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You'll Always Find Your Way Back Home

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One thing Louis would have never thought he’d be happy to hear is the loud sounds of his siblings. Bare feet slapping against the hardwood floor, squeals—both excited and irritated—erupting from random places in the house, arguments brewing between the older twins, and cookware clanging in the kitchen as his mom tried to keep the peace and cook at the same time. This house has always been a loud one, and once he was old enough to get annoyed by the noise rather than be apart of it, he couldn’t wait to get out of it.

Now, as he’s standing in the doorway, he’s trying not to get choked up. He hadn’t realized how much he missed this: the smell of his mother’s baking, the sounds of each of his family members, the sight of some of his old toys scattered about the foyer where his littlest siblings had presumably left them. All these things scream home , and he hadn’t felt at home since he left this house eight years ago.

Even when he had visited on holidays and birthdays, he’d never felt such relief as he did right now. He enjoyed visiting, but by the third or fourth day he was itching to get back to LA, his job, his friends, his own quiet apartment. But he just couldn’t stand the empty feeling he’d felt there lately. He’d ignored it for so long, filled the void with partying, drinking, vacations, boys... anything. Nothing worked. And once he had recognized the feeling for what it was, it couldn’t be ignored. It was all he could think about. So after getting shitfaced and crying his eyes out to Zayn, telling him how unhappy he was, how painful the empty feeling in his chest had gotten, his best friend had suggested he go back home. So, here he was. Unannounced. Back home.

He turns to close the door behind him, and once he sets down his suitcase the pattering of feet pick up and soon he sees the youngest twins round the corner.

“Lou Lou!” “Mommy!” They shout in unison, which makes him laugh.

He squats down in time to catch Doris in his arms. “Hi little bug,” he says softly.

Ernest is hanging back slightly, chewing on his finger shyly and looking from Louis to the kitchen, where Louis assumes Jay is.

Louis smiles softly at him, then hears his mother calling out, “What, Ernie dear? I’m fixing you a snack, darling.”

She pokes her head around the corner and promptly drops the fork in her hand. “Lou?” his mother asks in surprise, and even from here he can see her eyes watering.

Louis releases Doris and says,“hi, Momma," walking quickly down the short hall beside the staircase, ruffling Ernest’s hair as he passes. He collapses into his mom’s arms, instantly feeling better than he has in months. It’s like a breath of fresh air, one you don’t have to work for. It comes easy and not after several laboring tries. He feels like he’s been struggling so long.

“Hi, my love,” she says as she rubs his back, her gentle voice causing a pain in his chest and a stinging in his eyes.

He leans back and looks at her, then they both giggle at their teary eyes. He wipes his face and watches as she does the same. “What are you doing here?” she asks.

“Missed you. Missed home," he replies with a shrug, and watches as she smiles.

“We all missed you, too.”

“Yeah! Missed Lou Lou!” Doris shouts as she jumps up and down, tugging on the bottom of his shirt.

“Missed you, too,” he says, bending back down. “Missed both of you,” he pointedly says and looks to Ernest, who smiles slowly and hesitantly walks into his arms for a hug.

“Ernie’s been shy lately; dunno why,” Jay says. “You also haven’t been back since Christmas and that beard is new. Probably didn’t recognize you.”

Louis knows she didn’t mean for her words to cut as deep as they just did, but she is right. He normally stays longer than he had last Christmas. And he hasn’t been home since then, and it’s already August. He normally tries to come in March, for his Mom’s and the older twins’ birthdays, but he was in Ibiza then with a bunch of friends. He’d forgotten, really. He always books his plane tickets in advance for trips home, and when he didn’t show up Lottie and Jay had both tried to call him. The problem was, he was too drunk to pick up the phone that night.

That was probably the worst it had gotten. Louis hardly remembers that trip, he was so out of it. From the drinking, and smoking, and partying, he’s honestly glad he made it home safe and wasn’t taken advantage of or something else equally horrific. And after returning to LA, he threw himself back into work. He started filming in late May for his last movie in his multi-picture deal he had signed. That wrapped in early July, and he tried his best to focus and end this part of his career on a good, professional note so that if he wanted to come back to acting after this little break, he’d be welcomed back happily.

He gives the twins one last squeeze before standing back up and looking at Jay. “Well, I’m home for a while, if that’s okay?” he asked, a little unsure. She had a house full of kids still, even though Lottie was moved out now. Maybe she didn’t want her twenty-six year old son returning to live with her for a bit.

Jay just looks at him with a sympathetic pout, as if she can sense how tired and just unhappy he is. “Course it’s okay, wouldn’t have it any other way. Come get you some food. I made tea this morning, bet it’s nice and cold by now.”

He smiles gratefully at her, and swoops down to pick up both twins in his arms to tote them to the kitchen. They’re quite a bit heavier than before, but their adorable giggles make the slight strain on his arms worth it.

*

The next morning when he wakes up, he finds that he is significantly less tired than he normally is. He’s sure it isn’t thanks to his lumpy old mattress, but rather, the staggering fourteen hours of sleep he got in the quiet basement that was once his makeshift bedroom after his mom surprisingly popped out two kids instead of one back when he was twelve. He was gently forced out of his room upstairs and down into the basement, where his mom bought him a king sized bed at the flea market and an old couch, tv, and desk that was his grandma’s. He’d been so excited to have his own space, two floors away from where everyone else slept. He definitely used that to his advantage.

Louis is glad his mom vehemently refused when he offered to buy them a new house a few years back. This house holds eighteen years worth of memories for him. But he also made sure to pay off the house completely, buy her a brand new car, and fill the kids’ college funds up the rest of the way, even though it left her in tears that Christmas when she opened the card.

After shuffling through his suitcase and throwing on a pair of shorts and a shirt, he follows the smell of bacon and pancakes up the stairs.

When he rounds the corner into the kitchen, he is reminded that he got around to seeing everyone besides Lottie last night, but everyone promised not to ruin the surprise. He just stands there in the doorway, waiting for her to look up from her phone to see him.

“Yeah and this is the color we were thinking of for the kitchen, ugh, if I can find the picture of it,” she says, tapping away on her phone. Everyone sitting around the counter has noticed him, and his mom is trying not to smirk as she washes the dishes and listens to Lottie.

“Can I see?” he decides to ask, watching as her eyes dart to him and grow wide, and her phone topples out of her hand, falling right into her pancake-filled plate.

“What are you doing here?” she shouts as she hops up from her stool and meets him halfway for a hug.

“Just thought I’d come home for a bit, take a break from working.”

“I knew it!” she pulls back and pinches him on the arm. “You hadn’t put anything on your Snapchat story in two days! I knew something was up!”

“That’s why you asked if I knew where he was yesterday morning?” Jay asks with a wrinkled brow. “You kids confuse me with all that stuff.”

Louis just laughs, his mood improved an unbelievable amount just on the second day being home. He’s glad he can stay here as long as he wants without obligations on the other side of the country.

He moves over to the sink where his mom is washing dishes and gently nudges her out of the way. “Have you eaten yet, Mom?” He takes the sponge from her hand and begins scrubbing the bowl in the sink.

She sighs. “No, hon. I’m fine. Let me fix you a plate.”

“Nope.” He gives her a big smile. “Fix yourself one and eat with everyone, I’ll finish this up and then eat.” Louis can see the stunned look a few of his sisters are giving him; he tries to ignore them.

Jay leans forward and kisses him on the cheek. “Thank you, Lou.”

He finishes up washing, and eventually just washes the rest of the dishes as well once his siblings finish breakfast one by one. Louis listens to them chat and laugh, talking about their day, what’s going on in town lately, and how they wish summer wasn’t almost over. He fixes himself a bowl of fruit and some eggs and eats at the counter while he watches Doris and Ernest play with Play-Doh and chats with his mom while she’s scurrying about the kitchen writing out a small grocery list.

“Lou Lou, do you like my flower?” Ernest asks, pointing at his creation, which looks more like a colorful lump of Play-Doh than a flower.

“It’s beautiful, Ernie!” he replies, watching a smile takeover his face.

“What about mine? It’s a tree flower!” Doris shouts from his other side, and upon looking, he tries his hardest not to laugh, because the trunk of that tree looks like something it definitely shouldn't.

“It’s great, babe,” he assures, and meets Jay’s eyes across the kitchen before she turns away to laugh into her hand.

“Lou, do you mind watching the babies while I run to town? I just need to grab a few things from the store and run a few errands. Daisy and Phoebe just left for the lake with their friends and Fizzy’s at work. Do you mind? I can ask Lottie if-”

“I can go for you, if you want? You can enjoy your day with the twins, go out and enjoy the pool.”

“You don’t mind? It would be nice to do that. They always want to go for a swim but we’re always busy or the older girls are out there with friends and not watching them-”

“Go ahead,” he says, cutting her off with a smile. “I paid for it so it could be enjoyed,” he says teasingly. “And I’d love to take a walk around town. It’s been years since I’ve been around. Didn’t leave the house that much when I visited, did I?”

“I don’t suppose you did,” she sighs, looking down at her list. “Well, if you don’t mind.”

“Babies! Do you want to go swimming with Mommy?” Louis asks excitedly.

They cheer and shout various forms of assent, but Doris stops abruptly. “But Lou Lou, we’re not babies. We are big,” she says very seriously with her brows drawn together. And she’s right. They are getting big; he’d missed a lot while he was away.

“You are very right my dear,” he says, picking her up and plopping her down on the ground, then doing the same with Ernest. “You guys go pick out your bathing suits, okay? Mommy will be up to help you in a minute.” He watches as they wander out of the kitchen.

You guys ,” she mocks, laughing at his affronted glare like always. “You’re good with them,” Jay says as she adds to her list.

“They’re great. I missed them, seems I’ve missed a lot,” he sighs.

“Well you’re here now, for however long you want.”

He just smiles in return. “So what do you have me going to buy?”

*

After a much needed shower and change of clothes, Louis is out the door. He spends a moment sitting in his car in the driveway while he reads over the list and tries to remember the rest that his mom told him to get. He supposes he’ll stop at the little grocery store first and get the few things on the list, then stop by the dry cleaners and pick up one of Dan’s suits and Jay’s dresses. Then he’ll go by the post office to drop off a package, and finally he’ll stop by the bakery and put in the order for Lottie’s birthday cake for this weekend.

“Fuck,” he sighs. He knew he was forgetting something. He hadn’t even gotten her a present yet. He’ll have to think of something. Hopefully he’ll be able to find something around here, but he doubts that will happen since there’s not much in the area.

He starts up the car and pulls out of the driveway, weirdly excited. It’s been years since he’s been here. Sure he came home for visits but he rarely left the house, and when he did it was to take his family into the city an hour or so away for dinner or something fun, bypassing the town entirely. When he was young he loved living close enough to town that he could ride his bike to the ice cream shop with his friends.

As he gets closer to Main Street, he’s kind of in a complete daze. Driving into town right now feels just like the days he drove into town when he was sixteen and had just gotten his license. He’d drive in to work every weekend at the diner on Main Street, which is really where everything is—there and the streets surrounding it.

It’s like nothing has changed; sure he can tell that the furniture shop on the corner had a new coat of paint on its brick walls, and a couple of the signs above the stores are newer. But after all these years, they’re still there.

He parks halfway between the grocery store and the dry cleaners so he can deposit the bags in the car before taking the package to the post office down the street and making his stop at the bakery on the corner.

It’s hot, he realizes, as he steps out of the car. And not the kind of hot that it always was in California. This was a smothering, sticky hot that left his body covered in sweat in a matter of a few minutes. He wipes the sweat already accumulating on his forehead and heads inside with his short list of groceries to gather.

While in the store he gets a few stares, but mostly he just gets smiles from older people who look vaguely familiar. He’s used to getting recognized a fair bit out in LA and whenever he traveled anywhere. But here people kind of just know who he is anyway. It’s a small town, so he could have gone into a regular job and he would have been just as well-known. Everybody knows everybody around here. That’s just how it is. When he’s in the post office, the lady in line behind him tells him she liked his last movie, and he thanks her politely. Then she asks how his Momma is doing, and gives him an order to tell her she said hi.

It’s weird to have everyone know his name, not because of his latest movie, but because they know his family and probably know him from his childhood. But it’s been so long he hardly remembers anyone other than his few friends from school and a couple of his mom’s friends. But it’s refreshing, really. He’s used to interactions with people who just want a photo or an autograph, and not really anything more. He supposes there is more to what he missed about this place than just his family after all.

Louis decides to move his car to the other end of the long street, partly because he doesn’t want to walk in the boiling sun, but mostly because he wants to run in the ice cream shop to get a pint or two of ice cream for the twins before he returns home.

When he gets out and walks the short distance to the bakery, it’s the first time he notices a real change. The bakery is nestled between the flower shop and the hardware store, just as it had always been. But it looks like all three of them have been completely remodeled—a stark difference to the new coat of paint and the minor renovations to the other places he’s been today. He remembers the bakery being owned by a friend of his mom’s. They had moved to town Louis’ senior year, so he didn’t know them well. He thinks he remembers her having kids though, maybe one around his age even.

It’s difficult for him to remember much since it’s been eight years since then and the only people he’s kept in contact with here is his family. All his high school friends were spread out across the country now, and he had to delete his Facebook when his PR team swiped his social media accounts upon staring in his first big movie. So, he follows a few of his friends like Liam and Stan on Twitter and Instagram, but he barely gets on there. Decided to just leave all the posting and stuff to his PR team, which didn’t give him too much of a reason to get on other than to see what his siblings were up to. His old friends seem to be doing well, though. Niall had gone to Ireland for a bit after graduation and he remembers seeing a post about him coming back to attend med school, though he can’t remember seeing anything about how that all turned out for him. Louis knows Stan is somewhere up north, had stayed after meeting a girl in college and deciding to marry her. He also knew that Liam was doing something in the music business, likely hopping from city to city much like himself. He wishes they were all better at keeping in touch, but they all spread out so far and got so busy that it seemed impossible. He should really try to catch up with them if he can.

Despite not remembering much, he definitely knows this bakery looked much different. When he steps inside the first thing he notices is that this place looks much more updated and modern than the rest of the places around here. A third of the left wall has been knocked down to sort of merge part of the bakery and flower shop, and the bakery is full of flowers and plants—pots hanging from the ceiling and vines winding up the exposed brick of the whole right wall. When he looks into the flower shop, he can see a bit of the bakery in there, too. There are a few tables where people can sit and eat, and a platter of cookies on the counter where a customer is eyeing a large bundle of sunflowers. It’s like the two shops have been combined, and it’s like nothing he’d seen before.

“Hi, there. Welcome to Gem’s, how can I help you?” he hears a voice ask. Looking around he sees a girl with pin straight, silver blonde hair appearing from behind the counter.

“Uh, I’d like to order a cake?” he says, almost unsure, because this looks more like a coffee shop or café rather than a bakery.

“Awesome! I assume you know what you’d like?” she asks, gesturing to the folded-up piece of paper in his hand.

“Right, right,” he says, taking the couple of steps toward the counter and unfolding the paper. He reads off the specifics to her: vanilla cake with white icing, some kind of flower designs in all different colors, and ‘Happy Birthday Lottie’ on top.

“Sounds great,” the girl says, typing away on the iPad in front of her. “How do you know Lottie, if I may ask?”

He looks at her a little strangely. Louis hadn’t had this problem in a while, someone not knowing who he was. It felt odd. He wasn’t, like, offended or anything—God, that would make him such a dick—but it just wasn’t a familiar feeling.

“I’m, uh, her brother?” he says with a lift of his shoulder.

“I knew you looked familiar!” she nearly shouts. “Louis, right?”

He nods.

“We actually went to high school together. Not for long, really. I came in halfway through the first semester of senior year. But, yeah. I remember you. I’m Gemma,” she says with an offered hand.

Louis laughs a bit and shakes her hand. “Yeah, yeah. The new girl. That’s what everyone called you. I do remember that. Seen you around at a few parties, probably.” He shakes his head. “I think our moms were friends. At least I assume so; she said she was friends with whoever the owner of the bakery in town was a few years back.”

She nods. “Yeah, that was mom. She moved down to Florida last year. Handed over the bakery to me and Harry.”

“Harry?”

“My younger brother,” Gemma says, her head tilting in the direction of the flower shop next door. “He owns the flower shop over there. He bought it when the owner was trying to get rid of it so she could move up north. He used all of his graduation and birthday money and mom paid the rest of it after he told her he didn’t really want to work here with me. So we decided to re-do both shops. We knocked down that part of the wall and made a little entry way into each shop. It was really so each of us could wander over and chat on slow days like today or help on busy ones.” She laughs.

“That’s nice, a great idea aesthetics wise. Love all the flowers and plants everywhere in here.”

“Yeah. Also I can see the cogs turnin’ and you’re not going to remember him from school,” she says with a laugh, and she’s right. He was trying to remember a Harry but the only Harry he’s ever known was an old man that lived on a farm about a mile outside town. “He was a sophomore when we were seniors, so.”

“Ah, okay. Makes sense then.”

Gemma just nods her head. “So, I’m assuming you need this cake by this weekend?”

“Please, yeah. Saturday morning before lunch okay?”

“Perfect,” she says, typing away again on the iPad. “That’ll be one twenty five, unless you want it delivered for an extra ten bucks.”

“That may be good actually, one less thing to worry about.” He laughs and hands her his credit card.

“Alrighty then, we’ll have it to you Saturday around eleven.”

He thanks her with a smile then bites his lip and looks in the direction of the flower shop. It looks empty, but it may be good to get some flowers for Lottie as well, to go with whatever present he decides on.

“Your brother is over there, right?” he asks her. “It’s just, I don’t see anyone and-”

“He is, yeah, he may be in the back but there’s a little bell on the counter that’ll get his attention if so. Go on over, I’d go with you, but...” She nods behind him, and that’s when he notices someone in line behind him.

“I am so sorry,” he stresses, moving out of the way so the woman can step up to the counter.

“It’s all right, I only just got here,” she says politely.

He nods, gives Gemma a smile and a wave and makes his way over to the flower shop.

Upon walking through the entryway, he notices several things. One, this place is much smaller than the bakery next door. There is also music playing. It’s very faint, and he can barely make out the melody, but he can hear it. Also, there are more flowers in here than he’s ever seen in one space before. Stands of flowers line some of the walls, and the entire back wall is painted with chalkboard paint. Flowers and herbs are hanging from it with labels written in white chalk.

There are flowers without their stems lining the entryway to the bakery as well as a twinkling, lit up sign that says ‘eat’ in cursive. It looks like a fairytale in here, strings of lights hanging along the ceiling with strands of what looks to be flowers tied together. The smell is also unbelievable. In a good way, of course. You’d think with this many types of plants and flowers the smell would be overbearing and confusing, but it actually smells really nice.

The counter along the back wall has the same flower strands that the ceiling does. They’re hanging off the edge, flowing down and almost covering up the shop’s name. It’s made of flowers, too, of course, the white contrasting against the black background nicely. ‘The Secret Garden,’ a clever name that definitely fits this place. It’s a bit dark in here, due to the two black brick walls and the other that’s painted black, but the light streaming in from the large front windows sort of make the concrete floor sparkle.

As he approaches the back counter the volume of the music gets louder, and he notices something else. A voice, singing along to a Fleetwood Mac song.

“Well I’ve been afraid of changing…”

Just then he hears a crash followed by the pitter patter of feet on the ground that sounds like a dog. But then he sees it, a flash and black and white darting out from the back door, past him, and to the front of the shop.

Louis whips around to see it, and he sees a tiny dalmatian puppy starting to dig in one of the large potted plants.

“Dots!” he hears a voice shout, then footsteps until someone appears in the doorway. His expression turns from irritated to surprised. “Oh.”

Louis can hardly get his mouth to cooperate even though his brain is shouting at him to say something. But this guy is so… pretty. Like, the prettiest he’s ever seen. He has chocolate brown curls that are nearing shoulder length and he’s wearing a ridiculous fedora type hat that surely only he can make look good. He’s tall, taller than Louis, and his legs go on for days. There’s something familiar about him, though. But he’s sure that if he has seen him before he would have definitely remembered.

He’s brought out of his thoughts when the small dog starts scratching on his leg, making him jump back a tad.

“Hey, hey Dots, no.” The guys crouches down and picks up the dog, wincing as he sees a couple of the scratch marks on Louis’ leg start to draw the tiniest bit of blood.

“Oops,” he says, biting his lip. “I’m so sorry.” He pushes out his bottom lip in a pout.

“Hi,” Louis says dumbly. Great job, Tomlinson, already making an idiot of yourself. He shakes his head and thrusts his hand out. “It’s all right, no harm done. Not much anyway,” he says with a laugh. “I’m Louis.”

The guy returns the handshake with a small smile. “Harry. And this,” he lifts the small dog a tad, “is Dots.”

“Clever name,” Louis says, which makes Harry’s smile grow to reveal dimples. For fuck’s sake, this guy cannot get any cuter.

“Thank you! Do you want a band-aid or something?” he asks, pointing to Louis’ leg, which, now that he has a good look at it, does have a bit of blood on it. But it’s already seemed to dry so a band-aid wouldn’t really be of much use.

“Nah, I’m good. Thank you though. May want to trim this little guy’s nails though.” Louis hesitantly reaches out to pet the dog, who happily accepts.

“Was actually the plan for tonight, a bath and nail trim. A whole spa experience, He certainly won’t be appreciating. Sorry he got ya when they were this long,” he says with a laugh. “Seems to like you though. A lot of the time he runs off to the back when customers come in.”

“He’s very cute. I’ve actually never seen a Dalmatian before.”

“Yeah neither had I before I got him, but I’ve always wanted one. Ever since I was a kid.”

Dots starts to whine a bit and squirm as if he wants to be let down, so Harry plops him back on the floor and he scurries off to the water bowl that's in the back corner of the shop. They both watch him and laugh, and when Harry turns back to look at him there’s a moment when Louis thinks Harry may recognize him, not like Gemma had, from school, but from his movies.

“So, what can I help you with? Who are you buying flowers for?” So he’s not going to mention it then. Louis can’t tell if he prefers that or not.

“Um, my sister Lottie. It’s her birthday this weekend.”

Harry’s face lights up at this. “Lottie’s your sister? Wait, you’re that Louis?”

“I guess?” he says through a laugh.

“She’s one of my best friends,” he says with a smile. “We got close in high school. But I think that was after you left.”

“Must have been, yeah.” Louis nods. “Wait, that’s where I’ve seen you. On her Instagram and stuff. You’re the ‘H’ she talks about then?”

Harry is giggling now, and Louis is trying his hardest to contain his smile.

“Yeah, yeah, I guess I am.”

He realizes that he’s missed more than he thought. He knew Lottie had a friend she referred to as ‘H’ and hung out with a lot, but that’s about all he knew. He’s missed so much of everyone’s lives in the last eight years, and every time he’s reminded of it it's like he can physically feel the pang in his chest.

“Well, yeah I’d like to get her a little something for her birthday. Can you do one of those big flower letter things?”

“Yes!” Harry moves behind the counter and pulls out an iPad like his sister had. “Do you have any specific flowers you’d like? Or maybe a color scheme?”

“Um...” Shit, Louis knew fuck all about flowers. He knew they had meanings, or something. And he definitely didn’t want to get the wrong ones, and he didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of Harry asking him about it either. “Can we do, just like an assortment of them? Like a bunch of different colors and sizes and types? She likes rainbow stuff, so that’d be cool, right?”

Harry nods as he types. “Yeah, that’d be sick. She does love rainbow stuff.”

“Cool. You think this could be done by Saturday?” he asks hopefully.

“Yeah, definitely. It’ll be sixty dollars.”

Louis hands him his card and watches as he swipes it.

“Would you like it delivered to her place?”

“Uh, well I just ordered a cake from Gemma and got it to be delivered on Saturday-”

“I can bring it over with the cake then, if you want. I do most of the bakery deliveries anyway,” he says with a shrug.

“Really? That’d be awesome, do I need to pay extra for it?”

“Nah, you paid her. It’ll be fine,” Harry tells him with a smile.

“All right, well thank you so much. I’ll see you around?”

Harry nods. “Yeah, see you.”

Louis turns and exits the shop, stopping to make sure Dots doesn’t escape when he opens the door. Then he makes his way across the street to pick up some ice cream, continuing to think of Harry the florist, with his cute dalmatian and even cuter dimples.

*

The following few days were more fun than Louis had had in a while. He played with Ernest and Doris nearly all day each day, amazed at how smart they were getting and how they could do so much on their own now. He begged the older twins to stay home one day they had planned to go hang out with friends so they could all lounge by the pool together. Lottie and Fizzy eventually joined them after they got off work. He drove an hour and a half out of town one day to buy two large soccer goals from the sports store. Dan helped him put them together so they could have a family game of soccer, which really just turned into actual soccer practice for Phoebe and pretending that Doris and Ernest were winning the entire time.

He was exhausted at the end of each day, but it was the good kind of tired, the kind he hadn’t felt in a while. He was too used to the perpetual tiredness he had felt just going through the motions these last few months. It felt good to feel tired, happy, and content all at the same time.

*

“Hold still,” Louis tries to say without the bobby pins he’s holding between his teeth falling out.

“I’m trying,” Daisy says, then moves her head some more. “Dunno why you insisted on braiding my hair, I can do it myself.”

“You were struggling,” he points out.

“Only because I couldn’t reach the bobby pins from here,” she says, wincing when the bobby pin he’s trying to carefully place scratches her scalp.

“Yeah, yeah. This is what big brothers are for though. Used to do this all the time when you were little.”

“I know.” She reaches to adjust the bobby pin when he’s finished. “Thanks Lou.” She stands and hugs him before grabbing her bag and rushing down the stairs.

“Me next! Me next!” Ernest shouts from beside him.

Louis laughs. “All right, munchkin, come here. You definitely have enough hair for a french braid.”

“Yay!” he cheers, and stays as still as a four-year-old can so Louis can do a quick small braid on the top of his head, gathering the rest of it into a tiny bun.

When they finish, they head downstairs because Ernest claims his ‘tummy is yelling at him for food,’ which makes Louis laugh so hard that he gets a confused look from his younger brother.

“I’m not tricking you, Lou Lou! My tummy is hungry!” he says very seriously.

“I know, bud. I know. Let’s get you some food,” he says as he enters the kitchen.

“Oh, well doesn’t your hair look so good, Ernie,” his mom says as she’s cutting two sandwiches into smaller bits.

“I have braids too!” Doris yelps from her spot at the counter.

“We’re matching,” Ernest says as he climbs up his bar stool, Louis standing behind him to make sure he doesn’t fall. His phone vibrates against his leg in his denim shorts, so he pulls it out to see a text from Dan.

“You hungry? I can make you a sandwich, too,” he hears his mom say as he’s reading the text.

“Lou,” she calls again when he doesn’t answer.

“Oh, no. Sorry. Uh, Dan just texted. Said he ran out of nails and asked me if I’d go to the store, pick some up and bring ‘em out to him.”

Jay sighs and shakes her head. “I asked him before he left if he had everything he needed since her house is so far out.”

Louis laughs. “Yeah, well you know us men. We don’t listen.”

“No you don’t.” She rolls her eyes and smiles. “Just get Nana to fix you a sandwich or something while you’re out there. She’ll be happy to see you.”

Louis smiles at that. He’d wanted to go out and see his grandparents earlier this week, but he knew he’d see them this weekend at Lottie’s birthday dinner. He’d called them his second night back here and told them he’d be staying for a while. He thinks his Nana cried a bit at that, even though she denied it.

“Need anything while I’m out? I know Dan is going out to a few more houses before he’s home tonight.”

“Nope, we’re good. Drive safe. You aren’t used to those dirt roads anymore.” She smirks. “Not sure if a California boy can handle ‘em.”

“Oh, shut it.” He shoves her gently. “I’m still a southern boy. Kind of.” He huffs a laugh.

Jay just smiles at him as he grabs his keys from the table and heads for the door.

*

He opens the door of the truck (he refused to take his Range Rover out on dirt and gravel roads) and tosses the bag of nails into the passenger seat, then glances up at the flower shop one more time before admitting defeat.

His short drive into town and the even shorter time he was in the hardware store was spent trying to talk himself out of going back into the flower shop. But he honestly had a good reason to. He wanted to get his grandma some flowers. He hadn’t seen them as much as the rest of his family. Sure, they came over on Christmas and birthdays, but the rest of his time here was spent at his house. He wanted to surprise her, and if he happened to see Harry again, then that was fine, too.

He closes the truck’s door and steps on to the sidewalk, taking a deep breath as he opens the door. Immediately Dots is running toward him from the back, and Harry looks up confused as he chats with a customer. When he spots Louis he smiles, and Louis gives him a little wave as he squats down to pet Dots.

“Hi, Dots,” he coos to the puppy. He’s jumping up on him like he wants Louis to pick him up, so he does. “Would you like to help me pick out some flowers? Yeah?” He laughs, and walks to the nearest display, a box of sunflowers and red roses. He’d never seen them paired up before, but he kind of loves how they look together. And he knows his grandma loves sunflowers. He decides that would be perfect, and looks to the back and sees Harry saying ‘thank you’ to the customer as they enter the bakery.

“Already found another need for flowers?” Harry asks as he walks toward him, and Louis can feel the heat rise to his cheeks.

“Yeah, actually,” he says, setting a now squirming Dots down on the floor before he jumps right out of his arms. “Going out to see my grandparents. Thought I’d bring my Nana some flowers.”

Harry smiles. “That’s sweet of you. What kind were you thinking?”

“I actually really like these,” he says, motioning to the sunflowers and roses.

“Oh! Good! These are really popular right now,” Harry says excitedly. “How big of a bouquet were you wanting?”

“Uh, normal sized?” He laughs. “I don’t know, not like huge, but big enough for her to like put somewhere in her house?”

“Gotcha, one normal-sized bouquet coming up,” he says with a smirk, gathering some flowers and taking them to the back counter.

Louis follows, because he doesn’t know what else to do. “Don’t make fun of me,” he jokes.

Harry lets out a loud cackle, startling Dots who is chewing on a squeaky toy that looks like a potted plant. “I’m not; it’s fine that you didn’t know. Wouldn’t expect anyone to unless they were a regular buyer of flowers. Unless you are, then yeah I am making fun.”

“I’m more of an online flower buyer, just pick them out and pay for them and they’re sent off. So, I guess I’m off the hook there.”

“Guess you are then,” Harry says, as he gathers all the flowers that he cut into a bunch. “Would you like a certain color paper to wrap them in? Or a lot of people like newspaper too, that looks kind of cool.”

“Uh, maybe just white paper? Make the colors pop and whatnot,” he suggests.

“Coming right up,” he says before walking through the door that leads to the back of the shop, coming back only moments later with white paper in hand.

He watches as Harry carefully wraps the bouquet in the paper and begins to tie a ribbon around the bottom. “All righty, that will be twenty dollars. Did you want a card as well?”

“No, that’s okay,” he says as he hands him his credit card.

“Here you go.” Harry hands him his card back and waits until he stuffs his wallet in his pocket to hand him the flowers. “Hope she likes them.”

Louis smiles. “Thank you, I’m sure she will.”

“See you, have a good day.” Harry tells him as he starts to walk out of the shop.

“You too,” he calls over his shoulder.

*

So, maybe Louis underestimated how many people his mom invited to Lottie’s party. He was under the impression that only family and a few of her friends would be here, but as he’s trying to weave through the house full of people, he realizes his mom kind of oversold this.

“Mom,” he says as he enters the kitchen where she’s serving herself some punch.

She looks up at him in a surprised smile. “Hi Lou! Are you having a nice time?”

“Yeah, um. Great. It’s just, there’s kind of a lot of people here," he says quietly, looking around at the ten or so people in the kitchen.

“Oh, darling. Nobody has been hounding you with questions or anything have they? I told them-”

“What? No, it’s just I didn’t realize all these people would be here.”

She looks relieved at his words, Louis could hear her sigh. “I’m sorry, I invited family and some friends. Turns out most of Lottie’s friend’s have their own families now. So they brought their husbands and kids with them,” she says almost sheepishly.

“It’s okay; was just caught of guard a bit.” He shrugs.

“Why don’t you go outside and see if Dan needs any help with the grill?”

“‘Course.” He grabs himself a cup and waits while she pours him some punch. He tries his best to make his way to the door without colliding with someone.

As soon as he’s out the back door, he hears Doris calling his name from the pool, and when he looks over there’s tons of people in the backyard, and enough kids to fill a preschool class.

“Hi Dorie, I see you. You’re doing a good job,” he shouts, and ignores how half the people’s attention turn to him. He turns around to find none other than Harry at the grill instead of Dan. He seems to be focused on flipping the burgers over and doesn’t hear Louis approach.

“Can’t believe Dan turned his grill over,” Louis jokes. “He won’t even let me help most of the time.”

Harry nearly jumps out of his skin, turning to face him with wide eyes and his hand that’s gripping the tongs to his chest. “Louis! You scared the shit outta me!”

Louis lets out a loud cackle. “Sorry, sorry. Didn’t mean to.”

Harry gives him a dimpled smile. “Yeah, Dan actually lets me help whenever I’m over. He just ran up the road to the gas station to get a bag of ice.”

“Oh.” He could have gone to do that when he ran to town to get ice cream an hour ago. Also, did Harry just imply that he comes over to the house often? “So, you’re pretty good at this then?” he asks, motioning to the grill.

“Yeah, I love cooking.”

“I’m fucking horrible at it, ‘s why I always ate out in LA.”

Harry continues flipping the burgers, but there was an intensity to his face that let you know he was listening. It was something he noticed the first time they met, that Harry talked to you and paid attention to you in a way that made you feel like you were the only person in the room. “I suppose you could get away with it out there, being in a city in all. If you tried that out here you really only have about five options unless you drive to another town.”

Louis laughs. “Yeah, yeah. It was all right. Lots of those healthy restaurants, too, so I guess eating out all the time wasn’t too bad. Definitely missed home cooked meals, though.”

Harry looks up from where he’s placing some of the cooked burgers on a plate. “Jay’s a wonderful cook, so I bet you did miss it. Hey, would you mind running this plate in there to her so she can put ‘em in buns?”

“Sure.” Louis grabs the plate from Harry, hoping that his intake of breath when their hands brush goes unnoticed. Why is Harry having this effect on him? Louis had never been one to be falling all over himself for a guy, but if he doesn’t rein it in soon that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

He takes the burgers in to his mom, who thanks him, then he decides he might as well have fun with all the kids. He doesn’t really wanna be stuck talking to all Lottie’s friends. Sure, they’re probably lovely people but he doesn’t want to deal with trying to talk to them knowing that they want to ask him the million-dollar question, “why’d you come back?”

He dashes down the stairs, switches his shorts out for swim trunks and goes out the front door instead of the back to avoid all the people. Louis takes off his shirt as he rounds the corner of the house and surprises, well everyone, as he runs up onto the diving board and does a cannonball into the pool. When he comes up and breaks the water’s surface, it’s to loud yells and Phoebe trying to push his head back under.

Louis spends time with all the kids for a while, playing sharks and minnows and Marco Polo. He tries to sway the conversation when a kid says he thinks he saw him on the TV before, suggesting the older kids do swim races while he plays in the shallow end with Doris and Ernest. Soon enough it’s time to eat and all the kids groan, but eventually get out to sit around the tables set up outside.

Of course when Harry comes back outside, helping Jay carry the ice cream, someone had taken his seat. And the only empty one is beside Louis.

“Nice swim trunks. I think I have the same ones in a different color,” he says, and when Louis looks up from his plate, he’s wearing a small smirk and Louis instantly wishes he’d put his t-shirt back on.

“Thanks. They’re kind of old. Mom got them for me a few years back when I had the pool put in.”

“That was nice of you,” Harry says with a soft smile.

Louis laughs a bit uncomfortably. “Was the least I could do. Wouldn’t let me buy a new house or anything.”

Their little bubble that seemed to be around them pops when Fizzy chucks a grape at him and hits him in the nose. “Hey,” he says, reaching for it where it fell on his plate of food. “That was rude.”

“I’ve been trying to get your attention.” He slightly blushes at that. “Wanted to ask if you’re gonna be… around for my birthday. And if you wanna go to the lake house.”

Louis looks at her, confused. “Of course I will be, that’s only in like, a week or so.”

“Just checking. I invited a few friends, and Lottie and Tommy are coming, too. Don’t worry though, my friends know to be cool.”

Louis just nods at her, kind of hating that his family always have to give people a disclaimer before hanging out with them. But he’s excited now. Going to the lake is something they used to do every summer. They had a lake house that his mom shared with three of her friends. They’d all bought it before any of them had started having kids, and still shared it to this day.

They all sing ‘Happy Birthday,’ and then the kids decide to play soccer for a bit before their parents decide it’s time to leave. He helps his mom start to clean up, and of course Harry joins in. The guy is just too nice. But not in the forced or fake way. Like he’s just genuinely this nice. It’s almost unnerving.

Once everyone leaves, he helps Phoebe and Daisy get the younger twins bathed and put to bed, then promises them that he will take them shopping tomorrow for school clothes if they stay up in their rooms quietly and don’t bother their mom since she’s had a long day. They happily agree (of course they do), so Louis heads back down to help his mom finish cleaning up.

“Hey, didn’t realize you were still here," he says uncertainty as he enters to kitchen to find his mom, Lottie, and Harry standing around the kitchen.

“Wouldn’t turn down a glass of wine,” Harry says, holding up the solo cup in his hands, making them all laugh.

“How very classy of you three, drinking wine out of red solo cups," he says as he walks over to the bottle and pours himself some.

“If you think I’m doing dishes after the day I’ve had, you’ve lost it,” his mom tells him, causing Lottie to giggle.

“Yeah, what was the deal with this party, Lottie?” Louis asks. “Not to be a dick, but you’re twenty-two, not twelve.”

Lottie just gives a tight-lipped smile, looking down into her cup, and Harry looks a bit uncomfortable. “Everyone seemed to have a good time, didn’t they?” she asks him, and yeah they did, he guesses.

“Well yeah, but-”

“That’s all that matters. I don’t need a fancy party or anything. That’s not me and you know that. Tommy took me to dinner last night in the city after surprising me with a puppy. And I had lunch with some friends two days ago. That’s enough for me,” she tells him, making him feel instantly like a jerk. Because she’s right, he does know that she never really liked a big flashy party. Even her wedding was quite low-key, held in a big open field a couple miles outside town.

“Sorry,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “I know, I just-”

“You’re used to Los Angeles and the kind of people there. I get it, Lou, no big deal.” Lottie gives him a smile, rounding the counter to throw her cup away and bring him in for a hug. “Thank you for the flowers. They were beautiful.”

“Oh, you’re welcome. Yeah, and your other present should be here in a few days as well.”

She just shakes her head. “Didn’t have to get me anything.”

Louis laughs. “Well I did, and you’re gonna love it.” She just rolls her eyes and smiles.

“Come on, Styles,” she calls over her shoulder as she makes her way through the kitchen doorway. “You’re taking me home. My husband up and left me. The man forgot dog food yesterday when he went to the pet supply store so he had to run off before they closed.”

They all laugh at that, and Harry throws back the rest of the wine in his cup, Louis trying to avoid looking at the way his Adam’s apple bobs with his swallows.

“Thanks for a great time, Jay," he says as he hugs her and kisses her cheek.

“Thank you for coming, darling. You were a big help as always,” she tells him, which makes him turn even pinker than the wine had him already.

“Bye, Louis. See you around,” Harry says, going in for a hug before Louis even knows what’s happening.

The embrace ends quickly, but the smell of Harry’s cologne lingers. As does the itch on his nose from where Harry’s curls gently brushes it. “Yeah, see you,” Louis struggles to get out, his voice sounding strange to his own ears. He watches as Harry walks down the long hall and out the front door, the sound of it closing causing him to startle out of his daze. He turns around to find his mom wiping down the counter with a rag, a strange smile on her face.

“What?” he asks her.

“What?” she copies, smiling wider and tossing the rag over the edge of the sink. “Harry’s a nice boy, isn’t he?”

“I guess?”

Jay just smiles knowingly.

*

“Lou,” Jay says with a disapproving tone to her voice. “You didn’t have to go and do that. We aren’t broke. I can buy them school clothes.”

Louis lets a small smile take over his face. He and the girls didn’t get home until late last night. They’d seen that a theatre downtown in the city was playing a new movie sooner than the one near town was, so Louis agreed to go see it with them. Everyone was already asleep when they returned home since he texted his mom not to wait up for them. He steps forward and gathers her into a hug, hearing her place the spatula on the counter where she was making pancakes for breakfast.

“I know you have money, Momma. We didn’t spend too much, just a little splurging. I’ve got the money to spend, might as well spend it on my family.” He squeezes her tight, and hears her heave a sigh.

He meant it, too. His multi-picture deal with Paramount and the few tv show and lesser-known movie appearances allowed him to have more money than he had ever imagined. And sure, he spent quite a lot over the years on the typical things: a huge house, two cars, nice clothes, constant partying with his friends, and always sending to various charities and of course, home. But in the last year or so he kind of… stopped the useless spending. It wasn’t really a conscious decision. He just found himself spending less and less unless it was on alcohol and vacations. Funny how both of those were so he could get away, even for a little bit.

“Thank you,” she says as she pulls away and goes back to flipping pancakes.

“Think I’m gonna go grab breakfast at Gem’s; been craving a chocolate croissant," he says as he steps into his Vans by the back door.

“Oh yeah, not like I’m slaving away making breakfast or anything,” his mom teases, making him laugh.

“You’re going to have a kitchen full of kids once they smell those pancakes.”

“I know, I know, go on,” she says, and Louis rounds the counter to grab his keys and kiss her on the cheek. “You’re going over to Lottie’s today aren’t you? Help her rearrange furniture or something?”

“Yeah, I’ll be back later. Love you.”

*

“How’s your coffee?” Louis asks, looking over the menu board at Gem’s. “Is it any good?”

“It is. And it’s quite frankly your only choice unless you wanna make the drive two towns over to Dunkin’,” Gemma replies. “Or you could go get some from the diner, but at that point you might as well just make your own at home. No flavor in that stuff.”

Louis laughs. “Well I guess I’ll have a chocolate croissant and an iced vanilla coffee, please.” Louis says reaching for his wallet and handing her his card.

“You got it.” She swipes his card and hands it back with a receipt. “It’ll be about three minutes.”

He nods and even though his eyes immediately go toward the entryway to the flower shop, he tells himself three minutes of waiting time is not an excuse to go talk to Harry. No matter how much he wants to. He takes a seat at a table beside the window and looks out as the sun is finishing its rise and the small town starts coming to life. There’s a rusty old pickup truck parked across the street, three dogs in the bed of it barking at a man and his daughter walking by. The little girl looks to be begging his father to pet them, because he lifts the girl up and lets her pet the dogs.

Louis sees a little boy and his mom sitting outside the furniture store a little ways down the street. They’re just rocking back and forth in the rocking chairs, and it reminds him of when he and his mom used to do that. He would beg her to just stop and sit for a minute whenever they walked by. They could have been on their way anywhere, to the store, the post office, to the hair salon, anywhere. And his mom would stop every time. He smiles to himself at the memory. And then a couple of kids on bikes speed by on the sidewalk right outside of the bakery, making him jump.

He hears a laugh right next to him, and turns to see Gemma giggling as she sits his coffee and croissant down on the table.

“Stop laughing. I zoned out,” he says.

“Oh yeah, looking at the great view?” she asks, playful sarcasm apparent.

“It is, actually. You get tired of seeing nothing but palm trees and perfect people after a while.” He takes a sip of his coffee. “Thank you. This is good.”

She just smiles at him with a small nod before returning to her place behind the counter.

Louis turns back to look out the window as he eats his breakfast and sips his coffee. He randomly decides to take out his phone and take a photo of his view, even though not much can be seen in the picture due to the sun peeking over the low buildings and shining right into his phone’s camera lens. He’s sort of on autopilot as he brings up Instagram and crops the image, stopping to think if this is a good idea. He hasn’t posted anything on social media in a while, his last few posts done by his social media manager a while back to promote his last movie.

He clicks post after a minute of thought, figuring the sun is shining too brightly for anything to be made out in the picture anyway. There’s no way anyone can find him from the picture alone, and he made sure early on in his career to be very vague about mentioning where he was from. ‘The south’ he’d always answer, as if his accent didn’t give that away already no matter how much effort he put into getting rid of it.

Comments and likes come flooding in, a lot of people asking where he is and where he’s been. He sighs and pockets his phone, gathering up the trash on his table and walking it to the trashcan nearby. He hears barking followed by the hushed voice he can only assume is Harry. He stands there for a moment before giving in and walking through to the flower shop.

Harry is watering plants, traveling from plant to plant with a watering can and an energetic puppy on his heels.

There’s music playing again, a song he’s never heard but Harry is humming along and Louis is thankful that he’s facing the other way because he’s finding it quite difficult not to smile. When Harry starts to move to the next plant, Louis quickly brings his coffee up for a drink to give his lips something to do other than smile at this endearing boy. The ice moving around causes Dots to hear him though, turning around quickly and making a beeline for him, barking loudly.

Harry whips around, ready to reprimand him but when he sees Louis squatting down petting him, a surprised smile overtakes his face. “Hi,” he says, voice soft and a little scratchy due to the early morning.

“Hi,” Louis replies with a smile. “Was just grabbing breakfast and heard some barking. Thought I’d drop by to say hi.” It’s not a lie. He did hear barking, but that was just the excuse he let himself use. He was going to come over here anyway.

“Well thank god you did, that little menace has been nipping at my ankles for the past ten minutes while I’m trying to water these plants. So, thanks for distracting him,” Harry says with a laugh as he moves toward the plants lining the front windows of the shop.

“You bring him to work everyday with you?” Louis asks, scratching the top of Dots’ head as the dog lays across his leg where he’s sat on the floor.

“I do, yeah. Feel a bit guilty leaving him home all day and I haven’t got a fence up in the yard yet. And all the customers seem to love him anyway, so...” Harry smiles at him when he says the last bit, almost as if the comment was pointed. It causes Louis’ cheeks to turn slightly red.

“You live close by?” he asks before he can stop himself. But he supposes around here it’s not such a weird question as it would be anywhere else. Here everybody knows where everybody lives.

“Kind of, yeah. Don’t suppose you know where my grandparents lived? The farm out past the mayor’s place?”

Louis pauses for a minute to think. He remembers where the Mayor’s house is, and he remembers going on a field trip in fifth grade to a farm out that way. “I think I d- wait!” He laughs, cutting himself off. “Cox’s Farm?”

Harry joins in on his laughing. “Yep, that’s the one.”

“God, I went on a field trip there when I was about ten years old. Man, we must have laughed the entire time about that name," he says, shaking his head. “Especially when your grandpa introduced himself as ‘Harry Cox,’ I take it you were named after him then?”

“Yeah, yeah. Definitely got a better last name, though. Anyway, it’s not really a farm anymore. All the animals are gone. Pop sold ‘em off way before he died. But he left the farm to us.” He walks behind Louis, turning on the string lights as he passes. “Me and Gem,” he clarifies. “She and her husband Michal live in the house and I had the barn all fixed up for me to live in.”

“You… live in a barn?” Louis asks carefully as he stands up, tosses his empty cup in the trash and follows Harry to the back counter.

Harry huffs a laugh. “Well it’s not really a barn anymore. It’s actually really nice lookin’ inside. Gem’s a bit jealous; it’s definitely more… updated than the farmhouse.”

“Well, that’s good then. That barn was pretty big so I’m sure you’ve got yourself a nice place. Did ya live in the apartment upstairs while it was being worked on?” Louis remembers asking his mom why there were people in the tops of some of the stores one night when they were watching the Christmas parade and there were people watching out the window of their apartments. He used to want to live in one of them; thought it would be cool at the time. That was way before his dreams tripled in intensity.

“Yeah, yeah. Been meaning to get flyers up or something to rent the place out. Could deal with the extra cash, maybe be able to hire someone else full-time around here.”

“It’s only you here?” he asks him. Louis hardly ever sees that many people here. But he assumes he gets good enough business. This is the only florist around since the one the next town over shut down, allowing Harry to have around three town’s worth of customers.

“Full time, yeah. Normally have a high school kid come around asking for an after school job once school starts. Might need someone else full time since wedding season is here.” Harry’s been periodically looking at the calendar he’s pulled out, marking something here and there as he looks at the iPad laying on the counter.

He doesn’t know why he says it; it’s a bit like word vomit, the words just tumbling out of his mouth before his brain has time to catch up with him. “I can help out.”

Harry’s head jerks up. “Really?” Harry shakes his head, eyebrows furrowing. “I mean… really? You’d wanna work here?”

“Well. I mean...” Louis struggles to find the words, stumbling over himself a bit to respond. “Like, you wouldn’t have to actually hire me and pay me. But, ‘m already kind of getting bored of not doing much. The kids start back at school next week, and Mom goes back to work. So, won’t have anything to do, really.” He laughs uncomfortably, looking down to pick at the skin around his nails. An old nervous habit.

“I’d love the help, but Louis I have to pay you, I can’t just… not.”

“Not to sound like a snob, but I really don’t need the money.” Louis’ nearly gnawing a hole into his bottom lip now. Why did he have to go and do this, now he’s sounding like an asshole and putting Harry in an uncomfortable situation, and-

“Louis,” Harry sighs, “it’s very sweet of you to want to help out. But I have to pay you, okay? Otherwise I’ll just feel shitty. You can have minimum wage, not a cent more if that helps?” he suggests with a smile. His attempt at a joke does make him feel a bit better.

Louis groans. “Fine.” He lets out a long, dramatic sigh. “Any local charities you’d recommend?” Louis asks with a huge smile that only grows larger when he sees Harry’s dimpled grin.

*

Louis doesn’t in fact make it to Lottie’s to help her move furniture around. Partly because she was called into work on her day off because of a “hair color emergency,” and partly (mostly) because she can’t make up her mind of where she wants everything to go and Louis isn’t about to spend an entire day dragging her giant L-shaped couch around her living room.

He doesn’t make it to her house until several days later when she conveniently has a new dresser, closet organizer and headboard for Louis to help with. After hours of moving things around, they are lounging on her couch drinking iced tea and eating sandwiches.

Louis sighs loudly, getting only an exaggerated frown and upturned nose in response before Lottie turns up the volume on the TV. Which offends Louis immensely.

“Don’t be a dick; ask me what’s wrong.”

Lottie sighs and mutes the TV. “What’s wrong Louis?”

“I got a job.”

She sits up at that, turning to look at him quite seriously. “Have you told anyone else?”

Louis takes another sip of his tea, not yet noticing her change in demeanor. “Nope.”

“When are you leaving?”

That gets his attention. He looks over at her, confused. “What? Why would I leave?”

“Well you can’t exactly- Wait.” She pauses, looking at him with a wrinkled brow. “It’s filming here? What kind of movie is being filmed here ?”

Oh, oh . She thinks he means an acting gig. She actually thinks he’s up and leaving after he said he was staying for a while. “No, no. Lottie, no. It’s here, not like.” He stops, groaning in frustration. “I got a job at the flower shop. With Harry.”

“You what?” she all but shouts. “Why would you… oh.” She stops and gives him a contemplative look.

“Oh what?”

A slow smirk takes over her face. “You like him.”

Louis groans. “I do not. Lottie I barely even know him, how can I-”

“Save it, Lou. I know how you are when you like a boy. Remember when you Facetimed me a couple years back and I just knew you liked that guy, what was his name? I don’t remember. But then the next day there was an article in People about the two of you getting coffee together! I just knew it!”

“Lottie, that isn’t... you know that’s not how that shit works.”

“Yes, I know. Fake dating or whatever. Still doesn’t mean you didn’t like him.”

“Okay, yeah. But.”

She cuts him off. “Just like you like Harry.” She smiles real big at that, like she’s proud of herself or something.

Louis gets quiet. He leans forward, sits his glass down on the coffee table and throws himself down sideways in her lap.

“He is cute.” He sticks out his bottom lip and looks up at her, watching as she shakes her head.

With a wide grin, Lottie just says, “This is going to be fun.”

*

“I know Lottie and Tommy are going to be there too, but please make sure nobody gets into trouble. I can’t believe she invited nine people.” Jay sighs as she rearranges the things piled in the back of Louis’ Range Rover to fit the cooler. “Thought she said four.”

“Momma,” he laughs, “it’s going to be fine. It’s only for the weekend, and there’s going to be three adults. Everything is going to be okay; it’ll be fun!”

Jay looks skeptical, but hugs him anyway. “Drive safe. Have fun. Text me when you get there. Lottie and Tommy should have already done the grocery run.”

“All right, I’ll let you know when I get there. Love you.” He kisses her cheek then reaches up to close the trunk.

The drive there takes about an hour, and as he’s driving he’s surprised that he doesn’t have to really look at his GPS. It’s like muscle memory as winds down the curvy, tree-lined back roads. He stops at a gas station when he’s nearly there to grab ice and drinks for the cooler, then makes his way through the small road leading up to the lake house. It’s surrounded by trees, the long drive and front of the house shrouded in shade with only a small amount of light peeking through.

He recognizes Lottie’s car immediately, and another pickup truck parked right next to her. Must be one of Fizzy’s friends, then. He gets out and grabs his bag holding his clothes and everything he’ll need this weekend then rounds the car and grabs the cooler and begins rolling it to the house.

When he opens the door, he’s hit with a wave of nostalgia. Everything, right down to the smell, is exactly the same as it has always been. The old wood flooring of the foyer and hallway leads out to the lounge. From where he’s standing, he can see all the way to the big glass doors leading out to the back deck, one of which is open, letting music stream inside. The lake looks as if it’s shimmering, with the sun hitting it just right.

He remembers arriving here every summer when he was a kid, and every time, as soon as he had one foot in the front door, he would take off through the house, out the back doors and down the stairs of the deck. He would run until he reached the dock and plop himself down right on the end of it. The thought of it still makes him smile.

Instead of doing that, though, he takes a left to roll the cooler into the kitchen, seeing Lottie about to walk out into the lounge.

“Hey,” he says, setting the cooler down with a thud.

Lottie spins around, one hand clutching her chest and the other holding a bowl of fruit she presumably just finished cutting up. “Jesus, Lou. You scared the shit out of me.”

“Sorry,” he laughs, sitting his back down as well. “How long you two been here?”

“Oh, just about an hour.” She smiles, though it’s more of a smirk and she’s looking at him like she knows something he doesn’t.

“Nice, some of Fiz’s friends already here?” He takes a few steps closers to her and picks a grape from the bowl and pops it in his mouth, ignoring her attempt to slap his hand away.

“Nope, they’ll be here in an hour or two. They decided to use one car, so they all met up so whichever one has the huge SUV could drive over.”

“So who’s truck-”

“Lottie,” he hears a voice call out, drawing out the end of her name, “did you cut yourself or something? What’s taking so long?”

Louis steps to the side to peer out into the lounge, and as soon as he sees him he knows he’s fucked. Harry Styles is standing there, leaning on the open doorway in tiny yellow shorts and nothing else. He’s covered in tattoos, which is what immediately catches his attention. Louis’ seen the ones on his arms but, fuck. They cover his torso, a butterfly on his stomach, laurels on his lower stomach and two birds on his chest. And is that a tiger on his thigh? He’s glad Harry isn’t looking at him; rather, he’s turned with his head facing the dock, probably talking to Tommy.

Louis takes a deep breath and steps back so he’ll be out of Harry’s view if he were to turn back around. He looks at Lottie with wide eyes, a scowl forming on his face when he sees the delight on hers.

“No, I’m good, I’m on my way out now Harry .” She calls out, eyes not leaving Louis’.

He can hear Harry reply, but he doesn’t catch it, too busy staring her down, thoughts of Harry and his long legs, golden tan, and inked skin already circulating in his mind. Why is he here? And more importantly, why didn’t anyone think to let him know?

“What is he doing here?” he asks, whispering viciously.

“Why are you whispering? He can’t hear you.” She laughs. “I invited him, partially because of the little secret you shared with me, and also because his plans this weekend got cancelled.”

“Why do you hate me?” Louis whines.

“I don’t, you idiot. It’ll be fun. You know you would’ve been bored with just me and Tommy and all those teenagers here.”

“I was going to relax .”

“You still can,” she adds.

“Like fuck I can, have you seen him? Why is he already almost naked? Jesus Christ, I’m going to need to start a little early.” He bends down to pop the top of the cooler open and grabs a can of beer.

Lottie just laughs at him and his pain, something she often does, ever since they were little and Louis fell off the ladder to the treehouse and scraped his back up. Not much has changed.

“You have fun with that, then.” She turns and starts walking away. “Join us after you put your things away.”

He groans, looking at the beer in his hands and deciding against it. Alcohol may get him in trouble, actually. And he can’t have that. He tosses it back in the cooler and grabs his back to go and find a room.

The house has four bedrooms, three guest and one master. He assumes Lottie has already snagged the master for her and Tommy. A peek in the room confirms this. He strolls down the hall to the two other bedrooms on the floor and finds them empty. Hm, so Harry must have picked the room just up the stairs at the end of the hall, which was always Louis’ favorite because it had the best bed. It was technically the attic, but was redone into a small bedroom. He sighs and tosses his bag in one of the other rooms and quickly changes his denim shorts for swim trunks-ones that were not a size too small and barely covering his legs.

When he makes it back downstairs, he takes a minute to look around the lounge. Everything is in the exact same place it was years ago: the beautiful fireplace that would keep the house warm on those cool summer nights, the huge couch that he and all his siblings would pile on to watch movies after spending the entire day out on the lake, the huge mirror in the corner of the room they would all stand in front of to inspect their sunburnt backs, the god-awful zebra hide rug that’s been there since the husband of one of his mom’s friend’s got back from a hunting trip in Africa. It has always made Louis feel guilty to even step on, so he steps around it and braces himself before he steps out on the deck.

The first thing he sees is Harry’s neon yellow clad ass sticking right up in the air as he’s bent over, reaching for something under the wooden swing that Lottie is sitting on. She has her legs up in the swing and as soon as she hears Louis mutter an expletive under his breath, she meets his eyes and bursts into laughter.

Which apparently startles Harry so much he bumps his head on the bottom of the swing. “Ow, fuck. Lottie you scared me.”

He wiggles his way out from underneath the swing, holding up a grape in victory. “Found it! Oh.” He meets Louis’ eyes and Louis watches as his cheeks turn pink. “Hi, Louis! Didn’t know you were here already.”

“Yep,” Louis chokes out, attempting to cover it with a cough. He’s glad he has his sunglasses on or else Harry would have seen exactly where his eyes were when he turned around. “Didn’t know you’d be here at all.” And, fuck . That didn’t come out right.

Harry looks taken aback, opening and closing his mouth before turning to look at Lottie, who butts in.

“Yeah, well I invited him yesterday, the more the merrier, right Lou?” she asks, a pleasant tone in her voice but her eyes are glaring.

“Right, right. Of course,” Louis agrees. “Now I don’t have to be the third wheel with these two.” He gestures to Lottie and Tommy, who’s sitting back down in the swing after grabbing a handful of strawberries. “Or be that weirdo that tries to hang with Fizzy and her friends. So, actually I’m relieved you’re here.” He puts on a smile that he hopes doesn’t look as forced as it is.

Harry smiles softly at him in response and in an attempt not to blush and smile back like an idiot, he turns and grabs a piece of watermelon, then plops down a reasonable distance away from Harry on the bench that surrounds the entire deck.

“So, are we all going to go to the supermarket for food or are we doing rock, paper, scissors for who gets to stay?” Lottie asks.

“Mom said you two already went.”

“Yeah, we were but we just came by here first, so... Someone needs to go.”

“I’ll go. I’m picky about the meat I get for burgers,” Tommy says, getting up and walking to slide on his shoes that are by the door.

“Well, let’s do this to see who’s going with.” Lottie leans forward, holding out her hand and resting her right fist on her palm.

After she lost the first round with Louis and he denied her request for best two out of three, she tied two rounds with Harry before losing the third. Lottie groans, Harry cheers, giving Louis a high-five, which he accepts with a “Congrats. She sucks at it, though, dunno why she suggested it. Beating her quite easy.” However, he then comes to the realization that he will be left alone with Harry at the house while she and Tommy were gone for at least an hour. Shit.

Lottie seems to come to the same conclusion, and smirks at Louis as she passes him to slip her flip-flops on. “Have fun, guys. Why don’t you go down to the dock before it gets way too hot not to be in the water.”

Harry perks up at that, looking to Louis with excitement written all over his face. This can’t be too bad right? It’s just a silly crush and Louis’ had a fair amount of those. It’ll be fine, he’s an adult who can handle himself even when the sight of Harry half-naked with a dimpled back? makes him want to melt into a puddle of pathetic goo.

“Yeah, we can go hang out down there,” Louis tells Harry. To Lottie, he says, “Text Fizzy and tell her y'all are going out and see if they want anything. Oh, and will you text mom I got here okay? I left my phone in my shorts.”

“Y’all, huh?” she teases with a smirk, causing him to roll his eyes. “Okay, no problem. Bye guys, I’ll lock the front door, but Fiz has a key,” Lottie says as she turns away to walk inside the house.


Louis just nods in response, taking another large bite of watermelon so he doesn’t have to speak as soon as she leaves them alone.

Harry stands up abruptly, and walks the couple of feet toward the door before turning around. “Want a water or something to take down there?”

Louis just nods, trying to chew and swallow the fruit quickly. “Sure, yeah. That’d be great, thanks. I’ll head down there and put the big table umbrella up so there’s some shade.”

“Okay.” Harry smiles before turning to go inside.

Louis tries—and fails—not to look at Harry’s ass, but when he’s wearing tight, bright yellow shorts it’s quite difficult. It’s much more prominent than when he’s wearing denim shorts or skinny jeans. Not that he’s looked before. Of course not. He sighs, resigned to the fact that he’s going to have to control his eyes lest he make Harry uncomfortable. Louis gets up and ambles down the stairs and across grass until he reaches the dock. It’s a rather large one, bigger than most for a lake house around here.

There’s a long strip that goes all the way out and two large sections on either side that are set back a bit so when you run and jump the splash doesn’t reach. One of the sections has a large table and chairs and the other holds a speedboat that hardly gets used by his family. Or, used to. Maybe it gets more use now with Dan able to drive it.

He steps up on the raised platform that holds the table and leans over to let the umbrella open, ducking out of the way quickly enough so he doesn’t get hit in the face with it. Rookie mistake, that is. Then he walks to the end of the dock and sits on the edge, sighing as he places his feet in the cool water.

Even though it’s not nearly the hottest time of day, Louis can already feel sweat start to accumulate on his back. Fuck it, he decides as he takes his shirt off and turns around to toss it over the rail of the dock. He holds his breath until it makes it over, clearly not thinking it through that that shirt was well over three hundred dollars.

Louis hears footsteps on the dock not a minute later, and soon enough Harry is plopping down next to him and handing him a water.

“Thanks,” Louis says quietly, switching the top off to take a long drink.

“No problem. I brought some towels and sunscreen as well just in case we want to go for a swim.”

When Louis looks over at him he’s smiling all lopsided and he’s got his own pair of sunglasses on. A pair tons more ridiculous than his aviators.

“What kind of glasses are those, Styles?” he says with a laugh. “Gucci? Really? You look like an alien or something.”

Harry tits his head and furrows his brow. “No… oh!” He laughs, and is he really trying to kill Louis with his dimples? Since when were dimples so fucking cute on someone other than a child ? “I got these at the mall for like eight bucks. I don’t have hundreds of dollars for Gucci sunglasses like you.” He giggles.

Louis knows it’s a joke and he didn't mean anything by it. But he can’t help but feel like he was making fun of him. “Wouldn’t drop that much on glasses. Clothes and shoes, maybe. But not glasses.” He turns to look back out over the water, moving his feet back and forth in the water.

“Hey.” He feels Harry’s nudge his thigh with his hand. “I didn’t mean anything by that, not anything, like, mean.”

He looks back at him and Harry looks like he just saw someone kick a puppy. He’s biting his lip as he reaches over and squeezes Louis’ hand, almost for emphasis.

“No, it’s fine. I’m just.” He sighs out. “Just used to people making asshole comments I guess.”

“I’m sorry.”

Louis huffs out a laugh. “Not your fault, Styles. And I know you weren’t trying to be a dick.”

He hears Harry sigh faintly, which makes him smile. Was he really that worried Louis was mad? Louis tries not to, but he looks down at where Harry’s hand is still on his, but something else catches his attention.

“Oh my god.” He moves his hand, causing Harry to jerk his away. Louis reaches down and traces where the ‘LT’ is carved into the wood of the dock.

“How long has that been there?” Harry asks.

It’s been… so long. He remembers it was their first summer down here, when he was sitting on the dock waiting on his mom to slather all the kids with sunscreen so they could come down. He wasn’t allowed to get in the water without an adult, so he found a stick and began carving his initials. Eventually, when his mom came down she tried to scold him for ‘already leaving his mark here,’ but she was smiling anyway. That was so long ago. He was eight when they came down here so that was…

“Sixteen years,” he answers softly. “Can’t believe it’s still here.”

“Wow, that’s a long time.”

“Yeah.” He slowly shakes his head in shock. He sighs, glancing up at Harry, who’s already looking at him. He laughs uncomfortably. “It‘s been a while since I’ve been here.”

“You know what we should do, then?” Harry asks with a smirk.

Louis hesitates. “What?”

“Come on.” He stands up and turns to walk away, so Louis hops up to follow.

Before he knows what’s happening, Harry spins around and yells out a “just kidding.” Before Louis can even react, Harry grabs Louis’ hand and runs off the end of the dock, tugging Louis right into the lake.

They both hit the water with a loud splash, Louis’ hand going up to prevent his sunglasses from coming off and sinking to the bottom.

They break the surface quickly, the water right here only around eight feet deep. Harry is cackling loudly, and Louis can’t help but laugh along with him.

“You little shit!” Louis shouts, splashing water in his direction.

Harry’s laughter goes from cackling to coughing, likely due to swallowing water. “Tell me that wasn’t amazingly executed!”

“I mean it totally was, but you’re still a shit for it.”

“The water feels nice, though. Was getting too hot.”

Louis hums in agreement, moving his body so he’s floating on the surface. It is nice. The sun has had enough time to warm up the water and he’d been getting a bit sweaty even though he’d taken his shirt off.

They float around on their backs and talk about random things. He learns a lot about Harry, like his favorite band—Fleetwood Mac, which was unsurprising since every time Louis has heard music around Harry it was always a Fleetwood Mac song, how before he and his family moved down here from up north he never really liked the city much, and that while Gemma cried for weeks before the move, he was just excited. Harry also tells him that he went to a community college nearby to get a degree in teaching while he was working in the flower shop. While he was trying to get hired at a school, the owner decided to sell the shop. Harry had gotten really attached to the place by that point, so he used everything he had, plus money from his mom, to buy the shop instead of letting it go to a random stranger. And the rest was history.

Louis also decides to share a bit with Harry, though he doesn’t typically like to talk about himself with people he doesn’t really know. But with Harry it feels different, like he’s genuinely interested in what Louis has to say, and he isn’t looking for material to sell to anyone who will listen and he isn’t judging him, either. Which, while in L.A., were two things that happened often to Louis early on when he was trying to make friends.

Louis tells him what made him decide to move—the threat of ending up in the small town he grew up in for the rest of his life—and how, when he first arrived in LA he had a string of shitty roommates until he got enough money racked up from being in a few films like Footloose , Soul Surfer , and Bridesmaids . The latter on that list shocks Harry so much he starts choking on water after dropping his jaw. Apparently he missed Louis’ one-liner, which he seems upset about because “it’s like the most iconic movie in years, Lou.” Which, that was new. Harry calling him Lou. He tried not to think much of it.

After a while Louis decides to try and stealthily sink into the water and pull Harry under to scare him. This results in a bunch of splashing each other and each of them trying to dunk the other. It’s fun. Being with Harry is fun and he only thinks about his crush once. It’s like all his worries are put to the side, as silly as it sounds. Something about being in Harry’s presence calms him and allows him to exist in the moment and enjoy it.

*

Fizzy and her friends arrive a little after lunch, and they of course immediately want to take the speed boat out. So while they’re out on the lake, Louis, Harry, Lottie, and Tommy hang out on the dock and chat while munching on fruit and the finger sandwiches Louis helped Harry make. After a while they go back up to the deck because the heat is too much out near the lake where the sun is bouncing off the surface of the water.

They truly did nothing much other than laze around all day—which was acceptable because they were at the lake and they could call it relaxing. But really, after their swim before lunch none of the four of them did much of anything. Lottie took a dip into the lake when she got too hot while tanning on the dock and Tommy minded his fishing pole mounted on the edge of the railing of the dock. Fizzy and her friends decided around seven that they wanted to take the boat to one of the on the water restaurants, which Lottie said was fine as long as they ordered the four of them dinner before leaving and brought it back.

Which brings them to where they are now, all sprawled out in the living room on the huge couch eating various types of deep fried seafood with the exception of Harry, who is eating sushi.

“I’m honestly surprised anywhere around here had sushi on the menu,” Lottie comments as she takes a sip of her wine.

“I mean, it’s not like it’s fancy sushi or anything. Just crab meat.”

“Sushi is the most revolting food,” Louis says then fakes a gag as he watches Harry take another bite.

“Oh come on, bet you’ve never had it.”

“Yeah, and I’m not starting now.” Louis pushes Harry’s hand away as he nears his face with a bit of sushi on his fork.

“‘S actually not bad,” Tommy says as he pops the top on another beer. “I don’t like the raw fish stuff. But the ones that are cooked aren’t bad. Me and Lottie make it a lot at home.”

“See!” Harry says, happy to have someone on his side. “Exactly, this isn’t raw either. Just cooked crab.”

“Wait.” Louis looked at Harry with his eyebrows furrowed. "I thought all sushi had raw fish.”

Harry smiles as he chews, swallowing before answering. “No, no. There’s some with cooked fish and some with no meat at all. I promise it’s good. You like crab, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” Louis says hesitantly. He’s truly been conditioned to think all sushi is raw fish and just the sight and smell makes him want to throw up.

“Just try a bite,” Harry says, stabbing his fork into a piece and holding it out toward Louis. “If you don’t like it you can spit it out.” He raises his hand with a napkin sitting in his palm.

Louis looks at him quite doubtful for a second, and a glance toward Lottie and Tommy shows amusement on their faces.

“Stop being a baby,” Lottie says.

Louis rolls his eyes. “Fine.” He glances at the rice wrapped crab once more, leans forward and takes the entire thing in his mouth.

It’s not… bad. Not at all actually. It truly just tastes like spicy crab and rice. He can’t even taste the seaweed, which he’s kind of thankful for, actually.

Harry is watching him with a small smile as he chews, and Louis can’t help but feel his cheeks heat up. Since when did he blush so much? He doesn’t recall this ever being standard procedure when he had a crush—not since high school anyway.

“It’s not bad,” Louis says after swallowing the food.

“I told you!” Harry says excitedly, which makes Louis huff out a laugh. “Want some more?”

“No, no. Thank you, but I’m full.”

“Good thing I got two rolls, we can have some later or tonight.”

“Can’t believe that’s all it took for you to try sushi,” Lottie says as she gets up to pour herself another glass of wine. “Every single time I’ve tried to explain that to you and get you to try some you act as if it would have killed you to try.”

Louis just shrugs and decides not to comment, trying not to think too much about why Harry could get him to do something, and his own sister couldn’t.

*

Around two hours later, they’re all slightly tipsy except for Lottie, who’s way past that after finding another bottle of wine in the kitchen and downing two-thirds of it. Tommy made the executive decision to carry her off to bed, which left Harry and Louis alone once again in the living room.

Fizzy and all her friends are down at the dock hanging out. Their music can be heard through the huge cracked window in the basement where they can see the backyard and the dock very clearly. The kids have been allowed two beers each, which Louis knows is illegal but they were going to do it anyway. Lottie and Harry were smart enough to hide all the alcohol from them while they were out on the boat. Fizzy was mad for a bit, but then Harry explained how apparently he’s heard of teenagers getting drunk at the lake and drowning. That made them all warm up to the idea of two beers each.

He and Harry had played Scrabble for a bit after Harry got unbelievably excited when he found the game in the basement when they were looking at the stash of movies and other random shit they had down there.

They eventually decide to stay down there instead of going back up to the living room, for three reasons. One, they had a good view of the dock and if something happened they could rush out the door to get down there. Two, Louis forgot about the huge L-shaped couch and TV that were down there, completely forgot they had redone the basement, even. There’s a large room, a bedroom, bathroom and a smaller room used for storage. And three, he did not want to be only one closed door away from hearing Lottie and Tommy having sex. He wasn’t even sure if that’s what was happening, but he’d jumped up as soon as he heard the slightest noise that even could have been considered a sex noise. Harry had laughed but followed him down here anyway.

“So, should we watch a movie now?” Harry asks after he plops himself back down on the couch.

“Yeah, you pick one.” Louis shifts around trying to get comfortable, ending up in nearly lying down in the corner of the couch.

Harry pulls up Netflix and looks through it, stopping on one of Louis’ movies, looking over at him and raising his eyebrows with a smirk.

“No fucking way are we watching that. Or any of my movies,” Louis says with absolutely no bite. He even tacks on a small smile to let Harry know he’s kidding.

Harry cackles loudly and keeps scrolling. “Just a joke," he says, lightly elbowing Louis in the arm. “Already seen that anyway," he says, before seeming to find something he’s interested in, a drama thriller-type movie.

Ten minutes into the movie, the air kicks on and the basement slowly turns into an icebox. Harry gets up to get them blankets from the closet, and when he sits back down, he’s at least an entire foot closer to Louis than he was before. If Louis didn’t still have the smallest amount of buzz from the alcohol they’d been drinking, he’d be tensing up and nervous. But he just relaxes into the couch and accepts the warmth of the blanket and the body heat that’s radiating off of Harry and his sunburned skin that’s nearly touching him.

Another ten minutes pass before they hear the music shut off outside and voices get louder. Louis jumps when the basement door opens and Fizzy and six of her nine friends all come in.

“Oh, I love this movie!” she says before sitting down on the couch, her friends following suit until Harry is completely pressed up against Louis and there are five other people on the couch and the other five are pulling out blankets, pillows, and bean-bags from the closet to sit on the floor.

“You guys can’t go watch this upstairs?” Louis asks, a little mad.

A chorus of “Shhhhh,” is all he gets in response.

He looks over at Harry after he has to throw his arm over the back of the couch to get comfortable. “Sorry,” Louis says sheepishly. He really wishes Fizzy and all her friends had just gone upstairs. But then again, it’s an excuse to be extra close to Harry. But that’s probably creepy.

Harry looks at him and his eyes soften. "It’s fine,” he whispers. Louis watches as one of his dimples appear.

A loud thump on the screen causes both of them to startle, then giggle at each other for jumping. They’re shushed once more by Fizzy who lightly shoves Harry’s shoulder, causing him to get even closer to Louis, even for a few seconds.

They both turn back to face the screen, and after a few minutes, he kind of understands what’s going on in the movie again after being interrupted. It’s a creepy movie, one of those that leaves you paranoid after watching. There’s a gross man who’s installed cameras in a house and is watching a couple’s every move. It’s hard to focus on the real problem in the movie, the cameras and the couple being watched, when the couple is just the epitome of weird straight people.

A scene comes on where the husband is cheating on his pregnant wife, which was alluded to from the very beginning. “Why are straight people so fucking awful at relationships?” he says, mostly to himself. It causes Harry to cackle loudly, though, and he immediately slaps a hand over his own mouth. A guy on the floor looks at him with an offended face. Louis rolls his eyes, and turns to Harry, who is still laughing.

“Shhh,” he whispers obnoxiously loud. “You’re going to get us in trouble.”

Harry bites his bottom lip to help stop the laughs. “Sorry, sorry.”

Toward the end of the movie, there were a couple of jump scares and loud noises that causes nearly everyone to either startle or scream, except for Louis, because they are terribly done and easy to predict.

Harry is definitely the one in the room doing the most jolting, though, and near the end when the crazy guy starts killing everyone, Louis—as subtly as he can—moves his arm that is over the back of the couch to around the top of Harry’s shoulders. He immediately responds, leaning into Louis and whispering what Louis thinks is a ‘thank you.’

Another ten minutes later and the movie is over, everyone promptly getting up and heading for the stairs. Harry hasn’t moved an inch in several minutes, and consequently neither has Louis. He assumes Harry has fallen asleep, but he’s afraid if he moves to look down he’ll wake him up.

Fizzy is the last person to get up to leave, but of course not before turning to smirk at Louis. She doesn’t say anything, doesn't have to. Her eyebrow raise and intentional look at Harry then back at Louis says it all.

He rolls his eyes at her. “He asleep?” he whispers.

“Yep,” she says at full volume before turning to walk out. She stops and turns around at the foot of the steps. "Y’all are cute, though.” She smirks and then runs up the stairs.

The slam of the door at the top of the stairs startles Harry from his sleep. Louis feels him jerk awake and then release a whine. That makes Louis let out a laugh. It takes a moment for Harry to wake up enough to realize he had fallen asleep on Louis’ shoulder, and when he does, he blabbers out apologies at a million words a minute. Louis has truly never heard him talk this fast.

“Hey, hey.” Louis reaches forward and encircles Harry’s wrist with his hand. “It’s fine, you just fell asleep. Surprised it wasn’t me, to be honest. The sun always drains my energy.” He offers Harry a smile to try and ease the look of worry on his face.

“Still. It was weird of me to be, like, all over you.”

“Harry, it's fine. We’re friends, right? It’s fine. Wanna watch another movie before bed?”

Harry nods in agreement and digs around between in cushions for the remote. After looking through the less than appealing options on Netflix, they both decide to just watch an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Hulu. They pick a random one from season two, since they’d both already seen all the episodes. When Harry leans back into the couch again, he’s close but not as close as he was before, which Louis tries not to pout about.

After it’s over, Harry is nearly asleep again. “Why don’t you go to sleep, hm?”

Harry sighs. “I probably should. I’m exhausted.”

“I think I’m going to sleep down here. Don’t really wanna be up there with all them, and I have a feeling they’re going to be loud all night.”

Harry looks at him in surprise. “Oh, well. Um. I have my stuff in the bedroom in there, but I can move it to another-”

“Harry it’s fine.” He laughs. “I honestly forgot how comfortable this couch is. I think I’ll just sleep out here. Someone probably already stole the room I had upstairs anyway.” He shakes his head, not knowing why he thought they wouldn’t take up all the bedrooms upstairs.

“Are you sure? It’s technically your family’s house so if you-”

Louis giggles, leaning over to shoulder him. “That doesn’t mean anything. It’s fine, first come first serve and all that," he says with a wink before getting up. “Gonna go grab my bag though, ‘s probably just been chucked in the hall.”

Harry laughs and says he’ll go get ready for bed himself. Louis turns and heads up the two flights of stairs and, as he expected to, grabs it from outside one of the rooms. As far as Fizzy and her friends being loud, he was right. They are fairly loud. Nothing overbearing, but he definitely wouldn't have been able to fall asleep up here.

He goes ahead and changes into a hoodie and shorts, washes his face, and brushes his teeth in the bathroom up there before heading back down to the basement, deciding to stop in the kitchen to grab a glass of water.

When he walks in, he trips over the edge of a chair. Partly because the entire middle floor is shrouded in darkness, only the moonlight peeking in through the windows providing light, and also because Harry is standing with his back to Louis, holding the fridge door open, and he’s shirtless. Again.

The sound catches Harry’s attention, head snapping in Louis’ direction. “Fucking shit, you scared me.” He brings his hand up to rest on his chest, Louis can see it’s rapid rising and falling even in the minimal light.

“Sorry, you scared me too," he whispers, slowly walking toward the cabinets to retrieve a glass. As he’s doing that, he can hear Harry rummaging through the refrigerator.

“Got it!” he says, and Louis watches as he reaches to the far back and pulls out a bottle of aloe vera gel.

“You that burnt?” Louis asks, sipping the water and trying to disguise his blatant staring as concern. Which isn’t really a lie because when Harry turns so the light coming in through the window hits his back and shoulders, they’re definitely red.

Louis winces, thinking about how he had his arm resting over his shoulders earlier, that couldn’t have been comfortable.

“It’ll turn to a tan in a day or two, but it’ll be a pain in the ass to sleep on, so I thought this would help a bit.”

Louis nods, and turns to refill his glass. He hears the snick of the cap and the sound of the gel squirting out of the bottle. He slowly turns around this time, knowing he’s about to get an eyeful of Harry rubbing himself with aloe. He takes a deep breath and turns, surprised when instead Harry is holding out the bottle to him.

“Can you please do my back and shoulders?” He asks hesitantly, teeth instantly biting down on his lower lip. “I would but I can’t reach.”

“Yeah.” His voice comes out a little high and scratchy, so he coughs to try and clear his throat. “Yeah.”

Harry hands off he bottle with a thankful smile and turns around.

Louis takes a deep breath as quietly as he can, and squeezes the bottle until some of the gel comes out in his palm. After rubbing his hands together to spread the gel, he places both on Harry’s back, hearing him immediately sigh after the slight jerk in surprise.

As he rubs in the gel, he can feel the heat coming off the skin and he tries his best to be gentle. Once a generous coating is applied, he realizes a bit too much of the gel had come out of the bottle and he now has more than he needs on his hands.

“Um...” He clears his throat in an attempt to speak properly. “Uhh, I think I got too much gel out.” Louis laughs uncomfortably.

“Oh, here.” Harry spins around. “My, uh. Chest can use a little more.”

Of fucking course it could. Upon placing his hands on Harry’s chest, he tried not to make his inhale of breath audible. Harry was incredibly toned, more so than he was. Louis doesn’t mean to, but he lets his gaze wander up, and he meets Harry’s eyes, who were already on him. He feels a sudden urge to kiss him, more urgent than he’s felt before.

“Thanks, Lou,” Harry says softly.

Louis is still rubbing in the gel, sort of unnecessarily at this point, when he, without any hesitation, surges up and kisses Harry. With his lips on Harry’s he can feel and hear the hitch of his breath.

Louis pulls back abruptly, apology on the tip of his tongue before Harry’s grip on his waist tightens and he leans forward to connect their lips again. Both kisses are chaste, but Harry’s lips are warm and wet and it’s making Louis’ stomach twist in a way he hasn’t experienced in a long time. Or ever.

“I’m, uh-” Louis stutters out, “I’m sorry. I didn’t, um.” He swallows, and he suddenly feels extremely hot.

“Are you?” Harry asks, his eyebrows drawing together and pursing his lips.

“I-”

“I’m not, but if you are you can tell me.”

Was he sorry? He certainly didn’t feel sorry, but he didn’t want to make this all weird and he really didn’t think much about the repercussions of his crush, didn’t know at all where it would lead if Harry somehow felt the same way.

“I’m not,” Louis says, looking back to Harry’s face and watching as it breaks out into a dimpled smile. Which causes the feeling in his belly to intensify and a smile to appear on his own face.

Louis kisses him again after that. It’s chaste but it’s good, better than any messy kiss he’s had with a stranger on a night out and nearly everything he could hope for in a kiss. He can feel Harry smile against his lips, causing him to do the same.

Pulling back, he looks at Harry and says, “I can’t kiss you if you’re smiling.”

Which only makes Harry grin wider. “Sorry. Can’t help it.” Harry pecks him on the mouth again, before ending the kiss and grabbing his hand and walking toward the doorway. “Come on, let’s go downstairs.”

They spend the next hour sharing kisses and laughs and whispers as they both lay in the large bed in the basement bedroom. Louis was adamant about sleeping on the couch, but Harry had brought out a pouty lip and some begging and he really couldn’t deny him, could he? He fell asleep with Harry in his arms and a smile on his face as he tries to push out the negative thoughts telling him this thing—whatever it is, could never work.

*

It’s as if the kiss flips a switch for both of them. The next day they are more touchy with each other. When one of them moves past the other a hand finds a waist. When they all spontaneously rent jet skis and ride them to the other side of the lake for lunch, Harry doesn’t hesitate to wrap his arms around Louis’ waist and gently rub his thumb over the skin on Louis’ stomach while they sit and wait for the rest of their group to catch up. When they go for a boat ride with Lottie and Tommy, Harry sits close to Louis’ side, eventually wrapping himself in Louis’ arms when the wind gets too cold.

Lottie gives them both looks, but not without a smile on her face. She was speaking to Harry in the kitchen when they were all packing up to leave, and when Louis enters they quiet down, but he notices a smile on Harry’s face as he walks back out of the room to help Fizzy and her friends pack their car. eyes meet and Louis pulls a silly face to make him giggle.

Harry also decides to hop into Louis’ front passenger seat when they’re all leaving with no other explanation, and simply turns the radio on and waves good-bye to Lottie out of the rolled down window.

They spend the car ride sharing and listening to their favorite songs and singing at the top of their lungs. . The familiar drive back goes by quite quickly. Louis suggests they stop at a diner to eat, and tells Harry about how his family used to always stop there either on the way to the lake or coming home. He can’t believe it’s still there, actually. And that it looks the exact same.

As soon as they are back on the road, the sun starts to set and Harry falls asleep. Louis turns the music down so it wouldn’t wake him even though twenty minutes later he has to, just so he can ask him if he’s going the right way to his house. All in all, it’s a good day. And Louis can’t really believe it as Harry kisses him goodbye with a promise to see him in the morning for work. Which, Louis completely forgot about. He hopes it won’t be weird being around him all the time as they’re navigating this new territory.

*

The next week or so is filled with Harry showing Louis how to do tasks around the shop, even though all he really does is clean up, cut flowers, help Harry decide on which flowers should go in arrangements and keep Dots occupied so he doesn’t bother Harry too much.

Mornings are probably his favorite, which is strange because he isn’t a morning person in the slightest. He occasionally brings Harry and himself in some breakfast either cooked by him or Jay, or he goes over and helps Gemma make something for them. They hang out in the back of the shop, which is really just a room where most of Harry’s work gets done with a corner he consider his ‘office’, but it’s nice.

A lot of things also become a normality—short pecks on the mouth to say hello, goodbye, or just because. Lingering looks and smiles and not keeping their hands to themselves when in close proximity to each other are all everyday occurrences and it’s great. And Louis sometimes goes a whole day without thinking about how stupid he is for getting himself into this without knowing for sure what the next few months will hold.

Right now he’s putting together a rainbow bouquet of tulips for a customer who is coming by shortly. Dots is running circles around his feet and the two times Harry’s come back here to grab something he’s laughed at Louis’ dancing to the playlist he has on (even if Harry joined in).

He’s finishing up and making his way to the front when he hears the bell over the door ring and Harry happily greeting whoever it was.

When he finally is able to step over Dots, who is trying his hardest to nudge his toy out of the room, he sees Harry hugging someone. He lays the bouquet on the back counter and just stands there until one of them notices him. He feels weird just interrupting.

“Oh, Lou. You finished!” Harry says after turning toward the sound of Dots finally making it out of the back. “It looks lovely!”

“Is that a Louis Tomlinson I see?”

Louis looks to the person, and he can’t place a name but the face looks familiar. Maybe. Honestly he can’t tell.

“Hi, um...?”

“Oh, hon. It’s okay if you don’t remember me,” the guy says with a laugh.”We went to high school together, but you certainly didn’t know me back then, I was too busy trying to get good grades, had my head stuck in a book for four years it seems.”

“I’m sorry, maybe if you tell me your name?” Louis suggests, hoping he remembers so this isn’t awkward.

“Adam!”

Louis pauses to think for a minute while looking at his face. Then Adam removes his thick framed glasses and it clicks.

“Did you used to have longer curly hair?”

“Yes! Oh the Louis Tomlinson remembers little ol’ me, can you believe it?” he says. Harry smiles as Adam cackles. “My curls had nothing on Harry’s though, right?” Adam looked from Harry to Louis, and—was he asking him? He didn’t know Harry in high school.

“Um, I-”

“Yep, they were great,” Harry says, turning to grab the bouquet from the counter. “Isn’t this arrangement lovely? I’m sure Gus will love it.”

“Oh it is, and he better, I drove all the way from Atlanta for them,” Adam says. “And to see you, of course. Could have just gone to any florist in the city, but I thought paying you a visit would be nice. Wanna grab a quick coffee next door and chat for a bit?”

Harry bites his lip and looks to Louis as if asking him if it’s okay.

“Yeah, you two go ahead. I’ll finish putting out these—what are they? Daisies?” He looks at them sideways, he thinks they’re daisies.

Harry puffs a laugh. “They are, yeah.” He turns to face Louis and squeezes his hand. “Thanks, Lou. We won’t be long.”

“Come on Harry, here’s enough for the flowers. Keep the rest as a tip.” Adam lays two twenty-dollar bills on the counter before linking his arm with Harry and walking through to Gemma’s.

*

Harry wasn’t kidding when he said wedding season was busy around here. It’s not like Louis thought he was lying—maybe exaggerating—but by the time September was half over, they’d done arrangements for eight weddings and still had more to go. It was hectic at the shop some days, with Louis having to help customers and keep an eye on Dots while Harry and Mikaela put together arrangements.

Mikaela has been a big help since she’s been here. Harry had been talking with Gemma one day while she took orders and he overheard her talking to her friend about needing a part-time job. Harry said she had a good eye for color and what looked good. Louis took great offense to that, but Harry assured him he was good as well, just better with helping customers and making sure Dots didn’t tear the place apart.

He had been with Harry to every venue to deliver the flowers and set them up, which was officially Louis’ favorite part of the job. He hadn’t known there were this many beautiful places so close by. Or, perhaps he had. Once. But now he’s getting to see them all again with fresh eyes.

A lot of the time they were invited to the wedding itself, but Harry told him he only stays if he really knows the person. Otherwise he feels like he’s invading privacy on what is one of the most important and intimate days of a couple’s life.

When a friend of Harry’s was getting married to her girlfriend who she’s been with since they were all in school, he was definitely staying.

Louis felt weird when Harry told him he could come as well, for the same reasons Harry didn’t stay for any other clients’ weddings. But then Harry told him it was different because a lot of people who go to weddings have a date who the couple doesn't know. And, well. Harry took his silence to that as a yes and then hung up after telling him what time he’d be around to pick him up.

By the time the wedding reception is half over, he’s given up correcting people who assumed he and Harry were together. As in dating. Harry for whatever reason had no intention to do so, just giving the first person who mentioned it a smile and continued the conversation. Louis ignored the way his face fell when he started correcting people. It was for the best, he told himself. He can’t get serious with Harry, and he can’t have random people thinking he has a boyfriend, either. He’s done well so far to stay out of the media on his little break.

And they hadn’t. They’d only shared chaste pecks on the lips and cheeks and made out a little in the back room after Mikaela went home for the day. It was fine. Casual. Sort of. It wasn’t going any further, and that’s what mattered.

Harry was drunk as they were leaving. Louis had to hold him up and help him into his seat before getting in himself and starting the car.

“You have fun, H?” he asks as he looks over at Harry, who is smiling dopily and nodding his head.

“Yep. Lots and lots. You’re a good dancer.” His words are slurring, and he’s suddenly struggling to remove his suit jacket.

“You good? Need help?” Louis tries not to take his eyes off the road.

“Nope,” Harry says, and then Louis gets hit in the face with the thick fabric as he hears Harry dissolve into giggles.

“Harry! Do you want to die?” He attempts to sound stern, but he’s laughing along as well. He looks over and—fuck. Harry’s in a tank top. He was wearing a black tank top under his jacket.

Louis focuses his gaze back on the road and ignores the sudden rush of blood to his crotch. It was just, his arms. They were quite large. And Harry wasn’t a very big guy. Sure, he was tall, but he was more lanky with a nice chest and an even nicer ass. But he’d forgotten how good his arms looked. And the tank top somehow makes them look better than they did when he was shirtless at the lake.

Louis swallows and tries to breathe, but Harry has turned the radio on and he’s singing and dancing along. He’s very hard to ignore.

Lou ,” he whines, stretching as far as his seatbelt will allow and leaning his head on Louis’ shoulder and wrapping those fucking arms around Louis’ that is resting on the center console.

“What?”

“‘M sleepy.”

“I can see that." He watches Harry let out a long, drawn out yawn.

“Wanna take a quick nap? I’ll wake you up when we’re home.”

Harry just nods his head, curls tickling Louis’ skin.

Louis reaches forward to turn the music down a tad, then drops a kiss to Harry’s curls, receiving a hum and smile from Harry.

It’s only a twenty-minute drive back to town. The wedding had been held at an old warehouse a couple of towns over. It sounded incredibly sketchy when Harry first told him, but it was a warehouse that had been redone into an event space and they just had literally named it The Warehouse, so. Way less sketchy than he initially thought.

They were going to pass Harry’s place before they got to Louis’ mom’s, so since Harry was out cold and even making cute little sniffling noises in his sleep, Louis’ decided to just take Harry home and bring Harry’s truck back over the following day. After he pulled up the long drive along the two hundred acre expanse of land to get to the house, he unbuckles his seatbelt with the hand Harry wasn’t wrapped around and turns the overhead light on.

Louis looked at him for a minute, even though he kind of felt like a creep. Harry was just so beautiful. Louis had genuinely never seen someone look so soft and pretty and hot as fuck at the same time. And he’d lived in LA where everyone pays to look good and also gets paid for looking good. But Harry was something else.

Louis raises his hand and gently strokes the side of Harry’s face with his thumb to try and wake him. It takes a moment, and Louis also lightly runs his fingers though Harry’s hair, but he slowly comes to. He watches as his eyes twitch under his lids, then his lashes flutter open and a pout forms on his face.

“Hi,” Louis says quietly, trying not to laugh at the confused look on his face.

Harry sits up a little so he isn’t leaning on him as much. “We’re at my house already?” His voice is scratchy even though he’s whispering.

“Yeah, you have a nice little nap? You were snoring like crazy.”

His pout exaggerates. “Was not.”

“A little.” Louis winks at him before removing the key from the ignition. “Let’s get you inside.”

“Wait, I need to drive you home.”

“H, you’re half asleep. I’m not letting you drive. I can drive myself and bring your truck back here tomorrow?”

Or ,” Harry smiles widely. “You could just sleep over?”

Louis bites his lip and hesitates. They’ve slept in the same bed before. And it’s not like there's a possibility of them having sex—Harry’s drunk. But can he handle that again? Sleeping in the bed with Harry, who starts as the little spoon and ends up wrapped around you like a koala a few hours in. Letting out little puffs of breath and those little sniffles he was doing in the car. He's unbearably adorable and unfairly attractive all at the same time. Why did Louis want to torture himself?

Louis sighs dramatically, like it’s a hardship to say yes. Harry doesn’t need to know that it actually kind of is. He'll just have to spend a few extra minutes in the shower the next morning to sort out the problem that will definitely arise after a night cuddling with Harry. “Fine, let’s go.”

By the time they make it in the front door, after much struggle with trying to locate Harry’s keys, Louis realizes he’s never been inside Harry’s house before. In fact, he’s only been here one time, when Harry had to stop by to grab something quickly on their way back to the shop from a delivery.

It was… different. On the outside it definitely looks like a barn. A nice barn, but still a barn. But once they step inside it looks like a normal house. A foyer opens up into a large open-plan kitchen and living room. To the right of the foyer is a hallway he assumes leads to bedrooms. But he just follows Harry, who slowly makes his way through the dark living room into the kitchen to grab himself and Louis a bottle of water, then to the hallway near the foyer. He takes an immediate right and it leads to a large bedroom with a bed that is genuinely one of the biggest he’s ever seen, pushed right up against one of the walls.

“That’s... Why is your bed so fucking big?”

Harry, who is trying his hardest to rid himself of his dress pants without falling over, just laughs. “I just wanted a big one. It’s… what’s that big bed in that Rihanna song called? I don’t remember. It’s that, though.”

“A California king bed?” Louis guesses.

“That’s the one!” Harry begins de-pillowing the bed, chucking them into the floor carelessly. “Would you like some sweats or something to sleep in? I just sleep in my boxers, hope you don’t mind.”

Oh he minded, but he just shook his head and began taking his dress shirt off, then laying it neatly along with his pants on the little bench at the foot of Harry’s bed.

When he’s finished, he looks up to find Harry staring at him. Immediately flushing down to his chest when he’s caught. “Can you turn the light off please?”

Louis does then pulls back the covers to get in. As soon as he’s settled on his back, Harry attaches himself to his side. It’s quite endearing, he’s like a magnet or something. “Comfy?” Louis asks him, running his hands through his curls where his head rests on Louis’ chest.

He feels Harry nod, and then they just lay there in a comfortable silence.

“Thank you for coming with me tonight, Lou,” Harry whispers.

“Course.” Louis kisses his forehead.

“Sorry everyone was being annoying and thinking that we were boyfriends.”

Louis laughs to cover up his slight tensing at the word ‘boyfriends’. “There’s much worse people have assumed about me.”

He feels Harry’s lips form into a smile where his face is pressed against his skin. He lays a kiss there before sighing.

Louis must have underestimated how tired they both were, because not too long after he feels Harry’s breathing even out, he feels himself start to nod off.



*

Over the next couple of weeks, Louis begins texting with Zayn more. Since he had returned home for a break, they’d only texted a little here and there. But at this point he needed to talk about Harry, and he knew he couldn’t talk to Lottie about it, since she’d be at his throat in Harry’s defense no matter what he said. So, he decided to talk to Zayn about it.

He knew what he would have to say about it, and he was right.

Zayn: Just don’t be an idiot and fuck this up if you like him a lot, dude. Like, i know you were pretty unhappy here and if your family and being home makes you happy and you found a guy that adds to that, do you really wanna come back and leave that behind? You aren’t obligated to do anything you don’t want to, just remember that.

Which, yeah, Louis knew Zayn would say something along those lines. But it was also something he needed to hear. Now he’d just have to think it over in the following weeks. Because if he’s actually happy here, he doesn’t want to just go back to LA and be miserable in order to still act.

Zayn: And it’s fine if you don’t want to have sex with him without commitment. Obviously. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. You’ve never had an issue with casual sex before, lmao! But i totally get that it’s different if you really like the person. Probably should explain that to him though, poor kid is probably hella confused.

Louis rolls his eyes as he reads the message. It’s true though—he used to have quite a bit of casual sex. Less of it as the years went on, but his lack of relationships left him no other choice really.

But again, Zayn is right. It’s different because the more that he likes Harry, the more nervous he gets about the whole commitment issue. Or the lack thereof, currently. Sex would just make it ten times more messy if he decided to just go back to LA in the end.

He had a lot to think about.

*

As September fades into October, the sun finally starts letting up and it isn’t suffocating to step outside anymore, which helps a lot, because right now Louis is outside the shop with Mikaela exchanging the bright colorful summer flowers for more muted and warm-colored ones. Because according to Harry, “the first day of fall was a week and a half ago! We’re late!”

“Why are these flowers prettier than me?” Mikaela asks when they’re finished placing the dark red roses amongst all the yellow and orange flowers.

Louis cackles, bending over to pick up Dots, who has just dashed out of the shop’s open door. “You look fine.”

“Fine?” she huffs. “Real reassuring. Thanks. Also, your opinion doesn’t even count because you’re gay.” She bends forward to place the steel bucket of flowers up on the concrete step.

“Uh, I can still appreciate when a girl looks nice. And you’re gay too, so what does a man’s opinion matter anyway?”

“It doesn’t,” she assures. “It was a rhetorical question that you, being a man, decided to answer.” Louis can see her struggling to keep a stern look on her face, but she cracks a small smile anyway. She turns to walk inside the shop in an attempt to hide it. “What a fucking cliché we are, three gay florists. How typical of us.”

Harry laughs loudly where he’s fiddling with the iPad behind the counter. “Hey! I like to think I’m embracing the stereotype!”

Louis rolls his eyes at him and places Dots on the floor. Dots immediately takes off for the back room and Louis watches as he rounds his dog bed three or four times before finally settling down.

“You’re both a mess.” Louis leans on the counter across from Harry.

“I resent that,” Mikaela says from where she’s drawing on the chalkboard wall.

“Yeah, me too.” Harry smirks at him though, earning himself another eye roll.

“Mikaela, please don’t draw anymore vagina flowers,” Harry says, without breaking eye contact with Louis.

“It’s an orchid!”

“Yes, well you draw it to emphasize it’s vagina-y look.”

“I can’t help how my art turns out, Harry.”

“Just remember to erase them If an old lady comes in. Last time it nearly gave Mrs. Hammond a heart attack.”

“Maybe she’d just old.”

“No. Well, yes. She is. But...” Harry just sighs, and Louis can tell he’s trying to hold a laugh back. “Just make sure to erase it if you see a customer.”

“Fine,” she says before going back to drawing. Now drawing something that looks suspiciously like a penis.

Louis, who’s been laughing this whole time, starts to just shake his head. “Like I said, you two are a mess. I’m going to get something to drink from Gem’s, want anything?”

Harry shakes his head and begins to type away on the iPad.

“Ask her to make me a Frappuccino!” Mikaela calls after him.

“You know it’s not on the menu.”

“Yes, but she loves me.”

Louis sighs and laughs. “All right, I’ll ask.”

As Louis walk backward toward the entryway to Gem’s, Harry looks up at him. Louis gives him a wink, causing Harry to roll his eyes but wink back.

When he returns with an iced tea, a frappuccino Gemma insisted he make, and a cookie for Harry, Mikaela is of course, not there.

“Where’d she go?” Louis asks.

“Oh, her mom called and needed her to watch her little brother so I told her she could go. We only have,” he looks at the time on his phone, ”an hour left.”

Louis hands Harry the cookie and frozen drink. “Guess these can both be for you then.”

Harry smiles and thanks him, and they chat as they split the large cookie and sip their drinks. After much begging, Harry agrees to close early and as soon as he returns from locking the front door and closing the door between the two shops, Louis is on him.

“Oh, so this is why you wanted to close early. Ulterior movies,” Harry says breathily as Louis kisses him hard.

“Maybe you just look really good in those pants today.” It was true, he was wearing a pair of skinny khaki pants and his ass was accentuated so perfectly Louis could hardly look away . He was even scoffed at by two little old ladies who had been in the shop to see if Harry could make boutineers for their grandsons’ upcoming prom, as well as the corsages to give to their prom dates.

“Yeah?”

“Mmm,” Louis hums into another kiss, slipping his tongue into Harry’s mouth. “Yeah." He pulls back and begins kissing down his neck and bravely reaching to cup his ass.

“Lou,” Harry utters in a half moan. “Babe, stop. We can’t-” he sighs, “not here.”

Louis hums as he kisses back up his neck and looks at him. “Got a little carried away. Sorry.” He keeps one hand on Harry’s ass and winds the other around his waist.

Harry leans forward and kisses him square on the lips one more time. “Would you want to maybe come over for dinner? I can cook something, whatever you want. Pasta, fajitas, steak, bur-”

Louis giggles, moving his hand over Harry’s mouth. “You don’t have to convince me or bribe me with food. Course I’ll come over.”

Harry kisses his hand, revealing a dimpled smile when Louis moves his hand away.

*

“Do you miss LA?” Harry asks, and Louis doesn’t even have the chance to try and disguise his hitch of breath.

They’re sitting in Harry’s backyard, having just had dinner. It’s finally cool enough outside, being mid-October, that they can be outside for longer than a few minutes without sweating. It’s just started to rain, though, so they’re kind of stuck in the gazebo until it lets up or they’ll get soaked trying to make a run for it.

But he doesn’t mind. The sound of rain is soothing to him, always has been. He remembers sitting on the porch with his grandparents when it rained and it would lull him to sleep when he was young. The smell of it, as well, is something he distinctly remembers from his childhood. He’d go out immediately after a storm and stop through puddles and make mud pies, the fresh, earthy smell lingering around him and on his clothes until he’d be dragged inside to take a bath. It's all very familiar and comforting.

They’d been out there for a while though, just talking. About anything and everything. He loved to just listen to Harry, the slow rumble of his deep voice quickly becoming one of his favorite sounds. And when he was speaking, Harry listened attentively, his big green eyes on Louis’ face, nodding and commenting along, all his attention on him. It was a lot, with the intensity of his gaze. But Louis loved it.

“Um,” Louis coughs uncomfortably, shifting around on the swing and causing it to move side to side. “Not really?”

Harry looks at him with raised eyebrows. “You don’t? Not at all?”

Louis thinks over it. And to be honest, he doesn’t miss Los Angeles. He misses his friends, and maybe the beach. But he has amazing people here and if he wanted to, he could drive a few hours to the coast.

“No. I miss my friends, but that’s about it," he tells him with a shrug, kind of feeling like it’s somehow the wrong answer.

Harry nods, and turns to look back at the rain pelting down on the steps leading to the gazebo. After a moment he speaks again.

“So you think you’ll be here for a while longer?”

Louis can feel his heart beating the slightest bit faster at the mention of the length of his stay. Harry hasn’t ever brought it up, but Louis’ noticed that whenever anyone else has and Harry’s around, his face shows obvious discomfort.

He leans his head over onto Harry’s shoulder, needing his comfort. Which is so weird, because he’s only known Harry for a little under three months but he feels so at ease in his presence. He’s never had that happen with anyone outside of his family. Maybe a bit with Zayn, but not to this degree.

“I think so,” Louis says quietly. “I figured after a month or two I’d be sick of it, but…” Louis sighs quietly, remembering when his manager Steve called him two weeks ago shocked that he wasn’t begging to come back already. It reminded him of how he left with the intention of being here until the holidays were over then heading back. He specifically remembers thinking he’d probably have to force himself to stay until the holidays were over so he wouldn’t disappoint his family. But that just isn’t the case anymore.

“But, what?” Harry asks as he grabs Louis’ hand and begins to play with his fingers.

“But… I like it here a lot better than I thought I would. I came for my family, not the place, but I guess I forgot how different it was here.”

“How so?”

“It’s just… quieter here. More chill. Less pressure, I guess? To always be doing something or trying to be a certain way. I can just… be. You know?”

“Yeah, I like that about it.”

Louis smiles and looks up at him, and he can’t help but lean in for a kiss. “Me too,” he whispers after pulling back. “It also helps that I met some other pretty great people too.”

Harry kisses him again, even though it can hardly be considered one when he’s smiling as widely as he is. “Yeah?”

Louis just nods and connects their lips again.

They sit out there for another hour, just chatting and exchanging kisses. Once they realized the rain isn’t going to let up, they both make a run for the house, and after seeing how soaked they both are, decide to just strip down to their underwear right by the door and then get into a pair of sweats and a sweatshirt each.

Louis stays the night again, which is also becoming more frequent. He has to stop himself when they’re in bed about to go to sleep and their goodnight kiss becomes heated very quickly. Harry gives him a small look of confusion that leaves his face when he sees how visibly uncomfortable Louis gets.

He doesn’t ask, which Louis is grateful for. Because how is Louis supposed to explain it to him when it doesn’t even really make sense to himself? “Hey, I don’t want to have sex with you in case I decide to up and leave for LA. But it’s totally okay for us to continue sleeping in the same bed and making out every chance we get. It’s fine that every time you look at me with your impossibly green eyes and your dimpled cheeks and wide smile I get a fluttering inside my stomach that’s supposed to be reserved for crushes you get in high school and cheesy rom-coms.” Yeah, he’d love to try and explain that.

*

Soon enough, between helping out at the shop, having dinner and going for drives even when they have no deliveries to make, Louis is around Harry almost more often than he isn’t. It’s all just fun. Harry’s easy to be around, easy to spend time with. He’d never met a guy that he liked more than a friend that he could spend more than a couple nights a week with. And while that in itself should have been a heads-up that something was wrong with the guys Louis was seeing a while ago, he ignored it. Because it didn’t matter then. He just dated because, well, that was what you did, right? What you were supposed to do. He never saw himself with any of the guys he’d see long term. No guy ever made him feel really special, or even like he was more than someone to just have sex with and be seen with. Harry entered his life unannounced and unasked for and kind of broke the mold, really. Louis’ still trying to catch up, to understand how this is all working so seamlessly. Except it’s not, he has to remind himself, because they haven’t spoken about it.

He also knows he’s not the only one who’s aware of whatever it is between them. Mikaela has caught them more than once kissing in the back room, and Gemma walked over one day when Louis was standing a little too close to Harry and had a handful of his curls, just playing with them. But neither of them, or Lottie, who Louis knows Harry’s blabbed to, makes him feel like he has a secret like his mother does. Louis can feel it, feel her eyes on him when he comes home or mentions Harry’s name. If Harry’s over or hanging out with Lottie, Jay’s eyes could burn a hole through the two of them even if there’s multiple people between them.

Louis’ almost relieved when she finally brings it up, even though it’s definitely not something he wants to talk about.

“Lou,” she says from the couch where she’s just sat down after putting the kids to bed. “Can we talk for a minute?”

He looks up from his phone where he’s, of course, texting Harry. “Sure, mom. What’s up?”

“How long are you planning to stay?”

The way she asks it makes it feel like a ice cold bucket of water has been dumped over his head.

“I..” He doesn’t know what to say to that, because he doesn’t know . Not right now at least. “Um.” He looks up to meet her eyes, and it’s as if she can sense his panic.

“No, sweetie. No. I didn’t mean it to sound like I’m eager for you to leave. God, no. That’s the last thing I want. You know I love having you here, we all do. I just, wasn’t really expecting your break to last this long and I’m kind of just waiting for the other shoe to drop and for you to be like ‘Okay, it’s been fun. But back to LA now!’ you know?”

Louis looks down to his lap and begins toying with the drawstrings on his sweatpants. He does know it must feel like that, but he doesn’t really have an answer to give her. Not a definite one that he knows will be the truth.

“I dunno." He doesn’t look up at her, but he can see when she gets up from the recliner and sits beside him on the couch.

“I also have noticed you getting quite close with Harry, and love don’t take this the wrong way at all, but he’s a very nice boy and he doesn’t deserve to have his heart toyed with. I just hope you’re being smart and honest with him about how this whole thing is going. Does he know you’re not sure when you’re going back?”

Louis just shrugs. Past their conversation in the gazebo, he hasn’t talked about that with Harry. Or anything regarding whatever the fuck it is they’re doing. Hasn't even talked to himself about everything, really.

“Momma, I-” Fuck, his voice is already cracking and he can feel the tears making their way to his eyes. Why is he crying? He doesn’t need to be. All his mom wants to know is how long he was planning on staying and if he’s told Harry. It shouldn’t be that hard of a question.

As soon as he first tear falls, Jay wraps him up in her arms. “Oh, hon. I didn’t mean to make you upset.”

He just shakes his head. This isn’t her fault. This was coming whether he liked it or not. He’s just glad he’s not getting all teary and snotty over Harry instead. She just rocks him back and forth, telling him it’s okay.

He hopes she’s right.

After he calms down a bit, gets all his tears out, he pulls away to wipe his face. “Sorry, dunno where that came from.”

“Don’t be sorry, but I hope after that surprise attack you’re going to tell me what’s up.”

So he does. He tells her all about how he loved LA and he loved acting and being in movies and shows and how it was so much fun for him to finally have an outlet that wasn’t a school production of Grease . He also tells her how the last year or two wasn’t as fun, and how a lot of the time he wasn’t really happy even though everything was kind of the same. He was less excited about getting jobs and he was going out more. Louis even tells her about how the one night Zayn and his bodyguard Alberto had to carry him out of the back of a club because he was so drunk he couldn’t stand or form a coherent thought or sentence.

Jay listens patiently, nodding along to his story. He can tell she wants to interrupt him at certain points to tell him what she thinks but she waits for him to finish.

Louis goes on to explain how he still loves acting, but more the art of it than all the other aspects that come with being in movies. At eighteen he thought it was so cool to have his name out there and for everyone to know him, but now it just made him uncomfortable.

When he’s done, he sighs, long and drawn out. Slumping back into the couch cushion, he looks over at his mom after about a minute of silence.

Jay is looking at him intently, and her eyes are a little watery. He hopes she doesn’t start crying because he doesn’t want to cry again.

“I’m proud of you.” She pokes him in the arm with her finger. And, what? After learning her son was being carried out of clubs and shitfaced at least three times a week, she’s… proud?

“What?”

She smiles. “I’m proud of you.”

“What for?”

“Everything. Following your dreams, achieving so much. But right now, most importantly, for acknowledging that you were unhappy and not doing well and doing something about it.”

Louis guesses that makes sense. Sometimes people never get out of situations that are making them unhappy, and sometimes it ends a little rougher for them than just being even more unhappy. He’s glad his mom raised him in a household where he could always talk about how he was feeling without being ashamed. She was the reason he turned out as well as he did. And when he mentions this she smiles.

“Yes, well I definitely will take some credit.” They both laugh, and Jay continues, ”But I’m certainly not taking all of it. You are stronger than you know.”

He just smiles at her and lays his head on her shoulder. After a minute or two pass he speaks. “To answer your question, I’m still not sure how long, but you don’t have to worry. I’ll definitely be here through the holidays at least.”

“Good.” She squeezes him and kisses the top of his head.

“And about Harry…” he trails off and sighs, “I dunno. He’s...” Louis tries, and fails, not to smile. “He’s amazing.”

“He is.”

“And I really like him, but we haven’t really talked about whatever it is we’re doing. And, like. We aren’t doing anything. Just hanging out, and we kiss sometimes. We’ve like slept together in the same bed but nothing more. I just- I just don’t wanna hurt him. And I don’t want to get hurt either.”

Jay hums. “Well, I think you two should have a chat. Even if you’re not sure, that’s fine. Just tell him that. He’ll understand, I’m sure.”

Louis just nods his head. He will talk to him. Not right now. Not even tomorrow. He needs time to think. But, soon. Definitely soon.

*

Harry was in the middle of cooking dinner and swaying to the music playing throughout the kitchen while Louis was sitting on the floor playing with Dots and some of his toys when Harry let out an ear-splitting shriek. Dots rushed over, barking in concern and Louis stood up to see what was going on.

Harry was holding his finger and repeatedly saying “ow,” looking to Louis when he approached him. “I cut my finger, I cut it, Lou. It hurts,” he tells him, speaking quickly and moving his hand around wildly.

“Okay, okay. Let me see,” Louis reaches to still his flailing arm. He sees… a lot of blood. “Love come here, we need to stop this bleeding.”

He grabs a dishcloth from the drawer and dampens it, then wraps it around the finger even though it makes Harry wince. “It’s going to be okay, love.” He looks at Harry’s face and his eyes are full of tears and he’s biting down on his lip harshly.

Louis reaches up and wipes underneath his eyes where the tears are beginning to fall. “It’s going to be okay. Does it hurt really bad?”

Harry just nods, looking down to where the white cloth has a growing red stain on it.

“I need to see how deep it is, lets run it under the sink for a second okay?” Harry just nods again, and walks with him to the sink. After letting water wash away most of the blood, Louis gets a good look at the cut. It’s rather long, and quite deep as well.

“H, I think we’re gonna need to go get you some stitches.” He looks up at Harry, who gives a small nod and a sniffle. “I would say my mom can just do it, being a nurse and all, but Phoebe and Doris both have the flu so she’s a bit busy. I’ll drive you to the hospital, okay?”

“Okay,” Harry says quietly.

Louis leans forward and gives him a kiss and a smile. “You’re going to be fine.”

Louis drives them to the hospital that’s about twenty minutes away while Harry keeps a dishcloth held on his cut. He may speed just a little, but it’s fine because it gets them there in fifteen. Of course there’s only a few other people in the ER due to the size of the three towns it serves.

Harry is antsy for their thirty minute wait and when they’re finally taken back, he clutches Louis’ waist and buries his head into Louis’ chest as they wait for the doctor.

They’re seen soon, and when the curtain is pulled back Louis is shocked.

“Niall?”

The once blonde man looks up from the chart he’s reading, and even now, with brunette hair, he looks the same. “Tommo ?” He looks as shocked as Louis is, eyes wide and mouth gone slack.

“Hey, man. Didn’t know you were back home!” Louis takes a few steps forward, kind of unsure of what to do but Niall goes in for a hug so he follows suit.

“Could say the same about you!” He draws back and looks at Louis, “What’s a hotshot actor like you doing back down here? Get enough of Hollywood?”

Louis gives him a tight-lipped smile. “Something like that yeah.”

“Well, who’s this then?” Niall motions to Harry.

“Oh, this is Harry. Harry, this is Niall, my friend from high school. Maybe you saw him around?” Louis asks, looking to Harry.

He looks to be thinking it over before he shakes his head, “Sorry, I don’t remember.”

Niall cackles loudly, much too loudly for an ER where his voice likely carries throughout this part of the floor. “That’s all right, what have we got here though? That looks like a hell of a lot of blood.”

Louis looks at the red stained cloth, hand immediately shooting out to rub Harry’s arm, trying to provide any comfort he can.

“Cut my finger pretty bad making dinner, it’s kind of deep I think.”

“Well let’s take a look,” Niall says, laying the chart on the bed and pulling on a pair of gloves. He examines Harry’s finger, winces as he sees how deep the cut is.

“I’m going to give you some anesthetic for the pain, then we can get in there to clean and stitch you up.”

Harry just nods, going back to holding the cloth around it in case the bleeding picks up again while Niall rummages around at the counter along the wall. He comes back with a shot and Harry winces and squeezes Louis’ hand as it sticks his finger.

“I’ll be back in about ten minutes, should be enough time to have it numb.”

Harry and Louis both nod, and Niall exits the sectioned off room, closing the curtain behind him.

Louis tries to talk to Harry to distract him. He’s noticed he’s gone slightly pale and his grip on Louis hasn’t let up. He gets him to laugh a bit, and they chat about plans for the week at the shop. Soon enough Niall is returning and cleaning the cut, ready to begin stitching Harry up.

As soon as he starts, Harry shoves his face back into Louis’ chest. He lets go of Louis’ hand and wraps it around Louis’ waist, holding onto him tightly.

“Does it hurt, babe?” he asks, running his fingers through Harry’s hair.

“Oh, it shouldn’t.” Niall stills his hands. “You shouldn’t feel anything. Did the shot not numb you completely?”

“No, it did. Just don’t want to look. Think I can see bone,” Harry says, words muffled.

Louis lets out a laugh. “It’s going to be fine, love.”

“Nah, you can’t see the bone. Nearly, though. That knife got you good,” Niall says, nearly finished stitching up the cut. “You two are quite cute.”

“Thank you,” Harry says, turning his head sideways on Louis’ chest to look up at him. Louis smiles down at him and kisses him on the forehead.

After Niall’s done, he explains how to care for the stitches, and when they can be taken out.

“All right, thank you,” Harry says as he stands from the hospital bed.

“No problem, Harry.” He turns to Louis before they part ways. “Meant to tell you Tommo, your last movie was amazing.”

“Thanks, Niall. We should get lunch sometime, catch up and all that.”

“Definitely! Here.” He scribbles something down on the paper he’s holding that has instructions for how to care for stitches. “Shoot me a text and we’ll set something up. I work sort of weird hours but we can figure out something.”

Louis takes the paper from him with a smile. “Awesome, yeah. See you later then.”

“See you. Take care of those stitches, Harry,” Niall instructs before turning and walking the other way, a nurse handing him a chart almost immediately.

“He was nice,” Harry comments through a yawn.

“Yeah.” Louis clears his throat. “Let’s get you home.”

After arriving back at Harry’s, Louis decides to just fix them breakfast for dinner quickly, both of them quite hungry. They eat omelets just standing in the kitchen, talking and laughing with each other.

As per usual when he’s over at Harry’s this late at night—it’s not that late Louis tells himself, it’s not even ten - Harry asks him to spend the night. And of course Louis says yes, because how could he not? Especially when Harry pulls out the pout and even tacks on that he has an injury and needs someone there “just in case.” Harry really doesn’t need to convince Louis to stay, but he won’t tell him that for fear he’ll stop the cute pouting.

They pile in Harry’s huge bed, Harry being extra careful with his finger.

“Thank you for helping me today. Sorry I ruined dinner.”

“Hey, no. You didn’t ruin anything.” Louis scoots closer and draws him in for a long kiss. When he goes to pull back, Harry rests his hand on Louis’ back and deepens the kiss. Harry’s mouth is warm and insistent. Louis breathes through his nose, humming quietly. Harry bites down on Louis’ lip, causing him to moan and grip tighter where he’s threaded his hands through Harry’s curls.

The kiss continues, Harry rolling over so he’s half on top of Louis. It’s not until he feels Harry slowly grinding his hips into him that he realizes they’re both hard. He moves his hand down to Harry’s shoulder and squeezes, trying to slightly pull Harry back. They break apart, both panting.

“Harry, we, we really shouldn’t.” As he watches Harry’s face fall he quickly says, “because your finger, babe. Don’t want it to get hurt.”

Harry’s frown lifts and he nods in understanding. “Okay, you’re right.” He rolls over on his back, off of Louis.

Louis, not wanting Harry to be upset, rolls over and lays his head on Harry’s chest, wrapping his arm around his middle. “Let’s get some sleep, you’ve had a long night.” He presses a kiss to Harry’s chest, over the thin fabric of his shirt.

Harry wraps his arm around Louis and sighs. “Yeah, ‘m really tired. Night Lou.” He feels Harry kiss the top of his head and then drifts off to sleep.

*

“I still don’t get why you couldn’t have just done this at your house?” Louis asks, looking around the bright and colorful salon as he tries to keep his head still. It’s empty, save for him and his sister. They’re closed on Sundays, but Louis asked her to do it today so that he didn’t have to be around so many other people in here.

“Because it would be a pain in the ass to take all my shit home when you can just come in here and let me do it.” Lottie rubs some sort of pomade between her hands and starts running it through the top of his hair.

She insisted it was time for him to get a haircut, and he agreed, reluctantly. He was liking the length but he did want a change. They decide to keep it longer on top and shorter on the sides and back, with a hint of an undercut. Which isn’t something he’s ever had before, so he hopes he doesn’t hate it.

When she’s done applying the product to his hair, she looks at him straight on, tilting her head from side to side and squinting.

“Does it look bad?” he asks anxiously, starting ro raise his hand from underneath the cape she’s draped over him.

No,” she snaps, holding his arm down. “It looks good, and I’m really glad we gave you a nice shave too. You look less homeless now.”

“I didn’t look homeless,” he says exasperatedly.

“Chill, I’m just kidding. The long hair was nice but this is just… cool. You needed it.”

Louis sighs. “Can I look at it?”

Lottie bites her lip and nods. “Close your eyes first,” she says, before beginning to spin the chair around to face the mirror.

When she stops turning him, he can feel as she removes the cape from around him. “Okay,” she tells him. And when he opens his eyes and sees his reflection in the mirror, he lets out a small gasp. He turns his head left and right to see the sides, and it looks good. Like, really good. Obviously Lottie is good at what she does and he trusted her, but he’d never really had a haircut like this one before. He only ever got it trimmed and it was styled appropriately for his roles and events. But this, he loves.

“Lottie, this is amazing.” He makes eye contact with her in the mirror and smiles, which she matches.

“You like it?” She messes with a piece of his hair in the front, trying to place it just right.

“Love it, yeah. Thanks.” She gives him a smile before she starts cleaning up her workstation, putting all the tools and things she used back in their appropriate drawers and containers.

He messes around with his hair some more in the mirror while she sweeps up his hair from the floor, loving how easy it will be to style in the mornings. A stark difference to his longer hair that would get tangled and sort of frizzy sometimes, so much so he’d just throw a headband or hat on and be done with it.

“I’m sure Mom will be happy,” he says, earning a laugh from Lottie.

“Yeah, she’d always try and mess with your hair if you hadn’t done much with it that day. Think she’ll like it a lot.”

Louis smiles at that, and he walks to the front with Lottie as she begins to turn lights off and gather the keys to lock up.

“I know someone else who’ll like it too.” She smirks, and he gives her a confused look.

“Who are you-”

“Your boyfriend!”

Louis shakes his head and walks out the front door. “Lottie, he’s not-”

“I know, I know. But he will like it,” she says as she locks the door behind them. He rolls his eyes to try and act as if he wasn’t already thinking about how Harry would react.

“You know what?” She stops in the middle of the sidewalk, turning to face him with a huge smile.

Louis looks at her warily. “What?”

She grabs his hand and, before he can protest, drags him across the street. “Let’s go see him!”

Louis tries to resist her insistent pulling, but by then they are already a couple of steps away from the open shop door. “Why are you doing this?” he whines pathetically.

“Because I love you, and so d-” She mumbles something under her breath that Louis can’t quite catch. But it doesn’t matter much, because a couple seconds later they’re up the two steps and inside the flower shop.

They technically weren’t open today either, but Harry wanted to come in and work on the flower strings for the fall festival at the end of the week. Louis, of course, offered to come in and help him, but Harry insisted he enjoy his day off.

Louis was planning on bringing him dinner later anyway - but now that Lottie was present as well he just knew she was about to make it weird. It felt a little unnerving that Lottie was so close to Harry, to think about the possibility—or rather, the certainty—that they had talked about him before, about whatever it was that he and Harry were doing and how Harry felt about it. He felt weird about her knowing stuff he didn’t and he just knew she’d use it to her advantage.

Harry wasn’t at the counter in the back of the store, but there was music floating through the room from the back, so he was easily found.

Lottie struts into the back room, shouting Harry’s name, which was met with an equally loud shriek followed by a quieter “fuck.” Louis laughs as he enters the room, and sees Harry staring at her wide-eyed and clutching his chest.

“What is wrong with you?” Harry asks.“You didn’t have to do that.”

Lottie just shrugs, plops herself in a chair and pats her lap to get Dots to jump into it.

It takes Harry a moment to notice Louis standing there in the doorway, and when he does his mouth drops open and he just… stares.

After about 30 seconds of him not saying anything, Louis grows self-conscious and reaches up to run a hand through his hair. “Hi,” he says quietly.

“Hi,” Harry parrots, still wide-eyed.

Lottie rolls her eyes. “Come on, Dots. Let’s go visit Gemma. These two are being weirdos.” She says in a baby voice before picking Dots up and leaving the room.

Seemingly unbothered by her, Harry is still looking at him. “That bad?” Louis asks with an uncomfortable laugh.

This makes Harry stumble over his words to correct him. “No, no. I, uh. Um it’s-.” He stops and takes a breath, then steps closer. “You look…” he sighs, a hint of a smile appearing on his face. “You look really good, Lou.”

Lous can feel heat rise to his cheeks, still unsure of why Harry has this effect on him. “You think so?”

Harry nods, taking another step forward so they’re toe to toe. He brings his hand up to Louis’ face, caressing the newly shaved skin with his thumb.

“Why’d you do it?”

Louis shrugs. “Wanted a change.”

Harry smiles and lets out a small laugh. “Well you look so good.” He leans forward and connects their lips, immediately running his tongue along Louis’ lips.

Louis moans into Harry’s mouth once he deepens it, walking Harry backward until they both jostle the table, causing them to both laugh into each other’s mouth.

Louis pulls back after a moment, and when Harry makes eye contact with him, he smiles softly.

“Can I ask you something?” Harry asks as he runs his hand through the short hair at the base of Louis’ neck.

“Yeah, course. Even though you just did.”

Harry rolls his eyes with a laugh. “Very original joke, that one.”

Louis digs his fingers into Harry’s sides, tickling him and watching as he squirms and giggles loudly. “Made you laugh, though.”

Harry’s nearly out of breath after Louis quits tickling him. He slouches forward and hugs Louis. “Please let me take you out tonight.”

“More of a statement, really. A polite demand, even,” Louis comments, hearing Harry sigh fondly before continuing. “But sure babe, I’d love to. Where were you thinking? The diner? Maybe go for ice cream?”

Harry pulls back from the hug, and he’s biting his lip, eyes shifting around the room, looking everywhere but on Louis. “Um, no. Actually I was thinking dinner in Atlanta? Maybe go see a movie as well?”

Louis is quiet for a moment, stunned into silence really. Because while their little outings for dinner and lunch around town and the couple of times they flipped over the ‘open’ sign on the front door of the shop and went down the street for ice cream could be seen as dates, there was enough room for plausible deniability. Louis made sure of that. But this, what Harry was asking for, this was a date. Harry was actually asking him out on a date. No room for “oh no, it’s just having dinner with a friend!” This was serious. Something Louis definitely intended not to do when they started whatever it is that they’re doing.

He’s apparently stayed quiet for too long, because Harry starts stumbling over himself to take back the offer. He’s doing a terrible job of trying to mask the sadness on his face and this is worse than saying yes to a date. An upset Harry, that’s what he’d been trying to prevent in the first place. But at the first sight of it he finds himself rushing to stop it.

“Hey, no. Harry, stop. No.”

“I get it, I do,” Harry continues as if Louis hasn’t said anything. “It was stupid to ask. I know you don't want to, I’m sorry for even-”

“Harry, would you let me. No, it’s not-”

“It's fine, I promise it is. I wasn’t like expec-

Louis has no other choice but to shove his hand over Harry’s mouth to get him to stop talking.

Harry’s eyes grow wide and hesitantly meet Louis’.

“I would love to go to dinner and a movie with you," he says, bringing his hand down.

If possible, Harry’s eyes grow even wider and his closed mouth drops open. “You’re serious?”

Louis smiles, and finds himself actually happy about the idea of he and Harry going out. Maybe tonight will help him sort out whatever his feelings are about all this. Maybe even talk to Harry about it, like he knows he should be doing. “Yeah, course I am.”

Harry lets out an excited squeal and kisses Louis again.

“For fuck’s sake, I come in to pick up my paycheck and have to see you two eating each other’s faces again ?”

They both startle apart and look toward the doorway, where Mikaela is stood looking scandalized.

Harry laughs and kisses Louis once more before walking toward the door, lightly flicking her on the arm as he passes and presumably goes to fetch her check.

“Don’t act like you’ve never seen two people kiss.” Louis laughs and rolls his eyes at her.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d rather see that than two straight people. But still.”

Louis cackles loudly. “I mean, yeah, fair point.”

She begins to look at him seriously, any hint of a smile vanished. “You need to make it official.”

“I-” Louis is stunned, really. Didn’t know what to say. Is everyone in their life just silently judging them and waiting around for them to, well, be together officially? Is Harry telling everyone that it’s because of Louis that they aren’t together? Which, while it is true, is a bit… humiliating. “Did he say something?”

Mikaela cocks her head to the side. “No. It’s just quite obvious you’re the one holding back.”

“Is it?”

“Here you go!” Harry re-enters the room with an envelope in hand, immediately sensing the awkwardness in the room. He looks between both of them before handing Mikaela her check.

She smiles and accepts it, thanking him and turning to leave. “Do it, Louis,” she says, looking him directly in the eye before walking through the door.

Harry looks at him confusedly. “Do what?”

“Uh... oh. She wants me to, um. Sign a movie poster for her little sister?” he says, hoping that even makes sense.

Harry narrows his eyes and tilts his head. “Hm. Okay, then.”

Louis lets out a breath he doesn’t realize he’s holding, then waltzes over to press a kiss to his lips. “See you later?” he asks with a smile.

“I’ll pick you up at 7.”

“See you then." He kisses him once more then walks out the back door of the shop to his car. What did he just agree to?

*

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this worked up and nervous, and I was there with you in Atlanta for your first audition,” Lottie says as she perches herself on the end of her bed and sips on a glass of sweet tea.

“Yes, but this is different .” He looks in the floor-length mirror one more time, then begins shuffling out of the third pair of pants he’s tried on.

“It is different. I would think you’d be more stressed for your first audition than for your twentieth date with a guy.”

Louis spins around and props his hands on his hips, knowing how ridiculous he must look dressed in only a black band shirt, a black blazer, and his boxers. “This isn’t the twentieth date. This is the first actual date.”

Lottie tilts her head. “Does Harry know that?”

And… does he? Louis is pretty sure he does, if his obvious nervousness to ask Louis out is anything to go by. “I think so,” Louis says, a little unsure.

She sighs and shakes her head, continuing to scroll on her phone and being as little help as she possibly can be.

“Lotts, can you not be useless, please? If I stole Harry’s best friend away for the day you should at least help me decide on an outfit.”

“He has Adam today, he’s fine. He and Gus are home for a few days since it’s Gus’ sister’s birthday. He doesn’t listen to me half the time anyway.” Lottie stands and chucks her phone on the bed. She cocks her hip and gets a look of concentration on her face before shouting for Tommy without taking her eyes off of the half of Louis’ outfit that they’d figured out.

Seconds later, Tommy appears in the doorway. “Yeah, babe?”

“Dress pants would be too much, right? The blazer’s enough. Black skinnies you think?”

Tommy studies Louis for a moment, and Louis is far too frustrated with the outfit-picking process at this point to care that they’re both staring at him when he’s still in his briefs. “Think so, yeah. Maybe rolled up a little with nicer shoes.”

Lottie looks back at him and tilts her head from side to side, considering the idea before she begins to nod. “Knew I married you for a reason. Thank you.”

Tommy laughs and wishes Louis good luck tonight before retreating downstairs.

They decide on a plain pair of black skinnies. “Tightest ones you’ve got, Lou,” Lottie instructs and pairs them with a black suede pair of oxfords. Lottie also styles his hair, which doesn’t much take much effort because of the new cut, and by the time he’s all ready to go he begins to notice a nervous feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Once they’ve made it downstairs and are just standing around chatting in the kitchen waiting for Harry to arrive, Lottie notices his nervousness.

“Looking a bit pale there, Lou.”

He sighs, reaching up to fiddling with his hair before remembering it’s styled and he doesn’t want to mess it up. “Don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Lottie considers him for a moment. “You know, I was very wary of all… this.” She gestures to him with her hands. “To be quite honest when it comes to your history with guys I assumed this was the same, just a casual fling. But after Harry informed me that the two of you have yet to have sex-”

Louis grimaces, not needing the explicit confirmation that Harry has shared details about them with his own sister.

“-and seeing how nervous you are right now just because this is a bit fancier of an outing and because he asked you to go on a date , I think this is a lot more than just a fling. Even if you don’t even realize it.”

And, of course it’s more than that. Louis was fooling himself to ever think that getting involved with a real life Disney prince could be anything casual. It makes him feel quite shitty, looking back on all the times Harry had tried to take it one step further, no matter how subtly, but being shot down every time with no explanation of why. He’s shared everything with Harry by now — his deepest fears, regrets, hopes, dreams... all the cliché bullshit you hear about in movies. He’s talked to him about how miserable he’d become in LA and how his break had brought happiness back to his life. Louis has shared his feelings on everything under the sun with Harry except for his feelings for him .

The ding of the door bell pulls him out of his thoughts, and he looks at Lottie wide-eyed, feeling his heartbeat speed up, like it’s physically thudding against his chest and even though he’s not a doctor, he doubts that’s actually happening. He gulps, and tries to breathe. He can do this. It’s just Harry. But that’s just it, isn’t it? Harry isn’t just anything. He’s…every good thing a person can be rolled into one. And Louis has to tell him. Has to let him know how he feels. He suddenly feels he can’t go another day without telling him.

Lottie nudges him toward the foyer, holding back while he answers the door. He struggles to open the door due to the amount of sweat on his hands. After a quick wipe on his pants, he tries again. When the door swings open, the sight of Harry almost knocks the breath out of him.

He’s dressed in a floral button down shirt that could have either cost him a few bucks or a few hundred, with his signature first few buttons undone. And he and Harry seemed to have the same idea with the black blazers and black skinny jeans, Louis has to force his eyes down past his thighs because—wow—he thought his jeans were tight. Instead of dress shoes he’s of course wearing a pair of black boots.

His curls are extra curly, if that’s possible and when Louis meets his eyes his smile grows. He brings his hands from behind his back, holding out a bouquet of flowers of all different colors. Because of course. Upon closer inspection, the flowers on his shirt look like the same ones, which makes Louis release a small chuckle as he reaches for them.

“Thank you,” Louis says, sort of shyly as he smells them.

“‘Course, Lou. You look really...” He stops to sigh, Louis watches as his eyes slowly rake over his body. “Really lovely.”

“So do you, love.” Louis steps forward, placing his hand on the dip of Harry’s waist and pecks him on the lips. “Let me go put these in some water then we can be off.” He kisses him again then turns around and makes his way to the kitchen, watching as Lottie rushes toward Harry as soon as he steps away.

After locating a vase, filling it with water, and placing the flowers in it, he returns to the foyer, hearing the tail end of their conversation.

“-to him," he hears Lottie saying, raising her brow and looking at Harry intently.

“I’ll bring it up tonight, I promise,” Harry says in a loud whisper, turning around when Louis clears his throat. He smiles brightly and holds out a hand for him. “You ready?”

Louis nods with a smile and follows him out the door after thanking Lottie for her help. A few minutes into their drive into the city, the sound of Harry’s voice and laughs, and the looks he’s giving Louis make the nerves seem to dissipate.

Louis finds it amusing how nervous he was, as if the time they’d be spending together would be somehow different with the pressure of it being a date. But the entire ride to the restaurant they listen to music, play silly car games he hasn’t played since he was a kid and his family were driving to the beach. It’s just… easy. Always is with Harry.

*

By the time they park the car and start walking down the street, all the nerves that were flooding Louis’ body had vanished. In a moment of boldness, he reaches over and intertwines his fingers with Harry’s, and the smile he receives is worth the possibility of getting recognized by someone.

When Harry begins to steer them toward the entrance to the restaurant, Louis’ a little confused.

“I thought we were seeing a movie first.”

“Do you really want to see a movie? I mean we can, but... I decided we could maybe have a bit more fun?” He bites his bottom lip, something Louis’ noticed he does fairly often.

Louis gives him a smile. “Whatever you have planned will be fun. Let’s do that.”

Louis gets a smile and a kiss on the cheek as they make their way into the restaurant, which he notices is one of the more popular ones in the large city. He crosses his fingers behind his back, hoping they don’t have any interruptions during dinner.

“Reservation for Styles, please,” Harry tells the woman who begins searching the book in front of her for the name. “And, um. I asked for a spot in the back, maybe? Just more secluded if possible,” he adds in a much more hushed voice, causing her to look up and notice Louis.

“Right, yes. Of course, Mr. Styles. Right this way.”

They follow her to the back of the restaurant where there’s a table near the window around a slight corner.

“How’s this?” the hostess asks.

“Perfect, thank you,” Harry tells her.

Louis pulls out a chair and motions for Harry to sit with an exaggerated smile.

“Thank you." Harry sits down and Louis rounds the table to sit in the other chair. “You’re supposed to let me woo you, though.”

“Am I now? Is that what this is?” Louis teases, taking a sip of the water on the table.

“Uh, yes. Yes it is," he says seriously, causing them both to laugh. “I’m determined to make this the best date you’ve ever been on.”

“I wouldn’t try too hard. I have it on good authority you may have a bit of an unfair advantage.”

“Do I now?”

“Um, yeah. You’re… just. Yeah, you do.” Louis gives him a smile he hopes communicates what he means. Harry matches his smile, so he’s hopeful.

“Sorry if it was weird of me to ask for, uh.” He gestures to the table and it takes Louis a few seconds to catch on to what he means.

“Oh, no. Harry,” Louis reaches forward and places his hand over Harry’s. “It was… nice of you. Really thoughtful, thank you.”

Harry smiles at him and they both look over the menu to decide what they want, and when the waiter comes to take their drink order, Harry orders them both an iced tea.

“What, don’t want a drunk Louis on your hands, Styles?” Louis asks once the waiter departs.

Harry’s eyes widen and he almost chokes on his sip of water. “No, no. I, um.”

“I’m kidding, Harry. Tea is fine. Great even.”

“No, it’s just that, uh. We may be going to a wine tasting?" he says quietly.

“What, babe?” Louis asks. “Speak up, I couldn’t understand.”

“We, um. May be going to a wine tasting? I just… kind of wanted the rest of the date to be a surprise.” He shrugs, “Something fancy, I suppose.”

“Oh, Harry. That sounds lovely. It’s fine, though. Surprise or not it will be fun.” Louis squeezes his hand over the table and gives him a playful wink. “And I don’t need anything fancy.”

“Well you’ll never guess the other part of the date, so I guess that’s still a surprise,” Harry says with a smirk.

“A third part? Oooh, you’re really going all out with this.”

“Wanted it to be special,” Harry murmurs, and Louis tries hard not to smile as big as he does.

“Was always going to be special with you.”

The blush on Harry’s cheeks after that comment is worth the miniscule amount of anxiety it causes him. He reminds himself that this is the night, the one he was going to tell Harry how he feels about him and hopefully make all of this official. No matter how afraid he was of messing it all up.

*

“You may want to lose the blazer for this next part,” Harry says as they park and get out of the car.

He looks to him confused, because why would he need to take his blazer off for a wine tasting? He means to ask him, but gets distracted as Harry takes off his own, because the majority of the back of his shirt is sheer. Louis watches as the muscles in his back move as he folds his blazer once and places it on the backseat of the car.

“Um,” Louis’ brought out of his thoughts when Harry turns back around. “Why? It’s just a wine tasting.”

Harry smirks again before walking around Louis and placing his hands on his shoulders. “Not yet it’s not. We’re going to have a little fun first.” Harry helps him out of his blazer, all while Louis’ thoughts are flying all over the place trying to figure out what Harry means by ‘a little fun.’

“Oh get that look off your face.” Harry closes the car door and pecks him on the lips once, then again, and a third time that’s nothing but two smiles pressed together. “Come on, let’s go.”

They walk hand in hand out of the parking deck and down the street, and when they come up on the destination, and Louis reads the sign Bad Axe Throwing , Louis gives Harry the most surprised and confused look, causing him to cackle loudly.

Harry opens the door for him, motioning for him to go ahead in, and Louis rolls his eyes at the dramatics. Even though he can’t help the smile.

“Since when do people throw axes for fun? This seems dangerous, and,” Louis looks Harry up and down with a furrowed brow, “and a bit serial killer-y if you ask me.”

Harry laughs loudly, again. This time causes a few people to look their way. “It’s really fun, I promise. And it’s not dangerous. Or serial killer-y.” Harry looks a bit offended at that last one.

“I mean, it just seems to me like this is like, practice for something. And what the fuck else would you do when throwing an axe?” Harry’s giving him a petulant pout, which makes Louis laugh.

“It’s supposed to be fun,” Harry whines.

“Whatever you say babe, let’s do this,” Louis says with an joking eye roll, balancing it out with a kiss to Harry’s cheek, feeling Harry’s dimple under his lips before he pulls away.

*

So axe throwing is a thing Louis could have never guessed would be a thing that turns him on, but by the time they’re leaving and walking down the street to the winery, he’s hoping his little problem has gone down enough not to be noticeable.

He kind of feels like Harry noticed it, though, which Louis hates because he’s smirking but not mentioning it at all. It’s driving Louis crazy. It’s just… Harry rolling up his sleeves and chucking an axe at a wall and hitting near the bullseye every time was a lot to watch. Especially when his arm muscles bulged and flexed, his back moving under his shirt. He did it with such ease too, is the thing. And when Louis tried after Harry, he foolishly assumed it would be as easy as he made it look. It wasn’t.

He didn’t make it anywhere near the bullseye and he knows damn well he didn’t look good doing it either. The instructor even had to help him with his ‘form’. That wasn’t a bad thing actually, because when he looked at Harry out of the corner of his eye he was staring intensely at them with the hint of a scowl on his face.

Jealousy, is what it looked like. Not that he was familiar with it. Louis had never had a guy be jealous of other guys being around him. That was new. All the guys who Louis had been with back in LA just… didn’t care. Looking back, he doesn’t really know why they even considered themselves to be in an actual relationship when it was really just friends with benefits. One of the benefits was being able to say he had a boyfriend. But none of the guys really cared about commitment or Louis being with them exclusively like he would have liked. So the jealousy - he thinks it is, at least - kind of makes him feel a bit happy in a weird sort of twisted way.

As they’re walking side by side down the street Harry just stops. Louis goes to take another step before realizing it and spinning around to face him. “What, something wrong?”

Harry is just looking at him, squinting his eyes slightly. He looks at him for another couple of seconds before grabbing his hands and dragging him in the other direction.

“What are you doing? Did you forget something at the axe throwing place?”

“Nope.”

They keep walking, past the axe throwing place before their crossing the street and heading toward a hotel.

“Harry where are we going?”

“Don’t really want to go to a wine tasting, how about we get a drink at the hotel’s bar instead?”

“Uh,” Louis’ fine with it, really. Never had been a big wine person anyway. “You sure? Didn’t you plan this and-”

“Yeah, but. Aren’t wine tastings full of middle-aged straight couples?”

Louis laughs loudly and cocks his head to the side. “Well, I’d assume so. Was just going to have fun with you there anyway.”

“Mind if we switch it up then?” Harry bites down on his bottom lip and squeezes Louis’ hand.

Louis just shrugs, still a little confused. “Sure, babe.”

Harry gives him a smile and they continue into the hotel’s entrance.

*

An hour later finds them in a secluded corner booth in the hotel’s bar, Harry’s occasional squawk of a laugh earning them stares. For once Louis’ getting stared at in public and it isn’t because they recognize him from a movie. It’s because the more alcohol Harry consumes, the louder and more giggly he gets.

“Babe, you’ve got to quiet down, you don’t want to get us kicked out.”

Harry turns to muffle his giggles into the crook of his neck, Louis burying a hand in his curls.

“Sorry, sorry.” Harry lays his head on his shoulder then, reaching for his glass and struggling to maneuver the straw to his lips for a couple of seconds. “This is nice.”

Louis huffs a laugh. “It is, isn’t it?” They’re pressed close together, only a minimal amount of light flooding the secluded corner of the bar. The only sounds he can really hear is the low hum of music, the occasional clinking of glasses, and Harry’s intoxicating low voice and his infectious giggles.

“So you don’t mind that we came here instead?” Harry raises his head from Louis’ shoulder to take a sip of Louis’ beer.

Louis just shook his head no, reaching forward to fix a stray curl that keeps falling into Harry’s face. “Why’d you want to do this instead, though?”

Harry flushes a bit at the question and gives him a shrug. “Dunno, just wanted to be alone with you, I guess?” He bites down into the plushness of his lower lip, a bit like he’s unsure of his answer.

Louis smiles softly though, leaning forward to place a kiss on lips before drawing back a few inches. “Well, I’m really glad. Would rather be here right now than drinking wine with other people around.”

Harry closes the space between them again, giving him a few more chaste kisses before licking into his mouth and causing him to let out a surprised moan. It only lasts a few seconds before Harry is pulling away and standing up. He turns to Louis once he’s guided his long legs out of the booth. “More drinks?” he asks with a smile before walking over to the bar.

Louis smiles and laughs to himself, shaking his head. What has he gotten himself into with Harry Styles? He briefly remembers the conversation he wants to have with Harry and then looks at the couple of empty glasses on the table. Maybe they’ll sober up soon so they can have it? He feels a bit anxious now, having wanted to speak with Harry about it tonight, but by the looks of it he may have to put it off another day. He sighs, downing the last few gulps of his beer before Harry shows up with two glasses full of something bright pink, the color matching the smile on his lips perfectly.

“You have to try this Lou; it tastes like cotton candy!” he says excitedly, sitting the glasses down before scooting onto the seat, right up against Louis’ side again.

Louis grimaces at the thought and smell, but Harry is already sipping his excitedly and waiting for him to do the same.

After a few sips, Louis decides he can’t finish it. The taste is good, very sweet, but he can’t have more than a few sips. Harry, on the other hand is halfway done with his.

“Here, you can have the rest of mine, too. It’s a little too sweet for me.”

Harry giggles again, pressing a wet and sticky kiss to his cheek. “That’s okay, you’re sweet enough.”

Louis rolls his eyes at the line, a smile finding its way to his lips anyway. It always does with Harry. “Very smooth.”

“Just telling the truth,” Harry says, laughing again before he’s kissing Louis just once. His lips taste like cotton candy and Louis can’t help but to deepen it. The sweetness of the drink was too much, but the taste of it on Harry’s tongue seems to be just right.

It doesn't take very long for them to be panting into each other’s mouths, Harry grabbing Louis’ shirt roughly and Louis dipping down to kiss along Harry’s neck.

Harry lets out a moan when Louis begins sucking rather than kissing, and that’s exactly when Louis notices two things. He’s gotten incredibly hard incredibly fast, and though they are in a darker corner of the bar, there’s no way everybody in the bar didn’t just hear Harry.

“Baby, you can’t be so loud.” He pulls away to look at Harry, and what he sees is not at all helping the situation in his pants. Harry’s eyes are dark, and his cheeks have a light flush, but the main thing causing Louis to nearly begin whining in his throat is his lips. They’re a deep pink and even fuller from all the kissing. Louis can’t stop himself from running his finger over his bottom lip, the wetness from their spit wetting his finger.

“Let’s get a room then, Lou. Can’t drive like this anyway.”

Before Louis can respond, Harry attaches his mouth to Louis’ neck, and that’s when he throws caution to the wind.

“Harry, babe. Listen to me. I’m-I can’t go to the front desk and get a room, my shirt isn’t long enough to cover. Yours is though, if you’re just as hard as I am-”

“Am, Louis. I am, so hard," he interrupts.

“Fuck,” Louis says with a sigh. “Okay, okay. But your shirt is longer, so I need you to take my card and get a room while I pay for our drinks okay? You meet me by the elevators when you’re done.”

Harry just nods, eyes on Louis’ lips. He goes to lean in again, but Louis stops him as he pulls his card and a bit of cash from his wallet. “Here, love. Go get a room. Doesn’t matter what kind or how much, just hurry.”

Harry nods again, and captures Louis’ lips in one more kiss before he stumbles out of the booth and toward the lobby. He can tell Harry’s a bit past tipsy by the way he’s walking, but Louis just ignores it and lays twenty dollars on the table for a tip. Louis walks to the bar and hands the guy a fifty-dollar bill to cover their tab before he’s making his way to the elevator, praying nobody notices the tightness in the front of his pants.

It takes Harry a few minutes before he meets him at the elevators, Louis’ card and the key cards to the room in one hand.

“Tenth floor, come on,” Harry says as he’s jabbing the elevator button hastily.

“Calm down, H.” He laughs, wrapping his arms around Harry’s back.

“Lou, I’m so hard," he nearly whines, entering the elevator and pressing the button for the tenth floor before leaning his entire body against Louis’.

“You’re also quite drunk, darling.”

Harry just shakes his head no, and when Louis looks down he can see how right he is. God they both probably look ridiculous. He’s really going to die of embarrassment if the elevator door opens and there’s anyone standing waiting for it.

There isn’t, thankfully. Their room is the first door on the right after they exit. Harry is still stuck to his side as he opens the door, and as soon as it closes, Louis tosses the card on the little table in the entry hall and turns around to push Harry against the wall.

He can feel his heart in his throat as he returns Harry’s kiss, it getting progressively worse when Harry pushes his hips forward and brushes their clothed cocks together. They both moan, and Harry continues the movement. Louis doesn’t stop him.

Suddenly Harry is disconnecting their mouths and pushing Louis off of him.

Louis looks at him confusedly but Harry is smirking and walking backwards toward the bed room, simultaneously unbuttoning his shirt.

And, fuck. This is happening. He’s stopped them every time before they got here—but this time he can’t bring himself to.

He follows Harry in a daze, eyes glued to where Harry’s hands are moving quickly to undo the buttons of his pants as his shirt hangs open.

The only thing that stopped Louis before when it came to this—having sex with Harry—was the fact that he didn’t want to get attached to him, didn’t want to do anything he’d regret when he left for LA after the holidays.

But if he’s honest with himself… he knows he doesn’t want to go back. And the fact that Harry isn’t the only part of that decision kind of cements it for him that he isn’t going back. And, well, if an opportunity to be with Harry—be with him in all the right ways—is also a result of him not leaving, then that’s the best possible way this could all end.

So, fuck it. He’s not holding back any longer. He should have talked to Harry already but he’ll do that tomorrow. Maybe he’ll surprise Harry at his house tomorrow night or something. Yeah, that works, as they’re both a little too drunk for serious conversations tonight. And much too worked up for it.

“Lou?” Harry calls quietly, and when Louis looks over he’s laid out of the bed, in only his boxers. He looks so hesitant, like he isn’t sure if Louis’ going to tell him they can’t, that they have to stop.

He quickly begins taking his shirt off, when he has it over his head and falling to the floor, he can see a smile begin to form on Harry’s face. He walks over to the edge of the bed as he unbuttons his pants.

“You’re…” he trails off, looking at Harry all spread out and rubbing himself through the thin fabric. “Gorgeous. So gorgeous.”

Harry flushes prettily at his words, and Louis’ in a trance, not wanting to take his eyes off of Harry, so he sort of stumbles as he shoves his jeans down his legs, tripping once they’re around his ankles and falling on the bed, half on top of Harry.

They both dissolve into giggles as Louis tries his best to kick and remove his jeans with only his feet. It takes a moment, but he succeeds and immediately raises up on his hands and knees above Harry, looking down at him.

Harry starts to wriggle around under his intense gaze, hands flying out to pull Louis’ body down on his. “Kiss me, Lou. Please.”

And who is Louis to deny such a pretty boy with a mouth looking and tasting so delicious? So he does, Harry automatically opening his mouth for Louis’ tongue. He moans into the kiss, the sound going straight to Louis’ dick. He’s then reminded how hard he is, nearly throbbing in the confines of his boxers.

He hesitantly aligns their hips, swallowing the moan Harry lets out in his mouth. They rut together at an agonizing pace, Harry eventually throwing his head back, his neck, with all it’s creamy white skin, practically begging Louis to mark it up. So he does, he goes about sucking a bruise to Harry’s neck. He feels Harry thread his fingers through his hair, pulling lightly as he moans and picks up the pace of his rutting.

Louis grinds his hips down harsher so Harry doesn’t have to keep lifting his hips to seek pressure. That makes it all feel better, and he can feel the beginnings of an orgasm building.

“Louuu, I’m gonna come in a minute, if you—ah—if you don’t stop.”

“That’s the plan isn’t it?” He pulls up and looks at Harry with a furrowed brow. “Want me to stop?”

Harry shakes his head no, but Louis is already getting up on his knees. “Can I suck you off?”

He watches Harry’s eyes widen and his head nod rapidly, which makes him huff a quiet laugh.

“Been wanting to get my mouth on you,” Louis tells him as he starts tugging his boxers down his legs. And it’s not a lie, really. He’s been able to see how big Harry is when he wears tight pants, and that one time he was wearing grey sweatpants.

When he’s dropped Harry’s underwear to the floor, he’s able to see just how big Harry actually is. His cock is insanely hard and flushed, and he can feel his mouth-watering at the sight.

He gives it a few long strokes, watching as Harry bites his plump bottom lip and tries to hold in his moans.

“Wanna hear you, babe,” he tells him before he’s leaning down and taking him halfway down. It causes Harry to let out a long, drawn-out moan.

He hums around him, using his hand to spread the wetness before taking him down again, this time all the way. It makes him gag a bit before he gets used to it. Then he’s bobbing his head and reaching to tug at Harry’s balls.

Harry’s hand flies to Louis’ head, hands threading through his hair. “Lou, I’m gonna come.”

Louis pulls off and replaces his mouth with his hand. “Go ahead, love," he says before taking just a bit of him into his mouth, using his hand to massage his cock as he sucks hard on the head.

Soon Harry is shooting into his mouth, his hand pulling the hair it’s hold. Louis swallows it all, and pulls off so he doesn’t hurt him. When his own cock brushes against the very edge of the bed, be feels like he could come the second he gets his hand around himself.

He steps back on one foot, right at the end of the bed and wraps a hand around his throbbing cock, giving himself a long and languid stroke. “Harry, fuck. That was so hot, I’m gonna-”

“No!” Harry’s sitting up quickly. “Wanna suck you off. Please, Lou. Love it.” He looks up at Louis, his eyes are blown out and glassy, and one look at his swollen pink lips and his mind is made up.

“Fuck, okay.” He watches as Harry wraps a hand around him and runs his tongue around the tip of his cock. The teasing little shit. “H, don’t tease.”

Harry looks back up at him, his cock resting on Harry’s tongue. Harry slowly moves his head forward, Louis’ cock sliding into his mouth. A moan falls from his mouth as Harry takes him all the way down, his cock hitting the back of Harry’s throat. “Shit, Harry.”

A bit of hair falls into Harry’s face as he begins to move his head, so Louis runs his fingers through his hair, moving it all back and he rests his hand on Harry’s head, still letting him move at the slow pace.

Harry pulls off after a moment. “You can fuck my face if you want," he says simply before taking his cock back in his mouth.

Louis stares at him in shock, even though Harry’s focused on other things. “You sure, babe?”

Harry just moans, nodding his head slightly.

“Fuck, okay, don’t wanna hurt you, though.” Louis moves his hand to the back of Harry’s head and gently thrusts into the warm heat of Harry’s mouth. It makes Harry moan, the vibrations nearly sending him over the edge. “Just—ahhh—just pinch my thigh if you want me to stop.”

After another nod he picks up the thrusts, still being gentle at first, until Harry reaches around and grabs a handful of Louis’ ass and shoves him forward. It makes Harry gag for a split second, but he keeps pushing him so Louis picks up his speed.

“Shit, Harry. You’re so good at this, fuck. Should’ve,” he breaks off into a gasp, “known you would be with how fucking sinful those lips look.”

Harry hums around him and looks up at Louis. His eyes are full of tears but fuck does he look like he’s enjoying this. That’s what pulls him over the edge, hips stuttering and cock spurting down Harry’s throat.

He pulls out of Harry’s mouth and quickly leans down to wipe his tears. “You okay, baby? That wasn’t too much?”

Harry just shakes his head ‘no’ and lets Louis wipe his face and give him a kiss, which he smiles into.

“That was good for you?” Harry asks him, his voice rough and deeper than normal.

Louis looks at him amusedly. “Don’t pretend like you don’t know that you just gave me the best blow job of my life.” He smirks.

Harry smiles back at him, then scoots backward to the head of the bed and lays down. “I’m sleepy now.”

Louis shakes his head, laughing as he crawls up and settles himself right beside him. Harry immediately attaches himself to Louis’ side and cuddles in. He sighs once he’s situated.

“Had such a fun night, Lou.”

Louis’ smiles down at the top of his head. “Me too, babe.” He lays a kiss on his curls.

“Mmmm, gonna fall asleep though.”

“That’s all right,” Louis says through a laugh. “Goodnight.”

“Night love,” Harry says, kissing his chest.

Louis reaches over and turns the lamp off, surrounding them in darkness. He means to think about everything that just happens and what it means for them. Means to plan when he’s going to talk to Harry about them and what he wants to say. But he’s so tired he falls asleep before he even hears Harry’s breathing even out.

*

For a minute, Louis isn’t sure what’s woken him up. He’s wrapped around Harry’s back and feels a little cold, but that can’t be what’s woken him. The room is still dark, just a bit of light peeking out from the edges of the curtains on the other side of the room. He lays there for another moment trying to figure out what pulled him from his slumber before giving up and closing his eyes. He’s just on the cusp of falling back asleep before he hears it. It’s muffled, but its just loud enough. His phone ringing.

Louis slowly detaches himself from Harry, careful not to wake him. He rubs the sleep from his eyes and slightly winces at the headache he feels as he stands and tries to figure out where the sound is coming from. His phone isn’t on the night stand, and can’t be tangled in the sheets, so he makes his way to the other side of the room to the dresser. He trips on his discarded jeans on the floor, and that’s when the sound increases in volume. He looks down and sees his phone lighting up halfway in the back pocket of his jeans.

Louis reaches down and picks it up, seeing that it’s a few minutes past eight in the morning and the person calling is his mom. He quickly walks to the bathroom and shuts the door to answer.

“Hello?” His voice is raspy from sleep, and he tries clearing his throat as he listens for an answer.

“Oh, boo. You answered.” His mother sighs in relief. “I’m not sure if you’re at Harry’s or where you are, but is there anyway you could come home and watch Doris for me? She has a high fever and she’s already been sick once. I really don’t think I can take off, and Dan’s on that job in Tennessee and Lottie is down in Augusta doing her friend’s wedding makeup. I just don’t know-”

“Momma, hey, slow down. It’s okay, I can come stay with her. But I’m still in Atlanta with Harry; we both had a bit to drink last night and couldn’t drive home so we got a hotel room.” He cringes at having to explain this to his mother of all people because he knows what conclusions can be drawn. “We can leave now, though. Be there in about an hour and a half?”

“Oh, thank you darling. I’m sorry for waking you.”

“No worries, tell Dory I’ll be there soon.”

“Okay, love you, drive safe.”

“Love you too. Bye," he tells her before hanging up.

He sighs, not wanting to have to wake Harry but not having much of a choice. He opens the bathroom cabinet and is thankful when he finds a full array of toiletries. He washes his face, brushes his teeth, and applies deodorant. He runs his hands through his hair before it’s laying somewhat acceptably and then goes back to the bedroom.

Harry is still asleep, rolled over on his stomach now. He looks so beautiful, and Louis has to stop himself from just staring so he can wake him.

Louis runs his hand up and down his back. “Harry. Harry love, wake up.”

It takes a moment, but soon Harry’s eyes are fluttering open and a disgruntled expression takes over his face.

“Mmm, it’s early Lou.” His voice is even deeper in the mornings, and Louis smiles at him because he sort of looks like a grumpy kitten with a deep frown on his face and wrinkles on his forehead.

“I know, babe. But my mom just called and needs me to watch Doris. She’s sick and Mom has to go into work.” That has Harry slowly sitting up, sheet pooling around his bare hips.

“She has to work on a Sunday?”

Louis laughs a little. “Love, it’s Monday.”

Harry’s eyes go wide. “Shit, I have two bridal appointments today. What time is it?”

“A bit past eight. If we leave now we can make it to town by ten, surely.”

Harry lets out a breath. “The first is at eleven. But okay, yeah. We need to go.”

“There’s toiletries in the bathroom. You go do all that and I’ll get dressed and text Gemma to tell her to put up a sign on the door saying the shop is opening late.”

Harry flushes a bit at the mention of them both being naked, but accepts his clothes as Louis hands them to him.

They make it on the road in good time, only taking about half an hour to get out of the room and checked out.

Louis offers to drive after Harry says that he’s still really tired and doesn’t really trust himself not to fall asleep behind the wheel. He’s right, actually, because not even fifteen minutes into the drive back he’s falling asleep in the passenger seat.

Louis just smiles over at him, planning to just let him sleep since he knows how stressed Harry has been about these two clients he’s meeting with today. One of them is a certified bridezilla, nearly changing her mind about the arrangements three times already. The other is really nice, but the wedding is a big one, which means more flowers and more extravagance. But he knows Harry can pull it off.

He tries to just focus on driving and the music playing softly but his mind can’t help but wander back to last night and just how… amazing it was. Such a different experience than he’s ever had with anyone he’s been with before.

Louis tries not to get anxious with the thought that they’ve still not really talked about their relationship. And it’s sort of strange… they talk about everything. He feels like he knows everything about Harry and that Harry knows everything about him. Except that neither of them know how the other feels. He just hopes Harry feels the same.

*

“Harry, love. Wake up.” He shakes Harry’s shoulder a bit, trying to gently wake him from his nap. They’re parked in front of Harry’s house. Louis figures he wants a shower before going into the shop.

Harry slowly comes to with a confused expression on his face. “We’re home?”

“Yeah, you fell asleep. I thought you’d want to shower and grab a bite to eat before going into work.”

Harry just nods and unbuckles himself, turning in the seat to face Louis.

“Sorry I’m leaving you hanging. I can come by when Mom gets off. It should be around four o’clock.”

Harry smiles softly, reaching for his hand and squeezing it. “It’s no problem. Mikaela will be there and Doris needs you. Tell her I hope she feels better. I can maybe stop by with a flower for her on my lunch break if the first appointment doesn’t run over. But I have a feeling it might," he says with a roll of his eyes.

Louis has to make a conscious effort not to smile too widely. Harry’s just the most thoughtful and kind person he knows, really.

“Don’t worry about it if you can’t. I’m sure all the movies and popsicles will spoil her enough.”

Louis phone vibrates then, causing a loud noise as it bumps against the edges of the cup holder he placed it in. He picks it up and sees a text from his mom, asking if he’s going to be there soon.

“I should get going, though. Mom’s already late for work.”

Harry leans forward then, surprising Louis when he looks up after placing his phone in his lap. “I had such a good time last night,” he says softly, before kissing him once on the lips.

“Me too, babe. It was really…” Louis trails off, trying to find words to describe how happy he felt last night, but he comes up short. “It was amazing,” Louis tells him as he kisses him once more.

“All right, you get going. See you later?”

Louis nods. “Um, actually, you think we could talk tonight? I, uh. Have something I wanna talk to you about.”

Harry’s slight smile disappears and he suddenly has a look on his face that Louis can’t quite place, but it’s gone in an instant.

“Okay, Lou. We can do that. I’ll see you at the shop later,” he says, a smile on his face that barely reaches his eyes. But before Louis can say anything Harry is leaning in for a quick kiss and then climbing out of the car.

Louis debates going after him, but his phone buzzes again in his lap so he decides against it.

*

When Louis pulls up to the back of the shop and parked his car, he’s able to finally take a moment to relax. Sighing, he sits for a moment to gather his thoughts. He’s finally going to be able to talk to Harry tonight. After the crazy day they both had, he just wants to head back to Harry’s and have a nice quiet dinner and talk. That sounds nice.

Louis turns the car off and makes his way into the backroom of the shop, and as the door closes behind him, he hears Harry’s loud squawk of laughter that always makes him smile. He walks to the doorway but as soon as he spots Harry it’s as if he’s frozen in place, unable to move or speak.

Harry is talking to a guy, who Louis’ never seen before and they’re incredibly… close. They’re standing unnecessarily close and laughing and talking. The guy has his hand resting on Harry’s arm and Louis can see Harry’s dimple popping in his cheek even through the dim light of the shop and the way the guy is standing so close to Harry he’s practically blocking him from Louis’ view.

After the initial shock dies down, he can actually hear what they’re saying if he listens closely enough and quiets his rapid breathing.

“You really think so?” the guy is asking.

“Yeah, it’s… it’s really romantic.”

“Good, good. That’s, good.” The guy laughs a bit and Louis scowls as hears Harry’s matching one. “So, I’ll see you tomorrow night?” They] guy rubs his hand up and down Harry’s arm, squeezing in the spot Louis knows Harry’s boat tattoo is.

“Yeah, yes. I can’t wait.” There’s excitement on Harry’s face and it feels like Louis’ chest is being slowly cut open as he watches the guy envelope Harry in his arms in a long hug.

He doesn’t even want to hear anything more, just turns around and makes a beeline for his car. He sends of a hastily typed text surely ridden with typos to his assistant Bebe, who he hasn’t spoken to besides the few texts checking in since he’s been home. He then tosses his phone onto the passenger seat and speeds home, thanking God this tiny town never has five o’clock traffic or police cars patrolling the streets.

He’s lucky that nobody is home when he gets there, all having piled into the van to go have dinner at his grandparents house. So nobody has to see him packing his stuff while angrily wiping tears from his face. He writes a note explaining that something has come up but he’ll be back in a few weeks for Thanksgiving and he’ll call soon. When he’s done, he leaves it on the kitchen table.

By the time he’s merging onto the highway outside of his hometown, he receives the email with his plane ticket and a text from Bebe asking if everything is okay. He ignores the question and types back a ‘thank you,’ then turns the volume of the music up as if it can drown out the thoughts of what he’d just seen. The loud volume does, however, help to disguise the vibrating of his phone in the passenger seat as he rapidly receives calls and texts. A lot of them from Harry. Most of them from Harry. He ignores them all.

*

When Louis shows up at Zayn’s door, it’s two in the morning. He should’ve just gone to his place, but he doesn’t really want to be alone right now. The whole plane ride he was fidgety, going over what he’d seen in his head a million times as if his brain wanted him to suffer. He allowed himself two drinks on the plane to decompress. But he didn’t order anything more because he didn’t want it to end up all over the internet the next morning. He could see the headlines now: “Louis Tomlinson seen drinking on a plane after months spent MIA.” Yeah, not what he needed at the moment.

It takes a few knocks before Zayn opens the door. In hindsight, he could have texted him to let him know he was coming by but his brain isn’t really in a place for rational thoughts at the moment. Plus, that would also involve turning his phone back on and facing the inevitable onslaught of texts and missed calls.

The door swings open and Zayn’s faces morphs from disgruntled and confused to surprised and confused. “Louis, what the hell, dude?” He steps forward and wraps him in a hug that Louis willingly accepts. “Didn’t know you were coming back already.”

“Me neither,” Louis sighs.

Zayn leans back and looks at him, concern clear on his face. “Something wrong? Well, something has to be if you’re showing up on my doorstep unannounced at two in the morning.”

Louis gives him a tight smile and avoids Zayn’s gaze, not wanting to talk about it. Not yet anyway.

Zayn sighs. “All right, well. Come in. Let’s get you to bed and we can talk tomorrow?” Zayn looks at Louis hopefully.

Louis just nods and follows Zayn inside with his duffle bag and backpack. Zayn’s a good friend. He’s missed having him around.

*

The following morning Louis doesn’t wake up until around eleven, a stark difference to the routine he’d been used to back home. But he usually set an alarm on his phone and since it’s still turned off and in the bottom of his bag, he had no wake up call.

After sitting up and having a moment to wake up, he realizes what actually woke him was the smell of bacon. So after a hasty shower and change of clothes he follows the smell into the kitchen, where he sees Zayn sitting at the bar and a guy standing at the stove cooking. It makes him pause. He looks to Zayn with wide eyes, silently asking who the fuck that was. Did Zayn get a boyfriend?

Zayn looks up from his phone and smirks. “Morning, Lou.”

This makes the guy at the stove turn around and-what the fuck? “ Liam ?” He gasps, looking from him to Zayn then back again.

“Hey, Louis!” Liam sets the spatula down and rounds the counter, pulling him into a hug. “Long time no see, bro.”

Louis’ body is stiff while he’s hugging him, mostly from the shock. How in the hell did this happen? And why didn’t Zayn mention him?

Liam pulls back with a look of concern. “Sorry, uh. Too much? I know its been like eight years. Well, no. Actually we saw each other a few years back at that Christmas party when we were both home," he rambles.

“How do you know Zayn ?”

Liam and Zayn both laugh. “I moved here about a year ago from New York and we actually met in the studio doing some song writing.”

Louis’ head snaps to Zayn. “A year? And you didn’t mention him once?”

Zayn laughs again. “I did, actually. I told you a month ago I was going on a date. Just didn’t say who. To be fair, I didn’t know you two knew each other until I told him you were here.”

“This is… wild,” Louis says before making his way to the fridge to grab himself something to drink. He then sits beside Zayn at the bar and watches as Liam plates their pancakes.

“At least this will take your mind off of whatever it is for a bit,” Zayn says quietly. Which, that’s true. Catching up with Liam and Zayn will be good for him.

“Mind if I use your phone to call my mom real quick? Didn’t really give her a heads up on this and I’d like to avoid turning my phone on if I can.”

Zayn tilts his head and looks at him with what would otherwise be pity if it wasn’t coming from Zayn. “Sure." He hands over his phone and Louis takes it out on the terrace.

 

*

On his third day back in LA, the negative feelings are already starting to creep back. Yes, it’s been good to visit with his friends. He even went out to a club to celebrate Luke’s birthday last night. It’s been a nice change of scenery, and it’s been good to not be around… certain people. But it’s just the same as it was when he left, and he’s not sure what to think about that.

He left Zayn’s after breakfast and catching up with Liam, returning to his own apartment, which feels different. He’s already used to the comfort he felt back home and the house always being full of his family. Now he just feels out of place in his own home, like it’s too big for one person, which it is. So he doesn’t spend a lot of time there. He’s at Zayn’s a lot when he’s not working, he goes out to lunch with friends and catches up with people he hasn’t seen in months and it’s nice.

But by now Zayn is obviously worried, as Louis still hasn’t said anything about why he’s back. But he also hasn’t brought it up himself. Until now.

“Okay, Louis. What’s up?” Zayn looks over at him from the other end of the couch.

Louis sighs, muting the TV and looking around the room, avoiding Zayn’s insistent glare. He gulps and clears his throat. “You remember me mentioning Harry?”

Louis goes on and tells him, well, everything. From the time he first saw him and had the breath knocked out of him right down to the night he left. Zayn listens quietly, up until the end where Louis’ voice stars wavering and he gets choked up. He slides over and wraps Louis in a hug, and waits patiently until Louis is able to get all the words out.

After Louis’ finished telling him everything that happened and all his feelings about it, he feels relieved but also helpless. He looks to Zayn, hoping he has some advice to give. He always does.

Zayn opens his mouth then closes it, does it a few times before he speaks, voice hesitant. “First of all, I’m glad you found someone who makes you so happy. In the past eight years I’ve known you I don’t think I’ve ever seen you fall in love.”

Louis’s eyes widen and he chokes on spit. “I’m not-”

Zayn cocks an eyebrow. “Like I said, I’ve never seen you in love before. Until now. And are you positive you know what you saw the other night? Like, it really could have been nothing and you just expected the worst, maybe? Maybe because you wanted an excuse of why you couldn’t be serious about this thing you had with Harry…” Zayn trails off.

“But,” Louis pauses, he can’t just be making up what he saw. When he stepped into the shop and saw Harry and that guy he could genuinely feel pain in his chest. “But I really did see them.”

“I’m not saying you didn’t see what you saw, bro. Just maybe it’s not what it seemed, you know? From what you told me Harry seemed to have real feelings for you, too. I don’t think he’d just do something like that, especially right after what happened the night before.”

“You think?” Louis didn’t want to think Harry would do something like that. Because he really was the sweetest person he’d ever met. Maybe Zayn is right. But he was just so close to that guy in the shop… giggling and being touchy. It makes his stomach turn just thinking about it.

“Just think about it, all right? And I know you don’t want to but you need to talk to him. If I’m right and there was nothing going on, he’s probably really upset right now.”

Thinking about Harry being upset about him randomly leaving without telling him makes him feel even worse than thinking about whatever he saw in the shop a few nights ago. He needs to figure out what happened. And now he feels like he’s the jerk in the situation, not Harry.

*

The next morning he’s woken up by an insistent buzzing. Looking around, he realizes he must have fallen asleep on his couch last night after he got home from Zayn’s. The buzzing was his phone on his coffee table and a closer look tells him it’s Lottie.

Lottie was calling him. He’d been ignoring her for the past couple of days, periodically texting his mom and reassuring her everything was fine and he’d be back for Thanksgiving, but other than that he hadn’t been using his phone. He’d definitely not read a single text from Harry either. But his phone keeps buzzing on the coffee table, and the noise is driving him up the wall so he just clicks ignore. But of course, she calls back. This happens four more times before he finally picks up.

“What do you want?” he nearly yells into the phone, and it feels unusual, he doesn’t yell like this at her. Or anyone. He honestly hasn’t yelled at her seriously since he was under the age of sixteen and being a bratty older brother. But it’s early and he doesn’t want to talk to anyone after the shitty revelation he had last night talking to Zayn.

She doesn’t reply, but he hears a bit of shuffling around on the other side, then when it stops he hears… sniffling? Has he just made his little sister cry? What a dick move. It isn’t her fault that… Then he hears someone speaking. It’s soft and faint, like they’re far away from the phone. And it sounds like… it sounds like Harry.

“I just,” another sniffle, “I just dunno what happened? I know we never really talked about whatever it was we were doing and, and, and,” he stutters, stopping to let out a weak sob and Louis hears more shuffling around before he can hear Harry speak quietly again, sounding more muffled this time. “I know I can’t be mad at him for just leaving. We weren’t really anything more than friends, technically.”

He can hear Lottie make a sound of protest before he continues, “but we weren’t though. Not officially.”

“You don’t kiss your friends, H. Not like that. And y’all were always all over each other, having sleepovers and dates, even though they weren’t official dates.”

And, she isn’t wrong. But he wanted to change that, had tried to change that. But Harry had already moved on. It was like the universe literally ripped him from his hands just as he was ready to hold on tight.

“Yeah, but. But he didn’t care, not like I did. Obviously. Or he wouldn’t have-” Harry stops again and lets out a few sobs, and the sound of them are literally shattering his heart and bringing tears to his own eyes. He didn’t want to hurt Harry, could have never dreamed of it. But why does he care so much after he’s already moved on? That was his choice. No matter how much Louis hated it. “Or he wouldn’t have just left,” Harry finishes.

“Why didn’t you ever say something? About being… more?” Lottie asks. And it was something he wondered as well. Even though early on he probably would have shut him down. But then again, if Harry would have said something later on it might have made him consider it more seriously than he had before his mom spoke to him about it.

“Didn’t wanna scare him away; didn’t wanna lose him.” Harry sounds more fragile this time, voice less muffled and a bit louder but he can hear the wavering of his voice and the sadness.

“Fuck,” Louis huffs, tears spilling down his cheeks.

He wipes his face and looks to the phone, seeing that Lottie has ended the call. Did she… had she meant to call him? Surely she had, with how many times she called. Louis leans back on the couch, willing the tears to stop coming but they don’t. He gets frustrated after a minute, because this is all his fault. He’s lost Harry. Harry, who became his best friend in a few short months and the first guy he’s really ever fallen in love with.

Another buzz comes from his phone on the coffee table. He jolts up and reaches for it, but instead of a call it’s a text. It’s Lottie again.

You need to get your ass back here and talk to him. Whatever the fuck you think happened, didn’t. I love you but I’m not letting you break my best friend’s heart. Especially just because you’re being an idiot.

He reads it a few times before it sinks in, so whatever he thinks happened didn’t? Zayn’s right, then. He must be. But how does she know? Did Harry tell her? He types out a reply.

What do you mean it didn’t happen? I saw it.

At least he thought he did, but now he’s starting to think he may have jumped to conclusions. He waits a moment before the little bubble with three dots appears. He watches as it disappears and reappears a couple of times before a text comes in.

You didn’t see anything. You’re going to feel like such an asshole when you come home and talk to him.

Louis is confused, but before he can think out a reply he receives another text.

Notice I said WHEN you come home not IF. Get your ass on a plane. I just texted Bebe to book you a flight for tonight. Me and Tommy are driving your car to the airport and leaving it for you. See you tomorrow.

Louis stares at his phone for a long time, so long that the words on the bright screen start to blur all together and then the screen eventually goes black. It lights up a couple of seconds later, a text and email from Bebe coming in at the same time. He reads the text, seeing that she’s emailed him his ticket and that his flight leaves at six tonight. Looking up to the top of his screen tells him that it’s just past ten.

This makes him stand up quickly, thumbing out a thank you text to Bebe before quickly scrolling through his call log, ignoring the little stab of pain at Harry’s name over and over again. He clicks on his realtor’s name and after a short call he texts his group chat telling his friends to come over ASAP and for Bebe to call movers. He’s finally ready.

*

They surprisingly pull it off, somehow. In just around six hours, his apartment is bare, save for some furniture he told Bebe she could sell and keep the profit as a sort of severance pay, which excited her because she ended up wanting to keep half of it for herself.

Looking around his near empty apartment and out the floor to ceiling windows at the view of the hills and all the houses below, he feels a sense of peace. A calm feeling that he hadn’t felt on this side of the country in a long while. Louis knows he’ll miss it; he’d be fooling himself if he said he wouldn’t.

But the feelings he experiences when he’s home, with his family, his new found friends, with Harry, it’s not even a fair competition. Those feelings, feelings of nostalgia at every turn on a winding back road, feelings of being free, free to do whatever he wants, whatever makes him happy without knowing he’s under the watchful and judgemental eye of so many, it makes missing all the little things about Los Angeles worth it.

He sighs and turns around, seeing Zayn standing against the door with a duffle bag of Louis’ stuff at his feet. He’s smiling softly at him.

Louis walks over and throws his arms around Zayn, hugging him tightly.

“I’m proud of you, you know," he says, and Louis really is already fighting back tears. Zayn was his first friend he met when he moved out here, one of the best friends he’s ever had. After leaving his high school best friends behind he didn’t think he’d ever find another friendship as strong. He was happy to be wrong.

“Gonna miss you, Z. Please come visit. I promise it’s not as shit as I used to make it out to be.” He laughs, ignoring the tears startling to roll down his cheeks. “We can even stay in Atlanta if you want, big city and all that.”

Zayn laughs. “I’ll come visit you, dude. We can go to Atlanta but I would like to see everything else, too. Maybe I can come for New Years Eve? Meet your family, your boy, and then head to a party or club or something?”

Louis stiffens a bit at the mention of Harry, especially him being referred to as Louis’ boy. Zayn’s more than certain they’re going to work everything out. Louis hopes he’s right. “Sounds good.”

The pull apart and Zayn helps him carry his duffle and massive suitcase down to the car. The rest of his stuff is already on its way across the country, but won’t make it for a day or so.

Louis hugs Zayn tightly one last time before getting in the car. Zayn had wanted to drive him to the airport, but he had studio time scheduled with a few writers who were leaving LA in the morning so he couldn’t cancel. Well, he could. He even suggested it, but Louis didn’t let him. Said this wasn’t goodbye forever so no need to be dramatic. It made Zayn laugh. But now he almost wishes he had someone to talk to, the long car ride through LA traffic with his thoughts going a mile a minute. He hoped with everything in him that this thing with Harry wasn’t over. He wouldn’t let it be.

*

The way Louis arrives at Harry’s house is strangely similar to the way he arrived at Zayn’s, in the middle of the night, weighed down with bags, and holding back tears.

He reaches forward and knocks on the door, something about it feeling so foreign. Louis had been coming over to Harry’s house so frequently, he’d just come right in when he arrived. Never thinking twice about it. Now as he’s having to knock a second time, he feels like he isn’t welcome here.

It takes another knock before the door swings open, and when it does his heart feels like it falls to his stomach. Because it isn’t Harry answering the door, no. It’s the guy. The same one from the flower shop. And he doesn’t look very pleased to see Louis.

“What are you doing here?” the guy asks, crossing his arms. Louis takes one look at his bulging biceps and closes his eyes. He tries to remember exactly what Lottie said, and what Zayn had. Then he remembers Harry’s voice on the other end of the line, and how sad he sounded. Louis takes a deep breath and opens his eyes.

“I need to talk to Harry.”

“Yeah, well, I have a feeling he doesn’t want to talk to you.”

Well, that’s… fair. He did kind of just leave without notice and hadn’t said a word to him since.

“Could you please tell him I’m here? That I want to talk to him? I’ll leave if he wants, but could you just ask?” Louis really didn’t want to be nice to this guy, because if he had been right, he was trying to woo Harry. And maybe he hadn’t know he and Harry were… whatever they were. It didn’t make Louis dislike him any less. But he just really needs to talk to Harry and he’ll do anything to make that happen at this point.

“Fine,” the guy says before slamming the door shut, causing Louis to jump.

He waits there. It’s probably only a minute, but God does it feel like longer.

When the door swings open again the guy is standing there with a bag, and Louis can hear someone else talking in the background. A few seconds go by and he sees Adam appear behind the other guy.

He watches as Adam wraps a hand around the guy’s arm and squeezes. “Hi, Louis. Harry said you can come in. He’s in his bedroom; couldn’t get him to come out to the living room. We’re leaving, bu-”

The other guys cuts him off. “But all Harry has to do is make a call and I’ll be back here. Don’t fuck with him, you hear me?”

The guy looks quite angry, and Louis believes him, so he just nods.

“All right, chill out, big guy. You’re not going to do anything.” Adam rolls his eyes. “Louis, I barely know you, but if Harry says you’re a nice guy, I believe him. Just don’t be a jerk, all right? I really would like to go home and not have to drag this one back so he can fulfill his large ego.”

Louis looks between them, a bit confused. Because they look like… no. They can’t be, can they? He nods then, not caring much to keep thinking more into it if they’re going to let him in to see Harry. “Okay,” is all he can get out, which seems enough because both of them nod and then are walking out the door and past him.

“See you, Louis,” Adam says.

Louis just waves in their direction before entering the house.

It’s very quiet. And dark. A stark contrast to how Harry’s house normally is, full of light, whether it’s from the open windows or the lights in the house. And there’s always either soft music playing or his TV is showing Friends reruns. This is just so out of the ordinary.

Louis drops his bags down in the hallway, toes his shoes off and slowly makes his way to Harry’s room, pushing the door open where it’s cracked.

Harry’s just sitting there in the dark, the only light coming from the TV that’s muted and the window where moonlight is shining through onto the white sheets. Harry has Dots in his lap, who looks very content just laying there being pet.

Louis knows that Harry has noticed he’s in here. The door squeaked as it slowly swung open and the light from the hall that Louis turned on his entering the room from the open doorway behind him. Harry doesn’t acknowledge his presence at all, though. Just keeps his gaze on Dots in his lap.

Louis sighs. He knows this isn’t going to an easy or fun conversation. But it needs to be had, no matter how nervous Louis is about it.

He strolls over to the bed, deciding to just stand until he sees Harry’s legs move under the covers. He thinks it’s a silent request for him to sit, so he does, tucking a leg underneath himself and sitting on the edge of the bed facing him.

Dots apparently is willing to acknowledge him, as he picks his head up and looks at Louis. Louis hesitantly sticks his hand out, letting him lick him before he pets him on the head. Harry’s hand stills on the dogs back, which causes him to whine before laying his head back down.

“What’re you doing here Lou?” Harry asks quietly.

Louis looks up at him, he’s still avoiding looking at him. He sighs. “Because we need to talk. And I missed you.”

Harry takes his bottom lip between his teeth, and after a moment lifts his head to look at Louis and as soon as he does Louis genuinely feels his heart hurt.

Harry’s eyes are red-rimmed and watering, his hair is half up in a messy bun and the curls that are left down have gone flat. Even in the minimal light he can see the darkness under his eyes. He imagines he doesn’t look too much better himself.

“Was it that bad?” Harry whispers.

Louis furrows his brow, not understanding. “Was what bad, love?” he asks, pet name slipping out.

Harry lets out a sigh. “The date, the… um. The sex. Me, any of it. All of it. Was it that bad that you just wanted to leave?”

Louis mouth drops open, and before he knows it he’s picking up Dots from Harry’s lap and setting him on the floor so he can scurry out, before he reaches forward and gathers Harry into his arms.

“I sincerely hope you don’t think that any of it was bad. That’s the opposite of the problem.”

Harry begins to sniffle and leans back to look at him. “What do you mean? Why’d you leave then?”

Louis reaches for Harry’s hand, can’t help but comfort him even if he’s about to learn something about the day he left that he doesn’t want to hear.

“Just know that it made sense to me at the time, okay? I should have been an adult and just fucking talked to you about it. I needed to talk to you that night anyway, but I was just… I couldn’t. I made a hasty decision and I hurt you.”

Harry is just looking at him expectantly, and Louis can’t imagine how confused he must be. He’s barely making sense.

“When I came to the shop after Mom got off work, I um. Saw you and that guy.”

It takes a moment for Harry to realize who he’s talking about. “Gus? Okay you saw us talking, but I don’t understand.”

Louis just shrugs. “You were kind of close, and he was, like, holding your arm and you two were laughing. And I heard you guys talking about how something was so romantic, and you were so excited and you couldn’t wait for it. It just sounded like… I dunno. Thought you had maybe gotten tired of me not really going further with you commitment wise and, like, decided to move on.”

Louis watches Harry’s eyes widen and his mouth opens and closes a few times. He looks down then, eyes focused on their hands because he doesn’t know what to do really. But suddenly Harry is letting go of his hand, and before Louis can feel hurt he’s being crushed in a hug.

“Oh, Lou,” Harry says from where his head is tucked into the crook of Louis’ neck.

Louis just wraps his arms around Harry’s back, not knowing what else to do.

“You’re very silly, did you know that?” Harry asks as he slowly pulls back, thumbing away a tear escaping his eye. “That was Gus. He was telling me about his plans to propose. To Adam.”

Louis freezes. He, what? That’s why him and Adam were so close earlier, and that’s what Gus was talking about to Harry… “I’m such an idiot," he whines, trying to cover his face with his hands and duck out of Harry’s arms.

Harry doesn’t let him, just grabs him tighter. “Is that why you left then? You thought I had, what? Moved on?”

Louis just nods against Harry’s shoulder.

“I mean… I’d just had your dick in your mouth the night before... that’d be a bit rude of me, don’t you think?”

Stop , Harry. I know it was stupid of me. I just-” he huffs a frustrated breath. “I think I was just so mad at myself for not talking to you about us and whatever we are earlier that I just assumed you were just as upset with me over it.”

Harry gives him a sympathetic smile and brings his hand up to cup Louis’ face, just looking at him as he rubs the skin of Louis’ cheek with his thumb.

“Was never mad, or upset Lou. I kind of got it, that you didn’t want anything serious, or like, official since you aren’t here permanently or anything. I do wish you felt comfortable enough to talk to me about it, though.”

Louis gives him a tight-lipped smile, and shuffles forward so he’s sitting next to Harry on the bed rather than facing him. He leans his head on his shoulder and grabs his hand, Harry complying with a confused smile on his face.

“Do you know what I wanted to talk to you about that night?” he asks as he rubs the back of Harry’s hand with his thumb.

“About how you didn’t want a serious relationship?”

Louis laughs, bring his other arm up to hold on to Harry’s own, feeling like he needed to be as close as he could to him for a confession this big. “No.”

“Oh,” Harry whispers. “About how you’re leaving to go back home then?”

That makes Louis smile in amusement. ‘Home.’ LA was never home. Even if it once was, it definitely isn’t now.

“I am home, Harry. But, no. That’s not it either.” He keeps talking, ignoring Harry’s hitch of breath. “I wanted to talk about how I did feel like that, not wanting a relationship because I was probably going back to LA in a few months. I didn’t want to start anything serious because I didn’t want to hurt you. But, not anymore.”

Another hitch of breath and a likely subconscious squeeze of his hand and Harry is speaking. “What,” he clears his throat, “what do you mean not anymore?”

“I, um. I have feelings for you, Harry. Strong ones, and it’s fine if you don’t feel the same way, there’s no pressure or anything when I tell you this but, I kind of, moved?”

Harry shifts so he’s facing Louis, causing Louis to raise his head from his shoulder and look at him in the face.

“Moved? Moved where?” His eyes were wide but his expression was fairly blank, almost as if he’s waiting for Louis to tell him he’s moved to any other place than here.

Louis just smiles. “Here. Back home.”

Harry stares back in shock. “Like for a few more months? A year or two? Or what?”

“For good. Or the foreseeable future, at least. And like I said, don’t feel like you have to tell me you feel the same way if you don’t. Because, yeah you were a part of the decision, but I also just missed my family and LA just didn’t feel right for me anymore. I wasn’t happy there. But I’m happy here.”

Harry’s face of caution morphs slowly into a smile and tears form in his eyes, causing them to shine. His smile becomes a bit wobbly before he throws himself into Louis’ arms.

“Are you serious? Please tell me you’re serious,” he says pleadingly into Louis’ neck.

He strokes Harry’s back and places a hand on the back of his head. “I’m serious, Harry.”

That somehow makes Harry cry harder, shaking so hard that Louis’ body has to just move with him. It takes a couple of minutes for him to calm down, and Louis stays rubbing his back and whispering things to him to try and slow his tears. Harry slowly pulls his head up, and when he looks at Louis he just laughs.

“I’m sorry for crying; I think over the past couple of days it’s just my go-to response to any emotion.”

A sinking feeling manifests in Louis’ stomach and he averts his gaze. “I’m really sorry, Harry.”

“No, it’s-” Harry attempts to cut him off.

“Harry, please. Just, let me apologize, okay?”

Harry just nods, but he cuddles into Louis’ side first, leaving Louis rendered helpless to a smile.

“I just… even though I sort of did immediately think of the worst case scenario when I saw you and Gus, I still should have talked to you about it. The whole reason I thought you’d moved on or whatever was because of my failure to communicate. So me not communicating with you about that was just the worst possible way to deal with it, really.”

He feels Harry mumble something, but his face is pressed against Louis’ upper arm, voice muffled by his hoodie.

“Hm?” Louis asks, looking down at him.

Harry tilts his face outward a bit, just enough for him to get the words out properly. “It was, but I get it.”

“Yeah?” Louis asks softly.

Harry nods. “I’m not mad. I never was. Well, maybe a little bit when I first found out. But, I mostly was just sad and missed you.”

That feeling is returning—the one that only ever occurs when he’s with Harry. It’s a fluttering in his stomach and he can feel his cheeks heat up, unable to contain a grin overtaking his face. He reaches over with the arm Harry isn’t wrapped around and rubs Harry’s cheek with his thumb. He watches as Harry closes his eyes at the touch with a happy sounding hum.

“If it makes it any better, I felt the same way. I wasn’t mad when I thought you were moving on. Just sad. And I think I probably missed you before the plane even left the ground.”

“Mmm,” Harry says quietly. “We need to be better at communication, I think.”

Louis huffs a humorless laugh. “I need to be better at communication. I’m the one that never brought it up and then just fucked off to LA without even asking you what was really going on.”

“Heeey,” Harry says indignantly, a grumpy frown on his face. “I should have brought it up before too, I thought I had an idea of why you hadn’t tried talking about it but that doesn’t mean I should have just kept quiet when I was wondering.”

Louis just nods, not having it in him to argue. He’s drained, emotionally and physically. And really, he just doesn’t want to argue with Harry, not when they really don’t have to.

“I was going to bring it up at dinner, actually. But I was already nervous so I chickened out.” He pauses and looks up at Louis’. “Do you remember those flowers I got you? Before the date?” He asks quietly.

Louis nods.

“Do you know what kind they are? Why I picked them?”

Louis purses his lips in thought. “No. I don’t, but they kind of looked like a mix between daisies and peonies. And I figured you picked them because they looked like the ones on your shirt,” he says with a laugh. “Cause you’re a dork.”

“Am not.” Harry pouts, pinching Louis’ arm and ignoring his wince. “They’re called Asters. And they have a special meaning.”

“Oh, H. I hope you didn’t think I was a dick for not noticing, I’ve gotten better about learning them since customers seem to like that but there’s just so many-”

Harry cuts him off by placing a single finger of his lips. “I don’t blame you. They’re not really a flower everyone knows the name of. But,” he draws out, shifting up a little so he’s closer to Louis’ face. “They mean patience. And love, but... I chose them for the patience meaning specifically.”

Louis looks at him stunned. “What, um. What did you mean by that?” he asks, just to be sure.

Harry tilts his head and smiles at him, the smile that makes Louis’ insides turn to mush. “I was willing to wait for you, to make up your mind on us and if you wanted something serious with me.”

It’s Louis turn to cry now, he feels tears fill his eyes and he presses his palms to his eyes to prevent their downfall. This is a lot. Too much, really. Harry is just too much and he cannot believe he doubted him for a second. He draws in a deep breath and looks back at Harry, who looks apprehensive.

“I’m just so sorry." He takes another deep breath and draws Harry close, wrapping an arm around his shoulder and pulling him into his chest. “From now on we’re going to talk everything out. No more holding things in, even if it seems small or silly,” Louis says, smiling softly at Harry, tears still in his eyes. “I wanna do this right.”

“Me too,” Harry whispers, leaning up to place a soft kiss on Louis’ lips.

*

The next morning Louis wakes up in Harry’s gigantic bed alone. He rolls over so the sun isn’t shining in his eyes and finds Dots curled up in Harry’s spot sleeping with a sticky note on his back. Harry placed a baby pink sticky note on his sleeping dog’s back. Why does that bring a smile to Louis’ face?

He reaches over and picks it up, careful to not wake the snoozing pup.

Morning sunshine :) I ran to Gem’s to pick up coffee and breakfast for us, be back soon!

Louis smiles so widely that his cheeks hurt, burying his face in his pillow and sighing out happily. Last night was just... unbelievable. After talking things out with Harry they cuddled up under the covers in Harry’s bed ready to drift off, but their goodnight kiss turned into making out with wandering hands. Which led to Louis kissing his way down Harry's chest with the intention to suck him off, but Harry quickly stopped him by rolling over on top of him and grinding down against him, slowly at first and then picking up the pace. It didn't take long for them both to come from that, Harry panting into Louis' neck as he had both hands down the back of Harry's boxers. He truly can't believe he was holding out on all of that with Harry for so long.

He sort of wants to shower, but he figures Harry will be back soon and plus, he’s too comfortable to move much. A look at his phone on the bedside table tells him it’s only a few minutes past nine, so he got a good amount of sleep, but all the time zone hopping he’s done in the last few days will likely catch up to him soon.

He decides to reply to all his texts, half of them from his friends in LA and half of them from his family here. Even though it’s six in the morning on the west coast, he assures everyone he made it back fine and tells Zayn he’ll talk to him later, but everything with Harry worked out just fine. He sends his mom and Lottie both a text saying pretty much the same as well. His mom replies inviting him and Harry over for family dinner that night, which brings a smile to his face. Lottie must have told her everything after calling Harry twelve times last night until he answered and assured her everything was fine between them now.

Louis makes a trip to the bathroom to take a piss and brush his teeth, not wanting to be too rank when Harry gets back. His movement must have woken Dots up, because when he returns to the bed, Dots is looking around sleepily before waking over and plopping himself down in Louis’ lap, making him chuckle.

“Did you miss me too, Dots?” He runs his hand over his back, going back to his phone. He decides to scroll through various social media while he waits for Harry, and the second he hears the front door close his heart skips a beat. How cliché.

Harry pushes the door open with his foot, hands full of two cups and two pastry bags. Once he sees Louis his eyebrows shoot up and a smile forms on his face. “Oh, you’re awake.”

Louis just returns his smile and nods, accepting the coffee that Harry hands him.

“Oh, um. Just ignore what’s written on there. Gem thought she was being funny.” He’s gone red, looking a bit sheepish as he climbs into bed and places the little bags of food on the bed.

Louis furrows his brow, bringing the cup down and turning it to read what’s written underneath the little gem symbol. ‘Harry’s boyfriend’ is there in big swirling letters, and it brings a smile to his face.

He looks over at Harry, who is sipping his own coffee with an anxious look on his face.

“It’s not like she’s wrong.” Louis smirks at the look of surprise on Harry’s face..

Harry just stares at him, face slack and brows raised. “She’s not?”

“Not unless you want her to be.”

Harry smiles, both cheeks dimpling. Damn, Louis’ missed his dimples. “I don’t.”

Louis leans forward and lays a hand on Harry’s cheek as he kisses him.

“Good,” Louis says when he pulls away. “I don’t want her to be, either.”

“Boyfriend,” Harry says, like he’s testing out the word.

“Boyfriend,” Louis repeats. Then he looks down at Dots, who’s still in his lap, and asks, “Dots, what do you think about me being your dad’s boyfriend? Would you like that?”

A loud snore from the dog is all Louis gets, and he and Harry laugh at the response.

“I’ll take that as a yes. Now let’s eat. Whatever you have in that bag smells delicious.”

As they unwrap their breakfast sandwiches and Louis gets comfortable in his boyfriend’s bed, he can’t help but find it funny how the very place he was trying to run away from years ago was the place he needed to be all along.