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the value of this moment lives in metaphor

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Louis couldn't say he was a huge fan of student gossip.

Working as a high school teacher—for drama, no less—it was obvious he would hear it everywhere. Half of the small plays the students would write and perform for the early term courses included the standard talking-behind-someone's-back plotline. Before class even started, his kids would come in and talk amongst themselves about Jessica's hair or Bradley's hook up at that party last night.

Louis wasn't much interested in the gossip and trash-talking. Outside of work was a different story, but during work, well, he'd rather not be reminded about what was supposed to be the best years of his life. Taking a job as a teacher was supposed to help change the way teenagers talked about each other when they thought no one was listening, not be the powerless bystander to it all.

But, despite this, his co-workers were as invested with it as the students. As much as they would deny it if ever asked, they all overheard the kid's conversations and had a special place in their head to keep track of anything new they heard.

It's not like they have to try and eavesdrop. Kids are practically yelling down the corridors that they had their first time over the weekend.

It's not really a surprise that, on the first day of the new school year, the staff room was packed full of adults discussing what must have happened over the summer if Carrie and Dylan were holding hands when they came in that morning.

"Finally got their heads out of their asses, probably," Niall managed through his sandwich.

Louis placed his lunch consisting of cold pizza and a Coke in the empty spot next to him, sitting down in the seat.

"Well, obviously," Zayn replied, sipping on a bottle of water at the other side of the table. "But how are we going to know the details?"

"I think Carrie was in my second period," Louis mused. He didn't have to be in active participate in it to pick up on student behavior. "She did seem quite happy today. Even volunteered to participate in the improv warmup."

"Dylan was in my first," Liam said, from beside Zayn. "A bunch of his friends were talking to him about it after they got dressed out. Proper congratulations, and all that."

Someone bumped into Louis' chair, leaning down next to him to stare at the whole table.

"They're sitting together in the dining hall," Perrie whispered, holding a salad bought from the lunch line.

She pulled up a chair from the table beside them and settled herself in, flipping her blonde hair over her shoulder.

"Gonna be the power couple of the school, they are," Niall said.

"What are we talking about?" a new voice joined in.

Louis looked up, smiling when he spotted the head of curls and wide green eyes.

"Harry!" Louis greeted, as he, like Perrie, pulled up a chair. "Just the unsurprising developments of Carrie and Dylan's relationship."

"Oh," Harry said, lips quirking up. "They are pretty cute, aren't they?"

Louis rolled his eyes.

"Are all of you obsessed with a teenage couple that probably won't last longer than a couple months?"
Zayn shrugged, flicking his dark hair out of his eyes.

"They're a bit different though," he commented. "Been friends for a while. More mature than the other kids. They could be some of the lucky ones, if they try and really love each other."

Harry nudged Louis in the side with his elbow.

"Don't go all cynical on us," he joked.

"I'm not," Louis protested, taking a bite of his pizza. "I just think logically."

"More like dramatically," Harry retorted. The whole table laughed, and Louis twisted in his seat to glare at him.

"Says the guy who teaches cooking, of all things," he snapped, crossing his arms. Harry hummed.

"Yeah, but you like my cooking," he said, smiling proudly. "Your dramatics get old after a while."

Louis narrowed his eyes, everyone else snorting into their food.

"Who says I like your cooking?"

"Well," Harry said, "considering anything you touch in the kitchen ends up burning, you've really got no place to complain."

Louis' mouth fell open in mock outrage. "Well, I—"

"My, God," Perrie interrupted, her chair sliding back with a screech as she abruptly stood up. "The sexual tension in this place is killing me, and it's only the first day."

Niall, Liam, and Zayn all chuckled, while Louis' face heated up and he stuffed another bite of the pizza into his mouth.

It's not unusual for one of them to make a comment on his and Harry's friendship--hell, people had been saying that stuff ever since they met--but the problem came into play when Louis got more riled up by them than he liked to admit.

Perrie winked. "Let me know when it's resolved."

She walked away with her lunch tray, leaving a completely silent table in her wake.

--

Louis sat at his desk in the corner of the classroom as students started to file in for third period.

Louis absolutely loved the first day of school. He knew he had been many past students' favorite teacher, and he relished that he could get them actually excited for a class or their eyes to light up at his less-than-appropriate-for-school humor and activities, and especially at the prospect they wouldn't have assigned seats for the term.

Besides, all the fun teachers only taught electives. Even Louis couldn't stand the instructors for the core classes. He couldn't imagine what the students had to go through all day.

When the bell rang and the last student trickled in, settling into one of the desks in the back, Louis stood up and clapped his hands together.

"Alright!" he called out, trying not to smile at the way they all jumped in their seats. Many still had bags of crisps and cookies in their hands, and he definitely saw one or two of them desperately try not to choke.

"Welcome to Theatre 1," Louis said in a lower voice, walking up to the first row of desks. He clapped his hands together, looking out at the curious faces.

"I'm Mr. Tomlinson, and I'll be your teacher this term. And unlike my other co-workers, I will not be starting out with an introduction game for you all."

There were a few chuckles, which was an accomplishment in third period. Classes after lunch were always the hardest to get the students to pay attention.

"We're going to be doing it a different way," Louis said to the class with a mischievous grin. "You're gonna make me remember your names."

Someone snorted in the back, and Louis laughed, quickly realizing what he said.

"Not like that," he attempted, but it was too late; the whole class was laughing as they eventually caught on.

"Anyway!" he shouted over them, and they slowly trailed off, keeping the smiles on their faces.

"As I was saying," Louis continued. "Every day, as a warm up, I'll ask for four of you to volunteer to do some improv."

Louis watched as their expressions changed to apprehension, much like what happens every time he got a new batch of students.

"It's not obligatory," Louis assured, "but, if you do want me to remember your names without the help of roll call, you can do so by participating.

"Drama is about stepping out of your comfort zone, taking the roles you're offered, and doing your best. I don't expect any of you to be the next Leonardo DiCaprio, but I'm just looking for the growth and effort."

He saw a hand rise up, a girl with blonde hair in curls and a jumper with the school logo.

He pointed at her, signaling her to talk.

"What kind of improv?" she asked, lowering her hand.

"Ah, good question," Louis grinned. "Whatever I think will be fun that day."

Murmuring broke out in the class. Louis knew many of them would be nervous about performing in front of everyone, especially with no script, but he also knew that was the basis of being in the acting field.

"So, we're going to start today!" Louis announced. "Who wants to do the honors of going first? Again, I need four of you."

About half the class ducked their heads down, which wasn't a big deal for Louis. He just hoped most of them would get over their fears by the end of the term.

Two hands tentatively came up after a few moments.

"Good, you two," Louis said, gesturing for them to come stand in front of his desk.

A dark-skinned girl with her hair in a ponytail and a tall guy with red hair stood and walked over beside him.

"Two more," Louis said.

One more hand raised, this one belonging to the girl who spoke earlier.

She stood up without being told to and made her way to the front. Louis smiled to himself.

"Anyone else?" he said, silently urging someone to speak up.

There were a few beats of silence, and then...

"I'll go."

Louis, along with the rest of the class, turned to face the door.

Harry was standing in the foyer, arms crossed, and leaning against the doorframe.

"Mr. Styles!" Louis mocked. "What a pleasant surprise!"

Harry grinned, showcasing the dimples in his cheeks.

"Everyone," Louis said, facing the class, "this is Mr. Styles. He teaches all the culinary classes. He'll also be telling me why he's interrupting my class on the first day."

The students let out a simultaneous giggle.

"Do you have any printing paper?" Harry explained, making his way in the room. "I need more syllabuses for next period, and the copier's out. More people are taking the class this year than I expected."

Louis arched an eyebrow. "You mean people actually want to take cooking?"

Harry's lips pursed while the rest of the class exploded with laughter. Louis smiled proudly.

"It's actually very helpful if you, say, have a tendency to nearly burn down kitchens while making dinner for your date," Harry said, mouth turning up in a smirk.

The class laughed even louder.

Louis narrowed his eyes. "That was one time, Styles."

Harry ignored him. "Paper?"

"I have some," Louis said, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. He went to his desk and rummaged through some things before finding the unopened package of paper a girl had brought in earlier that day. He handed it over to Harry.

"Bring some back please," he said. "Someone liked my class enough to bring it in on the first day."

"You mean you don't scare all your students with the improv thing?"

Louis smiled grimly. "Get out."

Harry, thankfully, obeyed, but not without calling out, "Transfer to cooking!" over his shoulder as he left.

Louis shook his head, turning back to the class. They were all smiling or hiding giggles into their sleeves.

"Don't learn how to cook," Louis warned. "It makes you conceited. It's also much easier to have someone do it for you."

"I have cooking next," the red-head who volunteered admitted.

"Traitor," Louis immediately replied. "Me and Styles are mortal enemies. You must choose one."

At the wary look on the guy's face, Louis eased up.

"I'm kidding," he laughed. "We've actually been friends since university."

"How long has that been?" a girl asked, leaning her chair back.

"How about we save questions for the end of class?" Louis said with a wink. The girl frowned, putting her chair back on all its legs.

Ah, yes. The standard student trying to kill class time.

"Now where was I?"

--

The next few weeks are, in Louis' opinion, anticlimactic.

The start, and end, of the school year is usually the peak of all drama. But except for the whole Carrie and Dylan thing—which wasn't even that surprising to begin with—not much appears to be going on with the students.

And Louis would be jumping with joy, if it weren't for the fact that usually meant something big was going to blow up soon. Like the calm before the storm.

The end of the third week of school also marked about two months since Louis last had sex. Very anticlimactic, pun intended.

He's at the point where he's blaming the new term for his blue balls. There was a lot of preparation he had to go through in the weeks leading up to the first day, as he liked to switch up his lessons every term. It was all work for Louis, and he probably went out to the pub maybe once or twice during the whole summer break.

Didn't mean his own hand was good enough, though.

While most of the other teachers were either married or at least involved with someone (even Niall, who was notorious for his lone wolf characteristic in the high school teacher world, had been seeing a girl 'casually' since the start of summer), Louis was the odd one out, with a growing, pent up, sexual frustration.

But, the first weekend he had nothing to grade and already got all the assignments for the following week printed out, his mother called and asked if she could visit for a few days.

Not only did that mean Louis' free time had been destroyed, but he would also have to give up his anti-cooking beliefs and beg Harry to make his mum's favorite meals.

Plus, it seemed like a switch had gone off in the students that Friday. By lunch, every teacher had been complaining about how talkative and rude the kids were, and Louis had to agree. He was completely tired just halfway through the day, attempting to get all his students to actually listen to him, and was desperately ready to cancel his mum's visit.

(He didn't though; he had more sense than that. Never let it be said he was not appreciative of everything his mother had done.)

Louis was rubbing his temples in the staff room during lunch, listening as Liam rattled on about how the kids were getting more and more violent these days, when he felt a hand grip his shoulder.

“Hey,” Harry whispered, settling into the seat next to Louis.

Louis smiled. “Hey. Rough day, too?”

Harry groaned. “Don’t know the half of it.”

He rummaged in his bag, pulling out two sandwiches in Ziploc and bags of crisps.

“You left your lunch at home, did you know?” Harry grinned, passing a sandwich and crisp bag to Louis.

Louis stared at him, mouth falling open. “Yes, I knew. I thought I was gonna starve to death today.”

He hastily opened the crisp bag, popping one in his mouth. “Why didn’t you tell me you got it before we left?”

“Wanted to surprise you,” Harry winked.

Louis huffed. “Can’t wait for my birthday present, then. What’ll it be, a PB and J?”

Harry hummed, taking a bite of his sandwich. “Thinking more along the lines of an energy drink.”

“Don’t know what I’d do without you, Haz,” Louis half-joked. Harry was pretty much the reason why Louis wasn’t succumbing to malnutrition.

“Oi!” Niall called from the other side of the table, packing up his stuff. “If you two are done flirting, we’ve actually got lunch duty in the dining hall. Headmaster just sent me an email.”

Louis’ face flushed, but he got up and followed the rest of them out of the staff room.

It was essentially the highlight of Louis’ day, that one little surprise from Harry. The students just got rowdier as the afternoon went on, and it was times like those that Louis wondered why he ever became a teacher, as much as he loved his profession the rest of the time.

After fourth period, he packed up his laptop and lesson plans as soon as school ended, heading into the music classroom to say goodbye to Niall.

Niall had his feet propped on his desk when Louis walked in, guitar in his lap as he strummed the same chord a few times.

A boy—Louis recognized him from his second period class; Carlos, an active participant in his improv warm ups—was sitting in one of the desks in the front row, head slumped down in his arms, brown hair falling across his face.

Niall looked up when Louis walked in, giving him a smile.

"Hey, Lou," he said, placing the guitar (and his feet) down.

"Hey," Louis greeted, glancing towards where Carlos sat incredulously. "Are you supervising detention?"

Niall was known around the school for his laid back punishments. Only once had he ever given a student detention, and that was for some guy that was suspended later in the year and had been sexually harassing a girl in the corridor outside Niall's room.

And Louis hadn't had any problems with Carlos so far. He did all his work, never talked back, and took any roles Louis assigned him gratefully.

"Partly," Niall shrugged, answering Louis' question. "He got in a fight in the locker rooms with Trevor."

A mumbled voice interrupted, "He called Gabe a fag."

Louis' eyes snapped towards Carlos, who was still in the same position, but with furrowed eyebrows and lips turned down.

Louis arched an eyebrow at Niall, who smiled sadly.

"Yeah," he confirmed. "Punched Trevor in the eye. Me and Liam were right outside when it happened, and some faculty advisors came down afterwards."

He sent a cautious glance at Carlos. "Fuckers told us we had to give both of them detention, even though we were gonna let Carlos off with a warning. Trevor's with Liam right now in Zayn's room."

"That's bullshit," Louis blurted out. They were in the middle of the hurricane now, it seemed, and Louis was definitely remembering his own high school years.

Niall shook his head. "It is what it is. It's tattooed on your collarbones, in case you forgot. The kid's got a nasty black eye though, so he's got some explaining to do to his parents."

Louis chuckled. Carlos spoke up again.

"You've got tattoos, Mr. Tomlinson?" he asked, raising his head.

Louis and Niall both turned to him, sharing a look.

As it was getting to the freezing temperature time in England, Louis hadn't had a chance to showcase his assortment of tattoos. He did it every year; build up the suspense for his new students by wearing nothing but long-sleeved shirts all through winter and then finally wear a T-shirt or button up in the spring.

He wasn't sure how many of his past students told the new ones, or if they didn't at all. Carlos didn't get the message, at least.

"I do, yeah," Louis said with a grin, looking down at the black turtleneck he had on today.

He hated turtlenecks, but Harry hadn't gotten around to the washing, yet, and this was one of the only tops he had left.

"Cool," Carlos said, returning the grin. "Do we get to see them?"

"If it ever gets warm enough again for me to wear short-sleeves," Louis joked.

He turned back to Niall, adjusting the strap on his shoulder for his laptop case.

"Anyway, me and Harry are gonna head out early," he explained. "Mum's coming for a visit and after all the cooking jokes I made to Harry, I'll probably have to sell my soul to get him to make dinner this weekend."

Niall leaned back in his seat, smirking up at Louis. "Could always repay him in a different way."

He waggled his eyebrows, and Louis suddenly had a vision of him smashing Niall's precious guitar into a thousand pieces.

"You're disgusting," Louis said instead. "Go have sex with Brenda or whatever her name is."

"Barbara," Niall corrected, pointing a finger at Louis. "And at least I'm getting some."

Louis bit the inside of his cheek. "How do you know I'm not?"

"Because," Niall said, making a weird hand movement Louis couldn't even describe. "You get all like this."

"Right," Louis said slowly. "Well, I'm gonna say bye to Zayn and Liam. Don't screw things up with Barbie."

As he was walking away, he heard Niall call out, "Barbara!"

--

A few minutes later, after saying goodbye to Zayn and Liam in the art room and giving a—hopefully—subtle glare in Trevor's direction (he didn't take drama, thank God), he made his way into Harry's classroom.

Like usual, it was a complete mess. Piles of flour were on all the desks and counters, used cake pans were strung about, papers from other classes were on the floor, and there didn't seem to be a single chair that was pushed in.

Harry was at one of the ovens, wiping it down with a rag.

Louis couldn't understand why anyone would want to teach cooking to a bunch of high school students if this was what you had to deal with at the end of every class, but Louis thought it would be best not to say that aloud.

"Need any help?" Louis asked, voice echoing around the silent room.

Harry twisted around and smiled at Louis. "That'd be great."

They spend the next ten minutes picking up all the rubbish and wiping down the counters. There wasn't much they can do about all the batter and ingredients spilled on the floor, so they leave that for the cleaners to get, which Harry didn't seem very happy about. He had to admire Harry's integrity, because Louis would have probably let the cleaner's clean do everything, if it were him.

He helped Harry pack up his own laptop and gather all his students' assignments in his bag.

"Tired?" Louis commented when he saw Harry rub his eyes.

"A bit, yeah," he responded, shouldering his bag and straightening up until he was inches taller than Louis. Damn. "What time's your mum coming?"

"Dunno," Louis said. "Sometime this evening."

They walked out of the room, starting down the corridor and heading towards one of the side exits.

"Might just nap until she comes," Harry admitted.

Louis winced. He was possibly the worst roommate in human existence.

"Well," he said. "I actually need you to make something for dinner."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "After all you said about how cooking is useless?"

Louis smiled up at him apologetically.

"Alright, fine," Harry gave in. Louis' smiled turned triumphant. "What should I make?"

"I'll text her," Louis said. He took in the dark bags under Harry's eyes and his hunched posture, the way he gripped the strap of his bag. Louis knew today probably hadn't been the best for Harry.

He nudged Harry in the side, making him face Louis.

"You're the best, you know," Louis told him.

Harry just stared at him, green eyes flicking across Louis' features. He didn't say anything for a while, and Louis didn't have any idea as to what he was thinking, nothing he could pinpoint on his expression, but he let it slide; let him have an odd moment, for today.

"I guess," Harry eventually said, and that was that.

--

Louis didn't think he's ever been more relieved to go back to school that Monday.

He really loved his mother, he did, but sometimes when she visited, she was more of a nagging presence than a guest.

Or maybe it was just Louis, with nerves tied up and pulled together so tight from Friday all he wanted to do was get some peace and quiet. He couldn't very well tell his own mother that though, when she drove three hours from Doncaster to London to see him.

And he did carry a bit of hostility towards the fact that there was quite a few times where it seemed she was fonder of Harry than she was of her own son. Maybe it was because of his cooking abilities. Maybe Louis should take a cooking class one of these days before he does quite literally burn down his and Harry's apartment.

So when she left Sunday afternoon, Louis wasn't ashamed to say he slept for the rest of the day. He was a bit ashamed that he found he slept a lot better cuddled up with Harry on their couch than in his own bed. And that Louis was so brain-dead the next morning he probably wouldn't have made it out the front door if Harry wasn't there, giving him a bowl of cereal for breakfast, fetching Louis' glasses because he was too lazy to put his contacts in, handing Louis his shoes before he walked out barefoot.

But, well. Whatever.

He still thought he'd rather be at school, though, than locked up in a flat with nothing to do but listen to his mother rattle on about how his sisters were growing up so fast, Lou. Sometimes the teachers have it better than the students, especially on days like today where Louis decided he wasn't actually going to do anything.

"Alright," he said to his first period students. "Today, neither me and you are going to do anything."

There was a beat of silence before the class cheered and high-fived their friends, far past the days where they were confused about every other word that came out of Louis' mouth. It was Theatre 2, and he had most of these students the previous year, everyone else being transfers from different high schools.

He waited for them to settle down before he continued talking.

"Instead, because I really didn't feel like teaching, you're gonna learn a valuable lesson called getting to know your director," Louis explained. "Who, in this case, means me. All actors should form some sort of bond with their director, as it increases their chance to do more productions with them and makes it easier if said actor has any questions or comments about a production they want to address. So, you all can ask me any question you like for the next 90 minutes, and I'll respond in any way I like. I'd like to hear from everyone, no matter how bizarre the question."

When Louis finished his spiel, a hand timidly came up.

"Go ahead, Shelby," Louis said to a girl with dark brown hair up to her chin, moving to sit atop his desk and grab his mug of tea. "No need to raise hands for this, either."

The rest of the class chuckled, and Shelby just grinned with them. They've all learned Louis' humor was never harsh.

"How old are you?" she asked, being met with an, "Ooooh!" in response from everyone else.

Louis smiled broadly. "Good question. I'm twenty-six."

"Really?" another girl, Rachel, called out.

Louis nodded. "Really, really."

The class laughed, mumbling to themselves about how they couldn't believe he was that young. Louis tried not to feel too smug.

He took a sip of his tea while he waited for someone else to speak up.

Maria, a Latino girl with a ponytail, blurted out, "Are you and Mr. Styles dating?"

Louis promptly choked on his tea, nearly spitting it all over himself.

"What?" he croaked, blue eyes widening.

Louis didn't know what he was more surprised about: that someone honestly asked that in the first place, or that about half the class shouted, "Yeah!" in agreement.

"I don’t," Louis started, stuttering madly. "I—what?"

The whole room was suddenly filled with voices, even the usually quiet kids trying to raise their voice to put in their inputs.

"You two are really cute," Maria continued, close enough to the front where Louis could hear just her. He didn't know how to process any of this, but he definitely knew his face felt way too hot. "Everyone thinks so."

"No!" Louis replied, "No, no, we're not dating, why—?"

"Don't you live together?" someone else—Louis couldn't tell who—asked over all the jumbled voices.

Louis blinked. "I—yes, but—"

"You like guys, right?"

Louis' mouth fell open. "How do you guys even know this?!"

"Mr. Horan talks about you a lot!" another yelled, and, right, that made everyone shut up and turn towards Marcus, who must have been the one to speak. Louis looked around in surprise, clutching his mug.

"He says he thinks you guys are together but you're just hiding it from everyone," he continued.

"Oh my God," Louis said numbly, completely at a loss for words and burning with a great desire to break a certain Irish person's guitar clean in half.

"There's a rumor you two were shagging in the staff room."

"Oh my God," Louis repeated, standing up and adjusting his glasses.

And then he remembered Harry, who had, again, gotten those glasses for him this morning, and fuck. Fuckity fuck.

"Ok," Louis said, taking a deep breath. "No, we're not dating, and no, we have not shagged in the staff room or anywhere, for that matter. I don't know why Niall—er, Mr. Horan—would say any of that."

God, Louis was right. Friday really had been the beginning of the gossiping-drama onslaught.

"But do you like him, though?" a girl named Valerie questioned. Louis' head snapped towards her.

He opened his mouth, ready to give a very decisive no, but something just stopped him. Harry was the greatest friend Louis could ever ask for, obviously, but then he was also blatantly attractive, exactly Louis' type, with curls he does—quite honestly—want to run his hands through paired with an absolutely brilliant smile, and it's not like he hasn't noticed before, but fuck, is there something more behind that?

And Harry really was just the nicest person, who cooked for Louis' mother even after a rough day and got Louis up every morning without a complaint. Who Louis could joke about the silliest things with or spend all day curled together watching cheesy movies on Netflix. Who, back in university, was pretty much the sole reason why Louis passed any of his exams, and who offered a completely broke Louis a place to stay after graduation.

Louis glanced down at his tea, because maybe that could give him some answers, but all he saw was the brown liquid sloshing around in his mug.

And the world could be very ironic, that school gossip, one of the very few things he hated, and his own students were the ones to really make him realize all that, the burning attraction to his own best friend.

"Shit," Louis muttered, hopefully low enough for no one else to hear, but apparently not, because when he looked back up at the class, they broke out in an unanimous, "Aww."

Now a class of thirty people knew something Louis only just found out himself. Great.

Louis shook his head. "No! That's a very bad thing."

"But why?" a girl, Ava, called out. "Mr. Styles likes you, too."

"Because we're best friends," Louis said automatically, and then actually took in her last words. "Wait, what?!"

The class went mental for a second time.

"Isn't it obvious?"

"Everyone knows it!"

"He said so!"

"He did not," Louis argued, voice squeaking. His cheeks would probably be flushed until the day he died.

The class seemed to get louder at that, to a point where he could hear nothing but screaming and he was genuinely concerned an administrator would come in and ask what kind of class Louis was teaching.

He couldn't say this was anything liked what he expected when he came up with this activity.

"Alright!" Louis shouted over everyone. "Alright, you guys have to settle down."

Their voices steadily dimmed, until they were completely silent and waiting for Louis to continue.

"I don't know what you want me to say," Louis admitted. His heart was beating fast, his entire body feeling entirely too warm. "But none of this leaves the classroom, okay?"

"Okay," they chimed back at him, but by the grins on their faces, he didn't feel relieved in the slightest.

--

In second period, Louis reluctantly decided to let them ask questions, too.

He gave them the same explanation as his previous class, and waited patiently for someone to go first.

"Is it true you and Mr. Styles have a thing for each other?" one brave girl asked.

Louis sighed.

--

He had the last hour to calm down, and luckily the subject wasn't brought up again, but it was still in the back of his mind for the rest of the period.

He didn't know what he was supposed to do, or if he should do anything, or what he was even supposed to think.

He liked Harry.

He really liked Harry.

He really, really, liked Harry.

He didn't know how he hadn't realized it sooner, but he really, truly did. Harry had been there though all the major points of Louis' life, had treated him like he was the greatest thing to ever exist, and Louis oh, so appreciated it.

He wanted more, though. God, did he want more. It's a desire that had been stirring in his bones for a while now, he knew, and that probably started the moment they met. In just a few short hours, he had envisioned every possible outcome, thought of lazy kisses and home cooked dinners and wrapped together in sheets and limbs.

He couldn't lie to himself, anymore. A bunch of teenagers could see right through it, so maybe it was time he owned up to himself. 

The whole revelation was changing Louis' perspective on every memory he had with Harry. Did it mean something when Harry ruffled Louis' hair? Joked with him good-naturedly? When he kissed him on the forehead or pulled him into bear hugs?

He thought back to on Friday, when Harry gave him his forgotten lunch. That was something married couples do, and Louis was honestly starting to think that they were partly married, in a way.

Did Harry see it that way, though?

He was jittery and nervous by the time lunch came around. Because that meant he had to see Harry, and he wasn't quite sure he wouldn't be able to jump him right then and there.

But he was also a bit angry, because it meant he'd have to see Niall.

As soon as he walked into the staff room, he saw the blonde-haired lad seated at one of the tables, chatting with Liam and munching on a sandwich.

"Niall," Louis growled, slamming his own lunch onto the table and glaring at his friend with obvious hostility.

Niall, for his part, only glanced at Louis with widened eyes before, spectacularly, ducking under the table.

Liam shot him a questioning look. Louis ignored him, crossing his arms and focusing on the spot where Niall's foot jutted out from under the table.

"I didn't think they'd tell you," Niall whimpered.

"Well, they did," Louis reminded.

"Who's they?" Liam cut in, sounding utterly lost.

"So, Louis," he heard Zayn say from behind him, "Someone just said you're on your way to confessing your undying love for Harry. Care to explain?"

Louis' cheeks brightened, but he still huffed and furiously kicked at Niall's visible foot, who let out an, "Oww," in response. "This is all your fault."

"It's not," Niall pathetically claimed. "Maybe if you didn't look so madly in love this wouldn't be—Ow!"

Niall quickly retracted his foot, head emerging from under the table to give Louis a wounded look.

"Oh," Zayn said, "he's figured out what you've been telling your classes."

Niall frantically held up his pointer finger to his lips in a shushing gesture, but it didn't stop Louis from spinning around on his heel to face Zayn, who couldn't seem more nonchalant.

"You knew?" he cried, affronted.

"So did I, actually," Liam added.

"Zayn," Niall whined, "why'd you have to do that?"

Zayn shrugged. "He was gonna figure out eventually."

"Gonna figure out what?" a new voice joined in, and oh dear, God.

Louis turned back around, and yeah, that was most definitely Harry.

His heartbeat had never sped up as fast as it did then.

Harry had pulled his curls back with a navy headscarf sometime earlier, and was in a pair of so-tight-they-were-probably-painted-on skinny jeans and a white T-shirt. Which meant biceps and tattoos, and clear, green eyes.

"And why's Niall on the floor?"

The four of them all stare blankly at Harry—Louis especially, as he is trying very hard not to drift his eyes to a very appealing set of lips.

The silence between them grew stronger, until Harry was scratching the back of his neck.

"Alright, don't tell me then," he laughed nervously, taking a seat next to Liam.

Louis is that close to spilling everything just by seeing the hurt expression on Harry's face. And that's all the incentive he needed for him to get the hell out of there.

"You know what," he announced, grabbing his bag of lunch off the table. "I've got a bunch of papers to grade. I think I'll just be in my room."

They all gave him incredulous looks (except Niall, who was smirking like he knew exactly what Louis was thinking and why he was leaving, and the boy was still under the table) because Louis pretty much never graded papers during school hours, but he couldn't really find it in himself to come up with a better lie.

So, he rushed out of the staff room and, as he left, pretended not to notice the stares piercing into his back.

--

Louis didn't want to go home.

It was the end of the day, and Louis had nothing to do to procrastinate his departure. No detentions, no students needing after school help (not that, as a drama teacher, he's even a go-to teacher for that, anyway), and no clubs.

But that meant he'd have to ride home with Harry, and he was definitely not ready if someone from his previous classes had gone and told him what he said. Which had most likely happened, Louis wasn't even going to kid himself. Most of the teachers had already heard it by now, and they weren't even a part of it.

Louis wanted to curl in a ball and die. He was completely embarrassed that so many people knew what went down in first period and that they've known Louis' true feelings all along, and he really just needed time to adjust. Think if he was even going to say anything to Harry, wonder if Harry would say something to him, but he wasn't going to get that time, because it could come to a standstill the minute Louis saw Harry again.

And because they both worked together and lived together, Louis' couldn't exactly ignore him.

It was a bit of a miracle that, just as he was about to leave, Niall barged into his room.

His blue eyes were attentive and sharp, and he was puffing out breaths like he had just run across the entire campus to get there.

"You're not leaving, are you?" he managed to get out, each syllable punctuated with a deep intake of air.

Louis raised an eyebrow in concern.

"Not anymore," he assured. "You okay?"

"Peachy," Niall grunted. "I, um, need your help with something."

"Alright," Louis agreed slowly. "You could have texted me instead of coming all the way down here."

Their rooms were in the same building, as most of the elective classes were separate from the core ones to make it easier for the students, but with so many electives, the two rooms are a pretty far distance from one another.

"Oh, um," Niall stammered, "Woops?"

Louis narrowed his eyes. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"'Course, why wouldn't I be?" Niall waved off, lips quirking up in a smile.

Louis shrugged, grabbing his bag off his desk. "I don't know, I guess. What do you need help with?"

"Working on a song," Niall said, walking out of the classroom with Louis. "Wanted to know if it sounded all right."

"Again, you couldn't just text me?" Louis joked, grinning and swatting Niall's arm.

Niall chuckled, but it sounded empty and fake. Louis frowned, but didn't bring it up.

They got to Niall's classroom a few moments later, Niall snagging his guitar off the stand in the corner and taking a seat in his desk chair. As he got situated, he gestured for Louis to pull up a seat.

Louis obeyed, moving a chair from an empty desk and dragging it beside Niall.

Niall smiled, placing the guitar in his lap and strumming all the strings at once.

It was an off kilter and agonizing sound, and Louis visibly winced.

"Would you look at that?" Niall said, not appearing surprised in the slightest. "It's out of tune. Give me a few minutes, will ya?"

Louis nodded as Niall pulled out his phone and opened up a tuning app. He was horribly confused as to why Niall was acting so weird, but then again, he's been kind of confused all day.

Louis waited for Niall to get the strings properly in tune, pulling out his phone and sending a quick text to Harry saying he was running late and he'll catch a ride with one of the guys, before starting a round of Candy Crush on a level he had been basically stuck on for months now and only played in these type of situations, A.K.A bored with nothing else to do situations.

He listened as Niall played each string until it was in the right pitch, and finally strummed all six strings together in a perfect harmony.

"Good," Niall said. Louis locked his phone and put it back in his pocket, sitting back in the chair as he watched him begging to play a couple chords.

The chords soon turned into an effortless beat, Niall humming a tune under his breath and Louis smiling fondly at his talent. It did take his mind off his impending doom, or what Louis' mind was starting to refer to the thing as.

When the last chord rang out around the room, Louis clapped appreciatively. Niall took a dramatic bow where he was seated, and then hopped off the chair.

A half hour later, Louis still hadn't left. When they found Zayn and Liam in the art room, Zayn forced him to paint a picture on one of the canvases with him.

It was an odd-looking model of the five of them (Harry included, leaving Louis to wonder why exactly he wasn't still at school) because while Zayn actually had artistic ability, Louis didn't in the slightest.

By the time they were finished, nearly all of the teachers had left, but Liam then convinced Louis he should run laps with him around the track.

Louis didn't get how that happened, considering he hated exercise of any kind, but it was another half hour before Liam finally decided they were done.

Louis had long since stopped jogging along with him and was just walking around the track, Liam lapping him every minute or two.

They headed back down to the gym, where Liam told him he was going to take a shower in the locker room.

Louis arched his eyebrows. Liam wasn't even sweating, it was too cold outside to have pit stains and damp hair after a run.

He just nodded in acknowledgement, even though he was probably sweating more than Liam was.

He was getting more suspicious by the minute. Niall, Liam, and Zayn were almost acting like they were trying to keep Louis from going home. Every time he brought up that it was getting about time to leave, they pulled Louis into some other activity that had something to do with the class they taught.

Liam took a significantly long time in the shower, leaving Louis waiting outside the locker rooms for nearly twenty minutes with a bored expression and a sudden urge to barge in there and demand to be told what was going on.

He did come out before Louis could do any of that, toweling off his sandy-colored hair and shooting Louis a bright grin. Louis returned it hesitantly.

When they got back to Zayn's room, cleaners already stationed down the corridor, Zayn and Niall were hovered over Zayn's phone, which he nearly dropped as they walked in.

"Louis!" Zayn exclaimed, locking his phone. He seemed almost nervous, but about what Louis didn't know. "You ready to go? I'll drive."

Louis squinted his eyes at him. It was all very odd. "I don't know, am I?"

"C'mon," Zayn demanded, ignoring Louis' comment and hauling him by the arm out of the room. He barely had any time to grab his bag, and didn't get to say goodbye to Liam or Niall. It didn't seem to bother either of them, though, because he caught a glimpse of them smirking at each other as he was forced outside.

They get out to the carpark, and Louis is too shocked to say anything until they're standing in front of Zayn's car.

"Something's up," Louis accused, defiantly crossing his arms as Zayn unlocked the car and climbed into the driver's seat.

"Nothing's up," Zayn ensured. He didn't look at Louis as he said it.

Louis cautiously got in the car. As much as he was scared about where Zayn was actually planning on taking him, he was Louis' last ride home. Liam lived too far away from his and Harry's flat for Louis to ride with him, and he particularly didn't trust himself in a car with Niall after the day's events.

But he wasn't sure if he made the right decision when Zayn suddenly swerved right when he was supposed to go left.

Louis snapped his head in Zayn's direction, giving him his most frightening glower.

"Where are you going?" Louis asked him.

"The long way," Zayn answered distantly, taking another right at the next intersection.

"Why?"

Zayn shrugged, smiling at the windshield. "Scenery's nice, innit?"

That was when Zayn's phone, placed on the console, lit up with a text. Zayn snatched it so fast Louis couldn't tell where his hand came from.

He was typing with one hand, keeping the other on the steering wheel while occasionally glancing up to keep an eye on his surroundings.

"That's illegal," Louis pointed out.

Zayn hit one last key, and then threw his phone back on the console.

"Can't prove anything," Zayn said. He then made another quite illegal action by abruptly veering the car in a U-turn.

Louis' head nearly smashed against the window.

"What the hell was that for?" he groaned, moving to sit straight back up in his seat.

"I honestly had no idea where I was," Zayn admitted. "It'll make sense soon."

"What'll make sense?" Louis asked.

Zayn didn't answer, so Louis rolled his eyes and stared out the window.

They went back to the original intersection, where Zayn turned into the actual street that would take them to Louis' apartment.

A few minutes later, they were pulling up in the carpark of the apartment building, Harry's car already parked in the spot for their flat.

Zayn breathed out deeply as he stalled his car, dropping his head onto the steering wheel.

"Uh," Louis said, concerned. "Everything alright?"

"Mm," Zayn hummed. "Go, please."

Louis peered at him for a few more seconds before opening the car door and stepping out.

--

Louis felt like his stomach was twisting inside him as he stood in front of the door to his flat.

He had been too baffled by his friend's behavior the last couple of hours to really be bothered about what would happen when he got home, when Louis would see Harry and eventually have to bring up the elephant in the room.

Better known as Louis' emotions. Which he never liked talking about in the first place. The world was such a wonderful thing.

And it wasn't like there was any chance Harry didn't hear about Louis' confession. He left early without saying goodbye to the others or replying to Louis' text, and it was probably obvious from outer space that Harry was feeling awkward about it.

Harry got home first, so the door would be unlocked and there was nothing stopping Louis from just walking in.

Louis inhaled gripping the doorknob between his fingers.

1...2...3...

He twisted the knob, pushing the door open slowly and peeking his head into the apartment. Harry wasn't anywhere in the living room or corridor, and Louis was able to let out a sigh of relief, clicking the door shut and leaning against it.

But then he heard a loud clang from the kitchen, like a pot had just fallen, and Louis could distinctly smell something cooking.

There was also footsteps, echoing closer and turning the corner from the kitchen into the living room space.

Louis held his breath, and he almost squeezed his eyes shut, but then, there was Harry, standing in the doorway separating the living room and kitchen.

And he was grinning madly at Louis, holding a bunch of flowers.

Louis had to blink a couple of times to make sure he was seeing things correctly, but nope, Harry was still grinning at Louis and there was most definitely a bundle of roses in his hand, stems tied together with a red ribbon.

"Hi," Harry beamed to a quite frankly astonished Louis.

That wasn't the awkward Harry he was expecting, or the avoiding-conflict Harry, or the angry Harry. He was the complete opposite of all of those, and there had to be some explanation for everybody acting so strange today.

"I don't suppose you're gonna tell me what's going on," Louis finally said.

Harry's smile dimmed, and while it was just the smallest of changes, Louis still noticed it, and how it was replaced with a more anxious look.

"I guess I was hoping I wouldn't have to," Harry revealed, green eyes staring right at Louis as he took a step forward.

If Louis wanted answers, he supposed he'd have to ask them.

"What's with the flowers?" he decided to start with.

"Oh," Harry said, glancing down at them. "They're, um, for you."

What?

Louis was grateful he was still leaning on the door, because he didn't think he could stand up even if he wanted to. It felt like the ground had fallen out from underneath him.

"I—uh," Harry continued, running his hands through his hair. "They were the first romantic thing I saw at the shop, so."

Louis... Louis couldn't possibly have heard that right, could he?

Maybe it was just the lack of oxygen running through his system, because he wasn't entirely sure he was breathing.

Harry took another step forward.

"I, er, may have heard that you told your students you liked me," Harry said, a deep rumble that was making Louis' heartbeat speed up. "I was hoping they were telling the truth."

"Oh, God," was all Louis was able to get out, which may have not been the best idea, because Harry started to frown.

"Is—is it not true?" he asked, eyebrows furrowed. "Because Niall, Zayn, and Liam were telling me it was—"

Louis quickly pushed himself off the door, taking his own step closer.

"No, no," Louis interrupted, shaking his head. "It was true."

Louis couldn't figure out where his sudden burst of courage came from, but he knew he didn't regret it. Everything was starting to come together, that the guys were all in on whatever this was, and the thing on the forefront of Louis' mind being Harry got him roses. Harry liked him back.

Harry's features transformed to an absolute blinding smile, like he had died and gone to heaven. Did Louis have that kind of effect on people? He couldn't believe it.

"Really?" Harry said. Another step.

Louis grew impatient, and he took a couple steps forward until he was standing right in front of Harry.

"Really," Louis breathed out, looking up to meet Harry's bright eyes. "It may have taken me too long to realize it, but I do."

"Good," Harry said, leaning down until their noses were brushing. "Because I've fancied you for far too long."

Louis barely had time to process that before a set of lips were on his own, and that became the last thing on his mind because oh God, Harry was kissing him.

Louis didn't waste any time leaning up on his toes and winding his arms around Harry's neck, pressing his mouth back against Harry's.

Harry had the slight taste of salt on his lips, probably from whatever he was making in the kitchen, but it made it all the more better, the realization that Louis could taste that.

He faintly heard the sound of something dropping before Harry's hands were on his waist.

(The roses, right. Louis didn't think those were exactly important at this point of time, though.)

It was arguably the best kiss Louis had ever had. Harry's lips were warm and soft, and Louis could take in all of his smell this way, a mixture of cinnamon and vanilla that had Louis never wanting to break out of that space. And Harry sure as hell seemed to know what he was doing

Louis' knees were about ready to give out.

Their mouths moved slowly together in sync for a while, a hint of desperation but something a whole lot sweeter consuming Louis' senses.

They pulled back after a while, gasping for breath and dizzy with attraction.

"I made dinner," Harry whispered, breath hitting Louis' lips. "If you're interested."

"Is that why the lads kept me at the school for an extra two hours? And why Zayn went the wrong way driving me over?" Louis questioned, leaning their foreheads together.

Harry nodded against him. "Asked them to."

"I'll yell at you for that later," Louis told him, fingers clenching around Harry's shirt. "Right now I'd appreciate it if we moved this to a bedroom."

Harry's eyes widened briefly. "Dinner'll get cold."         

"I haven't had sex in two months," Louis said breathlessly, pushing himself closer. "I think your cooking skills can take being put down a notch."

Harry laughed, a joyful sound in the overall quietness of the room. Louis smiled.

"Alright," Harry said. "Alright."

He crashed their lips back together, and Louis kind of forgot everything else as they stumbled into Harry's bedroom.

They had a lot to talk about, Louis knew, especially because he was about 99% sure he was actually in love with this boy, but Louis couldn't care less. His own students may have been the ones to make him realize it, but this was pretty much all he had ever wanted.

Louis wasn't sure he had ever been happier.

--

“What did you mean,” Louis said later, turning on his side, “when you said you’ve fancied me for too long?”

Harry twisted his head to face Louis. They were lying side by side on the bed, sheets pulled up over them and heads resting on the pillows as they calmed down.

He gave Louis a soft smile. “I’ve been in love with you for I don’t know how long. That’s what I meant.”

Louis sucked in a sharp breath, looking up at Harry in shock.

Harry ran his fingers through Louis’ slick-with-sweat hair. It was meant to be comforting, Louis knew, but it didn’t take away from what he had just confessed.

“Why now?” Louis asked, moving closer to Harry and putting his head on his shoulder. “Why tell me now when we could have been doing this years ago?”

Harry laughed lightly, resting his chin on Louis’ head. “Because I didn’t think you’d feel the same way. I made dinner for your date once, Louis, really. But I think maybe your students know you more than I do, after today.”

Louis decided not to respond to that. His students knew him better than Louis did.

“So,” Louis slowly realized, “if I didn’t do that dumb question thing today, this might have never happened?”

He felt Harry shrug. “Maybe. It wasn’t just them, though. I talked to the lads about what some of your kids told me in fourth period. I wasn’t about to do a whole dramatic movie scene without being at least 95% sure you liked me, too. They said they thought I was an idiot for not realizing the feelings were mutual ever since we met.”

Louis smiled into Harry’s bare skin. “I think we’re both idiots, actually. God, I was about ready to put all three of them in a mental asylum earlier.”

“Sorry about that,” Harry mumbled. “Needed to buy some time to cook that wonderful dinner we’ve forgotten about.”

Louis smirked. “It led to this, didn’t it?” he pointed out. “I don’t think I’m that mad anymore.”

“Good,” Harry sighed, and wrapped his arms completely around Louis.

"Hey," Louis said suddenly. "I love you, too, y'know."

He couldn't see it, but he knew Harry was smiling, and Louis... Louis probably slept better than anyone ever had that night.

--

The following morning, Louis and Harry were almost late to school.

It really wasn't anyone else's fault but their own, because Harry wouldn't stop kissing Louis and Louis wouldn't stop letting him.

Take, for instance, when Louis was making tea and Harry nibbled on the back of his neck until he turned around, or when Louis grabbed the car keys off the counter in the kitchen (it was his turn to drive today) next to a vase of roses, and Harry snatched his hand and spun him around before he could walk outside, moving their mouths together leisurely for another five minutes.

By the time they did get to school, ten minutes before classes started—luckily neither of them had any tutorial classes—they both had a variety of mixed texts from Niall, Zayn, and Liam, some from the night before that they were too, well, preoccupied to reply to and some asking where they were this morning.

Louis was secretly hoping they'd be pleasantly surprised when he and Harry came in.

As Louis was unbuckling his seatbelt, Harry stopped him from going anywhere once again, holding Louis' face in his hands and capturing his lips in a soft kiss.

Louis brought his hands up to Harry's curls, forgetting for a moment that they were kind of in a rush, until his phone buzzed in his pocket and he reluctantly drew back.

Harry made a whining sound, chasing after him and nearly falling face first over the console as Louis pushed himself back against the door.

He grinned at the defeated look on Harry's face.

"We're gonna be late, babe," Louis said, twisting so he could open the door and step out.

Harry groaned, but Louis heard him unbuckle the seatbelt and climb out.

--

Louis made it to his classroom five minutes before the bell rang, hurriedly unlocking the door and throwing his bag onto his desk.

Even though he was short on time, he ran back down the corridor until he got to the music room, where Niall was on one of the school-given laptops at his desk.

"Hi," Louis rushed out. Niall looked up, alarmed, and opened his mouth to say something, but Louis cut him off.

"I just wanted to say sorry," he explained, "for yelling at you yesterday and everything."

"Oh," Niall said, staring at Louis strangely. "I was in the wrong, y'know. You don't have to apologize."

"No," Louis protested, shaking his head. "I really want to say thanks."

Niall raised an eyebrow, and then recognition spread across his features, the corners of his mouth turning up. His eyes flicked down to a spot on Louis' neck, and his smile grew larger.

"Mate," he said, giving Louis a knowing look, "you've got a massive love bite right there. Tell me everything."

Louis grinned back as the first bell rang, hand reaching up to cover the exact spot the bruise was in without having to glance down. He winked at Niall, and then jogged all the way back to his classroom just as the first student was arriving.

--

Apparently, the mark on his neck was pretty obvious to his first and second period classes. The boys relayed to him at lunch every ridiculous story they heard about how he had gotten it, all with telltale smirks on their faces.

Louis, all the while holding Harry's hand under the table, didn't really find those stories annoying anymore.

In fact, when he turned his head to find Harry smiling fondly at him and Louis just had to rest his head on his shoulder, he might start to see the appeal of high school gossip.