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lock me up with love

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Louis Tomlinson was not an unconventional man. He liked his habits. He liked his routines.

He had his own, one he had perfected over the past two years. Most of his day he would lie around binge-watching Netflix, sometimes he would take a shower, and he’d feed Clifford in the late afternoon.

It wasn’t exciting, but there wasn’t a lot he wanted to do anyway.

He didn’t see much people anymore. Liam was angry at him, he knew, even if they rarely talked. His mum was ashamed. It was probably better, in the end, if he stopped speaking with them. All he did now was make others worry, or upset, or annoyed. They had their own aspirations, and Louis was left to wallow in his. His bed was a haven, a soft padding and white, silk sheets that covered him from the rest of the world, and cheesy TV shows that let him pretend he didn’t have a universe of his own.

He had Clifford to watch over, a life he was responsible for, and that was enough for him.

 

✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻

 

It started like any other day.

He woke up and lay in bed for an hour, checking his Twitter and Instagram---and, really, @ladbible had gone down the drain with their posts, where was he supposed to find funny content now?---before making himself breakfast. A bowl of Coco Pops, like always, because he still hadn’t bothered to learn how to cook.

He had to decide on a new show to watch now. He finished rewatching The Office last night and he was in the mood for something different. He had several shows and movies in his list, but most of them looked dramatic and emotionally investing. He needed something lighthearted. Bojack Horseman seemed funny and had great ratings, but he closed out of it after two episodes.

A washed-up celebrity with no friends. How fitting.

He started Peaky Blinders over instead.

He got through a season and a half by the time afternoon hit. Clifford was sleeping next to him, but he jolted awake when Louis climbed out of bed. He ran to the kitchen, tail wagging excitedly, nose pointed towards his bowl. Louis rolled his eyes.

He got Clifford’s food out and picked up his bowl, mixing in the dry and wet food. Clifford sat by his feet, head raised, carefully watching Louis’ movements. Louis rubbed his head, laughing at his ridiculous, starving dog.

Just as he was setting the bowl of food down, a chime went off around the room. Louis froze. Clifford erupted into barks, scattering away from the bowl and running to the door.

The doorbell. Somebody rang the doorbell.

“Hey!” Louis shouted over Clifford’s yapping, but he’d probably be barking too if he was a sixty pound labradoodle. He didn’t get many visitors anymore, and he didn’t order any takeout. He was hoping there wasn’t an axe murderer on the other side, or a crazed fan who somehow found his address. Or both. Neither would have a great outcome for Louis.

Clifford continued to bark, sticking his head near the crack under the door.

“Cut it out!” Louis snapped. He pulled him away from the door and moved to look through the peephole.

He didn’t recognize the man on the other side, but he couldn’t make out any weapons or burglar masks. It looked like he was holding a tray in his hands, eyes gazing around the front porch. Louis opened the door, careful to keep it cracked so Clifford couldn’t run out.

The man was holding a tray, covered in tinfoil, and in his other hand was a ziplock bag full of what looked like dog biscuits.

Huh.

“Uh, hi?” Louis greeted the man. “Can I help you?”

He was tall---taller than Louis, anyway---wearing tight, dark jeans and a blue floral blouse that reminded Louis of a Hawaiian tourist. His hair was brown and wavy, styled in some complicated windswept fashion at the top of his head.

“Hi!” the man responded, a dimpled smile appearing on his face. Jesus. “I know this seems strange, but I’m Harry---er, Harry Styles---and I’m one of your neighbors. I was just checking in to make sure everything was okay.”

“Sorry,” Louis said, confused, “why wouldn’t everything be okay?”

“Well,” Harry started, an embarrassed smile making its way onto his face. “I used to see you a lot, like, walking your dog or getting in your car?”

He flushed, managing to look even more sheepish. “Not in a creepy way or anything!” he explained. “It’s just my house isn’t too far down from here. But I haven’t actually seen you outside in a while. Like, weeks maybe? I know it’s possible I’ve just missed it, but I was worried something might have happened.”

Louis felt a weight drop in his stomach, sinking lower and lower until bile pushed up into his throat.

Harry’s smile didn’t falter, unaware Louis had just won the award for the most pathetic person on the planet. Clifford was scratching at Louis’ leg, trying to squeeze his head through the space between Louis’ leg and the door. He didn’t just want to see the stranger, Louis realized.

Harry held the tray out when Louis didn’t respond. “These are for you,” he said. “I thought I might bring something if I was just going to show up like this. They’re cookies, I just baked them today.”

Louis took the tray hesitantly. “Are these poisoned?” he blurted out.

Louis was an asshole. His Most Pathetic Person award was being altered to include “And Simultaneously an Asshole.” Harry laughed anyway.

“Oh, no,” he said. His smile grew wider. “But I get this seems very suspicious. I can have one, just to show you.”

He peeled off the corner of the tinfoil, grabbing a cookie from the tray and taking a bite. They were chocolate chip, chewy and the chips partly melted. It looked just the way Louis liked his cookies, and he had a feeling they would taste even better.

“And these,” Harry said, holding up the bag, “are for your dog. I guess I can’t prove they aren’t poisoned, but they came from a package, if that helps.”

“Um, thanks,” Louis said, taking the bag as well. “You didn’t have to do all this. Nothing’s wrong, actually. Just been a bit lazy, I suppose.”

“It’s not a problem. I’ve wanted to get to know the neighbors better for a while, I just haven’t had the time.” He ran a hand through his hair, pushing falling strands off his forehead. Louis was ashamed at how entranced he was by the motion. “I’m hoping I’ll get to see you more often.”

Harry continued to grin, like the double meaning was the funniest thing he had ever said. Louis wasn’t sure this guy was real.

“Right, sure,” Louis said. He took a small step back into his house. Clifford started to whine. “Well, thanks again, Harry.”

“Bye---uh,” Harry’s lips finally turned downwards. “Louis, is it? Louis Tomlinson? You played footie for a while, didn’t you?”

Louis’ blood ran cold. The tray of cookies were burning in his hands. He needed to throw them back at Harry and watch it clatter to the ground, to curse and shout and scream at him until he ran out of breath, maybe stomp on his feet until he ran off Louis’ doorstep.

He didn’t.

“Yep,” he said instead. It was choked, but he couldn’t care. “Bye, now.”

He pushed back into the house, Clifford scampering back on the tile. He closed the door, ignoring Harry’s half open mouth, and let out a deep breath.

Clifford was staring at him from the floor, head pointed up and tongue sticking out.

Right, the biscuits.

Louis made his way back into the kitchen, setting the tray of cookies on the island counter. He took a second cookie off the tray and popped it in his mouth.

Fuck, they were good. Each bite was soft and gooey, chocolate melting on his tongue and sugar exploding in his mouth. Harry must have been a rich baker to make something like this and afford a house in this neighborhood. Maybe he won a baking show. Louis would have to look into that.

He opened the ziplock bag while taking another bite, grabbing a biscuit and throwing it down to Clifford.

“The nerve of him,” he grumbled. Crumbs fell onto his shirt and he was almost positive Clifford wasn’t listening. “I go outside a normal amount, don’t I?”

Clifford continued to chew on the biscuit.

“I take you out back to run around. We play fetch and everything.” He picked up a second cookie. “We’ll show him. I’ll even go to the store tomorrow.”

Clifford looked up and tilted his head. He was probably judging Louis---skeptic he’d make a trip to the grocery store when he’d been ordering groceries for months now---but maybe he just wanted another biscuit.

 

✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻

 

Louis didn’t go to the store---mostly because he realized there wasn’t anything for him to buy, and partly because that took too much time away from lying in his bed---but he did get Clifford’s leash out to go for a walk around the neighborhood.

He told himself it wasn’t because of Harry-er-Styles’ visit yesterday, and it definitely wasn’t because of his cookies and dog biscuits. He didn’t need a cute, baking-loving man to remind him when he was being neglectful. He was going to be better about taking Clifford out, for no reason other than Clifford’s wellbeing.

Of course, he managed to run into him again.

He had just headed out for a walk around the neighborhood, late morning and the humidity starting to creep in. Clifford was nearly pulling him past one of the houses when someone was stepping down the porch, dressed in gray athletic shorts, a black jumper, and a beanie over his hair. He turned his head, and Louis would have halted on the sidewalk if it weren’t for Clifford already racing to greet him.

“Louis!” Harry exclaimed, waving his hand. “Hey!”

Louis stumbled over his feet as Clifford pulled on the leash, until he was close enough to jump on Harry and paw at his chest.

“Hello to you too,” Harry said, in an achingly sweet voice. He leaned down to rub at his head. “What’s their name?”

“Clifford,” Louis answered. Shit. Maybe he shouldn’t have said anything. He didn’t want Harry thinking they were going to be upper class neighborhood buddies.

Clifford started to lick Harry’s hand. His large, covered in metal rings hand, with a cross tattoo by the wrist. Louis looked away, wondering if somehow Clifford was remembering Harry as the one who brought the biscuits.

“Hey, Clifford,” Harry cooed, before glancing up at Louis. “Did you expect him to grow up big and red?”

Louis grit his teeth.

“Surprisingly,” he said, “no one has ever asked that.”

Harry winced. “Shit, sorry. I wasn’t trying to---I think it’s an adorable name, actually.”

Louis didn’t say anything, just continued to watch Clifford beg for attention. Hopefully he wouldn’t become too attached. Gray clouds were rolling over the London sky, threatening a downpour in the next hour, and Louis wanted to be back indoors before the first drop.

“I see you’re out again,” Harry said, when Clifford finally calmed down and began to sniff his legs instead.

“Yeah,” Louis said, “and you are, too.”

Harry grinned. “Well, I was just about to go for a run. Would you and Clifford like to join?”

Louis smiled back, knew it didn’t reach his eyes. “I don’t really do much running anymore.”

“Oh, because of---” He cut himself off. Louis pretended his eyes didn’t drift to his knee. “I’m sorry. I feel like I just keep saying the wrong things.”

Maybe, but Louis was also just bitter.

“It’s fine.”

“No, it’s not.” Harry shrugged. “Did you like the cookies, by the way?”

Well. Louis wasn’t going to protest a free out.

“Yeah, they were good. Thanks again.”

“No problem.” Harry continued to smile, leaned down again to pet Clifford. “I should get going before the rain starts. See you around, Louis!”

He raised himself back up and waved, jogging the opposite way down the sidewalk.

Well, Louis thought, while Clifford dragged him to continue their walk, that’s one less person to worry about.

 

✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻

 

The buzz of a notification interrupted Bill Nye’s argument against pseudoscience. Louis paused the episode, searching for his phone in the mess of his bed sheets. There was a message from Liam on the lock screen. Hey tommo, it read, simple but distracting.

He unlocked his phone, pulling up his messages. The text above it was from three weeks ago, a Hope you feel better!!, read by Louis and never responded to. Only two other messages came before it from that day.

(U up for a lads night?

think i’m sick actually, sorry)

Louis took a breath in, relaxed his tightening grip around the phone.

hi payno, he typed. He paused, adding the sunglasses emoji and hit send. Casual enough.

The text changed from Delivered to Read. Three dots from Liam appeared at the bottom.

The team is all getting together tonight for some drinks, wanna come?

Louis bit his lip. But I’m not apart of the team, he thought.

i don’t think i’m feeling up for it tonight

The dots appeared again and vanished seconds later. It was a minute of Louis staring at the screen and Clifford snoring at the end of his bed before another message came through.

It’s been 2 years louis

He froze. He reread the message once, and then again, just to make sure those same five words were on the screen, sent to him, from Liam, of all people. Anger surges through his fingertips.

what the fuck?

Two messages come next, right after the other.

When are u gonna feel up for it

We miss u, u know

fuck you

Louis took another breath, trying to settle his rapidly increasing heart, the drops forming at the ends of his eyes. Nobody knew what he was going through. His fingers flew across the keypad, words forming before he could think about them.

don’t act like all of this is some big inconvenience for YOU

So what if he needed time for himself, didn’t want to be surrounded by reminders of what he no longer had? He would only sip cheap beer at a sticky table in the middle of London, pretending more than half of the people there actually gave a shit about of him outside of being a valuable player. He would laugh at all the right times while an ache lingered in his chest. He’d wonder how Clifford was doing without him at the house, if he digged through the trash or tore up the carpet.

And nobody would comment on the jagged scar running up Louis’ knee, but would ask how he was doing anyway, what he’d been up to, anyone special in his life?

No, he didn’t want any of it.

Three more messages came from Liam.

Nobody is trying to say that

We’re just worried about u

This isnt healthy when was the last time u even went out??

Louis ignored them, unpausing Netflix and lying down on the bed. He didn’t have the energy to risk losing another person in his life.

Two minutes passed, and then more notifications came. He tilted his head, watched as they lit up his phone screen.

Dont ignore me louis i know u read those

If u wont come tonight then im coming to u

And i wont leave until we actually do something

He rolled his eyes, pausing the show once again and picking up his phone.

you’re being ridiculous

If caring about my best mate is ridiculous then yes i am

Liam coming over wouldn’t be ideal, but Louis would have to be dragged out of bed by Satan’s claws to go out with the team. And once Liam stuck whatever therapeutic idea he had into his mind, there was no going back on it.

It made sense that him and Liam had stayed good friends.

Louis didn’t reply and pulled himself out of bed. Clifford lifted his head, droopy eyes staring back at him as he rummaged through his closet for a pair of joggers. Liam was coming over, and he had to remember how to socialize like a normal person. Maybe Harry had been helpful for something after all.

 

“So, Louis,” Liam said, opening his bottle of beer. It was all Louis really had to offer for guests. Most of his food was in plastic bags and boxes in the freezer.

“So, Liam,” Louis mocked. “What kind of ‘make me feel less dead’ activity do you have planned for tonight?”

Liam’s eyebrows raised. “Do you really feel dead?” He moved to set his beer down. “That’s a bit… worrying.”

He clasped his hands in his lap. Louis watched, taking a sip of his beer. This was feeling more like a therapy session than he even expected.

“If you didn’t recall,” he said slowly, “my entire career is over.”

“I know, Louis,” Liam said. “But tons of athletes lose their careers over injuries. They accept it. They move on. Play recreationally, find a new hobby, something.

Louis said nothing, fixating his gaze on the wall behind Liam.

“We gave you… what, like a year to recover, to grieve. It was understandable, but now you haven’t seen any of us in months. You don’t leave the house at all.”

“Hey, you know what’s funny?” Louis asked. “I don’t remember getting a therapist.”

“Louis,” Liam sighed.

“No, Liam. You don’t get to come here expecting me to be a bundle of joy, okay?” He probably should have expected an explosion after their texts. Maybe he could have persuaded Liam not to come today. “You don’t understand this at all, not when you get to keep playing. I have nothing now.”

“You have friends,” Liam offered. “And family. Your personality isn’t just football.

Louis felt so tired. His brain was exhausted, sick of listening to people worry about him. He was fine.

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” He stared down at the floor, where Clifford was curled up and sleeping at his feet. “Let’s just get whatever you want to do out of the way.”

Liam’s mouth opened, but Louis glared at him until it closed.

“Okay, whatever,” Liam said. “But this isn’t done, alright? We still need to talk about this.”

Louis huffed. “Where are we going, Liam?”

 

✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻

 

Like everybody else, Louis had a story. His wasn’t anything special: boy loved football. Boy was good at football. Boy went to university on a football scholarship. Boy was signed to a professional team. Boy made lots of money.

Finding out he was gay was a bit of a twist, but almost no one knew about that anyway. His real definer came two years into his career.

#17 had always been rough on the field; coach had warned them to look out and avoid as much as possible, but Louis never expected it. It was one insignificant game, against a team that broke too many rules and worked as eleven incohesive units.

Louis had gotten the ball, was racing towards the goal, when he felt a hit to his shin. The world passed by in a blur, flipped from under him, pain shooting up from his calf to his knee.

And he tumbled, hitting the ground, hard. Louis remembered a blow of a whistle and pounding footsteps, cries from the crowd, his brain screaming at him to get up get up get up. There were voices in his ear---are you alright, what happened, where does it hurt?---and hands lifting him up from under his arms. He tried to put his foot down, but the weight sent daggers piercing through his skin.

He was walked over to the bench, another player sent out to the field. A referee waved a red card at #17 while coach handed him some water. He was embarrassed, he remembered, a pitiful fall on live television, forced out of the game because of a simple sprain. It never crossed his mind that something might have been seriously wrong, until the physician was sent to look at his leg.

He couldn’t stand or lift it. She recommended a hospital trip.

It was a blur, rushing from the stadium to the hospital and waiting for a doctor. There was an X-Ray and an MRI scan, the doctor explaining that the subchondral bone in his knee had been fractured, most likely due to cartilage damage. They would have to perform an arthroscopy to be sure.

Louis didn’t understand most of it, but. He’d need surgery. A cartilage tear and damage to the joint could lead to early arthritis. The knee wouldn’t fully recover. He’d struggle with leg-heavy activities, even after physical therapy.

There are always new treatments being discovered, the doctor said. Joint restoration is a popular topic right now.

And like that, Louis’ story had ended.

 

✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻

 

He wasn’t sure how he ended up at a bar with Liam. Louis had already refused to go out, but Liam had said this was more private, one the team wouldn’t be at. And he wasn’t leaving until Louis agreed to go with him.

Louis liked his nights alone, alright?

It wasn’t crowded, not like most of the places Louis had been before… everything had happened, and he was relieved. Music was playing over the speakers, loud and electronic, and groups of people were dancing in the center of the room. Overhead lights bathed the walls in purples and reds, and white leather couches spanned the corners of the room, granite bar tops and tables filling the rest of the seating.

Something caught Louis’ eye. A raised platform off to the side, a microphone stand placed on top. A screen was lit up on the wall behind it.

“Is this a karaoke bar?” he questioned. The extent of Liam’s plan dropped on him.

He was not going up there and singing. Nope. No way.

“It might be.” Liam grinned, grabbing Louis’ wrist and pulling him over to the bar. “Let’s go get some drinks.”

“I’m not singing,” Louis said. “No matter how drunk you get me.”

“Of course, Louis.”

Liam ordered them both drinks and Louis climbed on the bar stool. His fingers twitched to pull his phone out of his pocket.

He was here with Liam. He could have fun, right?

The bartender set their drinks down, Liam taking a sip of his.

“You know,” he said, raising his voice to be heard, “maybe you could even pull tonight.”

Louis almost choked on his drink.

“Yes, Liam,” he snapped. “And I can see tomorrow’s headline now. Ex-football player secretly gay?! Or better yet, we sign NDAs as foreplay!”

Liam huffed. “I told you it’s a private bar. Nobody here’s gonna out you.”

“And I think you can understand why I’m not taking the risk.” Sometimes Liam really pissed him off. “There’s no reason for me to.”

“You’re here to have fun! It could be good for you.”

Louis shook his head. “I don’t need sex, Liam.”

“Maybe not sex, just. Human interaction.”

Louis’ mouth fell open. “I get plenty of human interaction!”

“Really?” Liam raised an eyebrow. “Like when?”

Louis didn’t have an answer.

“Stop looking at me like that.”

Liam’s lips quirked. “Like what?”

“Like you know you’re right so you’re gonna be obnoxious about it.”

“Oh, come on, Louis. Just go out and dance! Get drunk! Do karaoke---”

“I’m not singing.”

“You know,” Liam said. “You’re quite dramatic sometimes.”

“Me?” Louis said, putting a hand on his chest, eyes wide. “Dramatic?”

Liam smacked his shoulder. “Stop being a dick.”

“Oh, Liam,” Louis cried. “I wouldn’t even know what a dick is. I haven’t seen one in many moons---”

Liam was laughing, shaking his head. “Shut up, oh my God.”

“You said I was dramatic!”

“Go do acting, then. The bar doesn’t want to hear you scream about never getting dick.”

“I don’t see why not,” Louis said. “It’s very important information.”

“You’re right. I’m sure one of the many cute guys here would love to know that.”

Louis looked around, cupping a hand around his eyes. “Where? I don’t see any.”

Liam grinned. “I think you’re having a good time.”

Louis stared. “Yes, Liam,” he deadpanned. “I’m having a great time talking about my dry spell.”

Liam hummed. “Good point. But we’ve only been here ten minutes and you already seem a lot happier! I say that’s an improvement.”

Louis tapped his fingers on his glass. He did feel better, lighter than he had in months, but he was also mostly finished with his bourbon. That could’ve had something to do with it.

And he wasn’t going to admit that to Liam.

He was saved from replying by the music fading and the sound of microphone feedback filling the room. He turned his head to the side stage, where a woman was now standing by the mic, holding a clipboard.

“Hey, everyone,” she spoke, words booming through overhead speakers. “We’re about to get started with karaoke, so if you’d like to sing please come up to write your name and song of choice.”

She waved the clipboard in her hand.

“For any newbies, we also have the list of songs available. And remember, we only accept support here, so have fun!”

She left the clipboard by the microphone and walked off stage. The bar and dance floor emptied out, a line forming in front of the stage, as the music faded back in.

Liam sent him a glance.

“Still not doing it, Payno,” Louis said. “Nice try, though.”

“Guess we haven’t had enough drinks, then.”

At Liam’s request, two more drinks were set on the counter. Louis glared, but didn't protest, tipping his drink back.

Whatever. He knew if he was drunk enough to do karaoke, they should probably also check him for alcohol poisoning. For now, he was going to enjoy the ease in his chest, the floating of his limbs as the drinks set in. It was nice, a way to step away from his darkness once in awhile.

People began to trickle back from the stage, filling up the bar and dance floor again. Liam took another gulp of his drink before standing up.

“Where are you going?” Louis questioned.

“Signing up,” Liam said. “You might be boring now, but I’m not.”

Louis sputtered. “I’m not boring!” he shouted at Liam’s back. What the hell.

Liam Payne? Calling him boring? The same Liam that told him, on their first day of practice, that stuffing all the lockers with packing peanuts was “unprofessional” and “childish?” That Liam?

Louis looked down, where his hand was wrapped around the glass. Maybe he needed more of these than he thought.

He took another sip, watching the back of Liam’s plaid shirt move through the crowd. Two girls next to him were laughing, tight arms wrapped around each other. Another girl, dark hair in a high ponytail, pulled a guy from his seat, mouthing words at him and shaking their arms. He smiled and grabbed her hand.

Louis’ eyes moved, to a grinding couple in the middle of the dance floor. Their eyes were closed, hips gyrating to the beat of the music, almost effortless. They seemed lost in it, like a meteor could crash into the building, the walls could erupt into flames, an earthquake could split the floor in half, and they wouldn’t move away.

Someone walked beside them, carrying a tray of drinks to a table in the back. The group cheered when the tray was set down, each grabbing a shot and downing it. There was a man, red shirt and sandy hair, whose lips moved and the table broke out into laughter.

Louis went back to Liam’s plaid shirt, near the front of the karaoke line. He was chatting with the girl behind him. All Louis could see was the strappy back of her shirt, the bounce of her hair as she moved, Liam’s grin and crinkly eyes. The lights moved over them for a second, shining them in red.

Louis turned his head to the seat beside him, the empty one Liam left and nobody filled. He remembered a time he would have been up and dancing, finding a stranger to talk to and get drinks with, even if Liam wasn’t by his side. A time when he left with new numbers in his phone and friends climbing into a dark car.

That felt like lightyears away now, across galaxies and universes and no longer on Louis’ realm of existence. It wasn’t him anymore.

Boring. You’re boring.

He turned to face the bar again, drummed his fingers on the countertop. His drink was almost gone again, his head feeling fuzzy. He finally pulled out his phone. It was nearing midnight, BBC reporting on American politics, no messages to respond to, and Clifford’s face staring at him from behind the screen. Nothing was different.

Boring boring boring boring.

“Hey.”

Louis jumped, spinning around in his seat. He blinked.

“Harry?”

Harry grinned, leaning against the bar top,

Dimples, Louis thought, a mantra. Dimples dimples dimples.

“I---” he started, didn’t know how to finish. “What are you doing here?”

Harry had on a sheer black top, and even in the low lighting Louis could see more tattoos on his torso---two sparrows on his chest, a butterfly on his stomach, other small doodles across his shoulders.

Louis looked down at his glass. What the hell was in this?

“Oh, I come here all the time,” Harry said. “What are you doing here?”

“My mate brought me,” Louis explained. “He’s…” He looked over to the line, could no longer see Liam anywhere near it.

“Somewhere,” he finished faintly. He was never going anywhere with Liam again.

He turned back to Harry, meeting his eyes.

Harry had to be somewhat famous, he knew, at the very least rich. It wasn’t surprising he was at a private bar, maybe one of only a few in the area. But how was he here, on the one night Louis was forced out?

Harry gestured to the seat beside Louis. “Can I sit?”

Liam would kick him out anyway, so he shrugged. “Sure.”

Harry sat down, continuing to grin at Louis. It was unsettling, irking under his skin. There was nothing to look at, not anymore. What was his problem?

“So you must go out more often than I thought,” Harry said. “I see you all the time now!”

“Well, one of those times you literally came to my door.”

Harry laughed, a loud honking sound, a shock to Louis’ ears. He couldn’t remember the last time he made someone laugh, not so easily and genuine.

Harry didn’t seem embarrassed, but his eyes were hazy, hair a bit mussed up, cheeks red. Oh. He was drunk, or tipsy maybe. That explained a lot.

“That’s true,” he said, then frowned. “Oh no, do I seem like a stalker?”

“Eh,” Louis said, “just a little bit.”

Harry buried his face in his hands. “Noooo!” he cried. “My reputation!”

Louis couldn’t help letting a laugh out. “What reputation?”

“The not-a-stalker reputation.” Harry lifted his head. “How can we be friends now?”

Louis’ mouth went dry. “Friends?” he repeated.

Harry nodded, grabbing Louis’ free hand, settling on the countertop. Louis stilled.

“Yes, friends.” He clutched harder on Louis’ hand. Louis’ head spinned. “I think you need a friend.”

Louis had no idea how to handle a drunk Harry Styles, how to look past the prickles of irritation. Where the fuck was Liam?

“You do?” he said, voice even. His jaw clenched.

Harry nodded again, a bit too rough, like he was finding it hard to move the appropriate amount. “Yes. You seem lonely. I don’t like that.”

Louis swallowed. “Why?”

“Hmm.” Harry’s eyebrows furrowed together. “I don’t know, but I don’t think you should be sad. Or lonely.”

“Right.”

A few seconds of silence passed, and then Harry’s face lit up. “Are you doing karaoke?”

Their hands were still together. “Er, no.”

“Oh,” Harry said, deflating. “I think you should.”

“You seem to think a lot of things, Curly.”

“Curly?”

Shit, did he say that? “Yeah, because of---” He let go of his glass, motions towards the top of his head. “The hair.”

Harry grinned, brightly, dimples popping out again. Well, shit.

“I love it!” he exclaimed. He raised their clasped hands, like some sort of victory move. “We’re gonna be great friends, Blue.”

Louis blinked, his arm starting to go numb. “Blue?”

“The eyes!” Harry said, clearly proud. “And it rhymes with Lou.”

He felt his cheeks hotten. “Um, thanks.”

Harry was probably about to respond, but then Louis saw Liam, finally, walking back to the bar.

“Oi, Payno,” Louis said, when Liam was by the seats. Harry turned around, looking confused. “Where’ve you been?”

Liam grinned. “I was talking to this girl, I got her number and everything. She’s so funny, Tommo, you’d love her---” His eyes drifted to Harry and their joined hands. His eyebrows rose. “Oh. Who’s this?”

Louis pulled their hands apart. “Um, this is Harry. He’s… my neighbor.”

“Neighbor?” Liam said. His eyes sparkled, amused. Louis wanted to drown himself.

“Yes,” he snapped.

“I brought him cookies!” Harry chimed in.

“You did?” Liam teased. “I’m sure he enjoyed them. I’m Liam, by the way.”

He held out his hand. Louis resisted rolling his eyes, watching Harry smile and shake it.

“Harry,” he said. “Did you know Louis needs a friend?”

Louis downed the rest of his drink.

 

Later, they started calling people up for karaoke, mostly mediocre singing but with enough enthusiasm to have a crowd of drunk bar-goers dancing and singing along. Liam had taken a seat on the other side of Louis. So much for kicking Harry out.

Liam was getting along with Harry, seemed to like him, which was. Not good for Louis. But why? He couldn’t remember. He sipped his third drink of the night, his vision turning fuzzy, wondering if he could leave unnoticed to find his answer. Find a disguise. Fake his own death? Yeah, that could work.

“Leemo,” Louis slurred. “Help me fake my death.”

“What?” Liam laughed. Harry looked concerned. “I think I might’ve gotten you too plastered.”

“No, no, no.” Louis held his drink to his chest, glaring at Liam. “What about a freak lightning accident?”

“Wait,” Harry said. “But then we can’t be friends!”

Louis patted his hand. “Of course we can still be friends.”

Wait. Something about that seemed wrong. Oh, well. He was always too sad, and now he was happy, and no negative feelings were allowed to enter his brain. You hear that, brain?

A girl finished her version of I Want It That Way on stage, the crowd erupting into cheers and applause. She grinned, swaying a little as she stepped off.

“That was beautiful,” Louis sighed. “Tell me why…

He began humming, rested his head on the cool countertop. Ain’t nothing but a heartache.

“Up next we have…” The woman with the clipboard was onstage again, reading off the list. “Harry Styles!”

Wait. Louis lifted his head. That was Harry. He was standing up, going to karaoke.

“You signed up?” Louis asked, but Harry was already heading towards the stage. “Liam, he’s gonna sing.”

Liam looked at him, frowning. “Yeah, Lou. It’s karaoke.”

“But…” He didn’t know what he wanted to say. There was just something, something about seeing him go up there. And one of the first people. Was that important?

He saw Harry climb up on the stage, a bit unsteady on his feet but able to stand in front of the microphone.

“Hiii,” he said into the mic. There were a few screams from the crowd. Louis supposed he was a scream-inducing person. The dimples were the killer.

“I’m Harry, and I’ll be singing whenever they start the music.” Laughter broke out across the bar. Louis grinned.

“He’s funny, Payno,” he mumbled.

“I’m sure you think so,” Liam said, elbowing him.

Louis frowned. “Whatcha mean?”

“You like him.”

Louis scoffed. “No, I don’t. I barely know him.”

“Sure, but you think he’s cute. And he obviously likes you.”

“He doesn’t…” He trailed off. Where was he going with this? Liam wasn’t making any sense.

“Maybe we should talk about this later,” Liam said, pulling Louis’ glass from his slack grip. Louis almost protested, but then. There was a piano note. And a voice.

Tonight, I’m gonna have myself a real good time.”

It was deep, gravelly, smooth. Coming from Harry’s mouth. Holy shit.

“Holy shit,” Louis said. The crowd cheered some more.

“I feel al-i-i-ive.”

“Well, damn.” Liam laughed. “He can actually sing.”

They watched as Harry kept on, grabbing onto the microphone stand. His eyes closed, voice ringing out across the bar, moving octaves to hit every note.

As the introduction ended and the music kicked up, Harry pulled the microphone off the stand, started walking across the stage.

“I’m a shooting star leaping through the sky...”

The way he strutted on the stage, the dark outfit, the hair, the tattoos---he was a rock star, an 80s persona brought back to life, singing Queen with a voice that shouldn’t belong to a mere human. He knew how to perform, how to captivate an audience, how to take every last breath away. And he was drunk.

For probably the thousandth time, Louis was stuck wondering if Harry Styles was even real.

He sat in a trance for the next three minutes, that’s why they call me mister Fahrenheit, don’t stop me now, have a good time playing over and over in his head. He should go up to the front, he thought, be a supportive friend. Make a sign that said #1 Fan and scream I love you, Harry!

A hand waved in front of his face. Liam was saying something.

“Huh, what?” Louis said, turning to him. Liam snickered.

“Nothing. You enjoying yourself?”

Behind Liam, people were dancing along to Harry’s singing, mouthing along to the words, raising their drinks in the air. Shit, didn’t Liam ask a question?

Louis blinked. “What?”

Liam shook his head.

The song slowly ended, Harry leaving with a I don’t want to stop at all and da da da’s until the music faded out. The bar cheered and clapped, the loudest they had yet, and Harry bowed, hands pressed together.

“Thank you!” he said, and walked off stage, leaving a trail of applause and angel glitter, probably.

“I think,” Louis heard Liam say, “I just witnessed a man fall in love today.”

What? Louis wondered, but was distracted by Harry being pulled off to the side by a group of girls.

It was difficult to see their movements, when everything was blurred around the edges and focusing was impossible. Louis was pretty sure he saw the girls pull out their phones and wrap their arms around Harry. They handed the phones to someone nearby and they stood a few feet back, taking a picture.

Louis’ head hurt.

 

Liam went up to sing a few people later. Karaoke wasn’t new to him, had done it a few times before at parties they’d been at, and Louis knew Liam’s pipes were an extraordinary thing. He told Louis once, years ago, how he wanted to be a singer when he was younger, but football had ultimately won out as the more practical dream. He still liked to belt it out from time to time.

Liam was singing his version of Uptown Funk, and had almost the same effect on the crowd as Harry did, getting them on their feet, couples moving to the dance floor to twirl each other around and laughing along to the song. Liam turned the microphone to them a couple of times near the end, letting the bar sing the lyrics back to him.

Next to Louis, Harry watched with rapt attention.

“He’s really good,” he said, looking back at Louis. “He should perform more!”

Louis laughed. He didn’t know if it was funny, but his mind was loose and Harry was smiling. “Tell him that!”

Harry nodded, then patted Louis’ thigh. “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Secret talents!” Harry explained. “Apparently all you footballers have one.”

“Well,” Louis thought. “I can armpit fart.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “No fucking way.”

Louis moved his fist under his arm, bringing it down to squish his hand. A small noise came out.

Harry looked delighted.

“Can you, like, make a tune out of it?”

Louis focused on the beat playing throughout the bar, Liam’s voice singing let me tell y’all a little something. He moved his arm up and down, in time with the drums of the music, smiling proudly at the fart noises escaping his armpit.

“That’s amazing,” Harry said. “Why aren’t you famous?”

Louis brought his arms back to his sides. “Wait, am I not famous?”

Harry blinked. “Are you?”

“I don’t know.” Louis gazed out into the crowd of dancers. “I feel like I am. Is it for armpit farting?”

“Probably.”

“Probably,” Louis repeated. “That’s good, then. I’m good at that.”

“You’re probably good at everything.”

“Awh!” Louis leaned over, grabbing Harry’s face and planting a sloppy kiss on his cheek. “Thank you, Harry Styles.”

Liam was finishing up with the song, the music fading out. Harry was staring at Louis again.

“You look like a frog,” Louis blurted.

“A frog?” Harry pouted. “Fuck off.”

“No, like, the eyes. And the face. You have a creepy frog stare.”

“Well, you have a creepy… hedgehog stare.”

“What?” Louis laughed. “How am I a hedgehog?”

“Because you come off prickly at first.” Harry reached out, tapping Louis on the nose. “But you’re really soft and cute!”

Louis’ nose scrunched up. “I am not soft.”

“Yes, you are,” Harry sang. “You look like a personified cuddle.”

“No, you look like a personified cuddle.”

Harry grinned.

“Maybe we should cuddle sometime, then.”

“Fine. And I’ll prove that you---” Louis jabbed a finger at Harry’s chest. “---are much softer than I am.”

Harry grabbed Louis’ finger, still smiling. “Okay.”

Louis saw an arm wrap around Harry, felt one come across his own shoulders.

“Hey lads,” Liam said. “Up for some dancing?”

It happened about an hour later.

There had been plenty of more karaoke singers, some good, some not so good, and some who looked like they were about to fall off stage. The club had thinned out as the night wore on.

Louis was busy dancing with Liam and Harry. Well. Mostly Harry, who kept grabbing him every time a song he liked came on. Two people went up to sing The Time of My Life, and then Louis was swayed around the dance floor, Harry throwing his arms out and spinning him around while mouthing the lyrics. Louis couldn’t stop laughing, let himself be dragged along.

He thought Liam might have been filming it. He didn’t care.

He was more sober now, hadn’t had a drink in a while, and he was getting ready to ask Liam if he could take him back home. Clifford would worry. The woman from earlier walked back on stage.

“Hey, everyone,” she said. “Thanks for joining us, we appreciate the support. This is unfortunately our last karaoke signup of the night, but come back tomorrow and next week for more fun!”

She glanced down at her clipboard. “Please come up… Louis Tomlinson.”

Louis stilled. “Did she just say my name?”

“Lou,” Harry said. “I thought you said you weren’t singing!”

He whipped his head around to Harry and Liam. Harry looked thrilled, but Liam was rubbing his neck, avoiding Louis’ eyes. He remembered Liam taking forever to get back to the bar, after signing up at the front. Fuck.

“Liam,” Louis said, angry. “Did you sign me up?”

“Maybe?” Liam admitted. “I told her to put you last. You need to loosen up, okay? You’ll love it!”

“No, I… I’m going to embarrass myself, Liam. That’s why I didn’t want to!”

“Louis Tomlinson?” the girl said again.

“No one cares, Louis,” Liam said. “It’s karaoke.”

Louis is shoved forward. Liam called out, “He’s right here! Hold on!”

The girl looked annoyed.

“Liam,” Louis hissed. “I am actually going to kill you. What am I supposed to sing?”

“Uh.” Liam hesitated. “Baby One More Time?”

“No,” he said. “No, no, no. I’m leaving. You can sing for me.”

He turned around, planning to rush out the doors and call a cab, maybe block Liam’s number in the meantime, but someone grabbed his hand.

“Wait, Lou,” Harry pleaded. “Liam’s right. It’s really fun. And you’ve been having such a good time so far!”

He paused, running a hand through his hair. “I mean, it’s okay if you don’t want to. But I think you should.”

Louis looked down at their hands. Harry was holding on tight, rings cold against Louis’ skin. He was biting his lip. Louis would much rather see him dancing again, smiling and singing and carefree.

Was he still drunk? Fuck it.

“Fine,” Louis agreed. “I’ll do it.”

“You will?” Liam shouted. “Get up there, then. Jesus, Harry, you’re a miracle worker.”

Harry was grinning again. Louis ignored Liam, heading up to the stage.

The music started as soon as he grabbed the microphone. No introduction, then. He did make them wait a while. He took a deep breath, watching the lyrics appear on screen and four white bars highlighting faster than he could handle.

There was a crowd watching him. He could see curious faces looking up at the stage, groups chatting at tables, ordering at the bar. He was almost never nervous playing football in front of thousands of people. Now, in front of a small bar audience, his stomach was in knots.

Were there people that were going to film this? Put it all over Twitter, watch Louis Tomlinson bomb karaoke? Liam said the bar was private, but he didn’t know how far that extended. And people took any chance to make fun of embarrassing situations.

“Oh, baby, baby,” Louis sang. It wasn’t loud, and that part apparently included backing vocals. He knew nobody heard him.

He did it again, slightly louder, at the next part. Still had backing vocals. The first verse would be on his own.

“Oh, baby, baby.” He could hear himself. Did it sound good? He looked down at the bar crowd. They were smiling. Were they laughing at him?

“How was I supposed to know,” Louis continued. He glanced back at the screen, making sure he was on time. “That something wasn’t right, yeah.”

He didn’t sing often, only really when he was humming along to his music. He never considered himself a good one. His voice now, though, flowed along with the words. He could hear a rasp and a delicate pitch. Maybe he wouldn’t be as bad as he thought?

He could see dancing now, and people shouting along to the lyrics. Liam and Harry were farther back, smiling? Singing? Louis closed his eyes. He knew Britney Spears, just sing.

“My loneliness is killing me.”

Oh, fuck you, Liam, Louis thought.

“I must confess, I still believe.

Echos of I still believe! rang out across the bar.

“Give me a si-i-i-i-gn.”

He winced. His voice broke halfway through the long note.

“Hit me, baby, one more time.

He took another breath before the second verse, looking out in the crowd again. Everyone seemed happy. That was good, right?

The rest of the song passed by. He didn’t remember how well he might have done, or whether he exactly hit Britney’s notes (probably not). But. He did remember when it felt like he was putting on his own performance, when he thought he might actually be having fun. He remembered looking out and seeing Harry and Liam watching him, and Harry raising two thumbs up.

There was applause when he finished, like with everyone else, and Louis headed off stage with shaky legs.

Liam crushed him into his side, arms wrapped around his shoulders. “That was amazing, Tommo! I didn’t know you could sing!”

Louis pulled back, staring at Liam. “I can’t?”

“No, that was, like, actually really good!”

He shook his head. “How? I had no idea what I was doing.”

He felt a hand on his arm, turned to see Harry’s grinning face. “It didn’t seem like it. You’ve got a hell of a voice.”

His body felt too hot, from drinking and singing, from too many people, from Liam’s bear hug, from Harry’s hand on him and watching him like he was the only important thing in the universe. He needed to get out.

“Do you think we could go now, Li?” he asked. “I’m worried about Clifford.”

“Clifford’s fine, mate, but sure. You’ve had enough fun tonight.”

He realized, somewhere in the back of his subconscious, ready to be evaluated in the sober morning, Liam had won his game.

“Yeah.” He swallowed. “Uh, well, it was nice to see you, Harry.”

Harry beamed. “You too! And we can see each other even more!”

Right. Friends. Neighbors. Was that a good or bad thing?

Louis saw Liam’s face light up. He clapped a hand on Harry’s shoulder.

“You know what,” he said, sending Louis a worrying smile. “Since you two are neighbors, how about Louis gets a ride with you?”

Jesus, Louis was actually going to kill him.

While he was busy trying to explode Liam’s head with his mind, Harry’s mouth dropped open.

“Oh! You’re right! That makes so much sense. I have a driver coming soon, I should have offered earlier.”

Louis hated both Liam and Harry, because it did make sense. He could get a cab with Liam, but one of them would have to take a second trip back to their own house. He could get a cab by himself, but why waste the gas when he could share---

Wait. A driver?

Louis shot Harry a look, waiting for him to explain, searching for the right piece to put the puzzle together. Liam and Louis only had drivers for team meetings and professional events.

“Who are you?” he blurted out.

Harry smiled. “I’m Harry.”

Louis blinked.

“It’s settled then!” Liam said. “Louis can go with Harry, and I’ll just get a cab.”

“Right,” Louis said. That was perfectly fine. He didn’t feel like his heart was going to burst next to Harry, or confused and stressed over what it meant, over what Harry liked in him, or anything. He was fine.

They made sure they had everything---phone, keys, wallet---and headed out the club doors. It was so much more quiet, the music faded behind the doors, the only sounds of cars passing and shouts down the street. Stillness. It was what Louis had been used to, but. The music reminded him of dancing earlier, of the ease of conversation with Liam and Harry, of singing karaoke in front of strangers. He almost missed it.

There were a few cabs parked along the street. Liam gave him a hug before he left, whispering have fun in his ear. Louis punched him in the arm. He watched Liam make his way to the cabs, wondering if he could make a break for it himself.

It seemed even quieter when Liam was gone. Louis took out his phone, checking the time. It was nearing three in the morning. He looked over at Harry, who was rocking back and forth on his heels.

Heels covered in designer boots. How hadn’t he noticed that?

“You’ve got strange fashion choices,” Louis said.

Harry frowned, looking down at himself. “What do you mean?”

“It’s not a bad thing,” Louis clarified. “It’s just… something I’m not used to seeing. Like, the sheer top, or floral prints.”

In the football world, fashion extended to new Adidas trackpants or Nike socks. Formal suits at away games and meetings, T-shirts and jeans at parties.

“Oh.” Harry shrugged. “I like them.”

Louis nodded, turning away. He tried to imagine showing up in tight jeans and a seethrough shirt around his team. Teasing. They’d think it was a joke. What, are you gay or something, Tommo?

He didn’t reply. They stood in silence, until a black Escalade pulled up along the street moments later.

“Here it is,” Harry said, walking over to the car. “Just get in the back with me.”

He followed Harry into the car, climbing onto the leather seats. The car was clean, sleek, almost barely touched. An older man sat in the driver’s seat. He peered at them through the rearview mirror.

“Going home, Mr. Styles?” he asked.

“Yes.” Harry smiled, leaning back against the seat. “Thank you, Mark.”

Mark gave a tilt of his head and pulled away from the street.

“So,” Harry said, turning to Louis. “Did you have fun tonight?”

His expression was earnest, so open and hopeful. Louis didn’t even have to lie.

“Um, yeah, I did.” He looked away, pulling at the hem of his shirt. “I don’t really do stuff like that anymore.”

“Why not?”

Louis wanted to kick himself. Why would you even bring it up?

“Dunno. Never really feel up for it.”

Harry was quiet for a moment, eyes on Louis. “Well, I’m glad you came.”

He had Mark stop at Louis’ house first. He walked with Louis up to his door, stopping on his porch and pulling him into a hug. Louis made a surprised sound.

Harry’s grip was tight, arms wrapped around Louis’ back, leaning down to rest his head past Louis’ neck. He felt… nice, warm and soft and a smell reminding Louis of cozy homes with candles burning. Louis moved his own arms around his shoulders.

They probably stayed there too long, both too intoxicated to move away, Louis sinking into the contact. He missed this, someone who put all their attention on him, who held him like he meant the world, even if he didn’t understand why. It had been a while. He wondered if maybe Harry had always known, figured it out right from the start, if Louis was just that transparent. The thought made him step away.

“I have to go,” he said. “Thanks for taking me home.”

Harry grinned. “It was my pleasure. Have a safe night, Lou.”

Louis would regret everything in the morning. None of tonight was supposed to happen, and sober Louis knew better than to think it would last. Watching Harry walk back to the car, though, happy and comfortable, Louis felt different. Pleased.

I’m glad I came, too.

 

✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻

 

The doorbell rang the next afternoon.

Clifford ran off to bark at the door, putting Louis’ rant about alcohol to him on hold. He sat up in bed, groaning at the bursts of pain in his head and nausea filling his stomach, and walked to the front of the house.

He wasn’t surprised to see Harry on the other side.

“Hi!” Harry said, cheerful and smiley and gorgeous and shouldn’t he be suffering like Louis? “How’s the hangover?”

“Like death.” Louis grimaced. “How’s yours?”

“It was bad, but I got up early to wear it off faster.” There was a plate in Harry’s hands, covered in parchment paper. He held it out to Louis. “And I made these.”

Louis took it, eyeing it suspiciously. “More cookies?”

“No, cupcakes this time. I thought they might help you feel better.”

Louis was afraid of that.

“Thanks,” he said warily. “You really didn’t have to do that.”

“It was really no problem! I love to bake things, and I had a feeling you might need them.”

“Right. Thank you.”

Please go home.

“Er---by the way,” Harry started. “Do you think I could get your number? I forgot to ask last night.”

Louis shifted uncomfortably. Don’t do it don’t do it don’t do it---

“Um,” he said. “Sure.”

“Great!” Harry continued to smile, reaching into his pocket. “Hold on.”

Alright. Fine. Louis could do this. How hard would it be to send a few texts every now and then? Louis wouldn’t look like a dick and Harry wouldn’t have to come over. This was---fine. Perfect, even.

He typed his number into Harry’s phone (an iPhone 7 with a pink case, Jesus) and added the sunglasses emoji to his contact name.

“Thanks.” Harry winked. “I’ll let you get back to nursing that hangover.”

Louis could feel his cheeks warming. “Um, yeah. Bye, Harry.”

“Bye, Blue Lou!” Harry called, walking down the steps.

Shit.

He got a message later, a Hi! This is Harry :). Louis sent back hey. Harry replied, What are you up to?

Louis didn’t answer.

 

✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻

 

Louis didn’t always understand social media, didn’t get all the jokes or memes or sarcasm, but he liked to post. Pictures of him and Clifford on Instagram, how is everyone?? on Twitter, sometimes a rant about a particularly horrible football game. Fan interaction had always been his favorite part about it, and he loved when he could make someone’s day by following or replying to them.

He knew his follower counts had been slowly dropping on both. Sometimes he would stare at it, frowning before tapping out a funny tweet he hoped would spread. Sometimes he wondered why he should care.

Today, he didn’t look, and took a picture of Clifford sleeping on his bare chest, his hair disheveled and stubble growing in. Fans liked it, though. Liam had shown him the article they’d both been featured in, about attractive athletes with thirst followers. And now Liam’s Instagram was half shirtless gym pictures and Louis could post the first selfie he took, just because there would be screaming comments either way.

He swiped through some filters, posting the picture with shadows deepened and warm colors heightened. He watched his likes rack up to a couple thousand, then closed out of Instagram and opened up Twitter. He scrolled through his feed for a few minutes before checking his mentions.

And he scrolled. And scrolled.

Louis shot up in bed, furiously tapping the repeated handle. It opened to an account with a website and iTunes link in the bio. A header with flowers in pink water and a familiar icon, hair wet and falling in curls over his face. Over 30 million followers.

@Harry_Styles Follows you

Louis laid back down, phone clenched tight in his hands. He tapped the icon, zoomed in as it opened on his screen. There was an orange petal in his hair, water drops rolling down his cheeks, a chain necklace around his neck.

Louis went back to his mentions.

@Louis_Tomlinson @Harry_Styles THIS BOI

how very straight of you harry @harry_styles @louis_tomlinson

hollllyyy shiiittt @Harry_Styles @Louis_Tomlinson

@Louis_Tomlinson You know @Harry_Styles ?

When you find out @Harry_Styles followed @Louis_Tomlinson ……..

They seemed endless, tweets after tweets after tweets. He was two days back now, and they were only growing in frequency. He didn’t know where it ended.

He closed out of Twitter after seeing lol do you think harry wants some of @Louis_Tomlinson and opened Safari. He took a breath, typing in harry styles in the search bar.

News articles, first. Harry Styles album set to be released next month. Is Harry’s new album about Taylor and Kendall? All the inside info on Harry Style’s new album. Under that was a picture---same green eyes, same dimples, longer hair---and a description. British singer-songwriter. Three award-winning albums. Born: February 2nd, 1994. Height: 5’11”.

Louis opened up his text messages. His most recent was from 8:43 AM, a Good morning from Harry with the smiley emoji. Louis didn’t reply, like he had been doing with most of Harry’s messages. He clicked Liam’s thread, typing out a message.

who tf is harry styles??

 

The grocery store. That was relaxing, right? Industrial lights, aisles of food, focusing your mind on your needs and not that you lived next to a superstar, who kept trying to be your friend and who you may have flirted with?

Relaxing.

Louis threw a box of Coco Pops into his cart. He didn’t actually know if he was running low, but whatever. He could start a stash for the apocalypse. He was low on milk, so he grabbed a carton while passing by the freezers. And a thing of cookie dough, just because.

Cookies. Harry, who brought him cookies. Harry, who has 30 million followers on Twitter.

Louis put the cookie dough back.

He hadn’t been shopping shopping in a while, instead sticking to grocery delivery whenever he could. He didn’t (and couldn’t) cook much anyway. He never needed a large trip when he would just buy frozen meals. Today was different though. Today, he needed to get out.

He tightened his grip on the cart, pushing forward in the store. He grabbed a bag of pizza rolls and some frozen fries. A bag of Doritos and Salt & Vinegar Pringles. What else did he need? Some soda, maybe. He could always use some more tea, too. Chocolate bars, for his sisters? But they didn’t come over much anymore. Maybe just for him, then.

He had a cart full of snacks when he rolled up to the cash register. He was behind someone, tapping his fingers on the cart, when he saw it sitting on the magazine shelf, mocking him.

He threw it in his cart.

 

Louis, very calmly, put his groceries up at home. And Louis, very calmly, magazine in hand, marched over to his neighbor’s house and pounded on the door.

Harry opened the door, dressed in nothing but a pair of joggers. There were---abs and many, many tattoos. Louis might have been more impressed if he hadn’t seen it all over the internet.

He shoved the magazine into Harry’s extremely bare chest. “What is this?”

Harry slowly picked up the magazine, looked down at it and then up to Louis.

“My Rolling Stones cover?”

“Exactly!” Louis shouted, snatching it back. “Your cover!”

“Um.” Harry blinked. “Okay?”

“Okay?” Louis wanted to pull all of his curly hairs out. “You have covers. You’re famous!”

Harry looked more confused. “So are you?”

“No, you’re famous famous. And you didn’t say anything!”

“Oh.” Harry scratched his nose. “Wait, you didn’t know?”

No, I didn’t know,” Louis snapped. Harry was too tall for this. His neck hurt from staring up at him. “This is ridiculous.”

“Sorry,” Harry said, “why are you mad, again?”

Louis groaned. Harry frowned, leaning against the doorframe.

“Because!” Louis started. “Because…”

He closed his mouth, huffing. Beats passed. Harry reached up, gently pulling the magazine out of Louis’ hands and moving to hold his wrist. Louis’ breath halted, was sure Harry could feel the angry beating of his pulse.

He smiled. “Would you want to come inside?”

 

Louis was spontaneous.

Well. Used to be. He had loved it about himself, that everyday was a different adventure, that he never felt wrong doing something new or risky. He owed his career to that, all the incredible friends he had made, the nights he didn’t always remember and every place he travelled to.

His last (and first, and only) boyfriend loved it, too, said it was one of his favorite things about Louis. Until he wasn’t spontaneous enough and dumped him when he wouldn’t publicly come out. And then the injury.

Louis hadn’t been spontaneous in a long time.

Sitting in Harry’s kitchen, watching him make them tea, he was ashamed. He didn’t do things like this, not anymore, and how was Harry so nice about it? He didn’t know why Harry’s fame bothered him. Harry should be angry at him.

He shouldn’t have come over. Wasn’t Louis supposed to be staying away, not making new friends, definitely not friends he might find attractive? What had gotten into him? He needed to leave. Curl up in bed with Clifford, pretend this never happened, that the rest of the world was just a big dream and that he was fine.

Harry set a cup down in front of him. “No sugar, splash of milk, you said?”

Louis nodded. “Yeah, thank you.”

Harry smiled, sitting down in front of him. “No problem.”

It was quiet for a while, as Louis sipped his tea and stared at the wall and not at Harry. Who still wasn’t wearing a shirt. Jesus Christ.

The tea the tea the tea. The tea was good. Louis was impressed. Not everyone could get it just how he liked. Harry must be special---

Dammit.

“So,” Harry eventually said. “You… didn’t know who I was?”

Louis felt hot. He shook his head.

“Okay.” Harry lowered his cup. “And you’re mad? Because you didn’t know?”

“I guess,” Louis mumbled. It felt like more than that. You’re wanted by so many. Why do you care about me? I keep pushing you away.

Harry let out a small laugh. “Why’d you buy the magazine?”

Louis buried his head in his arms.

“I don’t know.” It was all dark like this. It was nice, not having to look at Harry’s face. “I freaked out.”

“I’m still confused.”

“So am I.” Louis lifted his head, looked at Harry with narrowed eyes. “You---you’re too nice. You brought me cookies, and cupcakes. But I’m a nobody now. And you’re so popular.”

“You sound like some bad school film. And you’re not a nobody.” Harry paused, leaning over to grab Louis’ hand. “Is this… about your knee?”

Louis squeezed his hand, a habit, but now it was around Harry’s. “What else would it be about? I haven’t got a career anymore.”

“That doesn’t mean you’re not important.”

Louis looked down at his lap, heart seizing up. Liam had said it to him before, but. It felt more powerful coming from Harry, made his nerves relax and mind slow.

“I know,” he said. He did. But what am I supposed to do?

He could feel Harry’s eyes on him. He didn’t say anything, until the silence was too uncomfortable, too encompassing.

“Tell me about your music,” Louis insisted.

“My music?” Harry said. “You want to know about that?”

“I’ve realized I don’t really know much about you.”

“Well,” Harry began, watching Louis with a strange look. “What do you want to know?”

This time, he squeezed Louis’ hand.

“How did it start?” he asked. “Like, what made you want to do this?”

Harry was quiet, thinking for a moment.

“I’ve always liked music,” he explained. “I guess it’s just part of my family. My mum would always play the radio around the house, or old records, those kind of things. I would sing a lot, put on performances for my mum and sister. Oh, I got the lead in my school’s musical when I was five!”

“Five?” Louis laughed.

“Yes, I was a mouse.” An adorable image of younger Harry in mouse ears popped in Louis’ head. “I think I just always knew performing, music, is what I wanted to do.”

Louis thought back to the night at the bar, watching Harry do karaoke. He knew how to make people pay attention to him. Shimmying around the stage, movements to the beat, a voice Louis didn’t think he’d ever heard before, it was meant in front of thousands of people. Probably always had been.

“Um, I was in a band with some friends for a little bit,” Harry continued. “I think they’re still doing it, but I quit to audition for the X-Factor when I was sixteen. I got cut at bootcamp. I don’t think I was really ready for it. I was still too young, you know?”

Louis nodded. He couldn’t imagine playing with professionals at sixteen, despite his big dreams. Forcing a kid so young into a high-profile, demanding life was sickening.

“And I went back when I was eighteen. I didn’t want to spend time at uni doing something I wasn’t really interested in. I was going to study law, as ridiculous as it sounds now, so I knew this was my last chance.”

“And you made it?” Louis prompted.

Harry grinned. “I did. Through bootcamp, judge’s houses, live shows. I placed third. I’m surprised you’ve never heard about it, being a Brit and all.”

“I was always so preoccupied with football,” Louis said. “I’ve honestly only watched a couple episodes of X-Factor.”

“Really? Wow.” Harry leaned back in his chair. “I should thank you, then. For not giving Simon Cowell any more money.”

His eyes widened, and he looked away, ducking his head.

“So,” he said hastily, running a hand through his hair. “What about you? How’d you get into football?”

Louis paused, staring at Harry. He was hiding something. Maybe he’s not as put together as you think?

“Same thing, I suppose,” Louis said, keeping a careful eye on Harry. “I just always knew, been playing since I could walk. And wanting to play professionally takes so much dedication. It definitely took up a lot of my life. I failed my A-levels, actually.”

“You didn’t,” Harry said with a laugh.

“I did.” Louis took another sip of his tea. “It’s awful because I could have passed so easily if I just tried more. My mum has always been mad about that.”

“Understandable.”

“Oi.” Louis smiled, shaking his head. “I don’t need to hear it from you, too.”

Harry grinned back, knocking Louis’ leg under the table.

“So, what happened then?”

Louis glanced down at his tea. “I had to do my last year over. The coach said he’d kick me off for good if my marks didn’t go up. And I couldn’t let that happen if I wanted to play football in uni. So, I got them up, and passed that year.”

“And you were scouted by Man U at university, right?”

“Well.” Louis smirked. “Someone knows their stuff.”

Color rose to Harry’s cheeks. Louis was pleased.

“Doesn’t any decent football fan?” Harry defended.

Louis hummed, raising his teacup to his lips. “I bet you know my stats, too.”

“No, I don’t,” Harry said, far too quickly.

“And you recognized me.”

“You were big news!”

Louis’ face dropped. Right. The only thing he was known for now. And Harry knew all about it.

“Wait,” Harry said. He clutched his hand again, rubbing a thumb over the back. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

God, he was obviously joking. What was wrong with you? He was actually enjoying the conversation, and he fucked it all up.

Louis shook his head. “No, no, it’s fine. I’m just---it’s a hard topic. What I’m remembered for.”

Harry softened, less tense. “You were a great player, especially so young.”

“Thank you,” Louis said, then laughed dryly. “Unfortunately, the rest of the U.K. won’t see that.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry said, again, green eyes locked on Louis. “I can’t imagine what it must be like.”

He was so open, concerned lines over his face, never glancing away. Louis found it hard to look away, too, lost in honest, caring eyes.

“I don’t know how to get over it, you know?” he said, words spilling out. “Like, what do I do now? Football’s all I’ve ever known, really, and I feel so… empty.”

“What about other interests?” Harry asked. “Things you could do to pass the time? Or even stuff you want to get involved in.”

Louis swallowed. “You sound like Liam.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“I mean, sort of.” He started tapping his foot. “I don’t have any other interests, besides watching T.V., maybe. Taking care of Clifford.”

“Maybe you just have to find something?”

Louis’ body tightened, anger flowing through him. All he could hear was Liam’s voice, we should find you a hobby.

He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t---not with someone else. No one understood, they never had. This had been a mistake.

He snatched his hand away. “There isn’t anything,” he said roughly. Harry’s eyebrows rose, expression hurt. “That’s the problem.”

“Lou---”

“I need to go.” Louis stood up, chair screeching across the tiled floor. “Bye, Harry.”

“Wait, Louis---”

He raced out of the kitchen, out Harry’s front door before he could follow him.

 

✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻

 

Louis’ doorbell rang a lot more now.

It woke him up this time, the weight of Clifford jumping off his bed and barking his head off. Louis groaned. His head hurt, exhausted after the night before. He rubbed his eyes, climbing off the bed slowly and making his way to the door. It was only when he reached for the handle that he realized.

He sighed, inhaling before twisting the knob.

The plate wasn’t covered this time. A stack of cinnamon rolls, large and gooey, icing dripping down the sides, sat on top.

“Hi,” Harry said

“Hi,” Louis breathed out.

He was in the same joggers from yesterday, except now he had a navy shirt on. His small curls, instead of swept up, hung down from his face. There were dark lines under his eyes, and his smile was weak, no dimples poking out.

He handed the plate over to Louis. “I brought cinnamon rolls. And, er---I wanted to make you breakfast?”

Louis stared in disbelief. “You want to make me breakfast?”

Harry brought his lip into his mouth. “Yes.”

After making me cinnamon rolls?”

“Yes.”

“Jesus,” Louis said. “Um, yeah, come in.”

He pushed the door open, letting Harry step in first. Clifford trailed after him, wagging his tail at the smell of food.

Louis led Harry to the kitchen, where he sat the rolls down on the island counter. Harry stood by the cabinets, hands behind his back, watching Louis as he turned around.

“I want to say I’m sorry,” he said. “Again.”

“Yeah,” Louis laughed softly, resting an elbow on the counter. “I could tell.”

Harry glanced down at his feet, then lifted his head back up. “I need you to know I don’t think you’re broken, or messed up, or anything like that.”

Louis frowned. “I didn’t think you did.”

Although, it wouldn’t be a reach. He was sure his family thought that, with how little he called or visited anymore. His old friends, too, and Liam had more than once suggested a trip to the doctor’s.

“I shouldn’t have pushed you,” Harry explained. “You just wanted to talk and I was a dick.”

Louis shifted, scratching at his arm. “No, I’m sorry for getting so mad. It’s---you’re right. You and Liam both. I just can’t do it, and I get angry.”

It was the truth. He didn’t feel mad anymore. He’d come to terms with---whatever Harry was to him. And that Harry was opening things for him that he had shut tight two years ago.

“It’s okay.” Harry took a step closer. “I mean, of course it’s hard, which is why I’m sorry. For making you snap.”

Louis nodded, smiling gratefully. “Thank you.”

There was a moment. Everything was quiet, Louis unable to look away from Harry’s face. He seemed less tired, all of a sudden, a different person than the one that showed up at Louis’ door two minutes ago.

And then Harry coughed. “So, breakfast?” he said, a grin with teeth and dimples.

“Oh, right. Um.” Louis glanced towards the fridge. “I don’t really... have anything.”

“What do you mean?” Harry asked, already moving to open it.

Louis winced. The fridge was huge, fitting for the house, but it only made the barren racks inside stand out more. He had some old takeout leftovers still stashed, a few sauce bottles, a jug of milk, carton of eggs, some cheese packets, and a case of beer.

Harry stood by the fridge for a couple seconds, before backing away and closing it. He turned to Louis, clapping his hands together.

“Well,” he said. “How about we go shopping sometime, and we’ll just have the cinnamon rolls for now?”

Louis’ lips quirked. He grabbed one of the rolls. “How much is it killing you not to ask?”

Harry breathed out a laugh, dropping his arms. “A lot.”

“I can’t cook. Burn everything I touch.”

He took a bite of the roll.

“Fuck,” he said. He almost moaned. “How are these so good?”

Harry grabbed another roll. “I used to be a baker, back when I was in school.”

“Jesus, who knew? Harry Styles, masterchef.” Louis bit into it again. “Remind me to visit that bakery sometime.”

Wait, shit. There were implications of that, weren’t there? Louis stuffed the rest of the roll in his mouth, hiding his blush.

Harry smirked at him. “Well, I also learned a lot from my mum. You know, I can cook for you sometimes, if you want? I don’t like thinking that all you’re eating is processed stuff.”

“Oh, no.” Louis swallowed, trying to shake off the train from cooking to date. “You’re a health junkie too!”

“What!” Harry cried. “That stuff’s bad for you. You need fruits and vegetables.”

“Not when I don’t have to be running down a pitch everyday.”

“Still then. Come on.” Harry reached out, squeezing Louis’ arm. “I’d enjoy the company. I could even give you cooking lessons!”

Without thinking, Louis said, “Okay.”

He didn’t know what was happening to him. Harry was---too much for Louis. But also, enough to have him drawn in, rethinking all the walls constructed and gray fog formed. He regretted many things, and he might regret this too, but he wanted it. Wanted Harry to be around to make Louis forget.

“Listen, Harry,” he said, taking a deep breath. “I was thinking a lot last night, after I left and I---I meant what I said, that you were right.”

He paused, looking away from Harry, focusing on the jagged lines between the tiled floor. “And Liam’s been telling me the same thing, for a long time now. I just want to thank you---for being here, for caring, getting me out of bed, even though I haven’t been the nicest to you. It’s made me realize some things.”

He closed his mouth, glancing back up at Harry.

He wasn’t expecting it, when Harry stepped forward and wrapped Louis in a hug. His arms were stuck to his sides, shocked, like both of Harry’s hugs have managed to do so far, before he slowly put them around Harry.

“You’re welcome,” Harry whispered, into the top of his head. The familiar smell was still there, enchanting and hypnotizing. Harry pulled away, but kept his hands on Louis’ shoulders. “If… if you want, we can find you something? Something new you like? Or just fun things to do. I’d be more than happy to help, if you want to do that now.”

Yesterday, Louis would have been infuriated. But yesterday, Louis also told Harry he was empty, showed him that he was lost and confused and sad, heading on a road to nowhere. He didn’t like arguing with Harry, but he did like having a new friend. He liked acting like himself again, loud and dramatic, stubborn but fun. He liked hearing Harry talk about himself, wanting to know more and more and more, what inspired him and what made his heart beat and did he think about Louis this much, too? He wanted to tell Harry about his family and friends, the life of a professional footballer, his relationships. Wanted to hear Harry laugh and see him smile, see the green in his eyes light up, because of Louis, happy to be around him. He didn’t want to feel sorry for himself, or lose out on the rest of his life, something good he could have if he just let himself.

It was time for a change.

“Yeah,” Louis answered. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

 

“No,” Louis insisted. “That’s, like, insulting.”

“Oh, come on!” Harry said. “It’s relaxing! You’d love it.”

Louis glared. “You know what would happen if I got caught playing golf? They’d have to erase my name from football history.”

“It’s not that bad,” Harry argued.

“It is that bad.”

Golf. Fucking golf. He was already regretting agreeing to this. Considering a different sport seemed like a good idea, except that Louis couldn’t do anything with intense physical movements, which was every sport in existence. Except fucking golf.

Apparently, Harry fucking Styles was an avid fan of golf.

“What’s so bad about it then?”

Louis rolled his eyes. “It shouldn’t even be a sport. It’s what old, retired men play.”

Harry gave him a look. “Well, you are retired.”

Louis picked up the nearest pillow, and whacked him with it. And then whacked him again. And again.

“Okay, okay!” Harry shrieked, toppled over on the couch. “I won’t make you play golf with me.”

Louis leaned back, satisfied. Only then realizing he was practically sitting in Harry’s lap, hovered over his legs. Shit.

“Uh---er---good,” he stammered, moving back. “Yeah, good.”

Harry sat up, hair ruffled and strands sticking out, his cheeks flushed. Fuck.

He beamed. “I’ll make you play minigolf with me.”

“What?” Louis said, bewildered. “That’s not a sport.”

“No, but it is something fun we could do. Tell me you don’t like minigolf.”

“I don’t like minigolf,” Louis said.

Harry kicked his leg out at him. “Liar.”

“Okay,” Louis laughed. “It’s alright. Just not what I was expecting.”

“I know a place,” Harry explained. “It has, like, an arcade, and gokarts, too, if you wanted to go.”

It actually sounded interesting. Something Louis would enjoy, and much better than actual golf.

“Sure,” he agreed. “Let’s give it a try.”

 

✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻

 

He texted Liam later, when he was laying in bed with Clifford, tired from the day he had, cheeks hurting from laughter. He felt like Liam should know, would be proud of him.

i think i’m gonna be friends with harry styles

Do u hear that? The sounds of thousands of girls crying?

shut up

i still can’t believe you didn’t tell me

I thought u knew!!! And i didn’t even realize until the day after i met him

well. i’ve unknowingly become friends with a popstar

What changed ur mind anyway? Did he tell u he wants in ur football pants???

shut up no

he’s just nice

oh

damn

YOU want in his popstar pants

i do not wtf payno

we talked a bit and he brought cinnamon rolls and i realized i dont really hate him

U know i think its good u both obviously fancy each other

And i think this is something u needed and u seem happier

yeah. thank you

not to the fancy each other thing btw

U have any idea how long he’s been living next to you bc i think if u met when u moved in youd be married by now

im going now

Im just asking some real questions here

Ooh what if he writes a song about u

that’s not going to happen

What if he ALREADY wrote a song about u

no

Cant fool me tommo i know youd love that

bye lima bean it’s always a pleasure

Louis got winky, fist, and water emojis in response. He turned the screen off and went to sleep.

 

✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻

 

Stepping into the minigolf park was a bit of a mess.

Louis knew there were people watching them. Harry had glanced up, over to the side, and Louis followed his gaze to a young girl with her phone out, pointed in their direction. There wasn’t anywhere to hide themselves either, until they got onto one of the courses. The plaza around them was wide open, people milling around from the arcade building and coming off of the greenways.

Louis straightened his shirt out nervously. “Is it okay if people see us?”

“It should be,” Harry said, but he looked uncertain. “I just wonder if…”

He trailed off, eyebrows furrowed.

“What?” Louis asked.

Harry shook his head. “Nothing. Nevermind. It should be fine.”

He started walking over to the stand outside the courses, Louis following behind. The cashier looked startled.

“Uh, hi,” she said, eyes wide, looking over at Louis for a second. “Two?”

“Yes, thank you,” Harry said, pulling out his wallet.

“That’ll be £15.00,” she said. “And, um, could I get a picture, maybe?”

Harry’s smile softened. “Of course.”

He handed his card over to her. Louis almost protested---he had more than enough money to pay for himself---but didn’t want to start an argument in front of a fan. She swiped the card and gave it back, pressing a button to roll out the receipt.

“So, you just want it like this?” Harry asked. “I can lean over the counter.”

The girl blushed. “Um, y-yeah, that’s fine.”

Harry grinned, leaning over the counter while the girl pulled out her phone. She turned around and angled it towards them, smiling and snapping a photo. She lowered her hand and Harry stepped back from the counter.

“Thank you so much,” she said, phone clutched in her hands. “Um, you guys can pick out balls and clubs over there.”

She pointed to the other side of the stand, where there were baskets of different colored golf balls and clubs placed on the counter.

They thanked her, heading over to the balls.

“Should I be insulted she didn’t ask me for a picture?” Louis wondered.

Harry chuckled, looking over at him. “Maybe. I’m sure she’ll realize who you are, though. They’ve all been talking about you.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, after I followed you. They think it’s funny, because---”

He snapped his mouth shut.

“What?” Louis asked. He wasn’t used to Harry being so secretive. “I mean, I saw some of the tweets. I was kind of confused.”

“Well, uh---” He scratched the back of his neck. “I ended up following you on Instagram, like, right after you posted this picture last week. You were outside?”

Louis remembered the picture. He was letting Clifford run around in the backyard and took one of himself while he was sitting outside. The sun had been out that day, lighting him up from behind and casting shadows over his outline. Like the Twitter one, he hadn’t even noticed that Harry followed him.

“Ohh,” Louis realized, cackling and smacking a hand over his mouth. “They think you’re one of the thirst followers.

Harry let out a shaky laugh, face red. “Uh, yeah. They do.”

“What’s wrong?” Louis frowned. “Shit, is it not supposed to be funny? I’m sorry.”

Harry seemed uncomfortable. Louis didn’t want to think---was Harry nervous that people would think he liked boys? Had Louis been reading the signs all wrong?

“No, it is funny,” Harry clarified. “I mean, I think it is, too. It’s just---”

“Just what?”

Harry sighed, glancing around at the cashier. She wasn’t looking at them, helping the next person in the line.

“I’m not supposed to, like, come off as gay,” Harry said. “And I didn’t even mean to, and I made it worse by following you on Twitter after. So now they’re probably going to want to do damage control.

Louis blinked. “Oh.”

He hadn’t even considered that Harry might be---but, of course, it made sense, didn’t it? The articles Louis saw, all of them talked about his past relationships, who was his album going to be about, all girls. But he definitely didn’t come off very straight, not to Louis, anyway.

They were in similar situations. Except, it seemed like, Harry’s was involuntary.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said. “I don’t want to make things awkward.”

“You’re not,” Louis pacified.

It wasn’t a lie. He didn’t mind what people thought of Harry. But fans thinking Harry was attracted to him, and now they were going to be seen out together?

Louis had carefully avoided gay rumors during his career, making vague comments about girls once in awhile and hiding his mannerisms. He’d always wanted to be out before any could start. It seemed like he would have to speed that process up, if he was going to be in the media again.

Harry had just said it was fine if they were seen together. Louis wondered if that was more of a lie than he first realized.

“So,” he said, changing the subject. “What color ball are you going for?”

Harry immediately pulled out a pink one.

“Interesting choice,” Louis said, grabbing a light green one. Were things like this what got Harry in trouble?

“Pink is the best color,” Harry defended. He picked up one of the small clubs. “Hey, look, this is the perfect size for you!”

Louis scowled. “Fuck you,” he said, picking up a regular sized club. “I’m not that small.”

“Of course you’re not,” Harry said. “That’s why you stand on your tiptoes all the time.”

“I do not,” Louis said. He looked down at his feet.

Harry smiled smugly. “You had to check.”

Louis lifted his club, studying it. “Should you be instigating anything while I have a golf club in my hands?”

“You know what,” Harry said. “Let’s go to one of the courses now.”

The greenways split off into five different paths, each labeled with a wooden sign. They picked Course 4, because they couldn’t see anybody on its first few holes. The first hole seemed simple enough, a straight shot with two triangular rocks blocking the sides of the strip.

Harry went first. The ball went smoothly between the rocks, landing into the hole.

“Well, if it’s that easy,” Louis said. He hit the ball, watching it roll down the strip and then curving near the hole, landing inches away.

He could hear Harry failing to stifle a laugh.

“Whatever,” Louis said. He walked down the strip, putting the ball in the hole. “There’s still 17 holes left.”

Harry wrote some numbers down on the scorepad. “Is this a bad time to tell you I’m a master of minigolf?”

“Sure you are,” Louis said. “Nobody’s a master of minigolf.

They moved to the next hole, across a curving walkway with vibrant flowers and bushes growing. Thick trees blocked most of the view of the other courses, but a stream could be seen further down.

This strip was clear, but the hole was in the middle of a circular mound.

Harry’s hit went over the mound, ball rolling down into the hole. Another hole-in-one. Louis’ first hit wasn’t hard enough to get over the mound.

“2 to 4, now,” Harry called.

“Fuck off,” Louis grumbled. “I’ll get ahead.”

It continued like that, over five more holes getting harder and harder. At one point, Harry’s ball went into the bushes. Louis cheered, then it took him six tries to get the ball in the hole.

“14 to 21.”

Louis glared. “You’re lucky I don’t throw your ball into the water.”

They were about to cross over the bridge when Harry stopped them, pulling out his phone.

“Hold on,” he said. “I want to get a picture.”

It was quite beautiful, the stream trickling below them and flowing around the hills of the golf courses. The water was blue and clear, a reflection of Louis’ face appearing when he looked closed enough. Foliage grew alongside the banks, purple and pink flowers, full, green bushes, tall trees. Groups of people were playing golf on the other side, kids running down the course and friends laughing. The setting sun cast orange hues over the landscape.

Louis wasn’t paying attention, broken out of his thoughts by the sound of a camera shutter.

He turned his head. Harry was pointing the phone towards him, grinning widely.

Louis’ mouth fell open. “Did you take a picture of me?”

“‘Course I did,” Harry said. “I think you add to the scenery quite well.”

He showed the phone screen to Louis. In it, Louis was leaning over the railing on the bridge. His hair was swept to the side from the wind, eyes alight. Light peeked out from behind the trees, causing shadows that fell across his face and shined on his skin. There was a slight smile on his lips, looking out across the stream, arms over the side of the railing. The background almost seemed like a second thought. It was just as breathtaking if you took the chance to look, but not the focus. Not at all.

It was a great picture. He didn’t have words, heart doing pitiful flips in his chest. Harry had this whole place for a picture and he decided Louis needed to be a part of it, that he was just as connected to the world as the leaves dangling from branches or the water running beneath them.

He swallowed. “Are you going to post it?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Harry answered. “That would probably be too obvious. I think you should post it, though. I can send it to you.”

That would be too obvious. Louis was finding it hard to breathe.

“Sure,” he whispered, and cleared his throat. “Um, yeah, okay.”

They kept going down the course, Louis only getting worse at the game as the holes got more difficult. He couldn’t feel frustrated, though, not when he got to laugh and bicker with Harry, even if he was losing by a landslide.

Even when he missed a clear shot three times.

“That one didn’t count,” Louis insisted, as it swerved around the hole and hit the side of the strip. “They’ve rigged my ball.”

“Do you want help?”

“Or,” Louis said, smiling at Harry. “We could just pretend I sunk it and move on.”

“But that’s cheating,” Harry argued. Dammit. He was a rule follower. “Here.”

Louis watched, confused, as Harry walked over to him. And then. He moved behind Louis, pressing against his back, and grabbed his hands over the golf club. Louis froze.

He angled Louis’ body towards the ball and hole, lining the club up.

“You just need to be more gentle with it.”

With his hands still over Louis’, Harry swung the club back and putted the ball towards the hole. Was he saying something? All Louis could focus on was the warmth on his back and the breath ghosting over his neck, the tight grip around him.

Hearts probably shouldn’t beat this fast. Louis was growing concerned.

Through a clouded mind, he saw the ball roll into the hole. Harry stepped back.

“There,” he said. “Now we can move on.”

Louis didn’t say anything. He blinked, following Harry down the path.

What? He was only human. And gay.

 

Louis lost at mini-golf. Not a surprise, but his pride was still hurt.

“You need to make it up to me,” Louis told Harry. “Let’s ride the go karts now.”

“So you can lose again?” Harry asked.

Louis stuck his leg out. He only felt a little bad when he tripped right over it.

Neither of them won at go karts, because it wasn’t a race, but Louis claimed he lapped Harry anyway. At the arcade, Harry ended up winning a thousand tickets from a wheel, and then a couple hundred more from the stupid piano game. He exchanged the tickets for a giant stuffed frog and a novelty cup, and gave the frog to Louis, with a grin that said I know what you’re thinking, too.

A few more fans came up for pictures with Harry. He took them all happily, looking even more grateful when they told him how much they loved him. No one asked for pictures with Louis, but he didn’t mind. Walking out of the park, the ridiculous frog clutched to his chest, he only thought this was one of his favorite nights in a while.

He posted the picture Harry took when he got home. He didn’t add a filter or a caption, too happy with the way it was, letting it speak for itself. People would put the pieces together, it wasn’t hard to, but he was okay with it. The picture, professional and filling pages of stories and conversations, fit into place with his dog photos and selfies better than he could have expected.

 

✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻

 

Liam sent Louis a couple Twitter links the next morning, captioned with u went on a DATE with harry styles????

They opened to photos of him and Harry from the day before, with hundreds of retweets and likes. They were posted by a few different people, some while they were on the go karts, a lot at the arcade (and mentioning Harry won him the frog in his hands, fuck), and a few from playing minigolf.

He was worried when he saw the golf pictures. He didn’t even know anyone was around them, and he wondered if they had caught a certain moment from minigolf. He was scared it might mean something bad for Harry if there was, but looking through the tweets and their accounts, he couldn’t find any. There was a picture of Louis throwing his head back in laughter, plenty of them standing far too close, and being just the two of them playing minigolf, of all the things, it did look like a date.

These Harry fans seemed to agree. The replies were a bunch of illegible screaming and comments about how cute they were, heart emojis and reaction pics. The fans who posted the pictures gave detailed accounts of what they saw, what Harry and Louis were doing and how they were acting. Louis thought some of it was a bit exaggerated, but the fans were going to believe it.

It wasn’t the first time Louis had pictures taken without his permission, but pictures that looked gay were something new, something he’d purposely escaped his whole career. People would speculate. He’d have to prepare to come out sometime soon, wouldn’t he? He’d always wanted to avoid a denial, so there wasn’t a choice for him now. Someone would ask. He just didn’t know if he was ready.

And… if he did? Would that hurt Harry? Gather more speculation towards him, too, only to be forced to remind the public that he was still straighter than a 180 degree angle. He didn’t want that for him.

The frog was sitting on Louis’ bed. Clifford was curled up next to it, green legs sticking out from under his body.

He might have to think about it.

 

✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻

 

What about drawing?

Louis picked up his phone, face scrunching.

nope, can’t draw to save my life, he replied.

I don’t believe you

Louis rolled his eyes. He stood up, digging around the drawers for a piece of a paper and pen.

When he sat back down, he typed, i’ll show you

He quickly sketched a stick figure taking up most of the page, with big dot eyes as far apart as he could make them and curly waves on top of the head. He drew something phallic shaped for the nose, and then attempted to add on boots. They looked like wavy triangles on top of a square, which, well, only proved his point.

He took a picture on his phone and sent it off as Harry.

Is that supposed to be me?

I’m offended.

i told you i couldn’t draw!! it was supposed to be a frog!!

Harry sent a frog and frowny emoji. You know 12 year olds do better than that.

He attached a picture, a drawing of a cartoon-style Harry wearing a flower crown. He had chubby limbs and a round, undefined face. It wasn’t perfect, the coloring and lines sloppy and proportions off, but, yes, better than anything Louis could do. Not that he would tell Harry that.

do you just save fanart of yourself??? self absorbed much

He added two emojis with the tongue sticking out.

No, I also save fanart of you.

you do what now??

Another picture popped up. This one was more realistic and was of him, undeniably, dressed in one of his practice outfits---a gray hoodie and trackpants, with a beanie pulled over his head. A football was balanced underneath his foot, his hands on his hips, smiling down at the ball.

where did you find that??

I see them on Twitter now. I think the fans are really dedicated to learning more about you.

I saved some of Liam too.

Two more attachments. The first was one done in the same style as the last, probably from the same person, but of Liam, square-jawed and tattooed, kicking a goal. The second had two people, drawn with long arms and geometric faces, with their arms around each other. Louis recognized it as him and Liam.

He saved both and sent them to Liam, adding LOOK!! before reopening Harry’s thread.

wtf those are so sick

i never knew there was football fanart

I’m sure there’s a lot more out there

You don’t think you could ever match their level of expertise? :P

unless stick figures are enough to pass the time ….

Right. What about writing?

like stories??

Sure. Or poetry. Journalism. Songs, maybe?

hahahahahaha nooooo

i always did horrible in my english classes

You don’t have to be good. Sometimes people just enjoy it.

the grass is green

what is this place?

i kick a ball

at harry’s face

I’m hurt :(

Do I have to tell your doctor you’re disobeying orders?

this is a hypothetical situation

Hmm. Of course.

has anyone ever told you you text like a grandma

Changing the subject. What do you think about acting?

okay grandma harry

just changed your contact name btw

He added the nerd emoji again.

why acting?

Don’t know, I guess that’s just what I did when I felt like I needed something else to do.

wait what

you’re acting too??

Yeah, in Dunkirk? You haven’t heard?

Louis blinked. He pulled up the browser and typed in harry styles dunkirk.

Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Tom Hardy discuss upcoming film Dunkirk. Singer Harry Styles talks about Dunkirk audition process. What can you expect from Dunkirk? Newcomers Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles deliver incredible performance.

A new message came in while Louis scrolled. Should I give an exclusive interview? Louis Tomlinson lives under a rock?

stfu, Louis typed back. i just don’t like you as much as everyone else

I think that’s a lie.

whatever

i wouldn’t act either that’s just not something i see myself doing

Well, I think you’d be great. You’re very dramatic.

There were two smiley face emojis at the end.

fuck you

i’ll cut up all your gucci trousers

how’s that for dramatics?

Ouch.

Not the Gucci. Anything but the Gucci.

your pleading will do nothing

i’ve made up my mind

Nooooooo

Can I… at least say goodbye?

if you must

Gucci trousers, you’ve always been there for me. Through the thick and the thin. Even when you cost a fortune. I’ll miss you.

i’m not crying…. i think there’s something in my eye

Harry sent three clapping emojis.

That was beautiful. You may just be an actor yet.

thank you thank you

my film remembering gucci is available soon

I’ll be sure to watch it as long as you come to the Dunkirk premiere ;)

Louis paused, fingers hovering over the keys.

you’d want me there??

Of course, if you want to go. I’ll be busy for a lot of it, but it’ll be fun.

Louis had to set his phone down, leaning back in the chair. Slowly, he let out a breath and began tapping.

what about the speculation stuff

Three dots appeared immediately, but forever and a lifetime passed before another message came.

You don’t have to walk the red carpet. And no one has specifically told me no yet.

Louis had to laugh to himself.

wow

you’re bad styles

i’ll think about it

:)

stop your creepy frog smile

Fine. I take the invitation back.

noooooooooo how could you

i was so looking forward to watching you die onscreen

How do you know if I die?

i mean it would be a wasted opportunity if you didn’t

Guess you just have to watch and see.

nah i don’t want to anymore

i think you just want my hobby to be feeding your ego

i’m having none of it

I do not.

My next suggestion was actually music.

oh my god YOU DO

you want me to like the things you like

admit it styles

A lot of people do musical activities for fun.

yeah but not everyone is a popstar with a musically challenged friend

What do you mean? I was thinking about it because you were amazing at karaoke.

Louis watched his phone, confused, waiting for the words to warp into a sentence he could understand.

you don’t have to lie, he eventually typed. i was drunk

I’m not. You have such a unique voice. And for someone who didn’t really know what he was doing, you killed it.

i do remember you being a bit inebriated too

i think it might have affected your ears

Trust me, Louis.

Would you be willing to try it out?

Louis was lost. What would drunk karaoke even say about his vocal abilities, and what did Harry mean? Did he want him to sing in front of crowds, practice in the shower, post cover videos? Would he enjoy doing any of those things, or was Harry just running out of ideas, picking something easy he could teach him?

what did you have in mind, he responded.

Well, I thought it would be interesting to take you to the studio. I have a couple songs I’m working on and some of the producers think they’d be great for other artists, so I have to record demos.

You can come and see what we do, help out a bit maybe?

Only if you want to, of course. I know it might be too much. But I have a feeling you’d like it.

A studio. It had never interested Louis before, but Harry’s karaoke performance flashed to his mind. That was what he’d be doing, he realized, working on something he loved throughout his entire soul. Performing. Capturing his voice, so everyone could play it over and over. He was asking Louis to be there with him.

i’d love to, Louis typed, and not one part of him regretted it.

 

✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻

 

Something took control of him when he picked up his phone and dialled the number.

He never used to go so long without calling. He’d make to sure to text or call every night, tell them about his day and all the new places he’d been, the people he’d met, how he scored that goal and felt like the proudest player on Earth. He never wanted to stop calling either. But it felt like too much and not enough at the same time, when every word travelled through his ears like pity, and he had nothing other to say than I slept 14 hours today and ate a bag of crisps, are you proud of me?

It hit Louis hard, how long it had been, his breath stilted while he listened to the phone ring. He didn’t know what to say. It was too long. They’d be uncomfortable. It was unexpected. They didn’t even want to talk to him anymore---

There was a click. “Hello?”

A gasp left Louis’ mouth. He hadn’t heard her voice in months.

“Hi, mum.”

“Oh, Louis, love,” she said. “It’s so good to hear from you. How are you?”

“I’m---I’m good, mum,” he croaked. “How are you?”

“I’m doing fine. I’m about to make dinner, and the girls are all watching telly.” There was a pause, the sound of metal clanging onto a counter. “Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, I just.” He swallowed. “I miss you, mum.”

His mum was quiet for a while. He could practically see her straightening up, holding the phone against her ear, hair frazzled from a busy day at work and coming home to watch the girls and Ernest. He wanted to be there so badly.

“Oh, baby,” she eventually whispered. “I miss you, too. We all do.”

Louis sniffed. “I’m sorry.”

“No, no,” she scolded. “You don’t have to apologize. We know how hard the past few years have been.”

“I haven’t called in months, mum,” he argued. “You have the right to be mad.”

“But I’m not,” she said, like she’s closed the door on discussion. “Tell me how you’ve been, and then you can speak to your sisters and brother.”

“Um, okay,” Louis said. She reminded him of himself too much. “I’m trying not to distance myself so much. I met this guy.”

“Oh?” his mum said. She could always see right through him.

“Like, a friend guy,” Louis insisted. “I didn’t even know him, but kept trying to push him away, and I guess I realized how messed up I’ve been. And now he wants to, like, help me. Sort me out.”

“So this… friend,” she said, not entirely convinced. “What’s his name? Is he good to you?”

“Mum,” Louis chided. “His name’s Harry, but it’s not like that.”

“Hmm,” she let out. “Are you happy?”

There were a lot of reasons he shouldn’t be. Nothing Harry could do would fix his leg. He would always be known as the young football star with so much potential, career ending early because his muscles had a limit he pushed too far. And Louis wasn’t stupid. He knew nothing else would ever give him the same enjoyment and purpose as football did, no matter how hard Harry tried. He would never be the same person again.

But Harry was something else. He didn’t look at Louis and see just a cloud of darkness. He saw the storm, the growls of thunder and lightning that struck at any time, and Harry was the chaser, fascinated with pelting rain and the captured image of a bolt at just the right time. And there was always the eye, the calm in the middle. Harry seemed to be pulled right to it.

Louis did all this because of Harry. Because Harry was the sunny day that wanted to stand in between raging wind and black clouds. Because Harry wanted to know him, and because Louis did, too. Because he could spend the whole day with him drawing and writing and singing and he would never mind.

“I think I could be,” Louis spoke, quiet and honest. “It feels like I am.”

“That’s great, love,” his mum replied. “You know I’m always worried about you. I’m so glad you found someone, even if they’re just a friend.

“Mum,” Louis warned.

“Hush, Louis. Let me be a mum sometimes. I’ll pass you along to the girls.”

Lottie got the phone first. She had her own---all of the girls did, which Louis was still trying to accept---but Louis hadn’t spoken to her in a while. Back when he was still playing, she’d come down to London and stop by the stadium to watch him practice. She was always trying to sneak her way into the stylist job, watching the head of the department fix the team’s hair for press conferences and order in new batches of suits. She was so young, though, and it was a dead end when Louis had to leave and there was no longer a reason for her to be there.

She was almost 19 now and had been accepted into a cosmetology school in Manchester. That was all Louis knew about it, had no idea what day she was leaving, where she would be living, had she visited the campus yet? He hated how much he’d disappointed her, and couldn’t live with himself knowing he ruined her first career opportunity. For a while, he thought the best way was to leave her alone.

“Hi, Lots,” he said into the phone. His eyes were blurring.

“Louis, oh my God,” she shrieked. There were voices in the background, shouts and mumbles from the other girls. “Where have you been?!”

“Well,” he said. “At home, I guess.”

“We haven’t seen you since Christmas!”

Louis bit his lip. “I know.”

“God, what have you been doing? Wait.” Her voice lowered to a whisper. “I saw pictures of you and Harry Styles on Twitter.”

“Did you?” Louis responded. “That’s interesting.”

Louis,” she screeched. “How the hell do you know Harry Styles?”

He groaned. “Quit saying his name like that. It’s weird. He’s my neighbor.”

“He is not,” Lottie said. “Shut up. I’ve literally been over at your house and had no idea he was down the street?!”

“To be fair,” Louis said, “I don’t know when he moved in. I met him, like, last month.”

“This is why you need to call more!” she insisted. “For updates like this!”

Louis grumbled. “Put Fizzy on. I don’t like you anymore.”

“Fine, whatever, but I’m calling you right after!”

Fizzy had much less invasive questions. She told him about her final exams, how she was getting ready to start the new year, had a bunch of universities picked out to apply to. She had always been the school-smart one in the family, with big ideas and dreams and a desire for change. Her birthday was coming up, and Louis knew he needed to go up to Doncaster for it.

Phoebe and Daisy didn’t have a lot to say, they were just excited. They were getting so grown up now, nearly teenagers and taken to posting on Instagram like they were ten years older.

“Did you know Daisy has a boyfriend?” Phoebe said.

“Shut up!” Daisy yelled. There was static, like the phone was being tossed around. “I do not!”

“Oh, she does,” Phoebe replied, further away. “He fancies her.”

Ernest and Doris were the calmest of the bunch. Ernie was getting shy, according to their mum, but that was perfectly okay with Louis after having four obnoxious sisters. Doris was more outgoing, had been helping her brother play with the other kids at their preschool.

“Achoo,” she called. “Me and Ernie wanna play football!”

Louis had to swallow back tears. “Like your big brother?” he asked.

“Yes! We wanna be pruh-fuss-en-uls.”

“Professionals,” he corrected, chuckling. “If you work hard enough, I think you two will be the biggest football stars in the country.”

“I think so, too!” she said. “Oh, mum wants you. Bye, Achoo!”

His mum said, “Don’t be a stranger. The kids all love you so much.”

“I know,” Louis said. He would never stop being sorry. “I’ll come see you guys soon, I promise. And the girls are always welcome to spend a night here.”

“Thank you, Louis. I should get going so I can make dinner.”

“Love you, mum.”

“Love you too, honey. Bring Harry around sometime, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Louis said, scrubbing his eyes. “Okay.”

“Bye, love.”

He had to sit for a while after the call, with Clifford laying his head on his lap. He tried to remember to breathe evenly, hiding his face and forcing the tears away. It seemed too quiet in his gigantic house. Too many rooms that he never used, and high ceilings that created echoes at every pat of Clifford’s steps. Louis’ heavy inhales were too obvious. Had it always been like this, an emptiness constantly reminding him of how pathetic he was?

He missed his family. So much.

 

✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻

 

Harry was still adamant about the cooking lessons. He wanted Louis to try it before they moved on to the studio sessions, so on a late afternoon, Louis went over to Harry’s house, at least halfway prepared to cook.

Harry was wearing a pale pink apron when he opened the door.

“Hey!” he said, smiling big. “You ready to become an expert baker?”

“That’s a bit too much,” Louis said. “Obviously, I could never dethrone the king right here.”

“Sometimes, I can’t actually tell if you’re making fun of me.”

Louis grinned. “Why would I ever make fun of the professional baker in a pink apron?”

In the kitchen, Harry had a mixture of bowls, utensils, bags and ingredients set out. Louis wasn’t sure what half of them were. Was it possible to be intimidated by cooking materials? He was starting to lean towards yes.

“We’re gonna make a cake,” Harry explained. He picked up a matching blue apron hanging off a chair and handed it over to Louis. “I thought it would be something easier to start with.”

He had high expectations for Louis. Louis only hoped there was a fire extinguisher on hand.

He pulled the apron on, tying it behind him.

“It’s not too hard if you just follow a recipe,” Harry told him. He grabbed a piece of paper off the counter. “So, let’s just go through this, and see how well you do.”

He handed the paper over to Louis. Perfect Chocolate Cake Recipe was printed on top.

Louis loved chocolate cake. He was going to hate seeing it go to waste.

“Okay, so,” he began to read, glancing up at Harry. “We need two cups of sugar.”

Harry lifted the bag of sugar up.

“1 ¾ cups of flour.”

He continued, Harry showing him what each of the ingredients looked like on the counter. It wasn’t hard to remember, and all the bags had labels. So far, he was only worried about confusing the baking powder with the baking soda. That had to be a common mistake, right?

“Preheat oven to 180 degrees,” Louis read.

Harry gestured over to the oven. Oh. He wanted him to do it.

Well, he had put enough chips in the oven to know how to preheat. He pressed the Bake button, pushing the arrows until the temperature showed 180. He turned to Harry with a proud smile.

Harry laughed. “Okay, what’s next?”

“Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.” Louis frowned. “Really? All of that?”

“Yeah. It’s better to mix all the solids and liquids separately, then combine them.” Harry set aside the solid ingredients and the larger bowl. “Now we have to measure all this out.”

He picked up the measuring cup and slid it over to Louis. Okay. How hard was it to pour a bag into a cup?

He started with the sugar, picking up the bag and pouring it to the top of the cup. The filled cup and stainless counter almost brought tears to his eyes. He poured the cup into the bowl with a cheer.

He moved on to the flour, which had a bigger bag. His fingers were caked in powder the second he touched it, but he dusted it off on the apron. He managed to pour it with only a small spill off the side. He did the same with the cocoa, and switched to using a teaspoon for the baking powder, soda, and salt.

“Is baking always this easy?” Louis asked, dumping the salt into the bowl.

“If you have a recipe, yeah,” Harry said. “You’re doing good so far. It’s harder when you have to remember off the top of your head, but then you also get used to it.”

Louis was definitely not a recipe or instructions person. He thought back to all his burnt dinners and boxes tossed into the trash without a glance.

“Liquids now?” he asked, mortified.

“Not yet,” Harry said. “We should stir this one first.”

He gave Louis a wooden spoon. “This one won’t take very long. Just make sure everything is stirred together, and that nothing goes over the sides.”

Louis stuck the spoon in the bowl, swirling the dry batter around. A light brown powder began to form.

“That’s good,” Harry said. “

Louis started on the liquid ingredients, cracking two eggs---that only got a little bit over his hands---pouring a cup of milk and half a cup of vegetable oil, and finally adding vanilla extract. At Harry’s instruction, he poured the mix into the other bowl.

“Alright,” Harry said. “Now we’re going to mix them together.”

He picked up a mixer, connecting it to an outlet on the wall, and passed it over to Louis.

“You’re gonna mix this until the batter is smooth,” Harry instructed. “Get out all the lumps you can.”

Louis nodded, turning the switch for the mixer on and sticking it in the bowl.

“Wait, Louis---”

Batter flew over the sides, a soggy blend of powder and oil, splattering over the counter, Louis’ apron, and a bit on his chin. Harry quickly reached over and turned the mixer off. Louis blinked.

Harry’s lips were pressed together, straining against a laugh.

“So, um,” he said. “You should put the mixer in first before you turn it on. And you turned it to the highest setting. We only needed medium.”

“Oh, fuck off,” Louis snarled. He swiped up some of the batter off the counter and threw it at Harry’s face.

His mouth dropped, brown goop running down his nose. Louis giggled.

Harry leaned over, grabbing the bag of flour. He stuck a hand in and flung a fistful at Louis.

Flour coated his face. Louis stared, shock. Harry was laughing now, bent over and clutching his sides. Louis took an egg out of the carton and smashed it over his head.

He smiled. “Oops.”

Harry slowly straightened. Egg yolk was dripping out of his hair, falling onto his shirt. He grabbed another egg, hurling it at Louis’ chest.

Louis shrieked, and chucked a lump of batter in retaliation. And then Harry was clutching his wrists and dumping flour over his head. Louis struggled out of the hold, grabbing the first thing he could---the vegetable oil---and splashed it over Harry.

And suddenly, they were on the ground, yelling and shaking out bags of powder over each other. The flour was the first to go, covering Louis’ skin and clothes, some in Harry’s hair, most on the floor. Louis was knocked into it as Harry toppled him, the bowl of batter in his hand and smearing it over Louis’ face.

Louis spat it out, coughing. “You’re gonna pay for that, Styles.”

He reached over, snatching the bowl and dumping the rest on his head, the bowl upside down, covering his face like a hat. His expression was the funniest part, shock and outrage and exasperation rolled into the deepest glare.

Louis was in tears, stomach hurting from laughter. “Hold---hold on,” he gasped, pulling out his phone. “I need to get a picture.”

“Oh, no you don’t,” Harry said, wrestling Louis to the ground. The bowl fell off his head and clattered to the floor, leaving behind a mess of brown batter stuck in his hair. He grabbed Louis’ arms, attempting to snatch the phone away.

“No!” Louis cried, holding it out of reach. “You ruined it!”

Harry’s weight was pressed onto Louis, kneeling between Louis’ splayed legs. He pushed Louis’ arms down, sticky fingers holding them above his head, and---

It got a lot less funny.

Louis’ laughter died down, eyes widening, looking up at Harry with a racing pulse. He was gorgeous, even with cake batter sliding down his face and egg yolk in his hair, green eyes vibrant and so, so close to Louis.

He could feel Harry’s breath on his face, and Harry was silent, too, mouth slightly open. Louis’ gaze fell to his lips, full and pink. He snapped his eyes back up, catching Harry do the same.

They were getting closer, the air charged and dragging them together. Louis leaned his head back, Harry centimeters away, so painfully aware of his locked arms and the pressure forcing him down. He was unable to blink, breathe, frozen still on the floor. An eternity passed before Harry closed the rest of the distance, pressing their lips together.

It was slow, mouths moving together in no hurry. His eyes fell shut, unable to keep them open. Harry tasted sweet, enough to forget about the batter mess and raw egg smeared between them, and Louis was already addicted to it. His lips were soft, wet. Louis’ chest was light and his mind was screaming at him, yesyesyes and this is everything you’ve ever wanted.

Harry’s hands moved from his arms to the sides of his face, gripping it between his hands, thumbs resting on his cheeks. Louis brought his arms up around his neck, pulling him closer, until there was no space left between their bodies. Harry’s tongue slipped into his mouth and Louis let out a muffled whimper, pulling away with a gasp.

They looked at each other, quiet, cheeks flushed, lips swollen, and they crashed together again. They moved faster this time, more intent, tongues meeting and everything hot and messy and so good. Louis was drowning, swimming underneath Harry and Harry’s lips and Harry’s hands. Their lips slide together over and over. Harry shifted, knee pressed against his crotch, fingers slipping below to untie the apron and slide under his shirt. Louis had to break off, catching his breath.

“Hold on,” he panted. “Covered---cake batter.”

Harry backed away, holding himself up with his arms beside Louis’ head. “Fuck, you’re right.”

They both sat up, flour staining every inch of their clothes, brown batter smudged across their foreheads. Louis looked around the kitchen, at the heaps of powder piled on the floor, discarded bowl, batter over the countertop and the oven that was still running.

“That was---” Louis started.

“Incredible,” Harry finished. His eyes widened, like he hadn’t meant to say it.

“Yeah,” Louis sighed. “Yeah, it was.”

Harry grinned, deep dimples popping out that Louis wanted to touch. Harry seemed to realize the mess then, glancing behind him at the counter.

“Shit, okay, um,” Harry said. He tried to push back his hair, but only ended up with batter-covered fingers. “I can put our clothes in the wash, and then we can shower.”

Louis’ eyebrows rose.

“Not---not together,” Harry quickly added. “Er---not if you don’t want to.”

“Think that’s moving a bit quick, yeah?” Louis joked.

Harry looked relieved. “I do, too. Um, I meant you can shower in the second bath.”

Harry showed him the bathroom upstairs and gave him a clean pair of clothes.

“It’s some old shirt and joggers that are small on me,” he said. “You can just throw your dirty clothes out here and I’ll get them.”

Louis spent longer than normal in the shower, warm water relaxing his bones and shampooing all of the gunk out of his hair. He was nervous, too, knowing they would be talking about this once they were cleaned up. Harry seemed like he was on the same page, but. What if he changed his mind in these last few minutes? Or what if he didn’t want anything serious?

Another part of Louis couldn’t believe it happened. Once a neighbor that overstepped boundaries, was now kissing the life out of Louis. How had they ended up here, and what good had Louis done to deserve it?

He towelled himself off in the bathroom and changed into Harry’s clothes. Even small on Harry, they were too big on Louis, sleeves loose and baggy and joggers too long. But they were comfortable and smelled just like its owner, so Louis found himself liking it.

Louis walked back down to the kitchen. Harry was already there, stripped of his messy clothes and only in his boxers, scrubbing the counters down.

There was just---so much muscle, in his thighs and legs and arms. His tattoos didn’t even stop at his chest. There were laurels over his hip bones, a tiger face on his thigh, words printed on his ankles. Louis wanted to find every single one, ask what they meant and trace them with his lips.

Jesus.

“Do you normally clean half-naked?” Louis asked, walking into the kitchen.

Harry startled, turning around to face Louis. And, like. Bulge.

“Yeah, you caught me.”

Louis was finding it hard to keep his eyes at an appropriate place. When he looked back up, Harry was also staring at him.

“The clothes fit fine?” he questioned, but the quirk on his lips gave him away.

“Shut up,” Louis responded.

Harry just shook his head. His hair was damp, curls slicked back from his face. “I didn’t say anything.”

“I can see it on your smug, frog face,” Louis said. “You’re just a giant, you know?”

Harry took a few steps closer. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”

Louis was quiet, gaze drifting down to Harry’s bare skin, the sparrows under his collarbones, a string of numbers by his shoulder.

Harry leaned a hand against the counter, and now Louis was caged in, edge digging into his back.

“See something you like?”

Louis met his eyes. “Shut up.”

And then Harry was in his space, biting Louis’ lips and grabbing his waist. Lous was pushed further against the counter, almost painfully, rising on his toes from the force. He could hop up if he wanted, spread his legs and pull Harry even closer between them, but that seemed like pushing too far. He stayed where he was, his hands holding Harry’s face, tilting his own to match his mouth until they broke apart again.

“We should talk,” Harry murmured. It tickled Louis’ lips.

“Yeah,” he agreed, tipping his head up. “I’ll start. I like this much better than baking cake.”

Harry’s face broke out into a grin, and then he started to laugh. “I guess we can cross cooking off, too.”

“How about,” Louis started, swallowing, “we just do this instead?”

Harry stared down at him, expression hopeful. “You’d want that?”

Louis nodded.

His fingers tightened around Louis’ waist. “I would, too.”

Louis bit back a smile. He ran his hands through Harry’s hair, nails scratching at the back of his neck.

“What does that mean, though?” he asked. “Us?”

“What do you want it to mean?”

“I like you,” Louis spoke honestly. “I’d like it to mean something. But me, not being… out, I know it’s hard on relationships.”

Harry shook his head. “I’m not out either. I understand. But if we were to do this, I want to do it properly.”

A thrum of hope lit Louis’ heart on fire.

“Like how?”

“Like,” Harry started, moving closer again. “Going out on dates. Allowed to be seen with you. Tweeting and posting pictures of you.”

“Sweet,” Louis murmured.

Harry smiled, pressing a kiss to his temple. “I can’t do it yet. But I will. Soon. My team has this whole coming out plan. I just have to go along with it. For now… we can just take it slow? If that’s what you want?”

“I want,” Louis immediately agreed. “You’re… God, I don’t even know. Amazing.”

“Yeah?” Harry said, expression soft. “Well, you’re wonderful.”

It was painful, keeping his face from changing. Crinkles formed under Louis’ eyes.

“Of bloody course I am, Harold,” he said. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

For a few moments, Harry was silent, gazing at Louis, mouth pressed in a line. He was almost worried he said something wrong. Or maybe.

He said something entirely right.

“Okay,” Harry eventually spoke, and Louis realized the look on his face was pride. “I’ll tell you. I’ve had some inspiration lately.”

They were still so close, Harry so obviously half-naked, his skin warm where it connected with Louis. It was hard to pay attention. Louis found himself watching Harry’s lips, flickering up to his darkened green eyes, the almost unnoticeable marks dotting his cheeks.

“Don’t I know that already?” Louis asked, smirking up at him.

“Sure, but do you know what my inspiration is?”

“No.” Louis frowned. “What?”

“You.”

“Me?” Louis squeaked. Nope, he definitely didn’t know that.

Harry’s hands moved to the side of his face, the pads of his thumbs resting on the dip beneath his eyes. “Did you know you have the most gorgeous eyes I’ve ever seen?”

A sound he wasn’t proud of left Louis’ mouth.

“And everytime I see you, I think how the hell is he so cute?”

“Cute?” Louis sputtered. “Let me stop you right there.”

“And you make me laugh all the time.”

Louis’ face was in flames.

“You’re wonderful,” Harry repeated, speaking softly. “I don’t know how I got this lucky.”

“I---” Louis said, but nothing else fit the moment. So instead, he pushed up and crashed their lips together.

He could do that now, so why not?

 

“I want you to listen to my album.”

Louis paused, leaning back to look at Harry’s eyes.

“Your album?” he repeated. “Is it out?”

“No,” Harry said. He sat up on the bed and Louis followed. Apparently there wouldn’t be anymore kissing. He was a bit disappointed.

“I want you to listen to it before it’s released. I have the files on my phone.”

“That seems risky,” Louis joked. “Not worried about all those celebrity hackers?”

“You learn pretty fast to disable your iCloud.”

Louis almost wanted to make another comment, but Harry’s nervous expression stopped him. It must have been a big deal then. Was he worried Louis wouldn’t want to listen?

It was a ridiculous thought. He had already listened to (and bought) his first two albums---even if he hadn’t told him that bit of information yet---and it was probably the greatest gift he’d ever given his ears. Harry’s voice was addictive, smooth over every crafted word, and a range that left goosebumps and Louis’ heart beating a little faster.

He moved forward and pressed their mouths together in a short kiss.

He grinned, watching Harry flutter his eyes open. “I would love to listen to your album.”

Harry smiled back. He dug his phone out of his pocket.

“So it’ll be out in a few weeks, anyway,” Harry explained. “But I’ve only let a few people listen to it. Basically only the other writers and producers, and then my family.”

“So I’m special,” Louis said. He loved the way Harry flicked his gaze up and blushed.

“Of course,” he said. “I want to share it with you.”

Louis bit the inside of his mouth, stopping his face from splitting open.

He curled into Harry’s side and rested his head on his shoulder. He watched him pull open the audio files on his phone screen, a list of ten songs, starting with 01- Meet Me in the Hallway. Harry briefly met his eyes, then clicked play.

It began with an airy melody, light strums of a guitar and entering piano notes. There was almost a creepy feeling to it, like the kind of music played over a sad movie scene, where the rain was pouring down in icy bullets and everything faded into muted grays. The main character would be holding a black umbrella on an empty street. Drops would fall down the metal pokes of the umbrella, but something about their face would make them seem drenched on every inch of their skin. They’d stare down at the ground and ask the rippled, muddy reflections in the puddles under their feet for help. Harry’s voice came in slowly, an echoed effect of a plea to meet me in the hallway.

For almost an hour, Louis stayed there, eyes closed, head lying on Harry. Sometimes Harry’s hand would move to play with Louis’ hair, and sometimes Louis would open his eyes to watch him nervously bite at his lip. Sometimes Harry would speak between songs, a hushed and raspy sound explaining concepts of the album.

Each song was something different, from rocky and loud drums to soft piano scales. Some were upbeat, some were slow. Louis was humming along to one song, Kiwi, and Harry’s screaming it’s none of your business, while the last song, From the Dining Table, nearly brought him to tears. But in all of them, it was obvious that the writer---Harry, Louis assumed---was missing something. Communication, attachment. A piece of his heart, maybe.

It was both more mature and heartbreaking than either of Harry’s previous albums. Recordings that were strands of his very being, that for a few moments were placed right into Louis’ curious hands. He was grateful, grateful to be able to listen, grateful for all the ways Harry had helped him, and grateful that maybe he could help Harry right back.

They sat in silence for a while, once the album was over. The last note was ringing in Louis’ ears, washing over him every meaning and feeling Harry had condensed into four minute songs.

Eventually, Louis spoke, “I love it.”

“Really?” Harry said. “You’re not just saying that, are you? You can tell me if you don’t like it.”

“No, I do,” Louis insisted. “There’s so much in there. It’s---beautiful, really. I would’ve listened to it on my own.”

There was a pause, stillful silence in the room. Louis glanced up at Harry, who was already looking down. He smiled when their eyes met.

“Thank you,” he said, soft and genuine. “I’m both like---nervous and excited to release it, you know? I want everyone to enjoy it.”

“I think it’s impossible not to,” Louis said. “It’s just…. so good, Harry. Honestly.”

Harry leaned down, their lips meeting, again. For the millionth time today. It only felt better each time, affection bursting through every kiss and smile shared. Louis was so happy.

He would have gladly kept it going, get back to where they were before Louis had the chance to bless his ears with Harry’s new music, but he had another thought. And he couldn’t give up a chance to tease Harry, could he?

“I’m just sad I’ll have to wait for an album about me,” he said, breaking away. “I mean, what’s even the point of being with a singer then?”

Harry slapped him on the shoulder. “I already told you I’ve written songs about you.”

“You said I was an inspiration,” Louis pointed out. “Those are two different things.”

“You’ll get neither if you don’t stop being a prick.”

“That hurts, Styles.” Louis placed a hand over his heart. “I’m deeply wounded. What have I done to deserve this? I should just leave---”

He made a move to get off the bed, swinging a leg over the side. Then fingers were gripping his wrist and he was yanked back onto the mattress, a heavy body lying between his bent legs.

“A whole album about you,” Harry mumbled, hair falling over his forehead. “How does that sound?”

“Perfect,” Louis responded. He wrapped his arms around Harry’s neck, pulling him closer. “Can I tell you something?”

“Of course.”

“You’ve make me feel like a better person,” he said. “Like, for the past few years, I’ve been so unhappy. I could barely get out of bed, I stopped speaking to my friends and family.”

He let out a dry laugh. “I spent all of my time watching Netflix and eating family-sized bags of crisps. Even Liam was mad at me. I just felt so pointless, because the stupid injury wasn’t even my fault, but it ruined my career, and now my only responsibility was taking care of my dog. And one day you just came along.”

Harry continued to hover over him, watching him with focused eyes. He didn’t speak.

“And despite… all of that, you wanted to know me, and took the time to bring me fucking cookies because you were worried. All you’ve wanted to do from the beginning is help, and Harry, I appreciate it so much.”

His voice was wet and choked, and it was too late to stop the tears from pouring, but he pushed on.

“I called my mum a few days ago. I haven’t in so long, because I didn’t want her to be disappointed in me. And I’ve just---I’ve realized you make me feel like I’m still a person. I still have people who care about me, and that I need to hang out with Liam every now and then, because he’s my fucking best mate, and he doesn’t care about a messed up knee. And I need to talk to my mum and sisters, because they’re more concerned than disappointed.”

Harry ran a hand down his cheek, swiping the tears away. Louis took a breath. “And I should go out and do all these crazy things with you, things I never thought I’d be able to have, because we both want to. I might not have football anymore, but I have, you know---people. I just want to say thank you, Harry. For being here, so that I can see that.”

He had barely closed his mouth when Harry was kissing him, weight entirely on top of Louis. It was rough, taking the oxygen from Louis’ lungs in one move.

“Baby,” Harry breathed, “Lou. I’m so proud of you. And I’m so happy you’re with me, too. I actually---er, I had a sort of crush on you, when I moved in.”

Louis’ mouth fell open. “You did?”

“Like, when you were playing football, you were probably my biggest celebrity crush. And then---I moved in here, and would see you walking Clifford and it just got ten times worse.”

“I never saw you around,” Louis admitted.

“Yeah, this is the longest break I’ve had in awhile,” Harry said. “If I stayed here, it would only be for a few days. And then I would spend most of it sleeping before flying to a different country. I try to use most of my time in the U.K. to see my family.”

“So you had only been back for a little bit, and noticed I never went outside?”

Harry laughed, pressing his face into Louis’ neck. “I promise I’m not a stalker! I was back for a few weeks---from recording the album, actually---and I just realized one day I hadn’t seen you with Clifford. You had, like, a routine before I left, and you’d always pass my house around noon.”

Louis was giggling into the side of Harry’s face. “How do you even know that?”

“I would be making lunch!” Harry asserted. “I could see you from the window! The first time, I was so surprised and thought I was dreaming, because like, how was Louis fucking Tomlinson walking down my street?”

Louis burst into laughter, throwing his head back. “What would the world think if they knew Harry Styles was obsessed?”

“I hate you,” Harry said, a pout on his lips. “Don’t blame me because you’re so beautiful.”

“Oh, Harold, love,” Louis said. “I really don’t.”

He wasn’t sure where Harry got the idea, but his fingers were suddenly attacking Louis’ sides. Louis rolled them over between loud cackles, wrestling out of Harry’s grip to tickle him back. They didn’t stop until they were breathless, sheets crinkled underneath them, and lips coming together in a calming wave.

 

✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻

 

Do you like brownies?

Louis picked up his phone, staring at it suspiciously.

you know you don’t have to keep bringing baked goods anymore as an excuse to talk to me right

Yes…

Louis sighed.

yes i do like brownies

with chocolate chips!!

Noted.

Hey, completely unrelated, but I’ll be over later this afternoon.

i can’t wait

He added as many smiley and heart-eyed emojis as he could, partly to be annoying and partly because it represented everything he could have felt at that moment.

 

Harry swallowed his mouthful of brownie. “How do you feel about karaoke again tonight?”

“Karaoke?” Louis asked, taking his own piece out of the pan. Clifford was whining by his feet. “Why?”

“Well, I’ve been kind of a regular since I came back,” Harry explained, mouth smeared with chocolate. “I was thinking it would be fun if we went again.”

“Still trying to get me into the singing business, Haz?” Louis teased. He took a bite out of the brownie, wondering what kind of delicious magic Harry managed to put into these. And everything else he brought.

“No, but I’m not opposed to it, either.”

It had been a few weeks since they became a---thing, and things were good. Really good. Louis didn’t think he had ever been in a relationship this enthralling and exciting. Definitely not with his high school girlfriends, and his ex-boyfriend had been a rough road from the start. Harry never asked for things Louis couldn’t give him. He made him laugh and smile, clingy in a way he never saw himself being.

They spent a lot of time together now. Louis had no commitments for probably the rest of his life, but Harry. Well, Harry was normally a busy man. And he would have to start his album promo soon, and his Dunkirk promo after that. He’d be going around the world, back to almost never staying in London for more than a few days.

Louis was trying not to think about it. They still had a couple of months, where Harry would only be flying to Los Angeles for a weekend at the most, things to settle with the American label. It could be practice, Louis was telling himself. Their relationship wouldn’t break from a little bit of distance. He was probably naive, but it felt like he’d found the one person he was meant to be with, someone who shared his humor and fit against him like the cogs to a machine.

Louis rolled his eyes. At yet another pitiful whine from Clifford, he dropped a dog biscuit down to the floor. “Should I invite Liam, then? You know he loves karaoke.”

Harry bit his lip. “I was thinking it could just be us.”

Louis paused. “Like a date?”

“Uh, yeah,” Harry nodded. “Like a date.”

“I would kiss you right now,” Louis said, “but the chocolate around your face is quite unattractive.”

Harry grinned, wiping away the chocolate stains with his hand. “Didn’t bother you during our first kiss.”

“You can leave now.”

“Aw, baby,” Harry cooed. “I loved your chocolate covered face, too.”

He didn’t feel bad when he threw the rest of his brownie at Harry’s face, but he did panic when Clifford tried to eat it.

 

The karaoke bar was a lot like Louis remembered. Except this time, he was walking in with Harry Styles, and he was dressed better, pulling on one of his few pairs of skinny jeans and a button-up shirt. They didn’t sit at the bar, either, but at a booth in the back. They would be getting stares no matter what. It was best to minimize it as much as they could.

“How much trouble would you be in for dancing tonight?” Louis asked. They had already put their names on the list, and a girl was currently butchering Madonna’s Like a Virgin.

Harry shrugged. “Depends how close we are. I mean, I come here because it’s private, but I can’t really stop people from tweeting about some things.”

“Well, I think I’d want to dance,” Louis said, tilting his head back to start at Harry. “Just letting you know.”

Harry wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “I think we can arrange some is-this-platonic-or-romantic-dancing then. Maybe piss off my team a little bit.”

“They’ll probably be more than pissed by the end of the night.”

“Eh, let them.”

Louis grinned, scooting closer to Harry until their thighs were pressed together and Harry’s warmth was encasing his side. Tucked away in the corner, no one was paying them any attention yet, so he risked pecking a kiss on Harry’s skin, in the dip between his neck and shoulder.

“This is a great first date,” Louis whispered, leaning his head on his shoulder.

“Are you sure?” Harry said. “We haven’t really done anything.”

“Yeah.” Louis shrugged. “But I’m with you. And we’re also going to get plastered, so that’s a plus.”

He picked up his drink, clinking it with Harry’s. “Cheers.”

There were probably too many empty glasses on their table by the time they get called up. Louis stumbled on his way to the stage, and Harry was giggling behind him. His vision was a bit blurry, so it was a good thing he knew this song well enough, and he didn’t feel half as worried the way he did that night two months ago. He wondered if that was because Harry was by his side now, and no one was going to make fun of Harry Styles---at least, not until after they couldn’t hear---or maybe if it was just all him. Crowds didn’t scare him before and he used to love the attention, but he took a tumble, knocked hard to the ground. He got nervous, on shaky legs that couldn’t pull themselves back up.

Maybe he had just learned how to stand again.

“Hi,” Louis said into the microphone. Only half of the bar, the ones closer to the stage, seemed to be looking anyway. “I’m Louis.”

“And I’m Harry.”

The music cut in before they could say anything else. Louis laughed into his hand.

Harry started to sway and bop his shoulders to the beat. Louis could almost see him in large, round glasses and a plaid coat, dancing around in a studio.

“Don’t go breaking my heart,” Harry began.

Louis raised his mic. “I couldn’t if I tried.”

They both broke into smiles. A part of the crowd started to cheer and clap. The microphone was picking up Louis’ broken laughter, like backing vocals to Harry’s parts.

“Honey, when you knock on my door.”

“I gave you my key.”

Harry shimmied over to Louis and put an arm around his shoulders. Louis lost it, cackling and doubling over, not managing to keep one long ooh note.

He caught his breath for the next line, grinning up at Harry as they sang together.

“When I was down---”

“I was your clown.”

Louis ruffled Harry’s hair, turning to sing the lyrics to him. Harry’s eyes were so bright, skin aglow with his smile.

“So don’t go breaking my heart.”

“I won’t go breaking your heart,” Louis responded.

His voice was probably awful compared to Harry’s, who somehow could stay on key while drunk and giddy. He couldn’t care though, not when Harry looked so happy, singing karaoke, on a date together. He’d be an idiot to not cherish every aspect of this moment.

The instrumental part started, and Harry was grabbing his hand, spinning him around. He took a few steps back and moved his arms and hands, tapping his elbow, knocking his fists together.

Of course. Of course he knew the entire dance move. Louis was laughing too hard to even try to copy him.

He watched Harry kick his legs out and shimmy his hips and arms. The crowd got louder, shouting and whistling over the music. Harry’s lips turned up in a smirk. He glanced over at Louis while bringing the microphone to his lips. Louis shook his head.

God, Harry was the biggest dork he had ever met, but his heart was clawing out of his chest every time he looked at him.

“Right from the start--”

“I gave you my heart.”

“So don’t go breaking my heart.”

They end the song with applause from the bar. Harry does a dramatic bow, nearly bending to his toes, and Louis dragged him off stage, his chest hurting with laughter.

“You’re gonna be murdered tomorrow,” Louis told him, walking back to the booth.

“I don’t mind,” Harry said. “It means I got to spend tonight with you.”

Louis bit hard on the inside of his mouth. “I really want to kiss you right now.”

“Guess you have to make up for it later.”

Louis shoved him, but couldn’t stop the grin breaking his face.

They were a few feet from the booth when they were stopped by two girls. They were dressed in tight outfits and heels, looking nervous with their phones in their hands.

“Hi,” one says, with dark skin and curly hair. “Would you mind if we got a picture?”

“Not at all,” Harry replied, stepping away to move closer to them.

“I can take it,” Louis spoke up. “So you both can be in it.”

The two girls shared a look.`

“Actually,” the other one said. “We wanted you in it, too.”

Louis blinked. “Me?”

“If that’s alright?”

“Yeah, yeah, sure,” he said, shocked. “I haven’t been asked for pictures in a while.”

The girls laughed, but he wasn’t sure what was funny. He was too drunk to think about it.

They wanted separate pictures with both of them, standing in between Harry and Louis. They hung their arms around each girl, and Louis made sure to smile and lean down. He was glad he dressed up a bit more tonight and decided to fix his hair, swept over his forehead in a short fringe. He looked good, better than he had in quite some time, and he was bound to be all over Harry’s fan’s Twitter accounts.

Harry would definitely be getting angry calls in the morning.

He gave each girl a hug after their picture, asking them to wait until tomorrow to post them.

“Of course, thank you,” they said, walking away. “Have a good night!”

“You too,” Harry called back. Him and Louis took their seats in the booth.

“I just got asked for a picture,” Louis said.

“You did.” Harry nodded. “How does it feel?”

“Fucking fantastic. I’m loved by the people again.”

Harry chuckled. “Going off your Instagram, I don’t think they ever stopped.”

“Oh, right,” Louis said, pressing his thigh to Harry’s. “How could I forget Harry Styles, the obsessed stalker?”

Harry pinched his arm. “I was talking about all of your followers, you dick.”

“Hey, I’m just stating an example.”

Harry ducked his head down, lips close to Louis’ ear. “You wanna dance now?”

“Of course, Styles.”

 

At nearly three in the morning, Harry’s driver dropped them off at Louis’ house again. Harry gave him another generous tip and followed Louis inside.

Clifford barked excitedly, running towards them and jumping onto Harry.

Louis pouted. “My dog loves you more than me.”

Harry rubbed Clifford’s head. “He just thinks I have treats for him,” he conciliated.

Clifford plopped down and walked over to Louis, sniffing his legs.

“Now you remember I exist,” Louis said. He crouched down and petted his back. “Did you miss us, boy?”

Clifford licked his hand.

Eventually, he wandered off, uninterested now that he knew they didn’t have any biscuits. Harry had turned him into such a spoiled dog.

Louis stood back up, hands on his back, groaning as his muscles ached. They had been dancing for the past few hours, and he definitely jumped around too much, entertained too many of Harry’s drunk, wild moves. He was like a dad trying to dance at the neighborhood barbecue, and Louis was more endeared than any one person probably should be. And now, he’d be sore for the next week.

“Ugh,” he grunted. “You’ve killed me tonight, Harold.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Harry said, with the most non-sorry smile Louis had seen in his life. “Can I make it better?”

He put his hands on Louis’ waist, bumping their foreheads together.

Louis said, “Why would I let you do that?”

He didn’t protest when Harry connected their lips.

It was slow at first, messy with their uncoordinated mouths and intoxicated limbs. Then, Harry slipped his tongue in his mouth and tightened his grip on Louis’ waist. Louis’ fingers fisted the back of Harry’s shirt, silk and soft under his touch, and pushed closer, until there was no inch of space between their bodies.

It was an overwhelming taste of alcohol and Louis had never been more addicted to it. He didn’t notice when his feet were moving backward, only felt the moment when his back hit the wall. There was enveloping heat and the feeling of sinking, drowning himself in Harry’s hold and lips. Never wanting to leave, blood aflame and racing his heart.

Harry’s hands moved, trailing down his hips and back to grab his ass. Louis squeaked into his mouth. Harry pulled away, a second to catch his breath, and then his lips were on his neck, sucking kisses down his warm skin. Louis threw his head back, hands going up and grasping Harry’s hair.

“Harry,” he moaned. He could feel his jeans tighten, and Harry’s hardening cock poking into his thigh. “Harry, Harry. Wanna suck you.”

They hadn’t done much yet, just shared handjobs a few days before, both intent on the promise of keeping things slow. It was much different than Louis’ past relationship, where it seemed like most of it had been sex, when they had little time to see each other at home and Louis refused to take him anywhere publicly. He was definitely an asshole then, so scared of the world hearing whispers of his true sexuality. He had a chance to do everything right with Harry, and for once it didn’t terrify him he wanted that everything.

Harry pulled away from the mark he was making on his neck, eyes wide, pupils blown. “Are you sure?”

Louis nodded. “God, yes.”

“Okay,” Harry breathed. “Okay, yeah, of course.”

Louis grinned, scrambling out of Harry’s arms and turning them around. He dropped to his knees and looked up at Harry. His hair was a mess, strands sticking out in every direction, and his cheeks were flushed a deep red. His shirt was half-untucked from his jeans and wrinkled at the hem. He was biting his swollen lip, one hand squeezed into a fist, like just the sight of Louis on the ground was about to make him explode.

Louis unbuttoned Harry’s jeans, tugging the zipper down and pulling them off his legs. The tent in his boxers was enough to have him yanking those off too, leaving Harry’s half-hard cock free and leaking precum.

Louis wrapped a hand around the base, glancing up at Harry again. Their eyes met, and he slowly ducked his head down, licking the head of his cock.

Louis heard Harry moan, a low, guttural sound that had Louis’ own dick twitching. Louis smirked to himself, wrapping his mouth around the head and sucking.

“Fuck,” Harry muttered. “Good---that’s good, baby.”

Louis kept going, sliding halfway down Harry’s length. Louis had given his fair share of blowjobs, but Harry’s dick was big, bigger than his ex’s, and he probably wouldn’t manage to take all of it, even with his limited gag reflex. He started to bob his head, moving up and down, hand pumping the part of his cock he was hesitant to take.

“Shit,” Harry groaned. “You’re---you’re good at this.”

Louis popped off, grinning. “I’ve had some practice.”

God, you’ve---” He didn’t finish, because Louis took him in his mouth again. Harry cursed, and then there were fingers tightening in Louis’ hair, pushing in the direction of his movements.

Louis tilted his head, licking a long stripe on the underside of his cock. Harry’s moans got louder, and Louis’ pants were suffocating him, becoming too tight and uncomfortable. He managed to move an inch further down Harry’s cock, free hand moving to palm his own. Harry’s hips were shifting, little thrusts pushing into Louis’ mouth, unable to control himself.

Louis’ jaw was starting to ache, stretched so wide around Harry’s length, and he just knew his voice would be completely ruined tomorrow. He couldn’t stop, though, didn’t want to, so turned on because Harry was turned on, that he could turn him into shaking legs and long whimpers. Louis was the only one who was able to do this, got to kiss him and go on dates with him and blow him in their million-dollar houses.

Louis pushed all the way he was willing to go, lightly scraping his teeth as he came back up. Harry jerked his head, the grip around Louis’ hair becoming even tighter.

“Lou,” Harry whined. “Lou, babe. I’m so close.”

Louis hummed, refusing to pull away. He kept bobbing his head, licking around Harry’s cock, listening to his broken moans and watching his quivering thighs. He moved his hand faster, pumping what he couldn’t reach and reverently touching his balls, bringing Harry even closer to the edge. He looked up from under his eyelashes, seeing Harry’s head tilted back, mouth open and eyes shut tight.

It only took a few more sucks around his cock before Harry was coming, shooting down Louis’ throat with a long groan. Louis rode it out, sucking him dry, and pulling off once he felt his hips relax.

Louis wiped his mouth and smiled. “How was that?”

Harry didn’t respond, instead falling to his knees beside Louis. He grabbed his face between his hands and kissed him, long and hard, probably tasting himself on Louis’ tongue and fuck.

“That was amazing,” Harry whispered, breaking apart. “Fuck. I need to---”

His fingers moved to the button on Louis’ jeans. Fuck, he had almost forgotten how hard he was, cock practically trying to burst from his pants. Harry pushed down his jeans and pants, enough to pull his cock out and wrap a hand around.

Louis moaned, fingernails digging into Harry’s arms.

“Harry,” he whimpered. “I’m already so close, please---”

Harry jerked his hand, up and down movements that had pleasure quickly building up through Louis’ body. He buried his head in Harry’s neck, letting out little groans until he was coming into Harry’s hand, biting at his shoulder.

He took a couple of breaths, slowing down his rapid heart rate, cock softening in Harry’s hand.

“Fuck,” he laughed. “That was so good.”

Harry smiled, pressing a soft kiss to his lips. “I’ll clean up.”

He stood up and walked towards the kitchen, grabbing a cloth to wipe down his hand and the front of their shirts. Louis collapsed onto the floor, spreading his limbs out on the cool surface.

“What are you doing?” Harry chuckled, picking up his stained pants and jeans. Louis’ own were still pulled halfway down his thighs.

“Resting,” Louis answered. “It feels nice. Because I was so hot.”

“Wanna head to bed?” Harry asked. He held out a hand for Louis to take, pulling him up into a sitting position.

“Okay,” Louis said. He struggled to stand up, Harry’s hands placed under his arms for support. They made their way to Louis’ bedroom, where Clifford had apparently been hiding, curled up on his bed.

Louis pulled off his pants all the way and unbuttoned his shirt. He climbed into the bed naked, lying down on his stomach, arms folded under his head.

When he didn’t feel the bed move, he opened his eyes and looked over his shoulder. Harry was standing at the foot of the bed, watching, looking a bit uncertain.

They hadn’t spent a lot of nights together. If Louis was over at Harry’s, he got worried about leaving Clifford alone for the night. If Harry was over at Louis’, it always seemed like sleeping together was crossing one of their lines, becoming too attached before either of them were out yet.

But Louis had literally just had his cock down his throat. There weren’t too many lines to cross, and he was sure hiding for a few more months wouldn’t destroy what they had.

“You coming?” Louis asked, turning to close his eyes again.

This time, he felt the mattress dip beside him, hot skin connecting with his.

 

✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻

 

Harry was doing something incredible with his tongue when Louis’ phone started ringing.

“Fuck,” Louis cried. It was the annoying default ringtone, because he had never bothered to change it, and he really didn’t want to think about it right then.

Harry stopped what he was doing, raising his head. “Do you want to get that?”

Louis groaned. “Not really.”

He blindly reached over to his nightstand anyway, holding up the screen to his face. Fucking Liam.

He almost never called, though, which was the only reason he clicked accept.

“Hello?” Louis said, voice strained. “This better be good, Payno.”

“Louis!” Liam shouted. “I didn’t think you would pick up.”

Louis glared at nothing in particular. He probably shouldn’t have. “What’s up?”

“Well,” Liam began, “I just got a text from some of the team, and---”

“Oh,” Louis shrieked, and slapped a hand over his mouth. Harry looked up at him, smirking and amused.

“Louis?” Liam asked. “You okay?”

“Yeah---” Louis’ voice cracked, and he cleared his throat. “Yeah, I’m fine. Uh, you were saying?”

Louis kicked his leg out, hitting Harry in his side. He felt him shake his head and duck back down. The bastard.

“I got a text from the team,” Liam continued, hesitantly. “Uh, Jack is having a party in like, an hour. Some housewarming thing. They wanted me to invite you.”

“A part--yYY,” Louis repeated, screeching at the end. He was about to crush Harry’s stupid head with his thighs.

“Er---yeah,” Liam said. “Are you sure you’re okay? You don’t have to come, you know.”

“No, no!” Louis yelled. “I’m fine! I’ll come!”

He felt a pinch to his thigh, looking down at Harry, who mouthed yeah you will. Louis stomped on his shoulder.

“Wait, you will?” Liam sounded surprised. “Oh that’s---that’s great! I’ll let Jack know! They’ll be so excited to see you.”

“Yeah, uh huh,” Louis said, only half-listening. His entire body tensed, legs tightening around Harry’s back.

“I’ll text you his new address,” Liam said. “Remember, in an hour---”

“Yeah, okay, bye Liam,” Louis called, ending the call and tossing his phone on the bed. “You absolute fucker.”

Harry broke away, laughing into the crease in Louis’ thigh. “I’ve always wanted to try that.”

“A heads up would be really ni---oh, fuck,” Louis moaned. “Keep doing that.”

Harry did.

 

Louis almost forgot about it, until he was checking his phone while Harry ran to grab a cloth from the bathroom. Liam had sent him a text thirty minutes before, Jack’s address with a bunch of smiley emojis, excited that Louis actually agreed to come.

Fuck.

“Fuck,” Louis cursed, as Harry was walking back into the room. “I have to go to Jack’s party now.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Harry asked, wiping his stomach down.

“Yes,” Louis whined. “He was such a homophobic dick. And now I have to be prepared to see all of them in---shit, thirty minutes! Who throws a party with an hour’s notice?!”

“A homophobic dick, probably.”

Louis threw the cloth at Harry’s face. “This is all your fault.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed, grinning. “But we both got great orgasms out of it, so is it really all that bad?”

Louis narrowed his eyes. “Help me pick out an outfit or you’re sleeping on the couch.”

 

He was only twenty minutes late to the party, which was nothing short of a miracle.

He wasn’t greeted by Jack at the door, but a girl he’d never met who seemed way too tipsy already. She let him in without question, and then almost stumbled over her heels while walking away.

The main entrance was packed, but with people, not things. The entire room was devoid of any furniture except for a sofa wrapped in plastic. Cardboard boxes were stacked in random spots around the room, everyone attempting to walk around them without giving them a second glance. Louis passed one that was labelled Kitchen in black sharpie.

Jack had always thrown the most ridiculous parties, loud, intense, and blackout-inducing. It wouldn’t have surprised Louis if he actually did come up with the idea just a few hours ago, after moving all of his stuff in, and somehow got the whole team, their friends, and their girlfriends to come along. And then only unpacked the alcohol.

Music was blaring over speakers---how?---and people shuffled around carrying red cups. Louis couldn’t see Liam in the room, but he had gotten a text letting him know he was here, so he must have been. Somewhere. He recognized a few faces of the team, chatting, drinking---he was pretty sure Randy was having a dance-off in that far corner---but nobody seemed to realize he was there yet.

He walked from room to room, brushing shoulders and pushing past dancing couples, unable to tell what any of the spaces were meant to be. He finally found the kitchen, where bottles of liquor and plastic cups had been set out on the island counter. He picked one up, filling it with vodka and a can of Sprite. He saw a figure out of his peripheral come in through the walkway, looking up to see a familiar face.

“Louis!” Corey exclaimed. “You’re here!”

Louis smiled shyly. “Yep. I am.”

Corey came over, filling up his own cup with tequila. “Liam said you were coming. I didn’t believe it, it’s been so long since we’ve seen you!”

Corey had been one of the few members he was closer to, a kind heart and great teamplayer. He was one of the people Louis regretted not staying in contact with, when far too much time had passed to send a text without it being awkward. Louis kept up with them, though, saw how Corey was steadily becoming one of the best players on the team. Some of the sports sites were claiming he’d be the next captain.

“Yeah,” Louis said. “I’ve, uh, had to work through some stuff.”

Corey shrugged. “That’s fine, man. You do you. Come on, let me show you to the rest of the guys.”

Over the next few hours, Louis was able to find Liam and got to say hi to everyone on the team when he left, as well as meet the few new members and current partners. Of course, they all wanted to know where he had been, something he didn’t have a good answer for. The more prick-ish players pressed his just doing things answer---and really, they were never actually friends on the team, why would he tell them now?---while the others let him be. For all his hesitancy about meeting up with them again, he found himself enjoying catching up with them, standing in a circle and laughing about their lives and silly things.

He did wonder if he’d be doing this if he hadn’t met Harry. If he didn’t back out of the party because he was already opening himself up again. He was glad, if that was the case, of course he was, but a part of him believed this was just him. That he had finally had enough of sitting in his own despair, and a party with his teammates was just a way to get out of it.

It wasn’t until later that he saw Jack for the first time, when Louis went to the kitchen for a refill.

He smiled when he saw Louis, crooked teeth and stubble across his cheeks and chin.

“Louis, I heard you were here!” He came over and gave him a hug, patting him on the back. He smelled so strongly of rum, Louis winced. “How are you liking the place?”

“It’s nice,” Louis said, honestly. “Very big. I’d love to see it when everything’s unpacked.”

“Yeah, of course,” Jack said. “How have you been?”

Louis gave his same generic answer. “Oh, good. Just---hanging around. What about you?”

“What, besides being on England’s best football team?” he joked. Louis pressed his lips together. “Nothing much. Got a new bird, she’s pretty fit. Made enough money to finally move in here.”

“That’s good,” Louis said. He looked around, not thinking of anything else he could ask. “Well, it was nice seeing you, Jack.”

“You too---oh, hold on,” Jack said. “I actually wanted to talk to you about something.”

Louis furrowed his eyebrows. “About what?”

“Well, I saw some stuff about you recently. You know, on Twitter, gossip sites, all that.”

Louis froze, hand clenching around his cup. His fingers left indents into the plastic.

“It looks like your friends with that Harry Styles kid,” Jack said. Yep. There it was. “I just wanted to tell you to be careful. I’ve heard he’s a fag, he might be into you or something.”

Louis saw red, plastic crinkling. “Considering I’m one too, I don’t really think that’s an issue.”

He didn’t know why he said it. Fuck. Why did he say it? He wasn’t planning to say it, to come out to the most homophobic player on the team, who would run and tell it to the entire team, Louis knew it. And then probably sell his inside info to one of those gossip sites.

Louis was so fucked, but.

He really didn’t care.

It had been a long time coming, Louis supposed. And he wouldn’t let anyone talk that way about his sort of-boyfriend. Harry was too kind, too important, too wonderful for that.

Jack’s mouth opened and closed, words not leaving his mouth. Louis raised an eyebrow and took a sip of his drink.

“You?” Jack eventually said. “A fag?”

“I would prefer another term,” Louis said, “but yeah.”

Jack scoffed. “And you were just hanging around our locker rooms?”

“I actually had a boyfriend then,” Louis said. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. “And I’m pretty monogamous, so I really wouldn’t care about you and your three-inch dick.”

Jack’s eyes dimmed, anger flashing through them. “Fuck you, Tomlinson. Number 17 did us a favor by kicking you off the team.”

“Oh, wow,” Louis said. “Suddenly you hate me because you know I’m gay. What a surprise.”

He set his cup down, taking out his phone to text Liam. “I’m leaving. You can go and tell everyone the big news, I don’t give a fuck.”

“Great. Don’t plan on coming back.”

Louis looked over his shoulder. “Oh. I really wasn’t.”

 

He recapped the whole thing for Harry that night, while they were lying in bed, limbs intertwined. He didn’t want them to, but a few tears come out. Not because of Jack, or what he said, but because he wasn’t sure how to prepare for this, what would probably be national news by the morning.

“I’m proud of you,” Harry said. “No matter what happens. And I don’t think it’ll be big news until you confirm it.”

“Yeah, well,” Louis sniffled. “I kind of have to now.”

Harry kissed the top of his head, hugging him closer to his chest. “You don’t have to do anything. But I know you want to.”

Louis nodded. “I do.”

“Then you’ll be fine. Just one of the first football players to come out. No biggie.”

Louis laughed wetly, and glanced up at Harry. “But what about you? People will say you are too.”

“People saying I’m gay is the least of my worries,” Harry said. “Actually, I really like it.”

“And your team?”

“They’ll suck it up.” Harry grinned. “I mean, this could be the perfect reason to speed my coming out up.”

“Harry,” Louis said.

“Hmm?”

“I love you.”

Harry paused, shifting to face Louis.

“Fuck, Lou,” he said. “I love you, too.”

Louis grinned, smushing his face into the pillow.

Harry stuck his lip out. “Are you not going to kiss me?”

Louis sighed, leaning over to press their lips together. “That better?”

“Nope,” Harry said, and cupped his face in one hand, bringing him in for a much longer and hotter kiss.

A few months later, Louis went to the opening show of Harry’s world tour. Backstage, he would meet Niall, one of Harry’s close friends and musical guest for the European leg. He’d say hello to Lottie, who was now being mentored by Harry’s stylist at a suggestion from Harry. He’d take a seat in one of the first rows, next to Harry’s family and friends, and get asked for pictures from everyone around them.

He’d watch the show with barely hidden tears in his eyes, so proud of his boy and the performances he put on, the ones he loved so much and took so much effort to make perfect.

And Louis would post exactly that to his Twitter, and Instagram (with a much more lengthy caption) because he could do that now. And the whole world knew how much he loved Harry. And maybe, even though he was so happy, sometimes he felt like he still didn’t have a place, especially when Harry got to travel the entire planet doing what he loved, and him and Louis would be apart quite a bit.

And it was those times Harry would take him down to the studio, or maybe just the piano room at his house, and they’d write songs together, soppy ones, sad ones, funny ones, ones that didn’t make any sense. And Harry might be planning on telling him some great news, that the label had agreed to let Louis officially be a part of the writing process on his next album, because maybe Louis didn’t know it yet, but none of Harry’s songs would be the same anymore without his input.

He’d hang out with Liam, and the teammates that didn’t suddenly hate him. He made sure to call his mom every week, and take Clifford for a walk everyday. He’d smile when Harry brought over another tray of baked goods, even though he didn’t have to, and he’d smile when they held hands down the street.

He’d fly out to different cities across the world, spending time with Harry before his concerts and interviews and meetings. They’d plan to buy a house together in L.A., and Harry would use his free time to teach Louis piano. They would do karaoke together, until Louis realized that he maybe had an alright singing voice, and that maybe it would be cool to make songs of his own.

And throughout everything, they’d be together. Harry’s presence would make Louis’ worst days okay again, and Louis would support Harry in all of his accomplishments. It would be strange to think that there was a time when they didn’t make each other laugh, and then they would laugh about that and kiss each other until they couldn’t breathe.

They were both so lucky. Louis would be forever grateful for that.