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a yuzu grows in brooklyn

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On a shady street in Brooklyn, a fire hydrant sends a spray of water into the air and beneath its arch, a gaggle of children splash around, laughing and squealing. Louis can't blame them. Summer is ending and taking its tireless heat with it. And it’s not just the kids, but everyone, it seems, making one final grab at seasonal fun. 

It’s Friday afternoon and he’s running late. He knows how long it’ll take for a train to come and how long it’ll take the train to get him where he’s going. And he knows he should start leaving a bit earlier when he’s got someplace to be. But the trouble is Louis never really wants to go anywhere, if he’s honest. It’s more that he feels he has to. It’s loneliness and FOMO and the nagging voice in his head that insists one missed night equates somehow to a whole life of failure. That this is the start of it all.

Stay at home and die — alone, penniless, miserable. 

If he weren’t perpetually single, he probably wouldn’t think this way. And sometimes he’s aware of how absurd he’s being and overcomes that voice and stays home anyway.

But more often, he gets dressed and gets on the train and allows Zayn and the others to talk him into meeting them at some bar that’s either really shitty or horribly overpriced. And If he’s lucky, there’ll be food he doesn’t have to share. (But usually, he has to grab a dollar slice on the way home.)

Bachelorhood is sweetest in New York. No, he’s not being sarcastic. He’s never heard of sarcasm before in his life.

He exits the subway in Soho and pulls up his maps. A five-minute walk later, he steps into a neon-lit haunt and sees Zayn right away at the bar.

“Hey,” Louis says, stepping into the hug Zayn offers. He’s distinctly aware of someone stood on his other side, watching them, who obviously must be the friend Zayn brought along. He steps back, his expression already morphing into something congenial and polite.

He faces the stranger and blanks.

For reference, his conversation with Zayn earlier that day had gone something like:

‘I want you to meet my friend.”

‘Someone you’re dating?’

‘Nah, just a friend. He’s kind of new to the city and needs to meet ppl. He’s from Cheshire.’

And he’s gorgeous, but that’s the bit Zayn neglected to mention.

Immediately, Louis thinks about the baseball cap he’s wearing and his five-o’clock shadow. He’d barely glanced at himself before stepping through the door. Mentally, he facepalms. Physically, he forces a smile.

“Hi,” the boy says, extending a hand. “Harry.”

“Louis.” They shake. His hand is sort of big. His fingertips calloused. He’s tall and slim and slouchy, nice arms, perfect smile. His hair is short with springy locks sort of shooting everywhere, curling over his forehead. Wide eyes, but not in a comical way. Wide-open and observant. All he’s wearing is a black T-shirt, blue jeans, and Vans. But he is drop-dead gorgeous and Louis has to look away from him, responding in that way he does around boys he’s got a crush on. Which is ridiculous. He’s literally just met him.

Harry looks away too, but after Louis orders a drink and they get a table, their eyes meet again. And they smile at one another. And look away.

“Just going to run to the loo,” Harry says.

He gets up, leaving Zayn and Louis alone.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Louis says, barely waiting until Harry is beyond earshot.

Zayn’s brows crease. “What?”

“What kind of a friend does this? I’d never do this to you.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You didn’t tell me he looked like that ,” Louis says. “Fucking hell—”

Zayn rolls his eyes, taking a sip of his drink. “You just said last week you’re not interested in dating.”

“That’s not the point!”

“He’s not even your type, Louis.”

Louis’ eyes widen. “Since when ?”

“He’s 30!” Zayn says. “You don’t date younger men.”

Louis pauses for a second. True, but also— “That’s still not the point. A good friend says, ‘Hey, want you to meet a friend of mine. Just so you know, he’s really fucking fit.’ And anyway he’s only two years younger.”

“You don’t even like dating men your own age,” Zayn says, his brows wrinkled.

“You’re grasping at straws.” Louis shakes his head, sipping his drink irately. “I’m staying for one drink and then I’m leaving. I won’t be the victim of this ambush any longer than I have to.”

Zayn ignores him, lifting a menu.

Harry returns, his eyes meeting Louis’ again. “Did you two order?”

“Louis says he’s only staying for one drink,” Zayn says. The amusement in his voice isn’t immediately obvious, but Louis knows him and hears it well.

“Really?” Harry asks. He has the audacity to look disappointed.

Louis shrugs. “Might stay for a bite, I don't know.”

“This place has the best nachos, I heard,” Harry says. “Maybe we could all share a plate?”

Louis is definitely going for a slice of pizza after this. “Sure.” He doesn’t bother looking at the menu. “How do you two know each other?”

“We have a mutual friend,” Harry says. “Clemena.”

Who Louis knows is Zayn’s coworker. She lived in NY a year ago and fucked around exclusively with Zayn until she relocated to their ad agency’s Miami office. Her reasoning was the pursuit of warmer weather. Zayn thinks it’s more to do with commitment issues. He says he’s over it all now.

“I was mostly friends with her online, through Twitter,” Harry says. “When I told her I was coming here, she connected me with Zayn. And we’ve been hanging out ever since.”

Louis narrows his eyes at Zayn. “Has he hit on you yet?” he asks Harry.

Harry laughs. “No, he has not,” he says, then pouts at Zayn. “My tits not nice enough for you?”

Louis and Zayn sputter. They all dissolve into laughter. But Louis is the only one who swoons. He loves a sense of humour. He loves it even more when it’s impolite. Combined with everything else about Harry, he might be in trouble.

“Love your tits mate,” Zayn says in the kind but comical way only he can.

 +

Zayn’s Uber pulls away from the kerb and it dawns on Louis that Harry is still standing beside him. Louis smiles awkwardly. “How are you getting home?” he asks.

“I don’t know. I’m actually still hungry,” Harry says. “You?”

“I’m starving, mate,” Louis says and Harry snickers. “I was planning to grab a slice of pizza after this, to be honest.”

“Wow, you had it all worked out?”

“I always do,” Louis says. “I’d invite you, but it’s not a very social place. You just hand them a dollar, they hand you a slice, and you hop on the train, you know?”

“Oh, got it,” Harry says. It could be Louis’ imagination but he looks vaguely disappointed.

“I mean, we could go to Five Guys,” Louis says. “If you‘re trying to get me to stay.”

Harry smiles. “You’re not craving pizza specifically?”

“I could eat anything right now,” Louis says. “To be honest, if I’m craving anything it’s a proper fry-up. Been thinking about it for weeks. I make the best fry-up, mate. Just haven’t had the time.”

“I’d like to see that,” Harry says. “The best fry-up.”

“You sound unconvinced.”

“I mean… Mine is pretty great.”

“Not better than mine, though.”

Harry shrugs, unbothered. “Alright.”

“Listen, I love being right. I especially love when people tell me I’m right. I’m absolutely willing to prove it, so I can hear you tell me how right I am. It’s your call,” Louis says. Harry doesn’t immediately respond. When he looks at him, he’s completely thrown by how pleased he looks. Has anyone ever looked so pleased with him when he’s purposefully being a twat? Louis shoves his hands in his pockets. “You just name a time and place.”

“You’re willing to prove it right now?”

“Well, that’s a bit difficult, seeing as we’re not standing in a kitchen.”

“I’m only six blocks away,” Harry says. “But no pressure.”

“You want me to do a full English right now?”

“Do you need a day or two to prepare?”

“Fuck off, no, I do not,” Louis says. On one hand, his competitive feathers are entirely ruffled. He has to prove himself. His pride simply can’t withstand further teasing. On the other hand, the more Harry teases, the more Louis wants to tease, and he’s not just referring to a bit of banter. He’s attracted to Harry, obviously . As dishevelled as he feels, he thinks Harry is attracted to him too. And there’s nothing like the bleak, dickless expanse of summer to convince a person that a cook-off at 10 P.M. is a good idea. He shrugs. “Fine. I’ve got nothing to lose.”

The walk to Harry’s East Village apartment is short, so there’s no time for Louis to reconsider his choices. On the way up, Louis does wonder how Harry affords this place and if, when they walk in, there’ll be five roommates crammed in the living room. As it turns out, it’s just Harry and a girl named Claire, a friend of a friend of a friend, who’s currently visiting family in Sweden.

“It’s actually her apartment. Or her grandmum’s or something,” Harry says, turning a light on in the living room. There’s heirloom furniture everywhere, but it’s not tasteless. A slightly weathered brown velvet couch. A high-gloss wood cabinet housing the telly. Lots of rugs. Probably Persian. A painted tea set on the kitchen table. “I’m staying with her until I find something else.”

“So you’re not paying rent?” Louis asks, candidly.

Harry looks at him like he’s crazy. “Of course. We’re splitting it.”

Louis makes a mental note of that.

They convene in the kitchen. It’s small in general, but big for Manhattan. Tiny and artsy with colourful tiles and kitschy wares. Harry fiddles with his phone and soon after, Shania Twain starts crooning from a speaker in the corner.

“Good thinking,” Louis says. “I’ll need a victory soundtrack.”

Harry ignores him. “How do you want to do this? You go first?”

“Nope. Best for last,” Louis says. He takes a seat on one of the leather stools at the bar, facing Harry. “Also, I don’t know where everything is.”

Harry drums his hands on the counter, idly. “Alright then.” He ties on a millennial pink apron from a hook by the fridge with the initials H.S. on the corner. He then unclips the tiny hair claw on the pocket of the apron and fixes his hair into a little knot atop his head. Louis smiles, terribly endeared, but adamantly unfazed by this whole performance. Who cares that he has a personalized apron? That says nothing about his skill.

Harry washes his hands and gets started. “What do you do by the way?”

“I’m the choir instructor at P.S. 38.,” Louis says. “And I do piano lessons during the summer. One day, maybe I’ll get into musical theatre. It’s why I’m here.”

“That’s pretty amazing,” Harry says. “I’d ask you to sing for me, but I’m sure you get that all the time. It seems like, with careers in the arts, people always want you to validate it on the spot.”

“I do get that sometimes, but I wouldn't mind singing for you. Only thing is, since I’m about to completely embarrass you, cooking wise, I don’t want to seem like a show-off, you know? Best to not reveal all my cards at once.”

“Right, of course,” Harry says, trying to not laugh. “You mind if I put a spin on this by the way?”

“Whatever lessens your disadvantage.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Harry decides with a sigh.

He gets all his ingredients out. Sausages and bacon that it looks like he purchased from a butcher, plump red and yellow tomatoes, a carton of mushrooms, eggs, and a can of baked beans. “I don’t have the right bacon and I don’t have black pudding.”

“It’ll do,” Louis says, fiddling with a stack of puzzle-piece-shaped coasters. “How are you liking New York?”

Harry gets started on the sausage and bacon. “Better now than at the start of the year.”

“That’s when you moved?”

“After Christmas last year,” Harry says. “I actually arrived on New Years. And it was kind of miserable. It was so cold and I was alone and sad, I guess. And then, I don’t know, I got over myself. And I got in touch with Zayn like Clemena told me too. And it’s been better.”

“Sounds like you were right to throw a little fit. You can hang out with us next New Year’s.”

Harry glances away from the hob. “I’d like that,” he says, so earnestly Louis is once again thrown. And then Whitney Houston’s ‘How Will I Know’ is on and the moment passes. This is how it goes for the next twenty minutes or so. When they aren’t humming along or moving minutely to the music, they chat about New York mostly.

Louis is vaguely aware of what Harry is doing, but altogether unthreatened by Harry adding onions and brown sugar to his baked beans or a splash of cooking wine to his mushrooms. In truth, Louis has only ever used salt and pepper for seasoning, but he thinks the merit of a first-class English breakfast lies in perfectly seared and perfectly browned ingredients. He’s done this enough times that he’s quite confident in this area, if nothing else.

“I’ve got some brioche, if you’re okay with that,” Harry says.

Louis resists an eye roll. “Whatever.”

It’s not until Harry starts plating his meal that Louis grows mildly concerned. He’s sure he’s seen similar techniques while watching Iron Chef. Harry slides the plate across the counter towards Louis and hands him a fork as well. Louis regards him suspiciously as he finnagels some sausage and tomato onto his fork with a bit of egg and beans. He jams it all into his mouth.

It takes considerable effort not to moan. Or orgasm, even. 

It’s incredible. Way more flavourful than he’s ever had it but in a subtle way. It’s the same dish he grew up eating but somehow better. Somehow exciting and zesty. It’s also perfectly grilled or crispy where it's meant to be. Louis wishes he were at home alone, in his pyjamas in his bed so he could shovel it all into his maw as quickly as humanly possible. As it is, Harry’s eyes are on him and Louis’ pride is in jeopardy, so he puts his fork down carefully and asks, “So, what are you? A chef?”

With his hands folded behind his back and a smug little smile on his face, Harry says, “Yes, actually.”

“Like professionally?”

“Yes.”

Louis exhales. “You’re not like Bobby Flay famous, are you?”

“We’re acquainted, but no.”

“What the fuck,” Louis whispers. He lifts his plate. “I’m taking this with me.”

Harry laughs. “Where are you going?”

On the couch in the living, Louis does a quick Google search. His suspicions are immediately confirmed. “You’re Google-able!”

“I know,” Harry says, humbly. He’s sitting on the arm of the couch now.

There are pictures of him with chefs at fancy venues, pictures of him holding awards, a link to an article in the Independent that once featured him.

“Is that Wikipedia?” Harry asks, sounding horrified. “Please don’t read that. I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”

Louis puts his phone down. “Fine. Where do you work?”

“Augustine,” Harry says.

As in a very fancy, very celebrity-ridden French restaurant in Chelsea with locations in London, Paris and San Francisco. A film or two has been shot there, in its marble and ivory dining rooms or its ivied balconies. TV specials have been centered on it and its owner, Anne Augustine — thrice Michelin-starred, winner of obscure awards, author of acclaimed books.

“Shit,” Louis says. “That’s incredible.”

“It sounds more incredible than it is,” Harry says. “I have an in with the owner.”

“Um, okay, you mean Anne Augustine?” Louis laughs. “Are you two best mates?”

“Sometimes,” Harry says, cryptically. And when Louis crosses his arms and waits for more, he adds, “She’s actually my mum.”

It’s silent for a beat or two afterwards. Louis is quite good at sniffing out bullshit, but there’s none to detect here. He gawks. “Sorry, what?

“I know,” Harry says again, more solemn than before.

“She did Barack Obama’s birthday dinner last year, Harry! My mum records her show religiously,” Louis says, hoping these facts will convey the full scope of his internal hysteria.

“Yes,” Harry says. “But she’s really not a celebrity. She’s done a lot of high-profile things. But she’s genuinely a very normal person. And we don’t get along all of the time.”

Harry,” Louis says. “She has a show on Netflix.”

Harry snorts. “It’s not her show. She’s just on it.”

“Alright, whatever. So, you and your mum are famous and this hasn’t come up until now. Does Zayn know?”

“Maybe Clemena’s said something, but we haven’t talked about it. I’m really not famous, Louis,” Harry says, sounding a little desperate to be believed. “I mean, people might know of me in the industry, but if they do, I’m Anne’s son. I don’t have a cookbook. I’m not on a show. And that Wikipedia page is one paragraph long. It’s embarrassing that it even exists. Your food is getting cold.”

Louis collects his plate and carries on eating. “Alright, but you’re like her protege, yeah? Your mum’s?”

Harry unclips his hair and runs his hands through it roughly. “Before we get into this, do you want a drink?” he asks.

“Sure.”

So, Harry makes them bourbon cocktails with apple and maple supposedly — also, disgustingly delicious — and fixes a less fancy plate of food for himself.

“I don’t consider myself her protege. She taught me a lot, but I don’t think she wanted me to be a chef… Plus, she’s more traditional whereas I’ve taken French cuisine and merged it with Japanese cuisine—” Harry trails off. “I have a restaurant in London. It’s about three years old. And we’re opening a location in New York. That’s why I’m here. In addition to sitting in at Augustine.”

Louis props his arm up against the back of the couch and rests his forehead against his fist. “Does the French and Japanese fusion have to do with why you don’t get along all the time?”

Harry has a sip of his drink. “Uh…”

“Or we can stop talking about this?”

“No, it’s fine,” Harry says and it seems like he means it. He slouches in the couch, balancing his glass on his knee. “That’s part of it, I guess. She’s just pretty tough on me. If we’re not talking about food, it’s all fine. I think, if I’d become a doctor like my sister, things would be different. ‘Cause there’s not much she could say about that. But I think, once I followed in her footsteps, it’s like she felt she had to control everything. Like if I wasn’t successful maybe that would reflect badly on her. And I mean, there aren’t many women in the industry who’ve made it as far as she has, so she has more to protect. I don’t know, and she’s really busy, so I’ve never had a chance to ask.”

“It’s good of you to think about it from her point of view,” Louis says.

Harry shrugs. “I’m just guessing. Also I’m making this all sound so morbid, but it isn't. I’m really lucky. I always have been.”

“Listen, you don’t have to do that. You can be honest with me. Even if you think you sound ungrateful,” Louis says. “Just as long as you don’t judge me when I whine or complain, which I do often.”

“Deal,” Harry says, and they tap their glasses together. “You should come by the restaurant sometime. I’ll comp you.”

Louis wiggles his brows. “Look at me,” he says. “I’ve got friends in high places now.”

And it never occurs to him that he shouldn’t refer to Harry as a friend or that he’s lost sight of his original goal to get horizontal with this boy by midnight. Because by then, his big brother instincts have kicked in. He looks at Harry reclined on the couch, every part of him unguarded and unassuming. His palm open or loosely curled around his glass, his shoulders slumped, slightly oily curls falling over his forehead. Louis considers his humor and his humility and his palpably zealous spirit. And suddenly, his concern for Harry is much less sexual than he would have anticipated upon meeting him.

“So tell me more about your restaurant,” Louis says. “What’s it called?”

Harry’s smile is back. “Yuzu. It’s named after a Japanese citrus tree. You want to see something cool? Or well, it’s not that cool yet, but someday, it might be very cool.”

“I’m not sure, to be honest.”

“Come on.” Harry takes Louis’ hand and tugs him to his feet anyway. He walks him to the balcony. Because of course they have a balcony. There’s a white-framed greenhouse the size of a wardrobe set up there with some plants and herbs growing in assorted pots. And in the center is a dwarf tree of vibrant dark green leaves.

“You know you can absolutely grow a lemon tree in New York,” Harry says, sliding the greenhouse door open. “It’s difficult and they’re temperamental as fuck, but it’s been done. I don’t know if anyone’s ever tried a yuzu tree. But I’m giving it a go.”

He looks so infectiously enthusiastic, Louis finds himself smiling and leaning in to inspect the tree as well. “Did you name it?” he asks. “Has to have a name.”

“She’s Stevie,” Harry says. “For Stevie Nicks.”

“Can’t go wrong with that. Do you talk to her?”

“Every day,” Harry stands up straight, crossing his arms. “Also, now that you’ve met her, you have to come by again and talk to her too. Like, often.”

Louis shakes his head, exasperated. “Yeah, alright. But I get dinner whenever I do.”

“Obviously.”

Chapter Text

That November is slow and mindless. There’s not enough work ethic to go around with the holidays encroaching. It’s gotten too cold too fast and that doesn’t make it any easier to get out of bed. Louis wakes that morning to dreary grey skies dotted by a half-hearted snowfall. It’s the first snowfall of the season with not even an inch of accumulation to its name, but Louis has planned his whole weekend around it.

Step one: Stock up on snacks and hangover cures.

Step two: Get pissed beyond reason with Zayn and Harry.

Step three: Sleep in with Harry.

Step three might yet make November worth it.

It’s important to note that Harry clings in his sleep. When Louis isn’t in bed, he clings to pillows. Sometimes he clings to himself, curled inward, arms folded. Louis likes to play big spoon often enough, but he’s discovered over the past two months that he also likes to be clung to. Two months is all it’s taken for Harry to get this comfortable with him — his knee over Louis’ thigh, an arm bridging Louis’ waist. He is everywhere, heavy and warm and welcome because the radiator in Louis’ room doesn’t perform as it must have a hundred years ago.

Louis turns to face him, careful not to make sudden movements, fully intending to go back to sleep.

Harry’s alarm goes off — the “foghorn” tone because Harry is a complete maniac. Their faces wrinkle simultaneously. Harry lifts his arm away from Louis and it’s instantly, offensively cold. Fuck November.

“Wouldn’t hit the snooze button if I were you,” Louis says.

“Already did.” Harry turns back, arm collapsing on Louis’ waist.

“You haven’t noticed, but there’s something snowy happening outside.”

Harry peeks one eye open at the window. “Doesn’t look promising. Bet you the restaurant stays open.”

“Call out sick.”

Harry pushes his face into a pillow. “Manon will tell my mum.”

“No, he won’t.”

But Louis can’t say that with certainty. Manon is the head chef at Augustine’s New York location and, by Harry’s account, a spy. Everything that this short, weathered man witnesses within Augustine makes it back to London and back to Anne. Or so Harry says. 

“Who’s going to keep me warm if you leave?” Louis asks.

Harry’s eyes open again. His smile is sleepy and just as slow to come as the snow falling outside. “You’re right. Guess I have to stay.”

And he does stay, at least until his alarm goes off again. Then he slides and slumps his way out of bed. He’s wearing a thin white shirt and pants, his jeans somewhere on the floor. As he bends over to find them, Louis studies the notches of his spine and the graceful way his curls fall forward. A coil of brown hair like a detail in a classical painting. A little too lovely to be true.

“Thanks for letting me spend the night,” Harry says.

Louis catches the last glimpse of Harry’s thighs before he’s drawn his jeans up all the way. “You know what I consider gratitude? Sticking around and making me an omelette.”

“I’ll make you an omelette,” Harry says on his way out of the bedroom, his tan jumper thrown over his shoulder. “But I can’t stay.”

Louis hears him in the bathroom and a moment later, shuffling into the kitchen. He joins him, a blanket drawn around his bare shoulders. Harry puts the electric kettle on. Louis gets two mugs out of the dishwasher and a frying pan. They’re making as much noise as they need because Steven, Louis’ roommate, spends most mornings and nights with his girlfriend. That morning is no different.

“Oh, I meant to say,” Harry begins, excitedly, pointing a spatula at Louis, “I think I found a place.”

“Oh? Where at?”

“It’s about a fifteen-minute walk from here. It’s not perfect, but I need to leave Claire’s. I said I’d only be there for six months and it’s nearly been a year.”

“Yeah, but it seems like she likes having you there,” Louis says, dunking two tea bags around in their mugs. “And I genuinely don’t mind you staying with me when you need to.”

“You get breakfast out of it, why would you?”

“And a spare blanket. Don’t forget that.”

Harry smiles. “Claire’s place is too far from Yuzu. And that’s going to be a bigger problem when we actually open. When I get off at 3 AM, you’re not going to mind me stomping in here? While you’re sleeping?”

“No,” Louis says, and means it.

It’s only Louis’ bedroom that keeps cold. The rest of the apartment is warm enough. No human blanket necessary (although always accepted). It’s small and a bit decrepit. The oven and the toilet often need coaxing to work and the dishwasher was installed two years ago with questionable haste. His landlord is shit and the super is nonexistent. In fact, when Louis’ toilet stopped working a week ago, it was Harry who helped him fix it.

Amongst the shoddy features of his place, Harry’s presence is always welcome, by him and Steven both. And if there was some feasible way to turn his two-bedroom into a three-bedroom and move Harry in, Louis would probably try. So no. At present, he wouldn’t mind if Harry came stomping in at 3 AM, but he’ll have to reassess if and when necessary.

The omelette features Parma ham, green peppers and onions — none of which Louis purchased on his own — and it’s delicious. Louis vacillates constantly between wanting to inhale Harry’s food and wanting to savour it. It seems like two bites pass and his plate is clean and his heart is broken.

“Thanks, babe,” Louis says, dropping a smooch at the top of Harry’s head on his way to the sink. “Leave your dish in the sink. I mean it.”

“Sure,” Harry says, but they both know he’ll load the dishwasher anyway. “Back to sleep?”

“A very cold, miserable sleep, yeah.”

+

Yuzu is situated on a corner in Williamsburg, close to the waterfront. It’s ochre-framed windows are set into white brick and currently papered over to hide whatever developments are happening inside. There’s no sign up yet. Just the abstract shape of a yuzu painted on the door. Harry specifies that it’s a yuzu on the door, not a lemon, but Louis can’t really see the difference.

Harry also says a yuzu tree is harder to grow and a pain in the arse to maintain, but that was before it met him. He has a book on his coffee table called “Practical Botany: A Guide to Plant Nurturing.” And nurture Stevie he does. He’s brought her into his room for the winter to a spot by the window, humidifiers and a heater in close proximity. (Louis can only imagine the state of his electric bill.) He has a playlist — “a yuzu grows in brooklyn” —  that he plays loudly every morning when Claire leaves for work and softly every night before he goes to bed. He sings to her. He dotes on her. He loves her.

They depart the restaurant that Saturday morning and arrive at a showroom in Chelsea. They seat themselves at a round table, all set with placemats, chargers and plates, wine glasses and gleaming silverware. (Louis can’t imagine owning any of this for his personal use. He bought a 20-piece dinner set from Ikea when he first moved to NY. Couldn’t say where any of it is now.)

Holding a wine glass aloft, Harry says, “Tried poetry the other night.”

“What do you mean you tried poetry?” Louis asks slowly. “You’ve never read poetry before?”

“No, I meant to Stevie.”

Louis stumbles mentally. Honest to God, he never wants Harry to change, but he also never knows how to respond to him either. He starts to tease him, like he always does when Harry is especially ridiculous, but instead, Louis asks, “What did you read?”

And that’s how they end up with their heads inclined as Harry reads Warsan Shire’s “first thought after seeing you smile” from his phone. Louis isn’t used to this. This isn’t what he gets up to with most of his friends, but he also can’t imagine a time when he wasn’t friends with Harry. 

+

As Harry’s friend, Louis would probably never admit this without the nudge of alcohol: But Harry is especially tempting when he’s in the kitchen.

Over-confident in a way that Louis hates to love. He’s wearing a white button-up blouse, sleeves rolled to his elbows. Forearms peppered with tattoos. A black Augustine-branded apron around his waist. And a black paisley print headband keeping his fringe subdued. He’s also wielding a massive slightly menacing knife like it’s an extension of himself. (Tasteless innuendos abound.)

Louis has done tremendously well in keeping things platonic but he thinks about untying Harry’s apron all the time. Specifically his apron. Like it’s the most erotic thing he could do to him. He once had an entirely food-related wet dream about Harry while Harry slept beside him. There was grilled pineapple involved. Excessive amounts of chocolate. And it all started with Louis drawing the string of Harry’s apron loose.

There’s a loud chop. “Ah, fuck!” Harry exclaims.

Louis is on his feet immediately. “What? What is it? Are you hurt?”

“No, just trying to get your attention,” Harry says.

“Oh, fuck you,” Louis grumbles, sinking back to his stool. “Stop doing that.”

“I was saying— I heard about your winter recital.”

Louis recoils. “How?”

“I talked to your sister yesterday. And she asked if I was going,” Harry says. “I told her I’d never heard of it.”

“Sorry. You talked to my sister? When did you even get her number?”

“She messaged me on Twitter about a recipe of my mum’s that your mum’s been trying. And I gave her my number so we could all FaceTime.”

“Who is all ? I wasn’t FaceTiming with you yesterday.”

“Me, your mum, Lottie. Doris was on there too.”

Louis is vaguely charmed. He recalls mentioning Harry to Lottie once. And he mentioned Lottie to Harry no more than twice. Somehow with that menial connection, Harry found his way to FaceTiming the whole family. It’s… impressive.

And troubling. “They’re going to think we’re dating.”

“Would that be weird?” Harry asks.

“Yes?” Louis says. It’s not a question. For his family to think they’re dating when they’re not is absolutely weird. Unless Harry’s asking if them dating in and of itself would be weird. The answer is still yes, but much less so.

“Flattering but weird, yes,” Louis adds.

“I think my mum would be really proud of me if I told her I was dating you,” Harry says with a hint of a smile.

Louis narrows his eyes. “I detect a little sarcasm in there I don’t like.”

Harry blows him a kiss. He slides the onions and peppers he’s just chopped into a pan and gets the stove going, then goes to the fridge and withdraws something wrapped in brown paper. “Anyway. You didn’t tell me about your winter recital.”

“Must have forgot.”

Harry unwraps the paper and draws his knife off the table. He begins slicing the skin from a large fillet of fish, drawing the blade down the side, slow and steady. “I want to come.”

“No, you don’t.”

“I absolutely do,” Harry says. The blade is so sharp, the skin practically slides away from the fish. Harry sets it aside. “Also, I checked and I’ve got nothing happening December 10th, so I’m going.”

“You can’t show up if I don’t invite you.”

“Well, invite me.” He slices a thin section of fish, spears it with his knife and extends it to Louis. “Taste this.”

Louis leans in without question. He’s stopped asking questions. In the kitchen, Harry never leads him astray. He eats the fish off the knife. It’s cold, but not frozen. Tender and satisfying. As he chews, Harry gets a bottle of white wine from the fridge, uncorks it and pours Louis a glass.

“It’s really fresh, isn’t it? And lean, right?” Harry asks. “It’s neutral too. So is the wine. That’s a Japanese Koshu grape. The fish is barramundi. So, the plan is to start with that, then there’ll be yuzu and japanese white peaches. Me and Tyler are still figuring it out.”

In a tone he hopes is nonchalant, Louis asks, “How is Tyler?”

“Fine since we last talked. Why?”

Louis shrugs. “He still hasn’t accepted my follow request on Instagram. I don’t really care, but it seems purposeful. Like he accepted Zayn’s request but not mine. And I’m all over your Instagram. All over your Twitter. I’m just saying.”

He does care, obviously, although it’s another thing he’ll never admit. Tyler Nishimura is Harry’s business partner, the chef running Yuzu London, and one of his oldest friends. They met in Year 10 and studied together in Japan during uni. Harry has referred to him as his ‘visionary soulmate’ — insert a gag here — because they see eye-to-eye on all things concerning food and artistry and industry.

Tyler is also Google-able and good-looking, although engaged and straight.

“He needs time to warm up to people,” Harry says.

“But not Zayn? Not Clemena or Claire?”

Harry looks at Louis, cautiously. “I think he thinks we’re dating, to be honest. And he’s always wary of people I date.”

“Well, that doesn’t clear things up at all. Why would he be wary of people you date?”

Harry doesn’t answer right away, applying an unnecessary amount of focus on neatly trimming the fish. “I had a bad breakup, like, five years ago," he finally says. "It’s not worth talking about now, but Tyler was there for all of it. He‘s said before, ‘You have great taste, except when it comes to people’. I mean, he’s wrong. I’ve dated since then and it’s never been as bad.” He sets his knife down. “And you’re obviously a different case. He’d like you if he met you.”

Louis wants to ask about the ex who can’t be named. It’s an itch he’ll eventually have to scratch. But not now and not until Harry’s ready. As for Tyler, Louis sees himself as a very permanent fixture in Harry’s life and so it’s not a question of if Tyler will approve of him, but when.

“I think you’re off to a great start with the dish,” Louis says, and Harry is visibly relieved by the diversion. “Very excited to try the finished thing.”

“That’s what I like to hear,” Harry says. “So, am I invited to your recital?”

“Christ. Fine, you're invited.” Louis has a sip of his wine. “But don’t come.”

+

The auditorium is packed, but Louis is not looking for him. Even if he tried, the spotlights are too bright and he can’t see individual faces clearly. He just knows Harry is one of them. He herds his music class onto the stage, which is framed by two Christmas trees. Up above dangle stars made by the kindergartners and those icicle-shaped lights. He makes sure his altos and sopranos and tenors are organized, all of them dressed in their shimmery holiday ensembles. Curly hair. Shiny shoes.

Tony, his trouble child, responds to all the attention in the room immediately and starts hip-checking his choir mates. Louis shoots him a look. “Save all that energy for the music,” he says. “We’re going to need it, alright? Big smiles, everyone. Who’s feeling great?”

“We’re feeling great,” they all reply, a bit too loudly.

“Who’s looking good?”

“We’re looking good!”

He claps his hands together. “Let’s do this.”

The audience is laughing amusedly and the kids are giggling, all their merry energy pinging around the room. Louis approaches the mic. “Good evening. Thank you, Ms Houston for the introduction. And thank you all for coming out to our annual holiday recital. As I’m sure you can tell, the kids are excited for you to hear what we’ve been working on. And so am I. As usual, we’re accepting donations in the back to support the music program and other arts programs at P.S. 38. Half of those donations will be given to The Red Cross. I want to start by saying how much it means that you’ve joined us tonight to celebrate the best time of year—”

There’s a stomp, stomp, stomp. The kids gasp dramatically as one of the teachers, Mr Fontamillas, enters the stage, dressed as the Grinch. “Who are you ?” he roars. “What’s all this racket out here?”

Louis turns to him, mic in hand. “Uh, I’m Mr Tomlinson, the music director. And this is the P.S. 38 choir. We’re putting on a holiday concert.”

“Well, I am the P.S. 38 Grinch,” Mr Fontamillas says. “And I’ll have no holiday cheer around here. No singing! No dancing!”

Louis regards the audience with a look of dismay. “Mr Grinch,” he says, turning to face Mr Fontamillas. “Maybe you could hear one of our songs before you make up your mind? Kids, don’t you think we could change his mind?”

They start wailing “yes” as rehearsed with additional enthusiastic stomps of their feet.

“I’d like to see you try!” says the P.S. 38 Grinch.

“Alright, then,” Louis says, replacing the mic. He goes to the piano. The spotlights redirect on the children and Louis chances another glance at the audience. Somewhere out there, Harry is getting a kick out of their performance. Louis has never had trouble giving this show his all. He loves working with these kids. He loves his job. But there’s an extra beat of excitement behind every step and every move he takes, positioning himself at the piano. He knows this aspect of his life inside and out. It’s admittedly thrilling that Harry gets to know it now too.

Without warning, Louis drags his hand down the piano keys and begins to play, upbeat and fast. He hardly sits during the show. He can’t move or dance with the kids if he’s sitting. One winter, he got so excited, he knocked the piano bench over. (He’s been slightly more careful ever since.) Once they get started on their rendition of “Sleigh Ride,” he’s back to his old ways, moving and encouraging the kids to move, encouraging them all to have a good time, pulling funny faces that make them smile.

When they finish their first number, the P.S. 38 Grinch goes, “Alright, alright. You can sing, that’s true. But I’m still not convinced this season is worth the fuss. What else have you got?”

Susanna, his assistant, takes over the piano for a few songs — one where they do a bit of sign language, another that involves some choreography and a medley that some of the kids struggled to learn. They perform nine songs all together and finish off with “Jingle Bell Rock.” By then, The Grinch is getting down and wearing a Santa hat. Everyone in the audience is on their feet, Harry more than likely included.

At the end of it all, The Grinch reports that he’s seen the fairy light and bids them a Happy Holiday. They take their bows. And that’s another year’s recital wrapped.

Louis gets inevitably drawn into conversations with parents afterwards who mostly wish him a Merry Christmas. One suggests a solo for their kid next year. Louis says he’ll take that into consideration. He gets gifts and cards from families, as well as a large poinsettia that Susanna takes to his office.

When he finally finds Harry, his arms are full so he can’t catapult into a hug like he wants.

“Hi,” Louis says, grinning. “You actually came.”

“Shut up. Of course I did. You were absolutely amazing,” Harry says. “I got the whole thing on video for your family.”

Louis laughs. “Thanks for that,” he says, his tone dry and not at all indicative of how exuberant he feels. They smile at one another for a second too long until Louis says, “What?”

“Um, I brought you a box of chocolate from Augustine,” Harry says. Then, after a beat, “Is it wrong to say you looked really hot up there?”

Louis’ brows arch high. “Oh, did I?”

“Yeah. You’re all sweaty.”

“Still?” Louis asks.

“Yeah. And your top button’s come undone too,” Harry says, biting his lip. 

Louis rolls his eyes. “Alright, pervert. I hope your mind wasn’t in the gutter the whole time.”

“Just half the time,” Harry says, smiling. “Your coworkers want to go for drinks after this, by the way.”

“Harry,” Louis groans. “How have you already made friends with my coworkers?”

“I said hi,” Harry says. And Louis wholeheartedly believes that’s all it takes for Harry to draw someone into his circle. One greeting and before the night’s through, they’re sharing their life stories and getting to know his yuzu tree.

“And are you joining us for drinks?” Louis asks, playfully stern.

“I mean, Sandra invited me.”

Louis has to laugh. “Good. ‘Cause I’m only going now that you are.” It’s not true. He would have gone no matter what because he felt obligated. But he also would have had a lot less fun.

They head to a bar down the street after all the kids and their families have gone home. It’s a quaint spot, fully regaled with fairy lights and garlands and a Christmas tree in the corner. But the best part?

There’s karaoke. 

“I’m putting a request in,” Louis announces almost immediately after they secure seats. “This is the moment you’ve been waiting for.”

Harry’s eyes go comically wide. “You’re going to sing for me?”

Just for you,” Louis says. “I need a shot, though, I think.”

“I’m on it,” Harry says and turns to the bartender. While he puts in an order for shots and beers, Louis submits a song for karaoke. He returns to find Lauren and Sandra and Diane surrounding Harry, visibly enamoured. He joins the conversation, but they hardly notice him. He’s amused and oddly proud. Like: “Yes, this is my boy. I’m so glad you all could meet him and like him.”

Except Lauren. Louis doesn’t like Lauren very much. She doesn’t have a great sense of humor and accuses everyone on staff of attacking her when they don’t get on board with her terrible ideas. Also, when they first met, she insisted on saying, “‘Ello, chap” every time she saw Louis and wouldn’t stop until he began ignoring her. All that said, Harry is very kind to her and she’s clearly very into it.

Another drink later, at the bar, Sandra says, “He is cute .”

“Very cute,” Louis agrees.

“He’s single?”

“Depends on who’s asking,” Louis says. “If it’s Lauren, then no. She can’t have him.”

As they usually do in the teacher’s lounge around lunchtime, he and Sandra descend into snickering and shit-talking about anything and everything. It’s not until she leaves that Louis checks on Harry. Diane and Vera, the math and physical education teachers respectively, have taken to the stage to sing Santa Baby. Which means Harry is alone with Lauren.

Louis orders another two beers and wiggles one at Harry. It takes a second, but Harry successfully extracts himself from his company and joins him. “What were you and Sandra laughing about?” he asks.

“Lauren, mostly,” Louis says. “You’re attracted to women sometimes, yeah?”

“Sometimes…”

“Not Lauren, though?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Sandra and I agreed Lauren might be into you. But I don’t approve. Just in case you were considering it. Also, actually, it’d be nice if you weren’t interested in any of my coworkers.”

Harry has a long sip of his beer, his gaze averted, and takes his time placing the glass back on the counter.

“Or you can date them, if you want,” Louis says. “It’s not that big of a deal, I guess.”

“No, thanks,” Harry says, amicably. He still isn’t looking at him. “Are you dating someone?”

“No. I’d tell you if I was,” Louis says.

Harry nods, his lips pursed. He glances at him fleetingly. “When’s your song coming up?”

The subject change is so swift Louis is momentarily confused. “I have no idea,” he says, looking towards the stage. He also doesn’t really care. The more pressing issue is that he might have offended Harry, although he doesn’t know how. It’s true that he doesn’t want Harry getting involved with any of his coworkers, but he also can’t control who Harry dates. And he wasn’t actually trying to, if that’s how it came off. Harry should know not to take Louis too seriously, especially when he’s had a few drinks.

Miraculously, Diane and Vera come rushing to him with the mic. His name is on the screen, he realizes, along with his song of choice. 

“Showtime,” Louis says to Harry.

Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” seemed like the only acceptable choice for the mood. It’s the only song Louis wants to sing in the moment and he’s not ashamed. There’s already a group of folks in the corner moving in sync to the opening notes. And Harry dissolves into laughter when Louis turns dramatically to face the crowd and begins to sing.

It’s all uphill from there. The bartender is dancing. His coworkers are dancing. Harry is dancing with the bartender and Louis’ coworkers, and singing along the whole time. It’s how the rest of the night goes and it’s the first time they acknowledge their mutual love of dancing. Because they could go all night. They come pretty close, exhausting themselves an hour or two after Louis’ coworkers have left.

It’s one in the morning when Louis loops Harry’s scarf around his neck and gives his cheek a pinch. He struggles into his own coat. “I need to get out of here.”

“Let’s split a cab,” Harry says.

Louis shrugs. “If you want. But I’m paying for it.”

Harry scratches his name across the bill. He opened a tab on his card when they first arrived, then declined to split the bill with anyone. If Louis’ coworkers weren’t already obsessed with him, they are now. “Whatever,” Harry says, smiling.

Louis doesn’t realize how drunk he is until he starts walking towards the door and the whole world goes askew. Harry places a hand on his lower back.

“Probably shouldn’t have had that last shot,” Louis reports.

He hardly remembers the cab ride. His last shot sets in halfway through and his head ends up on Harry’s shoulder. He remembers mumbling unintelligible words to him, making a strong point mentally that doesn’t translate as well verbally. As he climbs out of the cab, he realizes Harry has given the driver Louis’ address and that Harry paid for the cab and that the cab is now pulling off and that Harry is not in it.

“What the bloody hell are you doing?” Louis complains, bracing himself on a lamppost. “I’m supposed to pay for you to get home.” He pokes Harry in his chest.

“I’m fine. I’ll catch a cab as soon as you get inside.”

“Harry,” Louis says, adamantly. He starts digging in his bag for his keys. Can’t find them. Harry finds them for him. “I love you, you know that.”

Harry looks at him. “Love you too.”

“And I’m not that drunk, you know that too?” Louis says. He may very well be that drunk. “Do you want to stay?”

“Not tonight.” Harry follows Louis up the steps to the door anyway. “Thanks for letting me come, though. I’ll ring you tomorrow. Make sure you’re alright.”

Louis laughs. He can’t say why. He had fun tonight and he’s happier and more content than he’s been in a while and he is so close to getting in his bed. He goes to give Harry a hug, propelled by a rush of inebriated emotions that he won’t remember in the morning. He ends up grabbing Harry by the cheeks and planting a firm kiss on his mouth.

“You’re my favorite,” he says, drawing him into the hug he was aiming for. “My boy.”

Harry’s laugh is at first shocked, then soft. He hugs Louis back. He clings to him. “I think you’re drunker than you think you are.”

“Maybe so. But you’re still my boy,” Louis says, releasing him. “Now go home.”

“I’ll give you a ring tomorrow.”

Louis shoves his key into the door, shooting him an “okay” as he staggers inside.

Chapter Text

Hours before midnight on Christmas Eve, Louis is in an Irish pub with Zayn and Steve when Harry calls from London. He can hardly hear himself when he answers. All the TVs are on too loud, replaying a Liverpool and Arsenal game from earlier that day, and he has to practically shout ‘hello’.

“Sorry, I knew you’d still be out,” Harry says.

“It’s alright.” Louis taps Zayn on his shoulder and gestures to the door. He wraps his scarf around his neck and braces for the cold. “I was leaving anyway.”

He wasn’t. He had half a pint left and the game was getting to the best part. But he’s also tired and he’ll admit the day has felt all wrong without Harry around. 

“It’s late as fuck there, isn’t it?” Louis asks.

“Or early as fuck, yeah. I accidentally fell asleep too early. I meant to call you sooner,” Harry says. “Happy Birthday again. And it’s Christmas here already, so Happy Christmas.”

Louis jams his free hand into his pocket. “Thank you. Happy Christmas to you too.”

 “You should check your mail. I sent you something before I left.”

“Aw, you shouldn’t have, but thank you. How are things at home?”

“It’s fine. Christmas is always a big production here. Lots of food. Lots of people.” 

Harry’s family is massive. His mum and dad, while divorced, have stayed close. So every year his step mum and step-siblings attend Christmas at Anne’s. He has a sprawling branch of family in France — in Brittany where his mum was raised for part of her life — including an uncle who’s a duke or something. His sister is married with a baby. And his half-brother from his mum’s second marriage is engaged. It sounds like it could be fun under the right influence or with the right company.

“Pretty sure I’d be having more fun if I hadn’t left,” Harry says.

“If it makes you feel better, you’re not missing out on much here.”

“You’re there.”

“Fair point,” Louis says. “I miss you too.”

He stops at the mailbox in the hallway of his apartment and fishes out a package that’s been stuffed inside. “What’s the plan for tomorrow?”

“Huge dinner later, bigger than tonight. Or last night, technically. My mum’s got an interview around noon. Nothing serious.”

“You sound exhausted,” Louis says, pushing his shoes off in the hallway.

“I am exhausted. My mum is too. I keep suggesting every year that we go away for Christmas, but she says she likes it.”

“Then she probably does,” Louis says, hopping up onto the kitchen counter, his last beer of the night in hand. “She probably looks forward to it.”

“No, you’re right. I know.”

Louis hates how somber he sounds. He'd give him a cuddle if he were here. “How would you do it?” he asks.

“Do what?”

He pulls the phone away from his ear to read the message he’s just received. Steve asks, ‘ Did you leave?

So drunk. Had to ,’ Louis sends back. “Sorry,” he says, returning the call. “What would your Christmas look like, I mean? Ideally?”

“In the future or right now?”

“Right now?”

“Me, you, and a few of our friends crammed into someone’s apartment. A roast duck. My mum makes the best roast duck. Peas. I love peas. All the other staple Christmas foods. Lots of dessert. And I don’t know— we eat and watch movies and sing Christmas songs until midnight.”

“Charming. And in the future?”

“Same, but me and you are married with six kids.”

Louis sputters, a few drops of beer landing on his chin. Harry chuckles on the other end of the line, obviously pleased with himself.

“That’s a joke,” he says.

“Obviously,” Louis says, heading to his room, immediately powering up the heater when he arrives. “We’re having two kids at most.”

“Four, at least . But we’ll keep working on it.”

“You’re mad,” Louis says. He collapses on his bed. It’s as if his head hitting the pillow dislodges a thought he’d forgotten until now, propelling it from his mouth. “Also you have fans!”

“What?”

“I found your YouTube series, you arsehole. And I didn’t Google you before you accuse me. You showed up in my suggestions. Harry— you have thousands of subscribers. You have fans!”

“Think the algorithm is fucked. We made those videos in Year 10. Haven’t posted a new one in nearly a decade.”

“Yeah but they’re still popular, that’s the point.” And Louis gets why. He has watched every episode of Tyler and Harry’s fifteen episode series entitled, Amateur Gourmet. Has watched them recreate household meals, particularly ones that teenagers across the world have been forced to eat ad nauseam, with jokes and trivia on the side. What they do with food is clever, but it’s their personalities sounding off together that is most compelling. Tyler is sensible and sarcastic. Harry simultaneously tries to be endearing at every turn and doesn’t have to try at all. 

“Everyone in the comments was, and still is, obsessed with you,” Louis says, not mentioning the slew of commenters obsessed with him and Tyler, together .

“Then I’m disappointed you weren’t watching my series a decade ago.”

“I’m disappointed you didn’t meet me and tell me about your series a decade ago. I’m also disappointed you didn’t just tell me about it now,” Louis says.

With much restraint, he has obeyed Harry’s unwritten Google mandate. He hasn’t shown off Harry’s Wikipedia page to Sandra, as tempting as it is. He hasn’t read or watched anything beyond this Youtube series that dropped into his lap. That said, Harry could have won some prestigious award last week or been booked on some show and Louis might not necessarily know about it. Because Harry isn’t as forthcoming about these things as he should be. The fact is he’s popular within his circuit, and without, but it’s easy for Louis to forget with how little he knows.

“I’m genuinely interested in this stuff,” Louis says. “And you make it a point not to tell me. It’s fucked, it really is.”

“This doesn’t really count, does it? It was a gag.”

“It counts,” Louis says adamantly.

“Well I also wrote recipes for my school’s newspaper. Should I not have kept that from you either?”

“No, you should not have kept that from me. Do you have a copy of these recipes?”

“My mum keeps everything. But I think it’s only fair that I get to watch your first audition tape. And read the play you wrote in uni.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Then we have no deal.”

Louis refuses to relent right away, but he might later. He hasn’t decided yet. “I’ve got another question.”

“We’ve run out of time for questions, I’m sorry.”

Louis ignores him. “You and Tyler?”

“Wait, hang on,” Harry says, and then in a softer voice, “Hey, Banana. What are you doing up? No, I’m not talking to Santa. Just a friend.”

Just a friend,” Louis repeats. “I’m shit compared to Santa, is that it?”

“Shush,” Harry says into the line. “No, not you, love. Do you want me to wake your mum? How about some tea and then back to bed, yeah?”

Louis puts his phone on speaker and changes. He brushes his teeth, listening to Harry entertain Hannah, his niece, who he only ever calls Banana. He makes her a cup of tea and takes her back to bed, his phone of his person the whole time so that Louis hears it all. And then he returns to the phone with a sigh. “Hi. Sorry, what were you saying?”

Louis doesn’t immediately remember. He sits upright in bed to ward off sleep and get his brain going again. “I get that you and Tyler are best mates, but —”

“But?” Harry asks when Louis stalls for too long.

“I think I spied a little Harry with a little crush in those videos. So, now I’ve got to ask. Did you or did you not fancy him at any point, past or present?”

“Ah,” Harry says. “Do you want to FaceTime?”

Louis glances at himself in the mirror above his dresser. “Sure,” he decides. 

So, they switch their call to FaceTime. Louis fluffs his pillows up behind his back. Harry appears on the screen, wearing a patterned jumper, a snapback, and a smile. He‘s unnervingly cute. It’s not that Louis forgot but it’s been days since he’s last seen him.

“Where are you right now?” Louis asks.

“Library. I’d get in bed but the walls are thin.”

“Poor teenage Harry.”

Harry laughs. “Fuck, I know,” he says. “Definitely no present feelings for Tyler, by the way. That’d be a terrible idea, business-wise. And he’s engaged. But I did fancy him back then. On and off from year 10 until our first year of uni.”

“And he didn’t reciprocate?”

“I don’t know. He let me kiss him once,” Harry says. “We were high. And I’d just come out to him. And he said ‘that’s cool’ which I think I misunderstood because I kissed him. I don’t know if he kissed me back. When I said sorry the next day, he said he didn’t mind. Also confusing. But I think the short answer is no, he didn’t reciprocate. I think once we started to get serious about the restaurant and I started dating people in London or in Tokyo, it just sort of petered out. He was the first boy who was accessible, who I thought was cute and funny. And then when we left home, there were boys everywhere.”

“You make it sound too easy.”

“It seemed really easy back then. I got to the city and thought, ‘So. Much. Dick…’”

Louis outright cackles. “Christ.”

“There’s dick everywhere,” Harry continues, in the awestruck tone of his younger self, his eyes wide.

“You haven’t had it so easy since moving here, though, have you? That’s the harsh reality of things. There’s no dick here.”

“I’m practising celibacy from now until you and I are married anyway,” Harry says. “It’s fine.”

“Right, of course,” Louis says. A gray cat hops up onto the back of the couch behind Harry and then into his lap and he immediately gives her the attention she’s requesting. “Nice sight to fall asleep to.”

Harry scoops the cat up into his arms, cradling her like a baby. “I don’t mind if you fall asleep,” he says. “You should open your gift first, though.”

“Hold, please.” Louis collects the package from the other side of the bed. He turns his bedside lamp on and sits upright, propping his phone up against his pillow. Opening the package, he finds whatever’s inside has been wrapped in gift wrap. He shoots Harry a look as he rips the paper free. “Made this extra difficult for me.”

“I just love gift wrapping.”

When all the paper is gone, Louis holds a black leather jacket. Soft buttery leather. Fringe across the chest and back. “Oh, shit,” Louis says, climbing off the bed, so he can quickly pull it on. “Check me out.”

“You love Grease and you’ve played Danny Zuko, and yet you didn’t have a leather jacket of your own. It wasn’t right.”

“You didn’t spend too much on it, though, did you?” Louis asks, suspiciously.

“Not too much, no,” Harry says, but Louis doesn’t believe him.

“Thanks, love,” Louis says. “Promise to wear it the first day you’re back. And then every day after.” He crawls into bed again, still wearing the jacket because it’s comfy enough. “Also— I will figure out where I saved my musical from uni. You can read it if I find it. Ask me about the audition video when I’m drunk.”

Harry smiles. “I’ll ask my mum about the recipes.”

“Good,” Louis says. His eyelids are so heavy. He’d talk to Harry all night but his body isn’t having it. “When are you back again?”

“Leaving the morning after Christmas. One more day.”

It’s the last thing Louis remembers hearing before he wakes hours later, still in his leather jacket, with his dead phone lying on his pillow. One more day.

+

Louis is despondent all Saturday morning. It’s raining and he’s alone and the days between Christmas and New Year’s feel like a minor purgatory. Nothing to do. Nothing to see. It’s why he decides to finally rewatch Anne’s episode of Chef’s Table. The first time he watched it was five years ago, well before he knew Harry. He recalls liking Anne — and adding Augustine to the list of restaurants to visit when he became rich and famous — but not much else.

Towards the end of the episode, that saccharine sense of longing in Louis’ chest intensifies. Anne is filmed in her home kitchen and Harry is with her. Harry, who Louis would have seen in this episode years ago, but doesn’t recall until this very moment. He’s less broad, although it might just seem that way with the baggy Henley he’s wearing. His hair is at a rebellious length Louis has only seen in vintage Instagram photos. Anne probably suggested a trim prior to filming. He clearly refused.

In the clip, he’s leaning against the counter with his arms folded and his mum is teasing him. Even though the dialogue is inaudible, Louis knows because he’s making the same face he makes when Louis teases him. A frown fighting a smile. One dimple out already. And right on cue: an eye roll. Anne laughs and draws him into a hug.

The camera cuts back to Anne. Talking head shot. Behind her are the gold walls of Augustine’s London location. A fountain shimmering in stray light beside her.

“Whenever I begin to cook, I summon a mood. It’s how I want people to feel when they’re eating. And the food takes on the mood. If it’s nostalgia, the combination of flavours will make you nostalgic. And if the mood is bittersweet, that’s how you’ll feel. With these dishes that were inspired by my children, there are many moods involved but I want you to feel happiness and love and light. So we have fresh, airy dishes. My son, Harry, loves the outdoors. And he loved to garden with me when he was young. And so those were all the things I was thinking of when I began Petit Jardin. I thought of the earth. I thought of fruit and of colour. But happiness more than anything.”

And then there is a clip of him and Anne in their garden. They’re both wearing white button-up shirts with sleeves rolled, Harry in faded denim shorts and Anne in flowy teal trousers. He puts his arm around her waist and lets his head fall against her shoulder.

“Life is feeling,” Anne says in a voice-over. “And food is life. And what is art if it doesn’t reflect the complexity and the beauty of life?”

+

Harry comes sauntering up to Zayn’s building, wearing his massive puffy coat and a knit hat and scarf. Louis tosses his cigarette to the ground, stubs it with his shoe, and shoves his hands into his pockets, bouncing to ward off the cold.

“Hey,” Harry says, slowing to a full stop, breaking into a stupid grin. He glances at the cigarette on the ground. “Thought you quit.”

Louis shrugs. “It’s cold.” Not that that has anything to do with anything. He did quit. Halfway through his tenure as a school teacher, although he still has a cigarette when the occasion calls. Tonight he needed an excuse to step outside and stall until Harry showed up.

“You’re late,” Louis says, in lieu of ‘I’m so relieved to see you’.

“You can’t be late to a New Year’s party if it’s not midnight,” Harry says, the two of them starting the climb to Zayn’s apartment on the fifth floor.

“I don’t know how he knows all these people, by the way,” Louis says. “I know ten at most.”

Every year Zayn’s New Year’s party gains another ten strangers. His apartment which he’s occupied for six years is the only one in the building with access to the roof and it makes for a great party venue. All manner of parties have been thrown here, but New Year’s Eve with a view of fireworks happening across Brooklyn is the best of them.

They shrug their coats off in the hallway and convene in the kitchen where Louis gets Harry a beer.

“Cheers,” he says. They tap their bottles together.

“Where’s Zayn?” Harry asks.

“Smoking somewhere probably,” Louis says. He lost track of him when he went downstairs to ‘smoke’ himself. They make an attempt to find Zayn now, but get caught in the living room where the few partygoers Louis knows beckon them over. At first, they’re all chatting about the party last year, when some famous DJ showed up and no one left until the following afternoon. Harry fetches him another beer and when he returns, the conversation has diverged. Now, Louis and a girl named Diana are chatting about a mutual friend of theirs. And Harry starts talking to a drunk guy or — bless his heart — listening to the drunk guy talk.

The distance between them grows naturally and steadily. They bounce from one conversation to another. The apartment isn’t large per se, but it’s crowded. Louis puts his head down for one second, watching a video on Diana’s phone of an upcoming production she says he’ll like, and when he looks up a minute later, he doesn’t see Harry nearby.

Diana begins a debate with someone else about a show she saw just last week, one that Louis hasn’t seen, doesn’t know about, and can’t speak on.

“Hey, Louis?”

When the man approaches, Louis has just decided to go looking for Harry. Now, he stops and starts scrambling through faces and names in his head, trying to place him to no avail. “Hi. Sorry, I don’t—”

“We haven’t met. I never got a chance to say hi at Zayn’s birthday party last year. I recognized you from his Instagram.”

“Now I’m worried about what you’ve seen,” Louis says.

“Someone who likes to have fun?” He shrugs. “I’m Adrian.”

Louis shakes his hand. “Nice to finally meet me, yeah?”

“Exactly what I was going to say. Did you come with someone?” Adrian asks, catching Louis as he glances across the room again.

“No. Not really,” Louis says. “Trying to check on a friend, but he’s probably fine.”

And Harry is an adult boy who doesn’t need to be looked after.

“Want to grab another drink then?”

“Sure,” Louis says. Adrian is obviously interested in him. To what end isn’t as clear. He seems too timid to make a move right away, but who knows what he’s like with more alcohol? Louis isn’t timid, but he also isn’t the type. Shagging unfamiliar albeit attractive men lost its appeal at some point in his twenties. Mostly because he never liked the blokes as much in the morning.

Whatever Adrian is up to, it’s Harry who Louis’ mind keeps wandering to like a phantom limb. He keeps picturing him sitting in a corner by himself, strangers drifting away from him, getting bored because they don’t understand his humour like Louis does and aren’t as entertained by his existing the way Louis is. And yes, it’s highly improbable given Harry’s rampant levels of charisma, but after several minutes of Adrian wanging on, Louis excuses himself to the loo anyway.

In the living room, he finally spots Harry sitting on the window sill, sharing a joint with three random individuals. He seems to be getting along fine. More than fine. Louis feels ridiculous. He goes to the loo but doesn’t need to use it. He stands in the mirror for a long time, massaging the frown line between his brows, washing his hands, then testing out the body spray Zayn’s keeps on a shelf above the toilet. He hates it. Has to wash his hands again. Then he returns to the party, feeling slightly less erratic.

“You’re just in time,” Adrian says. “I think everyone is heading up to the roof.”

“Let me grab my coat, then,” Louis says.

He follows Adrian into the hallway and up the stairs to the roof, stalling as he goes because again, he doesn’t see Harry in front of or behind him and doesn’t want him to miss the fireworks. It doesn’t occur to him that Harry might already be on the roof, which he is. Wearing his puffy coat and his knit hat again, his nose and cheekbones ruddy. He scans the roof and immediately sees Louis and smiles.

Louis smiles back. He wants to go over to him but he stays put, directing his gaze towards the skyline. He feels like he has something to prove, in light of the last half-hour he’s spent mentally fixed to Harry. And isn’t it enough that they’re on the same roof, ringing in the New Year a few feet apart?

“Ten!” Zayn’s voice rings out the loudest, and everyone starts counting down.

Beside him, Adrian shoots him a smile. He’ll probably try to kiss him. Louis will probably let him. 

“Seven. Six. Five.”

Louis glances the other way again and doesn’t see Harry for an alarming second. At three, Harry steps right up beside him. “Hey,” he says.

Two.

Louis laughs at himself. “Hey.”

At one, Harry leans in and kisses Louis on the mouth. Just for a second. Around them, everyone is screaming, but Harry says, “Happy New Year” for Louis to hear.

A noisemaker blares. Confetti rains down from some unknown source. Their gazes linger until Zayn throws his arms over their shoulders and the diaphanous bubble that had formed around them, glowing in the light of distant fireworks, dissolves. The music resumes. Champagne glasses are refilled. 

He’s kissed Harry before (although he was drunk and it had seemed like a perfectly rational thing to do). He’s kissed Zayn on New Year’s before too. He’s kissed people on New Year’s that he’s never seen again.

He doesn’t know what to make of this or if he should make anything of it at all.

And at the end of the night, when they’re drunk and collapsed in Louis’ bed, it’s a distant, hazy thought.

Chapter Text

There's a honk of a car horn and Louis tilts his head back to see past the brim of his baseball cap. Harry waves sheepishly from the front seat of an SUV he borrowed from Nico, one of the cooks at Augustine. Louis stands up from the curb very slowly, dusting off his jeans, shoving his mobile into his pocket, before he pushes the IKEA trolley over to the boot of the car. Harry hops out and joins him.

“I thought you weren’t coming back,” Louis says. “I would have resold all your stuff if you took any longer.”

“Why would anyone buy resold IKEA furniture outside of IKEA?” Harry asks.

“Discounts, Harry. See this Hemnes bookshelf you bought for $149? I’d sell it for $100.”

“What about the biscuits I bought you?”

“I’d keep those obviously. Did you get lost or what? Why’d it take you an hour just to bring the car around?”

“It wasn’t an hour . There was an old couple stopped behind me. They had me blocked in and I didn’t have the heart to honk on them.”

Louis accepts this as a valid excuse. But he doesn’t actually care. He’s perfectly happy to be spending his Saturday shopping for apartment furniture and plants with Harry. His stomach is full on Swedish meatballs and he’s got nowhere else to be. And like all occasions involving Harry, browsing IKEA is no less entertaining. Adding things to the trolley that Harry didn’t need, including a print of a pug with a banana in its mouth and a rainbow LED light strip, never got old. Even the image of Harry sequestered by an elderly couple in the car park is amusing.

They employ some Tetris-style maneuvering to fit everything into the boot. 

“I think I should run back in and get us ice cream for the road,” Louis says.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” Harry says.

“Neither do I.”

It’s probably warmer than it should be in April and most of the time, that’s worrisome. But post-IKEA, it’s a warrant for two cones of soft serve. Louis has to hold Harry’s ice cream until he successfully makes it out of the car park. And then he cranks the radio and they’re on their way back to Williamsburg.

Harry finally settled on a loft that’s skipping distance from Yuzu. The large open kitchen was its primary selling point. Quartz countertops. New appliances. All the glass windows are an added bonus, giving the space a greenhouse effect that Stevie would likely appreciate, especially absent Claire’s balcony.

“I think when it gets even warmer, we should go to Rockaway Beach,” Harry says randomly. “That’s where everyone goes in the summer, isn’t it?”

“Like half of the city, yeah. But it’s fun. We’ll go,” Louis says. “Steve could drive us.”

He has a little energy-efficient vehicle that wasn’t helpful at all when it came to apartment shopping. But it’s perfect for day trips.

“Or me and you could just take the train,” Harry says.

Louis looks at him. “You don’t want Steve to come?”

“No, I like Steve,” Harry says, quickly. “Never mind.”

“What?”

“Nothing,” Harry says, laughing. “Everyone can come to the beach. We’ll rent a whole party bus and bring everyone. All your coworkers. All your friends.”

“Wanker.”

“Dickhead,” Harry says.

Louis plucks him in his cheek.

“Ow. I’m driving.”

+

There was another apartment. With a balcony. But Harry missed out on it because there was no time to pack and move on top of readying the restaurant for its grand opening. That’s in less than two weeks. There are finishing touches left to be made. Painting. Tiling the floors in the washrooms. It’s nothing Harry has to be onsite for. Which means plenty of time devoted to parsing IKEA bookshelves and tables together. 

Harry turns a sheet of instructions over. “I think they’re missing a page.”

Louis, who has already constructed a table on his own, takes the instructions from him. “They’re never missing a page,” he says, scooting closer to him. He peruses all the parts still left in Harry’s console table. “You’re on the right track. That long piece goes there.”

Harry peeks over his shoulder. “I don’t think so.”

Louis turns the paper so that the direction of the drawing matches what Harry has on the floor. “This here,” he says, pointing, “is that there. Long piece here.”

Harry wordlessly reaches for the long beam on the ground and affixes it to the rest of the console. Louis gets the next part ready for him and together, they finish quickly. They set the console against the far wall, the TV on top of it, and plop down on the floor to admire their work. The couch is due for delivery tomorrow. There are still some prints to hang. And the bed is on the floor because they haven't put the frame to put together yet. But they've also silently agreed to take a break.

“Thanks for helping me out today,” Harry says, lying on his back beside Louis, spreading himself out. His white T-shirt rides up a bit, exposing a lovely sliver of his stomach, a trail of gilded hair. 

“Happy to,” Louis says, looking away from him. “Also I like your place.”

“Thanks. Think it's coming together, yeah?” Harry asks, and when Louis doesn't answer, he looks at him. “What?”

“So,” Louis says, “I know next week is opening week and you're focused on that, as you should be. And it’s all very exciting, but there’s another really exciting thing I need to tell you.”

“Okay,” Harry says, pushing himself upright.

“I got a callback. Me and this other lad. But I feel pretty confident about my odds.”

“Wait, what?” Harry looks at him, eyes wide. “ Louis .”

Louis starts to laugh. At Harry’s ridiculous expression most of all. But he also feels giddy. And when Harry lunges at him and hugs him, it only gets worse. He laughs until he can’t breathe.

“You sat here with me building IKEA furniture when we could have been celebrating this!”

Lying in a semi-comfortable puddle on the floor, Louis says, “I mean, we have to build the furniture.”

Louis ,” Harry says again.

And the emphasis on his name — the affection tucked away between the Lou and is — combined with the sunlight striking Harry’s eyes at just the right angle robs Louis of his sarcasm and his wit. So that when he responds, it’s an embarrassingly soft, but pointed, “Harry.”

“I’m going to make you a drink,” Harry says, clambering up off the floor. “And we’re going to celebrate. And you’re going to tell me everything.”

He blends up frozen margaritas with two bottles of Corona poured inside. (They’ve also silently agreed to abandon all further IKEA projects in favor of getting fucked up.) He brings out the chips and salsa too since their meatball lunch has mostly worn off.

“This is for The World Below, yeah?” Harry asks. “You auditioned for the part of Young Hades?”

“Yeah, but they want me for Hermes. Bigger part. Better songs. It’s crazy.”

“And you feel good about it?”

“I do, yeah. I feel really good. Nothing is guaranteed, but it’s not just me. Everyone at the agency feels really good about it too. I’ve set myself up for disappointment before, but I don’t know. This feels different.”

Harry just beams at him, his arms crossed over his chest. Like he has to hug himself or else he’ll attack-hug Louis again. “When do you have to go back?”

“Tomorrow, actually.”

“Wait,” Harry says. “You shouldn’t be drinking then. Definitely not that.”

Louis slides his Coronarita out of Harry’s reach. “I can drink this one.” 

+

He and Zayn give their names at the door and are welcomed inside. Yuzu is dimly lit and glamorously outfitted. With its custom furnishings and eye-catching light fixtures and with its guests, fashionably dressed and bearing that notorious but subtle gloss of New York’s elite. They aren’t the investment bankers or financial analysts that might frequent Augustine. They’re primarily young, eager creatives or at least, that’s how they look.

At the bar, Louis recognizes Niall, one of the hosts at Augustine and a close new friend of Harry’s. With him are Clemena and Penny, another of Zayn’s coworkers. It’s a packed house. All the tables are full. All the seats are taken, save two. One for Zayn and one for Louis.

“Harry says this one is for you,” Niall says, patting the chair beside himself in the corner of the bar. It might just be the best seat in the place.

“Does he look nervous?” Louis asks Niall.

And just as he does, Harry steps out of the kitchen looking happier than ever. He’s dressed in his black button-up and black trousers. A yellow gingham apron around his waist. He approaches the other side of the bar to shake the hand of a woman seated there. And there's Tyler, stood beside him, wearing the same getup. He's taking a gander of the room and notices Louis just as Louis notices him. They share a weird and paradoxical exchange of eye contact; Neither of them looking away, because looking away equates to defeat and simultaneously, might seem rude.

Tyler nudges Harry and nods impassively in Louis' direction. Harry looks down the bar, confused at first before he sees Louis. He immediately starts his way over to them, having to stop at least once to greet someone else. He wiggles past one of the bartenders and then, he's in front of Louis, radiating an unquantifiable degree of joy.

“You made it.”

“Good thing I did," Louis says. "Had a seat reserved for me."

“Obviously,” Harry says. His gaze drifts downward. “Have you worn that before?”

Louis doesn’t have to look. He started thinking about what he would wear tonight a few days prior and decided nothing he owned was quite right. In the end, he purchased the maroon top he wears now, which doesn’t have much going for it except for how low the neck is, allowing for a nice view of his tattoo and chest hair and such.

“It’s new,” Louis says.

“You got dressed up for me?”

“For the occasion,” Louis corrects.

“I am the occasion.”

“Fuck, I’ve already had enough of you and the night’s just started,” Louis says, which makes Harry grin like an idiot. Clemena wiggles her fingers to get Harry’s attention and he finally notices that she and Zayn and Penny have arrived too. He greets everyone and then regretfully has to get back. Louis can sense his exhilaration. There’s a hurriedness in his speech and in his step that has fully taken effect on Louis by the time Harry disappears into the kitchen. Louis, as well, is exhilarated. He’s ready for these dishes Harry has only vaguely alluded to over the past year. He’s ready to see Harry perform and shine as he’s guaranteed to. He orders a drink and settles in for what will be a radiant night.

First comes sake-steamed clams served with a yuzu butter sauce. Great start. Delicious, of course. The only offense is that there are only three on Louis’ plate. Next is a baked pumpkin soup with uni that arrives in a small pumpkin. Harry and Tyler briefly reappear from the kitchen to make their rounds. There’s a faint flush to Harry’s cheeks, but he seems happy. As he should.

There’s a wait before the next course, in which they all start chatting and catching up with one another.

Zayn isn’t having as good of a time as everyone else, but he’s always behaved like a stunted puppy wherever Clemena is involved. In her billowy red dress, Clemena could be a model if she really wanted. She’s brown-skinned with the kind of complexion that says she’s never known a pimple. She’s tall and graceful and pretty, and Louis gets why Zayn has pined over her all these months. Because Zayn is admittedly vain.

But she’s also funny, which matters less when she has the kind of laugh that makes other people laugh. Louis liked her the first time he met her years ago. He’s always had a great time when she’s around. And that night is unlikely to be different.

Until she asks, “How long have you and Harry been together?”

Niall, Penny, and Zayn all zero in on Louis. Suddenly the lights in the restaurant seem too bright. It’s not that Louis minds answering, but he’s thrown off by their instant and undivided attention.

“We’re just friends, actually,” he says. “Just really good friends.”

Clemena takes a sip of her drink while shooting a glance at Penny. Louis looks at Penny who looks at Niall who looks at Zayn who looks at Clemena who looks at Louis.

“Does Harry know that?” Clemena finally asks.

Louis arches his brows high. “Fuck does that mean?” he asks, as jovially as he can manage.

And now no one is looking at him and he feels like he’s just made a tasteless joke, confessed to some egregious childhood crime or shared a highly unpopular opinion. Mood-killers, all of them. Which is what he’s just done. He’s gone and killed the mood. 

Clemena looks as though she has more to say but then their third dish arrives. “Smothered tonkatsu in a fuyu fuji cream sauce,” their waitress says, which sounds enticing, but Louis’ attention is diverted. He cleans his plate and responds with vague laughter to whatever story Zayn starts telling the group. But all he can really think about Clemena’s question.

In truth, Louis loves his little corner at the bar. He’s elevated there with a prime view of the whole house, close to the kitchen, close to where Harry periodically appears. And whenever Harry appears, Louis loves that in spite of the commotion, his gaze still finds Louis. Every time. In complete and total truth, he loves Harry’s gaze. He loves his attention. And he’s never had to question how much of it he gets until now.

At their sixth course — miso cod over black soba with fig and pistou all served in a deep woven dish — Harry approaches the bar, all smiles as usual. “How’s it going over here?” he asks them all, but he’s mostly looking at Louis.

“It’s really great,” Louis says, a bit robotically. He has a sip of his drink and adamantly avoids eye contact with anyone else.

“What’s up next, Chef?” Niall asks.

“And what should we be looking forward to for dessert?” Clemena adds.

“I can’t answer either of those questions,” Harry says. “But dessert is the best course of the night.”

“I’d take more of the curried wagyu, to be honest,” Niall says. And they all agree. They all have a dish they’d like more of. Or maybe another round of the entire menu, Niall suggests. Harry is so palpably chuffed, he can’t stop smiling.

“Your drink’s low,” he says randomly to Louis. “I’ll get you another. Same thing?”

“Sure, thanks.”

Minutes after he’s gone, Sophie, one of the bartenders, serves Louis another cocktail with a wink.

“Thanks for taking care of us,” Louis says to her. Because he feels like he should, knowing that she’s paid them so much special attention as Harry’s friends.

“No need to thank me,” Sophie says. “Whenever my husband dropped in at Augustine, Harry showed him the works. You order whatever you want. I don’t mind.”

Louis’ paranoia spikes again. Did she reference her husband to draw a comparison to his relationship with Harry? Or did the specification mean nothing? Either way, Louis is beginning to feel like the target of a hidden camera show. Did everyone know that he was dating Harry except him?

He zones out, watching his friends chat, watching Sophie and the other bartender maneuvering around each other. For dessert, they have a yuzu Breton butter cake topped with whiskey whipped cream and fresh berries, and Harry returns to hand deliver Louis’ dish. The sight of him both relieves Louis and perplexes him. Everyone sees him do it. Because it’s Harry’s night and the attention is on him. But Louis’ attention is always on Harry, he realizes. Every night of the week.

And yeah, maybe that’s due for some examination.

There’s a drinks reception afterwards. Harry and Tyler are briefly interviewed and profusely congratulated. It takes another hour after the restaurant empties for them to clean up. It’s one a.m. when the staff decides which bar they’re headed to for their after party.

Louis catches a glimpse of Tyler, returning from the lounge where he’s changed his clothes, and it dawns on him that Tyler probably doesn’t like him because he senses that Louis is fucking obtuse.

The light goes off in the kitchen. Niall runs to the loo while Zayn, Clemena and Penny head outside to smoke. Louis lingers by the bar until Harry steps out of the lounge, still in his trousers but wearing a vintage Britney Spears T-shirt and Converse.

“Ready to go?” he asks.

“I think I might head home, actually,” Louis says.

Harry’s smile dissipates instantly. “Seriously?”

He’s so obviously and painfully disappointed, Louis wants to take it back right away. “Tonight was really, really great. The food was fucking incredible. And I promise I’ll have a full review ready for you by tomorrow.”

“Thank you,” Harry says, and then, he whines. “Don’t go home. The bar is just down the street. The drinks are free .”

“I don’t know, mate.”

Louis ,” Harry says. His brows crease. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Louis says. Not because he doesn’t want to say. He will say. Except it seems wrong to do it tonight. Tomorrow or the next day, they’ll have lunch. First, he’ll sing Yuzu’s praises, and then he’ll contend with whatever it is they’ve had going on for the past eight months.

“We’re leaving!” someone calls, poking their head in through the front door. Behind Harry, a girl hurriedly applies her lipstick and sticks a cigarette in her mouth. On her way to the door, she bumps her hip against Harry’s. “It’s party time, bitch,” she mumbles. 

“That’s Gillian,” Harry says to Louis. “She’s drunk and very insistent. As am I. Do you really want to leave right before party time?”

“It’s 2 am,” Louis says.

“No,” Harry says, taking a step closer. He sets his warm hands on Louis’ shoulders. “It’s party time.”

It’s so annoying when Louis is frustrated and someone makes him laugh. He laughs right then, much to his chagrin. Harry’s smile is back in full force, both dimples, effective as always. And Louis gets that he has to go if he wants the smile to stay.

“Alright,” Louis sighs with a long roll of his eyes. 

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, let’s go,” Louis says. “It’s party time, bitch.”

Harry laughs and tosses an arm over his shoulders, dragging him along. They all tumble out of the restaurant a second later. There’s a slight chill in the air and Louis tells himself that’s why he leans into Harry the way he does, looping an arm around his waist. It’s one of those quintessential nights — one, in which, he is happy to be alive and nothing else. Content to draw breath and nothing more. One of those nights that make even the simplest things — like Harry’s peal of laughter disrupting the din of traffic — seem exponentially gratifying. He feels high on life so long as he doesn’t think about how fucking complicated life can be. 

“Louis.”

He zones out between the pavement and bouncer and has to hurry to fish his I.D. out of his pocket. Inside, someone in their group has held two tables in a dark corner, which is where they all head. There are shots waiting for them all. Harry takes one and hands one to Louis.

“To Yuzu,” he says. A rowdy cheer goes up and they all throw them back.

Harry sets his hand on Louis’ waist. “Let’s get drinks.”

There are three bartenders and all of them are zipping around, not quite looking at anyone it seems. Harry is a little too polite to lure them closer. Louis leans forward on the counter and wiggles his fingers and stares them all down until he’s spotted.

“My hero,” Harry says to Louis when the bartender departs with their order.

Louis smiles, still tense, but he’s starting to loosen up. That is, until he sees Zayn and Clemena and fixes his attention to them. They’re talking, but not quite looking at each other. When Zayn does look at her, it’s only when Clemena has looked away. And when Clemena looks at him, it’s only when she’s pretending to look around the club.

“They’re a fucking mess, Z and Clem,” Louis says to Harry. “Too much unresolved shit between them.”

Harry glances at them. “They just need another drink. Or two,” he says. He starts ruminating about ordering more shots, and if he does, should he go with tequila or vodka? Louis isn’t really listening.

“We’re not like them, right?” he asks. Out loud.

Huh ?”

Harry looks so confused, Louis could probably backtrack if he wanted to. He doesn’t. “Like there’s nothing unresolved here, right?” he asks, gesturing between them. “‘Cause everyone thinks we’re shagging except us, it seems.”

“Huh,” Harry says, again. He looks down the bar like something has caught his attention. Louis turns and looks as well but there’s nothing there. He leans in front of Harry so that he’s directly in his line of sight.

“Right?” he repeats, brows arched.

Harry’s eyes dart to Louis’ mouth. “Can we talk about it tomorrow?”

“Talk about what ?”

The bartender returns with their drinks before Louis can press the issue. Harry asks for help carrying everything and with an irritated huff, Louis complies. He pretends Harry isn’t there for a while afterwards. He’s annoyed and he wants him to know it. Also, if he looks at him, he’ll feel bad for being mean. The fact that Tyler is hovering around without saying hi only irritates Louis further. Louis certainly won’t be the one to say hi first.

The shot kicks in and miraculously, Louis starts to feel loose enough to dance, even though he doesn’t want to dance. Clemena is all too ready. She moves with him, hands in the air, hips shaking. They’re not drunk, per se, but they dance like they are. Both serenading Niall or hyping the DJ who definitely can’t hear any of them.

When Louis does spot Harry again, he’s a few feet away huddled with his coworkers. Gillian is in his arms, attempting a lesser salsa with him. And, as always, Louis can’t take his eyes off of him.

He’s dancing with Clemena but watching Harry.

Harry is dancing with the waitress and a second later, he’s watching Louis too.

Neither of them looks away.

The song changes. It’s as good a cue as any. Louis slides away from Clemena and approaches Harry who immediately loosens his hold on his dance partner.

“Sorry to interrupt, love,” Louis says to Gillian, taking Harry by the elbow and drawing him into a spot in the corner that’s all theirs.

Harry’s smile is small, cautious. He leans in. “Are you mad at me?” he asks, loud enough to be heard.

Louis shakes his head. “Let’s dance.”

He sets both hands on Harry’s waist. They smile at one another. Slowly, Louis coaxes them to move, side-to-side to the beat. He coaxes the awkwardness away. They spin each other and turn in each other’s arms, Louis grinding on Harry, Harry grinding on him, for which Louis rewards him with a slap on his bum. Soon enough, they’re laughing and singing obnoxiously loud. And for a while, things are as usual.

When the music changes again, it’s not a particularly slow song, but it’s one that matters. He can’t even remember the name of it, but he remembers Harry singing it to him in the kitchen. When he looked really good and Louis was fully in lust with him. They have their arms around each other like it’s the apex of a grade school dance and the awareness just shifts. Simple as that. The tension is back, even as they move loosely. Their thighs slot together and Harry’s hands hover at the base of Louis’ spine.

He’s positive it’s never felt quite like this before. But then Harry’s mouth brushes his shoulder where his shirt has slipped down and it’s hard to believe he never saw it coming — his nerve endings lighting up, his breath catching, full-body shiver.

Louis leans away so he can look at him. And when he looks at him, he has to kiss him.

Distantly, he thinks he hears Clemena yell, “Oh, shit” when his lips meet Harry’s. But then, Clemena fades out. Everything slows and blurs into the gyrating technicolour backdrop of this moment. Either the shots hit Louis too hard or sometimes it really does happen like in the movies. Sometimes nearly a year’s worth of unacknowledged sexual tension reaches its zenith on a dance floor at 4 AM. And sometimes absurdly beautiful boys are also absurdly brilliant kissers. 

Harry is a brilliant kisser. Louis knows because he forgets himself. He forgets to think and he doesn’t have to. Harry slides his hands up Louis’ neck and cups his face and slips his tongue into his mouth like they’ve done this a hundred times before. And Louis has to wonder why the hell they haven’t.

It’s the kind of kiss that might get him out of his clothes if they were in the right place, but they aren’t. And the next time their lips part, Harry has the same idea because he takes Louis’ hand and leads him out of the club.

Back on the pavement, air rushes into his lungs, cooling everything down.

“Sorry, it’s loud in there,” Harry says, stupidly. “Do you want to go?”

“Yeah,” Louis says. Like Harry, he’s trying to catch his breath. Unlike Harry, he’s sobering up too quickly. “What are we doing?”

“My place is closer,” Harry says. He starts scanning the street for a cab. “So we should go there.”

“Yeah, but, what are we doing?”

Harry stops looking down the street and looks at Louis instead. He seems to deflate then. A second of silence passes. He pushes his hands through his hair. “I want to take you home with me. I’ve been wanting to take you home since I met you. And I have, only nothing’s happened, and I want something to happen. Between us. Me and you, I want that.”

Louis props his hands on his hips. “Well, why didn’t you say that before?”

“Why didn’t you ? Why did you kiss me just now if you haven’t been thinking the same thing?”

“I don’t fucking know,” Louis says. “I asked first.”

“I tried, at least once before. But I also thought it was obvious. Or I thought we’d get here eventually,” Harry says. “And now we have. Haven’t we?”

In his peripheral, Louis happens to spy a cab with its light on and doesn’t think before he hails it, just in time to catch the driver’s attention.

Nights spent in the same bed, curled together like question marks. Early morning texts and late-night phone calls. Hugs that lasted a second too long. Vague references to a near or distant future together. In some dusty corner of his mind, he knew what road they were on and where they would eventually arrive. And yeah, now they have.

The cab slides up to the curb. Louis pops the door open and looks at Harry, expectantly. “We’ll have to go to yours. Steve has his mum over.”

Harry hesitates.

“Chop, chop, Chef Styles,” Louis says, snapping his fingers.

“Very funny.”

They don’t snog in the car like animals because their appetite for PDA has apparently expired. They don’t talk either. Harry peers out the window at all the drunken sods still lingering on the streets. It’s so late. Louis doesn’t even want to think about how late it is. But New York never sleeps and Harry watches her dutifully and Louis watches him. He tries to think of something to say — something funny, preferably — but before he can, the ride is over.

“Do you want a drink?” Harry asks once they’re inside, pausing at the bar cart in the living room.

Louis plops down on the couch, pushing his shoes off. “What time is it?”

“Like 4 am, I think,” Harry says.

Louis can’t remember the last time he stayed up all night like this. And he’s surprised how tired he doesn’t feel. Like he’s too excited to be tired.

“Yeah, why not.”

Harry pours him whiskey on the rocks, which is how Louis knows he’s nervous. Usually he gets a bit fancy with it. Although to be fair, it’s nearly dawn.

Harry sits on his haunches in front of Louis instead of getting on the couch beside him. There’s nothing immediately sexual about it. Harry prefers to sit on the floor whenever and wherever he can. He has a perfectly good desk in his room and yet, he uses the chair to hold his clothes. That’s not to say he isn’t in the perfect position to give Louis a blow job. That’s also not to say Louis wouldn’t like one.

They look at each other with faint smiles. Harry laughs. “Is this awkward?”

“If you ask, you make it awkward,” Louis says. “You just need to relax.”

“I don’t think I want to,” Harry says, running his hands down his thighs. “I think it’s a little too easy to relax with you. I can do that no problem. Whenever I’m tense around you, it’s ‘cause I’m thinking about kissing you. Or fucking you, to be honest.”

Louis lifts his brows. “Someone’s drunk.”

“I’m not. Not really. I’m just saying,” Harry says. “The point is— I’m tense right now and I think I should try keeping it that way.”

“You were in such a hurry to get out there, didn’t say bye to anyone. Think Tyler will wonder where you ran off to?”

“I don’t really care.”

“You do look a little tense,” Louis says. He rests his foot on Harry’s thigh and then, after another sip of whiskey, on his crotch. “Very tense.”

Running his toe up the length of Harry’s cock, Louis is breath-taken by how hard he is, as aloof as he seems. Like he’s barely restraining himself. The thought makes Louis so hot and bothered all of sudden. He presses his toes into Harry’s erection.

Harry wraps his hand around Louis’ ankle. “Louis,” he begs.

Louis reaches his glass towards the end table blindly, just managing to set it down. “Hanging in there, love?” he asks, unbuckling his jeans. He sinks further into the couch and shoves a hand down his pants, giving himself a squeeze.

“Don’t make yourself come,” Harry says. “Please.”

“Do you want to make me come?”

Harry drags his hands down his face. “You’re fucking killing me.”

“How are you going to do it?” Louis asks, starting to jack himself. He groans, mostly for show. “How are you going to make me come?”

He’s absolutely asking for it and yet not expecting it when Harry cups him by the hips and tugs him to the edge of the couch. They get the same idea, both of them wrangling with Louis’ jeans until his cock is free. And then Harry leans in and licks the underside and Louis’ nerves are alight again. It all happens so fast — a relief and a knockout punch at once.

“Fuck yes,” Louis breathes, shoving his hand into Harry’s hair, getting a fistful to hold onto. Harry has Louis’ hips pinned to the couch and there’s nowhere for him to go and nowhere he’d want to be as divine as this. “Your fucking mouth.”

Harry looks up at him with a smile Louis has seen a hundred times over, but never like this. He licks his lips and lowers his gaze and doesn’t let up. His fucking mouth .

“Been waiting ages for this, haven’t you?” Louis asks, because he has. Because his fantasies about Harry have been limitless and satisfactory until now. They don’t compare at all. He wasn’t prepared for this at all. Especially not for the way Harry gags and moans when Louis’ cock hits the back of his throat, the way he digs his fingers into Louis’ thighs, the way he urges Louis to thrust into his mouth.

It’s nearly 5 am in Brooklyn and Louis is fucking his best friend’s throat. Propping his foot up on the coffee table for leverage and thrusting until he’s breathless and his chest goes taut. He sinks to the couch before he comes in Harry’s mouth and spills on his fist.

Then Harry rests his head in Louis’ lap and starts stroking himself, eyes slipping shut. He’s close right from the start. Louis can hear it in his breath. He nudges Harry’s shoulder. “Show me,” he says. He’ll be damned if he misses any part of this.

Harry leans away from him, his hand slowing. He tilts his head back and comes. In the moonlight, the sweat on his skin is aglow. There aren’t words for a sight like him.

“Fucking gorgeous,” Louis says, but that doesn’t come close.