins, playing with the cap in his hands. "Well Tommo, I feel brilliant. I've got a great team behind me, and the free practices went better than expected, as you know."

"Yes. I gave completely impartial commentating." Obviously. Louis only commented on Harry's form three times. And maybe mentioned that if Harry drove this fast when they went up to his mum's house he wouldn't get told off every month. Maybe some quiet attaboys. But really, Louis' totally managing this professionalism thing.

It's the first Friday of the new season, and the network scheduled ten minutes for a solo interview with Harry. Shockingly, Louis is the one conducting it.

It's the first time they've done an interview together, as they turned down the hundreds of requests that came in after their public coming out. Well, that Louis turned down. Harry had to do press; he was the fucking newly minted world champion, and the biggest story of the year. Harry wanted to do it, always answered candidly when asked about his decision to come out of the closet, always encouraged young people to be true to themselves, "like me or Louis or Tom Daley after us". Always a role model. Louis refused to expose himself like that because he wanted to take a step back after his retirement, but he recorded every single interview and was always the first to call Harry and tell him how proud he was.

Anyway, it's the first time Louis interviews Harry, and it's sort of weird. It's odd to sit in front of Harry wearing a suit instead of his overalls. It feels like they're still role-playing, the way Louis had practiced on Harry before he was sent on his first assignment as an anchor. But it's Harry. Louis could answer all the questions for him. And he thinks there's a reason they've sent him and not the senior anchor. So he relaxes slowly. "Did you look forward to the new season?"

Harry folds his leg up to sit more naturally. There's still something awkward about him when he gives interviews, especially on his own, but Louis' probably making it easier. We're just talking, Louis told him before they started the broadcast, and he fixed Harry's clothes. Just us.

"Yeah, definitely. I mean, it was great to have some time off, since it was, um, a pretty intense season, but I think we both got a bit stir-crazy after the wedding." A producer gasps and Harry's eyes widen. "Not our wedding, our friend's wedding."

Louis starts laughing. Okay, he can definitely do this. If Harry's making a fool of himself there's really nothing to be nervous about. "What about you, then? Are you planning on getting married too?"

Harry stares pointedly at Louis' finger, where he's wearing a ring, one that actually fits him after they spent agonising hours ring shopping so he wouldn't have to wear Harry's hand-me-down anymore. One whose twin is on Harry's finger. "Obviously, but my boyfriend won't hear of it. Either he's cheating on me or planning a sneaky proposal."

Louis smacks his own forehead. He's never telling Niall anything again. "Well I guess you'll just never know then."

Harry pouts. Louis nudges his foot until he's smiling like an idiot again. Someone clears their throat. "Right, so. Looking forward to the race."

"Yeah, I mean, there's always room for improvement, I think. There's no doubt in my mind it would've been a lot harder to win last season if it weren't for your injury, so I feel like I still have something to prove this year." Louis nods encouragingly and Harry clears his throat. "So yeah, after New Year's I really started to buckle down, you know, and I've been working on strategies and watching almost all the 2013 races to see where I can do better."

He's getting flustered, so Louis throws him an easy one. "And you're racing with a new car?"

Expectedly, Harry brightens. "Yeah, Cowell really stepped up their game, also learning from last season. It's got sick art on it too, thanks to Zayn Malik, a former mechanic of ours."

Louis sighs internally. Zayn retiring with Louis wasn't really a shock to anyone. Not just because he didn't want to work for anyone but Louis, but also because Louis' accident sort of fucked him up, and because he's actually married now and needs some time away from Liam, to get used to being just best friends.

He's here now, though, flew out with Louis, so they're sort of ignoring the fact that he'll stay in Australia to watch Little Mix perform instead of flying out with the boys to Malaysia next week. And Liam... buried himself in his new job at the Cowell engineering team, one that provides an ample distraction but keeps him close to his boys. He's okay. 2014 is going to be messy, but Louis knows they'll work it out. That's what family does.

"Of course the art is sick, it's based on Jeanne," he says, finally.

"It's not an obnoxious red, Lewis. And it has my 17 Black, not your 70."

"No, it has my 17 Black," Louis snaps, rolling up his sleeve to show his left forearm, where he tattooed Harry's number. (It looks way better on him than on Harry's car.) And he knows Harry agrees; he freaked the fuck out when he saw it for the first time and then had sex with Louis extensively. Not before tattooing a 70 on his right forearm, though.

They have arms dedicated just for couple's tattoos. Louis has no idea how he even got to this point in his life. Must have been dumb luck.

"Which Zayn designed too. This is about him, not you. Don't shit on my car." Harry crosses his arms and pretends not to stare fondly/psychotically at Louis' arm.

"Fine, Christ. I just miss her so much, you know?"

"Yes, I do. I'm the one that wakes up alone because you're drooling over her at the garage. I have nightmares of you just taking off with Jeanne and not looking back."

"Why would I look back in a race ca – look, I would never, and thank you Cowell Racing for letting me keep my car when you manufactured an even more fantastic one for my replacement, and good luck to him," he says in a rush, with a smile directed straight at the camera. He can actually see the cameraman roll his eyes. This is A+ entertainment, Louis should do all his interviews with Harry.

Harry shakes his head. "You never loved me more than your car."

"Well, it was a stiff competition. But I think you won that round," Louis admits. Harry beams at him. This is getting a bit sappy. "So this season is going to be packed with surprises. New cars for the reigning champion, and two new circuits in Austria and Russia. Think you're gonna miss the downtime?"

Harry ponders for a few moments. "No. Yes. Well, I'm definitely missing the cat."

Louis sighs. "A reliable source informed me that Hunt is perfectly fine at your mum's. I mean, he's obviously pining, but he'll probably watch this interview so he'll get his fix."

Harry waves weakly at the camera, the idiot. "I guess that's fine then. So no, I won't miss it. I've got everything I need right here with me."

His smile is blinding. Louis can't even roll his eyes or sigh; he's too busy smiling back. He's trying to remember his questions. "You said before that what motivated you to do well last season was racing neck and neck with your 'amazing teammate'. What's going to motivate you now that he's retired?"

"Still him," Harry answers, not even thinking about it. "Surpassing him. Giving him good races to cover impartially. Making him proud." Louis' just staring at him at this point, heart pounding too loudly in his ears. Even Harry seems appalled. "Oh god, that was too much wasn't it? I take it back. What's really motivating me is that I bet Niall, my crew chief, that if I get another title he'll let me set him up on dates. So there's that. And obviously winning the constructors' championship for Cowell. It's all I can do after what they did for me."

It's an opener for a whole line of questions about Harry's sexual orientation and private life and "brave choices" and "handling the media" and "supportive motorhome headlining their star, groundbreaking on and off the track", but that's all either of them got for the last four months. Louis just wants to talk about the amazing season Harry's going to have. How talented he is.

It's not that he doesn't love it when Harry addresses him indirectly in interviews (honestly, it's like he physically cannot stop; one time he managed to relate a basic "how are you?" to "my amazing lovely boyfriend Louis Tomlinson"), but. Louis wants this, sitting together two days before the first Grand Prix of 2014, to be about his own amazing lovely boyfriend. "So you've got tricks up your sleeves?"

Harry smirks at him suddenly, like he'd been waiting for that particular question. Very slowly, he rolls up his sleeves, to reveal – the faded and torn Sziget Festival wristband. Jesus Christ. Louis' extremely lucky that they need to wrap up, he can't even think of a way to follow up on that without embarrassing himself.

"Well, that's all the time we have for the one-on-one with Harry Styles." He reaches out for a formal handshake. "Good luck on Sunday, dude."

"Thanks, pal." Harry takes his hand stiffly. And then tugs him forward for a kiss.

They'll probably edit that out.

Louis doesn't actually care if they don't.

 

And 2014 is amazing (Harry unbeatable), and in 2015 they tie the knot at the "Celebrity Wedding of the Year" (Niall crying non-stop), and in 2019 Harry retires to start a family with Louis (three godfathers and four championships between the two of them). The lifestyle tell-all article they finally do is entitled "From Rogue and Heartbraker to the Dream Team: the Amazing Love Story of the Two Biggest Racetrack Stars of Our Generation".

They never move to the country or adopt a Border Collie, but they do have ten grandchildren by the time they're sixty and no one even remembers who Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson are. They couldn't have wished for more. (Except maybe Zayn and Liam finishing the damn hovercraft they'd promised them.)