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Lemonade Stroke

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It’s the fifteenth of January and already Louis has had it up to here with this year, he thinks as he hauls his gigantic footie duffel bag, one last flight of stairs standing between him and his bed. It’s not full of his kit but of food smuggled from home, packed heavy back when Louis was banking on his mum driving him back to uni – as in, right up to the halls car park and not Doncaster train station and bye, love, see you at Easter

He sighs, “Finally,” followed by a cursory, “Fuck,” just so there’s no confusion on how he’s feeling. His shoulders are fucking killing him, the strap on his Adidas bag cutting deep under the weight of the five million cans of Heinz baked beans he’s nipped from his mother’s cupboard because he cannot bear another fucking day of eating that Everyday Value cardboard-tasting crap from Tesco that he bought in bulk at the start of term because it was, like, twenty pence each but – no more. He’s learned to steer clear of Tesco if he wants to get his value for money and he’s got himself enough cans to last weeks, he’s living the high life now. 

He reaches the door to his flat, fishing his key out of his coat pocket with fingers that’d frozen halfway between Manchester Piccadilly and Fallowfield, and is immediately hit with a mass of hot air so stale that it kind of makes him want to vomit, which means Liam’s probably turned the dial on the radiator by the door as far as it would go before leaving for hols. 

The eerie silence means he’s probably the first one back, even though he knows Niall’s flight touched down this morning, because he was the one who braved the Ryanair website and booked it for him – unless the kid went and overslept, which, Louis admits, is not all that unlikely. He stops by the entrance to his door, room three-one-three, knocks on Liam and Niall’s door just to make sure. The only other door on the lower half of the flat had been occupied by Ilya, who had flown home in December since he didn’t have any more exams in January, like Louis himself, and cut his exchange semester short. Louis likes to think they were good flatmates to poor Ilya, or at least as good as any of the other freshers in Oak House would’ve been, but he had a feeling the Erasmus student was definitely expecting something quieter and more conducive to studying, in which case he would’ve been better off not living in halls at all.

He opens the door to his lovely prison cell of a room, running his fingers through the painted over brick walls by the window like one would caress their newborn child. Being home had been lovely, of course, but he was eager to get back to Manchester, to this little life he’s carved for himself here. It’s been four months and Louis still feels like he should not sleep, he should not even blink lest he misses out on even a second of his uni experience. Once he gets out – it’s downhill from there, he’s been told, and he believes it. These are supposed to be the best years of his life, and so far uni hasn’t disappointed. 

He makes an effort to stack his supply of baked beans under his desk, up against the wall. Usually they’d sit on a corner of the room until he had to upend his bag in order to shove his footie kit in, already late for practice. He wasn’t training until the end of exam week, but at least he could catch up on his readings, since all of his mates would be busy with exams anyway. 

He was definitely not going to stay at home for another two weeks, that’s for sure, not while there’s pints to be had and cute boys to be snogged, and the twenty quid train ticket he had to buy on the counter because he forgot his Railcard at uni was totally fucking worth it. He’s home. 

*

He jumps out of his bed at the slightest commotion in the hall, the pneumatic sound of the auto-close engine on the main door carrying through their paper-thin walls. He hopes it’s not one of the girls already – he likes them, mostly, when they’re not fussing about the washing up, but their willingness to go out with him and the other lads lasted for all of Freshers Week, and now they mostly do their own thing. Swanky bars in the Northern Quarter, probably, fuck if Louis knows.

Out in the hall and carrying what’s got to be the biggest fucking suitcase Louis’ ever seen is a stranger, his back turned – their new flatmate, probably another Erasmus student. The accommodation office tends to spread them out across halls instead of just putting them all together in one place, which Louis personally thinks would be best. If he was in Erasmus he sure as fuck would prefer to live with people he has at least some common ground with, but what does he know.

Except the stranger turns around and he’s no stranger at all, nor is he an Erasmus student.

“Curly,” Louis smiles, leaning on his doorjamb and popping his hip, “You lost, or summat?”

Curly boy looks up from trying to struggle his monstrous suitcase over the threshold, “Oh,” he’s dumbfounded for a second or two, his eyes giving Louis’ bare-chested, sweatpants-clad figure a once-over, “Hi – Louis, y’alright?”

Louis concentrates on controlling his micro-expressions so that he doesn’t show how much he’s preening – he’s not a Drama undergrad for shits and giggles – and points to the suitcase, one brow climbing up his forehead.

“Oh, I’m moving–” His eyes rake over the doors on the lower floor, “Here, actually,” He points to the door opposite Louis’, the vacant room, “Your flatmate Niall mentioned there was a vacancy and that his flatmates were cool, so I phoned the accommodation office.”

Louis doesn’t ask him to elaborate, because how anyone knows Niall is a question he’s stopped asking long ago.

“Where did you live, before?”

“Richmond Park,” He laughs when Louis makes a face, “Yeah, exactly.”

“Well,” Louis sighs, “You’ll definitely like Oak House, uh–”

“Harry,” He finishes for him, “Harry Styles.” He hesitates, “You remember me, right? From the–”

“LGBT society, yeah, ‘course I do. I‘m just rotten with names.”

In reality he hadn’t forgot the bloke’s name was Harry, couldn’t have, but it’s always nice to set the power dynamics early on, especially now that, apparently, they’re flatmates.

“So warm in here,” Harry interjects into the brief silence, single-handedly unwinding his scarf. 

“Liam likes it toasty,” Louis offers by way of explanation. Having the boiler on full blast during winter has turned out to be one of the few luxuries they can afford – and only because the weekly fees for the halls of residence include utilities – so fuck it if they’re not going to take advantage of it, “Liam being the lad on this one,” he points to the door directly behind Harry, “Niall’s there,” he points to the door adjacent Liam’s, “Shower and the loo are through here, and upstairs we have the kitchen, plus Anne, Abby, Huda and Lily.”

“Oh, cool,” Harry nods, “My mum’s name is Anne.”

Louis’ brow arches, “Okay,” He takes a step back into his room, his hand going to the doorknob, “I’ll leave you to it, Harry Styles. Welcome to flat thirty one.”

*

There’s a knock on his door some time later, “Hi, Louis, I’m popping round to the shop, do you want me to bring you anything back?”

Louis freezes mid-sentence on his book. “Just a second–” he calls, throwing the duvet back and pausing to fish a two pound coin out of his wallet before opening the door, “Could you get me some bread and a pint of milk? Whole milk, please,” he adds.

“Sure,” Harry smiles. He’s all decked out in running gear, trainers and all. “What kind of bread?”

“Just white bread,” Louis shrugs, “Medium soft, store brand?” 

Harry nods, taking the coin. 

“Sorry, are you actually running to the shops?” Louis asks, his curiosity getting the best of him. It’s two fucking degrees out, for fuck’s sake.

“No,” Harry grins, shakes his head, “It’s freezing out, I’m just going to the Sainsbo’s down the road. But I’ll hit the gym later, so, no sense in changing twice.”

“Savvy,” Louis agrees, solemn. 

*

When Harry gets back to the flat, Niall and Liam are already home. Niall had gone from the airport straight to some bird’s room, apparently, which is not surprising at all. The lovesick look on his face as he talks about her is, though.

They’re in the kitchen, Louis having stopped to put on a hoodie and pick up a can of beans and a tea bag – from the good tea he brought from home – before going up when he heard the commotion. He’s grabbed his room key last minute, too, wouldn’t do to get locked out right on the first day back. Auto-locking and uni’s paranoia with fire-stopping doors had been the bane of Louis’ existence last term, but he’s learned his lesson after one too many treks to the RA wearing only a towel. He’s wiser now.

“Hey, Hazza!” Niall looks up from his frying bacon when Harry enters the room, arms laden with shopping bags. It’s got to be around five, but Niall doesn’t care, he’s having bacon butties. “I’m so glad you got the room, lad!”

Harry smiles at him as he crosses the kitchen, heaving the bags up and depositing them on the dining table just as Liam looks up from his phone, “Harry! Hey, man, didn’t know it was you who’d moved in!”

“You two know each other?” Louis asks, watching fascinated as Harry and Liam engage in some form of side-armed greeting that’s way too straight for someone whom Louis’ seen snog countless blokes on the clubs of Canal Street to know how to perform.

“Oh, yeah, we lift together at the Armitage all the time,” Harry answers when they disengage.

“Gym buddies? Gross,” Louis fake-heaves into the shopping bags while he fishes out his bread and milk.

At Harry’s bewilderment, Liam explains, “Louis hates the gym,” he makes a dismissive motion, “Just ignore him.” He points to Harry’s sports attire, “You coming or going?”

“Going,” Harry replies, eyes still on Louis, who’s humming to himself as he pops two slices into the toaster and puts the kettle on, “Just gonna make myself a snack.”

“Oh, sweet, I’ll go with!” Liam says, already hurrying out of the kitchen.

Louis’ eyes narrow. Having Harry in the flat is definitely an improvement over Ilya, if he doesn’t try to steal Liam from him. He starts to plot ways to break apart this budding friendship as he dumps his beans into a Tupperware and pops it in the microwave. Harry bumps into him as the three of them navigate the tiny kitchen, and fuck he smells good – very distracting, not conducive to formulating evil plans. 

Louis peeks over at what he’s shoving into a Nutribullet – great, now they have two of those – sliced bananas with peanut butter and a powder that looks like Whey protein but instead is probably one of those steroids that make your willy stop working. Good, Louis thinks, it’s what he deserves for just barging in Louis’ flat, all fitted running shirt that shows off his biceps and dimples and deep voice, ugh.

He is positively fuming by the time the kettle boils and his toast pops out. It’s not even like Louis wants him, right, because here’s the thing – he’s tapped that arse already. First night out with the LGBT society, they’d gone to G-A-Y after pre-drinks in the Student Union's bar, which, by the way, had £1.80 pints of Carlsberg, so Louis may or may not have been shitfaced, but he remembers, alright. He’s not the kind to get blackout drunk to the point he forgets stuff, he’s sicking up in the loo before it gets to that, and that night he’d done neither so his memory is very much intact, ta ever so, and he distinctly remembers snogging one Harry Styles in the smokers area – among others, obviously. 

It had been his first night out away from home, and to a gay club, too – a whole new world of cute boys to snog, Harry being just the first in many. Louis’d seen him slurping down someone else’s throat not two hours after they’d kissed and it hadn’t bothered him then (nor had it bothered him after, during every subsequent meeting of the LGBT society where they’d seen each other) so being so aware of Harry’s presence in his flat is ridiculous, is what it is. What Louis needs is a distraction.

“Niall, lad, a couple of pints at Squirrel’s later, what say you?” Louis says, not looking up from where he’s spreading beans on his toast.

“Sure thing, Tommo,” Niall replies, his mouth full, “Bet there’ll be no line for the pool tables, too, everyone’s home still. Hazza, you and Liam can join us after the gym?”

“I’ll ask him,” Harry says, “But I’m up for it. Not good at pool, though.”

Louis sips his tea to hide his frown.

*

Squirrel’s is a pub that, while not actually owned by the Student Union, is right by halls and has cheap beer, so, good enough, if Louis says so himself. Further proof that the majority of the patrons are students in the University of Manchester is that since term hasn’t actually restarted, the pub is the emptiest Louis has seen it at nine p.m. Where usually there’s raucous laughter and loud music, today the place is calm enough that Louis can actually hear the commentator of the rugby match rerun on the telly. 

They grab their pints and make their way to a booth, not quite in the mood to play yet.

“So, Lou, how do you like our new flatmate?” Niall asks him, waggling his eyebrows like he’s so very clever.

Louis resists the urge to roll his eyes, but barely.

“He’s alright, I suppose. Hadn’t talked to him much before today, really.”

“Wait, you two know each other? From where?”

Louis hesitates minutely before answering, thinking about how much Harry, with his white tanks and his stupid bro hugs, has told Niall. Well, Louis reasons, can’t be that deep in the closet since he’s in the LGBT society. He tells Niall so.

“He went to a lot of meetings at first," Louis adds, "Not so much at the end of term, but I guess he was busy."

“Ohh, right, of course. I’d forgot about that.” He pauses, “What is it that you guys do in there, again?”

Louis grins, partly fond and partly exasperated. Niall has asked him that exact question at least another two times. “We discuss everything related to the queer universe, really. From sharing coming out stories, to listening to people who can’t come out at home, but we also just watch LGBT movies and discuss literature with queer representation, or lack of. Sometimes we go out to Canal Street, too. Bit of everything, really. Last meeting we talked about Moonlight.

Oh, I watched that movie! It was aces,” Niall says, his beer sloshing dangerously in his pint glass as he enunciates, “In Moonlight, Black Boys Look Blue.”

“That’s the one,” Louis grins, “I guess the society is pretty much a support network inside uni, really. A lot of kids never had anywhere to talk about this stuff before coming here. Other than online, I mean.”

“Did you?”

Louis pauses to consider it, “With my mum, yeah. My best mate from home knew, but we didn’t really talk about it, I guess?” He frowns, “Well, definitely not like you talk about it, trying to pimp me out to every half-witted git who happens to like dick.”

“Hey,” Niall shoves at his arm, laughing, “I’m just trying to be a good mate! You know how the flat walls are paper thin, I know exactly how much action you get, or do not get, in this particular case.”

“You’re such a creeper, oh my god,” Louis feels a blush snaking up his neck, “My sex life is none of your business, Niall.”

“More like your lack of,” Niall grins, “C’mon, Tommo! You’re always going on and on about our uni experience – well, I say part of it is shagging a lot of people. You’re smart, you’re fit, you’re funny, you cannot tell me you have trouble pulling.” He pauses, “Maybe you should download Grindr before you start going up the walls.”

Thing is, shagging a random guy is easier said than done. Not for lack of willing candidates, but for Louis’ own anxiety over the issue. What if he underperforms? What if he doesn’t like it up the bum? He’s never gone in through the back door, too, not even with his ex-girlfriend, so that’s another thing to worry about. Not to say that he doesn’t want to – he really fucking does, but it all seems very messy and with a potential for involving more bodily fluids than he’d like. Porn is completely unhelpful, too, with its waxed and bleached magical arseholes that need no stretching. Even he knows there must be a lot of prepping done behind the scenes for those twinks to be pounded like that from the get go.

“I just don’t like having blokes round the flat, Niall,” he lies, runs his finger through the condensation on his pint glass, “Just because it doesn’t happen where you can hear it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening at all.”

“Why, though? You don’t think– You don’t think me and Liam would have a problem with it, do you?” He adds before Louis can answer, “Because I was the one who suggested Harry moving in, Lou, I do not have an issue with blokes shagging blokes, you have to know that.”

“Neil, you’re giving yourself too much credit,” Louis smiles, “If you had a problem with it, I’d have a guy over every day of the week.”

“Tommo!” Niall laughs, “Yeah, that’s more like you.”

“What about you, then,” Louis jumps on the opportunity to change the subject, “Who’s this mystery lass that’s got you running over the minute you’re back in England?”

Niall blushes. Blushes. Louis is going to have a field day.

*

Liam arrives bearing pool tokens, Harry on his toes.

He raps his knuckles against the wooden table, once, twice, “Straight?”

“Not quite,” Louis fires back, pleased smirk at Liam’s eye-roll and Harry’s undignified snort, “Sure. Fifty to start?”

And so they make their way to the nearest pool table, Louis balancing his pint on the border before strolling to the line of old, worn out cues on the wall. He pretends not to listen as Harry turns to Niall, “Fifty… what? Fifty quid?”

As if they had fifty quid to spare.

“Fifty points,” Niall explains, “They’re playing straight pool. Each consecutive ball is worth a point.”

Louis picks out a long maple cue as Harry continues, “What is the bet, then?”

“Chores,” Louis answers for him, grinning, “Haven’t done me own washing once.” 

“Yeah, well, your luck’s run out,” Liam says from across the table, chalking his tip a little too hard for Louis to believe his smack talk.

“Been practising over hols, have we?” Louis leans his hip on the pool table, smiles. Liam gets so intense when they’re playing. It’s highly amusing, and a little bit hot, if he’s being honest, “Aw, Liam, you should’ve rung if you missed me so much. Might’ve gone down to Wolverhampton just to kick your arse.”

Louis smiles, beatic, at the way Liam’s eyes narrow. He pushes in five tokens at once in lieu of answering, which is an answer in itself.

Louis picks up his pint glass, walks to the standing table where Niall and Harry have situated themselves as Liam racks the balls. He leaves the empty glass on the table, memorises which angle the other two have of the game.

Liam gets into position, leans over the table and makes a clean break. He has practiced over hols, Louis notes with a pleased smile as he approaches the rail.

Usually he’d start out mellow, but tonight they have an audience that makes him want to show off. He sinks the five, the two, the ten, the twelve; then the four and the six with a single shot, and doesn’t look up until he’s ran the table.

When he does, it’s to Harry looking at him like he’s something wild. Good, Louis thinks, and holds his gaze, dares him to look away, long enough for Liam to rack and break again. There’s something in the pit of his stomach when he bends at the waist to continue his game, his voice wavering when he calls, “Two in the corner pocket,” and sinks the seven instead, which is as good as scratching.

He lets out a breath through his nose and tries not to show his displeasure. Tries to remember he’s playing against Liam, and not eye-fucking Harry. 

Liam, dutiful, runs the table two times and only scratches at thirty-eight, which is unacceptable and much too close to fifty for Louis’ comfort. He does not want to have to handle Liam’s smelly gym clothes in any way.

With newfound determination, he starts his inning and only takes one shot while arching his back and pushing his arse out in Harry’s direct line-of-sight, that’s how focused he is. He runs the table once, twice, thrice, refuses to look in Harry’s direction while Liam reracks for the third time, then sinks the remaining balls to fifty so fast he barely has time to call the shots.

“Holy shit,” Harry whispers, so quietly the words don’t carry and Louis only knows what he’s said because he was looking at Harry’s mouth. 

Liam comes to shake his hand, and Louis concedes, “You’re getting good, Liam. For someone who couldn’t sink ten at the start of term, thirty eight is impressive.”

Liam gives him a toothy grin, “Give me a few more weeks and I’ll be running laps around you.”

Louis highly doubts it. He’s ran almost two hundred once, but no one fucking believes him.

“Let’s play eight-ball,” Niall calls, walking over to the cue rack, “Louis gets Harry so we’re evened out.” 

Harry looks a bit alarmed at the pool cue being thrust in his direction. 

Louis tries to contain his grin even as he says, “You could go three against one and it still wouldn’t be even, Neil, I’m that good.” 

“I don’t doubt you can work magic with your hands on wood, but cocky doesn’t suit you.” Harry says, and the nerve on him, arriving today and already taking liberties.

"Why are you smack talking me, Harold, when I'll have to carry all the weight in this team," he cocks his hips on the table, flicks his fringe away from his eyes, "Since clearly you're no good with your hands on wood."

"You never know, I might surprise you," he fires back, "And It's just Harry."

"Do you think spraying them with water would do the trick, Liam?" Niall says from across the table, loudly.

"Heard that's no good, Nialler," Liam says, chalking up his tip like one would inspect one's nails, "You just have to let the mating ritual play out."

Louis, despite himself, feels a blush creeping up his neck. Diversion, his brain urges, "I'm feeling charitable tonight," he announces, resolutely not making eye contact with Harry, "So we'll break. Give you lot a chance at winning."

Liam scoffs, "How the fuck is that being charitable?"

Louis smiles, "Harold will break."

"Do I need to show you my id? It's Harry," he pauses, "I don't know how to play."

"I'll explain as we go. Just," he points his cue stick to the racked balls, "Try to hit this one in the front as head-on as you can. The more spread out you get them, the better, but don't let the white one go into the pockets."

"I know how it starts," Harry looks up from examining the task at hand, "But how am I supposed to control which direction it'll go?"

"It all depends on how you hit the first ball. Here," he helps him get into position, one hand at his hip and the other at his elbow, "You need to get in line with the shot. Are you left-handed?"

"No," Harry answers, and leans down at an angle that might buy him drinks but it sure as fuck won't help a clean shot.

"Put your right foot in line with the cue. Yeah, like this. Twist your hip to give your right arm more space. Left foot to the left of the cue, not behind your left arm." 

"You know," Liam starts, conversational, "I've always reckoned there must be something different in a bloke trying to pull other bloke," he turns to Niall, "D'you reckon it's always like this, or Louis is just unimaginative?"

He ducks down just in time to avoid a swipe of Louis' cue.

"Stop talking shit," Louis warns, still holding his cue like a sword, "You're not going to get away from doing our washing. C'mon, Harry, shoot."

Harry takes a deep breath, trains his eyes on the cue ball, his arms rehearsing the movement in slow, careful motions. He brings his arm back, and takes the shot.

The balls barely spread out. The other three exchange a look.

"So," Niall claps his hands, bright, "Rerack?"

*

"Once again so we're all clear," Louis smiles into his pint, "Niall will do the next two weeks of Harry's washing, Liam will do the next four of mine," he sighs, contented. Another month of successfully avoiding the laundry room.

"I usually do mine on Friday," Niall tells Harry, "Just leave it out in the hall before you go to class."

Harry looks a bit uncomfortable, "It's ok, you don't really need to-" 

"Of course he does," Louis interrupts, "We won fair and square. Trust me, they would not be releasing us from duty if they'd won."

Niall and Liam both nod their heads in agreement. "We still got plenty of time to beat you into doing ours, don't worry."

Harry laughs, "Ok, fine."

Their version of leaving out the washing is just to chuck their dirty clothes in these huge Ikea bags they got when shopping for dorm stuff, but he bets Harry has a proper hamper and everything. Uses fabric softener. Puts his clothes away instead of leaving them on a pile in his chair.

What a weird life he must lead.

Liam gulps the rest of his pint, and turns to him. 

"Listen, Lou," Liam starts. He looks a bit sheepish, "Some mates of mine were planning to go to Magaluf this summer."

Something ugly weighs heavy in Louis' gut, and he hopes it doesn't show. "You should go, obviously. Bet it will be carnage, or whatever slang you straights are using these days."

It gets a smile out of Liam, even if it dies fast. "I'd rather go to Prague with you lads, you know that, right?"

"Obviously. We're all kinds of awesome," he claps Liam in the back, ”Don't sweat it, Li. There's always next year, eh?"

Liam looks sufficiently mollified, and so Louis excuses himself to go for a piss.

He's been trying not to think too much about their planned lads holiday that never will be, because it gets him fucking depressed, and then he's back to beating himself up over losing the stupid laptop, and there goes his good mood.

University of Manchester is crawling with wankers, from the Oxbridge rejects who think they're too good to be here to the rich overseas kids who are still mad daddy didn't send them to London– but it also has the best fucking people Louis has ever met, his flatmates most of all.

They'd bonded incredibly fast, joined at the hip by the end of Freshers Week. Louis is really fucking lucky, he really is. They've all come to uni hoping for a better situation than whatever they had at home, be it closeting, bullying or money. He loves that they can take the piss over it without feeling sorry for themselves but he loves it even more that he can declare to not afford stuff without hearing back shit like just ask your parents or stop eating out

Louis can't remember ever eating out here in Manchester, unless you count the McDonald's across Egerton Road as fine dining. He's never paid more than five quid to get into a party, and that was once or twice. Even before losing his laptop there wasn't a lot of money to blow on stupid shit, and Liam can afford a lads holiday but not two, Niall knows how to eat well with twenty quid a week on groceries.

That's not to say they don't have fun – Niall also knows about the best deals on alcohol even if sometimes they have to go to Stretford for it, and Oak House has the best halls parties, where you can justify your presence with a twenty-pack of Carlsberg that you got for twelve quid at Aldi between the three of you and miraculously not run out of drinks all night, like some sort of uni-themed multiplication miracle.

When he gets back to their booth, coats are being put on, even though it's fucking eleven, and he tells them so.

"Two tests tomorrow," Niall points to himself, "One test Wednesday afternoon."

"So? First year marks don't count!"

"You say that because you only have exams in May now," Liam laughs, "Get back to me on that after Easter."

"Twat." Louis rolls his eyes, picks up his coat. It's made out of a bin bag, according to his sister Lottie. Like her fashion sense is so much better.

"I've got a few Stellas in the fridge," Harry says as they're following the other boys back towards their court. He walks too fucking slow for someone with so much leg, in Louis' opinion. "And no exams this week, too, just one next week. So, nightcap?"

"Sure," Louis readily agrees. He can never turn down free alcohol, especially when he doesn't even have to leave his flat for it. "What's your course, again?"

"Law."

"Posh," Louis teases, "You want to be a solicitor or a barrister?"

"Do you even know the difference?"

"No," Louis huffs, "But you can tell me."

Harry doesn't answer immediately. Something rattles inside a bin as they pass it. Could be a squirrel, could be a rat. Equal chances, really.

"I want to be neither," Harry answers finally.

"What the fuck are you reading law for, then? You a masochist, or what?"

Harry chuckles, "It's a secret."

"Well that's not fair," Louis frowns, "I know fuck-all about Law, I'll never guess it."

"I don't want you to guess it."

Louis squints up at him. If he's trying to put on a dark and mysterious front, he's doing a piss-poor job of it. Could use some lessons from Louis' weed guy.

*

They're hit with a block mass of hot air when they re-enter the flat. The upstairs shower is running, which means at least one of the girls is home.

They say their goodnights to Niall and Liam, and Louis stops to drop his coat in his bedroom and change into sweatpants. Harry's already in the kitchen when Louis goes up, sprawled on the long bench that runs under the window, two tall cans in the table in front of him.

Everything is deceptively quiet because people are still coming back from hols, not to mention exam week, but by February the halls will be no man's land again. He can't wait.

"So," Harry locks his phone and puts it face down on the table, "I really wanna know, how come you're so good at pool?"

"What," Louis plays dumb, "A gay man can't be good at it?"

Harry gives him a look, "I just mean, it seems like there's a story behind it."

"There is," Louis purses his lips, "But it's a secret."

"Come on," Harry's leg moves to give him a weak kick under the table, "I'll share my beer, you share the story."

"There's no story," Louis insists, "I just like it."

"Liar," Harry narrows his eyes, leans forward, "I've already asked Niall."

"What did he say?" Louis asks before he can think better of it. 

Harry's grin tells him he fell for a bluff.

"Nothing," Harry concedes, "But he made the exact same face you're doing now. So I know it must be good."

Louis gulps down some more of his beer before saying, "Don't be so nosy, Harold. It's unbecoming."

Louis is not drunk, but he's clearly had enough to drink that Harry's pout makes him sigh and say, "Fine. Get us another one first, though."

Harry grins, excited, and slides to the end of the bench. It must be the dimples, Louis thinks, the beer and the dimples.

He's only ever told this story once – because every other person in his life either lived through it with him or didn't even know he was gay in the first place – and it was an abridged version, tailored for Niall and Liam's straight ears, back when they didn’t know each other all that well. 

He reckons he doesn't need to walk on those particular eggshells with Harry.

"So, a few months before GCSEs our school put together this class to help out with revision for maths," Louis starts, once Harry is back at the table, "'cause, you know, we were totally going to tank the school average." 

Harry smiles, "Or because they cared so much about your proper education."

"So very much," Louis agrees, gives a weak chuckle, "Anyway, it was a teacher from sixth form. And he was so. Bloody. Fit," he adds, wide-eyed for emphasis, "The star of every wank I had for months, really. Like, sexual awakening levels of fit. Calvin Klein model levels of fit."

"And he was super cool, too," he continues, "Like, he actually cared if we understood or not. Had all these different examples of real-life applications for maths – like, geometry and pool. And you could see by the way he talked, he actually knew what he was talking about."

"Can't believe you started playing to impress a teacher," Harry shakes his head as he laughs.

"Well," Louis smiles, "If you saw what he looks like, you'd understand."

Harry just shakes his head at him, drinks his beer.

"I asked him after class one day, if he liked playing. He said yes, asked if I played, I said yes." Louis grins, "Hadn't ever touched a pool stick in me life, but I thought we were flirting."

"Oh, no, c'mon," Harry groans, "GCSE's year, we were, what, fifteen? Sixteen? Proper pedo."

"I said I thought he was flirting, Harold," he takes a sip of his beer, "There was this rumour round school that he was gay 'cos he was, like, perpetually single. So I'd stay to chat after class, and I thought we were flirting, and I remember thinking, like, I lied about playing pool, if he knew I lied, I'd blow it. So obviously I had to learn to play pool."

"Obviously," Harry agrees, solemn, "You were pretty much obsessed, innit?"

"Pretty much," Louis agrees, "Getting him to fancy me became, like, my life mission. I spent the whole summer learning to play with my best mate Stan in this shady little pub 'round his house – couldn't be near mine 'cos if my mum found out I'd be done for. I even sat mathematics for AS Levels."

"No," Harry smiles, incredulous, "Really? You're having me on."

"Swear it," Louis nods, "Got me a B, too," he laughs, "I suppose it was a productive crush, at least. So anyway, by the next summer I was, like, proper good at it. Everyone knew me at Stan's pub and my mum was convinced I was dating him, which I sort of never denied so she wouldn't be on my case for being round his so much. By then me and Stan had done a proper Facebook stalking to see where he played, and it was like, literally, across town."

Louis shakes his head, "So me and Stan started popping round on weekends – I had to pay Stan's bus fare and mine to get him to come with me, too. We had the bus pass but it was still eighty pence each, per leg. I was depleting my allowance reserves," he smiles, "We didn't even see him for the first, like, eight times. But the blokes in that pub were way better at pool than at Stan's, so we were still enjoying ourselves. I guess they saw us as these, like, mascots or summat, showed us the tricks and all that. Stan likes to play but he has shit aim, while I got proper good at it. At first I was on a mission to get me that dick, but I ended up liking it along the way."

He laughs, takes another healthy sip of his beer. Christ, Stan really was a saint for putting up with him.

"Well?" Harry prompts, "What happened?"

Louis looks up at him, "What do you mean, what happened? I just told you, I spent all of sixth form playing, that's how I got good."

"C'mon, Louis," he huffs, "Really? You're not gonna tell me the rest of it?"

Louis frowns at him, a bit slow on the uptake. Then it dawns on him, "Oh, you mean with the teacher?" Harry shoots him a look, "No, listen, I only told this story to Niall and Liam. They weren't that interested in that part."

"Well, I am," Harry shoots back, looking stubborn and a bit embarrassed, "Did you shag your maths teacher, then?"

For a split second, Louis considers lying. It's obvious by now some part of him wants to impress Harry, and not only with his pool skills. 

Thing is, Niall and Liam already know he didn't, "No," he sighs, "I mean, he was tempted, but in the end he turned me down."

"Tempted how?" Harry prompts.

"There was some lap sitting," Louis wills himself not to blush, "I could tell he was hard. He said he was flattered, but if someone saw us, no soul on earth would believe it only started after I finished school."

"Louis," Harry grins, wide, clearly finding it so very amusing. He gets up to them two more beers, unprompted, "When was this? Where? You're not telling it straight."

"Harry," Louis parrots him, shakes his head, "Ok, let's see. Where did I stop?"

"Summer after year twelve," Harry supplies, helpful, "You started hanging out at your teacher's pub like a creepy stalker."

Louis flips him off, "Right, we started going right after AS levels. We could only go on Saturdays and Sundays, though, or I'd spend all my money on bus fare. Stan looked eighteen now so we got away with a pint now and then, too. I thought, I don't want to meet him here and not even have money for a chippie, and asking for more money at home was just not an option, so I got this summer job in the stockroom of a Sports Direct that was, like, way closer to the pub than to home, so I wouldn't have to lie to mum about where I was, it was all working out."

"I used to be a baker," Harry says when Louis stops to take another sip of his beer. At Louis' puzzled face, he adds, "You know, since we were mentioning summer jobs."

"Right," Louis shakes his head. They might not be drunk, but they're not sober either, "So anyways, I started stopping by after my shifts every day, but just for a round or two. I wasn't even expecting to meet him, I just liked to play. Feels good being great at something, you know? When I got my first paycheque, Stan and I went in and got pissed and stayed until closing, it was epic. We were feeling like proper adults. And then on Saturday when we got there, some of the staff that knew us were taking the piss on Stan for getting sick in the bins after, like, four pints – and there he was."

"Ohhhh," Harry coos, clutching his beer to his face with both hands, "Did you get butterflies in your stomach?"

"Actually, I did," Louis laughs, "He came over to talk to us and I called him by his first name, Anthony, and pretended I knew him from the pub, like everyone else. At first he made this face," he snorts, "I think he thought I was going to start calling him by his first name at school, too, which I didn't, obviously."

"Obviously," Harry agrees, sombre. He's leaning on the window a bit like the tower of Pisa. Louis wonders if he's noticed.

"So, yeah, nothing happened that summer. No one there knew he was my teacher but every time I got within less than a meter from him, he went away in the other direction, like those magnets that push each other apart, you know?" He demonstrates it with his hands, "He would go round the table the longer way just to avoid brushing up against me, and when I moved to take a shot he would move too, like we were playing duck duck goose or something."

Harry snorts at that, "Did you beat him?"

"I did, actually," Louis smiles, "Told you I was already proper brilliant at it. He was impressed, yeah, but like I said he would not let me get near. And to make things worse, Stan started to have mixed feelings about it – like, I convinced him to do all that shit with me and he knew it was because of Anthony, but when it was time to actually, like, try to pull, he would say shit like, 'he's so much older', 'but he's your teacher', and the likes, so I also had Stan trying to cockblock me. School started and mum wouldn't let me stay out late even on weekends, and seeing him every day as my teacher, I just knew it wasn't going to happen, you know?"

"Well, he was right. He was your teacher and you were a minor – the age of consent is eighteen if the older party is in a position of power," He announces, solemn, tapping his temple as he adds, "It's all in here. I am The Law."

"Right, more likely you know that because you also wanted to shag someone older, but I'll let it slide," Louis sprawls a bit over the table, supporting his head on one elbow. He's getting kind of sleepy.

"You still haven't got to the part where you give him a lap dance."

Louis snorts, straightens up again, "I didn't give him a lap dance. But, like, once the semester started to pick up rhythm I was more concerned with A levels, you know? And hearing back from our lovely alma mater."

"Was it your first choice?" Harry asks, back turned to him as he gets more beer. Is is their fourth can? Fifth?

"Yeah, it was, actually. The day I got the email from UCAS, I thought my heart was going to fall out of my arse," he laughs, "Was it yours?"

Harry nods as he sits back down, his movements uncoordinated, and prompts him to keep talking.

"Right, so, I've got me offer, my A-levels are done, I'm moving away at the end of summer, so I thought, sod it, you know? It's now or never. I tell mum I'm sleeping over at Stan's, put on my best pulling jeans and I go, alone. And he's there, which, like, has got to be a sign, yeah? So I challenge him to a game, buy us pints, and I'm up there on that table like I'm shooting the cover for Attitude, Harry, I swear." 

They laugh, Harry clutching at his own belly, “Did you make sure he got a good look down your cleavage? Pretended to wank your cue?”

“All of it,” Louis nods, “He loses his turn, someone else comes to play, and then it’s late, everyone is going home, I haven’t really done anything all evening, you know – proper bricking it and all. I go looking for him, he’s round the back having a fag, and it’s rained so I just go, and like, sit in his lap.”

“Just like that? Just sat in his lap?” Harry smiles, incredulous.

“Listen, it was my first time trying to pull, okay? Give me a break.” Louis chuckles, “And he’s like, Louis, what are you doing, and I’m like, everything’s wet, wiggle a bit on his lap, put my arm round his shoulder. By then he’s like, tomato red, okay, so I know I’m on the money trail. I pick the cigarette off his hand, and it’s Marlboro, which, bleurgh, but I don’t make a face or anything.”

Harry’s not making a sound. The beer can’s sweating in his hand, “He goes, Louis, you’re gonna get me fired, and I’m like, but I’ve left school, and he’s like, two months ago, it doesn’t make a difference. He’s hard, alright, I can feel it poking at me bum, so I think he’s just playing hard to get, so I bend down to kiss him and the wanker just – gets up!” Louis covers his face with his hands, the humiliation from that day burning anew, “At least he held my arm so I didn’t, like, topple off, but he got up and he went all, I’m flattered, but I could get fired, yada yada, I really can’t, you’re only eighteen, you know it. And then he just turns around and walks away, just like that. And I’m standing there, Marlboro still in me hand, looking like an arse - it was awful, Harry.”

He peeks between his fingers to find Harry looking very amused, “I’m sorry,” a small giggle escapes, “I’m sorry you got rejected, but, like, I wish I could’ve seen your face.”

“It’s not funny,” Louis moans, leans down to rest his forehead on the table. He’ll probably be like, fifty, and still want to die every time he remembers it. He turns his head, “But hey, when I saw Stan on my birthday last month, he told me someone from school saw him in town with a guy who was, like, much older. Could’ve been his dad, but I’m choosing to believe he’s only into older guys.”

“Could be,” Harry muses, “Could be that his type is just, you know, not his students, too. That’s what I’d bet on.”

“Sod off,” Louis closes his eyes again. The room feels like it’s, very lightly, spinning. A cozy spin, not a I’m going to be sick spin.

“You could try again in, like, five years,” Harry suggests.

“I’m never looking at him again,” Louis whines, “Never going into that pub again.”

They stay quiet for a while. Outside, someone starts shouting.

“So if you spent all those years pining,” Harry muses, voice airy, “I take it you never had a boyfriend?”

Louis grunts. It’s as good a confirmation as he’s going to get.

“But hey, you know what’s better than your teacher’s knob?” Louis can hear Harry’s throat working as he takes a gulp, “A lucrative hobby and a B in mathematics.”

“You mean pool?” Louis looks up, “I’m good but I’m not that good, Harold. I wouldn’t hold my own against a pro.”

“I’m not talking about going pro,” Harry’s brows furrow, “You’ve never played for cash?”

Louis shakes his head, “I’ve never even been to a pool hall before.”

“What about where you played?”

“Betting in pubs is illegal, didn’t you know that, Mr. I am the law?” He accompanies the question with air-quotes, “We’d be banned from Squirrel’s in a blink, and I don’t fancy having to walk to Owens Park for a cheap pint, do you?”

“Louis, c’mon, don’t be naive,” Harry chuckles, “You know there are pubs that don’t give a shit if you’re betting as long as you’re a paying customer, but you’re not gonna find them on bloody Piccadilly Gardens, are you?”

“Harry, look at us,” Louis laughs, “Really look at us. How long do you think we’d last hustling in some shoddy pub in Hulme, or wherever the fuck?”

“You’d be surprised,” Harry comments, but doesn’t elaborate.

Louis shakes his head, “Alright, curly,” he announces, “I’m afraid the time has come for me to cut you off. That’s too much shit you’re talking, even for-” He turns to look at Liam’s Baggies wall clock that’d mysteriously made its way to the kitchen during hols, “Midnight.”

“You can’t cut me off of my beers,” Harry grumbles, but he gets up to put their empty cans with the rest of the recycling.

All eight cans, four in each hand. 

Louis absolutely doesn’t let his mind wander.