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These Sparks We Light

Chapter Text

February 2014

But did you see the flares in the sky?

Were you blinded by the light?

 

Bodies pressed together and stray limbs flailed as Louis Tomlinson stared up at the stage of the Apollo in Manchester. Louis had been looking forward to this concert for months. The band members of The Script were performing their hearts out as he watched with wide eyes.

This. Performing. This was what he wanted to do. He wanted to write songs and belt his heart out in front of hundreds, thousands, of people. This was all he had ever wanted and he needed to figure out how to make it happen. He had enough putting it off, enough sitting around on his ass. All the song ideas floating around in his head needed to be flushed out, written down, given proper chord progressions – instead of staying stagnant as plucked along melodies and half written lyrical phrases on napkins.

His dramatic new revelation and mission in life washed over him and the elation was so intense, he needed to share it with someone. He looked to his right to his date for the evening, Michael, and all he felt was apathy. The outburst of ambition died on his tongue as he watched Michael play a stupid game on his phone. While The Script was performing and Louis was making profound life-altering decisions. It felt a little anticlimactic.

They had been seeing each other for a month or so, been on a few dates, and Michael was kind of interesting, kind of good in bed, kind of good looking. Kind of, kind of, kind of… blah. Louis shrugged it off and went back to screaming along to one of his favorite songs off the new album.

As the song came to a close, Louis looked around for his roommate Liam. When Louis bought the tickets, he bought enough for his friends specifically so he and Liam could both bring dates. He laughed maniacally in his head as he saw Liam push through the crowd followed by Zayn, the guy Liam had always had a crush on even before they knew each other. Perrie and Jesy followed close behind, holding their drinks aloft so the cheap plastic cups wouldn’t be tipped over by the crush of the general admission crowd.

“Here you go, love,” Perrie said as she thrust a cup filled with lukewarm beer into Louis’ hand.

“Thanks, you’re the best,” Louis yelled as the band started up again.

“Hey, where’s mine?” Michael whined, finally looking up from his screen. Perrie very pointedly ignored him, choosing to pretend she hadn’t heard him over the crowd.

Michael made eye contact with him, and Louis shrugged in his general direction, passing him the beer. His desire to not hear Michael continue to complain vastly outweighed his desire to drink.

Beer gone, Louis watched out of the corner of his eye as Liam subtly tried to move closer to Zayn. The only way to do that was to start blocking Louis’ line of sight. It wasn’t that Louis was that much shorter than Liam. No. It was just that the angles were all wrong now, that was it. Huffing out a breath, Louis began to nudge Michael so he could move to stand in front of him, next to Liam instead of being directly blocked by his big head.

Louis settled into place, getting comfortable in his new pocket of the crowd when all of a sudden the masses shifted in front of him and he had an even better view.

The lead singer was projecting into the jumble of people down on the barrier, as close as the audience could get, specifically focused on one person. Through Louis’ new window in the mass of bodies, he could only vaguely see who it was. All he caught was a flash of a brightly colored shirt. This person must be incredibly interesting if Danny O'Donoghue was singing directly to them.

The crowd finally parted the rest of the way and if the sound of the band playing really was fading out, Louis wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. Everything around him fell away.

There, being sung to by Danny O’Donoghue was the most beautiful man Louis had ever seen in his entire life. The man was tall and lanky, but broad at the same time, and he had a little muscle on him which made him a glorious conundrum. His shoulder-length chestnut curls were matted, sweat making them cling to his forehead and frizz up around his head while the stage lights bounced off of them creating a halo. Dancing like he didn’t have a single care in the entire world, the man was twisting and riding the rise and fall of the music, throwing his whole body into singing the chorus at the top of his lungs. He was a vision and personality was pouring off of him in waves.

Something clicked into place in Louis’ heart at just that moment. At the ripe old age of twenty-two, Louis was dropping life-changing decisions left and right, feet firmly planted on the dingy floor of the Apollo. That. That was who he wanted. Not someone like him. That boy. That was the boy he was going to marry.

“You should probably go talk to him, then,” Michael spat out sarcastically.

“Pardon?” Louis questioned with a confused look at Michael’s now standoffish body language.

“You said that’s the boy you’re going to marry. If you’re going to marry him, you should probably talk to him first.” Bitterness dripped heavily off every word Michael was parroting back to him. “Since clearly, this date isn’t doing it for you.”

Louis tried to drum up any kind of excuse; it was a joke, he didn’t mean it, but nothing made it past the barrier of his vocal cords. All that came out was, “Yeah, I guess you’re right, I should!” Whoops.

Michael didn’t back down; instead, he rolled his eyes, as if he was the most put-upon person in the universe just for dealing with Louis, and draped his arm across Louis’ shoulders. Louis tensed under the touch, realizing that it was as though a switch had been flipped. Michael’s touch had been palatable - bordering on comfortable - before and now it was downright unwelcome.

By the time Louis turned back to the show, the crowd had come back together, and he could no longer see the dancing stranger. He craned his neck occasionally trying to catch a glimpse of him but had no luck. Louis decided he would approach him when the set was finished and everyone was making their way out of the venue. The man would have to pass by him at some point just based on where they were positioned. Maybe he could linger if he asked Michael to be in charge of getting a taxi for everyone. Michael loved to feel important.

The finale and encores were appropriately mind-blowing, but all of Louis' attempts to ditch Michael fell on deaf ears. Perrie offered to go get the taxis, and Michael’s hand had migrated from Louis’ shoulder to his waist.

While Michael talked out the logistics of taxi distribution with Liam, Louis finally picked up the trail of his curly-haired crush. There he was, and he was even more dazzling; his smile was wide and his eyes were eyes twinkling as he talked to the girl with platinum blonde hair next to him. One step closer.

Louis prayed this wasn’t a girlfriend or something. They looked equally attractive. Maybe too equally Louis thought as he considered the possibility that she was the man's sister. They followed the shuffle of the bodies around them easily, letting it guide them like a current.

Louis’ heartbeat picked up, and his breathing went shallow as the man neared. They made it within ten feet of him before they paused their conversation. The man's gaze flicked up and down giving Louis a good solid once over. Louis quickly cataloged in his mind what he probably saw; flushed cheeks, glistening forehead, cheap beer, Michael’s hands on his waist, surrounded by a group of people.

When they finally made eye contact it was like a punch to Louis’ solar plexus, the man had bright emerald green eyes that bore into Louis’ for a split second before they rolled sardonically away from Louis’ gaze.

Louis' eyes flitted over the rest of the man’s facial expression desperately searching for a grin or smirk – anything that wouldn’t make his gesture the rejection he suspected. Nothing. The man gave him one last look, something unreadable in his gaze, before continuing to pass by as if nothing had happened.

Deep within Louis’ soul, he felt the desperation to run after the man, tap him on the shoulder, and ask what the eye roll had been for, but he had lost his nerve.

The man with the chestnut curls had won this round, but Louis Tomlinson was not a quitter.

 

It took Louis three months to figure out who the man at The Script concert was.

Liam’s cousin Ed had come over and was playing Fifa with Louis as they all sprawled across their living room couch. Louis had just won their game, as he always did, and they had decided to pause to order a pizza. Louis loved when Ed came around because he was the only person who even remotely challenged him at this particular video game. Ed also was a damn good songwriter, and they had written some great stuff together since Louis’ career revelation at the concert.

Once they sorted out which pizza they were ordering, Ed started lazily scrolling through his Instagram feed. Louis happened to reach over for his controller at the exact moment the curly haired vixen flew past his vision.

“WAIT!” Louis exclaimed, way too loud for the relaxed atmosphere in the flat up until that point.

“Yeah, Lou?” Thankfully, Ed was laid back enough that an outburst from Louis didn’t phase him.

“This sounds weird, but that picture you just scrolled past, could I see it?” Louis asked sheepishly. What he was doing could be classified as backseat creeping. Though, to be fair, it was on Ed’s dash so Ed wasn’t technically creeping, which made Louis innocent by default. Obviously.

“Uh, okay.” Ed passed the phone over to Louis across the couch cushions.

Louis held his breath for a moment as he took in the man's appearance. He was clearly at another concert, wearing another brightly colored shirt, black skinny jeans, hair curling around his ears. Fuck, he looked good. It had been three long months of drought for Louis.

Maybe he was overreacting to his singledom, but he hadn’t really dated since Michael. It had taken him a full week of tense arguments for Louis to finally give in to his apathy and break things off with him. Now, three months later, Louis hadn’t gotten laid, and this beauty was calling out to him again.

“This guy, do you know who he is?” Louis tried to ask casually, but based on Ed’s smirk, he wasn’t too successful.

“Yeah, it’s his page. His name is Harry, Harry Styles. He’s a year behind me in university, we’ve had a couple classes together.”

“Cool, cool. Just thought I recognized him is all,” Louis shrugged, reluctantly handing Ed back his phone. He was lucky Ed didn’t have to pry his fingers off of it.

“He’s a great guy, great singer. I think he’s got a year left of uni,” Louis nodded along while thumbing through the Fifa menu screen, maintaining his totally convincing air of nonchalance, “He’s gay, too, I think.” Louis’ gaze snapped back to Ed.

Louis feigned a casual attitude as though the name sounded familiar to him. “Styles… Styles… was that with an ‘i’ or a ‘y’?”

Ed smirked at Louis’ question, “It’s with a ‘y’.” Louis nodded one last time, then started up the video game again.

 

It took another month for Louis to start seeing Harry Styles - uni student - everywhere. Louis once saw him across a crowded street in Manchester, a good block ahead of him. Then Louis saw him get his coffee ahead of him in line and make his way out of the shop before Louis could even form a sentence.

Every time Louis saw him, he would get flushed and tongue-tied. He had never been tongue-tied in his life, but all he could picture in his mind was Harry rolling his eyes at him after giving him the once over at the concert.

This went on for months and months. Louis was getting frustrated with himself. He had managed to wheedle Harry’s Instagram account out of Ed, and he wasn’t proud of himself, but he made a totally separate account from his own to follow him. A move straight from the Stalking 101 playbook and he hated himself for it.

Harry had amassed quite the following, so Louis didn’t think a follow from his personal account would make that much of a difference, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. That account was way too obvious and personal for Louis to go through yet another rejection when Harry inevitably recognized him as the creep from the concert.

One day, Louis was in the car headed with Liam to his family’s house in Wolverhampton for Liam's mother's Sunday roast when he saw it. He had opened up the account he used for the sole purpose of following Harry’s Instagram, and Harry had posted an incredibly well done professional photo of himself. The photo was in black and white, and the contrasting highlights and shadows danced across his skin. His sharp jaw line, that Louis couldn’t help but daydream about nibbling, created a stark shadow over his neck where he wore a supple black leather collar that was heavy and masculine, yet delicate at the same time with a light silver buckle on the front. His lips were slightly parted, his brilliant green eyes shuttered and gray, adding to the sensuality of the photograph. Oh, God.

Under the pretense of getting comfortable, Louis shifted, trying to adjust himself discretely in his trackies. It was fairly useless because his trackies were old and worn, so he grabbed his jumper from where it was laying by his feet, and laid it across his lap, under the pretense of using it as a blanket and thanked anything he could that Liam was oblivious through all of his machinations.

When he was properly covered and tucked away, he turned his attention back to the photograph but found that he couldn’t dwell on it, it was too pretty. He scrolled down until just the caption filled the screen:

Hiiiiiii everyone! I can’t believe I’m typing this, but I’m officially on my way to live in London. I love HC and Manchester and promise to come back as often as possible, but I’ve been signed to a modeling agency! Who knows, maybe this time next year I’ll be on a billboard? If you’re in London say hello! All the love, H. xx

After Louis read it a few times, the truth settled on his conscience like an anvil. Harry was moving away. Louis would stop seeing him as an innocent passerby, stop seeing him when he got his coffee, stop seeing him across the room in a pub. Once Louis had become aware of Harry, the man had infiltrated his life, and now Louis was going to lose those fleeting moments.

Louis stopped for a moment to really consider this new development. Maybe this was a good thing? He was harboring an unnatural fixation for this man he had never met; now, he wouldn’t see Harry around. Harry's presence wouldn’t be a constant reminder of the big giant crush Louis had on him. A clean break like this was exactly what Louis needed.

Before his resolve could weaken, Louis quickly scrolled up and unfollowed Harry. Now he had a blank, covert Instagram account that was following no one. If Louis wasn’t sneakily following Harry, it followed that he probably didn’t need the account anymore. 

Louis contemplated deleting the secondary account for another moment. He had already had the strength to unfollow Harry, so he just locked his phone, congratulated himself for the giant, healthy step forward, and moved on – he would delete the account later.

Popping his feet up on the dash, Louis settled down deeper in his seat - shifting around until he was actually using the jumper for a blanket - and let the hum of the motorway lull him to sleep.

 

It took Louis four weeks to set up a Google alert for the name “Harry Styles”.

That Google alert ended up being his downfall.

A few months later, long enough for Louis to really dig himself in deep, he and Liam were set up in their living room doing some songwriting, and Louis must have left his laptop open and unlocked while he was in the kitchen on a snack run.

“Lou,” Liam yelled from the couch, “I forgot what those chords were we decided on for the one about the thing.”

“Real specific, Li,” Louis responded with his face stuck in the fridge.

“I’m just going to check your laptop for the audio,” Liam called back, ignoring his snark. Louis' snark was top of the line and definitely deserved at least a little recognition.

“Yeah, alright,” Louis responded, without thinking. It was another two heartbeats before he realized just how incriminating his laptop was.

“WAIT! NO!” Louis screamed vaulting out of the kitchen sliding down the hardwood floor of the hallway before jolting to a stop when he hit the arm of the couch.

“Hey, Lou,” Liam began, drawing out the vowel in a question, “Why do you have a folder full of pictures of this one guy? Who even is this guy?”

“Yeah, um, about that…” Louis honestly had no idea how to finish his thought without sounding like the biggest creep on the planet.

“Wait a second, I recognize this shoot! That background,” Liam pointed at one of Louis’ favorite pictures of Harry in some kind of interior design set up for a high street brand. “Zayn is in that shoot too somewhere, I think it was big. Is that why you have these?”

“Yes! That’s it! I, um, was looking at them to see Zee and... thought that guy was cute, so I looked for his other stuff.”

“Aw, Lou! You’ve got a crush on one of Zayn’s model friends!” Liam snickered. Louis knew he wouldn’t live this down for awhile, but this half-truth was better than Liam learning the full truth. Louis could only hope Liam never truly understood the depths of his creepiness. He thought about what he would say if he saw Harry on the street or in a bar and tried to take that approach to make it seem normal.

“Yeah, I do. He’s fucking hot, mate,” Louis scoffed.

Liam snickered again before changing Louis’ life forever. “Have you set up a Wire or Getty image alert?”

“Uh… no?” Louis cleared his throat around his discomfort, “I only have a Google alert.”

“Nah, Lou. Try that instead," he mumbled as he began typing furiously, "that way you see all of the shoots as they come in, instead of just the ones with articles. They just launched an app for it.” Liam casually threw out as he was messing around with the audio he had managed to locate.

Louis raised an eyebrow at him, “Been keeping tabs on Zee, have we?”

Liam shrugged, “Like you said yourself, ‘He’s fucking hot, mate.’”

Clearly, he and Liam had reached some form of unspoken accord where they were past calling each other out on the subject of their crushes.

“I mean, he’s like my brother, but I guess,” Louis paused, “Not as hot as Harry, though.”

“Oi! Not even a competition, come on! Deep soul-crushing eyes, cheekbones, dark mysterious air?” Liam gesticulated wildly at the chair where Zayn always curled up when he came over to their flat.

“I just have one word for you, Lima Bean. Dimples.” Louis grabbed his laptop back from Liam, leaning back and propping his feet up in a very smug gesture. If he was being honest with himself he would admit that it was a relief just to be able to talk about Harry with someone else.

Liam rolled his eyes and went back to scribbling down lyrics in his notebook.

Meanwhile, Louis slowly pulled his phone out of his pocket tapping around for a minute pretending to check his messages before downloading the Getty app Liam told him about. It was fine, his crush on Harry - a man he had never met - was still totally manageable.

- - -

Harry panted out a few breaths as he dug in the depths of his bag for his keys. He had climbed the five flights of stairs up to his flat in record time.

The hinges let out whines of protest, and the bottom of the door scraped along the linoleum of the entryway as he made his way into the flat.

“Niall?” He called out, attempting to see if his wayward roommate was home. It didn’t exactly take much effort to yell across the tiny space.

When he didn’t receive a response, Harry threw his bag down on the floor and sprawled out across the couch. His long legs hung off the end when he tried to lay down, but it was comfortable nonetheless.

Harry promised his mother that he would go back to Holmes Chapel this weekend, and he was in the process of mentally preparing himself for the long train ride after an equally long and exhausting day of fittings. Modeling was great, he really loved it, and he seemed to have a natural talent for it, he just got overwhelmed sometimes.

Fashion was a hustling industry; everyone was trying to get ahead and stay ahead of the trend curve. Harry just wasn’t like that. He preferred to slow down, enjoy the moment, and didn’t really want to cut people down to progress in the field.

Music was Harry’s real passion and what he truly missed. They always had music in their home growing up, Anne would play the piano and he and Gemma would dance around, or cuddle up on the rug in front of the fire listening to a lullaby. When Anne was going through her divorce from their father, the music was what helped them get through and heal as a family.

Harry’s fingers itched to play. Maybe he would be able to play a little when he got home if he got on the earlier train.

He decided to forgo waiting for Niall and wrote him a note instead, explaining when he would be back, and including instructions on how to reheat the leftovers he had put in the freezer for him.

They had been living together for two years – Harry still couldn’t believe he had been in London for that long already – he knew what Niall needed to be reminded of whenever he went away for a weekend.

He double checked his bag and bounded back down the steps his feet falling easily onto the familiar route to train station.

 

When he reached Holmes Chapel his mother was there to greet him. It was always extremely refreshing to be back home with her where she could make him a cup of tea, and he and his step-dad Robin could lounge around talking about footie. The ease of home was exactly what he needed and exactly what his entire visit consisted of until they tried to go to brunch.

His sister Gemma was a writer for an artsy magazine with headquarters in Manchester, so Harry and Anne decided to go in to meet her after her interview finished that morning. He should have been in the clear on a quiet morning in the city. There was no way for him to know that Blue Eyes had gotten a job as a valet parking attendant at their favorite restaurant.

Blue Eyes was this guy. Harry had no idea what his name was, only that when he was living in Manchester during his last year of uni, he had seen this mysterious man with blue eyes everywhere.

The very first time Harry saw him was a few years before in line for the coat check at the Apollo, waiting for the start of The Script concert. Harry’s first impression of him was from behind, which Harry had to admit, was very good as far as first impressions go. Harry had been doing a little leering at the dip and curve of the stranger’s back and arse when he realized the bloke was standing with a gaggle of friends. One of those friends was most likely a date, and the stranger handed the supposed date his coat before taking off without another word. The date had looked put out, holding and paying for both coats, and Harry had felt bad for him. The man clearly didn't care about him very much.

The stranger floated in and out of the corner of Harry’s vision all night, but Harry didn’t interact with him until the very end of the concert.

He and Gemma had been making their way to the back of the venue when Harry and the stranger finally made eye contact, and it had blown him away. The stranger had a sharp gaze made even more intense by his piercing blue eyes. He stood with his body angled towards the crowd, while his date had a hand wrapped around his waist.

Even with the date standing right next to him, as soon as Blue Eyes made eye contact with Harry, his expression had gone a little soft around the edges; clearly just a calculated move meant to ensnare Harry. The nerve. It would have worked too if Harry hadn’t already figured out the stranger's game. He was a charmer, that one. When Harry and Gemma got close enough to him, he had quickly looked for an exit and kept moving.

Just because Harry’s sense of self-preservation was firmly intact didn’t mean the stranger's level of gorgeousness was lost on him. Harry had given him - and his arse - one last glance before following the crowd as everyone spilled out into the streets.

After that, it was as though Harry couldn’t escape him. He saw the stranger everywhere around town all the time.

Apparently two years away in London hadn’t changed that. Blue Eyes was a vortex of charm, and Harry had seen that tired story often enough. Sweet, young, innocent Harry would get pulled under the spell of a charming man and end up having a toxic, violent, passionate love affair before they broke up and Harry spun out into a downward spiral of heartbreak and loneliness.

Harry knew he was being ridiculous and overinflating the consequences of getting involved with this man in his own mind, it was just that Blue Eyes scared him. Well, Harry's extreme reaction to Blue Eyes was really what scared him. He had felt this spark of something, he didn’t quite know what, a frisson of electricity sliding through his veins when their eyes met. It was more than he had ever felt for any of the few guys he had slept with, and their glance had only lasted mere moments. The enormity of that feeling was intimidating. So Harry did what anyone with any sense did, and he ignored it.

Blue Eyes had made it damn near impossible to physically avoid him.

Harry was the one driving to brunch while Anne and Gemma were chatting away and as they pulled up to the restaurant, just as he was about to pull into the valet parking service line, he saw Blue Eyes’ soft caramel fringe and striking cheekbones.

Hell no. Not today, Harry thought, as he spun the wheel quickly sped away. He was not prepared for any kind of direct interaction with Blue Eyes, especially not in front of his mum and sister.

Harry began to breathe in and out steadily. He could do this, it was fine. Honestly, he was probably getting a little full of himself. There was no way Blue Eyes even remembered him from one second of eye contact at that one concert. Harry scoffed out loud and shook his head at his own vanity. The noise made Anne look up and realize they were driving away.

“What? Harry? Where are you going?” Anne exclaimed from the passenger seat.

“Valet is ridiculous, I’ll just find a space on the street,” Harry grumbled.

“In the middle of the day? In Manchester?” Gemma asked, too sardonically for Harry’s taste.

“Yes, Gemma. If you have such strong opinions on parking, you should drive next time.”

“Children,” Anne warned. Just because Harry was twenty-two and Gemma was twenty-five didn’t mean they weren’t still a little afraid of their mum.

Safely away from the pull of highly suspicious valet parking attendants, Harry breathed just a fraction easier. Thankfully, the entrance of the restaurant was around on the other side of the building away from the parking, so there were no awkward encounters on their way in to eat.

 

It wasn’t until four months later that Harry found out who Blue Eyes really was.

In the meantime, Harry was enjoying his life. He loved his flat, he loved modeling, and he loved – well maybe not loved yet – his boyfriend of three months, Thomas.

They met when Harry’s modeling agency offered all of their models a course on financial planning, having found that there was a real lack of fiscal responsibility, especially among the younger models just starting out. Normally, modeling agencies would never think to do any kind of professional development with the talent, but Henderson Modeling wasn’t like that.

Harry and his friend Jade shuffled in, grabbing seats up front, mostly because Jade was trying not to admit to herself that she needed to get glasses. He hadn’t paid one whit of attention to anyone else in the room, wrapped up in the conversation he was having with Jade, but he was aware of the professionals the agency had hired that were huddled in one corner of the conference room.

About halfway through one of her sentences, Jade trailed off and kept flicking her eyes purposefully to a spot just over Harry’s shoulder. When he looked at her questioningly, all she did was roll her eyes at him, and jut her chin out more forcefully.

Someone cleared their throat and brought the room to attention, and it was then that Harry finally saw what Jade was trying to signal; one of the two presenters was staring directly at Harry. "Thomas," his name tag read. He was cute, if a little ordinary. He was tall, a little taller than Harry’s own six feet, with brown hair, brown eyes, and a pair of glasses that Harry thought made him look distinguished.

After the session, Harry had stayed behind and Thomas had asked for his number. Quite a few coffee dates later, Thomas officially asked him out on their first “real” date as he called it.

Thomas was the perfect gentleman; kind, caring, punctual.

“Punctual?” Niall asked, skeptically, one afternoon over pizza and a West Wing marathon.

“Well, yeah. It’s nice to know he respects my time,” Harry replied, defensively.

“Oh come off it, Harry, the guy seems pretty boring, if you ask me.”

“How can you say that you’ve never even met him!”

“Alright, well introduce me then!”

“Fine,” Harry huffed out, “Next time he comes to pick me up, I’ll tell him to come upstairs.”

“Okay.”

“Good.” Harry brooded while Donna and Josh threw banter back and forth put out that Niall just dismissing Thomas before he had even met him. Sure, Thomas was a much more mild person than they were used to, he worked in finance and liked matching his neutral ties to his neutral socks, but that didn’t mean he was boring.

Plus, maybe boring was good, Harry thought to himself. Eventually, he wanted to build up his savings like Thomas had taught him to in the class the day they met, retire from modeling, maybe try something else career-wise, maybe go back to school. Ideally, Harry would have a solid partner by his side, then they would start a family when they were ready. He always loved the idea of a big family, lots of curly haired babies running around. White picket fence, dogs, cats, the whole lot.

Thomas worked in financial services and surely had money saved up. He could definitely be part of building a good, solid foundation for a relationship and possible marriage.

There were just some days that Harry wished there was something… more. The sex was alright, not everything worked like clockwork right away, but they had time to work on that. Once their connection deepened, Harry was sure all of that would fall into place. 

They had been together for three months when Niall and Harry’s friend Ed from university came to London to play a gig. Some friend of a friend of his needed a backup guitarist last minute and Ed offered to take the gig.

When Thomas showed up at the concert venue, a very large pub with a cleared out bottom level and small stage, he was definitely overdressed. Harry cringed a little when he saw his buttoned-up outfit, but smoothed out his expression into a smile as he rushed over to meet him. He may have flirted one or two pink concoctions out of the bartender waiting for Thomas to arrive.

“Hello, darling!” Harry greeted, voice a little too high and bright, fueled by whatever it was that the bartender had doubled before mixing up the drinks. Thomas frowned slightly before giving him a peck on the mouth, but the grimace was minuscule and Harry almost didn’t catch it.

“Hello, love.” Thomas had started dropping “love” here and there, and Harry could almost physically feel him testing out the waters, sussing out the depth of Harry’s feelings. Harry hadn’t told Thomas he loved him yet. That was something that meant a lot to him, and he wanted to be absolutely certain before he said it for the first time. None of his previous boyfriends had lasted more than a few months and certainly hadn’t warranted that level of commitment.

The concert was wonderful, more fun than Harry and Niall had together in a long time. Thomas certainly enjoyed it but was also the first one ready to go as soon as anyone had hinted at leaving. Ed was staying with Niall and Harry in their flat for the night, so all four of them piled into the back of a taxi.

Ed was sat in front and had turned round in the seat while he and Niall were deep in conversation about something having to do with football, leaving Harry and Thomas to themselves. Harry was squished up against the door and had turned to watch the blinking lights of the city pass by through the car window when he heard Thomas join their conversation.

“That’s sick, mate,” Thomas claimed excitedly. The inflection in his voice was about as giddy as Harry had ever heard it, and he wanted to know what had piqued his interest.

“Yeah, he did a whole tour of them,” Ed replied.

“Who did a whole tour of what now?” Harry asked, too tired to try and catch up through context.

“My cousin Liam and his mate Louis, they’ve watched a match in every Premier League stadium. It took them like three years between getting time off from work, and scraping up the money to travel everywhere,” Ed explained while fiddling on his phone.

He turned his phone around and all Harry saw was a flash of the screen that looked like it could be Instagram. When the phone had been passed from Niall to Thomas, and finally landed in Harry’s hands, he could only stare dumbly at the screen in front of him. There, in his tiny pixeled glory, was Blue Eyes. His eponymous irises shone with mirth, crinkles deepened around the corners of his eyelids and his smile was bursting, almost taking over his whole face. He stood with his arms stretched wide with the left one slung around the man standing next to him who was slightly taller with a bit of a bigger build.

Harry gulped in some air, coughing when it was a little too much air too soon after he had apparently been holding his breath.

“So, uh, which one is your cousin?” Harry managed to ask, voice only breaking around the first two syllables.

“The taller one, there. Liam,” Ed pointed.

“And, um, what did you say his friend’s name was?” Harry ventured, tentatively, extremely aware of the heat of Thomas’ leg pressed into his on the dingy vinyl car seat. He was just asking a question. That was all. Innocent curiosity. Putting a face to a name.

Ed chuckled to himself, “Louis. Louis Tomlinson." He paused. "That’s Tomlinson with an ‘O’ at the end.”

Harry was confused by Ed’s explanation, he hadn’t asked how to spell his name, had he? “Oh, thanks, I guess?”

“Never mind. Little joke. Just for me though, apparently.” Harry shrugged it off prepared to move on, but Ed continued to stare at him a bit more shrewdly. “I think you’ll understand the joke someday, Hazza. Not right now, but someday.”

Ed was being so odd all of a sudden, sounding like he had swallowed a book of proverbs or something. Harry laughed nervously, and as Thomas turned to look at him, he could only shrug and do his best to communicate that he had no idea what Ed was talking about either.

 

Later, after an altogether lackluster round of sex with Thomas - who kept shushing Harry to get him to keep quiet because Ed and Niall were in the same flat - Harry was messing around on his phone.

“Harry turn that off, it’s bright,” Thomas grumbled as he turned over, away from the blue-light glow of Harry’s screen.

“Yeah, just a second.” Harry slid the brightness all the way down as he perused his Instagram feed. There was just something under his skin that made him feel fidgety and restless. He was tired, he had gotten off... enough. There was no reason he shouldn’t be able to just roll over and go to sleep the same way Thomas had.

His feed wasn’t helping either. Nothing interesting was going on, apparently. His finger hesitated for a moment over the search bar, before he gave in and typed out “Louis Tomlinson.” Blue Eyes, or Louis, Harry supposed he should call him now, was the first result.

Thirty minutes later, Harry understood why he had never tried to find Blue Eyes online before, and why he shouldn’t have done it at all. The page was filled with selfies of Louis’ entrancing eyes and sharp cheekbones. Then, there were the endless pictures of stubble shadowing across his jaw, soft looks with beanies, and comfy jumpers. Harry couldn’t handle how attractive he was.

The worst, though, was all of the pictures of Louis with babies. Who were these toddlers he kept taking pictures with? One had curly red hair, the other long blonde hair. Honestly, if Harry had ovaries they would be bursting. It just wasn’t fair.

When Harry first made eye contact with Louis, over a year ago now (he couldn’t remember how long) he had judged him. He had judged him for trying to make eyes at Harry while he was on a date because Harry was scared of what would happen if he didn’t put him mentally at arm's length. Harry used that judgment like a shield against Louis’ beauty and charm, but now he wasn’t sure why he had been so adamant about it.

That conviction he had held onto was beginning to fray at the edges, and he wasn’t sure what to do about it.

But, none of that mattered, he thought definitively. He was with Thomas. He was happy with Thomas. He wouldn’t ever cheat on, or leave, Thomas because of a stupid Instagram feed, for God’s sake. Harry scoffed at himself again for assuming facts not in evidence; this random attractive guy had no idea who Harry was. The only reason Harry even knew the man was gay was because of his date at the concert that night, and even then it could have just been a very affectionate friend. Harry had no idea who this person on his screen really was.

Harry rolled over and squeezed his eyes tight, willing himself to think of anything other than Blue Eyes - Louis - and his charm vortex.

 

They say that the fastest way to break apart a relationship is to add distance, but Harry was determined to prove them wrong.

He and Thomas had been together for a total of nine months when Niall dropped the bomb.

Niall being Niall, he approached the problem in the most easy going way possible. Harry received a text on set while he was waiting for the crew to change out the background of the shoot.

Niall: Pizza. Beer. United match.

Harry: Done. Done. Done. I’ll pick up beer on my way home.

Harry spoke enough Niall to decode that he wanted to watch that evening’s match together, and Niall hardly ever specifically demanded any of Harry’s time, so he must want to have a roomie night. Harry smiled down at the screen, already looking forward to it.

Later that evening, they had made it through half of the six-pack, and two-thirds of the pizza, before Niall finally broached the subject of what he wanted to talk about.

United was up two goals to nothing, and they broke for the half.

“So, Harry,” Harry was immediately on edge; Niall almost never used his full name when he started a conversation. It was always ‘Haz’ or ‘Hazza.’

“Niall, you’re scaring me.”

“It’s not scary, I promise.” He cleared this throat and twisted his fingers together, “I’m getting promoted. At work.”

“Niall! That’s amazing! Why didn’t you tell me this was a celebration!” Niall absolutely loved his job as a sports writer for a major online publication. His specialties were interviews because he had a knack for putting his subject at ease which led to great insightful questions and answers. Harry was so proud that he was finally getting recognized for his skill.

Niall smiled easily, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes, “Well, it is, but it isn’t. You see, the new position would be heading up the division I’m currently in, but the whole company is moving to Manchester.”

His unease finally made sense to Harry. He was moving.

“You’re leaving?” Harry asked, voice small, a little ashamed that he was so hurt.

“About that. See, I did a little research before I came to talk to you about it, and I’m getting a salary bump, and I know you've said that you’re not super attached to modeling. I was kind of wondering if you wanted to maybe… come with me?”

“Come with you?” Harry repeated, blankly. Niall continued to watch him as the idea began to sink into Harry’s conscience.

Manchester. Move. Back to Manchester. Stop modeling. No Job. Possibly find a more stable job. Mum. Gemma. Robin. Niall. Home.

The thoughts flew through Harry’s synapses faster than he could really keep up with them, and he realized he had been silent for too long.

“Uh…” that wasn’t really the insightful thought he had hoped would come out when he opened his mouth. Really he just needed to let his instinct guide him.

“YES! Niall! Oh my god!” Harry shouted before he could hold himself back. Niall beamed as Harry leaped across the couch to tackle him in a hug.

“Look, I know it’s a lot to take in, and I know you probably want to talk to Thomas about it too-”

Harry's hand flew to his forehead. “Oh God, Thomas!” Harry had totally forgotten about Thomas and what it would mean for him to move to Manchester while Thomas was still in London. Harry watched as Niall’s excitement began to falter a little, and he could have kicked himself. Niall Horan should never be sad. It was a rule. Somewhere. Plus, bros before hoes. Or, bros before homosexual partners.

“No, Niall, this is a hugely definite possibility. I want to move with you. I just need to figure it out. Thomas and I will be fine. This is good. We were well past due for a talk about our future, we’ve just kind of been ignoring it.” Harry rushed to reassure him.

That night Harry called his mum to talk it through with her as he had with every major life decision.

“Oh Harry, that would be lovely. I would adore having you closer to home, but is that what you want? Or is it just because of Niall?” His mom asked, clearly trying to tread lightly.

“I don’t know mum, everything in my gut is telling me to do it. I miss being close to home, I could find a much more dependable job, I could be near my friends from uni…” he trailed off, hoping she would understand.

“I say go with your instinct, whatever that may mean. Have you talked to Thomas about it yet? What will this mean for the two of you?” Harry appreciated his mum’s concern, but he could do without the questions he was trying to put off thinking about for as long as possible.

“I’m not sure. We’re going to dinner tomorrow, I was going to talk to him about it then. Obviously it’s not ideal, but couples have been through worse, right?” He was surprised by how much he craved her reassurance.

“Sure,” she intoned, but it did absolutely nothing to ease his worry. They continued to talk through the logistics and catch up in general, but his upcoming conversation with Thomas was lurking in the back of Harry’s mind.

 

In the end, it was rather simple. Thomas immediately assuaged his worry by telling him he didn’t have a problem figuring out the distance. He pointed out how frequent trains ran between London and Manchester, telling Harry that he was completely committed to making it work.

While Harry was somewhat relieved, there was still a voice in the back of his head, taunting him, telling him it shouldn’t have been that easy. Thomas didn’t really put up a fight, and Harry was a little upset. Wasn’t he worth fighting for?

Harry was being overly dramatic again. Maybe this was just what a steady, solid, relationship was like. They could overcome any obstacle with ease! That was it. That was totally it, he needed to stop creating problems in his mind.

Once he was over the hump of figuring out the basic logistics of his move he gave his two weeks’ notice at the agency, promising to commute for a little while to fulfill the obligations he had already booked. He and Niall negotiated getting out of their lease with their landlord, and they were ready to explore the market in Manchester now that they were no longer uni students living in somewhat subsidized student housing. Harry had some money saved up, and Niall would be making more money, so they were set for the first few months, but Harry would need to find some kind of job fairly quickly.

They moved gradually over the course of a few weekends. Ed drove his car down, helped them pack it up, and then they would all drive back and spend the weekend in Manchester. It was getting more and more difficult to find time to see Thomas, but Harry supposed he would have to get used that eventually.

Ed more than anyone was ecstatic that they were moving back. He kept saying things like ‘Getting the band back together!’ even though they had never been a band in the first place.

The only time he ever faltered in his excitement was when Harry mentioned going back to visit Thomas at some point. Ed had apparently missed the memo about Harry and Thomas still being together, and while he was outwardly excited for Harry, he kept mumbling something under his breath about the timeline being set back. Harry just chalked it up to Ed being Ed and didn’t pry.

 

While they were getting ready to move back, Harry and Niall began making plans with their friends from uni, excited to have their regular group back.

Harry was absentmindedly scrolling through his phone one day waiting for Niall to get home from work so they could head up to Manchester to get the keys to their new flat. Thinking about their uni days inevitably led to thoughts of Blue Eyes. Harry really needed to stop calling him that, if only in his head.

While he hadn’t followed Louis on Instagram, he did check in every once in awhile. Just to see what new selfies he had posted. Harry wasn’t obsessed or anything.

This time there was a new picture that had been posted since the last time he had checked the week before. It was one of the small children he had seen before, specifically the little red-haired girl, and she was wearing her ACDC shirt and skinny blue jeans like a proper rock star. Her hand was held out towards the camera with her thumb up. It was possibly the most adorable picture Harry had ever seen, and the caption read “Fresh ginger on the scene, too cute!” with the ‘Rock on’ emoji.

Harry wondered, not for the first time, how the children in his photos were related to Louis. They seemed young to be siblings, but they could be nieces and nephews. Unfortunately, the more Louis posted such soft, adorable, pictures, the more Harry’s judgment and resolve began to crumble.

Despite his strong attraction to Louis that very first night, Harry’s hackles had immediately been raised based on his behavior; leaving the date with his coat, looking like he wanted to chat up Harry while the date had his arm wrapped around him. Those were all the markings of a player - someone with too much charm for their own good. Not the kind of person Harry ever wanted to be with, but his pictures told a different story. It would be interesting to find out who the real Louis was.

For just a moment, Harry lifted up the latch on his thoughts and let them run wild. He thought about what it would be like to be with his ideal version of Louis - he could be anyone within the confines of Harry’s own thoughts, and for the first time, Harry wondered who that ideal person was.

That was a dangerous path, Harry cautioned himself. Idealizing and romanticizing someone was never a good idea. Louis intrigued Harry, that was all. For some reason, Louis was a thorn in the side of Harry’s thoughts, and Harry didn’t think it would go away until he knew what he was truly like.

Louis looked to be single, there was no trace of the date from that night years ago on his Instagram or really any other steady partner in his photos. Someone as incredibly attractive as Louis must have had dates lined up to have a chance with him. But if he was single, maybe that presented an opportunity for Harry. Not for himself, obviously. Because he had Thomas. But he could find a way to set one of his friends up with Louis. Then, he could get to know Louis in a friendship context and get to know who he really was.

Before Harry could think too critically about it, he took a quick screenshot of one of his favorite selfies that Louis had taken which showed off his beautiful blue eyes.

From: Harry

To: Group Chat (Nick, Leigh-Anne, Jade, Niall)

(1) Image attached

Harry : Has anyone met this guy around Manchester?

Jade : Nope, never seen him.

Leigh - Anne : Rawr. Yum.

Nick : Is he gay?

Harry : One of you should date him. His name is Louis.

Leigh-Anne : ???

Jade : I’m not in Manchester!!

Leigh-Anne : Wot?

Nick : Is he gay?

Niall : Wait, isn’t that Ed’s cousin’s roommate? Why are you sending this to me? I’m not gay.

Nick : Says you, Niall. Who cares. IS HE GAY? He’s sexy.

Harry : I’m pretty sure he is, Nick. But I don’t know.

Niall : I repeat. Why am I here? Also, how do you know he’s gay? Did Ed tell you or summat?

Harry : You know what, never mind. This was silly.

Nick : Wait! I want to have his babies!

Harry : That’s not how this works

Nick : It could be

Harry : Whatever

Harry clicked the lock button on his phone and threw it across the soft cushions of the couch, frustrated with himself. What was he thinking offering Louis up to his friends like a piece of meat?

Something churned deep in his gut at the thought of one of them dating Louis, especially Nick. Maybe the Thai food leftovers he had for lunch were dodgy. That was it, he was just nauseous.

Harry huffed out a breath and threw his arm over his face, covering his eyes. He really hoped Niall would be home soon. It was clearly dangerous to leave Harry alone with his own thoughts for too long.

 

When it finally happened, it was completely by accident.

Despite Harry’s short-lived attempts to ascertain Louis’ character through an awkward set up with one of his friends, he didn’t actually see him for the first month after he and Niall moved to Manchester.

Niall was getting settled into his job and Harry was trying to find more steady work. With the money he had saved, there wasn’t anything immediate about his job search, but he was finding unemployment to be a tad boring.

Thankfully, Nick was the host of a local morning radio show, so Harry at least had a companion on some days.

On one particular day, Nick had mentioned that a coffee shop was having a grand opening in Harry’s new neighborhood and they should check it out.

They had agreed to meet for lunch around 12:30 and Nick was quickly approaching being fifteen minutes late, Harry thought, as he spared another glance at his watch. He was in a coffee shop, so he supposed there were worse places to be abandoned by one's friend. Nick notoriously ran on Nick time. Harry had no idea how he was always on time for his job so early in the morning.

To pass the time, Harry decided to order a drink. Because it was the grand opening, the queue was so long that it wound around the shop, even down the corridor leading to the bathroom and out the back exit.

Rounding the corner, attempting to find the end of the queue, Harry ran smack dab into Ed. His ginger hair was easy to spot in a crowd.

“Ed!” he crowed, with excitement.

“Hazza! What are you doing here?” Ed’s eyes widened as recognition settled, “It’s not time yet!” Harry looked at him, puzzled. What kind of greeting was that? Not time for what?

“Mine and Niall’s new flat is around the corner, you know, you’ve been there like ten times already. I’m just waiting on Nick,” Harry pointed to his watch, and Ed nodded in understanding, “Why are you acting so weird?”

That seemed to bring Ed up short. “It’s nothing, it’s nothing. But, you need to leave.”

“What? Mate, what are you on?” Harry was becoming genuinely concerned for Ed’s mental state.

“Nothing. Just go!” Ed pleaded.

“Ed!” Harry heard a voice cry over the din of the queue. Before he could turn around to seek out the source of the cry, thinking it might be Nick, Harry watched Ed’s facial expression grow anxious.

Confused, Harry did finally turn around and came face to face with the piercing blue eyes that had haunted his dreams for more than three years. Harry couldn’t even definitively say if he was dreaming or awake at that moment.

Blue Eyes - Louis - himself stopped short, jaw hanging open when he saw Harry.

Harry couldn’t tell who moved first, or how, but somehow they ended up face to face with barely any space between them.

Harry just barely swallowed the “You!” that was physically fighting to trip off of his tongue into the relative silence.

“Hi,” Louis recovered first, extending his hand out to Harry. Harry stared at it dumbly for a moment, before reaching his own up to meet him halfway.

Louis’ hand was surprisingly small, almost dainty, where it was engulfed in Harry’s. It was only then that Harry realized he wasn’t supposed to know Louis’ name. As far as Louis was concerned, they were strangers. They had never met before.

“Hi,” Harry breathed out. Smooth, he thought to himself. Not like Louis needed to know his name or anything.

All he could focus on was the feeling of Louis’ hand in his. It was sublime chaos the way his nerve endings were rioting like they had been awoken after a hundred years of stillness.

They must have stood there continuing to stare at each other for awhile because eventually, they made Ed uncomfortable enough that he felt the need to clear his throat and try to snap them both out of their trance.

“Louis, this is my mate from uni, Harry,” he said with a nod of his head towards Harry, “Harry this is Louis. He lives with my cousin Liam.”

There may have been been more to his introductions than that, but Harry would never know. He just couldn’t bring himself to look away from Louis’ blue eyes, now that he was finally allowing himself to look.

“Hi,” Louis said, this time with a smile breaking over his face.

“Hi,” Harry repeated. Neither one had let go of their handshake yet.

Harry could feel Ed swing his gaze back and forth between the two of them, not sure if he should say something or not. It wasn’t until their party was rudely interrupted that the spell was broken.

“Hazza, there you are!” Nick’s loud, flat voice pierced Harry’s concentration. Harry wasn’t sure why, but Louis quickly removed his hand from Harry’s and sprung back a step, the sudden movement enough to startle Harry into doing the same thing. “Who’s your friend?” Nick asked brashly.

When Harry attempted to use his voice, no sound came out.

“Wait a second, have we met before? I feel like I know your face,” Nick barrelled on, not waiting for Harry to make the introductions. It was then that Harry belatedly remembered he had sent a copy of Louis’ selfie to all his friends a few weeks prior in a weird attempt to play matchmaker. He could feel the blush bloom across his cheeks and down his neck, as he willed Nick to not remember where he had, in fact, seen Louis’ face before.

“No, I don’t think so? I’m Louis. It’s nice to meet you,” he smiled, but Harry saw that it didn’t quite reach the corners of his eyes like it had a few moments before.

“Nick. Pleasure.” Nick simpered, forcing Harry to roll his eyes in mortification at Nick’s clear and blatant attempt to pull.

“Nick? I thought it was Thomas?” As Louis reached the end of his sentence, Ed coughed very loudly and made a gesture that Harry couldn’t see.

“Thomas?” Harry asked, wondering what his boyfriend had to do anything, and how Louis could possibly know his name.

“What was that Haz?” Nick came back to the conversation after having clearly been distracted by something shiny.

“Uh-” Ed interrupted loudly, “Coffee! Who’s going to try what when we get to the front? That should be fun!”

Harry, again, spared a thought for Ed’s mental state.

“Absolutely! Can’t wait to try this place myself,” Nick chimed in, but Louis hadn’t said another word. He retreated steadily behind Ed as the line shifted, and Harry barely managed to catch his gaze once again. “Oh here’s an idea! Why don’t the two of you join us for a bite? That’s alright with you Haz, right?” Nick sounded quite proud of himself.

Harry maintained eye contact with Louis, “Yeah, of course. Sounds good.”

“Oh actually, we’ve got to be getting back to the studio,” Louis excused, just as Ed very clearly nodded at Nick to accept his offer.

“Don’t be silly, Lou. We still need to eat. The studio will be there when we get back,” Louis stared pleadingly at Ed for a moment, clearly trying to have a conversation just with their eyes, before he finally gave in to Ed’s demands.

“Perfect!” Nick exclaimed, clapping his hands together, “This ought to be fun!”

Sure, spend time with Louis Tomlinson, the man he had been keeping track of for years. Harry gulped and turned around to place his order with the barista.

Great.

Chapter Text

Louis thought he had bottled his obsession with Harry Styles up tightly in the back of his mind, letting it breathe only when a particularly spectacular shoot was published, pinging the Getty app Liam had given him.

After that fateful afternoon in the coffee shop when Ed introduced them and he finally got to meet Harry face to face it was as if the floodgates had opened themselves back up again.

Because of Ed, their social circles began to blend and they started seeing each other everywhere.

"Everywhere" had only been twice at two of Ed’s gigs so far, but Harry’s presence was incredibly overwhelming, and it felt like Louis saw him all the time.

Harry was just so gorgeous. Louis thought he might be immune to his beauty after saving countless pictures from Harry’s modeling shoots, but the small pixelated Harry on his computer screen was nothing compared to living, breathing, vibrant human Harry. Real life Harry was a million times harder to ignore.

Now that they were actually acquainted, Louis thought it was probably time for him to follow Harry on Instagram with his much less non-descript personal account, but he didn’t want to come on too strong. He knew that Harry had a boyfriend somewhere in England, even if it wasn’t that odd bloke Nick he had met in the coffee shop that day.

Ed had casually let it slip months ago during a Fifa night that Harry had a boyfriend named Thomas and they were going to try and make it work long distance between London and Manchester. Ed was also quick to add that he didn’t think it would last. Louis thought he had been playing it cool when it came to Harry and didn’t understand why Ed wanted Louis specifically to know that he thought Harry would be single soon. It felt like a very intentional statement, though.

A few weeks post coffee shop - PCS - as Louis was delineating it in his head, Ed was playing a gig at their local pub. He invited everybody he could think of along to hear him play, including Harry and Harry’s mythical roommate Niall. Once invited, they then ended up bringing a bunch of their friends.

Perrie and Jesy were thrilled that Harry had brought along two of his female friends, Jade and Leigh-Anne. They kept going on and on about how it had been forever since they had some good female company like they hadn’t kidnapped Lottie to go shopping the week before.

This time, though, Harry showed up with a date. Thomas. Louis hated him immediately.

He was being unfair. He was sure Thomas was a perfectly lovely person, it certainly wasn’t Thomas’ fault he had gotten to Harry first.

Thomas just looked so… buttoned up. In comparison, next to him, Harry was poetry in motion. His curls were unruly, springing out at odd angles even as gravity dragged them towards his shoulders. Flowery satin skimmed his torso, held together by hope, a prayer, and two buttons maximum. Louis could see the black ink of his tattoo’s poking out in various places as he moved or gesticulated in conversation. His red lips sparkled in the light where he had bitten them and let go or swiped his tongue across licking drops of his drink from the corners of his mouth.

He was just so full of life, freedom, everything. Thomas couldn’t possibly live up to such vibrancy. Not that Louis thought he would do a much better job; he didn’t think anyone would be able to live up to how wonderful Harry was.

If Louis was being honest with himself, he just wanted to be in Harry's orbit and hope that some of his vitality would bleed over into him by proximity or something. He wanted to hold the world back so Harry could fly, but there was no way to think about it that didn't make him seem obsessed.

He shook his head at the direction his thoughts were heading. Harry was in a solid, committed relationship. There was nothing Louis could really do about that, so he would have to take Harry anyway he could get him through occasional pub nights and sneaking glances at his Instagram feed. Not to mention the creeptastic folder of pictures of him on his laptop.

He definitely was not someone who could ever deserve Harry Styles.

It was after that pub night that Harry posted a picture with Thomas, tagging Ed who could clearly be seen in the background performing. Ed reposted it, and Louis finally had an excuse to “know” what Harry’s username was.

This was it. Louis bit the bullet and started following Harry under his actual name. Not the fake one he had hidden behind when he and Harry were still relative strangers.

Now, one acquaintance was simply following another acquaintance on social media. Totally normal and not creepy.

There was a bit of a monumental feeling to the gesture, though, and just as the thought passed through his conscience, he felt his mobile buzz letting him know that Harry had followed him back.

Louis breathed in deeply through his nose and out through his mouth. He had done it, and the world hadn’t fallen apart. Harry following him back must mean that Louis hadn't overstepped with his Instagram follow. 

There was also a strong possibility that Louis was overthinking the situation.

 

Louis was convinced that his four-year crush on Harry had no adverse effect on his life whatsoever. It was just a thing that existed, separate from his real life. It wasn’t unmanageable, it was just there.

Unfortunately, he was writing songs with Ed more and more, and songwriting had a way of pulling his deepest darkest secrets out of the corners of his soul and splaying them open in the light of day. Was it any wonder that his mum accused him of being "prone to dramatics."

Since Harry had come back into his life rather abruptly if only in the form of two pub nights surrounded by loads of other people (including Harry’s boyfriend) and exactly one social media follow, Louis found himself writing songs about pining. A lot.

I love the way you talk that talk boy

You build a world with every word you say

I knew I was gonna fall for you boy

I was all in before a memory was made, yeah

Darling, I was young enough, I know I was dumb

Dumb enough to throw my heart in

And I know we're growing up and life is rough

But love at any cost is a bargain

It’s quite the bargain 

Ed took one look at what Louis had written down, as Louis idly picked out chords on the guitar he had brought with him, and stared at Louis.

Louis met his gaze, but Ed continued to study him without saying anything.

“What? Why are you looking at me like that?” Louis began to get defensive under Ed’s intense stare.

“Mate,” Ed responded but didn’t elaborate.

“What?!”

“Mate,” Ed repeated.

“You said that already!”

“Mate.” Louis was starting to get annoyed.

“That’s not even a question! Are you broken somehow? Has the gingerness finally infected your brain?” Ed’s intense scrutiny was making Louis twitchy.

“Do you have something to share with the class, Lou?” Ed asked calmly.

“What are you even on about?”

Ed gestured to the page of Louis’ lyric journal laid out in front of him, “These lyrics. They’re a little obvious.”

Louis just stared back at him, unable to answer without incriminating himself.

“Though,” Ed continued, “I supposed I should be glad you’re not singing odes to curly brown hair and green eyes.”

That made Louis snap to attention, “What? What do you know about that?”

Ed smirked, “Well, I wasn’t completely sure, but your reaction solidified it for me," he teased. "You’ve got a crush on Harry. You’ve only met him, what, twice?”

There was something in Ed’s tone that practically screamed that it was a trap, and he sounded like he was asking a question he already knew the answer to, so Louis wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction.

“Harry, who?”

Reproach. Louis had never used that word before, but he was positive that when people said ‘staring with reproach’ it described the look Ed was giving him.

“If that’s how you want to play it that’s fine, Lou. But when you’re ready, I’m here and believe me, I already know.”

Louis didn’t know what to say, so he went back to plucking at the guitar while silently panicking. He really didn't think his crush on Harry was that obvious. Whatever. He was playing it cool. Ed only thought he knew the truth.

After that, the session ran smoothly. Liam arrived at the end of his work shift, and they managed to get a few of the songs that were still in progress to a much more polished and finished place. Louis was actually quite proud of the work they had been doing.

When he and Liam were packing up their gear to get ready for the trek home, Ed received an email that made him grimace.

“So, boys, it looks like they need a last minute set filler at the gig I’m playing next weekend. The act before me pulled out at the last minute. You up for it?”

Liam managed to understand him first, “Wait, you mean, you need us to perform?”

“Well, technically it’s not me, it’s the venue. But, I like these guys and they support me, so it would be a huge favor to them if I could find someone. I think you should do it,” Ed gestured back and forth between Liam and Louis.

Louis finally found his voice, “What? Us? Perform? Like on a stage?”

Ed laughed from somewhere deep in his gut, “Of course, Lou. You’re so good, these songs are amazing. They need to be heard!”

“But… I can’t,” Louis protested weakly. Ed was very much aware of Louis’ insecurities about his voice, the tone and quality that Louis felt didn’t sound ‘normal.’ He and Ed had a deep philosophical conversation one night as dawn was breaking while they shared a spliff on Ed’s balcony during one of his parties over the summer.

“That’s okay, Liam can sing the main vocals, you can play and harmonize. Like a duo!” Ed seemed to get more excited about the idea the more he talked it through with himself.

Both Liam and Louis continued to gape at him. When Ed realized he wasn’t going to get any kind of straight answer, he bodily turned them around and pushed them towards the door of his flat. “Alright. Think about it. Talk it over, practice a little. I can help you guys get there by next weekend. I promise.”

 

Louis and Liam did talk about it. They talked about it the entire walk home to their flat, and they continued to talk about it late into the night.

They were doing this. Them. Together. A live show. In front of people. Real people.

Liam was concerned he was taking the spotlight away from Louis, “They’re just such great songs, Lou. And you’ve worked so hard on them, are you sure you want me to sing them?”

“I promise Li, I will be so much more comfortable if I’m behind the guitar, in a way. Plus, it will be interesting to hear how the songs are interpreted by you and by other people. I’m a little too in my head with them, I think.”

“Okay, if you’re sure. I think we could really make this work.”

“Let’s do it.”

 

Louis was never listening to the evil ginger ninja that was Ed Sheeran ever again. It was three days until their live set, and he was dying of nervousness. Not because of the show, no, but because of Harry Styles.

Ed was throwing an impromptu party in his flat and he invited Louis along. Liam couldn’t attend because he had to work late, as he often did, but now somehow Louis had ended up trapped in the kitchen with Harry and Thomas - who was up visiting from London again

Ed had force-fed Louis two tequila shots as soon as he walked in the door, then shoved a beer in his hand and let him loose. Louis had been nursing said beer for about half an hour before Ed snuck up on him again.

“You need to invite Harry to the gig.”

Louis’ eyes bugged out, “Are you mad?”

“Do it. C’mon, Lou. What’s the harm in asking?”

“You said you know. Which means you know what the harm is. I have a big fat crush on him.” Too late Louis realized what he had just said out loud for the first time since the day Liam had taught him how to stalk Harry’s modeling pictures two and a half years earlier.

“Yeah, I know. Invite him, get him alone. This is the perfect opportunity. How could he possibly think those songs are about him?”

“Christ, ‘get him alone,’ that makes me sound like I’m going to wear his skin as a suit or something weird like that.” Louis balked as he thought about how some of his actions could be perceived by an outside observer. Or Harry. The folder of pictures he still had saved on his desktop was not helping his case at all either. “Plus, he still has Thomas who does not seem to be going anywhere.” Louis nodded towards the living room where Thomas was standing with his arm around Harry’s waist. Territorial. It made Louis’ skin crawl.

Ed would not be deterred. “Listen, you really should get to know Harry. I promise your crush isn’t going to go away unless you get some closure. Do you really want the fear of the unknown to be eating away at you like that?”

While everything Ed was saying sounded a bit extreme, Louis had to admit that he was right. He and Harry should spend some time alone just the two of them. Maybe then Louis would realize his attraction to Harry was, and always had been, purely physical, and he could get over him without another hitch.

Sometime after that moment, Ed had abandoned him again. Then somehow Louis had ended up in his current predicament which was standing stock still in the kitchen admiring Harry’s arse as he bent down to get more beer out of the fridge. Honestly, Ed was some kind of evil genius and his parties were mind-erasers.

Thomas had excused himself to find the loo, leaving Harry alone in the kitchen, decidedly boyfriendless for the moment.

Louis cleared his throat, not sure how to begin a conversation like a normal human being.

“Hey, uh, Harry?” Confidence was key.

“Yeah?” Harry asked, straightening his back until he was upright again, arse no longer on display, which was a shame.

“When Ed plays his gig next week my mate Liam and I are going to be opening for him and I was wondering if you wanted to come and hear us play,” Louis rushed out all in one breath before he could lose his nerve.

Harry stared at him for a beat before a grin broke across his face, “Oh! Of course! I would love to, I love live music. I didn’t know you sang?”

Louis blushed, “Well, I only sing a little, it’s really my mate Liam who does the singing. I just play guitar and harmonize sometimes.”

“Still, I’m sure it will be great! This is exciting!” Harry was vibrating with anticipation, and it was so infectious that Louis could physically feel the tension ease from his bones. Harry was actually really excited to see him perform.

Oh God. Harry was excited to see him perform. Louis felt the nerves come rushing back as they set in again. Harry was going to hear his songs. The songs that were definitely written about him without his knowledge.

Louis tried to steady his breathing as he felt the air shift when Thomas come back through the kitchen doorway, attaching himself to Harry once again. For once, Louis grateful for the distraction. It was short-lived, though, his relief dying a quick death at the sight of Thomas giving Harry a quick peck on the mouth.

It may have just been Louis’ rose-colored Harry glasses, but he could have sworn Harry pulled back more quickly than Thomas had expected and then cast a glance at Louis out of the corner of his eye. Everything happened so fast that Louis thought he had dreamed it. Was tequila a hallucinogen? Probably.

 

Exactly three nights later, Louis was hyperventilating. Liam, on the other hand, was calm and relaxed not betraying any nerves whatsoever. When he got back to the small cordoned off “backstage” area (that was really just a small room with two big comfy couches crammed into one corner), Louis had managed to calm himself down a little.

“Hey, Lou. Remember years ago you were looking at pictures of that model friend of Zayn’s? I think he’s here. Harry something? Was that it?”

Louis dropped his head between his knees and concentrated on steadying his breathing again.

“Oh my God, Lou, are you alright?”

“Yep!” Louis tried to reassure him, but the response came out aimed at the floor, thin and reedy, betraying his panic.

“No, you’re not.”

“I’m fine Leemo, I promise.”

“You only ever call me Leemo when you’re high or freaking out but pretending to be okay. What’s going on?”

“Well, that guy? Harry? He’s friends with Ed. He’s kind of here because I kind of invited him because I kind of have a massive crush on him, but he kind of has a boyfriend.”

“That’s a lot of uncertainty,” Liam said to himself, completely serious, with a little furrow between his eyebrows. Louis was too busy dying to be endeared by Liam’s earnestness, but when he looked back at this moment later from beyond the grave, he would appreciate it.

“It’s fine. I can do this. He’s just a person. He doesn’t know the songs are about him. Hell, he barely knows me!” Louis said to himself more than Liam frantically waving his arms around.

Liam’s eyes grew steadily wider, and Louis could practically hear the more obvious pathetic pining lyrics he had written zip through Liam’s brain like ticker tape.

“The songs are about– Oh. Wow. Everything makes so much more sense now,” Liam said dazedly as he began to connect the dots.

Louis shot Liam the best dirty look he could manage whilst in the midst of a mental breakdown. Liam studied Louis for another minute before he stepped fully into the room, shutting the door with a heavy thud. “Do you want to run through the set one more time?” he asked gently.

Louis knew Liam only sounded like he was talking to a child because he was acting like a child. It was just that Louis had liked Harry for so long. He had built him up in his head to be this paragon, and unfortunately, nothing about Harry that he had come to know so far had proven Louis’ idealized version of him wrong.

Louis began to breathe in and out methodically. In. He’s just a person. Out. He’s got a boyfriend. In. He’s just a person. Out. He’s got a boyfriend.

Louis could vaguely hear Liam tuning his guitar for him again, even though he had taken care of it earlier. Slowly, his heartbeat started to even out and become less erratic. He was calming himself down. The more he told himself that, the truer it would be. Eventually.

 

Their entire set was a Harry-panic-induced haze. Louis did his best to look at Liam more than anything else, angling his body so they were tilted towards each other. It gave the whole set a more intimate acoustic feel, and it kept the audience in Louis’ peripheral vision instead of straight on, exposed. He managed to avoid finding Harry in the crowd, which allowed him to avoid looking at him entirely.

When they were done on stage, they made their way to the cramped backstage room again where Ed was waiting for his own set to start. After Ed congratulated them on a job well done, Louis hugged Liam for a long, long time, both relieved it was over and glad that they got through it.

Louis carefully packed away his guitar - his most prized possession - into it’s case. Now that their business was taken care of, Louis collapsed back on the couch as all of the tension drained from his body in one fell swoop. He heaved a sigh just as Liam had finished putting away his own things.

“I’m going to head out to the bar, get a pint, watch Ed’s set. You sure you’re alright, Lou?”

“Yeah, Li. Go ahead. I’m just going to unwind for a bit. Catch my breath. I think I missed a text from Pez and Jesy, they might be bringing me a pint back here.” Louis waved him off haphazardly.

“The set really was great, Lou. You’re such a great writer.”

Louis beamed up at him from his reclined position deep in the cushions of the ratty old couch, “Thanks, Li. You sang them perfectly.”

“I don’t know about that, Lou. I think you need something extra. Something more than me. It needs a little push and they really could be so spectacular. I'm proud of you, babes.”

Louis always had trouble accepting such an unadulterated compliment, but he did his best to say, “Thanks, Li.”

Staring blankly at the ceiling, Louis tried to reflect on the set but he really couldn’t recall a moment of it. He must have been riding high on the adrenaline.

Ed got to a particularly boisterous portion of one of his songs, and the sound became amplified for a moment, harmonizing with the squeak of the door hinges.

“Did you forget something, Li?” Louis asked, not taking his eyes off the ceiling.

“Uh…”

That wasn’t Liam. 

Louis bolted up and found himself face to face with Harry Styles.

“Harry! Hey. I, um, didn’t realize you were here?” Louis winced at the questioning uptick of his phrase, but Harry didn’t recognize his pseudo-question for the bold faced lie it was.

“Oh yeah. You invited me, and I love music, and I really wanted to hear your stuff,” Harry’s smile kept rising as he continued his stilted explanation, “Plus, you know, Ed.”

Louis stared at him, puzzled. “You mean Ed’s set? That’s on right now?” He hoped the ‘while you’re back here talking to me and definitely not listening to Ed,’ was explicitly implied.

Harry at least had the decency to blush. God. He was so fucking pretty. Louis got a little lost in the pink tinge of his cheeks and how it completely complimented his bright green eyes and silky brown curls. If Louis was anyone else he would have rolled his eyes at himself.

“Yeah, um, I actually came back here because I wanted to catch you alone for a second,” Harry stammered.

Louis idly wondered if the defibrillator he had seen in the hallway was actually functioning or merely decorative.

“Louis?” Harry asked, tentatively. It was then that Louis realized he must have been staring at him blankly like a knob.

“Oh. Yeah. Hi. Of course, come sit,” Louis gestured to the grimy cushion next to him, “What’s up?” Louis constantly had to remind himself that he was not supposed to know as much about Harry as he did. He couldn’t say anything to freak Harry out or expose his own cyberstalking ways.

“Well, I ran into Liam in the hall and we were talking about the set. He said you wrote most of the songs?” Harry was looking at him with a slightly pleading look. Louis didn’t know what Harry was getting at, and he was more than ashamed to say that as a result of all the spiking and crashing his adrenaline was doing, he was beginning to stiffen up a little in his jeans. Pictures of Harry writhing underneath him - with that same pleading look on his face - were flickering through his mind faster than he could manage.

“Yeah. Yes. I did that. The writing.” Smooth.

“Oh, great!” Harry beamed, “Because, I really love music, and I’ve written some stuff, but I think my stuff is missing something, and I just really think you and I could help each other. Not that you need help, you’re great, I just think it would be fun to write together and see what we come up with.” Harry finally pause and took a breath. “So, anyway, would you be interested in maybe doing some writing sessions with me?”  

Louis' immediate instinct was to say, or scream, ‘Yes!’ and do a celebratory dance around the room. But then he stopped and thought about it. There was one thing keeping him from agreeing.  Well, one person - Thomas.

Louis didn't know what Harry and Thomas' relationship was like, but he was certain that spending long hours alone with Harry talking about deep-seated emotions was not exactly ideal. Not that he doubted Harry's fidelity to Thomas in any way, Louis just didn't want to put himself in a position where he would have to keep saying no to himself over and over again and force himself to be careful about what he said when he was with Harry.

Then again… Louis dared to take a quick a glance at Harry. There he was with his big green doe eyes, so excited about developing his music and getting some help with songwriting. He looked so enthusiastic about it.

“Yeah, sure, Harry. That sounds like fun,” The wattage of Harry’s expression could have powered the entire pub. “It’ll be nice to write with someone who isn’t Ed or Liam for a change.” Harry opened his mouth to respond, but just as he did, Perrie and Jesy pushed into the room bearing pints, congratulating Louis on his set.

For the rest of the night, his friends came in and out of the back room having their own semi-private party. Beer flowed, Ed finished his set, everyone was having a great time.

All things considered, Harry and Louis were supposed to be relative strangers. Louis studied him from across the room as he animatedly talked about haircare with Perrie and Jesy. His arms were flailing about, but Louis had enough sisters to recognize words like ‘de-frizz’ and ‘volumizing,’ to know that’s what they were still talking about.

The conversation Liam and Ed were having faded to white noise as he admired Harry. Louis couldn’t believe that he had actually agreed to be alone with Harry for long periods of time just the two of them together where there would be so much temptation to touch or kiss him.

At the same time, he could absolutely understand his overwhelming instinct to gravitate towards Harry. 

Just then, Harry’s eyes lifted from Jesy’s face and briefly locked with Louis’. Harry gave him a small private smile, holding the eye contact for just a second too long, before blinking and fluttering his eyelashes once and looking away.

Louis was fucked.

- - -

Harry blew a long curl out of his face as he listened to the hollow ringing of Thomas’ line through his own mobile’s tinny speaker. Ring. Ring. Ring. Beeep. Hi, this is Thomas. Leave a message.

Pulling the mobile away from his ear, Harry tapped the big red button in the middle of his screen. He had been trying to tell Thomas all day about the songwriting sessions he had begun to set up with Louis. Their first one was scheduled in two weeks when they both had time off. Well, Harry was still semi-unemployed and always had time off, but Louis had a bit of a rigorous schedule.

Harry had brought up his interest in songwriting to Thomas, telling him about the few songs that he had already written over the course of the last few months, but Thomas had seemed a little dismissive of his new hobby implying that he would be more interested once Harry had something more concrete to show for it.

This new proactive pursuit of developing skills seemed like just the thing to assuage Thomas’ doubts, and Harry was dying to tell him about it but they had been playing phone tag all day.

Harry keyed in the password for his laptop and propped his feet up on the end of the love seat. Occupying himself until Thomas called wasn’t that much of a hardship. Harry found himself really enjoying semi-unemployment. He was exploring the neighborhood, visiting Niall at work, visiting his mum, all in all, there was lots of fun to be had.

Boredom was quickly sneaking up on him.

Thoughts of combating boredom led to thoughts of his plans with Louis. Harry had been a bit disappointed that he would have to wait another two weeks before they got started, but Louis was doing him a favor. Plus, he had a feeling the pay off would be worth it.

Harry had been in complete awe of the songs Louis and Liam had performed when they opened for Ed. When he was on his way backstage to talk to Louis and ask him about the songs, he had fortuitously run into Liam in the corridor. "Casual acquaintances" was exactly the proper level of friendship he and Liam possessed. Harry had to constantly remind himself that was how it was supposed to be with Louis too but it felt different with Louis, and Harry couldn’t quite put his finger on why.

Liam had told Harry that Louis was the one who did the majority of the writing with some input from him and Ed, and Harry’s heart had ballooned in his chest.

There was something substantial in Louis’ writing; the structure of the melodies, the way the verses, bridges, and choruses were sometimes so completely different but complemented each other beautifully. Harry had fallen in love with every single song he heard that night.

The fifty steps between running into Liam and pushing through the heavy old door of the cramped backstage area had seemed like a lifetime as Harry ran through all the different questions he wanted to ask Louis in his head. Harry loved to sing and play but had no skills with a guitar. Maybe Louis could teach him how to play and then they could perform their own set together!

Harry had to put a halt to his own thought process with that one for its pure presumptuousness. Clearly, Louis and Liam performed together, that’s what they had done not twenty minutes before he found himself in that dingy hallway. He did his best to center himself and calm down his thoughts before he entered the room.

Louis was just sitting there, or laying there, in the back room reclining on a couch that looked like someone needed to take a flamethrower to it five years ago.

Harry had followed his instinct and asked Louis to help him with his songwriting and Louis had seemed surprised, but enthusiastic.

Certainly more enthusiastic than Niall later that night who had just said, “Sure, Haz,” without really listening. To be fair, Harry had burst into his room when he got home from the pub and Niall may or may not have been sleeping already.

Throughout their whole move to Manchester, whenever Harry had talked about wanting to concentrate on his music, Thomas had brushed him off. This would show him that Harry could do it.

That thought gave Harry pause. He seemed to be putting a lot of stock into what Thomas thought lately. Thomas was his boyfriend, so obviously Harry wanted him to be passionate about the things he cared about, but there was a difference between getting into songwriting for himself and getting into songwriting out of spite because Thomas had made it seem insignificant.

He and Thomas hadn’t been communicating well lately. This had not been the first time during the past month or so where phone tag had been the predominant point of contact between the two of them. Visiting was getting harder and harder as Harry was phasing out the modeling jobs that required him to travel to London, and Thomas was getting busier at work.

Harry was beginning to question if this relationship really worth the effort. The thoughts and doubts that he had kept at bay suddenly began to take over his brain and swirl around, amassing in a big black cloud.

His mobile rang, and he picked it up off the table to see the caller ID. Thomas.

“Hey,” Harry answered.

“Hey, hun, what did you call about?” Straight to it then. Thomas sounded distracted and he probably had Harry on speakerphone, or his headphone mic, while he was still working.

“I think it’s really important that you visit this weekend,” Harry ground out. Now that Harry was certain that there was a place this conversation was figuratively headed, he did not want it to happen over the phone. They needed to talk face to face.

“Darling, I came up last weekend,” Thomas said in his most soothing tone dripping with condescension. Once, that might have sounded more romantic, now it just grated on Harry’s already frayed nerves.

“That was three and a half weeks ago.”

“No it wasn’t, it was on the fifth.”

“Thomas,” Harry clipped out more harshly than he intended, “It's the twenty-eighth.”

“Well, you should just come to London then, silly. It’s your turn anyway,” Harry could hear something muffled over the line that sounded like ‘millions’ and ‘bond’ and ‘trust.’ Those also could have just been the only financial buzzwords that Harry knew.

Harry conceded that he probably should go to London. If he took the early train he could make it down and back in time for supper at his mum’s. She might even be making a Sunday roast.

He caught himself again because he realized that he was thinking about his trip in terms of how efficiently he could break up with his boyfriend. Harry winced. That was the first time he had explicitly thought or said the words ‘break up’ even it was just in his head.

 

A few days later he was sat on the train to London watching the scenery whiz by, calming himself down.

He had texted Thomas and agreed to meet up with him for a late breakfast at their favorite diner near Thomas’ flat. The points he wanted to make against continuing their relationship were on repeat over and over again in his head. Too far. No communication. Not supportive. No spark. No passion.

Maybe he would leave off that last one when he spoke to Thomas.

As the train pulled into the station and he transferred to the tube, the butterflies began to kick up in his stomach.

It wasn’t that he had never broken up with someone before, it was just that he hadn’t ever had a serious relationship before. With the end of this one came the end of an era.

Harry had gone back and forth doubting himself and the step he was about to take. Because he had never been in a serious relationship, he didn't have a gauge to help guide him. He very well could be cutting a good thing off at the knees before it even had the chance to get going. There were a few times on the platform that he almost turned around, but either way, he needed to go to Thomas' flat so it was pointless.

The biggest issue was that now that he and Niall were settled in their new flat and were beginning to settle into their new life in Manchester, Harry really didn’t see himself leaving anytime soon.

When they were first thinking about moving Harry had thought through all of the pros and cons, and the pros were definitely coming to fruition after having been there for a little while. The cost of living was lower, Niall’s salary was higher, Harry was spending more time than ever with his sister Gemma, he was seeing his mum, seeing his old friends. Unfortunately, the only cons associated with moving were that he would have to give up modeling and he would have to be away from Thomas.

Modeling as a profession had begun to tarnish in his mind even before the Manchester opportunity came up, so that was kind of a wash which meant the only con of moving away from London then became leaving Thomas.

Staying with Thomas in the figurative sense, having this long distance relationship, felt like Harry had one foot in each place, and it had begun to weigh on him.

Harry had to make a choice and when it came down to it, he really loved his new life. Whatever he had with Thomas wasn’t enough to hold him back.

 

Hours - and quite a few tears - later, Harry was back on the platform at the station letting his music wash over him through his earbuds.

He had done the right thing. He had. Thomas hadn’t taken it well, making it clear that he thought Harry's desire to break up had come out of nowhere.

Harry really didn’t understand how that was possible unless Thomas had been that oblivious to the slow fizzle happening between them. At brunch, Thomas had gone on and on about how that was normal in newly long distance relationships, and how all it would take was a little more work.

As Thomas was explaining it, Harry had seriously considered his future and the concept of putting in ‘a little work.’ All he felt was apathy towards the idea. Mustering up the enthusiasm for that ‘work’ had been work enough. That had been the final nail in the coffin for him and he had stuck to his guns, insisting that he wanted the separation.

Harry made his way onto his train home; he would be home in time for Sunday roast as he had predicted and he found a seat at a window again. The train was relatively empty so no one bothered him.

Niall had requested updates, but Harry hadn’t really had time to catch his breath and give him the news yet.

Harry: I did it. It’s done. Officially single.

Niall: YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Harry: Alright, don’t sound too excited. I did just end an almost year-long relationship.

Niall: Yeah but Thomas wasn’t my fave, Haz.

Harry: You couldn’t have told me earlier?

Niall: Nah, had to come up with it on your own. And you did!

Harry: What would you have done if I had married him.

Niall: Never would have let it get that far.

Harry: Thanks, Niall.

Niall: Come home, I want to get some of Anne’s Sunday roast.

Harry laughed out loud at Niall’s last text. He really didn’t know what he had done to deserve such a good friend, but he was certainly glad he had him.

Closing his eyes, he rested his head against the window and drifted in and out of consciousness as the train lulled him to sleep.

 

Despite knowing he had made the right decision, Harry was still in a little bit of a funk for the rest of the week. He didn’t have much in the way of activities to occupy his mind, so he vacillated between relief and sadness. While their relationship wasn’t perfect, they still had been together for quite awhile.

Thankfully, Thomas hadn’t tried to contact him since the break-up. Harry was a people pleaser by nature, and he felt like the guilt of hearing about how hurt Thomas was would weaken his resolve.

Instead, he was doing a fair amount of Netflix binging, making his way through his queue fairly efficiently.

About ten days after his trip to London he was in the middle of catching up on Bake Off – yelling at someone during the technical challenge for not knowing how to properly twist a curonne – when he got a text message. Louis. His heart gave a little leap.

Louis: Hey, Harry, this is Louis. I can’t remember if I gave you my number or not.

Harry: Yeah, hey.

Louis: Are we still on for tomorrow?

In the midst of everything with Thomas, Harry had forgotten all about his songwriting session with Louis. He didn’t really feel super up to it at the moment. He typed out a response to cancel and explain, but then he stopped himself.

Harry should have the session with Louis anyway. He could channel what he was feeling about Thomas into a song. It would probably help him, sort of like therapy in a way.

Harry: Yeah, when and where?

Louis: My house, 4pm? Liam will be out, we’ll have some privacy.

Louis: For like noise and stuff

Harry felt a little zip of excitement go up through his spine at the thought of having some private time with Louis before he checked himself. He had just broken up with Thomas. Bad body. No! He chastised himself and his overexcited nerve endings.

Harry: Yeah, sounds good.

Louis: See ya then

Harry: Sounds good.

He slapped his hand to his forehead. He had said ‘sounds good’ twice. Ugh. Clearly, texting was not his medium.

When he didn’t receive another response from Louis, he locked his phone and put it back on the coffee table, settling in for the tongue lashing Paul Hollywood was sure to give the bakers.

 

Nerves were making Harry lose his mind, he was sure of it. When he tried to leave his flat the first time he had forgotten his guitar. The second time, he had forgotten his notebook where he wrote down song ideas and lyrics. Slamming the door behind him the third time he took stock of himself before finally setting off towards Louis’ flat.

Now, he was standing out in front of Louis’ flat pacing back and forth because he was fifteen minutes early. He only lived about five minutes away from Louis, which made sense given their chance meeting in the new neighborhood coffee shop, but he was so excited to get going with their session that he had allowed himself twenty minutes to walk over, even after being delayed a few times.

He felt his mobile buzz in his hand.

Louis: Do you want to come in?

Harry lifted his head up from his phone to glance at Louis’ building.

Sure enough, there was a window open and Louis was hanging out of it, beaming so hard he looked like parts of the sun had dripped down to earth.

He was laughing. At Harry.

Something about Louis' smile made Harry feel immediately at ease with him - despite being laughed at - because even if they hadn’t officially met prior to the coffee shop, Louis was a presence in Harry’s life. Not that Louis knew anything about that.

God, this was fucking confusing.

Harry heard the front buzzer sound, and he quickly pushed through until he was standing in the building’s foyer. Louis’ text had given an apartment number, so Harry climbed until he found the front door that was slightly ajar and he gave it a light knock.

“Come on in!” Louis called from within the unit.

From talking to Ed, Harry knew that Louis and Liam lived together, and as he looked around the front hall there was clear evidence of it. The front door opened into a narrow hallway where there were two different sizes and types of shoes piled up, one set clearly smaller and sportier than the other. Harry smiled to himself when he identified those as Louis’ trainers that he had seen on his Instagram before.

Suddenly, the man in question popped out at the end of the hallway. Harry’s heart stopped for a moment as he took in the picture Louis made. He was wearing a burgundy beanie with bits of his fringe peeking out from underneath. The zip-up hoodie he was wearing was pulling away from his body a bit on his shoulders, showing tantalizing bits of skin where it didn’t quite meet the edges of the vest he had on as well. His neckline dipped low enough that Harry could see his tattoo, a chest piece with some kind of swirly lettering on display just above it. His joggers hung soft and low on his hips, bunched around his ankles above his bare feet.

All Harry could see were images flashing by in his mind of the two of them cuddled up on the couch on a Sunday afternoon watching films and sipping tea.

They probably needed to have more than three conversations first.

“Harry! Hey, glad you could make it upstairs,” Louis teased with a glint in his eye. Harry chuckled in response.

“Oh, um, yeah, you live a lot closer than I thought so it didn’t take very long to get here,” Harry fidgeted with the guitar strap on his shoulder, not quite sure what to do with his hands. He was still overwhelmed by the glimpse of what he hoped and prayed was his future with a partner, even if that partner wasn’t Louis.

Casual intimacy was something he had definitely been missing in his relationship with Thomas. He grimaced inwardly at the thought of his ex-boyfriend.

“Do you want to take your boots off?” Louis offered, gesturing towards the shoe rack in question.

“Sure,” Harry leaned one hand on the wall to toe his boots off, mentally priding himself on actually putting on matching socks that morning.

“There’s no house rule or anything. I just thought you might be more comfortable,” Louis smiled easily, leading Harry farther into the flat.

“It isn’t much, but it’s home," he called over his shoulder. "Here, have a seat. Do you want something to drink? The kettles just on.”

“Yeah, tea would be great, thanks,” he accepted the drink more to get rid of Louis and have a moment to compose himself than an actual desire for tea. He placed his guitar down in its case, resting the neck against the side of their coffee table, and took a seat on the couch. As soon as he did, he leaned back deeper into it coming to the realization that it was one of the most comfortable couches he had ever sat on before. It was like a cloud, but supportive all at the same time.

He sank back further into the cushions, and drew his feet up under him, taking stock of the room. The flat was pretty open, so he could see glimpses of Louis bustling around in the kitchen area fiddling with the kettle. The couch was against a wall that directly faced a fairly nice TV and there were shelves of DVDs and video games. To his right, against the far wall was clearly where they stored all of their songwriting equipment. He saw two guitars, an amp, a keyboard, some noise canceling headphones, and lots of wires and cables.

Louis walked back to the couch carefully holding both mugs.

“I put a little sugar and milk in, but if you want more, we have it so just let me know.”

“This is great, thanks,” Harry replied, taking the mug from Louis’ outstretched hand. Louis folded himself up on the other end of the couch with his body facing Harry.

After he had settled, and brought his mug up to his lips to blow some of the steam away then he lowered his hands back down to his lap.

“So,” Louis started, but clearly didn’t know where to begin because he looked like he was at a loss for follow up. It was incredibly adorable.

“So?” Harry prompted.

“Songwriting,” Louis said, definitively.

“That is why I’m here, yes.” Harry couldn’t help but tease him. Louis had started it earlier when he was out front, so Harry figured he was safe and not pushing any boundaries or anything.

“Right. Did you, um, bring anything specifically you wanted to work on? Or have started already or something?” Louis nodded towards Harry’s guitar.

“Yeah, actually. I’m not sure how you work, but I have some lyrics and ideas of melodies, it just feels like they’re missing something. I was hoping you could maybe help me fill in the gaps?”

Louis look relieved, almost as though he had the same thought Harry did. Things were a little awkward between them, but the music was a great unifier. An outlet. It gave them something to concentrate on besides this tension between them. The tension wasn’t good or bad, just odd. Sitting, talking, being alone with Louis felt incredibly natural, but they were both still aware that they weren’t really friends. They were more like acquaintances, but at the same time, that didn’t feel instinctual. Deep meaningful friendship was what felt natural with Louis, and Harry had never experienced anything like it before.

“Sure, do you have something you want me to hear first?”

There was one song Harry had written down awhile ago when he began to feel the strain of the distance with Thomas, and his apathy had begun to settle in, and that was the one he really wanted help with but it was probably too heavy to start with right off the bat.

On the other hand, Louis knew that songwriting was emotional, Harry had heard Louis' songs himself. Maybe he should just go for it.

“Yeah, let me just get my guitar out.” He handed his tea mug back to Louis and pulled his guitar out of the case. “This one has a basic melody and structure, but I’m not really sure what to do with the bridge. Here,” he added and began to play.

You know how to make me worry

You know that I do it so well

You've always been in a hurry

To bring me down to your room now

And I don't know why I keep trying and trying again

Cause I know now I'm never really gonna win

“And then this is the chorus,” Harry added as he watched Louis watch him. More like Louis was watching where Harry was strumming the guitar, which helped, actually. Otherwise, Harry may have felt more self-conscious.

My love can't rescue you

Can't make your mountains move

Won't make your deserts bloom the way you want it to

My love can't heal the scars

You've carved in your own heart

My love can't rescue you the way you want it to

Not the way you want it to

 

Harry continued to play through the rest of the song. When he was done, Louis didn’t say anything for a moment.

“We don’t really know each other very well, but you said you want to improve your songs, so I don’t want to be afraid to be really honest. Is that okay?”

Harry’s first instinct was to be immediately offended that Louis didn’t like it - as any kind of creator putting themselves out there would be - but he was seeking help. Plus as Harry took in Louis' open and soft body language he could see that Louis really didn’t seem like he had hated it.

“Yeah, sure, that’s why I’m here,” Harry licked his lips and swallowed his pride, quite literally, as his mouth felt dry. Nervousness did that to him sometimes.

Louis reached across the couch and handed Harry his tea. It was a full ten seconds before Harry realized Louis handed him back his tea because he had seen Harry swallow. He must have been watching Harry quite closely.

Harry looked up from his tea and caught Louis’ gaze. “So?” He asked, wanting to get Louis’ critique over and done with while he still had the strength.

“I really liked it, it was gorgeous,” Harry breathed a sigh of relief. “But you’re right it is missing something.” Louis tapped his fingers against his mug for a moment and the wheels turning in his mind were practically visible in his expression.

“What if you added that last little bit at the end of the first verse, the line about ‘trying and trying again,’ before each chorus. Like a pre-chorus, because I don’t think it needs a bridge. I think we should leave it as soft and gentle as it already is. Contemplative.”

“Yeah let’s try it,” Harry began to pluck out the melody again.

From there, the session lasted well into the evening. Liam came back to the flat eventually and offered to order a pizza. Harry half expected him to sit and join them because he knew they usually worked together, but once he got their orders he disappeared into his room, leaving Louis and Harry alone to finish up.

As much as Liam tried to give them their privacy, once the pizza arrived it felt a like the bubble of their time together had burst. They had gotten completely involved in the development of the song; Louis had pulled out his own guitar and helped him develop a much more intricate chord progression to float underneath Harry’s melody.

Leaving Louis’ flat that evening, full on pizza and beer, Harry felt like he was on cloud nine. He had done more work on his music in one afternoon than he had for months, and it was freeing.

On top of that, being with Louis all afternoon had been interesting. Harry thought back to his first impression of him, that night at The Script concert, when it seemed like he was a charmer, a player, always looking for the next guy. That impression had been Harry's talisman. His reason to avoid Louis for so long.

The person Harry had seen that night was nothing like the person he had spent time with today.

This afternoon Louis had been intelligent, thoughtful, and insightful. In short, everything Harry had hoped when he heard Louis had been the one to write the songs that he and Liam performed that night.

They had already set up a time to work together again. At the end of their session, as they were clearing their stuff away to make room for dinner, they had been talking about some of Louis’ songs that he would like Harry’s help with lyrically, and Harry had been almost scarily desperate to make sure they could see each other again.

There was just something about Louis, after all these years of seeing him around town - seeing his pictures and avoiding him - that still got under his skin. Somewhere throughout the course of the afternoon, he had decided to give in to it, flirt with Louis a little and see where it could lead. No one else had ever given him this sort of restless euphoric energy that he felt every time their hands brushed, or he caught Louis looking at him for just a beat too long.

He hadn’t had a chance to really start turning on the charm before Liam came home, but next time. During their next session, he would start letting himself ease into flirting with Louis to see where it led. Reading Louis' body language, he didn't think he was alone in his feelings.

 

Harry was beginning to think he was flirting with a brick wall. His songwriting sessions with Louis were becoming more and more frequent, at least once a week now, but he felt like his mission to inject a little more flirtation into their time together was being met with resistance.

Being around Louis was amazing, he was so creative and had such great ideas, Harry was learning so much from him, and it really felt like they had built up a friendship. Harry was no longer tracking their interactions in terms of how many conversations they'd had, or how many texts they exchanged. Those numbers had increased to the point where they all began to blend together into an amorphous blob of blossoming friendship.

Whenever Harry arrived at Louis’ flat they would banter back and forth for a bit as they got settled, and Louis had gotten comfortable enough to where he loved to tease Harry a little bit here and there.

Harry had never told anyone before, but secretly he loved to be teased, mostly because he loved the feeling of having Louis' attention on him. Louis was never pushy or malicious about it and he always made Harry’s cheeks get hot, and occasionally Harry’s spine would tingle and his stomach would swoop. 

But no matter how much Harry tried to push the envelope and instigate a more sexually charged line of conversation, Louis almost always shied away. Harry wasn’t really sure what he was doing wrong, but there were so many possibilities. Maybe he had his eye on someone else, or maybe he was bisexual and more interested in women right now - Harry didn't know and refused to judge. Or maybe the man Harry had seen all those years ago really was just an affectionate friend and Louis wasn’t even gay. That was a possibility that Harry had thought of briefly back then, but the thought was rearing its ugly head again.

They continued on like that for a few weeks in a sort of limbo. Harry really wanted to pursue this attraction, crush, whatever it was that he had been harboring for years, but he was receiving absolutely nothing in response from Louis.

They were in one of their regular Thursday night sessions when Louis asked Harry if he wanted to order Chinese takeaway.

“Ooh, yes, please!” Harry replied. He was fiddling with some lyrics as Louis tapped out their order.

Weight comes off her chest… Harry wrote out a few notes about how the line should be delivered. She finds a way to weather through the storm…

Harry had written a lot of the lyrics of this song, but there was something in it that just called for Louis’ voice to sing the majority of it. His voice moved with more agility over the storytelling nature of the stanzas than Harry’s did. When they were going through the whole thing a few minutes ago, Harry had backed off vocally under the guise of taking notes so he could hear how Louis sounded on the song by himself and he had never been more convinced that he should let go of his own creation and give it away. Louis would sound amazing performing it for real, and Liam could provide back up harmony or something. Light touches here and there to really add to the depth of the song.

“Haaaazzaaaa!” Louis called again, clearly not for the first time.

“Hmm? What?” Harry had been lost in his own thoughts.

“Sesame. Chicken.” Louis repeated.

“Oh right, yeah. Good.” Harry nodded, before going back to the tangle of words on the page in front of him.

Louis finished their order before Harry got the notification to split the cost with him on the app. He clicked okay and returned to his notes app where he had quickly typed out a few words that had floated around in his brain in the shower this morning.

“Why are you using she?” Louis asked, non-judgmentally, for which Harry was thankful.

“Well, the whole song is kind of metaphorical, and I just liked the idea of a young girl throwing off the oppression and standing with her own power,” Harry replied. Louis nodded, and once again, Harry was glad that he had taken the leap and asked Louis to take a chance with these sessions. First impressions be damned.

Harry knew that he had a tendency to ramble, especially when it came to conceptual things, but Louis always listened attentively and really made Harry feel like he was being heard.

“That’s really lovely, Harry,” Louis replied cautiously. “I’ve, um… I’ve got some younger sisters, and I think that’s a really great message you would be sending.” Louis ducked his head and fiddled with his guitar for a moment and it felt like he was avoiding Harry’s eye.

“Some younger sisters? How many are some?” Harry asked, thinking back to all of those Instagram posts he had seen.

“Five, actually. And one brother,” Louis replied sheepishly.

“Five! Wow.”

“Yeah, me mum has been married twice, so all of them are technically half siblings, but it’s never once felt that way.” He ended fiercely as though someone had brought up that point before and he needed to banish it as soon as possible.

Harry couldn’t help but be endeared as he watched Louis’ small, private smile bloom on his face. “They’re lucky to have you for a big brother.”

“So they say,” Louis joked, shying away from the compliment. Harry noticed that he did that a lot. Louis went back to plucking at the guitar, playing around with the melody of the song that they had been working on before they were interrupted by ordering dinner.

They worked side by side for a little while until the food arrived. When he got the call that the driver was there, Louis stuffed his feet into a pair of slippers lying by the door and bounced his way down the main stairs of the building.

He had left the door open, and Harry could vaguely hear him conversing with the driver, his sharp laugh echoing up from the ground floor.

Harry’s phone buzzed against the hard wood of the coffee table, and he wasn’t paying attention as he reached for it. Otherwise, he would have just let it go.

Thomas. Harry cringed. Lately, Thomas had begun texting him again, and while they seemed like innocuous texts checking up on Harry’s well-being, it had only been a little over a month since their break up. It was too soon for casual friendly check-ins, and Thomas had made it fairly clear that his intention was an eventual reconciliation between the two of them.

Thomas: How’s Manchester, then?

Harry: Alright...

Harry wasn’t sure what Thomas was playing at, but he was sure it would not end well.

Thomas: I’ll actually be there for work next weekend.

There it was. He wanted to see Harry. That was probably a bit presumptuous of Harry, but he knew Thomas. This was how it started.

Thomas: Would love to see you.

Harry: Not sure that’s a good idea

Thomas: Just one dinner.

Harry huffed out a sigh as he heard Louis climb the stairs again. When Louis burst through the door, he caught sight of Harry and his face immediately fell.

“What happened?” Louis asked. It was eerie the way that Louis could so easily read Harry’s moods. It helped when they were songwriting, but in conversational practice, it was a comfort to not have to hide his mood but equally disconcerting that he couldn’t hide anything from Louis. Or maybe Harry should just never play poker.

“My ex-boyfriend,” Harry groaned, the ‘Am I right?’ heavily implied. Louis only looked at him, shocked.

“Your what?” Louis gaped at him.

“My ex-boyfriend. You know? Thomas. You met him, right?” Harry knew that Louis had met him because it had been incredibly uncomfortable at the time. Crush? Meet long term boyfriend. Long term boyfriend? Meet crush. Harry cringed as he thought about that moment again.

“You and Thomas broke up?” Louis still looked incredulous. Surely someone Niall, or Ed, would have mentioned that Harry was single again.

“Yeah, about a week before our first session together,” Harry replied. If Louis truly didn’t know about it, Harry’s friends were the worst wingmen of all time. Not that he had told any of them about his debilitating crush on Louis. They should have just naturally thought to advertise that Harry was single and spread that knowledge amongst the most attractive gay men they knew at all times anyway. Even if they didn’t know he was after one man in particular.

“Oh, so the break up song that first session…” Louis trailed off as he put the pieces together.

Harry blushed. “Yeah, that was about us. Mostly. Embellished a bit. Honestly, I don’t think he felt all the things I was talking about, and neither did I, but it was a good way to channel the general feeling.”

Louis nodded. “No, yeah. That makes perfect sense.” He still looked a little stunned, but Harry was less worried now. “So, uh, what does he want? Booty call?”

Though Louis meant it as a joke, Harry smiled ruefully but didn’t respond.

“No, you’re kidding?” Louis replied on catching Harry’s expression. He let out a breath on a whistle. “Classy, mate.”

“Yeah, it’s not explicitly a booty call, but he’s coming into town and wants to see me.”

“Booty call,” Louis said, definitively.

“I think so too, but I don’t want him like that,” Harry groaned and threw his head back against the back of the couch.

Louis started haltingly. “Then the question is, how do you want him?”

“I don’t! At all!” Harry exclaimed.

“Okay,” Louis ventured, still cautious with Harry’s feelings which he appreciated. “Then you should probably see him, just to set him straight.”

Harry nodded. It was sound advice. He felt horrible about starting up this conversation with Louis of all people. It wasn’t exactly sexy to talk about an ex with the guy you were actually attracted to, but Harry was a shit liar so he had gone with the truth. He also hated the idea of lying to Louis. That was no way to start off a nonexistent relationship.

“When will he be in town?” Louis asked, cutting through Harry’s thoughts.

“Next weekend.”

“Oh, bummer. Liam and I were thinking about playing another little set on Saturday night,” Louis sounded genuinely upset that Harry couldn’t come.

Harry, too, was extremely regretful that he wouldn’t get the chance to see Louis perform again. “I’ll have to see what his plans are. He probably wants to go out Saturday night, but I’ll see if I can’t make him give up Saturday afternoon instead.” Harry winked at Louis.

Louis laughed nervously in return, but Harry figured that was just an overflow of nerves about performing. He knew how Louis felt about it now after a few weeks of hanging out. Instead of saying any of that outloud, though, Louis just unboxed the Chinese food that had been left forgotten. He made sure to unfold the metal hinges before popping open the top flaps and carefully handing Harry his sesame chicken.

Harry’s heart fluttered at the care that Louis took in passing Harry all of his favorite appetizers so that he could choose first.

Harry had it bad and he was definitely digging his own grave by spending so much time with Louis.

At this point he couldn’t even see the light of the surface, he was so far gone for Louis Tomlinson.

 

Chapter Text

Harry pushed his hand through his hair nervously as he sat waiting for Thomas. When they talked about getting together, Thomas insisted on seeing Harry first thing as soon as he got into town on Wednesday before he stayed through the weekend. Thomas’ hotel was right around the corner, so there was really no call for him to be late.

Except - Harry glanced at his phone - Thomas wasn’t actually late. Harry had just been extremely early because of how nervous he was. He had no idea why Thomas wanted to see him, aside from the obvious plea to get back together. He didn’t strike Harry as that kind of person, though. The man worked in finance, and if Harry was being honest, the generalizations about finance tended to hold true to Thomas’ personality.

That was why Harry had gotten out of the relationship in the first place, there was no spark, nothing that kept them together despite the distance. Harry had announced that he was leaving London, and Thomas just let him. There was no real fight in him regarding the relationship.

Because Harry had nothing better to do than fiddle with the water glass, he let that thought send him into a downward spiral. He hadn’t ever been in a serious relationship before, so it was possible he was placing expectations on Thomas that were too high. Harry had always grown up thinking that relationships should be as easy as breathing. His parents' relationship hadn't been, but then his stepfather came along when he was younger and the tension he had always seen in his mum had steadily lifted. That was what Harry wanted.

The idea that Harry should just complacently stumble along side by side with Thomas until they died did not sit well with him, though. What kind of life would that be?

Thomas’ personality was bland compared to… Harry brought himself up short. He did not need to finish that thought. It only led to trouble.

Louis was doing absolutely nothing to show that he reciprocated Harry’s infatuation. That being said, it really seemed like Louis had only just learned that Harry and Thomas had broken up. 

Harry idly picked at a loose thread in the tablecloth. Theoretically, Louis could have been avoiding getting flirtatious with Harry simply because he thought Harry was in a relationship. It was refreshing to think that Louis had been respecting Harry's boundaries and the fact that he had a partner in a committed relationship.

It was probably weird that the idea of Louis being so gentlemanly and respectful of monogamy got Harry a little excited. He shifted in his seat and checked his phone again. If Thomas showed up now he would be just about on time.

Right on cue, Thomas walked through the front door of the restaurant and leaned down a bit so he could relay his information to the hostess. She smiled at him flirtatiously, and Harry really couldn’t blame her.

Thomas looked as though he had stepped right out of a Barbour catalog and went clay pigeon shooting on the weekends. That used to convey a certain air of moving to the country and settling down. Now, Harry was really just beginning to question his own taste in men.

He had gone for the financial and emotional stability. For his first real boyfriend, he had looked at what he expected in a husband and latched onto it - him - immediately.

Harry hesitated and couldn’t be sure he was doing the right thing letting go of Thomas for that very reason. Thomas had a steady job, a retirement plan, everything Harry needed to secure his future.

But when Harry watched Thomas weave through the other tables in the restaurant as he walked towards him, he felt nothing.

Harry never wanted to regret the years he had wasted as he grew older. There was no steadfast rule that said he had to be wild and single. The thought of being wild and committed to someone at the same time, of having a partner to be wild with, that was what Harry wanted. To live while he was young.

As suddenly as the thought had materialized, more began to follow, and soon Harry was having a full-blown panic attack looking for a pen to write down the ideas zipping through his mind before he forgot them. He had left his notebook at home and was now deeply regretting it.

Thomas smiled at Harry as he approached the table. “Harry!”

“Do you have a pen?” He asked Thomas flatly.

“Oh, um, no.” Thomas shook off Harry’s rudeness. “It’s so good to see you!”

“No pen?” Harry asked again. He didn’t have time for pleasantries.

“Er, no. Maybe the waitress?” Thomas added. The waitress approached the table to fill their water glass and looked slightly startled when he asked but handed over the pen anyway.

Harry quickly turned over his drink napkin to scribble the collection of words that flowed through his head so easily. Both Thomas and the waitress were staring at him, but he couldn’t be bothered to care until a few moments later when he felt like he had finally exhausted his momentary muse.

Smiling as charmingly as he could, Harry handed the pen back to the waitress, and she blushed under such pointed attention.

Thomas pulled his chair back, loudly scraping it over the floor clearly intent on having Harry’s attention back on him and off of the waitress. That was odd. Thomas almost looked... jealous.

“Hello, Harry,” Thomas sounded much more contrite now than when he had first arrived at the table.

“Thomas, hello. Sorry about that. How are you?” Harry wanted to get the pleasantries over with as quickly as possible. Maybe if they did, Thomas would tell him why he was there, and they could get on with their evening.

Harry wasn’t sure when he had turned in to this kind of person, but it wasn’t hard to imagine that Thomas just drew this odd sort of annoyance and impatience out of him.

“I’m good. I’ve been good, yeah. It took me a little while after, well, you know,” Thomas replied with a small but sheepish shrug. Harry wasn’t sure how he was supposed to respond to that. It was slightly awkward to say ‘Oh yes, sorry about that whole breaking up with you thing’ politely.

Harry only nodded and hummed solemnly, at a loss.

The waitress returned to take their drink order. Harry ordered a glass of white wine that he hoped was quite large, and Thomas ordered a beer. When she left them again the table was cast into silence.

“How have you been?” Thomas ventured.

“Alright, yeah,” Harry nodded.

This was sufficiently awkward.

“So, what did you need to write down?” Thomas asked. Harry hadn’t forgotten about it, per se, it had just happened, but it was something personal and it really didn’t involve Thomas - that was kind of the point - so Harry was loathed to try and explain it to him.

Thomas had also always been somewhat judgmental about Harry’s desire to get involved in the music industry in some way because in his eyes it didn’t lead to a “lucrative” career unless you struck gold. The implication had always been that he didn’t think Harry had the ability to do that.

Something slightly dark and vindictive in Harry wanted to tell Thomas about the songwriting, even though he really wasn’t making any money off of it yet, just to see what his reaction would be.

Harry didn’t have much to lose tonight, so he went with his instinct.

“Piece of a song idea came to me, actually.” He decided to keep his explanation as generic as possible.

“Oh?” Thomas asked. The skepticism was immediately evident in his voice.

“Yeah, I've been writing more. Working on a bunch of new stuff,” Harry added, genuinely proud to talk about the work that he and Louis had done so far. He was beginning to work on some songs on his own as well with the skills Louis had helped him developed.

It was odd to say that Louis had “taught” Harry how to write because that wasn’t necessarily true. Harry already knew how to write songs, but Louis had helped him hone his abilities and start to come into and define his own style.

“That’s… new.” Thomas said diplomatically, picking up his menu to peruse the choices.

“Just a side project I’ve been working on,” Harry grabbed his own menu so he would have something else to do besides look across the table. He hated himself for a moment for already being bored and for not giving Thomas a fair chance at having a nice evening.

He resolutely decided to clear his mind and try to remember what it was about Thomas that he used to like so much.

Their conversation changed course after they discussed their food choices and suddenly Thomas was filling Harry in on all of his office's gossip. Harry hadn’t particularly liked any of the people Thomas was talking about when they were actually in a relationship, but he had listened when he came home at the end of the day, trying to be supportive.

Unfortunately, that meant Harry was still quite bored and he let his mind wander again.

Thomas was going on and on about his office, but Harry had never heard Louis talk about his job once. Harry wasn’t even sure what Louis did for a living. He was usually free on Thursday evenings starting in the late afternoon. That was all Harry knew. Maybe his job had odd hours, and he was just the kind of person who didn’t like to talk about his work away from work. Harry could respect that.

Or maybe he was a starving artist-musician who barely made any money and rode on Liam’s coattails.

Harry blew out a breath at his own train of thought. If Louis was like that, his personality certainly didn’t reflect that at all. He was kind, intelligent, caring. He really didn’t come off as a freeloader. But then again, there was no way for Harry to know without talking to him about it. He should talk to Louis about it, he decided.

It was then that Harry realized he only cared about Louis' profession because he was stacking Louis up against Thomas as a potential husband. He brought himself up short again. A long time ago, when he had first seen Louis at the concert, he had decided then and there that he wasn’t going to get sucked into Louis’ vortex of charm and their sexual chemistry. Deciding to write songs with him, something that was inherently intimate was affecting, his thought process.

Comparing someone he had been in a long-term relationship with to someone he had a long-term crush on was only natural, Harry supposed. He let himself rationalize his way out of his own thoughts, and tried not to think about what he and Louis could have been doing right then instead of sitting in this posh restaurant.

“What was that?” Thomas asked.

“Sorry, what?” Harry startled, having lost track of Thomas’ narrative.

“You mumbled something,” Thomas replied with a slight frown.

“Nope, no. Just following along with what you were saying,” Harry replied, hoping that Thomas wouldn’t call him out or ask him about something he had already said.

“Oh okay. So, how did the erm- songwriting thing come about? I thought you were looking for a job?” Thomas asked, tucking into his chicken breast.

Harry ignored the dig at songwriting as a profession. “Louis and I actually started writing together. You met Louis a few times, yeah?” Harry asked, already knowing the answer. He didn’t want to seem impolite and assume, though.

Thomas’ face became stony. “Yeah, I remember him.”

His reaction was oddly strong, but Harry pushed through it. “Well, he and I have been meeting to work on some songs. He’s amazing with music, he can take even the smallest ideas,” he gestured towards the napkin with his handwriting scribbled on it, “And turn it into something magical.”

Thomas sighed and steepled his fingers together in front of his chest. “Harry, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be spending time with Louis.”

Harry was floored. “I’m sorry, what?” Thomas had never said anything like that about one of Harry’s acquaintances in the entirety of their relationship. Not even Nick who was flirty and ridiculous at the best of times.

“Louis. I don’t think you should be around him.” Thomas explained as though it would illustrate his point more clearly. Which it didn’t.

“Why on earth would you say something like that?” Harry asked, still incredulous.

“It’s obvious that he has feelings for you, you wouldn’t want to give him the wrong idea.” Thomas was speaking condescendingly like Harry was a child having been called into the headmaster's office.

Harry wasn’t even sure where to start. He stuffed a bite of pasta into his mouth that was already hanging open in shock if only to give himself more time to think through his response.

“What exactly is the ‘wrong idea,’” he asked for clarification. Mostly because he still couldn’t believe where Thomas was possibly heading with this conversation.

“That he ever has any kind of chance with you,” Thomas replied, again as though it was the most obvious answer in the world.

“Why wouldn’t he have a chance with me?” Harry asked.

Thomas scoffed, but when he saw that Harry wasn’t laughing, he backed off a bit. “Well, I just mean, I know you’re looking for something long-term. What does he even have to offer you?”

Harry stared at him as blankly as possible while he felt his body bristle. It wasn’t a totally unfair question and Harry had the same thought, not minutes before, but now it seemed base and crass coming from Thomas.

There were a lot of reasons Harry had purposefully stayed away from Louis for almost four years. Mostly because he had seemed like such a player and a flirt at the time all those years ago. But, Harry thought with pride, the amount of money Louis did or did not make was never one of those reasons.

He momentarily flushed with shame at the idea that he had the thought at some point, but never in deciding to spend time with Louis.

“What does that have to do with whether or not he has a chance with me?” Harry asked with an indignant tone.

“Come on, Harry,” Thomas said, as though Harry should know exactly what he meant.

“No, seriously, what does the size of his bank account have to do with anything?” Harry asked now that the question had taken on a deeper meaning. Harry wasn't sure what it said about their previous relationship - as dead as it was - that Thomas thought that money was one of Harry’s main requirements in a partner.

“Harry you’re a model.”

“So?”

“That means you’re accustomed to a certain lifestyle.” Thomas was beginning to imply that Harry had been a financial burden on him which was entirely unfair.

Just as Harry opened his mouth to protest and insist that he had carried his own weight when paying for things between them, his phone buzzed in his pocket.

Louis: my place tomorrow? 4?

Because the text message came at exactly the wrong time, all Harry did was lock his phone and put it back in his pocket so that he could answer later.

He was so angry that he just couldn’t deal with that right now.

When he looked up again Thomas seemed slightly more irritated. Harry, remembering where they were in their argument, tried to portray the same irritation in return. Too often he felt like he could be a pushover, especially with Thomas, but no more.

“I’m not sure where this idea that financial security is so important to me comes from, but it’s a little unfair.” Harry reminded him.

“Well, I’m financially secure,” Thomas replied.

“Yes, but you know that wasn’t why I wanted to be with you.”

In response, Thomas only stared at him confused.

Harry pressed on; “And you brought up the fact that I’m a model, but what did that have to do with anything? Surely that’s not why you were with me?”

Thomas’ brows knit together over his nose, and all Harry could think about was how much cuter it was when Louis did that.

“Listen, Harry, I think we’re getting off topic,” Thomas replied shaking his head and gesturing with his hands as though he wanted to erase everything that had already happened since he sat down.  Harry went along with it because if he was being honest, the conversation was bringing to light some real issues that he wasn’t sure he was ready to deal with.

He leaned back in the booth and nodded at Thomas to say what he neededto say. Thomas clearly had been expecting more of an enthusiastic reaction because he faltered a bit before he continued.

“I think we were really great together, and I know you haven’t gotten much work since you’ve been here in Manchester, so you can’t be happy. You should come back to London. There’s always my flat for you to move in to, we can go back to the way it was.” He finished with a strong nod.

Harry was floored.

“Have you listened to a single thing I’ve said tonight at all?”

“What do you mean? Of course, I have!” Thomas looked confused again and every ounce of miscommunication they had ever had was slamming Harry full force, all at once. He beginning to see that Thomas had never listened to him. Ever. In the course of their entire one-year relationship.

“No, you haven’t.” Harry shook his head. “How could I have been so stupid?” he asked himself.

Harry turned to address Thomas again, he wanted to make sure what he was about to say was very clear: “I am very happy here in Manchester because I’m not working as much. I live with my best friend in the whole world, and he’s doing what he loves. I’m near my family, I have money saved up, I have the time to work on my music which is the one thing in this life that gives me pure unbridled euphoric joy - which you would know if you had ever paid attention to me instead of treating me like something to hang off your arm. Since you obviously never once listened to anything I said, I’ll spell this out for you: I do not want to be with you.” Harry enunciated very pointedly.

He stood up from the booth and moved to put his jacket and scarf on just as Thomas clued into what was happening.

“But, Harry, wait-”

“No, Thomas. This is done. Have a nice rest of your visit.” Harry couldn’t wait any longer and struggled with the sleeve of his coat the entire walk to the door. He flushed a bit, wishing his exit could have been a little bit more dignified, but at least he had stormed out.

His frazzled waitress said goodbye to him as he pushed his way out onto the slightly chilly street. It was only early October, but autumn had gotten cold quickly. He decided to walk to the flat to clear his head because his mind was busy spinning, going back over the course of his and Thomas' relationship, reevaluating everything.

It wasn’t until he was almost all the way home that he remembered Louis’ text message. When he dug in his pocket to retrieve his phone, he saw he had two more messages, both from Louis.

Louis: Forgot you’re out with your boyfriend. Sorry.

Louis: Have fun.

If he wasn’t mistaken, Harry could have sworn Louis sounded a bit jealous. Louis knew Thomas was an ex, Harry had told him as much. All his flirting that felt pointless before was now beginning to take on more meaning. Maybe he had been a bit more successful than he thought. He kept his return short and sweet for a reason, hoping Louis might think he was caught up elsewhere. It was a little petty, but he couldn’t help it.

Harry: See you tomorrow.

Harry smirked to himself as he pocketed his phone again. Let Louis chew on that for the night. Tomorrow’s session would be interesting indeed.

 

The next day, Harry arrived at Louis’ flat and kicked his boots off in the front hall like normal. Louis had greeted him briskly, and Harry found himself over-analyzing every move he made. The short greeting could have been curt because Louis was upset and jealous that Harry had gone out with his ex-boyfriend the night before. He could have been upset over something else that Harry had done. He could be trying to hide how madly in love with Harry he was.

Or, that was just the same way Louis always greeted him and Harry was going insane.

There wasn’t anything specific that they had been working on lately, and they had taken more to playing around with random bits of melody and lyrical phrases here and there than full fledged songs.

Now that the idea of Louis being jealous had been planted, Harry had to figure out if Louis really was - and consequently more into Harry than he had originally expected - or if it was something else.

Harry was also just feeling a bit cheeky today.

When he got settled in his usual spot, Louis came back into the living room from the kitchen holding their usual cups of tea. He settled down, picked up his guitar, and played Harry a few chords that he had been stuck on in another song before he spoke up, his posture and body language forcing the image of “casual.”

“So, how was dinner with your ex last night?” Louis leaned back in the chair, but Harry could see where his hand was clenched on the neck of his guitar making his knuckles turn white.

“Oh you, know. Productive.” Harry replied with an added casual shrug of his shoulders. That wasn’t necessarily a lie, per se. It was "productive" because now Thomas understood exactly where their relationship was going - which was nowhere - but Louis didn’t know that. Harry could barely contain his grin.

Louis grunted something that sounded like an acknowledgment of what Harry was saying and went back to picking at his guitar.

“Hey, Lou, I’ve got something I kind of want to run by you,” Harry said. The notes and scribbles he had were from years ago and even he knew the song wasn’t good enough to do anything with, but the lyrics were perfect for what he wanted to accomplish.

“Yeah?” Louis asked.

“I’m not sure it will go anywhere, but I was inspired to play around with it again.”

“Okay, let’s take a look,” Louis replied.

Harry grinned widely at him. “Yeah, cool, the little bit I have goes like this: It would be a shame to call it love if you choose to give up now.

Harry played a few loose chords under the very melodramatic lyrics; “And if love was only a mountaintop, da da dum da dum da.” He added some nonsense syllables the way they always did when there was a gap in their written lyrics. Louis seemed to be catching on to the nature of the song if his clenched jaw was anything to go by.

Even if the fight I’m in is just too tough, I’ll be swinging ‘till I hit the ground. Won’t you keep me around… ” Harry trailed off again, repeating the phrase “keep me around,” in variations to fit with the harmony of what he had been playing.

When he finished he lifted his hand off the guitar and looked at Louis, whose body language was radiating discomfort.

Louis cleared his throat. “Yeah, it’s nice Harry. I heard some stuff that we could, er, work with.”

Harry’s heart melted at Louis’ attempt at tact. It was quite cute. “Lou, it’s okay, I know it’s pretty shit.”

Louis scrambled to ease Harry’s non-existent hurt feelings, “I think it could really be something, though. You know, it really just needs a little tinkering.”

“Of the melody, and the chords, and the lyrics,” Harry giggled.

Louis sat back deflated a bit, finally catching on to Harry’s teasing. “Why are you having me on?” he asked, pouting.

Harry grinned at him cheekily, “Just fun I guess.”

“What inspired you to pick up this song in particular?” Again, Louis tried to act casual.

“Dinner with Thomas last night. It was very enlightening.”

“Productive? Enlightening? Those are some big words, Hazza.” Louis scoffed and got up, presumably to make his second cup of tea.

Warmth radiated through Harry. He still didn’t know if Louis was really jealous or not, but his demeanor sure made it seem that way. That was enough for now, Harry thought to himself.

He flipped to a much later page in his notebook with a new idea he had actually been thinking about working on and began to play with a few different keys deciding where to start the song.

He wasn’t sure why they were still having these sessions if they didn’t have anything concrete to work on; they had been his idea in the beginning, so it was probably his responsibility to stop them, but they were getting to be more habit than anything.

And he found himself wanting to spend more and more time with Louis.

When Louis came back in from the kitchen, Thomas’ words played over and over again in Harry’s head. He was hyperaware today of how much he didn't really know about Louis. It wasn’t a great moment for Harry to ask, and he also had no follow-up questions, and no real reason to be asking, so his fear of Louis’ response kept him from saying anything.

Thinking about Thomas and their conversation the night before inevitably led to Harry replaying the entire thing in his head. Again. It was just about all he had been able to think about since it had happened. Considering his unemployment, there were only so many distractions he could come up with. He had gone out to lunch with his mum that day already to kill time until he had to be at Louis’.

Thomas had been right about that at least, Harry hadn’t done much work modeling or otherwise since he had been in Manchester.

It was only then, sitting on Louis’ couch, that Thomas’ comment actually raised any red flags for Harry. There was no way for Thomas to know that Harry hadn’t been getting much work without Thomas checking up on him. They didn’t have any mutual friends close enough to either of them to report back, so he had to have found out another way.

“That bastard!” Harry exclaimed out loud.

“What? Harry? What’s wrong?” Louis quickly moved to put his guitar to the side and lean forward towards Harry ready for any emergency.

“No, nothing. I just realized my ex-boyfriend has been cyberstalking me,” Harry replied. He wasn’t sure if it was his imagination, but it looked as though Louis was blushing.

“What makes you say that?” Louis asked, reaching over to pick up his notebook and scribble something down. Harry couldn’t tell from his angle if they were words or chord progressions.

“Something about our conversation last night. He mentioned that he knew I hadn’t been getting much work.”

“Oh, well, I’m sorry?” Louis replied, and it sounded like he was trying to be supportive but wasn’t sure what to be supportive about. Again, cute.

“I was modeling in London before I moved here, I think you knew that yeah?” he asked, nodding at Louis.

“Oh, maybe. You may have mentioned it before,” Louis was all flushed again. Harry thought maybe he was too warm; he was sitting in the direct sunlight after all.

“There has to be a way he’s seeing what I’m doing, like shoots and stuff, but I’m not sure how. Maybe I posted them somewhere.” Harry tried to think about everything he had put on social media recently. He used to snap when he was on his way to shoots doing fittings and such all the time, so it was possible Thomas - who did still watch Harry’s snaps - had noticed that he was doing that less and less.

Louis, who had been drinking his tea, choked on his sip and started coughing violently.

“Oh my God, Louis, are you okay?” Harry reached his hand over the space between them to pat Louis on the back, hoping that might help with his breathing trouble.

Louis held up his hand in defense, “I’m good,” he croaked out around a much smaller cough.

Once Harry was satisfied that Louis could breathe normally, he tucked his feet up under himself on the couch again. When he thought about Thomas checking out his social media, it made him think of the first time he had seen Louis on Ed’s Instagram feed. Thomas had been with him at the time if he remembered correctly.

Harry could recall being even more intrigued by Louis’ crystal blue eyes, but being haunted by the same worry from that night at the concert of Louis being some kind of player and flirt. He had also been with Thomas at the time.

“It’s silly, the things we do when we’re into someone,” Louis said after a few moments of silence, voice still a little broken from the battle with his tea.

Harry thought about the time he sent Louis’ picture around to his friends to try and get them to date him so he could be drawn into Harry’s social circle. He hummed in assent. “You’re right, it is.”

They both sat in contemplation and thankfully it wasn’t an awkward silence before Liam burst through the door.

“Hi lads, what’s on for tonight?” He asked the same way he did every Thursday. Sometimes he wrote with them, other times he disappeared into his room.

“Not much, Li. Why don’t you get settled then come and join us? We’re not working on anything, in particular, we can dick around for a bit on something the three of us together,” Louis replied, shooing Liam with his hands towards the back of the flat.

Liam nodded and went, presumably to freshen up and change out of the work clothes he still wore.

While they waited for him to come back, Louis turned to Harry; “Let’s forget your troubles for right now, yeah? We’ll work on something unrelated, and you can figure out how he’s looking at your stuff tomorrow,” Louis said resolutely. Though, Harry definitely didn’t think he was imagining it this time when he saw Louis blush again.

“Deal,” Harry replied, picking up his guitar.

- - -

Louis stared down at the blank text message open on the screen in front of him. He just needed to bite the bullet and do it. It was Wednesday, and every Wednesday for the last few months he had texted Harry to see if he wanted to get together and write the next day, on Thursday.

This week should have been no different. Except that it was different because last week had been awful.

Last week, Louis had paced around his flat tearing his hair out while Harry had been on a date with his boyfriend. Ex. With his ex-boyfriend. Which, had been a brand new piece of information. Harry and the ex had been broken up for more than a month. And Louis had just been sitting there, on his arse, like an idiot.

He hadn’t made a move at all. Then again, there was always the possibility that Harry wouldn’t have wanted him to, either.

Louis groaned and threw his head back against the couch cushions. Overthinking the situation would get him nowhere.

When Harry had come over to his flat the next day, Louis had been chomping at the bit to see how the date was. He thought he handled it pretty well. He was very cool about it. At least during that part of the afternoon, he had played it cool. The rest of it had not gone as well.

Harry’s realization and subsequent reaction about his ex-boyfriend checking up on him had settled like lead in Louis’ stomach. His own past transgressions; the alert on his phone, the fake Instagram, had all gone immediately to his head and it took everything in him to not collapse on the floor under the weight of his own guilt.

He had been stalking Harry, which was creepy, so he could kiss any kind of relationship with Harry goodbye. There was no way his conscience would let him do anything about dating Harry without Harry knowing about his cyberstalking past, and there was no way he could tell Harry about said past for fear of losing him completely.

Louis was stuck, and he was pretty sure it was the first time in history that someone had ever put themselves in the friend zone.

Liam. This was all Liam’s fault. He was the one who had shown Louis the image alerts in the first place.

Thousands of emotions warred within him - the two top contenders being jealousy and guilt - and he could barely look at his old texts with Harry, much less actually send him a new one.

But what kind of message would it send if he didn’t invite Harry over to write? It would look like he was ditching Harry or something. Then that would make Harry feel bad, and there was nothing worse than Harry being upset. It made Louis want to launch himself into orbit, when all he really wanted was to cheer him up.

And Harry wasn’t even actually upset yet.

The bottom line was, Louis was the closest he had ever been to losing Harry now that Harry was in his life, and he couldn’t believe he was being such an idiot.

It had taken him years to build up this kind of relationship with Harry - and that idea just made him sound extra creepy again.

He couldn’t even explain himself to his own conscience.

Louis took a deep breath. Harry was just so much sometimes. He was so pretty, so kind, so cheeky, so everything, and Louis was so drawn to him that it was difficult to see past that.

And Louis still didn’t know what had happened on Harry's bloody date with his ex-boyfriend.

Last week Harry had been broadcasting mixed messages. He said the dinner was "productive," and then sang that silly little song with the lyrics begging the other person to “keep him around,” but then he had gotten upset about the cyberstalking and had referred to Thomas as an “ex.” Consequently, Louis had no clue where Harry and Thomas stood. All he knew was that it was none of his business, and he needed to respect that, which just made him want to pace and rip his hair out all over again.

He slammed his phone down on the table in front of him - effectively hiding the screen with the blank message that was still taunting him - and got up to make himself another cup of tea.

Leaning against the stove with his arms crossed, he stared down his phone where it was resting on the table’s surface as he waited for his electric kettle to kick into gear.

He could hear the bubbles beginning to rise, so he turned around to shut it off and pour it out. That had not given him anywhere near long enough time for him to stew, so he popped the bag in and let the tea steep as he once again stared down his phone.

That was how Liam found him a few minutes later.

“What are you looking at?” Liam asked, pushing around Louis so he could get to the fridge.

“My phone.”

“What did it do to you?”

“Existed,” Louis huffed.

“Alrighty then,” Liam replied before sitting at the table to wait Louis out. He knew how Louis got when he was in a mood like this.

“I need to text Harry about tomorrow,” Louis finally ground out.

“...And you don’t want to?” Liam asked.

“No. Not after last week.”

Liam nodded. “Ah, I see. Still unclear on the whole ex or not thing?”

“Yeah, and he got mad about the ex keeping tabs on him,” Louis bit out. If anyone would understand him, it was Liam.

“Oh,” he said drawing out the syllable. “And you’re worried you’re going to get found out, too.”

Louis grimaced, “Ugh, the way you say ‘found out’ makes it sound so sordid.” 

“But it is sordid,” Liam replied.

Louis huffed again and grabbed his tea and his phone before pushing out of the kitchen noisily to retreat to his bedroom.

After he put his tea down, he flopped across his bed trying to decide what to say to Harry. He typed and erased a few lines before he decided on something.

Louis: Hey

There, short and sweet.

He was such an idiot.

Because he was busy thumping his head into his pillow on his bed multiple times he almost missed the reply.

Harry: Hey Lou

Louis took it back, they were both idiots.

Louis: Tomorrow? Same bat time?

A Batman joke. Not even a good Batman joke. He was officially a child.

Harry: Yeah, sounds good. Got some good news to tell you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Though the number of exclamation points was astonishing, it left Louis with a renewed sense of dread. This was Harry so good news could be about something he found at the farmer’s market, or that he had won the lottery and was a millionaire. Or, it could be that he had gotten back together with his ex-boyfriend and was officially moving back to London.

Louis threw his head down once again and attempted to smother himself with his own pillow.

It didn’t work very well so he lifted himself up again to reply.

Louis: Can’t wait, curly

Curly? When had he ever called Harry that before? Someone seriously needed to take his phone away from him. Clearly, he could not be trusted with it.

Harry: See ya Lou xx

Kisses? Harry was sending him kisses. Why was Harry sending him kisses? Louis closed out of the messaging app and locked his phone.

He then immediately typed his pass code, unlocked his phone again, and double checked. Yep, the kisses were still there.

Now he only had twenty-two hours to wait to find out what Harry's news was. Thank God he had work tomorrow. The kids should be a good enough distraction.

He groaned and flipped over onto his back. It was going to be a very long twenty-two hours.

 

The time between Louis’ text and Harry coming over did pass as slowly as he had predicted. His classes filed in and out of his classroom one by one and the day dragged on; normally he had all the patience in the world for the children at the primary school where he taught, but not today.

“Hot Crossed Buns” being played on twenty recorders at once had never sounded so grating.

Finally, he was out for the day by the early afternoon. He cleaned up the instruments from his last lesson and quickly packed up hoping to make it home with enough time to spare.

Harry arrived earlier than he normally did, ringing Louis' bell at five-to-four. Almost as soon as Louis buzzed him in, Harry burst in the front door of the flat.

“Slow down, Hazza, what’s got you in a tizzy?” He joked.

Slightly out of breath from the stairs and the cold, Harry grinned at him; “Got a job! Can you believe it? Finally!”

Louis felt his heart soften. He had been so anxious about everything under the sun, but Harry was excited about a job - everything awkward about last week had been forgotten.

“That’s so exciting, love,” he replied, watching fondly as Harry peeled off his layers and made himself comfortable in Louis’ flat. Louis liked having him there, liked the fact that Harry seemed at home in his flat by now. “What’s the job?”

“My sister, Gemma, have I told you about her before? She’s a writer for this artsy magazine that’s expanding and they need a fashion editor. I didn’t think I was qualified enough, but apparently, they think so after all my work in London. So, here I am,” he finished with a ‘ta-da’ motion throwing his arms above his head while one of his hips popped out.

Louis smiled to cover up the way he was melting at how cute Harry was being, and then turned to go get them some tea like he did every Thursday. “That’s amazing, Harry,” he called over his shoulder. He could hear the ambient noises of Harry settling himself in the living room.

“I still can’t really believe it,” he said breathlessly when Louis came back in with the steaming mugs in hand. “It’s a small little section, and there is barely a staff besides me, but I think it will be fun.”

“Sounds like it,” Louis replied.

Harry’s grin suddenly loosened and fell off his face a bit; “The thing is, it’ll be pretty steady, so I’m not sure how much time I'll have to come over here anymore.”

It took everything Louis had to maintain his neutral expression; he could let go of it a bit because some disappointment was to be expected, but he didn't want to show Harry just how upset he was at the news.

“That’s alright, I know not everyone has my earlier schedule. I just hope we got done everything you wanted to accomplish,” he said.

Harry slumped against the back of the couch and Louis eyed the hot tea in his hands to make sure it stayed upright. “Not anywhere close. I love writing songs with you, it’s so… creatively freeing.”

Louis chuckled, “Thanks, I guess?”

“You know, Lou,” Harry prompted, “In all the weeks I’ve been coming over, you’ve never once told me what it is that you do.”

“Surely I have.” It wasn’t something that he kept hidden for any reason.

“Nope,” Harry replied shaking his head and popping the “p” at the end of the word.

“Oh, well, I’m a music teacher.”

Harry’s eyes lit up, “That’s wonderful! How old?”

“Primary school,” Louis admitted begrudgingly. Harry’s enthusiastic reaction was a bit jarring. When he told most people what he did, he got a mixture of sympathy and apathy. The apathy came from people who were clearly apathetic to all young children, while the sympathy came from those who had their own harrowing experiences with that age group.

Truth be told, he quite loved it. His kids were still young enough that they were curious about music and all of the sounds they could make with different instruments.

“Babies!” Harry exclaimed.

Louis nodded, “Yeah, babies. Some older, but mostly young children.”

“How wonderful,” Harry sighed dreamily. It was odd that he could sound so wistful with such a deep voice, and Louis was reminded once again why he was so drawn to Harry all those years ago. He had such an appreciation for the world around him in new and exciting ways. He had ignored Louis back then, but things had changed between them. It wasn’t necessarily romantic, Louis thought with a twinge of sadness, but it was special just to have Harry in his life.

“Sometimes they are,” he said with a smile. He couldn’t lie; a part of him was glad that Harry was so enthusiastic about his job. He definitely made enough money to take care of himself and considering he still shared a flat with Liam, he had saved as much as he was able. His mum had taught him early on the advantages of planning for a future.

He was lucky in the sense that his mum was a self-made woman and now had a fair amount of money on her own to take care of herself and the rest of his siblings.

“You’ve told me about your sisters and brother before. I’m sure the experience raising them helps,” Harry said. He was curled up in his usual spot on the sofa, but he hadn’t even bothered getting his guitar out yet. They had talked a lot over the course of Harry coming over, but it was always under the guise of songwriting. This time, neither one of them were even pretending.

They talked for the rest of the evening until Liam came home. Louis nodded at him in thanks when he didn’t mention the fact that they were just sitting there. When he first walked in, he had looked back and forth between Louis and Harry for a moment before recovering and mumbling something about getting some work done in his room and disappearing.

Louis and Harry picked up their conversation again before Louis felt his phone buzz.

Liam: Evrything ok?

Louis: Yeah good

Liam: Good luck bro

“Sorry about that, just one of my sisters,” Louis lied easily, even as he winced internally. He hated adding to the pile of lies he had already told Harry. Liam had chastised him the other day and told him not to be too hard on himself - the lies were lies of omission - but Louis still wasn’t entirely comfortable withholding the fact that he had liked and kept track of Harry for so long. Every time he tried to say something, he choked on the words and chickened out.

Their evening together was lovely but by the time the sun had gone down and Harry declared he should probably head out the whole thing felt a little bittersweet, almost like this was the last time they would be together for awhile and both of them wanted to savor their time together but neither wanted to bring up that it felt like the end.

 

True to his word, Harry got caught up in his new job and was too busy to do any writing for a few weeks. It had been almost a month since Louis had seen him when he randomly ran into Ed at the coffee shop where he had Harry had first been introduced.

They sat together and chatted for a bit catching up before Louis finally broke down.

“So, have you seen Harry lately?” He asked as innocently as possible.

“Nah, man. You probably see him more than I do,” Ed replied.

“Oh,” Louis said, dispirited. “I haven’t seen him in about a month.”

“What? Why? I thought you were writing together.”

“We were, but he got the new job and he hasn’t been able to come over.”

Ed hummed in assent but didn’t say much else as he fiddled with his cup, before directing the conversation towards some of their other mutual friends.

When they were getting up to leave he turned to Louis; “Lou, I want you to level with me. I’ve teased you about it before, but how do you really feel about Harry?”

Louis rolled his lips together and studied the wood grain and heavy lacquer of the coffee shop floors in front of him. He tried to forget his instant attraction to Harry and focus on how it felt when he talked to him; when it was just the two of them, throwing ideas around, writing down lyrics, scribbling them out. He thought about how it would feel if instead of Harry leaving at the end of an afternoon, he and Louis just put their guitars off to the side and drew each other into Louis’ bedroom or stood next to each other at the stove making dinner. The calm domesticity of the picture in his mind scared him and made him feel exhilarated at the same time.

“I really like him,” he admitted in an embarrassingly small voice.

“Okay,” Ed nodded. With that, he exited the coffee shop to go home, leaving Louis behind to wonder what purpose the exchange had served other than to make him face his own feelings.

 

Louis was still stewing over the conversation with Ed during the walk back to his flat. When he arrived, Liam was sitting on the couch with his laptop open and Louis could hear the stopping and starting of his sound mixing software. He was playing with a drum line.

“Hey, Li, do you remember that melody we started way back when?”

Liam flashed him a sardonic look. “Real specific, mate.”

“I don’t remember where I wrote it down, but we had kind of a bridge that you wrote after you broke up with what’s her name?” he prompted, but Liam was still staring at him blankly.

Louis threw up his hands; “Gah, it’s just I think I have some things to add to it, and we were stuck on the words, and now I think I have the words so I really need it,” he finished, taking a deep breath and flopping back onto the couch cushions next to Liam. Neither he nor Liam sat in that particular seat much, but it was where Harry sometimes rested his elbow when he was holding his guitar, and Louis noticed a little barely-there indentation starting to form on the arm.

“Sing me the bridge, see if that doesn’t spark something.”

Louis hummed a bit to get into it; “It was like a list kind of thing, sounded cool.” He dug deep to try and remember the words Liam had written; “Get out of my heart, get out of my mind, get out of my dreams, get out of my sight…”

“Right, right,” Liam clicked around in his computer files for a moment before their past selves began to play through the tinny speakers. The voice note wasn’t long, but they had sketched out a verse and the bridge but only added Liam’s lyrics to the last bit. “You've been working on some lyrics?” Liam asked Louis with an eyebrow raised.

The song had started its life as a break-up song and they both knew it. The words Louis had written in his notebook during his planning period the other day were a little bit more hopeful than a break-up song, but it definitely still talked about a separation.

Well, maybe not a separation, but the narrator of the song sounded like they were warning someone off.

He showed Liam his notes and they spent the rest of the evening tinkering with the song. When they had finally both gotten a bit distracted and were no longer focusing on the song, Liam turned to Louis.

“What’s wrong with Harry?”

Louis knew Liam’s concern came from personal experience with Louis’ silly infatuation - and Harry as a person - so he appreciated it, but he still stiffened and had to actively fight himself from getting too defensive.

“Nothing’s wrong with Harry. I’m sure Harry is great.” He sounded petulant to his own ears and wanted to groan.

“Ah, but you wouldn’t know. That’s what you’re saying.” Liam nodded sagely, and Louis wanted to slap him a bit and ask him petty questions about Zayn. Instead, he took a deep breath and blew it out again.

“Yeah, I guess. And there’s the guilt.”

“Right,” Liam nodded again, “The guilt.” When he didn’t continue or offer up any kind of advice, Louis rolled his eyes and shoved his shoulder.

“Thanks for the help there Li. Real productive.” He winced at the word and heard Harry’s voice echoing in his head.

“Sorry, Lou. Don’t know what to tell you.” Liam waited a moment before he turned to face him again, his eyes much softer. “It’s a really beautiful song, though. You should be proud, mate.”

“Thanks, Li,” he whispered.

“You know, your songs get more and more beautiful, and I feel less and less like I can do them any justice.”

Louis’ brow furrowed. He hoped Liam wasn't saying that he no longer wanted to perform with him anymore. He had mentioned something like that once a few months before but never said anything about it again. They hadn’t had any gig offers since then, so he wasn’t sure why Liam was bringing it up now. Plus, Louis was uncomfortable with the idea of performing his songs by himself anyway. It felt like too much - too open somehow, too vulnerable in front of the audience. He liked having someone to back up, and to share the burden of performing with on stage.

“What are you talking about, Li?” He asked.

“Nothing in particular. Just thinking,” Liam replied, lifting himself off the couch. “Goodnight, Lou.”

“Night,” he replied with a small salute. He leaned back against the couch and wondered what would happen if he ever played the song for Harry. Probably nothing, it was just a song, Harry didn’t know that it meant anything special. At this rate, Louis wasn’t even sure he would ever see him again.

 

Harry texted him thirty-six hours later. Louis was in the middle of one of his classes, so he saw his the screen light up with the notification but didn’t look at it immediately. When he did, he was kicking himself for not vaulting across his desk to answer it; "Hot Crossed Buns" be damned.

Harry: Hey Lou, haven’t seen you in a while xx

Louis’ heart stuttered. The kisses were back.

Louis: What’s up? Job good?

Harry: Yeah :) tell you about it soon. Wanna write? xx

He was getting kisses at the end of every message. This was new, this was very new.

Louis: Thursday?

Wow, was he an idiot. It was Monday. Why would he ask Harry to wait until Thursday? There was no way he would survive that long.

Harry: I was thinking more like tomorrow. Free? 4 pm? xx

Louis leaned his head back to thank the heavens for Harry and promised the drop ceiling of his classroom that he would definitely go to church with his mum at Christmas this year.

Louis: Sounds good

Harry: Last time you called me Curly xx

Louis: Sounds good, CURLY. Happy? ;)

Harry: :D xx

Louis was sure that if anyone was to walk by his large classroom window they would think he looked like a complete and total idiot. His cheeks hurt from smiling so hard, and all he could do was count the kisses Harry had tacked onto every message one by one. He briefly wondered what had prompted Harry to text him, but at that point, Harry could confess to wanting to lure him to his own demise and he would happily oblige if it meant he got more little pixelated x-es.

Again he found himself in the position of having to wait to see Harry. He was an adult, and he could do it. He might watch the clock for the entire time, but he could do it.

In the end, the anticipation was difficult, but when he was finally done planning his lessons for the next day on Tuesday afternoon, he rushed home. Over the past month, he had forgotten this feeling a little bit. The butterflies, the adrenaline. He couldn’t wait to see Harry again. He really had it bad.

He had cleaned the flat up a bit the night before, so when he got home at half-three he didn’t have anything to do except sit there and twiddle his thumbs. Taking his guitar off of its stand took ten seconds. He couldn’t put the kettle on, then the tea would be cold by the time Harry was ready to drink it. Not to mention, that wasn’t part of the routine that they had while they were doing this a little more regularly.

When he looked down he realized he was still in his work clothes, so he went back to his room and changed into a loose t-shirt and joggers. He went to the toilet for something else to do, and when he checked himself out in the mirror he briefly panicked thinking his outfit was too casual. But then remembered that he had worn the same thing many times before when Harry had come over.

There wasn’t anything about this evening that hadn’t happened before, there was nothing particularly special about it on the surface, but it felt different somehow. Maybe it was Harry’s much flirtier - kiss filled - texts the day before, or maybe Louis had changed his perspective on what these sessions really meant to him.

He wasn’t entirely sure, but whatever it was had the hair on the back of his neck standing on end in anticipation.

At five to four - early again - the bell for the flat rang. Louis rushed to the door and pressed down on the button to let Harry into the building. There was a harsh buzzing sound and a metal clunk the same way there always was, and Louis purposefully turned his back on the door so it looked like he had been in the middle of doing something.

“Lou!” Harry cried, and Louis found himself grinning like mad as he dropped the random throw pillow that had ended up in his hand so he could be enveloped in Harry’s hug. Harry’s hair tickled his nose, but Louis leaned into the sensation and tried to get a discreet whiff of Harry’s shampoo. Honey and lemon.

It wasn't until he was in the middle of it that he realized he and Harry hadn’t ever hugged before. Louis found himself leaning into Harry’s torso and while his jacket was a little chilly from the air outside, Louis could feel Harry’s body heat attempting to escape and curl around him the same way his arms had.

“How have you been, Curly?” he asked as he pulled back. It took every ounce of effort he had to separate their bodies. If Louis had his way, he would stay wrapped up in Harry’s hug for the rest of the afternoon.

Harry positively beamed at the nickname as he reached down to undo the buttons on his long black wool coat that hit him around the knee. His silk shirt was unbuttoned down his chest despite the cold, and he slowly peeled off the layers around it.

Somehow, he looked even more than he had before. That was it, just more. His hair was shinier and curlier, his eyes were greener, his endless legs were even longer and squeezed in the tightest black jeans Louis had ever seen, tapering to his cute little ankles where the hems were bunched up around his boots.

“Good, Lou. So good,” Harry breathed. Louis felt his heart pick up its pace at his own little nickname. Other people called him Lou all the time but it didn’t sound the same. Didn’t feel the same as when Harry said it.

“I’m so glad!” As much as he had been missing Harry, he was genuinely happy for him and the fact that the new job was going so well.

“Me too. Missed this though,” he replied, vaguely gesturing with the guitar in his hand. Louis nodded, but couldn’t bear to take his eyes away from Harry’s for even a moment. They ended up standing in his foyer smiling at each other like a couple of idiots before Louis finally realized what they were doing.

“Right. Right! Tea,” he said, shaking his head to clear it. He needed to get it together if he was going to survive the entire afternoon.

“Right,” Harry parroted as he made his way into the living room. Louis could hear the now familiar sounds of him getting settled and the routine was nice.

When he reentered the living room Harry had his guitar lying on the couch next to him, and his journal was out but not open.

Louis handed him the mug of tea, and Harry wrapped his large hands - with those gorgeous long delicate fingers - around it presumably to warm them up.

“Do you have anything you want to work on, then?” Louis asked.

“Nope,” Harry replied in that cute little way of his. Louis might be a bit besotted.

“Why did you text then? Thought you wanted to work on something specific.” He realized too late how unwelcoming his question could sound, but thankfully Harry understood what he was saying.

“I told you, I missed writing,” he replied, staring down into his tea instead of looking at Louis. “I ran into Ed the other day and he asked what we had been working on, and I told him not much, and he said that was a shame because he knew we had come up with some really good stuff.”

That was odd, because if their conversation happened after he and Ed had talked, then Ed already knew that Louis and Harry hadn’t worked together in a while. But, if it was before he and Ed had talked, then Ed already knew they hadn't seen each other in a while and had lied to Louis. Either way, Ed had lied to someone. Ginger bastard.

Louis supposed couldn’t be too upset with Ed because the mix up had given him an opening to see Harry again and for Louis to play him the new song he had been writing.

Louis had continued to fine-tune the song and he ended up being quite proud of it. Even if Harry didn't catch on to the fact that the song was about him, Louis still wanted to play it to see what he thought.

“I actually have something I’ve been working on; it’s almost done, but do you want to give it a listen?” Louis was nervous, but the butterflies were no more active than they had been when he was waiting for Harry.

That was to say, they were incredibly active, he just had to work through it and not throw up all over his own living room.

Harry’s eyes lit up, “Yeah! Definitely.”

“Okay, cool.” Louis set his mug down on the table in front of him and picked the guitar up off the plush armchair where he always sat so that he and Harry were sitting perpendicular to each other.

He settled back in the cushions and flicked his fringe to the side. He bit his lip before meeting Harry’s enthusiastic gaze again.

“It kind of sounds like a break-up song on first listen, but if you pay attention, it’s… not.” He finished lamely.

Harry nodded, urging him to get on with it.

Louis sighed, gripped the neck of his guitar, and began to play.

 

I'm a diamond in the rough and wild

You're a heart that's just too wild and free

I'm a-looking for a hand to hold me

You're just looking for a chance to bring me to my knees

 

Some may say you're mad to chase a heart locked away

On its own soul-less enemy

There ain't nothing in this world you'd like to be less than a wounded soul like me

That's what you'll get falling for me

 

Oh I'm a mountain only you can move me

All my stones are shapened by your stream

But I'm just a girl ain't never been a savior

I'm just a man here waiting for the one I'd hoped you'd be

Some may say I'm mad to chase a heart locked away

On its own soul-less enemy

There ain't nothing in this world you'd like to be less than a wounded soul like me

That's what you'll get falling for me

 

Get out of my heart, g et out of my mind

Get out of my dreams, g et out of my sight

You might've known doubt

You might've known fear

You might've known love

But you never knew me, b ut you never knew me

No, you never knew me, y ou never knew me

You might've known love, b ut you don't know me

 

Some may say I'm mad to chase a heart locked away

On its own soul-less enemy

There ain't nothing in this world you'd like to be less than a wounded soul like me

That's what you'll get falling for me

 

Louis faded out on the last line, afraid to look for Harry’s reaction. He knew the lyrics might be confusing, but it was such a pretty song. And… maybe he was just tired of hiding from Harry. Even if he didn’t understand, at the least the message was out there.

"What's it called?" Harry whispered.

"Um... 'Falling for Me,' I think," Louis answered uncertainly.

When he finally looked up, Harry was staring back at him a little dumbstruck before he snapped out of it and turned to place his mug down on the coffee table.

“Lou, can I hold your guitar for a second?” Harry asked, pointedly. Louis was confused because Harry had never asked to hold his guitar before and his expression was still unreadable.

Louis handed over the instrument, but instead of playing it, Harry laid it down gently on the table - careful to avoid his almost completely full mug. He made sure the guitar was perfectly balanced, and wouldn’t move anywhere before he turned to look at Louis again.

Before Louis could even open his mouth to question what Harry was doing, Harry had gotten up out of his seat and launched himself at Louis, slamming his arse down on top of Louis lap and dragging Louis’ head forward to press their lips together.

Louis could barely process what was happening around him, he was so stifled by Harry. Harry’s kiss - which set Louis' whole body on fire - wasn’t perfect, it was violent and sloppy with too much teeth, but it was everything Louis had ever wanted for years.

Since that day at the Apollo when he had said out loud that Harry was the boy he was going to marry, all Louis had wanted was this kiss and it wasn’t perfect, but it was exactly right for them.

Harry pulled back to take a deep breath and began to pepper little kisses around Louis’ mouth, tracing the line of his cheekbone, nipping a bit at his neck, and following his jawline back up to his mouth.

Harry’s shifted in his lap and Louis whimpered, loving the feeling of having Harry’s limbs flailing everywhere as long as their general goal was to be wrapped around him. Somehow, Harry managed to wedge a knee on either side of Louis’ thighs, effectively trapping Louis in his favorite armchair with kisses.

Louis had Harry, his chair, his guitar, and a mug of tea all within reach; there wasn’t a single thing on earth he could think of to complete the picture.

“Lou,” Harry moaned on a low breath. “That song,” he dragged a few more kisses along Louis’ stubble. “It was so gorgeous. How could you- Why did you-”

Harry paused in his quest to cover every inch of Louis’ skin and leaned back abruptly, rolling his spine and balancing his weight back towards Louis’ knees instead of his… well… “If that song isn’t at least a little bit about you and me, this is going to get really awkward really fast,” he said. His voice was hoarse, and his lips were swollen to a brilliant poppy red color.

Stunned from everything that had happened in the last few minutes, Louis threw his head back against the cushion and laughed a full, hearty, low-belly laugh.

“Heeeyyy,” Harry dragged out. When Louis looked at him again - taking a second to wipe the tears that had begun to form at the corners of his eyes - Harry was pouting and it was almost obscene how gorgeous and adorable he looked at the same time. There was no one else on earth who could possibly do that, Louis thought to himself.

“Sorry, Curly. It’s just… if you only knew,” he replied. He was ecstatic that Harry had finally kissed him, and at some point, he should bring up their history, but he couldn’t bring himself to burst the bubble that Harry had created so passionately.

Harry watched him warily for another moment, even as Louis grabbed onto his hips and began to trail his hands up the sides of his torso. God, Harry was so soft. And strong. Again, Louis was baffled as to how he could be both at the same time.

“That’s a good thing, yeah?” Harry asked.

Louis nodded, and drew his hand up to Harry’s jaw to push a curl out of the way and cup his soft skin. He nudged Harry a bit until he was leaning forward and migrating farther down Louis' thighs and into his space again.

Harry’s body covered Louis’ as he brushed their lips together, much more tentatively this time. Their noses touched a few times, and they breathed in each other’s space for a moment - both tasting of the tea Louis had made for them. Finally, Louis couldn't stand the anticipation anymore and tugged on Harry’s hair where his hand was curled into it and kissed him soundly.

They continued to kiss, alternating between soft and slow, and little more urgent kisses. Every time they got a little too heated, they both made the decision to slow it down, coming wordlessly to the agreement to leave everything at a simmering pace.

Harry shifted around until he was sitting sideways in Louis’ lap with his legs hanging over one arm of the chair while Louis curled into him.

Neither one of them was ready when Liam came home just like he did every other time they had afternoon sessions.

“Uhh…” Liam dragged out. His voice shocked them so much and they pulled away so quickly that their lips separated with a comical popping noise. Harry sat up a bit, whereas Louis had to crane his neck all the way around to see Liam in the foyer.

Louis was sure they made quite the picture. His lips felt tingly and numb from being attached to various parts of Harry for such a long time and he could feel his hair sticking up at all angles from where Harry had dug his hands into his messy fringe.

Out of the corner of his eye Louis caught sight of Harry who didn’t look any better. At some point - he couldn’t remember when - he had accidentally nipped the delicate skin of Harry’s neck, and Harry had keened absolutely beautifully. That mindblowing discovery had led to Louis sucking and nipping until Harry had a string of bruises all the way down his neck towards his collarbone.

At least Harry's long hair would cover it up a bit, Louis thought with an internal shrug. He had gotten momentarily sidetracked by that train of thought, but another noise brought him back to the present.

“Hey, Li. What’s up?” he sounded a little too breathless to be innocent.

“Nothing. Hey, Harry,” Liam called out a bit awkwardly as he began to not-so-subtly move towards his room.

“Hi Liam,” Harry waved much more convincingly innocent. He was kicking his feet like a little kid would where they were hanging off the plush arm of the chair and Louis was hopelessly endeared. With nothing left to say, Liam beat a hasty retreat.

Even though he and Harry were technically alone again in the living room, the idyllic quality of the afternoon had been shattered and they both could feel it. Harry leaned up to give Louis another brief kiss before he laid his head back - out of kissing distance - fully reclining across Louis’ lap.

“I should probably go,” he whispered begrudgingly.

Louis nodded, “I know that, and intellectually I understand, but I’m also against it on principle.” Harry bit his lip and giggled, and Louis was a goner. As if he wasn’t already. “Just needed that to be known,” he added.

“Understood,” Harry nodded. “I would expect you to walk me to the door and say goodbye like a gentleman, but…” Harry trailed off with a little wiggle as he burrowed his arse further into Louis’ lap where he couldn’t hide just how much he had enjoyed making out with Harry all afternoon. “Seems like you have something to take care of there.” He grinned cheekily at Louis.

“You’re one to talk,” Louis replied waggling his eyebrows at the very obvious outline of Harry’s cock in his skinny jeans.

“Good thing I brought a coat with me,” Harry quipped. With past hookups, this conversation may have led somewhere more private, like Louis’ bedroom for one, but for some reason with Harry, he didn't have that same sense of urgency. Louis was definitely sexually frustrated, of course, but he was also content to leave the afternoon for what it was as chaste as it may have been.

Harry threw his long, ungainly legs towards the floor, and very carefully unfolded himself from Louis’ lap. Louis appreciated the care around his more sensitive bits very much, and it took him a minute to get his equilibrium back when he stood up. Most of his blood was in a different place from when he first sat down.

He did walk Harry to the door and helped him re-cover himself back up in his layers. Temptation finally won out when he wrapped Harry’s scarf around his neck; Louis couldn’t help but use the fabric loop to pull Harry back down and give him one last kiss.

Harry’s hands came flew up to grasp Louis' hips this time, and he sucked in a shaky breath.

“I, erm,” Harry was blushing profusely and Louis could really get used to that, “I had a really nice time today.”

“Me too, Curly,” Louis murmured into his mouth.

“I like it when you call me that,” Harry replied, just as softly.

They were back where they started, staring at each other like fools in Louis’ foyer, but over the course of an afternoon, everything had changed.

When Harry finally managed to leave Louis shut the door of their flat and leaned back against it, giggling like a schoolgirl with her first crush, which he supposed he was in a way.

“Well, well, well,” Liam said menacingly.

“I would punch you, but I’m too happy right now,” Louis replied.

Liam raised an eyebrow at him. “So, you and Harry?”

Louis nodded.

“Does he know how long you’ve liked him?”

Louis shook his head.

“Are you guys official now?”

He shrugged.

“Nice and clear, mate. Cheers.” Liam scoffed.

“Fuck off, Liam,” Louis called as he danced down the hallway back to his room.

Louis stood in his room surveying his bed; it felt like the last time he had been in this room he was a pit of nerves and despair. Now, he felt like he could take on the world. He had kissed Harry Styles, and it had been just as amazing as he had expected.

Maybe if it had been horrible he could have moved on - past this Harry obsession. Harry could have had bad breath, or been to slobbery with too much tongue. But he hadn’t. Everything had been perfect and wonderful, and they must have made out for at least an hour, but to Louis, it had felt like thirty seconds. Not anywhere near enough time.

He was still fucked.

 

Chapter Text

Harry pushed the door of the pub open, huddling in on himself to block out the cold. He could see Niall standing at the bar with one of his friends from home and his cousin. It very well could be another friend, but Niall had so many cousins that were hard to keep track of, so that was always the safer bet.

Everyone called out to Harry in greeting and Niall immediately turned to grab him a drink. He hung his coat and scarf up on the oiled brass hook happy to be in the much warmer, cozier atmosphere of the pub. These Sunday afternoons had been a comfort to him when he was unemployed because they had offered him a bit more structure to his week. Now that he had a new job, they were a comfort because they didn’t change and were a great way to get himself out of his own head before the next week began.

When he was unemployed, it had also helped him to have regular activities like songwriting with Louis.

Louis.

Almost six days had passed since Harry had seen Louis, and he was starting to get a bit worried. Louis seemed to really like him, and the good old-fashioned make-out session they had in his flat on Tuesday afternoon was incredible. It made Harry feel like a teenager again, and every time he thought about it, it was like a little fire lit deep in his gut, warming him from the inside out. He was downright giddy.

But, he had to watch himself, because Louis had only texted him a few times and hadn't pushed to get together again. He supposed he could ask Louis first, but Harry knew that it was different for him than it was for Louis. He had been fascinated by Louis for so long, longer than Louis could probably imagine, so it felt as though he was already ten steps ahead with him in his mind.

That was why he was leaving it in Louis’ hands. Harry would follow Louis’ lead for how serious or how casual he wanted this to be. If Louis wanted to give a full blown relationship a go, then Harry would be ecstatic. If all he wanted was a "friends with benefits" situation then Harry could deal with that too - he wouldn't be as happy about it, but he could handle it. He just wanted to be with Louis in some way.

The sun was beginning to set, and it was getting to be about the time that they all settled up and went home when Zayn walked in the front door of the pub.

There was something extraordinary about Zayn. He had this odd beacon that made him so pretty it was impossible to look away from him sometimes, but he also had an uncanny ability to stay completely silent and mysterious and skulk around surprising people. Harry didn’t understand him at all, and that was why they were friends.

Harry especially didn’t understand what Zayn was doing standing in his local in Manchester when he definitely lived in London. Of all the pubs in all the world.

“Zayn!” Harry yelled and threw his arms up in the air before he could filter himself. He swore he had only had two pints, maybe three.

“Harry?” Zayn asked, with the same surprise Harry had felt.

“Yeah, mate, what are you doing here?” Harry asked, already throwing his arms around Zayn's neck, leaning into his body for a hug.

“Visiting a friend,” he replied mysteriously. Everything he did was mysterious. Harry maybe needed to switch to drinking water.

Zayn and Harry were signed to the same modeling agency, technically Harry was still signed with them, but Zayn was the one who was actually still active in the business. They hadn’t lived too far away from each other in London and they used to get together all the time. Harry had just texted him a few weeks ago to catch up and they had exchanged a few messages.

“Ooh, a friend is it?” Harry asked with an exaggerated wink making Zayn blush. Zayn was blushing. This was gold.

“Erm,” Zayn mumbled.

“I see,” Harry nodded sagely. “Is that who you’re here to meet?”

“Yeah.” The short and clipped phrase told Harry that Zayn was uncomfortable, and it was a beautiful thing. Zayn loved to stay distant and above it all - and tease Harry - so to have the tables turned was wonderful.

Harry dropped the subject, though, because he was too nice and they continued to chat catching up more than they ever could have over text. They got so wrapped up in their discussion, Harry didn’t even notice that Niall had paid and put his own coat on, ready to walk back to their flat so Harry could cobble together some dinner for them.

Niall took his own chance to catch up with Zayn and while they were chatting, out of nowhere a loud “Zaynie!” rang out, and there were arms snaking around Zayn’s middle.

This must be the special guy, then, Harry thought, right before his blood turned to ice in his veins.

Louis’ head popped out from behind Zayn’s body, one arm still wrapped around Zayn’s waist.

“Hazza?” Louis asked, stopped short in his greeting of Zayn when he saw who else was in their circle.

“Lou,” Harry barely managed to get out, nodding in greeting.

How could he have been so stupid? Zayn and Louis were the two hottest people that Harry knew, of course they were shagging. Why wouldn’t they be? Even in the midst of his despair, he filed away that mental image for later.

“You two know each other?” Zayn asked pointing back and forth between the two of them. Louis had dropped his hand from Zayn’s waist, and when Harry made eye contact with him, he winked. 

A thrill zipped through Harry at the wink but he coughed to cover it up trying to maintain a straight face, ignoring Louis and his stupid sexy winks that were definitely not for Harry anymore. Not with Zayn around.

Instead, he concentrated on thinking back to the random pub nights here and there they had attended at the same time before they became friends - back when Harry was with Thomas. But no, Harry couldn't think of any that Zayn had attended as well.

It was Harry’s turn to be tongue-tied.

Louis didn’t seem to be burdened by the same uncertainty. “Yeah, we’ve been writing together,” he told Zayn conspiratorily like it was a big secret.

“Wait, writing? Like music?” Zayn’s eyes went wide and he turned to Harry. “That’s cool, I remember you telling me you wanted to do more of that.”

Harry’s mind was still reeling, so he nodded, staying quiet and letting Niall and Louis dominate the conversation again. Zayn shot him an oddly questioning look.

It made sense for Zayn to be confused, he had no idea that Harry was developing serious feelings for the guy he was here in Manchester to visit. This development also meant that when Harry was kissing Louis he had been moving in on his friend’s territory, and that did not sit well with him at all.

As Niall and Harry were making moves to leave for real this time, Liam came in the door and joined their group having just come in from visiting his parents in Wolverhampton.

Harry hadn’t been able to relax since Louis had arrived and his throat was tightening slowly the longer they stayed in the pub, so he reached down and tugged on Niall’s elbow as subtly and out of the way as he possibly could, hoping his friend would understand his desperation.

When they finally made it out onto the sidewalk, it was a little too rainy and windy, so they hurried around the corner to their flat.

Once they were upstairs, Niall turned on Harry; “Alright, what was that about then?”

“I think Zayn is in town to see Louis.” Harry sighed and threw his legs up on the couch so he could lay prone.

“Okay?”

“No, Ni. I think Zayn is in town to sleep with Louis which is something they do semi-regularly. I remember Zayn used to come to Manchester on the weekends sometimes back when we were modeling.”

Niall, ever the supportive friend, scrunched his nose up in disgust. “What is Louis doing kissing you, then?”

“I don’t know,” Harry whispered. He reached up to grab the blanket and laid it out across his body, with enough excess at the top so he could pull it over his head and hide from the world.

Niall sat down on the edge of the couch and patted the cozy fabric somewhere in the vicinity of Harry’s arm. “I’m sorry, petal. That sucks.”

While the words were comforting, they fell a little flat. That wasn’t Niall’s fault though, he didn’t understand the depths to which Harry’s crush on Louis went.

As if thinking about him had sent a signal out to the world, Harry’s phone lit up with a notification from Louis.

Louis: You okay?

Harry: Yeah, good

He held back from adding his usual kisses at the end of his texts, all prior giddiness having been abated.

Louis: I know you’re lying

Harry bristled, and put his phone down, determined not to answer. Louis kept going anyway.

Louis: Want to come over to write this week?

Harry hesitated. It felt like they had just taken big steps backward in their relationship, but Louis had written such a beautiful song the week before, and there were other things Harry actually wanted to work on because they hadn’t gotten anything done, and it had been awhile since they had actually worked on anything. He didn’t think he could wait until Thursday, though.

Harry: Yeah, Tues again?

Louis: ;)

Harry scoffed and rolled his eyes at the phone in his hand. That wasn’t really an answer, but Louis probably thought it was.

He locked his phone and threw it down next to him, hoping it might get sucked between the couch cushions where he could never find it again. That would prevent him from making any more horrible decisions.

 

Tuesday afternoon came around and Harry was standing in front of Louis’ front door. Again. How much time had he wasted staring at Louis’ front door?

Louis: Are you going to come up?

Harry rolled his eyes and looked up at Louis’ window.

Louis was there but the window wasn’t open this time - probably due to the chill in the air - and he looked comfy and warm. His eyes were shining and his smile was wide as he looked down at Harry on the street below.

Another little piece of Harry’s heart cracked. He could read the signals; Louis just wanted to be friends and stay friends.

Harry heaved a sigh before he pushed the front door open and buzzed Louis’ flat. The second door lock hummed, and he made his way upstairs.

The scene when he stepped into the flat was completely different than he expected.

The very first thing he saw was Louis bounding over to him, taking up Harry’s whole field of vision, throwing his hands around Harry’s neck, and nuzzling his nose into his scarf somewhere in the vicinity of his ear.

Harry shivered from the sensation but was very, very confused.

“Thank God you’re here to save me,” Louis exclaimed dramatically, pressing a quick kiss to Harry’s cheek.

“What?” Harry replied, lamely.

Louis grabbed his guitar and turned towards the living room. “Harry’s here, up, up, up!” He was yelling and shooing the best he could with a guitar case in his hand.

It was then that he moved out of the way enough so Harry could see what, or rather, who he was shooing. Right there, in the big cushy armchair where Louis sat during their sessions, was Zayn, curled up looking as comfortable as can be. On Liam’s lap.

Oh. Oooh.

Harry watched quietly as Zayn began to untangle himself and move to get out of the chair.

Liam looked up at Louis, looking disgruntled. “Not fair, why do we have to move when as soon as we leave you and Harry are just going to do the same thing?”

Louis flushed and cleared his throat, “Harold is here on official business, Lima, we’re working. Now go.”

Zayn nodded in greeting to Harry before he leaned back down over the back of the chair where Liam was still sitting to whisper in his ear. He spent entirely too much time nuzzled into the side of Liam's face saying something Harry would probably rather not hear, and then Liam was blushing and stammering about getting out of their way.

When they cleared out of the room - quickly - Louis shouted at their backs. “That’s what I thought!”

Harry giggled and made his way around the table so he could sit down in his usual spot. Louis put Harry’s guitar down in front of him and went quiet while Harry was getting it out.

“Hey, Hazza?” Louis asked, his voice getting incredibly soft on the nickname, making Harry’s heart melt a bit.

“Yeah, Lou?”

“Are you okay? You’ve been acting a little odd the past few days.”

When Harry looked up Louis was fidgeting and biting at his lower lip with his hands clasped together letting them hang down in the space between his legs. He was visibly nervous, and Harry stopped to consider what everything looked like from his perspective.

Harry hadn’t really pushed to get together after they kissed because he was waiting for Louis to make a move, but how was Louis to know that? Then, Harry had been short with him both in the pub and over text.

Seeing Louis this nervous was a bit of a balm to any lingering pain Harry had been feeling since Sunday. All at once, Harry became very aware that it had been a week since they had last kissed since he had tasted Louis’ mouth since he had felt Louis’ hands on him, felt him harden against the swell of his bum.

He smiled widely while staring at Louis.

“Okay, that’s new, and to be honest you look a bit creepy.” Louis’ laugh was light and nervous as well. It was cute, he was cute.

“You know,” Harry started as he set his guitar off to the side and began to stand up. Louis followed his body with his eyes. “I was pretty upset that you never asked to see me again after last Tuesday,” Harry explained as he drew closer to where Louis was sitting.

“I didn’t-” Louis cut in, but Harry gave him a look and he clammed back up again obediently.

“So then when I saw Zayn in the pub, he was telling me all about the guy he was coming to see and stay with in Manchester.” He paused as his legs bracketed Louis’ knees, trapping him where he was sitting. Louis’ neck was craned to look up at him and Harry bent one knee up onto the chair cushion next to Louis’ hip - effectively boxing him in but not entirely, yet - and kept talking.

“He’s Zayn, so he was being mysterious, and wouldn’t give me any details.” He bent the other knee up onto the cushion, but stayed upright, hovering over Louis’ lap. Louis’ neck was still craned, but he was watching Harry, rapt.

“Then I saw you come in, wrap your hands around him, touch him like that. So, I added two and two and got about,” he paused and stroked his chin exaggeratedly, “Fifteen?”

Understanding lit in Louis’ eyes before he shut them and dropped his chin to his neck, chuckling and nodding.

Harry finally sank down into Louis’ lap. Louis let out a little grunt on impact and met Harry’s eyes again.

Louis cleared his throat, schooled his features, and finally spoke; “Harold? Zayn is here to see Liam.” He tried to keep a straight face, but the grin began to leak out onto his face.

Harry nodded, “Yes, thank you, Lewis,” he replied as snippily as he could manage before he finally closed the distance between them and just barely slid his lips over Louis’ to tease him in return.

Louis whimpered a bit before bringing his hand up to Harry’s jaw and pulling him in closer, anchoring him, making sure he wasn't going anywhere.

Soon, Harry was drowning in Louis’ overwhelming taste after going a week without, and he decided he never wanted to do that ever again.

“Told you so!” Liam called out across the kitchen, making both Harry and Louis jump and spring apart as much as they could. Harry overcorrected and leaned back too far, teetering on edge of Louis’ knees and thighs until Louis shot his hand out wrapping his arm around him tighter to keep him from falling off his lap.

“Fuck off!” Louis replied picking up whatever was closest to him - which happened to be a box of tissue - and launching it at Liam’s head as he retreated from the kitchen.

When they were alone again, Harry pressed their foreheads together. He was about to start kissing Louis again, eager to return to it, but Louis pulled back.

Louis watched Harry for a moment but didn't start kissing him again, so Harry let his bottom lip droop a bit into a pout. Louis laughed humorlessly at him for a second, and lifted his hand back up to Harry’s jaw, drawing his thumb across Harry’s bottom lip where it was sticking out. Harry growled and nipped at the pad of the offending thumb before pressing a kiss to it.

Louis eyes that had been full of mirth not moments before were now filled with desire.

“I swear, you should be illegal,” he rasped, his grip tightening in Harry’s curls.

“I feel very much the same way,” Harry replied with a matching heat. He leaned down to get his mouth on Louis again, maybe nibble at his bottom lip, scrape his own lips across the stubble along his jaw. It all looked very inviting.

But Louis pressed a hand against Harry’s chest, keeping him at a distance.

“Hold on, Curly-que,” he said, and while Harry was confused as to why they were stopping, he couldn’t help but feel a tug of arousal deep in his abdomen at the new altered nickname.

“What is it?”

Louis began to fidget again, the same way he had when he first questioned Harry after he arrived, but this time Harry was in his lap taking up space. With nowhere to put his hands, Louis reached one hand up behind his head and tugged on the hair at the back of his neck a bit. When he did that, though, it moved his arm in a new way showed off a tattoo Harry had never seen before on his inner bicep and it momentarily distracted him.

“It’s just that, this thing, with Zayn, and when neither one of us texted much after last week or pushed to see each other, for what I’m suspecting is the exact same reason, I don’t want any more confusion between us.”

Harry wanted to tread carefully because even though Louis seemed to be sure he and Harry were on the same page, that page still could mean casual hook up buddies.

“Why did you not ask to see me again?” he hedged, trying to keep his voice even and not stray into the whiny or demanding territory.

“I, um,” Louis looked away to gather his thoughts before he replied. “I didn’t really want to come on too strong, I wanted to follow your lead and let you decide what you wanted this to be.”

Harry felt his entire body relax, and all of his tension left, even in places he didn’t realize he was holding tension. “And why was that?” He was sat back a little bit more on Louis’ thighs now, having a casual conversation with very little touching. He suspected that was on purpose so that they remained level-headed.

“I really like you,” Louis confessed quietly in the relative stillness of the living room. “I don’t want to mess it up, even unintentionally,” he said with a roll of his eyes and a nod of his head towards the back of the flat in the general direction of Liam’s room. Harry spared a silent thanks for old buildings with odd layouts that meant they couldn’t hear whatever Liam and Zayn were up to at the moment.

Harry smiled down at him, “I really like you too, Lou.”

The wattage from Louis’ smile was blinding, and Harry couldn’t help but lean in and kiss his cheek. The discussion felt a little too serious still for him to initiate anything more intense than that, but he wanted to seal it with a kiss.

Louis blushed again. “I know this is a little weird in this day and age, but would you mind terribly if we took this kind of slow? I would really love to take you out. On a real date.”

“Woo me? Proper old fashioned like?” Harry asked with a smirk.

“Yep, just like that,” Louis replied.

“I like it. Makes me feel like a lady.”

Louis winked at him and Harry felt it shoot straight down his spine again.

With a sigh, Harry extricated himself from Louis’ lap and retreated to his usual spot, his jeans a little tighter than when he had sat down originally.

He pouted again because he had gotten such a delicious response from Louis the first time. “It’s cold over here.”

Louis took the blanket off the back of the chair and threw it at him. Harry squawked indignantly when it hit him in the face. “Have a blanket, Curly-que, I’m trying to be a gentleman.” They both stared at each other for a beat before they collapsed into raucous laughter.

Harry tried to even his breath out enough that he could pick up and tune his guitar, but he was struggling. Every time Louis laughed, it set him off again.

They spent the rest of the afternoon in a haze of lyrics, chaste kisses, and sly glances at each other. Harry hadn’t felt this content in a long time.

When he left that afternoon, he and Louis set a date for Friday. It felt like an interminable amount of time but Harry couldn’t come over on Thursday because he had to interview photographers for an upcoming shoot. Plus Louis had vetoed that idea anyway, wanting it to be a real date and not just the two of them grabbing something to eat after a session.

On his walk home, Harry smiled to himself despite the cold. Because he had gotten to know Louis so well through his songs and lyrics, it wasn’t very surprising to him that Louis was such a romantic.

While Harry was most definitely sexually frustrated, he appreciated that Louis wanted their experience to be special.

Harry had been fascinated by Louis for a long time. He had spent years avoiding him, but the avoidance had been self preservation, because he knew that the moment he let himself give in he would fall, and fall hard. And what happened? He fell.

It was probably a bit more accurate to say that he was in the process of falling, but if he was being honest with himself, he was much closer to the ground than he was to the ledge.

 

Gemma - the lifesaver - answered Harry’s emergency call on Friday afternoon. He was in his office at the magazine fretting about what he was going to wear on his date with Louis that evening.

She left her own office on the other side of the floor and crossed over to where he was and only looked at him like she was judging him a little bit. It could have been a lot worse.

“What am I going to do?” he wailed.

“What do you mean what are you going to do?”

“I don’t have anything to wear.”

“You are a walking cliche,” she replied. And she was right. He was being ridiculous. This date had been so built up in his head that he had gotten a little panicky. Louis was not helping.

Louis: I’ll pick you up at 7?

His text had come in while Harry was eating his salad looking over the inspiration sketches for one of the spreads for the next issue.

Harry: See you then xx

“You have an entire wardrobe department at your disposal, idiot. Let’s go,” Gemma said, turning around, not bothering to see if Harry was following her or not.

Harry could tell Gemma was enjoying being a cliche as well, though, because the fashion department was new, so they only had one or two menswear lines in the closet. And the “wardrobe department” was one girl named Emmi, who was incredibly good at her job, but they weren’t exactly Vogue.

Gemma immediately started pulling clothing when they got to the slightly larger office the magazine had cleared out to house their pieces. Harry was in the process of designing the units that would be installed to make it look more like an actual professional closet. But until then, Emmi had done the best she could, and there were hanging racks lining the walls with designer clothing that had been sent over.

Harry didn’t live in a fantasy world and wasn’t always quite the right inseam length (which led to some awkward bunching) but he and Gemma managed to find him a pair of skin-tight black jeans that she insisted were different than all of the other pairs he had at home.

“These are tighter, less worn out, you know? Nicer.” She said with no remorse whatsoever. He had rolled his eyes, but put them on anyway, and had to admit that they were worth the extra ten minutes it had taken to squeeze into them given that he had stopped modeling and was hitting the gym a bit more so he had built up more muscle mass in his legs.

He definitely wasn’t taking them off before his date, though, just to be safe. She also managed to find a nice navy blue blazer that again was a bit tight, but if he left it unbuttoned it looked cool and semi-casual.

Gemma followed him home and they went through all of his shirt options, eventually landing on a light blue silk shirt with a contrast weave; an even pattern of little bees spread out over the slinky material. He had been given it on a shoot one time, and really loved the idea of it, but hadn’t found anything quite right to pair it with yet. It was a nice accent under the navy of the blazer.

By the time Louis actually rang the buzzer to his flat, Harry had paced back and forth in his kitchen for at least ten minutes and Louis had even shown up a bit early.

Harry hadn’t thought about the fact that Louis had never seen his flat until Gemma had made an offhand comment about him seeing Harry’s decorating style. He had freaked out a bit over that and had attempted to straighten up a bit more - still wearing the very binding skinny jeans - which was a struggle.

In the end, he needn’t have worried, because he wound up going downstairs to let Louis in anyway, realizing they could just leave from there. He might have over-thought it a bit originally.

When he opened the door and saw Louis on the other side, he faltered over the door jamb and almost went flying. He managed to keep himself upright, but only narrowly.

Louis was wearing a simple white t-shirt that was pressed and clean, over his own pair of jeans that were either super dark denim, or black like Harry’s own. But the star of the show was the jacket. It was a gorgeous brown, slightly olive, suede with moto-style zipper details. Louis’ jeans were rolled up a bit at the hem above his brown suede lace-up boots.

Harry stood there gaping, stewing in a weird mix of feelings that ranged from endeared to aroused.

“Wow, Curly-que, you look amazing,” Harry had been so distracted by Louis’ body that he hadn’t been paying attention to Louis’ face, and he had been doing his own staring. His eyes were blazing as he took in Harry’s outfit. Harry may have improvised after Gemma left and undone one or two more buttons. He didn’t run it by her, but he felt like she would approve anyway.

Harry blushed under Louis’ scrutiny but recovered enough to return the compliment. Louis had somehow already called them an Uber but held his elbow out for Harry to take as they walked down the steps. Harry was fairly certain he would have floated away if he hadn’t had Louis to hold on to; they were two minutes in and already it was the best date he had ever been on.

The car was black and sleek, and Harry wasn’t sure if Louis had actually splurged and called them an Uber Black to be fancy, or if it had just worked out that way. Either way, he was in a constant state of feeling wooed as Louis held the door open and helped him into the soft buttery leather of the car seat. He closed Harry’s door, then jogged around the car to take his own seat, leaving Harry and the driver alone just long enough for the driver to smirk knowingly at Harry in the rearview mirror.

“First date?” he asked gruffly.

“Yeah,” Harry murmured and nodded.

Louis opened his door and climbed in. Once he was settled the driver made sure they were ready to go before pulling away from the curb.

The drive was uneventful and fairly short as Harry and Louis made small talk catching up on their weeks since they had last seen each other.

When they arrived at the restaurant, it was one Harry didn’t recognize, but it looked cozy with a brick facade and crimson and gold accents. It looked posh and expensive. Louis insisted on getting out and opening Harry’s door just as he had when they got in the car.

Louis held his hand to help Harry get out of the car, but as soon as Harry lifted himself out Louis groaned deep in the back of his throat. He probably didn’t mean for Harry to hear him, but Harry couldn’t help it.

“What’s wrong, Lou?”

Louis immediately rolled his lips together as though he wasn’t going to let his secret go, but he must have thought better of it.

“I’m trying to be a gentleman, I swear, but Jesus Christ your legs…” his voice was tinged with awe and Harry smirked, purposefully turning away and walking towards the restaurant a good three or four paces ahead of Louis.

“That’s not fair, Harold,” Louis called out. Harry’s smirk deepened as he turned back around to face him. He sent a prayer of thanks to Gemma and made a note to get her an extra special present for her birthday this year.

Louis caught up to him on the sidewalk, placing his hand on Harry’s lower back and leading him into the restaurant. They already had a reservation, and the waitress led them to a relatively secluded booth towards the back of the large open space.

There were a few extra candles on their table and they were somewhat tucked behind a curtain which added ambiance, Harry noticed. When they were finally settled, he couldn’t keep the wonder out of his voice when he looked at Louis before they even opened their menus. “This is all for me?”

Louis had looked up at him when he started talking, but his gaze softened a bit, “Of course, Curly-que. Who else?” he asked softly.

Harry reached a hand out across the table, but just as Louis took it, the waiter came, placing a basket of warm bread down in the space between them, forcing their hands to break apart. He missed Louis’ warmth already.

Despite the minor bread basket setback, Harry was far from disappointed with the entire evening. The wine was incredible, the food even better, and Harry honestly felt the most relaxed he ever had on a first date. He hadn’t been on one since Thomas and was a little rusty, but Louis was picking up his slack graciously and then some. Conversation flowed easily between them, and Harry found himself laughing so hard at the things that Louis said, he almost shot wine out of his nose at least twice.

It very much felt the same as it did when they were hanging out in Louis’ living room, but almost like someone had turned the dial up all the way. Harry leaned back and watched as Louis joked around with the waiter as the man attempted to explain the dessert menu. Harry felt like he could just sit back and admire Louis for a long time without getting bored.

He must have zoned out a bit because all of a sudden Louis was looking at him expectantly.

“I’m sorry, what?” Harry asked.

Louis’ smile was knowing, and a touch naughty, “Chocolate mousse for dessert? To share?”

Harry nodded and leaned back again. The waiter faded away from the table.

“What’s going on in that curly head of yours?” Louis asked, voice soft and lilting above the ambient noises of the restaurant.

“Nothing much,” he replied, attempting to be enigmatic.

“Okay,” Louis replied, disbelieving.

“Good things, I promise,” Harry added, and Louis just smiled at him. Louis reached his hand out again, but Harry didn’t take it yet, instead, tracing up and down the lengths of Louis’ fingers with a light, barely-there touch.

He continued to play with Louis’ hand, mesmerized by how strong, yet delicate it was, and how the light of the candles danced across his skin.

“You’re going to kill me with that, Harry,” Louis rasped out. His voice thin and strained after Harry's ministrations.

When their eyes met again, Harry could see that Louis’ pupils were blown so wide they were almost completely black. He felt arousal buzzing in his veins, ready to escape, but he stopped himself. There was something so magical about this date tonight, and Louis definitely deserved something in return, but that was precisely the kind of thinking that had gotten him into trouble in the past.

The expectation that he would “putting out,” was heavily implied when he was on his first date with Thomas and with a few other guys he had dated casually before that. Harry had been wined and dined at a posh restaurant, and when the opportunity for sex had presented itself he had taken it because he felt like he had owed his date. For some reason that didn’t sit well with him tonight. Not because he didn't want to sleep with Louis, he definitely did, but because he wanted to build a foundation first. 

Something must have changed in his expression when his fingers stilled because Louis noticed. He tightened his grasp on Harry’s now limp hand and brushed the pad of his thumb across the top of his knuckles. “What’s wrong, Curly-que?”

Harry was ready to dismiss it, dismiss his feelings, but again he stopped himself. His cheeks were warm already from the wine and distinct sense of comfort he had felt all evening, but this time he truly blushed.

He had this insistent inner voice telling him that there was a very real possibility of Louis sticking around for the long haul. Harry didn’t want to start their would-be relationship based on half-truths and the dismissal of his own feelings.

“Lou, tonight has been incredible,” he breathed. As soon as he psyched himself up to continue, the waiter dropped off their chocolate mousse. Once the plate was down and the spoons were distributed, Louis looked at Harry expectantly.

“Like I said, really, really incredible,” Harry repeated.

Louis’ face began to fall a little, and it was clear that he was trying to maintain a positive facade for Harry. “But?” he asked Harry self-deprecatingly, his apprehension and expectation of rejection clear.

Harry rushed to reassure him; “No! No, nothing like that. It’s been truly amazing, and I would love to see you again!” When his brain caught up to his mouth, he realized just how much he had given away, but Louis’ smile had returned so Harry pushed through. “The only "but," is that I really don’t want to give you the wrong idea or lead you on, but… I’m not going to invite you up to my flat tonight when you drop me off.”

He may have mumbled the last bit, but aside from that, he was quite proud of himself for communicating his feelings.

Louis’ gaze softened again in the warmth of the candle glow. “That’s totally fine, Harry. I promise. Taking it slow, right?” he replied.

Harry was so relieved, he could only grin back at him and pick up his spoon to try some of the delicious looking mousse. They went to scoop at the same time and ended up having a minor spoon sword fight for the chocolate garnishes. Well, almost all the garnishes. Louis had taken one look at the molded chocolate curl and deposited it on Harry’s side of the plate saying it was only fitting that he eat it.

Soon, over an empty plate, Louis had Harry cackling at something he had said under his breath about a patron who had complained about their meal no less than fifteen times. Harry was so distracted that he let Louis help him into his coat and lead him out the front door before he even realized that something was wrong.

Louis was flagging down the driver for their return trip to Harry's float when Harry reached out and grasped his arm.

“Lou! We didn’t pay.”

“Yes we did,” he replied opening the car door.

“No we didn’t, I swear, the waiter never even brought us the cheque.

Louis pursed his lips together like he was trying to both keep himself quiet and prevent himself from smiling.

“We did, Curly-que. I didn’t want you to even attempt to pay because I asked you out, so I called ahead and gave them my information so they can charge it later with tip.” He handed Harry into the car, then looked away bashfully, not meeting Harry’s eyes - that were bugged out of his head.

Louis climbed in the other side of the car, as Harry whispered, “You can do that?”

The corners of Louis’ eyes crinkled as he giggled at Harry’s expression. He reached his hand over and grasped Harry’s, letting their tangled hands rest on the middle seat between them.

They were in another beautiful black car with buttery leather cream interiors, and Harry let the weight of the evening wash over him. Louis had planned the most incredible date, but it was so perfect that Harry kind of wished he had saved it for a later date when Harry would be more comfortable taking the leap and sleeping with him.

There was too much space, the middle seat creating such a cavern between them in the car, and suddenly Harry couldn’t stand it. Even if he wasn’t going to sleep with Louis, there was nothing against him initiating other intimacies.

As the car rounded a corner, Harry saw his opportunity. Leaning into the movement of the car, he slid as gracefully as he could across the seat and tucked himself into Louis’ side.

Louis’ eyes lit up and he let go of Harry’s hand so that he could lift his arm up around Harry’s shoulders. Harry let his now free hand fall to Louis’ leg, and tucked his head as far as he could into the crook of Louis’ neck.

“Mmm, cuddles,” Louis murmured with his lips pressed somewhere near the top of Harry’s head.

Harry tilted his head up for a brief kiss. “Tonight was magical.”

Louis nodded, “It really was,” he whispered.

Harry tucked his head back down, “You planned it, you knew it was going to be magical.”

“No, Curly-que. Never could have imagined this.” Louis rubbed his hand up and down Harry’s bicep, drawing him in close to his body.

They stayed silent for the remainder of the ride until they pulled up to Harry’s building. Once again Louis came around and opened Harry’s door for him, helping him out into the chilly night air, and he held onto Harry’s hand following him up to the front door.

Louis reached up, tucking a strand of Harry’s hair behind his ear before leaving his hand on his jaw as they both leaned in for a kiss. The kiss was slow and steady, completely unhurried, and Harry let himself bask in it.

It was the perfect end to a perfect night.

“Goodnight,” he said as he kissed along Louis’ jaw. “Thank you,” he pressed a brief kiss to Louis’ lips. “Thank you,” he kissed again. “Thank you.”

“Goodnight, Curly-que. Sleep tight,” Louis said, rubbing circles over the material of the jacket on Harry’s back. Harry gave one last squeeze where his hands were resting at Louis’ sides and forced himself to pull away.

After he unlocked his front door he turned around to give Louis a little wave and Louis called after him, “Dream of me, yeah?”

“That’s a given,” Harry replied with a wink as the heavy door shut behind him. He waved one last time through the glass panel before turning around to climb up to his flat. His insides were setting off so many fireworks he could have powered the building.

Climbing into bed that night, he did think of Louis, probably dreamed of him as well. He could only hope.

Chapter Text

The next month was the simultaneously the most idyllic and the most frustrating time of Louis' life.

He and Harry went on more dates - they were alternating who planned them - and Louis couldn’t believe this was his reality. Harry was amazing. He was everything Louis thought he would be and more.

Before, when they were just messing around writing songs, Louis could tell that Harry was funny, and smart, and creative. But now, he had personal knowledge of just how flirtatious and cheeky he could be. And Harry definitely had it in him to be a cheeky little shit sometimes.

To have this long-standing crush turn into something more was beyond Louis’ wildest expectations, and most days whenever he would see a text from Harry - usually a joke or observation of some kind, or even just to say hello - Louis felt like he was floating on a cloud.

The frustration came from their lack of free time. Mostly, Harry’s lack of free time. The editorial job Harry had been thrown into was incredibly important to him, and he didn’t feel as though he was actually qualified for it. He had explained it to Louis one night over burgers before they went to the cinema. Harry felt like because he wasn’t qualified, he had to work twice as hard to prove himself.

The magazine wasn’t sure they had enough funds to sustain the new fashion branch, so it fell to Harry to make sure it ran perfectly. Which was why the last few weeks had been so frustrating. It was difficult for Louis because he had just gotten a taste of Harry, but they were almost never able to see each other.

Louis was too scared to even remotely broach the subject of defining what they were to each other, so while he wanted it to be much more, he wasn’t sure what Harry wanted.

And there was a little voice in his head reminding him that he had cyberstalked Harry for four years, and there was still the possibility that it might make Harry uncomfortable and all of this would go away. Louis hated to start anything before they really talked about how long he had been infatuated with Harry. He just hadn’t really found the time. He hadn’t exactly gone looking for the time either, but that was beside the point.

Every time they finished their date they would spending long drawn out moments kissing each other deeply, lingering until it was absolutely imperative that one of them go home. But that was it, just kissing.

Harry had just taken Louis to a gallery exhibit opening for one of his model friends. What he had failed to mention, though, was that the exhibit would be full of incredibly beautiful nude portraits that were also extremely erotic.

Louis had been shocked when he walked in to see Harry staring back at him - larger than life - hung up on a wall. The pose was less fully nude than some of the others, but it was still sensual enough to be alluring. Harry’s bare back was to the camera, and he was looking back into the lens over his shoulder under his eyelashes in a come-hither gesture if Louis had ever seen one.

“Erm, Harry?” he squeaked.

Harry’s grip had tightened in his and he had gone bright red instantly. “Oh my God, I did not know he was going to use that one,” he was whisper shouting in Louis’ ear and looking over each of his shoulders before ducking his head a bit.

Louis had been taken by surprise at first, but he couldn’t bear the thought of Harry feeling uncomfortable about his nudity or not recognize how beautiful he looked. “It’s absolutely gorgeous, Curly-que,” he whispered near Harry’s ear, pressing a kiss to Harry’s jaw. Neither he nor Harry was much for over the top public displays of affection, so he kept it brief.

“Yeah?” Harry asked, vulnerability laced in his voice.

“Are you kidding?”

“Lou,” Harry dragged out, swatting at Louis’ arm.

“Every single person in here is going to be fascinated by the subject of this photograph. Very Mona Lisa-esque,” he nodded.

Harry blushed some more but didn’t say anything else, choosing instead to drag Louis deeper into the gallery heading straight for the drinks table.

The fact of the matter was, Louis had seen Harry half naked before in his modeling shoots when he was keeping track of his career in London but it had been a long time since he had really looked at those pictures. Partly he avoided them because it had been awhile since Harry had done editorial work like that, but also because he had the real-life Harry to look at.

Louis hadn’t ever seen real-life Harry with so little clothing on, though. Their post-date activities were relatively chaste, and he totally respected and agreed with Harry’s request to take their relationship a bit slower - he had brought it up first anyway - and to really wait to increase their level of intimacy with each other organically.

But none of that negated the fact that he was standing next to a giant photograph of his sort of, almost, maybe boyfriend’s beautiful soft, silky, naked skin. Which resulted in his eyes continuously trailing back to the compelling black and white image. All while holding his actual sort of, almost, maybe boyfriend’s hand all night.

By the time he walked Harry back to his flat, Louis was a little bit keyed up. The speed with which Harry pushed him against the wall in his building’s foyer indicated that he was as well.

Louis kissed him back with a vengeance, pouring all of his pent-up sexual frustration into their frantic embrace. Harry pulled away and began to nuzzle along Louis’ jaw.

“Fuck, Harry,” Louis ground out, letting his head thunk against the wall behind him. “That picture of you, fuck.”

“Did you like that?” Harry asked, low and deep and dirty.

“Yes,” Louis hissed. He could feel himself harden in his trousers pressed up against where Harry had slotted one of his legs between Louis’ slightly spread thighs. The arousal he felt was overwhelming, and he had to remind himself that this wasn’t what Harry wanted yet. “Harry please,” he panted. “I want what you want. If you’re not ready we need to slow down.”

Harry gave Louis one last lingering kiss to his lips before pressing every inch of their bodies together that could possibly touch, tucking his face into the crook of Louis’ neck.

Louis did his best not to whimper as he felt Harry rub his nose and lips against the sensitive skin there.

“You’re amazing, you know that?” Harry whispered in the stark stillness of the foyer. He leaned in to kiss Louis, but much less frantically this time. Harry still kept his hands bracketed around Louis on the wall behind him, but he subtly lifted his body away from Louis’ leaving a few inches of space between them.

They were still kissing but it was much less hurried and overwhelming, almost like a cool down kiss, if there was such a thing. Their kisses were still intimate and Harry brushed his tongue across Louis’ lips, looking for a way in before Louis parted them and granted it.

Eventually, Harry drew his hands all the way down Louis’ arms until their hands were connected again.

When Louis pulled back for good, Harry’s lips were flushed a bright red and his eyes were glassy. He was still hard in his pants and Louis could see the mouthwatering outline of his cock, but still, he stayed strong.

“You have to go now before I am no longer amazing. Please,” Louis begged exaggeratedly, “Have mercy!”

Harry giggled, “Nah, you would still be amazing.” He pressed a kiss to Louis’ cheek once more before he finally stepped away from him completely and opened the inner door of the foyer.

“Goodnight, Lou.”

“Goodnight, Curly-que. Dream of me?” he asked hopefully, the same way he did every time he said goodbye to Harry at the end of the night.

“Still a given,” Harry winked and ducked inside with a little wave.

 

They carried on like that for another week or so, barely able to see each other, and Louis wasn’t really pouting, he just missed Harry.

He was curled up in the chair where Harry had kissed him for the first time, thinking about how they hadn’t been able to go on a date since last week, and before he could stop himself he had pulled out his phone and was already composing a message.

Louis: Hi

Harry: Hello to what do I owe the pleasure? xx

Louis: Just wanted to say hi

Harry: Hi :) xx

Louis: I love the kisses at the end of your messages

Harry: want to kiss your face xxxxxx

Louis burst out laughing, hooking his feet over the armrest.

Louis: Wanna come over Thursday? It’s been a long time since we’ve done some writing

Harry: yeah love to xx

Harry: can we at least make out a little bit? Xx

Louis: that’s a given ;)

Grinning hard at his ceiling now, Louis shut his phone. Right. Thursday.

 

When Louis went to check his phone during his lunch break on Wednesday he was surprised to see an urgent text from Ed asking if he and Liam were around that night. Louis replied that they were, and Ed said he would bring them some pizza with him for dinner.

Never one to turn down free pizza Louis agreed, despite the alarm bells going off in his head. Ed was a pretty laid back guy so nothing was ever really this urgent or cryptic with him.

All in all it was a strange interaction. Louis had back to back classes for the rest of the afternoon, so he put it out of his mind and went back to photocopying sheet music for his lesson with the older students.

He promptly put it out of his mind until he got home and was staring at his fridge blankly, hoping for some kind of inspiration. His eyes landed on a frozen pizza and he had just lifted it out of the freezer before he remembered that Ed was bringing some with him.

Louis shot Liam a quick text to let him know about Ed and dinner, before picking up his guitar.

For as disappointed as he was that he barely got to see Harry, Louis had been pretty prolific in his songwriting. There was one he had been working on in particular that had images of Harry hanging off of every word, he had no excuse. Harry hadn’t heard the song yet, and he may not understand off the lyrics yet, but Louis hoped that one day he could explain.

He worked his way through the song carefully, recording bits and pieces on his computer, making sure it was absolutely perfect. If he played it for Harry he wanted for it to be completely done first.

When he was about three-quarters of the way through, Liam came home.

“So,” Liam drew out, clicking his breath behind his teeth. “Do you have any idea what this is about?”

“No idea, no. Do you?”

“Nope!” Liam responded too quickly. They had been friends since they were young, and Louis knew when Liam was lying. He could see it in the way Liam wiggled his knee back and forth from his seat on the couch, and the way he wouldn’t quite meet Louis’ eye. The question remained, though, why he was still lying now.

“Okay,” Louis responded skeptically.

“Alright then,” Liam said before he pushed himself back up and headed for the toilet.

Louis kept working until Ed buzzed to get into their flat. Before he could get out of his seat, Liam came flying out of the hallway to go get the door, pressing the button and waiting for Ed to come up.

“Hey mate,” Ed panted, holding two big pizza boxes up in front of himself. Liam took the boxes from him and moved them to the kitchen. “Lou,” Ed nodded.

“Ed,” he replied.

Liam and Ed shot the breeze a bit as they puttered around getting out napkins and opening up the pizza boxes. Louis remained quiet, mostly because he was incredibly suspicious. Everything about the two of them screamed that this was a trap.

He perched himself on a barstool, all while eyeing both of them for as long as he could stand before he needed to know.

“Okay, what’s this about?” Louis blurted out in the middle of their conversation. He would have felt worse about interrupting if he wasn’t so on edge.

Ed sighed and put his slice of pizza down before taking another deep breath. “Lou. Liam.” He nodded to each of them in turn deadly serious as though he was a vicar about to join their hands in marriage. “You know my big show at the Apollo coming up?”

“Yeah,” Louis said as Liam nodded, keeping his mouth firmly shut. Ed was going to be the second opening act for Mumford and Sons for their show at the Apollo and had freaked out about the booking for weeks after he had gotten it.

“It’s obviously a huge deal and is a really big opportunity for me. There was supposed to be an opener and then me, then Mumford and Sons”

“Supposed to be?” Louis cut in.

“Yeah, supposed to be. And that’s where you guys come in.” Ed stopped talking as though that statement had explained everything.

Louis’ gaze swept back and forth between them. Liam had his fake surprised face on, so clearly he had known about this before and they were about to gang up on Louis.

“We can’t open for you!” Louis exclaimed.

“No, not me. Mumford and Sons.” Ed replied.

“That doesn’t make it better!”

Liam continued to stare wide-eyed. So, no help there, then.

“Ed, we’re not performers,” Louis said, trying to reason with him.

Ed waved him off. “Nonsense, you performed just fine the last time you opened for me.”

“That was different!” Louis was getting frantic and could feel his panic rising.

Liam cleared his throat and finally spoke up. “Not really that different, Lou.” Louis stared at Liam, his gaze filled with the heavy weight of pure betrayal.

“Not that-, what do you mean? It’s the Apollo,” Louis replied.

“I know, how great an opportunity!” Liam’s eyes were bright.

All three of them stared at each other; Ed and Liam were both a sick combination of hopeful and excited, and Louis was overwhelmed.

“Though,” Liam said, and Louis could tell from his tone of voice that the performance at the Apollo was just the warm-up. This was the real question, or piece of news, that they were going to spring on him.

“What?” Louis asked, skepticism obvious.

“Well, you remember what we talked about at the end of the last performance?” Liam asked.

“You're going to have to give me more than that,” Louis definitely did not remember. That was the night Harry had been in the audience and had asked him to write songs together. Louis didn’t remember anything else that had happened - it was all a blur.

Liam put his hand on Louis' shoulder and gripped tightly as though he was trying to brace Louis for what he was about to say. “I don’t think I’m right for your songs, Louis.”

“Our songs,” Louis replied automatically. Because they were their songs. He and Liam had written the majority of the songs together.

“Our songs,” Liam consented, “but the truth remains. I don’t think I’m right for them.”

“So you don’t want to perform with me? At the Apollo?” Louis continued to read their faces and jumped to the conclusion on his own. “You want me to perform at the Apollo alone?” Louis cried out, his voice rising. Liam should have known that Louis would never go for that in a million years. Solo stuff, the full spotlight, was not for him.

Ed finally butt in again, “Not exactly.”

“We think you should perform with Harry,” Liam blurt out.

Ed slapped Liam on the shoulder. “Nice going, man. He was supposed to get there on his own.”

Liam looked affronted, “He wasn’t getting there fast enough.”

“You want me to perform with Harry?” Louis asked, breathless. Harry. His gorgeous new sort of, almost, maybe boyfriend who ninety-five percent of Louis' songs were about in the first place. They wanted him to teach Harry the songs, and perform with him.

“Yes,” the two of them replied at the same time.

“Um.” It wasn’t actually the worst idea they had ever had. Harry had stage presence at the very least. Not more or less than Liam, they were probably about equal, but it was definitely a different kind of presence. It might… There was a possibility… It could actually work.

“Come on, Lou. I’ve heard you so many times. Your voices sound amazing together,” Liam pleaded.

“It’s just a little weird. We haven’t even really talked about us yet, as a couple.” Louis paused tossing the thought around in his brain. “But, that doesn’t really mean anything for professional things, I guess.”

Both Liam and Ed nodded in agreement.

“He’s coming over tomorrow. I could maybe ask him then. How long would we have to get everything ready.”

“Three weeks,” Ed replied.

Louis balked and choked up a bit. “That’s not very long.”

Liam shook his head, “No, it’s not, but you already know the music, and Harry can learn.”

“He and I have been working on some new stuff.”

“See?” Ed said, voice bright and hopeful again, “You can do the new stuff.”

“Alright, but if he says no, then Liam has to do the old set with me.” Liam nodded and Louis stuck his hand out; “Shake on it.”

Liam stuck his hand out as well and shook Louis’, but he had a smirk on his face like he knew it was all pointless.

 

Louis had already made the tea - he made it ten minutes early this time, which was stupid because it would be cold by the time Harry got there - but he was so fidgety he couldn’t help it. He needed something to do with his hands.

Harry was late. Harry had never been late. If anything he was always early, and this delay just further set Louis’ teeth on edge. He knew it probably wasn’t Harry’s fault, but he was so nervous and had been for the past twenty-four hours. Louis knew that as soon as Harry arrived his presence would make Louis feel much better, but until then he was cursed with shaky hands and overactive thoughts.

When the buzzer finally went - thirty minutes later - Louis rushed to push the button to let Harry in and ripped the front door open so he could hear Harry’s boots on the wooden stair treads.

Harry’s cute little half bun became visible over the top of the last set of stairs and Louis could tell he was climbing them two by two.

Louis opened his mouth to greet him, but before he could say anything, Harry brought both his hands up to cup Louis’ face bringing their mouths together.

Harry panted hotly into his mouth, short of breath from his climb, and their kisses were erratic and messy but urgent and like a balm to Louis’ soul.

“I missed you-” Harry pressed his lips aimlessly to Louis’ cheekbone, “So much.”

“I missed you too.” Louis slid his hands up from their place on Harry’s hips to rub just under his shoulder blades.

Harry pushed into the kiss, forcing Louis farther into the flat before pressing him up against the wall just opposite the door. He brought one hand down and swung the door shut behind him. Louis could feel the rush of air as the door closed, but only thought about it long enough to register the fact that they had privacy, and Harry was in his flat, and his body was so warm, enveloping Louis’ senses where they stood.

He wanted to drown in Harry, would happily stay in his front entryway for as long as it took for that to happen, but they had a lot to talk about.

Harry sucked on the skin under Louis’ jaw where there would definitely be a mark the next day at school, but he didn’t have it in him to care right now.

“Did you bring your guitar?” Louis asked, confused. The sucking on his skin stopped and Harry pulled back far enough that they could look each other in the eye.

“Erm. No?” Harry replied sheepishly.

“Why not?”

Harry closed his eyes for a second before scrunching his face and opening one eye to look at Louis bashfully, “Because I thought ‘working on songs’ was just a euphemism for me coming over here so we could make out on your couch for the whole afternoon.”

“Oooh.” Louis was the one who felt a bit sheepish now. He pursed his lips to hold in a laugh before he and Harry made eye contact, both letting go and clutching their stomachs because they were laughing so hard.

“Oh my God, Harry.” Louis had finally recovered and was wiping at the corners of his eyes with the back of his hand.

“I’m sorry, I was just really excited about seeing you,” Harry playfully whined.

Louis pulled Harry back in closer to his body by his hips, bringing him down for another kiss pressed together from chest to pelvis. “That’s sweet. But I definitely still want to write with you too. Fifty/fifty?” Louis added with a wink.

“Sounds good. We should maybe get farther than the door, though.”

Louis propelled their bodies away from the wall and led Harry into the living room.

“I’m sorry I was late, Lou. Got held up at work.”

Louis smiled at him, “That’s alright. Tea’s gone cold, but I can make some more.”

Harry nodded and Louis took his time in the kitchen making them some more tea to calm his heart rate and adjust himself in his trousers.

For all their waiting to sleep together, Harry sure did love to work him up on purpose. Louis had never thought he would become so painfully aware of the nuances in the phrase “heavy petting.”

Evening out his breathing, he carried their mugs out to the couch and sat down in his usual chair.

“I actually wanted to talk to you about something,” he began.

“Is everything alright?” Harry asked, his brow furrowed.

Louis paused to smile at Harry, “Yeah, love, everything is fine. I have a proposition for you.”

“Okay,” Harry nodded. He still looked concerned.

“Ed is opening for Mumford and Sons at the Apollo in a few weeks,” he started.

Harry’s eyes lit up, “Right, he said he would get us tickets.”

Louis let out a little humorless laugh. He could do this. It was Harry, he wasn’t scared of Harry. “Right. Well, it may be a little more complicated than that.” When Harry continued to stare at him he pushed on; “See the first opening act has apparently bailed, and this is the last stop on the tour, and Ed was wondering if Liam and I could play for it.”

Harry’s bright expression from before returned and he moved like he was going to vault out of his seat and hug Louis in his excitement as he was wont to do. “Lou!”

“Wait!” Louis cut him off before he could get up, thankful for Harry’s limbs that always took an extra few seconds to respond to what his brain was telling them to do.

Harry froze with his hands and arms outstretched, then let them drop back down to rest in his lap. “Why? What’s wrong?”

“When Ed asked us about it, Liam said he didn’t think he was a good fit with me on the songs, they’re not really his style.” Louis squeezed his eyes shut. “Both Ed and Liam think that you and I should perform together." He rushed the last bit out as fast as he could.

The living room was so quiet, he could have heard a pin drop. He chanced opening one eye to see what Harry’s reaction was. It was… neutral. Harry wasn’t giving away much emotion; he just looked shocked.

“What?” Harry whispered.

“They think it would be a good idea if we performed together. At the Apollo. In three weeks.”

“Holy shit,” Harry said, bringing his hands up to rub his face.

Harry continued to stare off into space, and Louis couldn’t take it anymore. “So, what do you think?”

Harry blinked at Louis like he had forgotten he was there. “You, erm. You keep saying that they think we should do it, but what do you think?” Harry looked nervous like he doubted Louis’ response.

“Aside from the fact that I’m never one hundred percent comfortable with performing? Shit, Harry. I think it would be amazing.” He reached across the empty space between their knees and took Harry’s hand in his. “You’re so talented and your voice is so beautiful, I think it would be fun to at least try, yeah?”

“You think so?”

Louis nodded. “What’s the worst that could happen?” He shrugged. “It doesn’t work in rehearsals and Ed asks another one of his artist friends to take over. We’ve been discussing the logistics and he told me that we were his first choice, but that it’s no pressure.”

Harry gripped Louis’ hand tighter, belying the “no pressure” atmosphere Louis was trying to convey, but Louis just sat there and waited.

Something about the moment felt incredibly monumental. He could practically see the wheels turning in Harry’s mind, but kept quiet. No matter what Harry chose they would both go on with their lives, but performing at the Apollo would certainly be an adventure.

Louis felt a little removed from the situation as he started to think about himself and his own reaction. He wasn’t the most comfortable performing in the first place, but to perform for a crowd like the Apollo that could hold almost four thousand people - he felt like his nerves were still frayed from the tossing and turning he had done about it all night.

If this was what Harry wanted to do, Louis couldn’t deny that they sounded good together even when they weren’t really trying and they were just lounging around writing.

Harry bit his lip and continued to tangle and untangle his fingers with Louis’ as he thought about it, and Louis couldn’t believe his own patience as he sat there waiting for the answer.  If it had been anyone else keeping him waiting for something like this, he would already have been bouncing off the walls, but with Harry, he felt like he could sit there all day waiting and holding Harry’s hand until they reached a decision that they were both comfortable with together.

Warmth and affection flooded his body. He was so lucky to have found Harry - the first time in the crowd four years ago, and again amongst their friends.

Louis studied the waning sunlight as it came in through the window, illuminating Harry’s curls that just brushed his shoulder. He wanted to laugh at himself and how sappy he was being, but he didn’t want to run the risk of interrupting Harry’s thoughts.

Finally, Harry lifted his head and beamed at Louis. “Let’s do it.”

Louis rolled his lips together, trying to contain his smile. “Alright, let’s do it,” he nodded in agreement.

Harry leaped off the couch and through the air again to land precariously on Louis’ lap in the chair. Louis was really going to have to move the coffee table over a foot if Harry insisted on doing that as often as he had been.

Louis laughed as Harry leaned down to pepper kisses all over his face.

“Oh my God, Louis. We’re performing at the Apollo. Can you believe it?” Harry asked, not expecting an answer.

Harry finally landed on his lips, licking into Louis’ mouth quick and dirty.

“Mmph-” Louis giggled into Harry’s kiss. Harry pulled back.

“We’re going to have to figure out rehearsals,” Louis added.

“Yeah, it’s going to be hellish with my work schedule, but we can make it happen. I know we can,” Harry nodded definitively, leaning in to kiss Louis again.

Several minutes later they desperately needed to untangle themselves, and Louis excused himself to his room so he could calm himself down. Harry had this habit of trying to tease and work Louis up as much as possible because he knew how much Louis wanted to be a gentleman and wait until Harry gave him the go ahead.

They had talked about it, and Harry said he would let Louis know when he was ready to take their relationship to the next level. There was one night Harry had felt bad after one of their dates when he was feeling particularly cheeky and had worked Louis up. He was concerned Louis would think he was too much of a tease and get frustrated.

Louis thought his concern was adorable. It was absolutely testing his patience and he might apply for sainthood when his time on this earth was done, but for now, he actually enjoyed it when Harry teased him. Louis was never in any huge rush to have sex with any partner - wasn’t much for one night stands in general. Call him a romantic, but he wanted sex to be special. They also weren’t technically in a relationship. They had talked about sex but still hadn’t put a label on what they were to each other. That always held Louis back a bit anyway.

Anytime he had to back himself off the ledge, he would just remind himself that when they did actually sleep with each other for the first time the build-up would just make it that much more special.

Harry had been skeptical of that idea, despite the fact that he was the one who had been requesting to take it slow, but Louis just kissed his nose and said: “I promise.”

Louis loved to plan out what his and Harry’s first time was going to be like. Harry deserved the world and everything that was soft and pretty like him. Louis had already bought a few candles in scents that he knew Harry liked, and had a florist on standby.

He really was a sap. Another part of it, if he was being honest with himself, was his own guilt. If he and Harry slept together before Harry knew the depths to which Louis had sunk before they knew each other, and just how much Louis had liked him, it almost felt like they would be sleeping together under false pretenses, and Louis would never be able to live with himself.

He wanted to talk to Harry about it, he did. It was just that everything was going so well right now, he was having a tough time picking his moment.

 

Louis and Harry’s small test audience of all of their friends the Monday before the show reacted extremely positively to their set. They hosted everyone in Louis’ flat and Harry had made snacks to serve them while they played because he was unbearably cute. He had also offered to make everyone dinner, and Louis was seriously contemplating proposing right then and there because left to his own devices he would have just ordered a pizza. Harry had never cooked him a meal before, and Louis had no idea Harry was practically a chef.

They had been rehearsing every moment they could possibly get alone over the last few weeks. Liam was about ready to take himself off the lease and move out, he was so sick of listening to the two of them sing. It didn’t help that he already knew most of the set before they started, so he just kept hearing the same songs over and over again.

Ed had helped them enlist a drummer, bassist, an additional guitarist, and a keyboard player, that they had started playing with the week before. They had a little less than a week to get everything perfect with the band.

This preview, though, was just Louis and Harry. Louis was playing guitar, and they were both singing. The band was invited too, and they were lending their ears for the evening to help them decide on a playing order.

Harry and Louis weren’t completely sold on the setlist they had constructed and were hoping their friends would help them move songs around until it flowed properly.

They would be able to play seven songs. It was a little long for a typical first opener’s set, but they were given a set amount of time and a few of the songs were on the shorter side.

Once they were done playing their friends the songs, Harry sat with a notebook open in his lap writing down different combinations of songs until it was perfect.

Niall complained about dinner not being served until after they had perfected it, but Harry had quelled him with one glance and some mention of something that had happened in sixth form. Louis had to remember to ask Harry about that later when they were alone.

Harry finally declared the order to be satisfactory and dismissed everyone. Perrie, Jade, and Ed all joined him in the kitchen so they could help him finish getting dinner ready.

Louis could see Liam head back towards his room and decided to take a chance and follow him.

Louis knocked on Liam’s door. He had come straight in from work and was most likely changing his clothes now that he wasn’t in any danger of missing anything important.

“Who is it?” Liam called. Instead of answering Louis just pushed himself inside. “What the hell, Lou?”

Louis waved him off. “Oh calm down it’s nothing I haven’t ever seen before.”

Liam rolled his eyes and threw a sock at Louis’ head. “What do you want?”

“What did you think?” Louis asked, eager to hear what Liam had to say about his and Ed’s torturous brainchild. Well, it wasn’t torturous to spend time with Harry. But the point remained.

Liam stared at him for a moment before he broke and grinned. “You guys sound great, Lou.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Liam nodded. “What’s with you guys anyway. Are you an item? Or what?”

Louis sighed and flopped down on Liam’s bed. “I don’t know. We haven’t talked about it.”

“Does Harry know how long you’ve had a big fat crush on him?”

“I don’t know. We haven’t talked about it.”

Liam stared at him, heavy with judgment. “What have you talked about?”

Louis couldn’t help the smirk that bloomed on his face when he thought about the conversation they'd had about the teasing.

Liam made a noise of disgust, “Ew. I do not want to know.” He shook his head and left his own room with Louis still sprawled out over the bed.

Not ten seconds after he left, there was a soft knock on the door.

“Yeah?” Louis answered.

“Hey, Lou, you coming to get some dinner?” Harry’s voice got louder as he pushed the door open a crack.

“Of course, Curly-que,” he got up from Liam’s heap of a duvet. “Can’t wait to try your cooking.”

Harry blushed at both the praise and the brief peck on the lips Louis had given him, and Louis attempted to remind himself once again that the build-up would be worth it. Even if he did feel like he was perpetually aroused around Harry these days.

 

They had a few more rehearsals with the band before the show on Saturday night, and they were the first to soundcheck at the venue.

Louis met Harry at the Apollo on the day of the show with all of their equipment. They made their way to the backstage area and the green room they would share with their band.

It was fairly small and sparse, given that they were the low men on the totem pole, but they did have a small couch that Louis immediately spread out on as they waited for their band to arrive.

Sarah and Mitch, the drummer and guitarist respectively, lived together nearby so they would most likely be along any minute if they weren’t there in another part of the venue already. Both the keyboardist Clare and the bassist Adam were unknowns to Louis. They lived farther away, and Adam had a really adorable family that he loved to talk about, but aside from that, he didn’t know much about them.

Offhandedly he wondered if tonight would be the end of their association or if they would get the chance to play together again.

Harry was sprawled on top of Louis on the couch as well, and Louis was absentmindedly humming one of the new songs they had written together.

“You know what this reminds me of, Lou?”

“Hmm?”

“That night that I asked you if you wanted to write songs together.”

Louis kept rubbing his hand up and down Harry’s spine. “Oh yeah, you’re right. The couch is a little nicer here. If smaller than that one.”

Harry giggled into his chest. “I was so nervous about asking you that,” he whispered.

“Really?”

Louis felt more than saw Harry nod. Something about Harry’s confession was weighted, and the air around them felt fragile. He wasn’t sure why, but it finally felt right. They were sitting there in the Apollo, where it all began, about to perform for what may or may not be a once in a lifetime experience. There would never be a better time.

He was going to confess to his own secrets.

Louis took a deep breath and watched Harry’s head on his chest rise and fall with the movement.

He wanted to ease into it. “I was having a panic attack before you came in the room.”

Harry shifted so that his chin was resting on his hands that were laid flat on Louis’ chest. “About what?” he questioned innocently.

Louis smiled before pushing one of Harry’s curls behind his ear because it was his favorite thing to do.

“This is embarrassing, but it was about you.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “Me? But we barely knew each other back then.”

Louis scoffed at his past self. “Yeah, I know. Officially we didn’t.”

“Officially?” Harry tilted his head to the side. Louis cringed. Maybe that wasn’t the best way to approach this.

“How do I say this?” Louis paused and ran his tongue over his arid lips. He was more nervous than he thought he would be. “Do you remember The Script concert here back in 2014?”

The confusion cleared from Harry’s face at the memory. “Yeah, it was amazing. One of the best concerts ever. I was here with Gem-” he cut off as he realized why Louis’ question was so odd.

While his mouth didn’t form the words, Louis could read the question on his face.

“I remember seeing you that night. You probably don’t remember it, but I saw you across the room dancing, and I thought you were the most beautiful person I had ever seen,” Louis smiled softly, reminiscing, and hoping that Harry didn’t think he was a stalker. He wouldn’t blame Harry if he did, he definitely sounded like a stalker. “Later that night we made eye contact, but you rolled your eyes at me and walked away. I remember being disappointed because I was so intrigued by you.”

“I can’t believe you remember that too!” Harry cried.

Louis felt like the breath had been knocked out of him. “What?”

Harry slapped his hands down on Louis’ chest, lifting himself up a bit in his excitement. Louis reached down to grip his sides so he didn’t fall off either Louis or the couch. “I saw you and you looked so gorgeous but I had seen you with a date and then when we made eye contact I thought you might come over to me, which made me think you were a player. That was the eye roll.”

Harry was talking faster than Louis had ever heard him talk before. “Oh my God,” Louis breathed out. “I was going to come over to you. I wanted to talk to you.”

“Weren’t you there with a date though?”

Louis started blushing profusely. He had really hoped to glaze over this part and not tell Harry what he had said that night. But now he knew that the instant attraction had been somewhat mutual, maybe he could.

For his own peace of mind, he pressed his palm over his eyes so he couldn’t see Harry. “I had totally fucked up my date because of you, that was why I was going to actually come talk to you.”

Harry pulled at his forearm to try and get him to meet his gaze again, but Louis would not be deterred. “Why had you fucked it up, Lou?”

“Because of you.”

“Again because of me? You sure do know how to make a girl feel special,” Harry preened exaggeratedly.

Louis giggled, and Harry finally succeeded in pulling his hand away to free his eyes. Louis stared at Harry, laying there, cuddled on top of Louis’ body like he belonged. And he did belong. Louis knew that four years ago, and he knew it now.

To think, Louis was too cowardly to ask if Harry thought they were “boyfriends.” Harry deserved everything, and if Louis was lucky, he would be able to give him everything he would ever want for the rest of his life.

But to get there, Harry deserved the truth. No matter how much it made Louis want to run and hide, shying away from how truly deep his feelings for Harry had gone back then.

Louis gulped. It was now or never. He took one of Harry’s hands in his - another one of his favorite things to do - and rubbed the pad of his thumb over each of Harry’s knuckles then tracing over the cross tattoo on his hand.

“It sounds so cliche when I think about it now, but earlier in the night I had decided I was really going to give music and songwriting a go. I wanted music to be my career. Then, I saw you in the crowd and thought; ‘That’s the boy I want to marry.’”

Harry gasped, but Louis continued to watch where his own thumb played with Harry’s hand. He needed to distract himself if he was going to get all of it out.

“Only it turns out I had actually said that out loud. And the real person I was there on a date with had heard me.”

Louis felt Harry’s chest move, trying to contain his laughter before his attempt backfired and he let out a big snort.

“Oh, Lou,” he said sympathetically.

Harry’s laughter was contagious, and Louis started laughing too. “It wasn’t the best date I’ve ever been on,” he managed to get out.

“I can imagine.”

They both fell silent as the weight of Louis’ confession settled between them. Louis certainly didn’t want to be the first one to say anything.

“So?” Harry asked. “Then what happened?”

When Louis looked up at him his eyes were bright with curiosity, and Louis couldn’t tell if it was his own wishful thinking betraying him, or if Harry actually looked a little misty-eyed.

He cleared his throat while he thought about it. He hadn’t been expecting more questions. “A little while later, Ed was over our flat and I saw you pop up on his Instagram feed.”

“Oh yeah, we knew each other by then.”

Louis nodded. “So I started following you.”

Harry shifted his arm to hold his hand up. “Wait. You didn’t start following me until later.”

Shocked for the second time in as many minutes, Louis gaped at him. “How do you know that?”

It was Harry’s turn to blush. “You, um, I remember when you followed me, and it was definitely after we met.”

“You remember that too? We barely knew each other then.” Louis asked.

“Officially," Harry cut in with a smirk parroting Louis' words back at him. “Of course I remember that. I was very excited.”

When Louis didn’t say anything further, Harry made a rolling motion with his hand. “Keep going! Except the fix the lie about Instagram.”

Louis got a bit tripped up because this part did sound proper stalkerish. “Well. Erm. It wasn’t exactly a lie. I may or may not have followed you from a different account.”

Harry gasped loudly bringing his hand to his chest and miming that he was clutching his pearls. “Lou! How creepy,” he said with a laugh. If he was laughing that was good. Louis was well aware of how creepy it was, and he really hoped Harry understood that it was about Louis' own insecurity, not a desire to prey on Harry in any way.

“God, I know.” He, again, rolled his eyes at his past self. “I liked seeing all of your shoots and stuff. When I followed you for real, I unfollowed you on the fake account. That really does not make it sound any better in hindsight.”

Harry laughed at him again but fell quiet. He looked at Louis with a bit of awe. “You’ve liked me for a really long time.”

It was a statement more than a question, but Louis nodded in response anyway. He lifted his hand up to play with the bottom of one of Harry’s curls.

They both remained quiet for a few moments. Louis wanted to give Harry time to process what he had told him.

“I called you Blue Eyes,” Harry said, disturbing the silence.

“What?”

“In my head. I called you Blue Eyes after that night here at The Script concert. I used to see you around town everywhere and I didn’t know your name so I would refer to you as Blue Eyes.”

That really sounded like Harry had been aware of Louis all this time. The same amount of time that Louis had been aware of him.

Louis probably should have understood that when Harry first admitted to remembering their brief moment of eye contact at the concert, but for some reason, he hadn’t connected the two until now.

“Almost two years ago, now, when I first got together with Thomas, we were in the back of a cab and Ed was talking to him about the tour you and Liam had done of the Premier League stadiums.”

“You know about that too?” Louis asked, incredulous.

Harry lifted his forefinger to his lips, “Shh, it’s my turn now.”

Louis clamped his mouth shut and rolled his lips in so Harry could tell he was serious about listening.

“While Ed was explaining the logistics of it he brought up a picture of you guys on Instagram, and I was shocked. I had to act so calm and cool and collected in a taxi with Niall, Ed, and Thomas. I had to pretend I wasn’t madly attracted to you while sitting next to my boyfriend.”

To hear Harry so casually refer to someone else as his boyfriend, when Louis still didn’t know if Harry wanted to refer to him that way was a little painful, and he made a stifled noise of protest.

“Ex-boyfriend. Sorry. Definitely ex,” Harry clarified. “Anyway, I asked what your name was, Ed told me, and that was that. I looked at your feed every few months or so. The main reason I stayed away from you all that time before we actually met and I was seeing you around town was because I was so completely convinced that you were some super charming player who was a toxic relationship waiting to happen.”

Louis raised his eyebrows but remained diligently silent.

“Look where that got me, huh?” Harry said softly but with a smile that was just for Louis.

“Yeah, look where it got you,” Louis replied.

Harry surged forward so he could kiss Louis. The kiss was brief and it wasn’t any deeper, or any more intimate than any of their kisses had been before, but it felt a million times better.

Louis didn’t realize quite how heavy the weight of his secret - of their shared secret - was until he was rid of it. Maybe he had just gotten used to carrying it around with him over the years but now he didn’t have to anymore.

“I can’t believe. All this time.” Harry kissed him again.

“I was so embarrassing. Liam had been hearing about you for years before you even came over to the flat.”

“Poor Liam,” Harry mumbled into Louis’ mouth.

In for a penny, Louis thought. “He was the one who taught me to set up a Getty image alert for your modeling shoots. He already had one set up for Zayn, then you guys showed up in a shoot together and he caught me looking at the picture.”

Harry almost toppled over in a torrent of giggles. “That’s hilarious. I can’t believe you capitalized on your best friend’s horrendous crush on Zayn.”

“I can’t believe you thought I was sleeping with Zayn,” Louis replied.

“Shut up!” Harry swatted his chest.

“I will not!” Louis cried.

Harry went back to kissing Louis to get him to be quiet, so they were in a rather compromising position - Harry draped across Louis still, and Louis with his hands on the soft skin of Harry’s lower back under his t-shirt - when Adam and Clare walked into the green room.

“Whoops,” Clare hiccuped when she first saw them.

Louis eased away from Harry before dropping his head back onto the cushion against the arm of the couch.

“Business time,” Louis whispered for Harry’s ears only.

Harry nodded. “Let’s go.” He moved to get up, but Louis held fast.

“You, uh- You can’t get up yet.” Louis pointed out, sheepishly.

Harry devilishly shifted his own hard cock, trapped behind the zip of his own jeans, down onto Louis’ making the problem even worse.

“Stop it,” Louis ground out between his teeth.

Harry did stop, but he winked at Louis before he lifted his body off the couch, and didn’t bother to hide his own problem as he kept his back to the room so only Louis could see him.

Neither one of them was making their predicaments any better.

 

They went out for their soundcheck and Louis swallowed the lump in his throat as he looked out at the empty pit and chairs up in the low hanging balcony that led all the way up to the ceiling. There were nosebleed seats. People would be listening to him from nosebleed seats.

He started hyperventilating before he even realized what was wrong.

Harry came up behind him and smoothed a hand over his shoulder. “Can you believe?” he asked.

Louis shook his head. They put down the few rugs that Niall had found in someone’s basement, and set their equipment up on top of them.

It seemed like a lot for a first opening act, but it was amazing to hear his songs as he imagined them, played by an entire band. Because of what they were getting paid for the gig, and the fact that they were also paying a few musicians, they would pretty much break even on the night, and that was completely fine with Louis.

Neither he nor Harry was doing this for the money. Maybe one day they would, but tonight was about the experience of playing in front of a large audience with a real band. 

Once they were completely sound checked they left their equipment on stage for the experts to deal with, testing out the transition between their set and Ed’s.

Before they went back on stage for the actual show itself, they sat around the greenroom joking with the band and hanging out. It was a cramped space, so there wasn’t any room for Louis to work off the excess energy he could feel building under his skin.

He could think of one way, but even if Harry was willing Louis definitely did not want his and Harry’s first time to be in a janitor’s closet. Louis’ hand clenched involuntarily where it rested on Harry’s shoulder if he thought about it too much.

When he felt the squeeze, Harry leaned his head on Louis’ shoulder, getting comfortable. Or, at least Louis thought he was getting comfortable.

Instead, Harry tilted his head back up so that he was nuzzling in the crook of Louis’ neck.

“Zayn is in town for the show,” Harry murmured so only Louis could hear him.

“Are you sure?” Louis whispered back, “Liam hadn’t said anything about him staying over.”

“They’re going home to Bradford for the weekend,” Harry pressed his lips against Louis’ skin, making Louis shiver with arousal. It was distracting him enough that his brain didn’t immediately connect what Harry was saying.

“Mm,” Louis replied. Sarah and Clare laughed at something Mitch said, and life continued on outside the bubble he and Harry had made for themselves.

“I may have strongly suggested that they find other accommodations for this weekend,” Harry continued. Louis had no idea how Harry could sound so sexy using such nerdy words like “accommodations” while he nipped at the sensitive skin along Louis’ neck.

Harry’s phrase finally settled on his consciousness and his heart skipped a beat. And then another.

“Um,” he drew the hum of the “m” out because he was so shocked, he didn’t know what to say.

Harry darted his tongue out to lick at the little spot where Louis’ ear met the end of his jaw and it was the most subtle, yet blatantly sexual thing that Harry had ever done.

“Take me home tonight?” Harry asked, his voice barely audible.

Louis stifled a moan and nodded; there was no way he was capable of speech, and they hadn’t even been on stage yet. He had no idea how he was going to get through their set.

 

After their revelations from earlier in the evening, Louis wasn’t sure how the set would go. Technically speaking, he knew they would be fine. He would play the guitar, and both he and Harry would sing, but he wondered if Harry would really listen to the lyrics.

There were some songs that could be about anyone, but now that Harry knew how long Louis had harbored such a giant crush on him, Louis thought he might understand where some of the lyrics had come from.

They got out on stage and played their first song - one called “Villains” that they had written a few months ago - to open the set. The pace of it was upbeat and fun, and they both sang the majority of it together which gave the audience a good idea of what they were about right off the bat.

When they finished the song, Harry introduced the two of them by name, and they continued on with the set. The other songs were a range of different emotions that had been helpfully picked out by their friends the week before.

Harry did most of the talking, and Louis couldn’t help but look on in fondness. He would ramble a bit in the cutest way possible with his deep drawl, but for the most part, it felt like everything on stage was happening in the blink of an eye.

It was finally time for their last song, a favorite of Louis’ called “A Million Years.” It was the song Louis had been working on right before Ed had come over to tell him about this gig (he was getting it ready for Harry to hear the next day) and it felt fitting that he and Harry would sing it for their finale.

Harry introduced it and first but Louis decided to throw caution to the wind. He stepped closer to his microphone; “This is a particularly special one for me. I wrote it a few weeks ago based on some recent changes in my life.”

The audience went crazy like they could sense Harry's surprise. Louis purposefully avoided looking at Harry as he nodded to Sarah on the drums and they started to play. Harry had the first line, and Louis could feel his gaze boring into the side of his head. Resisting the overwhelming urge to look at him, Louis remained facing head on towards the audience or looking down at his guitar.

Harry started to sing.

In a million years, tell me, will they think about us, dear?

Tell me will the stars keep shining even when our bodies disappear?

Louis got ready to start harmonizing with him lightly.

In a million years, tell me, will they hear about us, dear?

Will any of these sparks we light, catch a flame and burn through time?

Harry looked a bit puzzled still, but no one aside from Louis would probably notice. Louis knew Harry would understand when they started the next section.

The first line of it built dramatically leading to what Louis had really wanted to say.

You are my story, my fame, and my glory, heaven unfolding…

You're all I ever wanted, Oo oo oo ooooo

When they hit the staccato “Oo” section, Louis saw the realization dawn across Harry’s face. His eyes widened and he turned his whole body towards Louis. Louis shifted his own positioning to face him and gave him a little wink.

All I ever wanted, Oo oo oo ooooo

All I ever wanted, Oo oo oo ooooo

Is you

Harry’s smile got wider as he continued to sing. At this point, Louis could tell that even though the song sounded like Harry was the narrator, Harry knew the lyrics were from Louis to him.

So darlin’ if they say -shh- don’t listen,

And if you hear me say -shh- don’t listen.

We gotta keep repeating, keep the feeling,

From the moment when you first stole my heart

Louis started to feel himself getting a bit choked up thinking about the fact that the moment he was describing in the song had happened right in that very room.

Fate had a funny way of working out sometimes.

The rest of the song echoed the same sentiment. It was bouncy and engaging; a great way to finish their set and leave the audience wanting more.

Harry grasped Louis’ hand when they took a bow and squeezed it tight, sending him a loaded glance. Louis winked again and didn’t let go.

Chapter Text

Harry lost Louis somewhere backstage. Ed was about halfway through his set, Harry had been given something fizzy in a plastic cup that he thought was supposed to be champagne - he wasn’t sure, but Mitch had given it to him so he drank it anyway.

He limited himself to a few sips because he definitely wanted to remain sober for later, but he also probably should have eaten something. As it was he hadn’t eaten all day because he was so nervous about performing.

Their set had been… perfect. Beyond perfect. He had never performed like that before in his life. And Louis with those beautiful lyrics. Logically, Harry should have guessed that some of Louis’ songs were about him, but he hadn’t really thought about it too much.

To spring that on him in the middle of the performance, that line about being all Louis ever wanted. Harry had sung the song a million times over the past few weeks in rehearsals but he had never felt so connected to it. He giggled to himself at the idea of singing “A Million Years” a million times.

His mum and Gemma were talking about the set and things they had heard the audience saying between songs. Gemma said she watched one girl try to Google them, and was disappointed when nothing came up.

Harry had explained to the audience at one point that they didn’t have an album or anything and the crowd had made a cute “Boo” noise. The good kind of “boo,” not the bad kind of “boo.” Harry giggled again.

“Are you alright?” Gemma asked him. “Do I need to take your champagne away?”

So it was supposed to be champagne. Harry shook his head. “Nope, I’m fine. Just coming down off the adrenaline high.”

His mum laughed at that and draped her arm across his shoulder. “I’m so proud of you, love.”

The boys had opened up the door between their own small green room, and Ed’s only slightly larger green room so that they had a bit more space to move around. Louis was probably in there, Harry thought absently, as he heard some chatter that sounded like it could be Louis’ teenaged twin sisters.

Just as the thought crossed his mind, Louis came through the adjoining door with a man in a casual - yet pressed - button down and jeans. He only searched for a moment before his gaze landed on Harry, and Harry did his best to convey, “You need to get me out of here. Right now, ” but Louis didn't seem to understand the signal.

Harry had been so excited when Liam and Zayn agreed to go somewhere else for the weekend. He was finally going to get his hands on Louis. For real this time. No more stopping. No more Louis excusing himself to his room to adjust. Harry was going to touch, lick, everything, and he was ready.

When Louis reached Harry, he smoothed his hand down the expanse of Harry’s back, and Harry could feel it spread warmth over his muscles there. “Harry, this is Chris,” Louis nodded to the man he had brought with him.

“Hi, Harry, nice to meet you.” The man smiled at him and shook his hand. He was fine, but he wasn’t Louis and right now that was what Harry wanted.

“Hello,” he replied warily.

“Chris wouldn’t tell me what he wanted to say without you here as well,” Louis explained.

“Ah,” Harry nodded.

“I’ll be quick about it, I promise. The two of you mentioned that you hadn’t recorded anything and I would like to help you do that,” Chris said with finality. “I work for Capitol UK and I would be really interested in having you come into the offices to play for some of my colleagues.”

He handed them two very official looking business cards, embossed with his name and Capitol UK’s logo.

Harry was stunned. His and Louis’ eyes met, but he could tell Louis wasn’t sure what to say either. It was a lot to take in, and tonight had already been an incredible rollercoaster. Harry was quickly approaching overstimulation.

“Thank you so much for the offer,” Louis began. “Is it alright if we call you on Monday? Take the weekend and talk about it?”

Chris looked mollified and nodded. “Of course. Do you have more than seven songs?”

Louis cleared his throat. “Uh, yes. We do.”

Chris beamed at them again, “Wonderful. Call me on Monday, we’ll set something up.”

He said goodbye to them and made his way out of the cramped green room. Both Harry and Louis stared at his back as he left.

“Wow,” Harry said.

“Yeah, wow,” Louis replied.

Harry’s mind began to spin around the idea of studios and contracts and his thoughts were beginning to get a bit overwhelming. Chris seemed really positive about their chances, but he also knew that in this business, nothing was a given.

“Lou, would it be okay-this is just a lot to take in. Can we maybe talk about this tomorrow?”

“Oh thank God,” Louis exclaimed before he pulled Harry in for a quick kiss hidden off to the side as they were. “That’s too much to think about right now,” he added, pulling away.

Harry leaned back against the wall as flirtatiously as he could manage and reached his hand up to hook a finger into one of Louis’ belt loops. “I hate to nag, but are you done yet? Can we get out of here?”

Louis kissed him briefly, “Fuck, yes. Please.” Most of the equipment, aside from Louis’ guitar, was from Niall or Mitch, so they didn’t have to worry about packing up their stuff.

“Lou!” A woman - who looked suspiciously like Louis - called from across the room just as Harry’s own mother and sister sidled up next to them.

Harry practically growled in Louis’ ear out of frustration.

Louis reached his hand up to the nape of Harry’s neck, threaded his fingers into Harry’s hair and gave the curls there a little tug. “A few more minutes, Curly-que. I promise,” he whispered.

They did the best they could to introduce their families to each other in the cramped space, but Harry was antsy and he was sure Louis could feel it too. Between the two of them they practically vibrated with energy, thankfully their families seemed to have written it off as excess energy from the show. That they all kept insisting on talking about. Over and over again.

Harry couldn’t deny that he quite liked being fawned over under normal circumstances, but these were not normal circumstances. They needed to get back to Louis’ flat.

Louis reached down and joined their hands together, giving Harry’s hand a light squeeze, and Harry understood. They could do this. They could get through the next half an hour or so before they would be able to escape.

Even if their families weren’t there, Ed would be coming off the stage soon at the end of his own set, and they really should stay to thank him for giving them this opportunity.

And possibly a recording contract. Holy shit. Harry blanched as he allowed that thought to sink in well after the fact. He had never thought about the possibility that they would actually be “discovered” after one gig. Once again his head began to spin.

There was a reason he had asked Louis if they could avoid talking about it for the time being, so he reminded himself to put those thoughts aside for now.

He needed to distract himself. Louis was carrying on a conversation with both of their mothers at the same time, and Harry shifted his body so he could watch him talk to them, and possibly rejoin their conversation.

Harry watched as the muscles in Louis jaw worked as he listened and replied. The stubble that dusted across his jawline was the perfect length. Louis had mentioned wanting to shave for the show and Harry had vehemently protested, trying to convince Louis that it was because the stubble made him look older and more distinguished.

Harry hadn’t lied to Louis per se, but he also had been planning on staying at Louis’ flat this weekend and was - rather selfishly - looking forward to feeling the stubble graze over his skin later.

Plus, the beard really did make Louis look older and more distinguished.

Before the show, when they were just lying around, Louis had left his fringe soft, but after Harry had changed, he walked in to see Louis teasing his hair up and off his face into a quiff.  Harry had never seen Louis with his hair up like that before and a little warning would have been nice.

His whole face looked slimmer and more angular; his jaw, that Harry already loved, was striking, and his eyes were the most vibrant blue.

Watching Louis dart his eyes back and forth between their mothers as he spoke to them made Harry think about when he used to call Louis "Blue Eyes" in his mind, and how he couldn’t believe that Louis finally knew about it.

Their conversation this afternoon had been amazing. To learn that Louis had been aware of Harry for just as long as Harry had been aware of him was astonishing. Never in Harry’s wildest dreams did he imagine that Louis would feel the same way about him; that Louis harbored an equal, if not deeper, crush on him.

It was adorable and flattering and Harry was on cloud nine. He didn’t think anyone, besides his mum and step-dad, had been following his modeling career, but here Louis was saying he had an alert set up for pictures of him. His confession had changed Harry’s perspective of his modeling jobs a bit if he was honest, made him try to think back to the more risque ones he had done.

Harry should probably tell Louis about the time he tried to get one of his friends to ask Louis out based on his picture alone. Given everything Louis had confessed to him that afternoon, Louis would probably find it hilarious.

Their small group drew him into their conversation every few minutes or so, but for the most part, Harry sat back a bit and watched them all interact; Louis with both of their mothers.

Relationship-wise, it was too early for them to both be "meeting the family," but they couldn’t exactly keep their families away from each other backstage. At least their mothers didn’t really know that they were together yet so there wasn’t an added level of awkwardness.

“So, how long has this been going on, then?” Louis mother asked, pointing between the two of them.

Louis faltered. “Erm. What do you mean?”

His own mother and Jay shared a look before Jay asked again. “How long have the two of you been dating and not telling us?” she asked, as though they had been hiding the secret from both of them as a collective maternal unit, as though both mums hadn't just met for the first time that day.

“Mum,” Louis protested.

Jay held up her hands. “Alright, I get it. I’ll stop prying.” The look she sent Louis, though, implied that she would only stop prying now so that she could continue prying later. Harry would have found it equal parts funny and adorable if he hadn't been the subject of the prying questions.

Harry was getting antsy again. He shifted his weight so that he was casually leaning against the wall and could hide his right shoulder and arm behind Louis’ body. He reached his hand up under the hem of Louis’ t-shirt and gave the waistband of his jeans a quick tug.

Louis, for all his inability to be smooth earlier, didn’t visibly react this time but did shift his own weight so that he put equal pressure back onto Harry’s hand.

 

Twenty minutes later, they were finally packing up Louis’ guitar. They made it as far as the stage door hallway before Harry couldn’t take it anymore. He pushed Louis up against the wall and kissed him roughly.

Louis made a small noise of surprise before he diligently returned everything Harry gave to him. They heard a noise farther down the hallway, so Harry began to pull back a bit. They absolutely needed to stop teasing each other, but Harry found that he couldn’t stop touching Louis. Unfortunately, any physical contact at that point was enough to set both of them on edge and enough to be considered teasing.

“Harry,” Louis begged, “We need to get to the car.”

Harry nodded and took a giant step back, his back running into the other painted cinderblock wall of the cramped hallway. “Let’s go.”

As they continued down the corridor, Harry smiled and nodded to the security guard. The man's look was knowing enough that Harry realized there must have been a security camera on them the whole time. Oh, well, he shrugged.

Louis unlocked his car and put his guitar in the back seat. Harry was feeling reckless and he smirked to himself as he climbed into the passenger seat when he thought about how he wanted to pass his time on the drive home. They were both quiet as Louis put the car in drive and pulled out of the small private car park behind the Apollo.

Just as Harry was ready to set his plan in motion, his phone buzzed in his pocket.

Niall: GET IT

Harry: Shut up

Niall: Coming home tonight?

Harry: ...No

Niall: GET IT

Harry rolled his eyes and pocketed his phone.

“Something wrong?” Louis asked, disrupting the quiet.

“Erm, no. Just Niall,” he replied, suddenly nervous. Harry had a grand plan to tease Louis in the car on the way to his flat, but now that they were forcibly separated in their separate seats, something stopped him. Once the haze of urgency he felt inside had lifted a bit, he realized that this - what they were about to do - was a huge step.

There was a reason he had wanted to wait. He and Louis were special together, and Harry wanted them both to be in it for the long haul.

 

They arrived at Louis’ flat and climbed up the stairs. It took Harry a moment to understand that the process felt odd because he normally arrived at Louis’ flat by himself. Even if it was for a session or for a date, Louis was usually already home. Louis also liked to be the one to walk Harry home after a date, so they always ended their nights in his foyer.

Louis held his guitar in one hand, and Harry's hand in the other. That small point of contact was comforting. He had to drop Harry’s hand to unlock his front door, but when he pushed the door open, he rushed to put his guitar down so that he could double back and help Harry with his coat. They both toed their shoes off and placed them in the ever-present pile by the door.

Neither one of them had said anything since the car.

When Louis was done hanging up both of their jackets, he walked towards the kitchen. Harry followed. The atmosphere was... weird. Harry had expected more of a desperate rush to pull off their clothes and hop right in bed, but Louis wasn't displaying that urgency and it had abated in Harry as well.

“Tea?” Louis’ voice interrupted Harry’s thoughts. It was hoarse from performing and sounded out of place in the stillness of the dimly lit kitchen.

“Yeah,” Harry nodded.

But as soon as Louis filled up the electric kettle and went to turn it on, he stopped and set it back down on the counter, pivoting to face Harry.

“This is weird,” he said plainly.

Harry let the tension fall out of his body. “So weird,” he agreed.

Louis hummed for a moment, considering. “Why do you think?” 

“Maybe we let it build too much?” Harry replied, cheekily.

Louis scoffed playfully, the sound echoing off the walls. “Maybe,” he replied through a wry smile. He studied Harry for another few heartbeats. “Let’s take it one step at a time, yeah?”

Harry nodded eagerly while Louis moved into his space, reaching his hand up to thread his fingers in Harry’s hair, the way he always did when they kissed.

As Louis gently pressed his lips to his, Harry's mind went blank. This. Louis. His taste, his smell, the comforting way he held Harry like he was the most precious thing on earth, this was all familiar. Harry felt more than heard the whimper in the back of his own throat as he drew even closer to Louis.

Louis’ mouth was pliant under Harry’s as he let Harry take the lead. Through the simple act of kissing, Harry could feel that Louis was trying to gauge and make sure that he was completely comfortable with everything that was happening.

Harry’s heart lifted in his chest, and he made the conscious decision to get a little bit more aggressive, pressing against Louis’ body until he was caging him in up against the refrigerator.

As wonderful as Louis’ mouth was, Harry had tasted it enough times before that he thought he might be able to take a break for a moment. He trailed kisses through Louis' beard, down his neck, and over his Adam's apple until he could only taste the natural tang of his skin. They hadn’t showered or anything after their set, so he smelled like Louis and it was intoxicating.

Harry wedged his thigh between Louis’ legs as he sucked deeply on the skin of his collarbone above his tattoo, drawing Louis’ taste off the top layer of his skin.

“Jesus, Curly-que,” Louis breathed. Harry ignored him, content to stay there nibbling with only Louis for nourishment. He should really consider the possibility that he was a vampire in a past life.

Louis pushed their intertwined bodies until it was Harry’s turn to be pressed against the fridge. He had flipped them roughly enough that they knocked a few of the fridge magnets off, then he gripped Harry’s jaw bringing their mouths together again.

Instead of kissing Harry, though, Louis teased him, pulling his bottom lip between his front teeth and tugging.

Harry huffed giddily into Louis' mouth as he came back to soothe the ache he had just created.

Panting heavily, Louis scraped the fly of his jeans against Harry’s where his cock was quickly hardening.

Harry’s head thunked against the fridge dislodging more magnets. “Lou,” he groaned.

“Do you want to move?”

Harry heard what Louis said, but it didn’t quite process. He must have looked like a knob standing there staring at him, blinking a few times as he tried to get his thoughts together. Move. Bedroom. Louis’ bed.

Louis was patient with him though, always mindful of his wants and needs. “Yeah, let’s go,” Harry rasped.

A split second later, Louis grabbed his hand and started pulling Harry towards the only part of their flat Harry had never been to before.

As he trailed behind Louis he watched the little patch of skin, low on his neck, that he had tasted before where a bruise was beginning to bloom. There was a matching spot on the other side that he hadn’t explored... yet.

Before he could overthink it, he reached his free hand out to grab onto Louis’ hips and pull him back into his body, latching his mouth onto the untouched portion of tan skin he had been admiring.

Louis curled in on himself a bit in shock before laughing. “Curly-que, this is what we call ‘lack of forward motion.’”

Harry lifted his head up for a breather, “Don’t care.”

He did his best to keep their bodies pressed together - awkwardly moving as one - as Louis dragged him down the hall.

“Would you like a tour?” Louis asked him, breathlessly, leaning into his touch and pulling away at the same time. When Harry didn’t answer, Louis continued. “This is the hallway,” he reached one hand up like he was presenting the plain beige walls on a real, formal tour.

“It’s lovely,” Harry mumbled.

“That’s Liam’s room,” Louis pointed to a closed door as they passed it. “And this is my room,” he finished with a flourish standing in front of the last door at the end of the hall.

“Mmm,” Harry hummed into Louis’ ear, “What happens in there?”

Louis turned so that his back was against the door and leaned up to give Harry a brief peck on the lips. “I’m not sure, what does happen in there?” he asked, watching Harry carefully.

He was being a gentleman again, Harry thought. He squeezed his eyes shut and leaned their foreheads together.

“You’re amazing, you know that?” Harry whispered. They met in another kiss, not able to separate for very long. “Want you inside me. That okay?” he pressed their hard cocks together again, trying to convey just how desperate he was getting.

Louis sucked in a breath. “Yeah, yes, good.”

“Yeah, yes, good.” Harry imitated him mockingly.

“Alright, alright,” Louis scoffed. “Get inside.”

Harry couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face. “Yes, Sir,” he said exaggeratedly.

Louis turned the knob and held the door open for Harry, giving him a little swat on the bum for his cheekiness. The slight sting sent a little thrill through Harry. Louis shut the door behind them, and they fell into each other, picking up where they left off easily this time.

 

We found love in a stormy sky

Never needed no reason why

Danger always was a friend of mine

 

When two hearts on fire collide

Call the preacher when the sparks will fly

You and me burning up the night...

 

Now that they were fully locked away from the world, it felt like Louis’ bedroom was a completely different dimension.

Gone was the adrenaline from the show, gone was the pressure of the future, the uncertainty of the past. Gone was the creativity of the living room, the awkwardness of the kitchen, or the playfulness of the hallway.

Louis licked into Harry’s mouth softly, gently, and Harry could tell that he was treating him with kid gloves. It was almost sickeningly sweet, and Harry wanted to bottle that feeling up to pull out and savor on bad days.

He felt cherished and like he was being seen for exactly what he was. The sensation was one that Harry didn’t quite understand because he had never felt it before. It wasn’t until this moment when he didn’t have a single guard up that he realized the barriers he had put between himself and people he had slept with in the past.

Louis began backing Harry up towards the bed, bringing his hands up to cautiously draw down the front placket of Harry’s shirt. He finally reached a button, and with one little crook of his finger, the plastic had slipped out of place. Tease that he was, instead of undoing the rest of the buttons, Louis slipped his hand inside the fabric and laid it flat over Harry’s ribs.

Harry gasped into the kiss as he felt Louis’ thumb creep up and catch the side of his nail gently on Harry's nipple. And then again. The little touches were fleeting but his rhythm was insistent as they continued to kiss.

This time was different, though. There was no need to stop and take a breath, no need to rein themselves in, no need to keep part of himself hidden away, no need to rush.

Louis especially seemed to be reveling in the lack of haste. They had spent long stretches of time kissing before, but there was also no endgame before. Now, Harry wanted to feel Louis inside of him, and he wasn’t going to let anything slow him down, least of all Louis.

He lifted his hands and brought them up to his own shirt front, undoing his other two buttons.

Louis must have felt the fabric give way even more because he let go of Harry to push the shirt off of Harry’s shoulders. The soft silk fell away, but the warmth of Louis’ palms immediately replaced it as he did his best to touch as much of Harry’s bare skin as possible.

It felt amazing to have Louis’ hands on him after waiting for so long, but he needed to keep them on track. He was on a mission. Pushing away from Louis momentarily, he reached for the hem of Louis’ t-shirt and pulled it swiftly over his head.

  

 

Tell me where we're gonna plant these seeds

I come climbing up your apple tree

Can you take me to your garden, please

 

I always said I was a rolling stone 

You're tearing down every wall I've known

March me round like Jericho...

 

They came back together forcefully, magnetically, pressing skin to skin. Yes. That was it, Harry thought.

Louis dragged his hand down Harry’s back until he hit the top of his jeans. His fingers dipped under the edge of Harry’s waistband, and Louis brushed, as much as he could in the tight denim, across the hidden skin of his bum. So close.

Harry pulled back, breathing heavily, and undid the button on his jeans.

“No wait,” Louis whispered. He pushed at Harry’s shoulder backing him up the rest of the way until the backs of his knees hit the bed.

Louis reached down and began the process of peeling Harry’s jeans and pants off all in one go. It was not an easy feat, and they ended up having to stop halfway through so that Louis could get the jeans first and then the pants, laughing all the while.

The moment had been ruined a bit again, but it was back with a vengeance as soon as Louis reached a hand out to palm at Harry’s cock. Harry’s head dropped back and he moaned as Louis drew his hand around him in a loose fist. It was tight enough that Harry could feel like he was surrounded, but not so tight that it provided any sort of relief at all.

“Want to taste you,” Louis said.

Like tides to the shore, I'm always back for more 

We are, we are, Oh, we are! 

 

You and I, we're fire and water

You and I, we're rain and thunder 

You and I, there is no other, you and I

 

Harry nodded and leaned in to mouth at Louis jaw for a moment until Louis brought both hands up to his shoulders and pressed down, forcing him to sit on the very edge of the mattress.

As Louis began to kneel down, he dragged his hands on parallel paths down Harry’s torso, tracing over the birds inked under his collarbone, around the butterfly on his abs, then again over the two laurel leaves on his pelvis. He avoided Harry’s cock, choosing instead to continue the line all the way down Harry’s legs until he had reached his ankles.

Louis curved a hand over the arch of each foot, spaced far enough apart that he could easily sit between them, and pressed down, looking up at Harry from underneath his long eyelashes. “Stay,” Louis breathed, mouth close enough to his cock that Harry could feel the air change around it.

As casually as could be, Louis laid his forearms across the very tops of Harry’s thighs. He didn’t wrap his hands around Harry just yet, content to just sit there and flick his gaze back and forth between Harry and his cock. Harry felt like he was on a razor’s edge waiting. Anticipating.

Finally, Louis reached his tongue out and licked, with the barest of touches, across the top of Harry’s slit. That little contact after so much anticipation made Harry feel almost overstimulated. How Louis managed that, Harry wasn’t sure.

Louis stopped teasing and took Harry as far down his throat as he could in one go, wrapping his hand around the base of Harry’s cock as well. Harry threw his head back and moaned.

Once he got control of himself again, Harry reached down to curl his hand into Louis’ hair but he held himself back so that he didn’t put any pressure on Louis’ head. He was just desperate to feel connected to Louis in some way, he needed to feel tethered.

Louis used his lips and tongue to nibble and tantalize around Harry’s shaft, testing his patience. Eventually, Harry released his grip on Louis’ hair in order to grasp for purchase on his bare shoulders and pull him back up off his knees. Louis let himself be moved, taking over and pushing Harry back until they were both sprawled across the bed.

Knowing hands reached for the bedside table as he pulled out the lube and a condom and threw them down next to Harry, all without letting his other hand leave Harry’s skin.

Impatient, Harry reached for the lube himself and began to slick his own fingers up, unable to keep his hands from roaming down to his rim and teasing himself a bit. Louis growled in protest which was mind-numbingly hot, but Harry ignored him, breaching his rim with a single digit. He worked quickly trying to open himself up, graduating from one finger to two more quickly than Louis would have, the gentleman that he was.

“Curly-que,” Louis’ voice broke. “Let me help, please.” His hands were firmly planted on Harry’s thighs, holding them open for him. The look on his face was one of pure awe.

Harry whimpered in protest as he couldn’t quite manage to reach his prostate. “I have been waiting,” Harry panted, “Months. No, years for this Louis Tomlinson. You were going to take too long.”

Louis choked out a laugh and leaned down to place more kisses up and down Harry’s shaft before gripping his own cock in one hand, squeezing at the base.

Recognizing the stalling tactic for what it was, Harry decided to try a new way of riling Louis up. He blinked up at him, purposefully widening his eyes, and allowing his inner vixen to take over.

“Do you like watching me touch myself, Lou?” he asked, fluttering his eyelashes and bringing a hand up to pinch one of his own nipples between his thumb and forefinger.

Louis stared at him dumbly for a moment, frozen in time, before he grasped Harry’s wrist, and eased the fingers out of him. As soon as his fingers were clear, Harry felt his rim clench involuntarily. The grip on his wrist tightened as Louis surged up and dragged his arm with him until that same wrist was pressed against the mattress above Harry’s head.

Using the same pressure he had on Harry’s ankles before, Louis grunted out the same simple directive; “Stay.”

“Yes, Sir,” Harry did his best to purr out much more seriously this time.

When earlier he had been met with teasing and joking in response, this time Louis only swallowed deep in the back of his throat and sealed their mouths together with a bruising kiss.

“You’re going to be the death of me,” Louis whispered.

He reached blindly with his other hand for the condom and let go of Harry’s wrist, glaring at Harry to make sure he knew it needed to stay there. Harry flexed his arm a little bit and shifted higher until that same hand was gripping the headboard.

Louis rolled the condom on deftly before adding more lube, lining his cock up, and pushing forward to enter Harry. He was thick and heavy and made Harry feel unendingly full in the most delicious way. Louis eased himself forward pressing deeper until he was finally all the way inside Harry.

The unrelenting pressure made the tips of Harry’s fingers and toes tingle, it had been ages since he had felt anything that good inside him. “Please, Lou,” he begged, desperate for Louis to start moving.

Louis gathered his own composure, hitched Harry’s knees up over his elbows, and began to withdraw from his body slowly. Harry could see the sweat gather on his brow, and he knew that Louis was trying to keep himself in control, but Harry wanted to see what would happen when he let loose, so he hooked his ankles up and put pressure on Louis' back with his heels, urging him forward.

Understanding the message, loud and clear, Louis began to thrust at a tireless pace, letting Harry’s legs fall open a bit more and pressing them up towards Harry's chest, changing the angle of his cock inside him. Suddenly he hit just the right angle to hit against Harry’s prostate on one of his rougher thrusts, and it felt like Harry’s entire body had gone up in flames instantaneously.

“Yes! Oh, fuck, Lou,” he cried out, his eyes rolling back in his head.

Louis kept up his pace, slamming inside of him, driving him higher and higher. He leaned down to attach his lips to Harry’s neck and bite and suck anything he could reach, no doubt leaving bruises behind.

Harry took a deep breath, and drew his knees up closer to his chest, crossing his ankles behind Louis’ head. Louis leaned back a bit to admire the position he had folded himself into, “Holy shit, Harry,” he panted before turning his head to the side and planting a kiss on Harry’s calf.

There were so many tricks Harry had that he wanted to show him, couldn't wait to show him. In the meantime, though, Louis let himself fall back down, resting his weight on one forearm before he began jacking Harry off just roughly enough that it only took a few more strokes to bring Harry to orgasm.

Ropes of come painted his chest, a bit landed on his cross necklace. Harry finally broke the rule Louis had set and brought his hand down to pull the pendant up, putting it into his mouth to lick it off.

Admittedly, it wasn’t the purest thing he had ever done, but Louis’ irises went black as they narrowed in on Harry’s mouth, and then Harry could no longer see them because his eyelids were squeezed shut and he was crying out, spilling into the condom, pumping hard inside Harry.

Harry’s legs slid down off Louis’ shoulders as both of their chests rose and fell with heavily panting breaths. Louis’ arms were quivering under the weight of his upper body as he tried to keep himself from fully falling down on top of Harry which was very considerate of him, but all Harry wanted was to feel Louis’ skin on his after going so long without it.

Nudging Louis’ elbow joints on either side, he forced Louis to collapse on top of him. The movement jostled them enough that Louis finally slipped out of him and reached down between their bodies to grab the condom before he fully let himself relax.

Once he had tied it off and tossed it over the side of the bed and turned the bedroom light off, he shifted so that only half of his body was lying on top of Harry instead of his full weight. Appeased, Harry snuggled deeper into the blankets and brought his arm around Louis’ back squeezing him impossibly closer. He felt Louis’ whole body relax as his hand splayed across Harry’s chest.

Soon, in the moonlit stillness of the night, Harry could feel Louis start tracing shapes over his sternum.

“This might actually happen, Harry,” he whispered.

Harry bit down on his own grin. “Yeah, Lou.” He suddenly felt impossibly tired as everything from the night began to catch up to him. Louis could have been talking about anything; the record deal, them writing together, performing together, being together. It all might actually happen.

They both began to drift off like that, wrapped up in each other and tangled in the sheets on Louis’ bed.

- - -

Louis’ alarm was blaring somewhere in the depths of his consciousness. He could hear it, he knew he could, but something wasn’t right.

Slowly, he became aware of the bed shifting underneath him.

“Sorry, Lou,” Harry groaned, making Louis’ pillow rumble under his cheek. Louis lifted his head in search of the now unignorable noise that must be Harry’s phone instead of his.

Harry shifted in increments out from under Louis to the edge of the bed, swinging his legs over the side so he could get up and try to locate his phone. He accidentally tried the pocket of Louis’ jeans first before landing on his own.

“Hello?”

Harry’s end of the conversation was murmured and quiet with nothing distinct enough for Louis’ conscience to grab on to, so he slowly started to drift off again. Harry would come back to bed soon, then maybe they could have pancakes later.

Mmm. Harry and pancakes. Best combination ever.

“Lou?” Harry nudged Louis’ shoulder jolting him back to reality. “Are you in there somewhere?” He leaned over and placed a kiss on the back of Louis’ head.

“I’m up,” Louis grunted as he flipped over and started to hoist his body up the bed. When he finally looked at Harry all he could see was a pinched brow and concern woven into his expression. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

Harry looked at him, startled. “Nothing, nothing. The shoot I was supposed to direct for the spread later this month got moved up two weeks because of our print deadline. They need me to go now.”

Louis began searching around the room mindlessly as though his bedroom was going to provide answers. “Right now? Immediately?”

“Immediately,” Harry nodded. “I’m so, so sorry.”

“Hey, no, that’s okay. I get it, you have to go.” Louis began to get out of bed hurrying to try and ease Harry's worry. They were both still naked, so he grabbed a pair of joggers for himself and a clean pair of pants for Harry. He threw the pants at Harry, then pulled his joggers up over his bum. They were his oldest, thinnest, most threadbare gray ones, but he felt like he needed to be wearing something for this goodbye.

When he turned back to face Harry, he was staring at Louis's hips - still holding the pants that had been thrown at him a moment before.

“Curly-que? You in there?” Louis joked.

Harry dropped the pants on the floor then crowded Louis up against the dresser until there was a drawer knob digging into his spine. Their foreheads touched, and Harry bumped their noses together, his breath ghosting over Louis’ mouth.

“Last night was the best night of my life,” Harry murmured before punctuating his statement with a brief kiss on the corner of Louis’ lips. “The performance, the sex," he smirked. "All of it. And it was all because of you, I want you to know that.”

Louis’ chest heaved as his breathing got more ragged. Having Harry pressed up against him like that was the gift that kept on giving when he brought their lips together. Harry’s kiss was thorough and searching and entirely too much if he was really in a rush.

His hands were everywhere in Louis’ hair, trailing down towards his bum. Harry’s presence was overwhelming, and they were both a touch glassy-eyed and blushing when he finally pulled away.

“Um,” Louis said, unable to form words. “Breakfast. Would you like… some breakfast?”

Harry was still naked but finally stepped back to put his pants and jeans on while Louis watched. Somehow watching him dress was just as sexy as watching him undress.

“I’m sorry, I can’t. I’ll grab something at the airport on the way.” He wiggled his bum until he finally got the skinny jeans up and zippered.

Cheeky as ever, Harry reached around Louis and opened up one of the drawers of his dresser. With a naughty smile plastered all over his stupidly pretty kiss-bitten lips, Harry grabbed one of Louis’ old band t-shirts and a hoodie and slipped them on like they were his own.

Louis’ mouth was drier than the Sahara desert, and all he could think about was Harry wearing his clothes, smelling like him, not showering after sleeping with him. Harry smelled like sex and exuded the rockstar image, but everything about him at that moment screamed that he was Louis’ which had pretty much rendered Louis speechless.

When Harry was done dressing, he winked at Louis, grabbed his hand and tilted his head to ask, “Walk me out?”

Louis did as he requested, leading Harry back through the flat to the front door.

He needed to say something, anything. “I’m sorry last night to end this way.” He reached up and dragged a hand through Harry’s hair, nudging a particularly curly bit behind his ear.

The look Harry gave him was a touch sad but mostly fond as he let his eyes drift close and he leaned into Louis’ touch. “That’s okay, Lou.”

Louis opened his mouth to say more, but the notification on Harry’s phone dinged, indicating that his Uber was there. Harry leaned in for one more kiss before the door was shutting behind him and Louis could hear him trudging down the stairs.

The flat was unnaturally still in the wake of Harry’s departure. Louis leaned with his back against the front door, not quite knowing what to do with himself. Everything had happened so fast, he felt like he should be able to press a rewind button somewhere that would land him back in bed ten minutes ago with the person he was fairly certain was the love of his life.

The love of his life that he didn’t even know if he was technically dating.

Clearly, they were going on dates, and doing something, especially now that they had slept together, but Louis still had no idea what Harry was expecting out of their relationship. That had been a conversation he had hoped to have today of all days, and now Harry was gone.

Louis had missed it at the time, but Harry definitely said something about grabbing breakfast at the airport. He didn’t even get the chance to ask him where he was going, what he would be doing, or how long he would be away. Or tell him how madly in love with him he was.

Louis huffed out a breath and let his knees give out, sliding his butt down the front door until his legs were splayed out in front of him on the floor and the painted wood was cool against his back.

The morning had not gone as planned.

 

Four days later, Louis was sitting in Harry’s spot on the couch, staring at his phone where it was lying face up on his chest, willing it to light up.

There had not been a single word from Harry in four days. Louis hadn’t heard from him since a text Harry sent him saying he had arrived at the airport that morning after leaving Louis’ flat.

Louis had texted back asking where he was going, but there had only been radio silence in response. He had kept himself from freaking out for the first two days but now his brain was running through all of the various scenarios.

His favorite so far was that the photographer on the shoot was actually David Beckham and the second he saw Harry they decided to run off into the sunset together and elope. Ignoring the fact that Becks was already happily married with children.

Louis wouldn’t blame him, though, for wanting to run off with Harry.

He was also officially pathetic.

Liam padded into the living room holding a bowl of straight-out-of-the-box macaroni and cheese. He scooped a spoonful of SpongeBob shaped neon orange noodles into his mouth.

“How you doing, Lou?” he asked around his food.

“That’s really attractive, Li.”

Liam only shrugged and watched him expectantly. He knew of course about how quickly Harry had left that morning, seeing as he had respectfully tried to sneak back into the flat only to find Louis bundled up on the couch watching Netflix. Alone.

“I still haven’t heard from him,” Louis admitted quietly.

“There’s got to be a reasonable explanation for it,” Liam said placatingly. It didn’t help.

“Whatever.” Louis sulked and settled deeper into the corner of the couch.

Liam knew him well enough to leave him alone when he got into this state, so he took his food and walked away.

 

Another four days later, Louis was ready to tear his hair out. He had gone home to his mum’s house for a visit that weekend just to pass the time while he was waiting for Harry to get back to him.

He hadn’t heard a peep from Harry in eight days. Around day six he had broken down and texted Niall asking after him, but all Niall knew was that he was on a shoot. He had also gotten the same ‘I made it to the airport’ text. Nothing more or less than Louis knew himself.

The relationship uncertainty he could have handled - probably - but he was also starting to get nervous because the man they had met, Chris, from Capitol UK had called Louis a few times after the concert starting the Monday after as promised. True to his attitude from the backstage party, he was insistent on doing all scheduling and negotiating with both Harry and Louis together. While the attitude was heartening for any future dealings they might have with him, there was only so much Louis could say to stall before Harry got back. Whenever that would be. He was sure that after everything that had happened that night, and in his rush to get out the door that morning, Harry had forgotten all about it.

Louis’ despair was beginning to take on a hysterical edge when he finally received an email from Harry.

The subject was simple, and just said “Thinking of you.” The body of the email was a picture of a beautiful sunset on what looked to be the Mediterranean and a caption that said, “Mallorca.” Well, at least Louis had a location. In the foreground, there were beach chairs with an embroidered logo on them and if he squinted he could just make out the shape of an S and an R interwoven in black thread.

The St. Regis. Harry was at the St. Regis in Mallorca. Louis knew the famous hotel chain’s logo because he and his sister had gone by that same one on a boat tour when they had been on a family holiday five or six years before. One of his sisters had mentioned that it was just like in Annie where one of the characters was named Lily St. Regis.

It’s amazing the things that pull at the thread of a memory.

Louis sat there frozen, but his heart was pounding out of his chest. He had a thought. A tiny little niggling thought. A thought that became a plan all by itself in his subconscious without him even noticing. There were so many things that could go wrong with his thought and his plan, but it wouldn’t go away.

He should go to Mallorca.

Niall had texted him at some point to say he thought Harry was supposed to be gone for two or three weeks on this shoot because it was his debut; the very first editorial spread in the magazine with lots of different models and sets, which meant he should still have at least another few days there.

There were a few things that brought Louis up short. The cost of the plane ticket he knew wouldn’t be that expensive if he went on one of the budget airlines. He didn’t have anything going on at school that he couldn’t take a few sick days.

No, what gave him pause was Harry himself. If he was really supposed to have been gone for two whole weeks at the end of the month, there must have been a reason he didn’t tell Louis. Louis didn’t think he was hiding a vacation with another guy or something, he was more worried that Harry didn’t think Louis was important enough in his life to tell him about this big trip out of town.

Because, again, he wasn’t sure where they stood with each other. That seemed to be the barrier for everything.

Louis was honestly sick of it. He was sick of waiting to be with Harry in a fully invested, committed relationship. He knew that was what he wanted for himself, he just needed to know if Harry was on board. The only person who would be able to tell him that was Harry.

He needed to bite the bullet and go. Before he could second-guess himself any more, he brought up Skyscanner, and next thing he knew he had a fifty-pound ticket out of Manchester to Palma for that evening. There was a thirty-minute window for him to pack before he needed to be in his car on his way to the airport, so he rushed to his room and started throwing shirts and swim trunks in a bag. He grabbed his toothbrush and toothpaste, laptop, and his chargers and then he was out the door.

 

I'll plant all the daisies you gave to me

Here in this ground we've been sharing

Oh what a shame, what a pity it'd be

If our petals fell before theirs did

 

Going through security was a blur. With traffic Louis had just made it, so he rushed through ticketing and the screening and they were just beginning to board his flight so he hadn’t had much time to stop and think about what he was doing.

Smoothing out the boarding pass he had unconsciously crumpled up in his hand, he held it under the scanner. The machine beeped and soon he was on his way down the gangplank and safely into his seat. All he had was his rucksack filled with the things he had grabbed in his mad dash, so he stashed it in a compartment above his head. The only thing he kept out was his notebook, and he began scribbling right away, hoping that the lyrics that kept springing to mind would help him work through his trepidation.

But was I right?

Or just being a little reckless?

Alone in the dark, wondering where you are

With this heart that’s yours to break...

He spent the whole flight moving verses and choruses around until he felt like he had a full-fledged song on his hands. Harry and Liam were both much better with melodies, so he might need some help from them, but there was a certain cathartic feeling to getting all of the lyrics swirling around in his head out on paper.

 

The plane landed in Palma and Louis was hit with a wave of heat and humidity he hadn’t been expecting. His thoughts had been so consumed with getting to Harry that he hadn’t stopped to consider that he was on an island in the Mediterranean.

It took him awhile to deplane and get to the hotel but he eventually needed a plan for another place to stay, because he definitely couldn’t afford a room at the St. Regis. The contingency plan was only if Harry soundly rejected him for coming all the way out there and following him to a job.

Everything he had ever done with Harry including before he even knew him, was over the top and could possibly be considered creepy, so there was no reason he should stop now.

Louis’ feelings for Harry were so strong and overwhelming, sometimes - all the time - it felt like he couldn’t even breathe when he looked at him. He wanted to marry him yesterday, but he also didn’t want to scare him off with too much too soon.

He should start small, with this ridiculously grand romantic gesture.

His nerves were killing him and by the time the taxi pulled up to the front of the resort, his hands were shaking and he was pretty sure he was sweating in very new and original places on his body. He closed the car door behind him and greeted the doorman out of sheer instinct. Because he didn’t want to be burdened by his rucksack, he checked it with the bellmen out front and stuffed the claim ticket in his pocket.

The walls of the lobby were pure white and it had soaring ceilings. Louis was sure that during the day the entire space was filled with natural sunlight, but at the moment the space was lit by a beautiful Alhambra-style chandelier.

Cautiously, Louis approached the front desk. “Is there a modeling shoot here?” He could hear how ridiculous he sounded as he was asking the question. There was no way they would give him any kind of details about something exclusive like that. Especially not here at a resort where many of the guests had enough money to strictly protect their privacy.

He wasn’t surprised when the woman behind the desk kindly rejected his plea for information.

Well, he was still in a public area, maybe he would see how far he could get walking towards the beach. It was likely protected by a guest access card, but he would go as far as he could if only to give himself time to come up with a new plan.

Fate was a funny thing, though, because as soon as he set out onto the illuminated path, he heard his name being called across the courtyard.

“Lou?”

The sound was hollow like it was from far away and with the crashing waves in the distance and the ocean breeze it was difficult for Louis to pinpoint the direction the voice was coming from, but that definitely sounded like Harry. His heartbeat picked up as he frantically searched for the source of the noise.

Finally, he saw him. Harry was standing up out of his chair pulled up to a large communal table in the hotel’s beachside restaurant a few winding paths away. He looked so angelic in a white linen shirt and rolled up denim shorts. His curls were a bit tighter from the salt in the air as a gust of wind blew them in his eyes and he hurriedly brushed them back. They made eye contact across the expanse of neatly manicured grass, and Harry immediately vaulted over the thin barrier that delineated the restaurant seating.

Louis started heading back down the neat paths to backtrack, but Harry didn’t even bother. He cut a straight line through the landscaping, his bare feet, tanned and gorgeous, forging their own way sandals abandoned under the table.

When they got within feet of each other Harry broke out into a run throwing his arms around Louis’ neck and hitching his legs up around his waist. Louis had been working out more lately, sure, but he was a little worried with their height difference that Harry was going to send them toppling over. He curled his hands around Harry’s ridiculously silky smooth thighs to try and keep him aloft.

“Hi Curly-que,” he mumbled into Harry’s shoulder where his face was squished.

“Lou, what are you doing here?!” Harry finally leaned back far enough to bring their lips together. He was too awkwardly positioned to get a good angle so their lips were really just smushed in the same place.

“Wanted to say hello,” Louis joked with a self-deprecating shrug.

“This is the best surprise,” Harry added breathlessly before finally letting his feet fall so they were back on the ground again.

Louis’ heart rate began to slow as he realized that Harry’s surprise and pleasure at his being there were genuine. Harry’s hand came up to cup his face as he leaned forward and Louis lost himself in a much more precise kiss. All of Louis’ insecurities and doubts ebbed and his brain turned to mush at the feeling of Harry’s tongue teasing the seam of his lips. If he was right and the table was full of Harry’s work colleagues who were definitely all watching them, this kiss was entirely inappropriate, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

Harry pulled back again, and let his hand trace down Louis’ shoulder and arm until their hands were joined.

“Come on, come and join us,” he insisted as he gave Louis’ hand a tug.

Swept up in the force that was Harry, Louis followed. He hadn’t really been prepared to meet a group of Harry’s friends, colleagues, or both, and despite how easily Harry had fallen into such an affectionate embrace, Louis was still desperate to talk to him.

All he wanted was to call Harry his boyfriend. It might be stupid or trivial, but after actual years of uncertainty, the label was something definitive for Louis to cling to and solidify their relationship.

They approached the table as the waiter pulled another chair up to end where Harry had been, and efficiently set down and filled another water glass at the non-existent place in front of Louis as though this kind of romantic surprise was something he saw all the time.

Desperate for something to do instead of face the scrutiny of at least ten pairs of eyes on him, Louis lifted the glass to his lips and took a sip.

“Louis this is everyone. Everyone, this is my boyfriend, Louis,” Harry lifted their hands up above the edge of the table so everyone could see where they were joined.

Louis didn’t quite spray water across the table in shock, but it was close. He managed to control himself and just choke discreetly.

Harry gave him a look that was possibly concern before the conversation started up around the table again, giving them an air of privacy.

“Are you alright?” Harry asked him.

Louis nodded quickly and made a strangled sound of assent in the back of his throat. “Yeah, fine.”

Harry leaned in closer conspiratorially, “I should be able to get out of here soon, would you like to take a walk on the beach with me?” His eyes gleamed in the candlelight, and Louis nodded again.

Harry turned back to the table at large and they both got swept up in the conversation. A few people introduced themselves to Louis and made small talk with him - many of them rattled off their titles that he absolutely believed were jobs on an editorial shoot, but he didn’t always know what they were supposed to be doing. He knew Harry was the director, though.

They had been nearing the end of the dinner anyway, so when everyone said goodnight and headed back to their rooms, Harry - who hadn’t let go of Louis’ hand once - led him down the private path towards the beach.

Louis was feeling kind of foolish in the face of Harry’s complete confidence in their relationship, but he came all this way, so he still wanted to talk about their situation. He felt as though they still needed to talk about it just in case.

When they made it to a nice tucked away spot behind a dune Harry lifted the back of Louis' hand to his mouth and placed a kiss on one of his knuckles. “Do you not want to be my boyfriend?”

His plain question startled Louis again. “No, God, no. Of course, I want to be your boyfriend? What made you think that?”

Harry shrugged and stared out at the ocean, refusing to meet Louis’ gaze. “Your reaction when I said it at the table... Because... I thought we had a good thing going, so if you’re having doubts I’d like to know now.”

Louis laughed humorlessly and flopped onto his back in the sand. "You have got to be kidding me," he said to the night sky more than Harry.

“Louis,” Harry whined. “What is wrong with you?”

Louis reached up and pulled Harry down on top of him. Harry resisted for a moment before he gave in and propped himself on top of Louis pressing their bodies together from chest to ankle. Louis leaned up and kissed him as sweetly as he could, trying to wipe the adorable pout off of his face.

“I am such an idiot,” he confessed.

Harry rolled his eyes, “Well that’s nothing new.” He was trying to tease Louis but he was terrible at it because the corners of his smile kept turning up to let his dimples pop out.

“Do you know the reason I’m here?” Louis asked.

Harry shook his head, “Other than to surprise me? No.”

“I’m here because I had no idea what we were. I knew that I’d had a crush on you forever, and I liked being with you the past few months, performing with you that night, and before you left we had possibly the best sex I’ve ever had.” Harry made a shocked noise and tried to pinch his nipple in retaliation for the ‘possibly’ comment. Louis giggled and shielded himself reflexively. “But Chris from the record label kept calling and I didn’t know where you were and I thought maybe you weren’t texting or telling me where you were because you didn’t think I would care. Or didn’t want to tell me.”

“Lou-” Harry started.

“No wait, I want to get this out,” Louis pleaded. Now that he had started he wanted to go all the way before he chickened out again. “All I ever wanted was for you to be my boyfriend, but neither one of us had ever used that label, so I came here to ask you if you wanted that. I had it all built up in my head of what I was going to say. And then you just casually introduced me that way like it wasn’t a big deal and you had been thinking about it the entire time. It threw me, to say the least.”

Harry ducked down to pop a kiss on his lips. “You’re so gentlemanly, you bend over backwards to respect my feelings, and end up shooting yourself in the foot sometimes.”

Louis played like he wanted to push Harry off of his chest. “Alright, okay.”

“No, Louuu,” Harry teased. “Listen. I liked you for so long and then I got to have you, so I took the next step because I thought we were both ready. We probably should have talked about it more in hindsight, but I love you, and I want to call you my boyfriend.”

“You, what?” Louis asked his eyes wide and unblinking.

“I love you,” Harry said more gently, savoring the phrase.

“I love you, too.” For Louis, the words were as easy as breathing.

Harry’s smile turned naughty. “Good, I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.” This time when he leaned down to kiss Louis, he didn’t stop at a peck. He kept kissing Louis, pressing him into the sand, surrounding him, grinding his cut off jean shorts into the front of Louis’ own trousers, and slipping his hands up under Louis’ shirt until his hands hit bare skin.

The situation was very quickly getting out of control, and sand was beginning to spread everywhere including into places where Louis would rather not have sand.

“Room,” he huffed out into the air as Harry began to decorate his chest piece with bruises and bite marks. “Do you have a room?”

“Yeah,” Harry hummed next to his ear before darting his tongue out and teasing the little patch of skin where Louis’ jaw ended.

Louis shivered before trying to sit up. “Let’s go.”

“No, here,” Harry begged breathily. It was pretty enough and tempting enough that Louis almost gave in before he realized something.

“Curly-que.” Harry didn’t stop his attack on Louis’ neck. “Baby,” he pleaded. “We don’t have any supplies out here.”

Harry sat up so quickly that it gave Louis vertigo and he was the one still lying on his back. Soon, Harry was on his feet sending sand everywhere. “No time to waste!” he yelled behind him as he took off back down the beach.

Louis stood up and watched while Harry’s gangly limbs flailed and the muscles in his thighs flexed as he tried to get his bearings while his feet dug into the sand.

After all those years holding on to something intangible, somehow knowing that Harry was going to be something special in his life, Louis didn’t know who he was supposed to thank for the gift he had finally been given. He started following Harry’s indented footprints back towards the hotel.

The man was right, there was no more time to waste.

Chapter Text

“This song,” Louis raised his voice in the microphone as Sarah began to hit a driving beat underneath his speech and the crowd’s excitement started to pick up, “Is about knowing something good is coming for you.” He leaned back to peek in the wings where Harry was getting ready to come back out on stage.

He started to layer in his guitar part on top of Sarah’s bass drum. “Sing along if you know the words, this is ‘Don’t Let it Get You Down!’”

As soon as he confirmed that it was their final song, the audience went even more wild, only to reach a deafening level when Harry emerged once again.

His husband had his microphone in one hand and their three-year-old daughter Mariana on his hip in the other, leaning into her weight to fully support her. Her tightly curled chestnut brown hair was sticking out at odd angles under her garish magenta noise-canceling headphones.

The storm it came from 'cross the seven seas

Hold your course, here comes the cavalry

Don't let it get you, don't let it get you down

Don't let it get you, don't let it get you down

You dreamed a dream and they said, "Pay no mind."

Oh, but momma said, "Boy, faith ain't for the blind."

 

The first time had been an accident.

When they were starting out, deciding whether or not to try making music as their careers, they had been in the middle of wedding planning and their lives were absolutely crazy. Going out on the road meant that Harry would have to leave the magazine, and Louis would have to leave his students, but despite all of those fears, the music called to them.

They were performers. It had taken Louis longer to reach that conclusion, but he finally embraced it in the end after lots of positive reinforcement from Harry.

After being a big brother so many times over and a music teacher for young kids for so long, Louis missed having children around. And Harry was mad for babies.

Louis caved almost as soon as Harry asked for a baby despite their grueling tour schedule. They made the conscious decision that they were going to try raising their children on the road because that was what they thought would work for them and their lifestyle. They were co-parenting to the max, and there was no better village than a tour family to help them.

Between Harry’s mother, his sister, and all of Louis’ sisters, there was always someone on the road with them to take care of Mariana while they were on stage every night.

One night on the last tour, she had been having a fit about missing them while they were on stage. The only thing that calmed her down was watching them perform, so Anne had brought her into the wings. Someone on the crew had come up with a lollipop and bottle for her to choose between as a soother, so Anne put her down to grab them, but as soon as Mariana’s feet hit the floor she had taken off like a shot. Anne never knew what hit her. Toddlers were wily like that.

It had been the finale number and they had been playing a different but still upbeat, rousing song, and all Louis had seen out of the corner of his eye was his daughter’s magenta headphones in the middle of the stage. There she was, wearing an unbuttoned onesie and holding her bottle, bouncing up and down to the beat of the music.

As subtly as he could without stopping the song, he had gotten Harry’s attention. His husband’s eyes had bugged out of his head and he flew forward to scoop her up.

The very next night she whined and cried about wanting to see them perform, just as she had the night before. And the next night, and the night after that.

Thus began the tradition of Mariana coming out every night for their finale. Sometimes she was especially tired and would just drape herself over Harry, laying her head down on his shoulder while he sang. Other times they couldn’t get her to stop hamming it up.

Tonight she kicked in Harry’s hold, ready to get down and dance.

Louis stepped up to his mic for the next verse.

Oh, this could be the part of you that you ain't never seen before

Oh, this could be the part, the part of you, you wanna be

December came, but spring was following

I prayed for one and once he came for me

So don't let it get you, don't let it get you down

Don't let it get you, don't let it get you down

His life had felt stagnant for a long time waiting for Harry, waiting for something special, but it was all worth it because it led him to this moment.