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There’s a thick shadow over the dusty pub floor where a panel of wall separates the two big windows from each other.

The setting seven o’clock early September sun sears too hot against the back of Louis’ head. When he lifts his hand to feel over his hair, it burns hot and only reminds him of the headache pounding from the inside of his skull.

He picks up his glass and takes a long swig, then grimaces, taking another gulp. Adam smirks at him from where he’s swiping a cloth over the pub counter.

“Still feeling last night, eh?” he observes a little too pointedly, swinging the cloth back over his shoulder. He collects two empty glasses from the last costumers. The pub is nearly empty, Wednesday’s wealthy patrons having filtered out for an expensive meal elsewhere. There’s not a college student in sight, and that’s just how Louis likes it.

“Maybe,” Louis replies grimly. He swipes his finger through his beer foam. “Thought it would take the edge off; I think it’s only making it worse.”

“You can’t fight fire with fire,” Adam tells him, amused, and puts a full glass of ginger ale down in the place of Louis’ beer.

Begrudgingly, he accepts it, and downs half the glass. His headache eases slightly.

“Should probably move out of the sun as well,” Adam suggests, with a nod at the violent glare bouncing off the frames on the wall. “That surely can’t help much.”

Louis shrugs a shoulder and doesn’t move.

They’ve known each other long enough for Louis to know Adam has his best interests in mind, but there’s always a tiny sense of caution that’s stayed with him since they first met, when Louis was a freshly homeless Berklee dropout and Adam was a brewery intern in Harvard Square. Even still, he’s wary of anything the man advises, but he thinks that’s just because he’s a stubborn bastard who doesn’t like to listen to anyone.

“Anything unusual planned for tonight?” Adam says conversationally. There’s an ounce of warning in his words, as if he’s scared Louis will do something drastic like the night he let a group of drag queens DJ and the party didn’t end until six am.

“Not that I’ve set up,” Louis answers coolly. It’s not a lie. He never anticipates anything unusual, but unusual things seem to always manage to find their ways to him.

Adam only hums, then ducks through the back door with his hands full of empty glasses.

Louis presses his cold palm to his forehead. Tired. Headache. Hot. He figures a good lay will do the trick. It’s been a while, anyway. He doesn’t usually like to take home boys from Adrenaline but he’s got to live a little, right? Being a nightclub owner isn’t easy.

“Adam?” he calls. “Am I a bad person?”

Adam, behind the door, laughs, and doesn’t say anything.

He disembarks down the back stairs when it’s quarter to eight, after bidding a goodnight to Adam and receiving a good luck in return. It’s a beautiful night of pink tinged clouds and golden light, which means everyone’s spirits will be set high to begin with. Zayn is already downstairs when Louis pushes through the heavy single door; he’s standing behind the bar meticulously arranging the straws just so.

Louis prides himself in the cleanliness and organization of his club. The space he has isn’t large--it only covers about three quarters of the pub’s floor space, and there’s a pilar smack in the center to hold the goddamn ceiling up--but the setup is minimalist and tidy. There’s a bar near the entrance, and the entrance is always guarded by a bouncer, and the list of attendees is short and sweet and never past seventy.

He doesn’t charge people to get inside. The guest list per night is carefully crafted by himself and Zayn at the start of each month and invitations are sent out on a rolling basis to Boston’s most important gays. Ambassadors, activists, student leaders. If someone who isn’t on the roster of approved gays wants to make it on the guest list, they submit an application for Louis to review. It’s a very smooth and efficient system.

Of course, it being September, they’ve received a hefty amount of applications from the new college load. Specifically Harvard, though there is some MIT and BU thrown in there. It’s not that they don’t get a lot of college kids to begin with; a good forty percent of Adrenaline’s guests are performance students at Berklee or Boston Conservatory. And Louis seldom complains, because he used to be a performance student himself, and he likes the theater and dance kids in particular, but if there’s anything he despises, it’s Harvard students.

No matter how hard he tries to keep their filthy rich hands away, they always manage to find their ways onto the guest list. Louis doesn’t even know how they do it. It’s as if they actually got into Harvard for being clever or something, not just because their parents are loaded assholes.

Sometimes, bitterly, Louis wonders if they really are members of the community, or if they’ve just snuck in to ogle and snicker, but he knows that’s impossible. In the end, it’s not his place to say if someone’s part of the community or not. He’ll just seethe in silence from his place behind his turntables.

Zayn waves him over upon his arrival downstairs. Louis met him after he dropped out of Berklee, while he was couchsurfing before he had his own place. He was Adam’s hotter, gayer roommate who was also pursuing a career in bartending with a side-career in abstract art. Louis may have hooked up with him a couple times, too--they’ve both agreed it doesn’t mean anything, though, and they only seek each other out when they’re really desperate.

Louis, tonight, however, is feeling ambitious.

“Hungover?” Zayn greets, that same smirk Adam had been wearing sitting proudly on his face. Louis scowls at him. “Just wanted to let you know we’ve got a couple Harvard kids coming in tonight. Might wanna down a couple Advil.”

Louis lets out a painfully dramatic deep sigh. “Will there be more than five?”

Zayn shrugs. “Two or three, if we’re lucky.”

“Fuck me,” Louis groans.

“They’re people too, you know,” Zayn tells him matter-of-factly, and Louis wishes he wasn’t so attractive.

“I beg to differ,” replies Louis miserably, dragging his feet across the floor to his platform and dropping onto his stool.

“I’m hungry,” he adds loudly from behind his stand after a solid ten minutes of scrolling through his phone, at the same time he switches on the mixer and turntables and holds one side of his headphones to his ear.

“There are Doritos under the counter,” Zayn calls over, and Louis hits play on his deck, watching the record begin to spin and listening to the crackle of aggressive dance music begin to pulse.

DJing was never really a set ambition for him; it just kind of happened. It’s not like he ever expected to make it big as a recording artist; he wasn’t good enough at guitar, didn’t thing he had a strong enough voice, and staying would’ve been impossible anyway. Unrealistic. His first gig was at a birthday party and hadn’t ended well--all it took was a full frat house and an uttered slur directed at him to send his anger spiraling and to destroy all the equipment he’d been saving up for for the entirety of the previous year. He still gets tremors thinking about it, sometimes.

Once he’s confirmed everything is up and running, he steps down from the platform and accepts the bag of Doritos Zayn tosses him wordlessly.

“I’m gonna go smoke,” he announces, not waiting for Zayn’s reply and hopping up the stairs.

The sky is a deep, glossy blue when he steps outside. Summer’s disappearance has put him in a sour mood. A fair amount of the money he makes comes from consistent summer tips; usually, he’ll make around $80 to $90 an hour, but during the school year, it goes down to $40 to $50, with the crowd no longer consisting of generous vacationers and, instead, more tired working-class twenty-somethings.

Of course, he never regrets not charging admittance fees. He doesn’t think people should have to pay to feel accepted. If it means he’ll live off plain bagels and work a side job at Dunkin, so be it.

He lights his cigarette and stares at a flyer for cheap electric guitar lessons flapping in the breeze as he takes a long drag. Distantly, a street performer drawls off Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen; a dog barks, a car horn beeps. Louis sticks the bag of Doritos in his hoodie pocket and keeps his hand there, watching as the daytime ends and the nightlife begins. A group of boys walk by, all dressed in similar khaki shorts and button-downs and boat shoes, rowdily jostling him against the wall but not even glancing.

Fucking Harvard brats, he thinks. Never had to work for a thing in their lives.

The club doesn’t open until 11 o’clock, which is an hour earlier than most in the area, but the night usually drags on until about 2am before the party dies down. 3am on weekends, at least. Louis regularly goes to bed at around 5am or so, sleeps until noon, works an afternoon shift at Dunkin, goes back to his apartment and feeds his fish, works on his latest project, and then readies his club for the night. He knows his schedule gets... off, when he takes a boy home, but if Zayn is feeling particularly kind, he’ll close up for the night and let Louis leave early--that is, once the crowd has filtered out.

Tonight, as it so happens, a guest artist will be closing. Which means Louis will be able to sneak away, and won’t have to make his imaginary lay wait until the floor has cleared.

When his cigarette has burnt out, he drops it to the ground and crushes the stub with the toe of his shoe. His mother hated it when he smoked. She hated a lot of things about him, though.

He shakes himself and pushes back through the pub door, nodding once at Adam before disappearing down the back stairs.

Louis steps into a shower stall after inhaling the Doritos, blasting an obscure indie mix that probably pisses off Paul, the main bouncer who works weeknights. When Louis walks into the Employees Only room, the man is sipping an iced coffee and reading a magazine.

It’s half past ten when he sidles out of the back room. Skinny jeans cling to his thighs and the sheer fabric of a black muscle tank hangs loosely off his collarbones; he’s put a thin layer of eyeliner on his top lash line, which he’s been told makes him look especially fetching, and his hair has been fluffed to perfection. Zayn gives him a once over and an approving nod, and Louis retreats across the floor, swaying his hips just to make Zayn snort.

Paul, who’s now poised by the door to man the gradually growing queue, sticks his head through the doorway and waves at Louis to get his attention.

“Your guest is here,” he announces gruffly, pulling back the door to reveal a cheery looking man whose smile is as bright as the glittery shirt he’s wearing.

He steps forward and holds out his hand instantly. Louis looks him over, up and down, and takes it slowly.

“Nick,” the man greets. He’s English. “Grimshaw. You must be Louis.”

“That’s right,” Louis acknowledges. “Nice to meet you, Nick. You’re early.”

Nick lifts up his right wrist and checks his watch. Louis’ never liked people who wear watches; he’s always found them a bit suspicious. “Well, look at that. I am.” He laughs at himself. “No, I--I wanted to get here early before doors to meet you properly, you know, hear your set and everything! I’m pretty fresh to the scene, so I need all the help I can get, yeah?”

Louis nods in agreement. “Makes sense. Excuse me for a moment, please.” He stalks over to his stand, swaying his hips for real this time because he’s like that, and turning his amp on, hitting play on a track of upbeat, pulsing dance music. When it starts blaring, the people in the queue outside erupt in cheers.

“I, uh…” Nick has to shout over the track, meagerly attempting conversation before the doors open. “I was in Vegas for a while before I decided I wanted something more intimate, you know? The scene there is wild, I’m sure you’re familiar with it.”

Comically, from behind his stand, Louis cranes his neck and pulls his ear forward with two fingers.

Nick laughs nervously, but doesn’t say anything else.

By now, the line will have extended all the way down the hallway, curved around the back and coiled back up the staircase. That’s the usual weeknight crowd. He knows better than to peek around and look, though; he’s well known enough within the community to be a person of high speculation, and poor Paul would be the one to deal with all the chaos.

Louis walks over to the bar, right past where Nick is still standing uselessly, and snaps his fingers at Zayn, who turns from where he’s been stacking glasses and raises his brows.

“Zaaaaaayn,” Louis begins, biting his lip and fluttering his eyelashes in that way he does.

“Louis,” Zayn replies flatly. “What do you want.”

“I wanna take a boy home tonight,” Louis tells him. “Can you wrap up so I can leave early?”

“Lou…”

“It’s been weeks,” Louis says miserably. “Please? I’ll buy you dinner.”

Narrowing his eyes, Zayn scans his face. “I want a lobster roll.”

“Done.”

“From Castle Island.”

Louis grits his teeth. “Fine.”

Zayn huffs, pleased. “Alright. I’ll close.”

“Thank you, love you!” Louis blows a kiss and tugs his phone out of his pocket, checking the time. Ten minutes to eleven o’clock. The lights are still glowing fluorescent; Louis calls over a greeting to Steve, the lighting guy, who takes that as the signal to switch the blue-light on from his panel at the back wall and begin the rave-flashing that Zayn always complains about. There’s no girth to it, obviously--else he wouldn’t still be working here.

At eleven sharp, the door swings wide, the floodgates are opened, and mounds of people begin their filing in.

It’s easy to lose himself when he’s working. A lot of times, he’ll zone out at the rolling crowd below him, hands working mechanically, and not realize it’s 3am until the crowd starts to die down. That’s not what it’s about, though, not tonight. He’s kind of on a mission.

His set finishes to dancing bodies and the air heavy with alcohol and sweat. Immediately, while the high off the last track remains buzzing in the misty, foggy lights, Nick takes his place, thrusting his arm into the air and putting his record on the deck.

Louis slips into the back room, past the noise and the piled bodies. He refluffs his hair and retouches his eyeliner, changes into a less sweaty but more revealing shirt, and steps back outside just as the clock strikes midnight.

The bar isn’t too crowded, most people having retreated to the dance floor. He slides onto a stool and flashes Zayn a grin, getting a beer put down in front of him before he even gets a word out.
“He’s not bad,” Zayn shouts over the music, jerking his head in Nick’s direction.

Louis shrugs, and waits.

It’s not long before someone slides into the stool next to him, waving Zayn over to ask for a drink and leaning an arm on the counter, whirling their whole body to face Louis, and...oh.

Oh.

“Hi,” says the boy facing him, mouth tilted up in a little side smirk.

“Hi,” Louis says back, keeping his cool despite the screaming in his brain.

“You’re Louis,” the boy tells him. He’s English too. It sends a pulse of heat through Louis’ chest.

“I am,” Louis answers. “You are?”

The boy just smiles, a dimple sinking into his cheek, and doesn’t say anything.

Zayn hands a martini over the counter, which the boy accepts without saying thank you. Louis should be offended by that. But this kid’s fucking hot , and Louis really, really wants to sleep with him.

He takes a sip from his glass; Louis watches his throat bob as he tips his head back. A head full of soft looking curly brown hair. His eyes are sparkly and Louis thinks they’re green.

“I like the music you play,” the boy tells him. Louis wonders how old he is.

“Thank you,” Louis says. “Is this your first time at Adrenaline?”

The boy smiles again, but says nothing, simply taking another sip of his martini.

Flustered, Louis runs his palms along his thighs and reaches for his own drink.

“Where are you from?” Louis asks, flipping his hair out of his face and batting his eyelashes.

“England,” the boy lulls. “Manchester.”

Louis hums.

“Yourself?”

“Here,” Louis says. “I’m from here.”

“Got a place nearby?”

There it is.

“I dunno.” He smirks, and keeps his voice teasing. “What if I do?”

“Hm,” the boy says. “It’s your place. Up to you.”

Part of Louis wants to ask how old the boy is; he looks young enough to be a teenager, despite the strict rule they have of 21+. The other part of him wants to take the boy home now.

“And what if I don’t?” Louis adds slowly, dragging his eyes up the length of the boy’s legs in a way that usually makes most squirm. The boy doesn’t even twitch.

“Depends,” the boy says, and his words are long and deep and inviting. “But club bathrooms aren’t particularly...erotic places to mess around in, are they?”

Louis very nearly chokes on his drink. After a moment in which he regains his composure, the boy’s begun to fiddle his fingers along the counter, half-smiling.

“Well,” Louis begins, heart leaping. “My place it is.”

He slides his empty glass across the counter along with a ten dollar bill for Zayn’s troubles, and takes the boy’s hand loosely, hopping down from his stool and leading the two of them through the crowd of pressed together bodies, ducking behind arms and weaving around mounds of glitter and fabric and rainbow capes.

They push through the door, and Louis flashes Paul a grin before darting up the stairs and stepping into the warm midnight air.

 

~

 

The whole car ride, Louis keeps his hand solidly resting on Nameless Boy’s thigh.

He pretends to go unaffected when Nameless Boy’s hand goes above his own thigh. Really, the breath silently catches in his throat and the car lurches, which makes Nameless Boy laugh and Louis flush. He digs his nails into Nameless Boy’s skin, then--just a tiny bit, but enough to remind him who’s really in charge.

That makes Nameless Boy’s breath hitch, too, but more audibly. Louis huffs, pleased with himself.

All in all, the drive couldn’t go by any slower.

 

~

 

In a deep blue room illuminated by a dim bedside lamp, they fall into bed clumsily, hands scrambling for clothes and hair and skin.

Nameless Boy has started lunging for Louis’ neck, sinking in teeth and then tongue and then repeating. He’ll be heavily marked up by tomorrow morning, so as a type of revenge he presses the boy’s back against the mattress and sucks a bruise into his collarbone.

“You’re...so...fucking...fit,” Louis growls in between intervals of kissing. As Nameless Boy sucks on his tongue, Louis wraps his fingers in the boy’s hair, tugging and twisting until he pulls back, panting.

“Wanna blow you,” Nameless Boy moans. “Please.”

Louis sits up so he’s straddling the boy’s hips, splaying his fingers out over his chest. Why are they still wearing clothes? He strips off his shirt and toys with the waist of the boy’s jeans.

“Say please again,” Louis teases, dragging his fingers over Nameless Boy’s tummy and grinding his hips down.

Nameless Boy keens. He’s so pretty .

“Go on,” he encourages, tugging his hair again.

Please ,” the boy whines.

Louis swears and flips them over, leaving Nameless Boy above him to strip off his own shirt. He undos Louis’ pants and blinks up at him once, to which Louis nods back, to which the boy tugs down his briefs and swallows him down without so much as a warning. A disclaimer. Louis feels the breath punched out of him and he’s so fucking thankful for Zayn he vows to buy him as many lobster rolls as he wants.

“Fuck, go slow, baby,” Louis breathes as Nameless Boy takes too much at once and chokes. ‘Baby’ seems to spark another wave of arousal in the boy and he ignores Louis, taking him deeper.

The first time Louis comes, it’s across the boy’s lips and cheeks. The second time, he fucks Nameless Boy nice and slow until they come together , shining with sweat and exhausted and floating with euphoria.

Louis decides it’s a good night.

 

~

 

He wakes stiff and sore in an empty bed to his phone buzzing persistently and incessantly beside his head.

Yawning, he gropes along the pillow until he manages to press answer without looking at the ID. Zayn’s voice starts talking the second he’s through.

“Mate, you remember that guy who ran BU’s GSA who came last month?”

Louis clears his throat. “Mhm.”

“He just phoned. Apparently he has a fresh batch of kids he wants to introduce to the scene. Wants to know if we can fit ‘em in tomorrow night.”

“Fine with me,” Louis sighs, stretching out his back and breaking into a smile when he feels the soreness in his thighs. “Man, last night was so good.”

“I really don’t want to hear about your sex life,” Zayn deadpans.

“Did you see the kid? God. So fit. His hair’s, like, the perfect length to pull, and his mouth , fuck--”

“Louis,” Zayn interrupts. “Please stop talking and get out of bed. It’s one in the afternoon.”

Louis thinks he needed the extra hour of sleep. Maybe even deserved it.

“We’re so close to Labor Day,” Louis laments, disheartened at the thought of getting up. “I just want a damn day off.”

“Don’t we all,” Zayn snorts.

 

~

 

If there’s anything Louis hates, it’s his fuck-ugly Dunkin Donuts employee uniform.

That, and the fact that at 26 years old, he has to compensate for what his own career doesn’t cover by spending six hours trapped behind a counter taking people’s orders. His only perk is free, unlimited blue raspberry Coolatas, which even he gets sick of after a while.

He always feels uncomfortable in these clothes, like he’s an entirely different person. He’s not who he’s supposed to be here; part of him kind of wants to cry whenever there’s a break in the line and he’s staring blankly at the iced coffee poster on the wall. Like he shouldn’t be here, he should be touring the world or performing at festivals or teaching music or something. It’s here where his regrets really settle in, like the constant freezing AC is forcing his reality deeper and deeper and deeper until it consumes him.

His parents were never pleased with his decision to pursue music, especially the type of music that he was after. He wanted to sing; he wanted to engineer sounds and put together tracks and mix things. They were a little appalled when he got into Berklee and chose a major in Electronic Production and Design and a minor in Music Technology that would send him to Spain to study abroad, but agreed that while they’d contribute towards his tuition, everything else would be paid for by him. His equipment, his housing, his dorm items and his meals.

And so he did. He paid for everything; worked two jobs off campus and one work/study job on campus, studied his ass off, only to drop out before his junior year. All because a bad breakup had tipped him over the edge and he realized he was wasting his life, working towards a goal that didn’t even exist. By then, he was already miles deep in student debt and his parents had practically disowned him for choosing a career in something they didn’t think was worth being proud of.

That’s part of why he doesn’t charge for people’s admittance to Adrenaline.

If he hadn’t met Adam and Zayn when he did, he doesn’t know where he’d be now. He doesn’t like to imagine.

Sometimes, if Zayn has a break in one of his many bartending shifts, he’ll walk down to Harvard Square where Louis works and chill out with him until he has to leave. Louis thinks it’s more due to pity than anything else. Zayn was, after all, the first person he told about the breakup. It didn’t really seem like something Adam would quite understand.

Zayn texts him at around four today, telling him he’s on his way, and a few minutes later the doorbell is clinking and he’s stepping in.

Louis, in some instances, is a little taken aback by how out of place Zayn looks in ordinary situations. He’s very, very attractive, and not quite in the way Nameless Boy was. Zayn looks more off the streets of Milan or a Gucci catalogue, far too gorgeous to be wandering round a Dunkin Donuts in his skinny jeans and Doc Martens and black button-down.

Nonetheless, Louis is glad to see him. Always. If there’s anyone Louis loves more than Adam, it’s probably Zayn.

“It’s hot as Satan’s asshole out there,” Louis tells him frankly across the empty shop, as if Zayn doesn’t already know.

“Sure is,” he says anyway. “Can you get me a Coolata please? And an apple fritter? I think I’m dying.”

“Do I look like some kind of servant?” Louis grumbles, but fills up a cup anyway. Zayn pays for it in cash.

“Adam told me he knows a few of the students coming tonight,” Zayn says conversationally. “Wants to introduce us.”

“Why?”

“Publicity, I guess. Get the word out.” Smirking, he accepts his drink and sips it carefully. “Not like we need to, but. Whatever.”

“Hm,” Louis says. Zayn looks like he should be modelling the Coolata, not drinking it. “I thought we’d go up to Castle Island on Monday. I can buy you your fucking lobster rolls because you’re an entitled Masshole and I can work on my tan before the summer ends.”

“Sounds good to me,” Zayn says, grinning slyly, and Louis tells himself the lay was worth it, even though he’ll be spending $20 he doesn’t have on seafood in a bread roll.

They lounge in silence until Zayn has to return to work. That usually manages to break Louis’ regretful sulk.

 

~

 

Louis has a Pleco Algae Eater named Little Bitch, and Little Bitch is his pride and joy.

He bought Little Bitch at Petco on a whim, right after he bought his apartment, when he wasn’t really thinking responsibly and was so ecstatic at finally having a place to live he’d figured getting a fish would make it less of a space to live and more of a home.

With Zayn and Adam over, they had a kind of mini housewarming party, in which, drunk, Louis had tried to stick a post-it note to Zayn’s forehead that read ‘little bitch’, but it ended up displaced, and when Louis woke up the next morning it had ended up inside the fish tank. Somehow. He still doesn’t know how. But sober Louis had figured, what better way to commemorate his new apartment? He named the fish Little Bitch, and he didn’t anticipate the fish’s lengthy survival.

Louis retreats to his room immediately upon his arrival, changing into a pair of soft shorts and a t-shirt, and digging out his laptop and headphones from the pile of papers that have collected on his desk.

Sitting on his little sofa and working with a cup of tea in front of him, arranging melodies and laying beats and experimenting with new sounds. That’s the point in the day when he remembers how much he loves what he does.

He heats up some leftover Chinese and works until he feels he’s made solid progress, then gets a text from Zayn.

remember that kid u hooked up with last night??

Louis gets a lump in his throat.

…..what about him ?

There’s a long moment where he holds his breath, and then…

:)

He sends a paragraph of question marks, only to get no answer.

Alright. Fine.

Louis leaves at 9:00 for Adam’s pub, feeding Little Bitch a hearty pinch of fish food before stepping out the door.

His third floor apartment has a nice view of a community garden and a playground, and if Louis squints around some buildings and trees he has a nice view of the Charles River. He wonders, sometimes, how he got so lucky with his place; it’s small, obviously, and very cramped with equipment and records and CDs, but that’s just how he likes it.

The night is still warm from the heat of the daytime, still and silent in the air. It’s not too long of a walk. Most of the time, he’s glad he lives in the city. He’d get far too bored stuck in a small town in England. That’s what he tells himself, anyway.

His mindset changes the second he steps into the pub. Adam, behind the counter, gives him a wave from where he’s chatting to three people sat at the bar.

“Quiet night?” Louis calls in greeting.

Adam laughs a little. “Lou, before you go, I’ve got some people I’d like you to meet.”

Louis halts in his trek towards the back door. “Um. Alright?”

The first thing Louis notices about the three people sat at the bar is that two of them are wearing identical burgundy sweaters, and one of them is wearing a black windbreaker, which Louis wrinkles his nose at. That kind of sets the scene; Harvard kids. Inwardly, Louis screams.

It’s no surprise that Adam’s made some Harvard friends in all his time here. He does, in all honesty, run an authentic Irish pub smack in the middle of Harvard Square, a mere few feet away from Harvard Yard. It doesn’t stop Louis from being repulsed at the invitation to meet Harvard kids.

“Lads, this is Louis,” Adam introduces. “He runs the club.”

“Of course, we know all about that,” the first boy says airily. He whirls around on his stool and sticks his hand out. “I’m Liam Payne. Harvard Med School. Pleasure to meet you.”

Louis thinks he’s a little too uptight, based on his fake smile and thoroughly gelled hair. “Cheers.”

The second one mirrors Liam Payne’s music smoothly, flawlessly; his smile is definitely less fake, and he looks less put together in general, hair blonde and messy. Luckily, he’s wearing jeans--Liam, for some reason, is wearing slacks. Louis doesn’t know why they’ve both chosen to wear Harvard sweatshirts to a gay club. It’s not very appropriate.

“Niall,” the blonde boy introduces himself as, grinning cheerily. “Horan. Good to meet you.” Louis takes note that he doesn’t spout off his department of study. Louis likes that.

The last boy, the one in the windbreaker, turns almost slowly , folding his hands in his lap and…

Oh. Oh no.

A nice big, fake smile shows a row of sparkling teeth, caving a dimple into the boy’s cheek. He flips a lock of curly brown hair out of his face and last night, Louis had his fingers wrapped in that hair, pulling and tugging as he moaned.

Then, Louis’ eyes fall downwards, to the patch over his windbreaker’s left breast. Harvard Rowing.

Fuck.

“Harry Styles,” Nameless Boy who now has a name says. Louis is too busy having an internal crisis to realize the boy has just introduced himself as Harry Styles . Harry Styles, only son of Des Styles, PhD, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Fucking Medical School. Harry Styles, known by everyone and their grandmother. Harry Styles, star rower. Harry Styles, youngest enrolled student in graduate school at Harvard University.

Oh my god, Louis thinks, mortified. I just slept with Harry Styles.

As he reaches out tentatively to shake the boy’s hand, another thought hits him.

Oh my god. Harry Styles is gay.

“Good to see you again,” Harry Fucking Styles says to him, smirking that fucking smirk.

“Oh!” Adam exclaims. “You two know each other?”

Harry Styles tilts his head. “I...suppose you could say that.”

“Oh,” Adam repeats, sounding more unsure, as the breath has been caught in Louis’ throat and he’s been making a strangled sound for a solid minute.

“I’m, um. It’s. Hi.”

“We met at Adrenaline last night,” Harry Styles clarifies smoothly. Louis makes a small choked off noise and nods tightly.

Harry Styles’ tongue darts out to wet his lips, and Louis nearly collapses.

“I should, uh, get downstairs.” Louis coughs. “To...the club. Will I be seeing you three tonight?”

“You know it!” the blonde one, Niall, says. None of them look like they quite... fit in with the rest of the scene, but, Louis supposes, that’s what Adrenaline is all about.

He still hates snobby Harvard kids. And doesn’t want anything to do with them.

Louis could not get downstairs any faster. He gives Paul a forced smile of greeting, pushes through the metal door painted rainbow, and immediately targets Zayn, who’s scrolling through his phone and slurping on a margarita.

“You asshole ,” he says. “You goddamn asshole.

“So Harry Styles is good at sucking dick?” Zayn snickers. Louis buries his face in his hands and drops to the floor, splaying his limbs out face down.

“I hate my life,” he mumbles. “I just fucked Harry Styles.”

“I’m not totally sure what the problem is,” Zayn converses nonchalantly. “Sure, he’s a Harvard prick, but. I mean, it’s not like they’re all bad people. Harvard’s hard to get into, Lou. So is every Ivy League school.”

“Not these kinds of kids,” Louis groans, voice muffled by the floor. “ Good Harvard kids do homework and study and go to bed at reasonable hours. The kids who come to fucking gay clubs and dance the night away aren’t at Harvard because of merit. They’re there because of their rich-ass parents.”

“He got into Med School at, what, 20? 19?” Louis can hear Zayn shake his head. “Listen, parents can only get you so far. He has merit. He’s privileged as fuck but he’s also smart as fuck.”

“His dad is like, the fucking dean of the medicine department. Their lives run on money. They’ve got millions. Probably.”

Zayn laughs. “Listen, wouldn’t it be nice to date someone with shitloads of money?”

Louis sits bolt upright, jaw dropped. “Did you just say date ?”

“Listen, we could both use rich boyfriends,” Zayn shrugs. “You enjoyed the sex, right?”

Fishmouthing, Louis gapes at him. “I will not be dating any Harvard pricks, thank you very much. I’m better than that. I don’t need a boyfriend anyway. I’m doing perfectly fine on my own.”

Zayn looks a little doubtful.

“I don’t ,” Louis insists. “Certainly not Harry Styles. He can stay well away from me.”

“He’s donated enough to attend more than a week’s worth of nights here. So.”

Louis punches the floor, then winces at the crack in his knuckles. Ow. “You’re lying.”

“No, I’ll show you the check. He gave us 3k. He and his buddies are on the list for a good ten days.”

“In a row ?” Louis says, appalled.

“Mostly. He’s missing a couple nights.”

Louis hates his life.

 

~

 

All he has to do is survive Nick Grimshaw’s opening set. Then he’ll play, the crowd will dwindle, and he can go home and wallow in his own self pity in peace.

He finds a nice corner at the bar, snug against the wall, and listens to Nick rile up the crowd. He’ll do tomorrow night as well, closing, and then a new DJ-in-training will step in and play a few nights, and they’ll repeat until the season is through. Louis scrolls through his phone to occupy himself and makes his face look as unapproachable as possible.

Of course, that doesn’t seem to stop Harry Styles from slinking up next to him and ordering a three shots, to which Louis grimaces judgingly at, to which Harry Styles raises an eyebrow at him.

“The night’s still young, Styles,” Louis accuses pointedly.

Harry Styles smiles that fake, fake smile, nothing like the smile he’d given Louis last night. “What better way to start it off?” he lulls, voice slow and smooth and dripping like honey, and Louis swallows.

He hates how attracted he is to the kid. How the kid isn’t really a kid, he’s more of a man, but his submissiveness is still burned into Louis’ brain, as well as a number of things; his thighs, his back, the column of his throat, his jawline, his eyelashes, his mouth.

Louis huffs and returns to his own drink, staring at it, deflated, until Nick’s set wraps up and he has an excuse to leave the bar. Harry Styles hasn’t stopped staring at him, and he’s started to get this uncomfortable itch at the back of his neck.

Foggy, hazy music hangs in the air as Nick steps down from the platform and gives Louis a friendly slap on the back. The crowd below him start up their cheering again when Louis steps up and puts on his headphones; it’s easy, now, after a deep breath, to ignore the burn of Harry Styles’ eyes on him, to pretend everything’s normal. As if his literal world hasn’t been turned upside down at the concept of a one night stand with a practical celebrity.

He’s soaked through the back of his shirt with sweat by the time 2am rolls around. He can tell he’s been hard on himself tonight from the way he can’t remember what he was thinking for his whole set. His body’s been in such a state of hyper-focus he doesn’t really process the crowd seeping out until Zayn waves at him from the bar, a signal to begin the closing stage of his set.
It’s a relief when the floor’s finally empty. The music dies down slowly, and Louis takes his time to switch off all his equipment. He and Zayn work in comfortable silence; the clinking of glasses come from the bar, where Zayn’s stacking dishes and tidying things up for the next night, and Louis takes a broom to the floor, sweeping away glitter and plastic flowers and Mardi Gras beads. At the end of the night, the only things not in disarray are the rainbow flags hanging from every wall panel.

“That Styles kid’s been staring at you,” Zayn says after Louis puts the broom back into its storage closet.

Louis pretends to gag and bids Zayn and Paul goodnight.

He’s only just stepped out onto the sidewalk and turned to the right when he notices a figure leant against the side of Adam’s pub. He almost doesn’t stop. Almost. But he catches sight of the figure’s jacket--a black windbreaker--and the toe of his shoe catches on a crack in the pavement and he goes stumbling, only for the figure whose name is probably Harry Styles to take a step forward to try and rescue him.

Louis scowls at him. “Soliciting is illegal,” he scolds, straightening his shirt.

Harry Styles gives him a charming smile. “Was waiting for you.”

“Creepy,” Louis says, trying to ignore the pulse of heat that courses through him. “Why...why were you waiting for me?”

Harry Styles shrugs. “Thought you’d want a repeat of last night.”

Louis chokes on his own spit. Harry Styles wants to bed him? Again? He’s not sure the boy knows what a one night stand is. “I…”

“If you don’t, that’s fine. But…” He tucks his thumbs in his pockets and flips a strand of hair off his face. Louis swallows. “The offer’s out there. If you do.”

That’s the problem; he does. Really badly. Way too badly. He’s breaking all his own rules.

“I...” Louis repeats slowly, staring at Harry Styles’ mouth. “Don’t you have school?” God, what a creepy thing to hear himself say.

Harry Styles shrugs again. “Does it matter?”

Does it? Would it?

Louis surges at the boy and kisses him hard and filthy against the dirty brick wall of Adam’s pub. He’s never been more regretful that he hadn’t driven his car.

 

~

 

And so he fucks a mewling Harry Styles for the second time, his teeth sunk into the cleft of the boy’s collarbone.

It’s kind of weird. Louis thinks that might be because he’s seen Des Styles’ TED Boston Talk on modern medicine’s influence on corporate society.

 

~

 

The next evening, Harry Styles and his two lackeys are seated at the counter of Adam’s pub, exchanging light, charming laughter and clinking their glasses of beer together. They barely look old enough to drink.

Louis despises all of them. Except for maybe Niall, who seems a little more likeable than Liam. Harry Styles, though...he’s something else. Louis wonders if Harry’s parents know what he gets up to nightly; if they approve of his gay club outings and his one night stands, or if they’re completely clueless. If they think Harry is the perfect little genius IQ son he shows himself to be during the day. If they’ve seen all the tattoos covering his arms and torso.

When Louis enters that night and makes for the stairs, Liam Payne--who he really doesn’t like, he’s decided--calls out a greeting, lifting his arm in a beckoning gesture. Harry Styles is wearing a skin tight black polyester shirt that looks like it’s meant for biking or something, but Louis can see every fucking line of his six pack and biceps, even from where he’s standing. He swallows.

“Hi, Louis,” Liam says politely. He’s so polite. “How are you?”

“I’m alright,” Louis replies a little uncomfortably. Liam is watching him expectantly, and, belatedly, Louis realizes he’s supposed to relay the question. He doesn’t like the formality. “How are you?” he asks anyway.

“I’m well,” Liam says with a kind smile. What the fuck is he doing at a gay bar?

Louis can’t help but get the inkling they don’t quite belong here. He knows that’s really wrong of him but there’s something about Liam in particular--not even Niall--that rubs him the wrong way. Maybe like he’s not here for himself , like he has a purpose here and it’s not to have the time of his life.

“Oi,” says Niall Horan, by way of greeting. “Got a question, if you don’t mind me asking.”

Sliding into an empty stool a couple seats away from where Liam’s sitting, Louis taps his ear and smiles as friendly as he can manage while having to avoid Harry Styles’ line of vision. Louis thinks, out of the corner of his eye, he can see a hickey he left right beneath Harry’s Adam’s apple last night. He shifts on his stool and ignores Harry’s gaze shift towards him.

“Hit me,” Louis says.

“Was wondering where you were from?” Niall asks. “Like. I heard you’re from Yorkshire, and I’ve got a fair amount of family livin’ over there.”

“Doncaster.” Louis picks at his nails without thinking of the answer. “I’m from Doncaster.”

Niall blinks in surprise. “Oh! I’ve been there a couple times. How’d you end up here?”

“How’d you end up here?” Louis shoots back slyly, grinning. There’s a snort into a glass of beer; Louis glances over at Harry, whose dimple is showing but who doesn’t say anything.

“Harvard rang, I suppose,” Niall laughs, and then Louis gets a kind of pit in his stomach and excuses himself, retreating downstairs.

Zayn keeps waggling his eyebrows up and down suggestively, like that’ll make Louis somehow admit he’s gotten rid of his anti-Harvard bias, which he hasn’t. He still hates Harvard. He still hates Harvard brats. Harry Styles just has a really, really great mouth. And impeccable physique. And a great ass.

Louis is so fucked.

Eventually, when Zayn’s teasing gets intolerable, Louis puts his foot down. “I didn’t want a fucking two night stand!” he hisses across the floor, and Zayn bursts out laughing from his designated spot at the bar. “I’m fucking serious!”

“I saw a bruise the size of my fucking hand on that kid’s neck,” Zayn says with a light laugh. “I think you wanted it.”

Louis doesn’t have it in him to say that Zayn’s wrong. He doesn’t have it in him to say he’s right, either.

It’s Nick’s last night playing, which means he’ll close the show. Louis has two options. He can either stick it out until the end and be there to bid Nick a good-hearted goodbye, or he can leave right after his set, preferably with a certain Harry Styles who he kind of wants to sleep with again. He knows it’s kind of his duty as the owner of Adrenaline to see the deals and payment through and make it clear that Nick is always invited back, so long as he abides by his contract not to spread word of the club to other organizations. That’s a mistake Louis doesn’t wish to make again. Minimal publicity is fine; too much, and Louis’ system falls apart. He knows of his reputation, and he knows how bad he’ll look if he has to turn away an organization that wants to make the list. There isn’t room for everyone, and Louis still needs to make money.

Louis decides that if Harry Styles wants to go home with him again, it’s within Harry Styles’ own free will to stick around until the night is over or not. Louis has to stay. He has a business to run, despite the cute little twinks that always manage to melt his heart and get into his bed.

He wouldn’t exactly call Harry Styles a twink, though. He thinks that’d be a bad move.

Nick walks in at his own leisure, which Louis should take as the first bad sign of the night. It’s five to eleven and the ruckus outside is maddening and exuberant--it’s Friday night, which means things will be hectic from here until Monday morning. Nick’s hair is a little more ruffled than it usually is and there’s a slight wobble in his step. Louis tries to go unbothered. Drinking on the job for guests is technically against the rules...Nick has proven himself so far, though, so Louis doesn’t say anything. Just purses his lips and nods a hello.

It’s definitely rowdy, but even from his stage Louis can’t help but skip over the crowd to the bar where he can just see Harry Styles and his lackeys all sat next to each other. Louis loses focus after about half an hour, mind wandering dumbly to if Harry Styles ever drinks anything other than martinis, and then to why he’s wearing that skin tight sports shirt, and then his brain gets the image of Harry rowing on the Charles and that’s the only thing that stays in his head for a while.

His set ends, and Nick takes over. That’s when everything kind of goes to shit.

It’s terrible, to say the least. Nick doesn’t hype up the crowd, all his music lands deflated and defeated on the floor where nobody’s really bouncing along anymore, and Louis has to dismiss himself to the back room for a moment to recollect himself before he actually tears Nick off the stage.

Even though Friday nights are the most exciting all week, the crowd diminishes at around two when it normally goes until four, in search of a feistier scene. Leaving early means less good word and less good word means less money. Less money...well, less money means Little Bitch dies. It just does.

Friday night has ended too early, and it’s all Nick’s fault. Louis steps out of the back room seething, faced with a half empty bar and a drunk group of twenty-somethings stumbling out the main door singing a song with no words. Zayn gives him a look, like he knows exactly what Louis is thinking before he’s even said anything.

Soon enough, the crowd leaves and the club empties, and Nick clumsily stumbles off the stage, not even bothering to switch off the amp before staggering over to the bar and gesturing for a drink from Zayn, who stares at him for a long time before even bothering to move.

Louis sticks his head out the door and tells Paul that the place is empty and not to let in any stragglers, before promptly walking over to where Nick is slouched at the bar and slapping him a little roughly on the shoulder.

“Mate,” Louis says sharply. “What’s your deal?”

Nick is so, so drunk. What happened? Bad breakup? Well-concealed alcoholism? Louis is appalled, and Nick blinks up at him hazily.

“What’re you on about?” Nick chuckles.

“Your drunk ass just lost my entire fucking Friday crowd,” Louis snaps. “This isn’t the quality you’ve been giving me the last two nights. I’m supposed to pay you after this shit?”

Nick squints and gets to his feet, pointing accusingly at Louis. “What the fuck? I signed a contract. You have to pay me.”

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t,” Louis says through gritted teeth. “When you play at my club, you’re representing my business. Drinking on the job is off limits. Same goes for trying to pick up lads to take home, or using my equipment irresponsibly.”

“Come on, man,” Nick protests. “I’d never do that. We’re friends now, yeah? You know I wouldn’t try and pick up a date here.” He pauses. “I mean, I’m not a weird asexual or anything, just to clarify, but…”

Louis stops listening then, right as a surge of fiery anger courses through his chest.

He does the first thing he can think to do, and punches Nick Grimshaw in the face.

He knows Zayn darts out from behind the bar to try and do something, but his efforts are useless; Louis has Nick on the floor, clutching the front of Nick’s shirt with white knuckles and a racing pulse. His nose is already crooked. Louis broke it. Good.

“I never want to see your fucking face here again,” Louis growls. “You stay far away from Adrenaline. This is no place for aphobes.”

Louis gives Nick one last shove, and the man stumbles to his feet, making a beeline for the door.

“Fuck,” Zayn says.

Rubbing his hands, Louis reaches for Nick’s two-thirds full glass and takes a long gulp. “Fuck indeed,” he says, putting the glass down. “I’ll send him a check tomorrow, don’t worry.” He takes a long look around, steps towards the broom closet, and then sits down, before standing up again and turning around aimlessly.

“Lou,” Zayn begins slowly. “I think you should go home.”

“I’m fine,” Louis says automatically, then thinks maybe he isn’t, and sits down again.

“That asshole.” Zayn shakes his head and pours himself a gin and tonic. “That goddamn asshole.”

“Can’t believe I hired a fucking aphobe.” Louis laughs bitterly.

“Hey. There’s no way you could’ve known.” Zayn sighs. “It’s just...like that sometimes.”

“I don’t want anyone like that around Adrenaline,” Louis says firmly. “I...I swore I’d never let anyone like that in here, and I did.

“Lou,” Zayn repeats, tone soft. “It’s not your fault.”

They don’t say anything for a while. Vaguely, Louis wonders if Harry stuck around, or if he’s retreated back home by now, which leads to him wondering if Harry lives in a dorm or if he lives in a mansion with his parents. He misses Harry. Harry smells nice.

“What?” Zayn asks.

“What?” Louis asks.

“Harry…”

“Oh, shit. Did I say that out loud?” Louis puts his face in his hands. “Zayn, I’m so fucking attracted to Harry Styles.”

“I can tell,” Zayn replies boredly.

“How is it possible for someone of his wealth and merit and... family to be that attractive? I feel gross.” Louis flops over the counter. “I fucked a genius. Two nights in a row. What is this? Do you think we’re, like, partners now? Or is it just an extended one night stand? I don’t fucking know.”

Zayn barks out a laugh. “It’s whatever you want it to be, Lou. Now go home. Have a cup of tea, feed your fish. Take a break. I’m beginning to think you might be a little sex crazed.”

Louis scowls, but doesn't say anything. Zayn is only half wrong.

Harry Styles is not leant against the brick wall outside Adam’s pub when Louis finally emerges from Adrenaline. He tries not to feel disappointed.

 

~

 

There’s a Red Sox game droning on from the small flat screen above the bar, and Louis quietly stirs his pinky through the foam resting at the top of his beer as a group of men in cheap suits yell at the television.

It’s six pm, Sunday. It’s been going on three days since Louis’ last seen Harry Styles, and there’s a twinge of loss every time he thinks of the boy; sure, Louis misses him, and he swears it’s not because of Harry’s smile or his dimples or his hair or his eyes or his cheekiness. It’s all because of the sex. That’s all there is.

That’s what Louis tells himself, at least.

Tomorrow is Labor Day, which would normally mean he takes a boy home without worrying about the consequences. Tomorrow is his day off. He can stay out as late as he wants. The problem is, he can’t think of anyone else he’d rather be with than Harry Styles.

There’s kind of one thing left for him to do, if he wants to keep seeing Harry Styles even after his time on Adrenaline’s guest list has expired. He has to make friends with Harry. Get to know him. Make Harry want to keep seeing him. It won’t be an easy feat, he knows, and he hates himself for getting to this point of desperation, but he’s gotta live, right? He’s gotta be able to live a happy life. Maybe that life will involve Harry Styles for a while.

Louis hasn’t seen either of Harry’s friends since Friday, which is why it comes as a bit of a surprise when Niall Horan plops down next to him at the bar. His hair is sticking out from underneath a Harvard Lacrosse beanie and he’s wearing a baby blue polo shirt and khaki shorts. Louis eyes his clothes with a little bit of distaste, but Niall doesn’t seem to notice. He just waves Adam over and orders a pale ale.

“Hello,” Louis greets uncomfortably.

“Hi, mate!” Niall exclaims cheerfully. “How goes it?”

“Alright.” Louis shrugs, and sucks the beer foam off his finger. “Ready for a day off tomorrow.”

Niall laughs a little too excitedly for what Louis’ just said. “Same, same. School’s a killer. Sometimes I wonder what I signed up for, ya know? Ha. The work never stops.” Adam hands Niall his ale and Niall holds it out in a cheers gesture.

“I’ll drink to that,” Louis replies.

There’s a light drizzle pattering outside. The weather is gloomy and dim, and the men watching the Sox game are angry and inconsolable as the other team scores a home run. Adam politely offers their group a free refill because there’s no chance Boston will win this one, and Louis listens to them begrudgingly accept and return back to scolding this batter and that pitcher for their wrong moves.

“Haven’t seen you three at Adrenaline for the last couple nights,” Louis says.

Niall grins. “Yeah, well. There are a lot of things to do.”

“Indeed.” Louis doesn’t press further, but Niall keeps talking.

“I love it here, mate. You’ve done a great job with Adrenaline. To think you did this all by yourself?” Niall shakes his head, still smiling. “It’s pretty extraordinary.”

“Well,” Louis says, cheeks hot, and can’t think of anything else to say, so he takes a sip of his beer instead.

“Harry’s been away,” Niall continues. “Went to London for an event with his parents. I mean, Liam and I don’t really have much of a reason to keep coming if Harry isn’t here, but I missed it. The acceptance.”

He says it like it means nothing, like Louis’ heart doesn’t burst at his words. Then Louis’ brain catches up and he blinks in confusion.

“What do you mean?” Louis asks. “You don’t come unless Harry comes, or…?”

“Me and Liam are just...escorts,” Niall laughs dismissively. “Harry’s the one who initiates everything, but we kind of just tag along to make sure nothing bad happens.”

“Oh.” Louis grimaces. “So...he pays you to be friends with him.” Louis doesn’t know why he’s surprised; that seems like a completely reasonable thing for someone like Harry Styles to do, but he still feels a pang of disgust.

Niall cackles. “No, no. No imbursement. I’m asexual, and I come by my own free will, but I wouldn’t have gotten on the list if it weren’t for Harry! He loves Adrenaline--he’s been wanting to come for ages and he’s finally twenty-one so he can. Liam, well. He was a little unsure because he’s questioning, you know, but he loves it too. He’s just not as...outgoing, I suppose.”

“Oh,” Louis says again. “So...what’s Harry’s deal?”

Eyeing him, Niall sips his drink. “He’s...not out. To anyone at school. That’s why he comes here. If that’s what you’re asking.”

Oh. Oh.

The Harry Styles that Louis was introduced to by Adam was not the same Harry Styles Louis took home on Wednesday night. It makes sense, now, that Harry’s a different person in the presence of people involved with his parents; why he was so open and likeable with Louis but closed off and fake with Liam and Niall.

Louis feels awful.

“I...I meant is he single?” Louis blurts out without thinking, in an effort to try and steer the conversation away from sad topics. Of course Harry Styles is single, else he wouldn’t have been in Louis’ bed twice now. Dumbass.

Niall blinks at him.

“Not sure if it’s my business to be tellin’ you all this stuff,” Niall says. “But...yeah. Harry’s single as can be.”

Louis doesn’t know why it sends a wave of relief through him. He won’t question it.

“Of course, it’s not like his parents would... approve of him having a boyfriend. They’re not the most accepting bunch.”

Of course. Of course they’re not. Louis knows that already, but it stings to hear it in words.

“How do you get by?” Louis asks a little sadly, voice cracking.

Niall shrugs again, limply this time.

“Keep things to myself, I suppose.”

It’s quite possibly one of the most horrible things Louis’ ever heard. He wordlessly raises his glass in Niall’s direction one last time, and gulps it down thickly. They leave it at that.

 

~

 

The roads are empty and quiet, the upper highway to Castle Island breezing by an open aired salty scent of distant sea. Zayn’s third-hand teal Subaru smells like sugar packets and Dunkin coffee and dirty laundry, and his portable Sony CD player bounces in its cupholder where it’s hooked up to the aux cord, blaring Do I Wanna Know? on endless repeat, a Don Henley song scattered here and there to break up the drum beat, the heavy bass.

Zayn blows a bubble with his gum, mouth caught up in a half smile. He looks effortlessly cool. Louis’ feet rest on the dash, dirty Vans thumping along to the rhythm. He’s singing along, obviously; there’s no getting sick of this song, for him at least, and Zayn’s too disaffected to care.

Louis breathes out a slow puff of cigarette smoke, watching it wisp out the open windows like a third pair of hands.

“Happy Labor Day,” Louis says.

“Happy Labor Day,” Zayn echoes back.

Castle Island’s stone fortress appears through a cloud of hazy mist, and Louis thinks of Harry Styles, thinks of him staring up at London’s foggy sky. Wonders if Harry Styles is thinking of him too, if Harry Styles misses him at all. If Harry Styles misses Adrenaline, or the loud bustle of Harvard Yard on the weekend, or if he cries for the secrets he keeps from his parents, or if he chose this life himself.

He stops thinking about it when The Heart of the Matter starts playing. There are other things to occupy himself with.

Louis buys three lobster rolls and a plastic cup of cheap Boston-brewed beer from the shop just beyond the parking lot; one for himself and the two he promised for Zayn. They eat while walking barefoot along the empty beach, sand cool and a little damp from yesterday’s rain.

“You ever miss home?” Louis asks casually. “England, I mean.”

Zayn shrugs and picks at a chunk of lobster, sticking it in his mouth. “Course. Would be weird if I didn’t, yeah?”

Louis hums. “Even with things the way they are?”

“Family’s family,” Zayn says, and it sounds a little bit like he’s directing that at Louis, more bluntly than he expects. “They do bad shit, yeah, but. I dunno. You hate your family, you get it.”

“I don’t hate them,” Louis says quietly, even though he’s not sure quite how true it is. “I love Boston,” he corrects himself. “And Adrenaline. And...everything here.”

“Same,” Zayn replies, and doesn’t say anything else, just looks out at the grey water rolling and rippling in the wind, which has picked up since they parked on the island not even half an hour ago.

“I hate what they did to me, I think,” Louis says, “More than I hate them.”

It starts drizzling soon enough, before the drizzle turns into a shower, and the shower turns into a heavy rain.

They race back to Zayn’s car with their lobster rolls held under their shirts to shield them from the storm. Zayn has to turn the key a couple times to get the car to start, because that’s just how old it is, and before Louis can reach for the CD player to turn the volume up over the rain pattering heavily on the hollow metal roof, a song that isn’t Do I Wanna Know? starts crooning away from the battered speakers.

I am not the only traveller.

“I love this fucking song,” Louis shouts, and turns the volume all the way up.

“... who has not repaid his debt.

Zayn’s Subaru pulls out of the Castle Island parking lot to The Night We Met , and Louis kind of wishes he could go back to the night when he met Harry Styles, just to see his green eyes freshly sparkle all over again.

I had all and then most of you, some and now none of you.

It’s kind of funny.

 

~

 

Harry Styles returns to Adrenaline on Wednesday night, wearing a tattered flannel shirt over a classic burgundy Harvard tee.

Louis finds him at the bar sipping his trademark martini while the guest artist, Greg, plays. He doesn’t say anything, just sidles up next to Harry and waves at Zayn for a beer.

Harry sips his martini and doesn’t acknowledge Louis’ presence at first.

“Back from holiday, eh?”

Harry just smiles wearily. “Holiday?”

“Yeah,” Louis says. “Heard from Niall you were in London.”

“Hm,” Harry replies simply, and takes another sip of his martini. The music feels muffled over the sight of Harry Styles--his eyes are dimmer and his hair is flat and he looks a little less alive than he did the last time Louis saw him.

“They’re not the most accepting bunch.”

Of course. It makes perfect sense.

“We’re glad to have you back,” Louis says firmly. “Really.”

Harry stares at him for a moment, contemplating, before speaking.
“Thank you,” he says finally.

Louis gives him a big, proper, genuine smile, and tries not to be pleased at the way Harry’s eyes brighten a little more.

(Harry Styles is also waiting for him against Adam’s pub wall when Louis emerges from Adrenaline at 3am. They go back to Louis’ together. Louis tries to pretend he hasn’t missed what they do.)

 

~

 

He wakes, on Thursday, to an almost unbearable heat pressed to his front and emanating from what seems to be the mattress itself.

Louis opens his eyes to an early afternoon sun streaming through the window and a long body curled against him. It takes a moment for everything to sink in; he blinks once, twice, and three times, mulling over the events of last night, and finally everything slots into place when his brain recognizes the tattoos on the tanned skin he’s holding close.

Oh, shit. Harry Styles is still in his bed.

Every other night they’ve done this, Harry has retreated before Louis’ even woken up, leaving a cold side of the bed and a half empty glass of water on the counter. Not today, as it seems, because they’re spooning , Louis’ front against Harry’s toned back, and their legs are wrapped around each other.

What the fuck.

His first instinct is to pull away, slip out from under the covers and leave Harry alone. But there’s that less rational part of him that convinces him to stay, to curl closer into the boy and drift off for another hour or so--it’s not like he hasn’t ever been late to work. That’s exactly what he does.

When he comes back to reality, it’s to Harry Styles stirring; stretching out his long limbs and burying his face in the pillow. Louis shifts his hand from where it’s loosely folded into Harry’s chest down to Harry’s tummy and curls his toes, yawning. Harry shifts, turns his face towards Louis, and it sends this odd wave of butterflies through Louis’ stomach at Harry’s hazy green eyes, his puffy eyelids, his tangled lashes, his soft lips. He blinks up at Louis sleepily, and he doesn’t look like Harry Styles...he just looks like Harry. Small, soft, contented Harry.

“Good afternoon,” Louis greets, voice scratchy and raw from last night’s activities.

“Hi,” Harry says. “I...hi.”

“How’re you feeling?”

Harry scans his face before answering. “I’m...fine. I’m good. Thank you.”

“Good,” Louis says. He slides his arm out from Harry’s grasp and sits up, running a hand through his hair. Harry’s chest tattoos slip out from underneath the duvet. “It’s nice to have you wake up with me for a change.”

Louis swears he sees Harry blush. “I didn’t mean to,” Harry admits. “It just...kinda happened.”

There are too many versions of Harry Styles to keep up with. There’s smooth, smirky Adrenaline Harry. There’s the kittenish, desperate Harry in Louis’ bed; there’s the flaunty Harvard Harry with more money than he knows what to do with and good looks he knows he has. There’s the empty Harry, the one Louis looked at last night with his lonely, sad eyes. There’s the Harry Niall’s told him about; the Harry who hides things from his parents and sneaks out at night.

There’s this Harry. Louis doesn’t really know who he is.

“I can’t figure you out,” Louis blurts out.

Harry blinks. “What do you mean?”

“You…” Louis almost forgets what he was going to say when he sees a strand of Harry’s hair curl over his forehead. “You’re so...strange.”

“Strange,” Harry repeats, his eyes narrowing.

“Not like that,” Louis says quickly. “You’re...special. I’ve never slept with one boy four nights. Never.”

The corner of Harry’s mouth quirks up, and there he is--that tiny hint of Adrenaline Harry. “Is that a compliment?”

“Yes,” Louis tells him. “It is. And...I’ve never been involved with someone like you before. You’re different. Special. I dunno. I’m tired.” He rubs a drool mark off his cheek with the back of his hand.

“I’m Harry,” Harry says quietly. “I’m twenty-one. I’m from Cheshire, England--a really small town. Holmes Chapel. I lived with my grandparents until I was twelve, and then moved to Boston. I love cats. I eat a lot of pasta. I’m going to be a heart surgeon. I’m bisexual. Your turn.”

Louis’ been holding his breath for a solid minute. Harry doesn’t seem tense or upset or anything. He just gives Louis a gentle gaze, soft smile on his lips.

“Oh,” Louis says. “Oh. I...I’m Louis Tomlinson. I’m twenty-six. I’m from Doncaster, South Yorkshire. I have four sisters. I moved to Boston when I was eighteen to go to Berklee, then dropped out when I was twenty to start Adrenaline. I have a fish named Little Bitch. I want to make music for the rest of my life. I’m gay. My parents don’t like that.”

Harry Styles sighs a bit, then holds out a hand.

“Nice to meet you, Louis,” Harry says.

“Nice to meet you, Harry,” Louis echoes back.

Louis has no idea what just happened, but he thinks it matters a lot.

 

~

 

Harry puts his number into Louis’ phone before he leaves. Louis saves his contact as:

just harry :)

 

~

 

Harry doesn’t show up at Adrenaline that night, so Louis texts him a hello and a few heart emojis to get things started. He walks in practically glowing, immediately raising Zayn’s suspicions.

“What?” he asks obliviously.

Zayn just squints at him.

 

~

 

It’s a bad Friday.

Louis wakes up at eight in the morning to a fire alarm rattling the building. Clad in slippers and plaid pajama pants and a quilt wrapped around his shoulders, he stumbles down the fire escape with his neighbors, standing in the vibrant morning sun and blinking groggily at the firemen who clamber up the steps eventually.

It’s nothing. Just some overburnt pancakes. But Louis’ gotten about three hours of sleep, and he’s grumpy and sleepy and tonight will be a late one, and by the time he finally staggers back up the steps it’s almost nine and he can’t seem to force his body back into sleep. He drinks a cup of decaf tea in the hopes he’ll doze off but resorts to downing about a gallon of coffee and mindlessly streaming ANTM reruns until he feels his brain rotting in his skull and has nothing else to do but find some lunch.

There’s a text from Harry Styles lighting up his phone screen when he glances down for the time (it’s 1:18).

hi louis tomlinson

Louis stares at his phone blankly, hand frozen where he’s been spreading cream cheese on a bagel.

Hello Harry , Louis types back.

He eats his bagel anxiously, waiting for a reply, which comes only after he’s decided to get dressed, notification dinging while his shirt’s being pulled over his head. He almost falls on his face to get to where his phone is charging on his bed.

how are you on this friday?

Louis exhales fervently before replying.

I was woken up at 8 am by a fire alarm in my building ! So I’m wonderful . How are u ??

His Friday gets a little better when he sees Harry typing a response, but a little worse when Harry tells him he won’t be at Adrenaline because he has some fancy cocktail party to attend that night.

don’t miss me too much ;) Harry adds right before Louis buries his face in the mattress and screams.

 

~

 

He spends all day texting Harry.

At first it’s light, casual conversation, and that turns into snarkier conversation, and that turns into flirting, and that turns into extensive descriptions about the shows and movies and music they like.

Harry is incredibly likeable. Louis doesn’t know if he should credit that to the kid’s own personality or the way he was raised, but he’s really, really lovely, and Louis’ never wanted to date a Harvard med student before, but there’s a first time for everything. Zayn drops into Dunkin that afternoon while Louis’ working and he seems pleased that Louis is finally getting rid of his anti-Harvard bias, as much as Louis denies it.

“Not all Harvard kids are homophobic assholes, babe,” Zayn tells him solemnly over a strawberry frosted donut and a frozen coffee. “Harry Styles certainly isn’t.”

Not all men… ” Louis mocks, crossing his eyes and plastering a stupid look on his face. Zayn rolls his eyes.

“Do you want a boyfriend or not?” Zayn deadpans. “Look, you haven’t been this close to getting one in, like, years.”

“Wow, pretending our relationship was nothing?” Louis teases.

“I’m serious. Don’t fuck this up. Harry seems like a really good kid and he’s only five years younger than you and he’s rich as fuck. Who knows, maybe you’ll get married and move into his fancy mansion and have lots of little rich babies.”

Louis grimaces. “Wh...why would you even. Say that.”

Zayn grins, kisses him on the cheek, and then leaves. Louis can’t help but mull over his words; does he really want Harry to be his boyfriend? Would Harry even want to be his boyfriend? He has so many other things to enjoy, so many better things than Louis.

Even as he thinks this, his phone lights up with message after message from Harry. He’s one for stupid puns, and Louis hates how endeared he is, how he can’t stop his smile every time Harry makes a fucking cheese joke.

Date me? Louis thinks desperately.

what’s a cheese’s favorite kind of music? r & brie

Part of Louis wants to throw his phone across Dunkin Donuts. The other part of him wants to kiss Harry Styles until his lips turn blue.

He’s in too deep, that’s the thing. There’s no going back, not with the way he and Harry are texting each other endless, not with the way the itch to take Harry out is still sitting at the back of his mind. It doesn’t help much that Harry is probably the most attractive twenty-one year old he’s ever seen. But now instead of his insatiable ass wanting to have sex with Harry again, it’s something more; it’s something. He hopes it involves taking Harry on a date, because even as much as he’ll deny it, he could really use a fit, rich, sweet boyfriend who also is the youngest student enrolled in Harvard Medical School.

That night, Louis enters Adrenaline a little limply because he already knows Harry won’t be there. Neither Niall nor Liam are sitting in Adam’s pub when Louis walks in and retreats down the back stairs. Zayn is playing a Spotify mix from his phone while he scrubs some glasses, his black shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He and Louis haven’t hooked up in months. It’s kind of nice to not have their relationship strained by something extra. Not that their friendship was ever weird, it just...wasn’t quite right.

Louis and Harry feels right.

The thing is, Louis can’t really picture having sex with anyone else. Not with Harry around.

His guest act, Greg, is nice enough and knows how to keep a crowd going. He’s also extra punctual, which Louis appreciates. The night runs smoothly and without issue. Adrenaline’s attendees have a wonderful time. Everything is under control.

And then it’s not.

12:57am.

Adam should be home by now, but tonight’s the night he just so happened to stay extra hours to clean up. Louis hasn’t started his set yet; he’s getting himself ready to go on, touching up his waterline with a bit of eyeliner, fluffing his hair. He walks out of the back room to Adam hurrying a few sentences to Zayn, whose mouth is open in shock.

“What’s going on?” Louis asks immediately, stepping behind the bar.

“I…” Zayn closes his mouth, then opens it, then closes it again.

“Something’s happening,” Adam tells him, out of breath, like he sprinted down the stairs. “I just got a call from someone, I dunno who, they said they had connections to Adrenaline? They said the...they said the police are coming. They’re shutting it down.”

Louis’ blood runs cold.

“What?” is all he manages to say.

“Fuck. Okay, listen. The police have no fucking reason to shut this place down; you have all your licenses and shit, you have all your permits. So some shit has tipped off the cops that there’s illegal activity going on down here and now we need to shut everything down because people are gonna get hurt in the trample to get out.”

Louis swallows, throat dry. The music blasting is muffled, his ears ringing.

“No,” Louis says dumbly. “That’s impossible.”

“We’ve got to move, Lou,” Adam tells him. “You need to tell the kid on the stage to shut it down. Everyone needs to get the fuck out of here.”

“Fuck,” Louis gets out. “Fuck. Let me think. Fuck.”

Now, ” Adam warns urgently.

“Let me think , Christ’s sake!” Louis yells, burying his face in his hands.

The only thing he can think is that this can’t be happening. Not to his club. Not to everything he’s worked on for the past five years. Not to Adrenaline.

It hits him very suddenly. He is not losing this place. Not now.

Body on autopilot, he shoves through the crowd to the stage, stepping up to Greg’s side and motioning for him to take his headphones off. Greg gives him a confused look before obliging.

“Don’t have much time,” Louis tells him quickly. “Police are on their way. We need to get everyone out. I’ll reimburse you. I’m sorry.”

Louis shuts off the turntable and flips on the microphone. The crowd shouts out in confusion, angry and upset.

“I’m terribly sorry to interrupt,” Louis says, voice echoing round the club. “But I have a bit of an announcement that changes tonight’s plans.”

The crowd falls silent.

“We’ve just been notified that someone--we don’t know who--has reported us to the police for supposed illegal activity. I, uh, hope you all know this isn’t true, as we, Adrenaline, pride ourselves in our legitimacy, but for the safety of our clubgoers, we request that you all exit Adrenaline in a timely and calm manner. Thank you.” Louis switches off the microphone to complete silence, and then the crowd begins to move, trickling out towards the door. Louis knows the fear they must feel. The world isn’t a safe place for gay people as it is.

Louis digitally starts up Do I Wanna Know? set to repeat to calm himself and the crowd down. He wants to cry, watching the people coated in glitter and rainbows and body paint file out through the main door.

“I’m sorry,” Louis tells Greg again.

Greg shakes his head. “Don’t. Don’t apologize.”

“You can go home,” Louis says quietly. “Stay safe.”

Nodding once, Greg reaches for his backpack and tucks away his supplies, patting Louis on the shoulder before leaving.

It’s 1:31.

The club is empty except for Adam, Zayn, and Louis, with Paul outside the door. Louis’ hands shake.

“What if it was a false alarm?” Zayn asks. “Or a prank call?”

“Then we go home,” Adam says simply.

They sit around the bar in silence.

1:46.

There’s a muffled conversation outside the door, and then a loud banging. Two fists, pounding. Louis almost throws up.

“Cambridge Police, open up!”

Zayn and Adam wait for him to make the first move. He does, eventually, sliding out from his stool and stepping up to the door, opening it slowly.

There are two of them. The first officer’s fist is poised in the air, ready for another burst of rough knocking, and Paul is leant against the wall, arms crossed, scowling.

“How can I help you, officers?” Louis asks pleasantly, pasting a fake smile on his face.

“Got a report of illegal drug usage,” the first officer tells him gruffly. “Are you Louis Tomlinson?”

“That’s me,” Louis says, trying to hide the shake in his voice.

“You have all your papers?”

Louis nods, stepping back reluctantly to let them both in.

“ID?” the second officer requests.

“In the back,” Louis tells him, and he doesn’t think before fear gets the better of him and he adds, “It’s Adrenaline management only.”

Everything happens slowly. The two officers exchange a look. The first one shifts his hand to his belt. The second one narrows his eyes; he glances around at the flags hanging from the wall, the ceiling, and then steps up to a wall and lifts one to look behind it.

“Excuse me?” Louis interrupts. “Do you have a search warrant?”

The first one just looks at him, and the second one tears down a rainbow flag, and Louis sees red.

“Hey!” he shouts. He doesn’t have a plan. He doesn’t have a single fucking idea in his head. That’s why, when he storms up and lays a rough hand on the second officer’s shoulder, it’s the biggest shock he’s ever had in his life when two guns are pulled on him.

Adam starts yelling, now. Louis’ brain can’t seem to comprehend what he’s saying; there’s a rush of blood to his head and he stumbles back.

“Get on the ground!”

Louis doesn’t know how this happened. He can’t help but feel like he’s failed at literally everything when a pair of handcuffs click around his wrists and then he’s ducking his head, sliding into the backseat of a police car.

 

~

 

Louis’ cell is small, empty, and there’s nothing to do but stare at the wall.

The clock he can see behind the front desk says it’s six in the morning. He’s tired; his body is telling him that it needs sleep desperately, but his brain is restless and upset, anxious and unable to quit its relentless racing.

He knows he has one call. He isn’t ready to use it yet. His fingerprint has been taken, the paperwork has been filled. All he can think about is Adrenaline, flags torn off the walls, expensive equipment broken and scattered. He wants to go home, go to bed, but going home means facing everything and figuring out how to put his club back together. He’s not ready to do that, either.

Louis wonders what his parents would think if they saw him now, leant against the wall of a police station cell, skinny jeans dusty from sitting on the floor, running eyeliner down his face and hair too crisp with night-old styling mousse. They’d be disappointed--of course they would. It’s not like they’ve ever been proud of him for anything.

He decides to end his own misery at seven, when the sun’s almost finished its sleepy rise. He stands up clumsily, stretching out his back and wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. Pressing his forehead to the bars, he clears his throat at the man sat behind the front desk, flipping through a magazine and sipping a coffee.

The man peers at him.

“Ready for that call?” he asks. His voice holds a little sympathy, as if he actually knows the kind of shit Louis is going through right now.

Louis nods tiredly.

 

~

 

Zayn picks up on the second ring.

Hullo ?” He sounds exhausted.

“It’s me,” Louis says, and he thinks he sounds even more exhausted. “I need a bail.”

How much ?” Zayn asks flatly, as if Louis’ whole universe hasn’t just caved in.

“Eight hundred,” Louis says. “Please. I’ll give you whatever you need.”

I can’t, Lou.

“Zayn,” Louis pleads. “Come on. Help me out here.”

No, I mean...I can’t. Do this .”

Louis’ heart drops to his stomach. “What do you mean?”

There’s a pause where Zayn sighs and doesn’t say anything. Louis presses his forehead to the wall beside the telephone.

This...this isn’t right ,” Zayn says finally.

“No shit,” Louis replies. “Someone had to have gone and reported--”

I don’t mean...that ,” Zayn interrupts. “ I mean. That’s awful, yeah? But...mate, I could lose, like, all twenty of my jobs because of this. I can’t get in shit with the cops. I can’t get into legal stuff. I...I need to send money to my sister, I need to keep these jobs.

“What are you saying? It’s my fault?”

No. Of course not. ” There’s shifting on the other end, like he’s moving around. “ Just that...tonight was bad. And I need to stay away for a while. That’s all.

“So you’re just leaving me here?” Louis exclaims incredulously. “You’re just...leaving me to find someone else to help me run my fucking club?”

The guard behind him clears their throat.

This isn’t just about you, Louis, ” Zayn tells him, with a bite Louis’ never heard before. “ You aren’t the only one involved in this. You aren’t the only one hurt by this.

“Adrenaline belongs to me,” Louis says. “I’ve put my whole life into this. I pay you, Zayn. The least you can do is... help me when it’s seven am and I’m in a fucking police station for a crime I didn’t commit.” He says the last bit a little pointedly, directed at the guard watching him.

This is fucked up, ” Zayn says. “ And I’m sorry but...I’ve got to get away.

The line goes dead.

Louis presses his head harder into the wall, like he’ll fall into it and it’ll swallow him whole. He lost almost everything in starting Adrenaline, and now he’s lost not only Adrenaline but his best friend, too.

“Back to your cell, then,” the guard says.

“Wait,” Louis says tiredly, a newfound exhaustion over him. “Please. One more?”

“I--”

“Please. If it doesn’t work I promise I won’t give you any kind of shit, please. Please.”

The guard opens their mouth to speak, but then closes it tightly, pauses, and nods once.

“Thank you,” Louis says gratefully, already punching in the number.

It rings four times, and just as Louis’ started to lose hope, the line picks up. His heart feels like it’s being squeezed in an iron grip, like all the breath has been sucked from his lungs, and the voice that answers makes his eyes well.

Hello?

“Harry?”

Louis?

“Hi,” Louis says.

What’s up?

“Is now an okay time?” Louis asks weakly.

No, no, it’s fine, ” Harry says, charming as ever. “ What’s up? ” he repeats.

“I...am in kind of a situation. I’m...I’m at Cambridge Police Station. And I need a bail. And you’re the only person I could think to call.”

Shit ,” Harry says.

“Yeah.” Louis laughs humorlessly. “If you can’t...I’ll think of something, yeah? It’s okay. I’ll be okay.” It sounds a lot like a lie, even to his own ears.

I’m on my way ,” Harry tells him firmly. “ Be there in ten.

Louis wants to drop to his knees and sob with relief.

“Thank you,” he says instead. “Thank you.”

 

~

 

Harry is wearing a satin ivory shirt.

He looks far too prim for a place like this. Louis doubts he’s ever even been inside a police station, but he looks so confident striding in he wonders if that might not be true.

Harry pays the eight hundred dollars without a second glance, and Louis’ cell is opened up for his release. Louis feels far too small beside him; fingers tucked into his jean pockets and hair obscuring half his vision. There’s paperwork to be signed and Louis really wishes he had a hoodie or something because his bare arms make him feel too vulnerable, especially with Harry right next to him, taller, wealthier, handsomer.

On their way out, Harry puts his hand on the small of Louis’ back. Normally, he’d shake it off, but decides to let it slide. Just for this morning.

Harry has a black Range Rover, because of course he does. Louis doesn’t even have the energy to feel sorry for the beautiful polished seats when he collapses into the car.

They sit in silence for a few minutes. Louis stares at the bright blue early morning sky, sun shining vibrantly and energetically.

“Well,” Harry says after five empty minutes have dragged on. “I need a coffee.”

He pulls out from the lot.

They go through a Dunkin drive through, and Harry orders both of them a hot black coffee, pulling his nice, expensive car into an empty space. There’s another few minutes of silence. Harry seems too scared to speak and Louis doesn’t know what to say.

“Thank you,” he decides on eventually. His voice is raw and hoarse.

“For what?” Harry asks.

“This. Picking me up. Saving me.” The last part’s supposed to be a joke, but it doesn’t sound much like one.

Harry shrugs and sips his drink. Louis’ is growing lukewarm in the cupholder. “Wasn’t gonna just leave you there.”

For some reason, his remark makes Louis’ eyes prickle with tears. He hugs his elbows in closer to his chest.

“Cold?” Without waiting for an answer, Harry reaches into the backseat and pulls out a burgundy Harvard sweatshirt. Louis stares at it for a moment, Harry holding it out expectantly, and finally accepts it, pulling it over his head. It’s too big but soft and comfy and it smells like the expensive cologne he always picks up when Harry’s around.

“Thank you,” Louis says softly. His voice cracks before he’s through ‘you’, and that’s when he starts to cry.

He looks like an idiot. He looks like a fucking idiot, demanding to be picked up for a ridiculous fine at seven in the morning, crying over a foam cup of lukewarm, plain coffee and snotting all over the sleeves of Harry’s nice, warm, lovely-smelling fifty dollar sweatshirt. It’s not cute, quiet crying, either; it’s ugly, shaking sobs, shoulders lurching with every gasping breath and tears blurring his vision until the Dunkin parking lot is just a swirl of sparkling asphalt and an endless drive-thru of morning commute.

Harry just sits there, listening to him cry, handing him a tissue every now and then in between his violent bursts of tears.

Louis stops crying eventually, sobs fading into little hiccups. The sleeves of Harry’s sweatshirt are tear stained and there are splotches of last night’s eyeliner sunken into the fabric.

He’ll apologize later.

“I would ask if you’re okay,” Harry begins slowly, “But I think that would be kinda stupid.”

Louis sniffs.

“Do you want to tell me what happened?” Harry asks.

Louis has kind of forgotten that this Harry is the Harry Styles he fucked into oblivion for four nights in a row. He seems too kind, too gentle, too real. Louis really, really likes him.

“I...don’t know,” Louis says, voice thick with leftover tears. “God, I’m a fucking idiot.”

“Don’t.” Harry furrows his brows, facing him fully. “You’re not. Louis. Why would you say that?”

“Because.” Louis wipes his eyes with his sleeves. “I managed to destroy not only the club I’ve put my whole life’s work into but also my relationship with my best friend. And now I’m sitting here in your car that costs more than anything I own wearing your sweatshirt having a fucking breakdown, and--”

His next words are suspended in the air, unsaid, because Harry Styles surges forward and kisses him.

Louis freezes, at first. There’s no air in his lungs, and his eyes are wide and his mouth has another mouth on it and everything is confusing and too bright and then Harry puts his palm on Louis’ cheek and everything slots right into place.

His eyes slip shut, slowly. One second he’s cold and scared and completely lost and the next he’s warm; warm with Harry’s sweatshirt and warm with Harry’s hands on him and warm with Harry’s lips on his. One second the oxygen is stolen from him completely and the next, he feels like he can finally breathe.

Harry breaks the kiss first. He blinks at Louis through thick lashes and clear green eyes and Louis connects their lips one more time. For good measure.

“What was that for?” Louis breathes.

“I just.” Harry shrugs again, cheeks and lips bright pink. “I just wanted to.”

It’s eight o’clock. Louis doesn’t feel quite so cold anymore.

“I don’t wanna go home,” he blurts out, pinching the hem of Harry’s sweatshirt.

Harry turns the key in the ignition, and his car’s engine bursts to life.

“My place it is,” he says, and pulls out of the parking lot.