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led by your beating heart

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Harry met Louis Tomlinson in the toilets in the X-Factor.

At the time, it had seemed like he'd been meeting people left, right, and centre: he'd been introducing himself to the hosts and producers and directors and stagehands and the camera crew and other auditionees like himself for almost eight hours, and he needed a break. Meeting new people was fun, yes, but this amount of people could get overwhelming sometimes.

But Louis was different though.

Not only had he simply laughed off Harry's weeing accident with a giggly 'hi', he was also cute and sweet and funny and had the prettiest blue eyes Harry had ever seen. He had gently teased Harry as he washed the spot of Harry's wee off his trousers, and Harry had done nothing but blush and stammer and ramble at him.

Louis seemed to have been charmed, though, enough to reassure him about his audition and give him hug. He even got Harry's autograph and had a photo taken with him, because, in his words, "you're gonna be famous one day, Curly, and when that happens, this'll be auctioned off for a lot of money. The first autograph Harry Styles ever wrote."

To which Harry replied (rather suavely, if he'd say so himself), "do you want my number as well?"

Louis had paused, tilting his head. "Nah," he answered. "But I can give you mine. `S a fair trade, innit? Your autograph for my number."

And on that day, Harry had left the toilets with Louis' name programmed into his address book.

He'd never seen him again, but even then, he'd never thought to delete the number. Why would he? It's a nice enough memory.

. . .

"It's your turn now, Harry," Nick Grimshaw says on air, looking over at Harry from across the table. He waggles his eyebrows and smirks. "Whose number are we going to land on, hm? What juicy Harry Styles scandal will we discover today?"

"Heyyyy," Harry says, affronted, but he plugs his phone into the patch line dutifully. It was, after all, his idea to play Call or Delete on Grimmy'sshow, he might as well be a good sport about it.

Although it might have been not a very good idea. Everyone is expecting lothario womanizer Harry Styles to land on one of his rumoured flings' numbers, and Harry doesn't know to tell them that they're going to be severely disappointed. He's never, ever, ever going to call Taylor Swift . Or getting back together with her. They were never together in the first place. Weee.

He'd also never dated Kendall Jenner. Or Caroline Flack. Or Nadine Leopold. Or Cara Delevingne. Honestly, if the general public is expecting something scandalous, they're not going to find it here. He has more of a chance of landing on his mum's number than any of these girls'.

"Come on, Harry," Nick pleads, batting his eyelashes. Harry makes a face at him. "Whose numbers have you got, eh?"

"Not telling," Harry singsongs. He opens his address book and hovers his thumb over the screen. "Okay, I'm ready."

"Close your eyes," Nick says, and Harry covers his face with his hand. "No peeking. And, go."

Harry pushes his thumb to the screen and starts scrolling. He scrolls down really quickly for a few seconds, and then scrolls all the way up really quickly, before scrolling down really painfully slow.

"This just in," he hears Nick say into the microphone. "Harry Styles does not know how to scroll down his phone properly."

Harry sticks his tongue out at him. Or at least, tries to. It's kind of hard when one of his hands is on his face. "I'm making it more interesting for us, Grimmy."

"It's going to be interesting either way," Nick replies, and then, "stop."

Harry stops, then presses a random part of his screen.

"Who've we got?" Nick asks, and Harry pulls his hand from his face to blink down on his phone. It takes him a few seconds to register the words on his screen, but when he does, he freezes.

Nick leans over. "Oh," he says, his voice smug. "Who is that?"

Harry just blinks at his phone. "Um," he manages to stammer out.

"Who's that, Harry?" Nick asks again, but this time he raises his eyebrows and smirks. Harry knows Nick is just teasing, and that he's not really looking for new Harry Styles gossip, but, um. He might have found something. Accidentally.

Harry opens his mouth to speak, but all that comes out is another 'um'. He really needs to work on translating his thoughts into words. But then it probably wouldn't be any helpful right now, would it? His mind is as blank as a newly erased etch-a-sketch.

"Oh," Nick says again, this time gleefully, seemingly having picked up on Harry's distress. "Looks like we've got a story here! Are you going to call or delete her number?"

Her number. So Nick thinks it's a girl. Well, Harry can't blame him: 'Lou' is kind of an androgynous nickname. His stylist's name is Lou.

But this Lou, well, Louis, he's kind of, really, really not a girl. He's really pretty though, which, is something.

He looks helplessly over to his handler, who is on the other side of the glass window. His handler just gestures for him to continue.

"Harry?" Nick presses. "Call or delete?"

See, the logical answer here is to delete his number. He hasn't spoken to Louis since that day they met on the X-Factor auditions five years ago, hasn't even texted or called him. He had chickened out, because at the time, he was sixteen and had just found out that maybe, just maybe he thought boys were attractive and texting the prettiest boy he'd ever seen at the time just didn't seem like a smart move. And then after the X-Factor, One Direction had taken off and he'd ended up flying to America, to Asia, to Australia, and by the time they got back it was just too late. Louis had probably already forgotten about him, and was probably already flirting with other guys in other loos.

There's also the entire closet thing, which....yeah. Harry doesn't like thinking about it.

He should delete. He should really delete his number. He and Louis shared nothing but small talk in the bathroom, nothing significant. The smart move here is to just delete, forget about it, and move on.

"I'm gonna call," he says, and Nick whoops.

"That's it," Nick says happily. "To all our listeners, Harry Styles is gonna call his contact, Cute Lou from the loo!"

Harry cringes. It was incredibly apt, at the time.

"What am I gonna say?" Harry wonders.

"She's cute, right?" Nick says, and Harry struggles not to react to the female pronoun. He's sure he fails, because his handler is starting look more concerned with the radio interview, but Nick doesn't notice. "Do like, a romantic declaration over the phone. And then ask her out for dinner."

"A romantic declaration?" Harry thinks it's kind of mean. Louis might be a little affronted that he's the victim of a prank. A prank currently being broadcasted to, last he checked, Nick's 5.5 million listeners.

That is a lot of people. Fuck. Harry's played stadiums, with, like, a hundred thousand people, but this is like, a hundred thousand multiplied by a fifty or something. And they're going to listen to him embarrass himself on radio, talking to a cute boy he met once, five years ago.

Nick laughs, completely oblivious to Harry's inner turmoil. "Yeah," he says. "It'll be fun! I'm dying to know who this Cute Lou from the loo is, anyway. You never tell me anything, young Harold."

Harry spares a moment to glance over at his handler again, trying to communicate his situation with his face, but she doesn't seem to understand. She just shrugs at Harry, and gestures for him to continue, because, right, they're on-air and running out of time. They've still got to answer fan questions after this.

He takes a deep breath, and presses the number. There's a silence where Harry considers just hanging up before anything happens, and then the sound of a phone ringing fills the studio.

The number's still in service, then. Harry crosses his fingers and prays that he doesn't pick up.

He's not at all lucky in that regard.

"Hello?" Louis' voice comes through the line, raspy and distinctly male, and Nick's jaw literally drops. From the other room, Harry can see his handler's eyes bug out, having realized that the person Harry finds cute, is, well, male. And that Harry has just sort of....outed himself. Not blatantly, but, still.

Harry would enjoy  their reactions more if he wasn't currently struggling to think of what to say.

"Hello?" Louis repeats again, and God, his voice is exactly the same as Harry remembers it, all gentle and raspy and Harry feels the blood rush to his face.

He hasn't spoken to Louis in five years and yet, with one word, he's managed to reduce Harry into a blushing, speechless, sixteen year old. It's either Louis is that powerful, or Harry's just embarrassing.

 It's probably the latter.

"Hel-lo?" Louis sounds like he's getting impatient, so Harry clears his throat and forces himself to say the first thing he can think of.


"Hello," Louis replies.



"Um, hi."

"Mate, are you having me on?" Louis demands, sounding exasperated. "Who is this?"

Harry cringes. This is not going well. "Hi. Sorry. I mean, hi. Um, sorry again, uh, for saying hi, but, hi. Hello. I'm Harry."

"Harry?" Louis asks. "Harry who?"

Harry wants to hang up. He can't, though. "Just, uh, Harry," he says instead."We met in the loo." Five years ago, he doesn't add.

There's a moment of silence while Louis processes this. And then, "Curly Harry? As in Curly Harry Styles?"

"Yes! Yes, that's me," Harry doesn't know if he should feel relieved or embarrassed that Louis remembers him. Probably relieved. He doesn't need to go through the entire 'introduce yourself' thing again. "Yeah, Harry Styles, hi. That's me."

"You're the one who pissed on my trousers five years ago," Louis says without hesitation, and Harry takes it back. He should be embarrassed that Louis remembers him. In fact, he should be mortified.

Nick, from across the table, giggles loudly, before slapping a hand over his mouth. Harry gives him the finger.

"Um, yeah," Harry says hesitantly. "I'm sorry about that, again, by the way. I don't really--I don't actually remember what happened at that moment, I just--"

"No worries," Louis interrupts breezily. "It was a great way to leave an impression. So what's up, why are you calling?"

Harry opens his mouth. Stops. Closes his mouth. Opens it again. Has a temporary loss of control over his mouth.

"Are you still cute?" He blurts out, before he realizes what he's just said and slaps a hand on his mouth. God, he's so fucking embarrassing. He can already see the headlines in tomorrow's The Sun: Lothario Harry Styles Mortified While Talking To A Cute Boy. Or maybe something like: Womanizer Harry Styles Swings The Other Direction? He doesn't know, he's not very good with headlines. But he's pretty sure it's going to be something to that extent.

Louis simply snorts. "Uh, yeah," he says, no hesitation whatsoever. "I think I'm still pretty cute, mate. I'm never not cute."

"Not 'handsome' then?" Harry asks, leaning back on his seat. Just hearing Louis'easy answer makes him relax a fraction, makes his heart slow down and helps his words flow much more naturally. "Or 'rugged' or 'manly'?"

"No, I am," Louis answers, and he's not even the slightest bit perturbed. It's amazing. "Cute and handsome and rugged and manly. I'm all of those things and so much more. Keep up, Harold, you should've already known this."

Harold. A minute into a phone call and they're already in nickname territory. Although they've probably always been in nickname territory, because Harry already had him saved as Lou. But, you know, it's nice to note the progression of a relationship. A platonic relationship.

"Sorry," Harry answers. "It's not as if I've seen you in five years, or anything, Louis."

From his periphery, he sees Nick mouth the word 'Louis' at him, looking far more delighted than he should be. Harry rolls his eyes at him.

"Who's fault is that?" Louis shoots back. He doesn't sound angry though, just mildly displeased. In fact, he sounds like he's trying to sound displeased.

"Mine," Harry admits. "Let's fix that, though. Go out with me."

It's kind of blunt, but, well. This is what he's supposed to do, after all. Best to get it over and done with.

"What?" Louis asks, after stewing on his words for a moment."What are you saying?"

"I'm saying, Lewis," and Harry decidedly does not giggle when he hears Louis make an indignant sound over the line, "that I like you a lot and I think you're really cute and handsome and rugged and manly and I'd sort of like to hold your hand and take you out to dinner sometime."

It's not his best romantic declaration, but it's good enough. It's better than that poem he wrote for his girlfriend when he was fourteen, at least.

Besides, this is just a prank. He doesn't really mean it.

No, you do, a small part of him whispers. You really do.

Louis just takes it all in stride. "Mate, I don't know," he says. "It's been a while. What if I'm a taken man?"

"Then you'll break my heart," Harry answers, quickly, and far too sincerely than what he was going for. It's getting kind of dramatic, this. If people tune in now, they might think it's a weird radio drama. "But I hope you're not."

Louis pauses. It comes off as a very dramatic pause. "But I don't know you that well," he says, sounding a bit confused. "So for me to give you a chance, you're going to have to sell it. Come on, then, what's your edge over the other guys vying for my attention?

So Louis likes guys, then. Harry takes a moment to look at Nick, who now has his chin in his hands and is looking like he's listening to some really cute fairytale. Complete with, like, heart eyes.

"Well," Harry says."I'm still curly. You liked my curls, didn't you?"

"I did," Louis answers solemnly, and Harry purses his lips to stop himself from smiling. It's so easy to get lost in it, is the thing. The conversation flows naturally and the banter isn't stilted, despite them only sharing one conversation and having five years of distance between them. It's honestly like riding a bike. It's muscle memory.

"But I can find other guys with curls easily," Louis says. "What else?"

Harry thinks for a moment. "I'm funny," he decides. "Knock-knock."

"Who's there?"

"A cow goes." He smirks.

"A cow goes who?"

"No," Harry says, "A cow goes moo."

"You know what," Louis says mildly, "You remind me of my little sisters. They're twelve."

"They must be hilarious, then," Harry replies.

"A lot more hilarious than you," Louis shoots back, and Harry giggles.

Louis laughs as well, over the line, so Louis must find him a little bit funny. Or charming, at least.

"Okay, fine," Harry says, when their laughter has quieted down. "I'm really romantic."

Louis snorts. "That little declaration earlier was the farthest thing from romantic, Harry."

"No, but, look, I can try again." He thinks for a moment. "Roses are red, violets are blue--"

"--oh my god--"

"--I think you're hot, go out with me, Lou?"

Harry hears Nick make some sort of weird sound. He doesn't look at him, though, too focused on the screen of his phone.

"That was terrible," Louis deadpans. "I give it a three out of ten."

"Shut up," Harry says, now fully beaming down at his phone. Why is Louis so endearing? "So, what do you say, then? Dinner?"

Louis sighs. "I'm not easy to please, Styles." He warns. "I demand a lot of attention and cuddles."

"Okay, yeah," Harry agrees mindlessly, trying to sound serious.

"I also like long walks on the beach, horseback riding, sleeping in front of the fire, having my photo taken by paparazzi everywhere, having Taylor Swift write songs about me--"

"Wait what?" Harry interrupts, but Louis steamrolls on as if nothing happened.

"--Free concert tickets, being able to attend A-list events, meeting Beyoncé and Jay-Z, drunkenly talking to Tom Hanks, baking Stevie Nicks a cake," Louis pauses for a breath. "I just don't know how you'll be able to provide all that for me," he finishes sarcastically.

There's a moment of silence where Harry stares at his phone, wide-eyed, before he's throwing his head back and laughing loudly, relieved.

Because Louis knows. Louis knows that Harry and his band mates are kind of a big deal, and is obviously updated enough, judging by his "list" of demands. Hell, he knows about both the Stevie Nicks and the Tom Hanks incident, and seems to under the (mistaken) impression that Taylor Swift's album was written about him. He even managed to quote some of Harry's own interview answers back at him, which is...kind of impressive. And relieving, because at least Harry doesn't have to text him later, explaining his fame. That's always an awkward thing to do.

"I don't know if I can," Harry answers, once his laughter dies down. He bites his lip to tamp down on his smile.

"Hm," Louis hums. "You're right. You're just curly and you have ridiculously bad jokes and you have no romantic bone in your body. Maybe I'll get a popstar boyfriend instead. You know that bloke, yeah, Zayn Malik? From that boyband, One Erection was it? He's really fit. Cheekbones and smouldering eyes and all that. Maybe he'll be able to take care of my needs." Harry can hear him smirking.

Nick makes another noise from across the table and Harry chances a glance at him. He's laughing now, but quietly, and there seem to be tears in his eyes. Harry doesn't know why Nick finds this so funny. But, he supposes, Louis is quite funny.

"Your face," Nick mouths to him, before collapsing into a fit of silent giggles, leaving Harry staring confusedly at him. What about his face? It's a fine face, thank you very much. He grew it himself. Nick can be quite strange sometimes.

Harry clears his throat. "You know, then," he says, ignoring Nick and going back to the phone call, and then Harry can literally hear Louis roll his eyes.

"Harold," he says, exasperated, "I have five little sisters. And I'm not dumb or blind, your face is everywhere. Here in London, at least."

"You're in London?" Harry blurts out, unable to keep the excitement from his voice. Last he checked, Louis was a proud Doncaster resident, and the fact that he's in London now, the same time as Harry, is kind of exciting. Maybe they really can meet up. And have dinner. As friends reconnecting or something.

"Yep, moved two years ago," Louis answers proudly. He sounds so cute. Harry didn't know that people could even sound this cute over the phone.

"So, how about dinner, then?"

There's a pause from Louis' end. "Um, you don't have to continue, Harry," he says."I do know you're playing Call or Delete with Nick Grimshaw."

"You do?" Harry can feel his cheeks flaming up.

"I mean, yeah. Aside from the fact that I was listening before you called--Cute Lou from the loo, by the way, ha--my sister texted me, asking how bloody Harry Styles has my number."

"What did you say?"

"I told them that we met when we engaged in a rather fun game of watersports," Louis answers carelessly and Harry chokes on his spit.

"You did not," Harry says, laughing.

"I did," Louis insists. "And it's true, anyway. I have proof. I've still got those trousers somewhere, I could still say they've been splashed with Harry Styles pee and auction them off. Your fans would love them, I'm sure."

"Oh God," Harry buries his face in his hands. His face feels hot."Please don't."

"But how much money would I earn?" Louis asks, and Harry can hear him trying not to giggle.

Harry doesn't know. Harry doesn't even want to know. Their fans can get a little bit insane, sometimes. Like that time someone tried to sell his sick on e-Bay. That was crazy.

"Louis," he says instead, because he doesn't really know what to say anymore. He bites down on his bottom lip to try and stop himself from smiling.

"Harry," Louis replies, mimicking his tone.





"Grimmy," Nick interrupts, unmuting his microphone, and Harry looks up at him. He looks incredibly sorry for cutting them off. Apparently he was enjoying that a lot. "I'm sorry, I had to interrupt, despite how entertaining your flirting is, I'm afraid we really don't have enough time. We've still got to play a couple of songs, and answer a few more fan questions."

"Okay," Louis chirps, and Harry's heart seizes. Louis is hanging up. Harry may not speak to him again for five years. Maybe longer. Ten years. Ten years is a long time. Harry could raise a child in that time.

"Bye Harry," Louis says happily, "I'll talk to you soon. Have fun at the rest of the radio show, and good luck with whatever."

"Bye Louis," He replies, and he can't keep the pout out of his voice. Louis doesn't notice though, or doesn't say anything. He just hangs up, and Harry's left staring at the black 'Call ended' screen.

"So that was Harry Styles, playing 'Call or Delete' with me," Nick says into the microphone. "Harry is currently pouting, because apparently he enjoyed that and didn't want to stop."

"I am not," Harry tries to say normally, but it comes off sounding petulant and somewhat childish. Which, damn it. Betrayed by his own supposedly monotonous inflection.

"Sure," Nick says agreeably, before launching into a spiel about the song they're going to play next. Harry doesn't really listen, choosing, instead, to look down at his phone, where Louis' number is still displayed.

It's strange, how he already kind of misses Louis' voice. Harry wants to call him and talk to him again and listen to him talk about everything and anything. But they're not friends, not properly--they've shared two conversations in the span of five years, one of which was a joke--and if Harry did that, he's sure he'd come off as a creep.

And what if Louis was just humouring him, playing it up for the radio? He knew, after all, that Harry was on-air. What if Louis doesn't want to talk to him again? What if Harry just made up that easy connection between them, when, all the while, Louis was struggling for something to say to Harry, who he barely knows?

Not that Harry knows him either. Which is actually the problem here. He really, really wants to get to know Louis.

Before he can spiral further down into his thoughts, his phone chimes with a text. It takes him about three tries to get his phone open.

finally have your number! the text reads. after five years, wow. nice talk to you today. you're a long way from the sixteen year old i met in the loo, eh?

"That him?" Nick's voice breaks through his thoughts, and Harry looks up to see Nick smiling at him, his eyes twinkling.

It takes a while for Harry's tongue to work properly. "Yeah, um, yeah. It's him."

Nick hums, nonchalant. "He seemed nice," he offers. "Will you text him back?"

Harry blinks at him, confused, before a movement from across the room catches his attention. It's his handler, on the phone, looking incredibly panicked and gesturing furiously. Because, oh, right, Harry just sort of came out on radio. Shit.

Nick seems to pick up the direction of his thoughts, because he's leaning forward, trying to catch Harry's eye.

"I'm proud of you," Nick says, looking Harry straight in the eye. "You might be skinned alive by your team later, but I'm really proud of you."

"It was an accident," Harry defends weakly. And honestly, it really was. He never thought that he'd end up calling Louis and flirting with him on radio. In fact, when he woke up this morning, he hadn't even thought of Louis at all. If it's anyone's fault, it's his phone's, for landing on that fucking number.

Nick opens his mouth to reply, but then the song is ending and they're back on air, once more. Harry spends the rest of the show in a daze, his phone burning a hole in his pocket.

. . .

It's all over the headlines the next day, of course.

The Sun's cover page reads "Womanizer Harry Styles Wants the (1)D", which, if Harry is being honest, he doesn't think is actually a respectable headline. It's very crude.

(Also he's kind of annoyed that he didn't think of the pun first.)

The Daily Mail goes for something subtler, "Lothario Harry Styles Likes Men?" whereas the Independent just goes for : "Harry Styles Amps Up Sexuality Speculation". Harry doesn't bother to read any of the rest.

Their team is in a state of chaos --although what happened in Nick's show wasn't enough to warrant an immediate coming out, the general public isn't that dumb that they can't put two and two together. Already, people have started referring to Harry as 'that boybander who came out on the radio yesterday', or 'the second Lance Bass', and they've got the PR people calling tabloids to kill the story and organizing pap shots with leggy models that Harry couldn't care less about. All that's left is to wait for the speculation to die down.

He receives texts and phone calls from his friends and family members, all asking how he's doing. He just ends up answering the same thing: it's fine, he's fine, he's doing well. It's not like all this hasn't happened before, it's just, well, it's never been quite this blatant.

Louis texts him as well, a simple sorry, which Harry takes to mean that he's seen the headlines. Harry didn't reply to his text yesterday, and right now, sitting in the darkness of his bedroom, he lets himself reread the texts once, twice, thrice.

It's okay, he types, his fingers flying quickly over the touch screen. Not your fault.

feel bad tho, Louis' reply comes almost immediately, startling Harry from his little blanket cocoon. shouldn't have flirted with you that much, esp since i knew you were on radio. and probably straight.

Harry snorts. Not your fault, he replies. I was flirting back.

Louis sends a string of sad-faced emojis, and Harry feels his heart melting. God, he's still so endearing, even after twenty-four hours. Harry really wants to get to know him better. He also wants to meet him. There's absolutely no doubt he's cute, but Harry still wants to see if he'd aged as gracefully as Harry imagines him to have.

He's just thinking of what to reply when another text from Louis comes through.

wait, it reads. so you were really flirting?

Harry rolls his eyes. What part of 'Cute Lou from the loo' did you not get?

Louis' reply takes a bit longer, and Harry just closes his eyes, savouring the quiet of his dark bedroom. Usually he hates it, hates being alone, hates sleeping alone, but right now he couldn't be more grateful. The noise in his head is just too much.

His phone chimes.

you haven't seen me in five years, pop star. i may have been cute then but what if i'm not now?

Harry snorts. Trust me, you're cute.

how do you know that?

I just do.

Louis doesn't reply immediately, so Harry starts composing a new message. I was serious about dinner, you know. It'd be lovely to catch up with you.

There. Blunt, but not too demanding, frank, but with a hint of vagueness. It's all rather suave, if he'd say so himself.

what, you mean you're really asking me out to dinner? Louis' next text reads. can you even get out of your house? isn't there currently some sort of paparazzi mob?

Harry stares down at the text, confused, before it hits him. It startles a laugh out of him, if he's being honest. That's not my real house, he types. Well, it is my house but I don't really live there. It's just a property.

well shit, Louis replies. you're proper loaded now, aren't you? which means you'll be paying for dinner.

Harry feels a small smile creep onto his face. Are you actually agreeing to meet me then?

well it's free food, Louis replies. and so far you're quite tolerable, for a pop star.

So far?

yeah. i'm waiting to see if you'll still be tolerable when we meet or if you'll be shouting at the waiter for not giving you organic guacamole.

Harry actually laughs, and the knot that's been sitting in his chest loosens. It makes him breathe a bit easier, makes him feel relaxed enough to think of maybe getting some sleep.

Zayn's the one who's picky about the organic guacamole, he texts. Not me.

in that case, i love organic guacamole, comes Louis' reply. He even adds a heart emoji, which makes Harry snort.

Wanker. So it's only intolerable if it's me, huh?

it's cause of those curls. they make you look like such a twat.

They're not that bad.

i'll be the judge of that when we meet.

Harry worries on his bottom lip. How about eight pm tomorrow?  he sends. I'll pick you up from your place?

It's a while until his phone chimes with a new text.

smooth, styles, the text reads, followed by an address.

Harry does not fist pump. Really, he doesn't.

. . .

Of course, due to the media speculation around him, Harry's been advised not to go out until it dies down. But the thing about 'being advised to' is that they're not orders, which means Harry can just choose not to follow them.

Which is why, despite almost thirty frantic calls from his PR team and another thirty from his handler, he's still here, standing in front of Louis' flat.

Louis had buzzed him up earlier, when Harry had texted that he was outside the building, and right now, all that's left is to knock on the door and announce his presence. Which he should do.

But he's nervous, because he hasn't seen Louis in five years, and okay, maybe going to dinner with a guy you barely know while under intense media scrutiny isn't exactly the smartest idea, especially when you take into consideration that they've maybe only had two conversations. And that neither of those two conversations can actually be considered as proper conversation.

The point is, there is a reason why there is such a thing as 'stranger danger', and Harry really should've considered that before throwing all caution to the wind and going to meet a guy just because he wanted to know if he was still cute and if he'd aged well.

But, he's here now. Best to get it over with.

He takes a deep breath, and lifts a hand to the door, but before his fist can make contact, the door is swinging open.

"Oh," says the most gorgeous person Harry's ever seen, "I thought you'd decided to leave at the last minute."

He's staring at Harry, eyebrow quirked, but his stance is relaxed, almost like he was expecting this to happen. Harry's brain blanks out for a few minutes, too distracted to think of anything else but this man, who is standing enticingly in the doorway. It's when Harry catches sight of his eyes, his pretty blue eyes, that everything comes rushing back to him. Because shit, this is. This is Louis Tomlinson. From five years ago.

And fuck, he's aged so well he's literally fine wine.

Louis' still staring at him, but this time there's a concerned tilt to his mouth. "Are you alright?" He asks, his voice gentle, reminding Harry of that time in the loo five years ago. "Shit, were you spotted by the paparazzi? Or did some fans spot you? Sorry, you probably shouldn't even be out, it's like, a breech in security or something, isn't it?"

Harry's tongue feels like lead. "I'm fine," he says. He doesn't know if he was able to say it properly. Shit, he feels like he's back to being sixteen-year-old Harry, mortified and embarrassed because he just peed on his crush's pants. He hasn't even done anything embarrassing but here he is, already embarrassed. It's a new low, even for him.

Louis seems to have understood him, though, which is good. "I'm glad," he says, a small smile playing on his lips.

Harry stays silent, still drinking him in, cataloguing the changes and comparing it to his (admittedly not good) memory of Louis. His cheekbones are still sharp, and his eyes are still ridiculously pretty, but his sharp jawline is now decorated with a dusting of scruff, and his hair is different now, his fringe properly styled and falling across his forehead.

Louis seems to be doing the same thing too, studying Harry from head to toe, and Harry feels self-conscious. Which is ridiculous, because he's a public figure. He should be used to this. Should be used to people looking at him, studying his outfits, his look, his shoes, hell, even the way his hair curls.

But with Louis, it's different, though. There's something different about it.

"Do you want to go?" Harry blurts, at the same time Louis says, "Do you want to come in?"

"Um," Harry stammers. Apparently that's quickly becoming the word to describe his life.

Louis recovers quickly, though, of course he does. "No, you're right, we should go," he says, grabbing his jacket from somewhere inside his flat. "You owe me a free dinner, Styles, and no matter how hard you try, you're not gonna make me forget about it."

"I wasn't making you forget about it," is what slips out of Harry's mouth. He watches as Louis slips into a pair of Vans, before locking the door behind him. "I was all set to go to, you were the one who invited me in."

"Nope," Louis says. He falls into step beside Harry. "Don't put the blame on me, it was your fault. I got distracted by how pretty you've become."

"You think I'm pretty?" Harry says, a small smile finding its way on his lips. They get in the elevator, and Louis presses the button for the ground floor.

"Pretty, yeah," Louis answers, without missing a beat. "Pretty bloody tall. Last time I saw you, you were tiny and made up of a mop of curls. You also looked about five."

Harry did not look five. "I was sixteen."

"Right, yeah," Louis replies, watching as the numbers descend. "You were sixteen but you acted like you were five." There's a smirk playing on his lips.

Harry groans. "Can we forget about that, please? Look, I'm sorry, I really didn't mean to wee on you--"

"And I told you it was all fine, yeah?" Louis interrupts. The door opens and Louis grabs his wrist and pulls him out of the elevator. "I was just teasing, love."

Harry tries not to react too visibly at the pet name. He's pretty sure he fails, but Louis isn't looking at him, so, at least he's still got some dignity left. "Listen," he says, "if you need me to buy you a new pair of trousers--"

He hasn't even finished his sentence when Louis whirls around, his blue eyes making Harry freeze in place. "Harry, it's been five years," he says, his voice disbelieving, like he doesn't know how Harry can be this obtuse. "The trousers don't matter, they were old and frankly, quite strange anyway." He steps closer, close enough that Harry could lift a hand and touch his face, should he want to. "Really, it's fine, it's all fine, I agreed to dinner with you right now because I'd like to get to know you, Harry Styles, better, and not because I want a new pair of trousers. Okay?"

Harry opens his mouth. Closes it. Opens it again. Says, "They weren't strange, they were bright red. Your trousers, I mean."

Louis blinks at him. "Which makes them quite strange, don't you think?"

"Not really," Harry shrugs. "I thought you looked cute in them."

"We've established that," Louis answers, smirking, reaching out to grab Harry's wrist and pull him through the lobby, and out the building. "That's why I'm now formally known as 'Cute Lou from the loo.'"

Harry does not blush. He doesn't."Well, I mean, I thought it was fitting."

"It was," Louis agrees, as Harry uses his wrist to pull him to the direction of his car. "It still is. That is why I'm owning it."

Louis keeps his hand clamped around Harry's wrist as Harry quickly walks to where his car is parked on the curb. Sort of illegally, but eh. They'll be leaving soon, anyway.

He quickly unlocks his Range Rover and gets in, with Louis doing the same on the other side. He waits for Louis to say something, comment on the state of his car, anything, but he doesn't. Instead, he ends up watching as Louis reaches down and adjusts the seat of the car, so that he's seated more comfortably.

Harry hadn't realized he was that tiny. It's cute. He's so cute. Sixteen year old him was really on to something, then.

Louis shoots him a glance. "So," he says, "are we just going to stay here for the whole night?"

"We could," Harry offers.

Louis snorts. "And what would we do, pray tell?"

Harry doesn't really know. There probably isn't much to do while idling illegally on the curb, is there? Maybe they could play a game or something. Or swap stories. He's okay with anything, just as long as he's with Louis.

Some of his thoughts must be conveyed on his face because Louis is smiling, shaking his head indulgently."That wasn't a serious question, Harry."

"Right, yeah," Harry says, trying not to look too sheepish. He mostly fails.

"You should probably drive now," Louis offers.

Harry drives.

. . .

The restaurant Harry takes them to is quaint, with walls made of dark, rich wood and dim lighting. It's Italian, as well, because you can never really go wrong with pasta. Or pizza.

But the best part about the restaurant, in Harry's humble opinion, (despite the absolutely fantastic food), is that nobody knows it exists. Its located on a side street, tucked away from plain sight that it doesn't get many walk-ins. The only way someone would know it existed is through word-of-mouth.

It's perfect for taking Louis out and hiding from the media.

At least his PR team wouldn't get mad.

Louis, of course, is absolutely smitten with the restaurant--he keeps glancing around in awe, marvelling at the homey walls and admiring the regal woodwork on the chairs and on the tables. He also seems particularly taken with the light fixtures, judging by the way he keeps looking up.

"Not bad, Styles," he says, once they're seated. "Not bad at all."

Harry beams at him. "Wait until you try the food."

Louis picks up the menu, opening it to study its contents, and Harry does the same. He doesn't read it, though, because it's useless. He already knows what he's going to get.

Instead, he peeks at Louis from the side, watches as Louis studies the menu intently, his head bowed down, his eyelashes casting shadows on the top of his cheekbones. Harry lets his eyes trace the sharp cut of his cheekbone, the way his cheeks hollow, the way it curves to his jaw and his chin, to where it tapers down to his neck.

Louis is just, the most ridiculously gorgeous man Harry has ever met.

"I know you're staring, you know," comes Louis' lazy voice, shaking Harry out of his trance. Louis' still got his head bowed, his eyes fixed on the menu, but Harry can still see the small smile playing on his lips.

"I'm not staring," Harry denies.

"Your menu is upside down," Louis comments.

Oops. "Maybe I like reading menus upside down," he shoots back, while turning his menu right-side up. "Gives me more of a feel of the flavour of the food."

Louis blinks at him. "You're so full of shit," he says. He puts his menu aside and places his elbow on the table and rests his chin on his hand. "Fame has changed you."

 Harry mimics Louis' position. "Changed how?"

"Well," Louis says haughtily, his eyes still twinkling with mirth, "You pop stars aren't nearly as down-to-earth as they make you out to be. Reading menus upside down, that's diva behaviour, right there." Harry finds himself biting his lip, trying not to burst out laughing. "God, Styles. You used to be all awkward and bumbling and now you're--"

"Charming?" Harry interrupts.

"I was gonna say cocky, you arsehole," Louis grumbles, faking indignation, while Harry laughs. God, he's been in Louis' presence for about an hour and he can't stop smiling. This is actually insane.

"No, but honestly," Louis says, his blue eyes boring straight into Harry's. "You've really grown up quite a lot? You were so nervous before during the X-Factor--do you remember-- and in front of me now is like, someone who's ridiculously confident in himself, do you know what I'm saying?"

Harry finds himself flushing under Louis' gaze. "Yeah well," he says, "I think I've had to do a lot of growing up, in the last five years."

Louis hums, but doesn't say anything more.

They sit in comfortable silence until their waitress comes to take their orders, all blonde and bubbly and a bit out of place for the coziness of the restaurant. Harry knows that she recognizes him, obvious from the way her eyes flit to him more often than not, even as Louis is speaking to her, but to her credit, she doesn't freak out, just simply takes down their orders happily. She must've been briefed, then.

Once she's gone, Harry turns back to Louis. "What about you, then?"

Louis is quick to reply. "What about me?"

"What happened during the entire X-Factor thing?" Harry says.

"Oh," Louis says, pursing his lips. "Got cut before I made it to bootcamp."

Harry makes a sound. "That's harsh."

"Not really," Louis shrugs, his fingers playing with edge of the napkin on his plate. "I wasn't confident enough, apparently, and they told me to come back the next year. I decided that, nah, I think I might just finish college and head on to uni."

"You finished uni, then?" Harry asks.

"Yep," Louis says happily. "Got a degree from the University of Manchester."

University of Manchester. Harry has a house in Manchester that he stays in, during their breaks. True, it's not very close to the university at all, but still. They were in the same area. He wonders if maybe he'd walked past Louis on the street before, without noticing. Or maybe they were in the same shop at the same time. It's unlikely, but Harry can dream.

"Educated," Harry says. "I like that."

"You like your men smart, then?" Louis teases, fluttering his eyelashes.

"Smart enough to know what I want," Harry answers, looking seductively at Louis.

There's a moment where they just look at each other, before Louis is breaking into laughter, Harry quickly following suit. It's just ridiculous, is the thing. Their banter is ridiculous and over-the-top, like something out of a cliché movie scene, and Harry can't take it seriously. Louis can't either.

"What do you do now, then?" Harry asks, when their giggles have died down and they're left smiling dopily at each other.

Louis scrunches his nose. "Well, now I just teach drama at a nearby school."

"In London?" Harry asks.

Louis looks at him. "No, I make the commute everyday to teach in Donny."

Harry stares at him, eyes wide, until Louis' mouth twitches and he's breaking into laughter once more.

"Jesus fuck, your face," he giggles, as Harry pouts at him. "You were so horrified."

"It was a horrifying thought," Harry huffs. He probably looks like a petulant child, but whatever. "Just imagining the commute makes me shudder."

"Well, it was kind of a stupid question," Louis shoots back. "Why would I move to London if I wasn't teaching in London?"

"I don't know," Harry says, throwing his hands up. They're a bit noisy for the restaurant, and they should probably tone it down, but no one's coming over to reprimand them yet. "You're insane, maybe? I'm sorry, I didn't finish sixth form."

Louis waves a hand. "It's okay, you more than make up for it with your pretty face."

"So you do think I'm pretty, then," Harry says smirking. He leans forward, trying to meet Louis' eyes with his own.

"Pretty sure half the population does, yeah," Louis answers agreeably. "But the difference between me and you is that I didn't let my infatuation be known to...the greater United Kingdom, probably."

Harry flushes. Right. He did that. He told 5.5 million people that Louis was cute. "Still," he insists, trying to will away the blood from his cheeks. "That's progress, innit? You thinking I'm pretty. Means we can get somewhere with this."

Louis laughs. "Maybe if you keep trying, mate."

Their food comes not long after that, while Harry's in the middle of telling Louis about one of those bloody ridiculous stuff that they get up to, while on tour. Louis seems engrossed, laughing at all the right places and making comments here in there, his eyes shining with barely-concealed laughter. He laughs so hard he almost chokes on his food when Harry tells him about that time Niall got stuck on the rafters of the stage, after climbing up to sing opera at the top of his lungs, and how three people had to climb up to reassure him that he wasn't going to fall, and to help him climb down.

Harry listens to Louis too, of course. He listens as Louis tells him about his work at the school, when Louis tells him about the kids he's teaching, the things they do in the school. He tells Harry about some of his drama students playing on the football team, how some of them are cheeky and smart as a whip, and how their last production was an immense success, to the point that the school's theatre was full for the three days it was running.

They're simple stories, nothing at all like Harry's, but the thing is, Harry enjoys them a lot because of their simplicity. He had dreamed of making it big, dreamed of putting out singles and albums and playing stadiums, but in achieving those dreams he'd forgotten to appreciate the simple joy of the little things.

They order dessert, splitting a decadent chocolate cake between them, swapping stories about their own mums and their families, back at their home and Harry hasn't felt this alive in years.

Louis is silent when Harry stops in front of his building, idling at the curb, like he did earlier.

"So," Harry says. He turns the ignition off, plunging the car into silence. "I had fun."

Louis looks at him from the corner of his eye. "Are you expecting something from me, Harold?" he asks. Harry can see the ghost of a smile on his lips, even in the dark.

"No," Harry denies, even though he sort of is. He doesn't know what he wants, though, doesn't know what to ask for. It's just that he feels like this night isn't over yet, can't be over yet, not until something happens.

They fall silent, only the quiet sound of their breathing punctuating the night air.

"I had fun, too," Louis offers eventually, turning to face Harry. "You know, you're different from what I remember, but you're not that bad, Styles."

Harry mirrors his action. "Can I see you again?" He asks.

Louis laughs. "Sure."


"I don't know yet," Louis answers. "Patience."

Harry pouts. "But I want to know when," he whines.

"I take it back, you're still the same," Louis says, shaking his head. "Still a bloody child."

"Can you really blame me, though, for being excited to see you again?" Harry asks, quirking an eyebrow.

Harry sees Louis' smile grow. "No, I suppose not. But I don't know yet, Harold. Maybe there should be a task you have to finish first."

"A task?" Harry asked, confused. "What, like, slaying a dragon or something?"

There aren't any dragons in London. There aren't any dragons anywhere in the world, actually. Maybe Louis could settle for, like, a lizard. Or a Komodo Dragon. Harry could definitely slay a Komodo Dragon for Louis. He thinks. Or maybe he could pay someone if he couldn't.

"No, not slaying a dragon," Louis says, interrupting Harry's thoughts, "Just, okay, what's your favourite flower?"

"Roses," Harry answers automatically. "You?"

Louis smirks at him. "Not telling," he says. "You're going to have to figure it out before I let you see me again."

Harry blinks at him in shock. "There are, like, a billion flowers in the world, Louis. How am I supposed to know which one you like the most?"

Louis shrugs. "Start guessing?" He offers.

Harry just looks at him. Suddenly slaying a Komodo Dragon doesn't seem such a daunting prospect. At least Harry would know where to start, which is acquiring the Komodo Dragon. But with flowers...he's a bit lost.

"Are you sure you don't want me to slay a dragon instead?" Harry asks meekly.

Louis laughs. "Dragons don't exist, you knob."

And then he's shooting Harry a cheeky wink before hopping out the car, calling out a "Bye Harry" behind him. Harry can do nothing but stare at his retreating figure as Louis makes his way to the building, disappearing into the doors.

He still stares for a while after that.

. . .

Her name is Sara.

Harry finds out next week, while in a meeting with his PR team. Sara Sampaio. She's twenty-three, from Portugal, with brown hair and long legs and she's one of Victoria's Secret's newest Angels.

He doesn't need to do a lot: just a few pap walks with her, a public dinner, an activity of their choice, and something with them being seen with frozen yoghurt.  In the span of four months.

By now, the speculation has died down, the general public having moved on to a new scandal. Currently, Harry's house is habitable again (or as habitable as it was previously), the wall of paparazzi surrounding it having dispersed some time ago. The tabloids have also tried to kill the story, trying to bury it under other gossip and publishing syndicated articles sent by their team. They're all fake, of course--Harry hasn't been out trying to pick up Gigi Hadid, for one, he's never even met her--but it's enough to convince the people, enough to remind them that Harry Styles is a straight, red-blooded male with a penchant for leggy models.

Harry's not bitter. Really, he's not.

"You don't have to do this," Zayn says, as they're walking out of the meeting and to the parking lot. "You really don't have to do this if you don't want to."

"He's right, you know," chirps Niall from behind him. "You could refuse. Say you don't want to be seen with all these models anymore. And just, come out."

Harry grits his teeth. "I can't," he says, trying to keep his voice even, his head calm. He's already frustrated with the day's proceedings, he doesn't want to end up shouting at his band mates. "We'd end up getting absolutely no promo for our album, for one. And then our sales would go down, and it'd be the end of that. The end of us."

"Mate," pipes up Liam. "You can't really believe that, can you?" He sounds baffled.

Honestly, Harry's not sure what to believe. It does seem like a rather dramatic leap in logic, but in the words of their team from four years ago, 'nobody's going to buy your music when you're no longer desirable'.

Because apparently, that's all they ever will be. Four pretty boys who do nothing but sing shallow love songs and look pretty for their fans.

Don't get Harry wrong, he loves their fans. They wouldn't be anywhere without their loyal fans. But sometimes, he just wants to be seen as something....more. He wants to be more than just musicians that people don't take seriously; wants to be more than a bunch of asinine PR stunts and ridiculous 'what do you look for in an ideal girlfriend' questions.

"Whatever," Harry says, and he sounds resigned, he knows. "It's nothing, really. Just a few pap walks. It's fine, I'm fine, we'll be fine."

"Harry," Liam says, sounding concerned now, and God, Harry hates it when Liam sounds concerned--it makes him sound like some sort of parent, kind of like his mum, and it makes Harry want to curl up in a ball. "You do know that you don't have to do this. We're pushing for a rebrand so that we don't have to do these things for publicity. So you can..."

Liam trails off, but Harry hears his unspoken words anyway. Come out. Be yourself. He makes it sound so easy.

But it's not at all easy, and Harry's tired of explaining himself. He can't anyway; doesn't know how to voice out his concerns, doesn't know how to explain that he doesn't want to be the one to single-handedly end their careers, to be the one to dig a hole and bury 'One Direction' into the ground. He just feels like he still has a lot to do, they still have a lot to do as a band, and Harry coming out would end them before they can even start working towards their long-term career goals.

So Harry thinks that maybe, just maybe, he can sacrifice this. For the sake of his band, and for the sake of his best friends.

He still appreciates the sentiment, though. "Thanks, Liam," he says, shooting Liam a small smile. "Honestly, I'll be fine. Really, I promise."

"Group hug," Niall calls out, and soon, Harry's being wrapped up in their arms, their faces smushed into his neck. It's a bit uncomfortable, but Harry loves it, all the same.

He basks in it for a bit, hugging his friends, his best friends back, until they eventually pull away.

His phone chimes with a text.

have you guessed yet?, it reads.

It makes Harry smile wide, enough that both Niall and Zayn peek over his shoulder.

"Oh," Niall says, his voice knowing, and Harry's face colours at his tone. "I didn't know you and 'Cute Lou from the loo' still talked."

Harry shrugs, trying to act nonchalant. "It's nothing," he says. "We had dinner. To catch up, you know. It was nice."

To Louis, he texts, I don't know where to start, to be honest.

"When?" Liam asks.

"Last week."

"While you were on house arrest?"

Harry wasn't on house arrest. He was on advised house arrest. There's a difference.

"I wasn't on house arrest, Liam."

Liam says something, but Harry doesn't really hear him, too busy looking at Louis' new text, which is just a string of leaf emojis. It's cute. He's cute. Louis is so, very cute.

Those aren't flowers, he types back. Liam's still talking somewhere behind him, probably reprimanding him for going out while he was on house arrest. But he wasn't on house arrest, which is why he doesn't need to listen to this.

astute observation, styles, Louis replies. what reward do you want?

Harry bites his lip. To see you again.

flowersssss, Louis' next text reads.

Hint please?

Louis' next text takes a while, but when he receives it, Harry has to read it thrice. Because it's a riddle. Louis has just sent him a riddle.

i am friends with fine feathers, radiant and bold; in the winter, to them, my seeds are black and gold. what am i?

Harry sends back ????

not telling, Louis sends a few seconds later. it's just to aid you on your noble task. And then he adds the emoji with the sunglasses. Honestly, how is Louis even real?

"--Earth to Harry," Liam's voice breaks into his thoughts, and he looks up to find all three of them staring at him, with matching smirks on their faces.

"What?" He asks. The more he stares at them, the more he thinks they look kind of creepy, smirking at him like that. "Stop that."

"We were just wondering when we were going to meet this 'Cute Lou from the loo'," Zayn says, as sweet as he can. Which is not very; Zayn's not really meant for these sweet voices and stuff. He tried though, and that is what matters.

"Never," Harry answers.

And in-sync, all their faces change into a pout. Literally. Harry wants to say he's kidding, but he isn't.

They spend way too much time around each other.

"Why?" Niall asks.

"Why would I want to expose him to any of you lot?" Harry asks them, incredulously. Not that Louis is his to expose, but he's Harry's friend. And Harry doesn't need Louis' mental image of him get even more tainted because of his wild band mates, thank you very much. He's doing well enough on his own, sadly.

"Why wouldn't you?" Niall asks. "We're fantastic and hilarious. And ridiculously good-looking. And we have a lot of stories about you we can share. Remember that time you cried because you thought that Zayn was leaving the band on February thirty?"

"That was years ago," Harry protests.

"Well," interrupts Zayn, "you pissed on 'Cute Lou from the loo', years ago, but it's still a great story. Why did you never tell us this?"

"Wait," Liam interrupts, sounding confused. "You really pissed on 'Cute Lou from the loo'? I thought it was a joke!"

"Yes he did," Niall says loudly, loud enough to make the lady taking a cigarette break on the other side of the parking lot turn to them. "He whipped out his dick and just marked his territory."

Sometimes, Harry just hates his band mates. So, so much.

. . .

Harry spends the next few days in his house, texting Louis and trying to solve the riddle. He had tried to weasel out another clue from Louis, but Louis had been adamant that Harry solve it by himself. He even called Harry up just to tell him not to google the answer, which Harry wasn't even planning to do anyway. If he has to solve a riddle just to see Louis again, he'd do it fair and square. And nobly. Like a knight.

But honestly, by the third day, he's kind of frustrated. He's no closer to answering the bloody riddle than he was the first day, and he's getting impatient. He'd really like to go and see Louis now, please.

Also he has to go out with Sara. It's the first of many pap walks they'll be having, and, according to his team, this will be played off as their 'first date'.

They don't have to do much; just go out for coffee and sit around each other's presence chatting while they pretend not to notice the man with the giant camera taking shots of them. Harry hates it already. He just wants to go back into his house and lie on his bed and text Louis.

Sara is nice--she's much taller than Harry expected, and so much thinner too--but she's polite and easy-to-talk to. Better than Taylor Swift, at least. Actually, if Harry's being honest, everyone else he's ever 'dated' was better than Taylor Swift. Harry still shudders thinking about their pap walks, and sometimes he thinks why his team thought him and Taylor Swift together would be a grand idea. All he got from that was a migraine and an album of songs supposedly about him. (But it's not.)

Anyway, Sara is much easier to get along with, and she's rather pretty, with high cheekbones and long brown hair. If Harry were into girls, he'd probably fancy her. But as it stands, he isn't. He's much more taken with the pixie-like boy he met, all dainty and wonderful with his own high cheekbones and delicate features and sharp wit.

But that doesn't mean he can't be nice to her. He smiles at her as blandly as he can, and asks her stories about her family, about her home. She talks extensively about her home in Portugal, her voice getting wistful and sad at times, and she must miss it more than she's letting on.

Harry wonders how is it they ended up in this situation--both of them still young, but incredibly aware of what they have to give up. They're well-versed in the art of building, of faking, of studying the intricacies of a bare-bones relationship and padding it up until it looks real to everyone looking from the outside in.

 She asks him questions too, questions about his work, about his band mates, about touring countries and continents and performing on stage, and Harry tries to answer it as honestly as he can. It's interesting to talk about his work, and Sara seems fascinated, anyway.

"You know," she says in her accented-English, pretending not to see the photographer taking photos of them through the glass, "when I was a little girl, I wanted to be a singer too."

She only asks him about himself once, a question about his family, that Harry deflects easily. She notices, of course, but she doesn't push, and she doesn't bring it up again.

Eventually, they end up talking about why they're here.

"I need the promo," she says bluntly, her manicured fingers curling around the cup of her barely-touched coffee. She subtly tilts her head, the action elongating her neck and bringing her jaw line into stark relief. Harry notes the way she angles her face, realizes that she's playing it up for the cameras, making sure they're getting her good angle. She's good. "Victoria's Secret just got me as one of their new Angels, and although I'm excited, I'm going to be replacing some very good angels." She smiles daintily. "To be honest, nobody really knows who I am anyway, outside the fashion world. We models are usually nameless, especially to the public."

We're all nameless, Harry thinks. We're not real people to them. We're entertainment.

"So they're hoping being seen with you will bring a lot of attention to Victoria's Secret," she continues. "And that hopefully they'll go and watch the fashion show when it airs. Point out Harry Styles' rumoured girlfriend." She smiles again.

Beside them, a camera flash goes off. Neither of them flinch.

"What about you?" She asks.

"Promo for the new album," Harry says automatically. He doesn't look her in the eye.

Judging by the way she leaves it at that, he can tell that she knows.

She can do no promo for him, anyway. She hasn't got that level of fame. No, the most she can do is hang off Harry's arm like an accessory, make him look straight.

"Tell me about Portugal," Harry says. He doesn't mean to sound pleading, but, there you go.

To her credit, she picks up quick. "It's wonderful there," she gushes. "I'm from Porto, and there's always a lot to see there. If you ever come over you should check out the Cais de Gaia. Maybe stay for dinner at some of the restaurants by the river. And try our Port wine."

Harry hums in acknowledgement.

"But I think what I like most about Portugal," she says, after a pause, "isn't really the tourist attractions. It's more of the memories growing up there, like playing with my older brother, planting vegetables in my mother's garden, picking the sunflowers." She laughs. "If I get to the sunflowers in time. Usually the birds eat them, which is sad. But sometimes I get one or two that I can press in between my books."

Harry doesn't mean to, but he gets stuck on the word, 'sunflowers'. It's probably not the best time, but well, he's been really frustrated about the riddle.

Sara said something about birds, didn't she? And what did the riddle say? 'Friends with fine feathers, radiant and bold'? Some birds are radiant and bold, aren't they?

Louis does seem like the type of person to like sunflowers. Not that Harry's judging, or like, projecting his idea of Louis onto Louis' supposed interests, but he can't stop himself from imagining, from drawing parallels between sunflowers and Louis. They're both bright, enough to lighten up a room or cheer up a rainy day. They're both loud, enough to grab people's attention, and Harry honestly thinks it's perfect.

Oh well, if he's wrong, at least he can say he tried.

"--Harry?" he hears and he snaps out of it to find Sara smiling at him, looking very puzzled. But still poised. She's really good at this modelling thing.

"Sorry," he says. "I just got a bit...distracted."

She laughs. "I can tell."

They only stay chatting for a few minutes before they both mutually decide that the paparazzi have gotten enough pictures of them. They walk out the cafe together, keeping their heads down against the sudden onslaught of flashes, and then Sara is hugging him goodbye and then walking to the direction of her car.

Harry's car is parked on the other side, so he starts heading that way, his head ducked down as the guy continues to take photos of him. He doesn't follow him too far though, leaving him alone when Harry gets nearer his car, and for that Harry is a bit grateful. He's not entirely fond of the entire paparazzi culture, but sometimes, there are polite ones who leave you alone after they get a shot.

He gets in the car, pulling out his phone. There are a few texts from Niall, Liam and Zayn, asking him how it's going--Harry ignores that, quickly pulling up a number to call.

When the person on the other line answers, he orders a bouquet of their most beautiful sunflowers and sends it to Louis' address.

. . .

He doesn't have to wait long.

Louis calls while he's in the kitchen, pan frying a slab of steak.

"How did you guess?" Louis demands when Harry picks up. He sounds like he's in awe, like he's just witnessed something magical.

"Nice to talk to you too," Harry jokes. He pokes at his steak with a fork. "Does that mean I got it right, then?"

Louis makes a noise, faint over line. "What do you think, you idiot?"

Harry can't help it, he laughs.

He puts the heat on low before turning away from it, leaning back on his kitchen counter. It can probably survive a few minutes without him. "You sound like you've never seen sunflowers before."

"Of course I've seen sunflowers before, you knob," Louis says haughtily. "But shit, Harry, these are gorgeous."

Harry beams. The shop had sent him a photo of the flower arrangement, as per his request--twelve huge sunflowers with bright yellow petals artfully arranged and intertwined  with light purple irises and tiny sprigs of baby's breath--and he has to admit they were beautiful. But Louis' reaction makes it seem like Harry had given him something so incredibly special, like a huge diamond or something. He makes a mental note to keep buying him sunflowers if it makes him this happy.

"I'm glad you like them," he says, trying to tamp down on his smile. "Had them pick the prettiest sunflowers to send to you."

"Obviously," and Harry can hear him rolling his eyes, really, he can, "I deserve nothing but the best."

"Obviously," Harry echoes, still smiling. His cheeks are starting to hurt, but eh. "So, when can I see you again?"

"Right to the point, then," Harry can hear shuffling, probably Louis trying to get comfortable. "What makes you think you can see me again?"

"I've proved my worth," he protests. "I guessed your favourite flower."

"You solved my riddle then had someone pick them, arrange them, and deliver them," Louis deadpans. "You did nothing. What am I going to do with a boy who can't do the dirty work?"

Harry pouts. "I can do dirty work," he says. "I can....clean." And cook and do laundry and wash dishes and take out the trash. He can do a lot of things around the house, actually. He likes being domestic.

Louis makes a noise that sounds like a laugh. "Really, what am I going to do with you?" he asks. He sounds fond, though which is okay. At least he's being fond of Harry. Anyway, Harry's ridiculously fond of him. So they've got some mutual fonding going on. It's nice.

"Agree to hang out with me again, maybe?" Harry asks.

"Maybe," Louis echoes. "Or maybe not."

"Stop playing with my feelings, Tomlinson," Harry pouts harder. "I'm sensitive."

"I can't help it," Louis answers, "you're just so easy to tease."

"You're a tease," Harry leans back further on the counter behind him. "Come on, Lou. Don't go breaking my heart." He sings the last part into the phone, and if he does a little shoulder shimmy then Louis will never have to know.

"I couldn't if I tried," Louis sings back, like he can't help himself. His voice is high and raspy, with a little hiccup-ing sound and a lot of inflection. He's got a lovely voice.

Everything about him is lovely, actually.

Harry bites his lip. "I don't know the rest," he admits.

Louis giggles over the line, and they end up sitting in silence just sort of listening to each other breathe. It's actually really nice and not as awkward as it sounds. It just, it would be a lot better if they were actually, you know, in the same room.

Which reminds him. Harry clears his throat. "So," he starts. "When can I see you again?"

Louis hums over the line. "You're starting to sound very creepy," he says. "But then again, I did promise, didn't I?"

"You did."

"Have you ever seen Grease?"

Harry's not sure he has. "No, I don't think so."

"Well, it's a good thing you have me, then," Louis says, and Harry has to stop himself from dimpling at the tiles of his kitchen. If anyone saw him now, they'd probably think he was deranged. "I'll educate you."

"You will?" Harry asks, his voice hopeful.

Harry hears Louis sigh. "If I must," he says. "It is my civic duty as a teacher, after all, to educate the children, the heathens--"

"Heyyyy," Harry interrupts, starting to giggle.

"--the philistines," Louis continues, as if Harry hadn't interrupted. "The ignorant fools, the uncultured swines, and, most importantly," he lowers his voice, like he's imparting a dirty secret, "the hipsters like you."

"I'm not a hipster," Harry protests, giggling fully now. He's always so giggly when it comes to Louis. Louis makes him feel like a bubble; all light and floaty and up in the air. It's fantastic.

"You are," Louis insists, "I've seen your Instagram, and, black and white? Really?"

"I like how it looks like that," Harry defends.

"That's what a hipster would say," Louis says darkly, and honestly, Louis is a treasure. He must be kept safe at all costs.

Harry bites his lip. "Is it good?" He asks. "Grease, I mean."

"Mate, it's a cinematic masterpiece."

Harry hums. "Okay, I'll watch it."

"Good," Louis says. "Come over tomorrow, at eight. I'll order the takeaway."

And then he's hanging up, without so much as a goodbye, and Harry is left standing in his kitchen with his phone clutched in his hand, trying not to let out a whoop of glee.

Oh, shit, and his steak. That's already probably burnt by now.

. . .

Louis opens the door to him at exactly eight pm the next day. He's beaming at Harry, his blue eyes twinkling under the harsh fluorescents of his floor, his hair a bit messy. Harry thrusts out the bottle of wine in his hands.

"Oh," Louis says, startled. He blinks down at it. "You didn't have to, you know."

Harry shrugs. "It's courtesy, isn't it?" And he's a very polite boy. His mum always told him to bring gifts whenever he's going to be a houseguest.

Louis takes the wine and beckons him inside, motioning for him to close the door behind him. Harry follows him through the short hallway and into the living room, where the DVD menu is already playing on the screen, and the coffee table is piled high with Chinese takeout.

"Sorry for the mess," Louis says off-handedly, depositing the bottle of wine on a sliver of space left on the coffee table, and disappearing into the connecting kitchen. "I'm not very good with my cleaning."

It's only then Harry notices the piles of books on the floor beside Louis' bookcase, worn copies of Shakespeare's drama anthology tossed haphazardly onto the side tables. There are copies of bound scripts on the floor, on the top of Louis' console table, thrown underneath the coffee table.

Oh, and papers. Lots and lots of papers, everywhere.

"There's a system to the papers," Louis explains, returning with two mugs and a bottle opener. He hands one to Harry. "It's for marking, so I'd rather you don't touch them."

Harry tries not to be helplessly endeared. He fails.

"That's a lot of food you ordered," he says instead, turning back to the coffee table. It really is a lot of food. Harry doesn't know if they'll be able to finish that by tonight.

Louis just shrugs. "I didn't know what you wanted so I got everything that I wanted," he says, like that perfectly explains everything. To Louis, it probably does. "So those are just all my favourite things. And if we have leftovers then I can just eat them for the next week, probably."

"You don't cook?" Harry asks.

Louis snorts. "Barely," he answers. "I can cook like, simple things of course: fried eggs on toast, beans on toast, cheese toasties, packaged hotdogs, instant noodles, basically anything that requires standing in front of a pan for a few minutes and watching it for a bit, but aside from that I can't. I shouldn't. Once I tried and I almost burnt my house down."

"You should eat properly," Harry finds himself saying. Because honestly, the fact that Louis can't seem to properly feed himself is...a bit worrying.

Louis just shrugs, reaching for the wine bottle on the coffee table. He skillfully uncorks it with the opener he has in his hand, before pouring him and Harry some wine in their mugs.

"I do get good, proper meals sometimes," Louis says thoughtfully. He sits on one end of the couch and Harry follows, sitting on the other end. "My mate Stan sometimes comes by and cooks for me."

"You should come `round my place sometime," Harry offers. "I'll cook for you."

Louis turns to him, eyebrow quirked. He raises his mug to take a sip. "Is this so that you can woo me with your culinary skills?"

"I am pretty good in the kitchen," Harry answers. "Or maybe come over next time so I can teach you to cook properly. `S a fair trade, innit? Teach me and I'll teach you."

Harry knows Louis recognizes the paraphrased quote, judging by the way his entire face lights up. He doesn't comment on it though, simply choosing to lean back on the arm rest of his sofa. "The student becomes the teacher," he says. "I like it. You're not half-bad, Styles."

"I'm not bad at all," Harry shoots back. He watches as Louis beams, wide enough that his eyes crinkle.

"Just shut up and watch," Louis says, leaning forward to grab the remote from the floor and presses play. Harry tries not to watch him, instead busies himself with leaning forward to grab a carton of Chinese food and a pair of chopsticks.

Louis is engrossed in the film, despite him declaring that he's seen it a million times. Harry likes the film well enough, but his eyes keep straying to Louis, watching as the light from the film hits his profile quite nicely. Louis also seems to be mouthing all the words to the songs and the dialogue, and it's also rather entertaining for Harry. Maybe he's a bit more entertaining than the film.

"I played Danny Zuko, before, you know," Louis tells him, with a quirked brow, when he catches Harry staring once. "That's also sort of why I know all the words."

Harry tries to imagine Louis in a leather jacket. "I'd like to see that," he says, after a few moments. "Maybe we could watch that version next?"

Louis snorts. "You wish."

"Wait," Harry says, turning to him. "You mean you can do the dance moves? Like the one--" he does a shoulder shimmy. It's not very good, but Harry never did claim to be a dancer.

"Not that, no," Louis says. "We did another version of it. But that was ages ago."

"Still," Harry insists. "You should show me. We should re-enact a scene."

"You should watch the film," Louis scolds, but Harry can see that he's smiling. "You're missing everything."

They don't talk after that, simply quietly watch the film. Once in a while, Harry would turn to peek at Louis to find Louis already looking at him, with an eyebrow quirked. Louis must've picked up on that, then.

By the time the film ends, Harry's got Grease songs stuck in his head and is pleasantly tipsy on wine. Their food has been half-demolished, and he watches as Louis takes great care to put the left-overs in tupperware cases and some of the empty cartons, no doubt for his own consumption later in the week.

"You know," Harry says, as Louis carefully manoeuvres some of the leftover food around a half-empty carton to make space for another food, "I really can just cook for you."

"Are you trying to get me to hang out with you again?" Louis shoots back easily. "You know, you're not as subtle as you think. Besides, aren't you busy? Don't you pop-stars have things to do?"

Well, to be honest, he does, especially since it's album promo season, but he doesn't really want to tell Louis that. Louis might just tell him to do his work and refuse to see him again, and that would probably make Harry really sad. Especially since they're sort of friends, now, aren't they?

So instead he just says, "I'm not really that busy," and prays that Louis doesn't call him out on his lie.

It's worth it, for the way Louis breaks into a smile. He's not looking at Harry, but Harry can still see it, tugging the corners of his lips up. "You're lying," Louis accuses. "But, whatever, it's your schedule, and I'm at a win here, aren't I? I'll be getting a free home-cooked meal. "

"So is that a yes?" Harry asks hopefully.

Louis laughs. "I'll text you."

. . .

The third time they hang out is at Harry's place, and Harry makes them some pasta under some meatballs. Louis had shown up and promptly sat down in the kitchen counter, refusing to touch anything and choosing, instead, to try and learn how to juggle some apples. He mostly fails, the apples hitting the ground and getting bruised more often than not, but Harry can't bring himself to stop Louis, who looks so cute perched on the kitchen counter, his tongue sticking out as he tosses apples in the air.

"I'm pretty good at juggling, you know," Harry tells him, while his pasta is cooking on the stove.

"You're lying," Louis accuses immediately, and tosses Harry the apples without any warning. Harry barely manages to catch them without tipping over, and by the time he gets his balance back, Louis is laughing at him.

"You can't juggle," Louis says, his eyes crinkled in the corners. "You can barely even stand properly."

Harry narrows his eyes at him and proceeds to prove Louis wrong.

Afterwards, Louis whines and pleads and makes a nuisance of himself until Harry agrees to teach him. He doesn't particularly get it, the apples flying wildly out of control, but he does make a conceited effort to learn. Harry appreciates that.

(At least, until he decides that he's much better 'handling other types of balls' and decides to throw the apples at Harry. Harry starts throwing his other fruit at him until they're running around the kitchen, waging war using only apples, bananas, oranges and a lone peach.

And if their pasta is a bit too soft when they finally sit down to eat a bit later, all flushed and sweaty, Louis doesn't comment on it. Instead, he lavishes Harry with increasingly grand compliments until Harry's left flushing.)

The fourth time is at Louis' place, after Harry had off-handedly mentioned that he hadn't watched Breaking Bad. Louis had stared at him like he'd grown a second head, and then said, "Right, my place, bring booze."

Harry couldn't exactly disobey, could he?

(Not that he wanted to.)

So he shows up in Louis' messy apartment with three bottles of wine. Louis already had it cued up on Netflix, and his coffee table is piled high with snacks--popcorn, crisps, chocolates, candies.

"This is proper marathon food," Louis says, when he spots Harry's questioning glance at the table. "Because we're having a proper marathon."

"Louis," Harry says. "You do realize that we're not going to be watching all episodes of all three seasons tonight, right?"

"Well, we can bloody well try," Louis mutters, grabbing the three bottles of wine from Harry's arms and unceremoniously shoving the bags of crisps around until he can deposit them onto the table.

The fifth time, they're over at Harry's house, playing Scrabble. Louis keeps trying to put cuss words on the board and Harry keeps trying to stop him, because he's planning on actually taking a photo of this and uploading it on Instagram, and having a board with the word 'fuck' spelled out on it isn't exactly something that he'd like.

"No one will notice it if you put it on black and white," Louis grumbles, spelling out the word  'Za'. Harry opens his mouth to say something, but decides against it. 'Za' may not be a word, but it's better than, well, 'wanker' which is what Louis has been trying to spell out for the past five minutes.

Sometimes, Harry finds it hard to believe that he's a teacher. He seems like he's got the mentality of a child.

"People actually do read the words on my Scrabble board," Harry tells him. "And there might be little ones looking through my Instagram. I don't want to be responsible for teaching them a new word."

"If they don't know those types of words," Louis says, "don't you think they're a little too young to be on Instagram?"

He has a point. "But there's nothing I can do about that," Harry says, placing the tiles on the board, spelling out 'olive'. "I can, however, just keep my Instagram nice and clean. Be a good role model."

Louis shakes his head, but there's a small smile on his lips. "You're truly something, Harry."

Harry does take a picture of the finished board, placing a black and white filter over it. It's got the word 'knob' on it, because Louis can't seem to control himself, but it doesn't really matter. Knob isn't really a swear word. He can always say it's, like, a shortened version of doorknob.

After that, it just becomes a regular thing. Either Harry will show up at Louis' place, or Louis will go to Harry's place, and they'll just drink, eat, and talk. Sometimes they'll watch a film or play a board game.

Or sometimes they play video games. They've found out they're both incredibly competitive at FIFA. It makes for some great matches, and often it ends in pillow fights, with them running around the place armed with pillows and acting like five-year-olds. It's fun.  Game night with Louis is always fun.

Actually, just hanging out with Louis is a lot of fun. He's loud and witty and so, so hilarious that, on more than one occasion, he's managed to make Harry spit his drink out. Once, it even came out of his nose. Louis had teased him mercilessly for that.

Their banter as well, is easy--so incredibly easy. They just seem to get each other, and it feels like second nature to Harry, talking to Louis. Louis isn't afraid of him, doesn't talk to him like he's famous, like he's got a net worth of millions and twenty-two million devoted fans at his feet. He just talks to him like he's a normal person, like they were still back in the loos during the X-Factor.

And it's nice. It's really nice to be treated as Harry, the person, not Harry Styles, the pop star. Don't get him wrong, he doesn't resent his choices at all, nor does he resent the luck that brought him to this position. It's just tiring, sometimes. Because since 2010, Harry's life has been one thing piled on top of another; a constant stream of duties and demands and camera flashes and superficial friendships and relationship that it's almost suffocating, sometimes.

But Louis. Louis makes him feel like he can breathe again.

. . .

"How's 'Cute Lou from the loo'?" Niall asks him a few weeks later, while they're seated around a conference table, waiting for their meeting to start. "Are you still hanging out with him?"

Harry opens his mouth to answer, but as if on cue, his phone chimes.

Niall lights up. "That's him, innit?" He reaches out to grab Harry's phone from the table, but Harry is quicker, snatching it off the table, and extending his arm as far away as possible from Niall.

Unfortunately, he hadn't taken Liam into account, who simply plucks the phone from his grasp, and glances at the screen.

"Is it him, Liam?" Niall bounces excitedly from his seat, as Harry tries to wrestle his phone away from Liam. He fails.

"Yep," Liam answers, his brow furrowed, while using one arm to bat Harry away. It's annoying how strong Liam is. Someone should really start limiting the number of his gym sessions per week. His arm muscles are as hard as rocks and, in Harry's opinion, he looks like he's going to turn into Thor.

Hm. Maybe he can get Sophia to stop him from going to the gym. He can tell her that Liam's getting so big that he's going to crush her when they hug. Yeah. So that, she can get mad at him and Harry can wait until Liam's a bit weaker to pounce.

"'You are not Troy Bolton'," reads Liam from Harry's phone. "'If you were anyone from High School Musical, you'd be Ryan'." He blinks. "Mate, do I even want to know?"

From beside him, Niall cackles. "Are you trying to use High School Musical to flirt with him?"

"It's not flirting," Harry denies. It sounds weak, even to his own ears. "And no, we were just, discussing. `Cause, like, we watched High School Musical the other day."

"Which one?" Liam asks, his brow furrowed. He looks like a confused Labrador puppy.

"Um," Harry says. Niall's still laughing. "All three?"

Niall starts laughing even harder, while Liam just keeps looking confused. Harry's incredibly thankful that Zayn's late again, and will miss this entire thing.

"Did you serenade him with your rendition of 'Breaking Free'?" Niall asks, when his cackles die down. "Complete with the Troy Bolton dance moves?" His eyes widen. "Did you sing a duet with him?"

"No," Harry says. It doesn't count as a duet when they were mostly screaming it at the top of their lungs and bouncing around on Harry's huge couch, right?

Niall doesn't listen to him, though, just starts singing 'You Are The Music In Me'. Liam joins in after a few verses, and then they start singing it to Harry, with Liam using his falsetto  just so he can harmonize with Niall.

Harry takes it back, he hates them all. Zayn is his favourite member of the band.

"Zayn's my favourite member of the band now," he tells them. He gets ignored.

"When are we going to meet him?" Niall asks a few minutes later, when he and Liam have finally managed to sing through the whole song. He leans forward, placing his elbows on the table. "We already have a lot in common. We like you, and we like High School Musical. Right Liam? Don't you think we'll get along?"

"No," Harry says. "Absolutely not."

Liam furrows his brow. "You don't think we'll get along?" He asks sadly, and Harry feels like he just kicked a puppy. A huge Thor one, but a puppy nonetheless.

"No, it's not that," Harry says, because it's true. That's not the problem. The problem is that they'll probably get along too well, and then Harry will just be the butt of all their jokes. He doesn't need Louis to know about that time he accidentally taped his hands to his bunk in the tour bus. Really, he doesn't.

Liam opens his mouth, presumably to ask why, but then Harry's phone is chiming again. He glances at it. "Aww, look," Liam coos. "He's getting pissy cause you didn't reply to him yet."

"Wait," Niall says. "Are you dating? And you didn't tell us? Liam, give Harry back the phone, he has to reply to his boyfriend."

"He's not my boyfriend," Harry protests, managing to get the phone back from Liam. Because Harry is strong, and not because Liam just let him. Ha. Take that, Thor-Liam.

"Why not?" Niall asks.

Harry shrugs. "We're just not," he answers. "I don't think he likes me like that."

There's a pause. Harry can feel the both of them staring at him.

"What?" he asks.

Niall clears his throat. "Liam."

Liam whacks him on the head.

It's not particularly hard, but it still catches Harry by surprise. "What was that for?" he demands, turning to look at Liam.

"You were being stupid," answers Niall imperiously. "You deserve to be whacked."

"What?" When, exactly, did Niall decide that he had to start acting like some sort of Irish mafia leader? And when, exactly, did he manage to employ Liam as his brawn?

"Anyway," Niall says cheerily, like the last thirty seconds didn't happen. He clears his throat. "We're soarin', flyin'."

"There's not a star in heaven that we can't reach," Liam sings, harmonizing with Niall perfectly, and that's how Zayn finds them, Harry getting increasingly more flustered as Niall and Liam sing High School Musical songs around him.

"What are they doing?" he asks, sliding into the seat next to Liam. Liam and Niall don't even pause to greet him.

Harry just shrugs. "Zayn, you're my favourite member of the band now," he says.

"Of course I am," Zayn replies, and proceeds to add riffs into Niall and Liam's rendition of 'Start of Something New'.

. . .

"My band mates want to meet you," He tells Louis one time, while they're playing FIFA. He's got his eyes trained on the screen, but he's acutely aware of Louis beside him, his thigh almost touching Harry's.

"What, you mean Zayn Malik?"

"Yeah," Harry says, watching as his player tries to steal the ball from Louis'. "And Niall and Liam."

"You told them about me?" Louis asks, his fingers pressing frantically down on the controller.

"They sort of just...knew." Harry bites his lip, trying to get his player to block Louis' way to the goal. "Because of the entire call or delete thing."

"Oh," Louis says. There's a pause. "Do you want me to meet them?"

The question takes Harry off-guard. "That's, um, what?"

Louis shrugs, still not taking his eyes off the screen. "They're your band mates," he explains. "I don't want you to take me to meet them just because I might want to. I'm your friend, and they're your friends, and it's up to you to decide when you're ready to take me to meet them. It could be tomorrow, it could be never, it doesn't matter."

Harry finds himself gazing at Louis in awe. For all his childish antics, Harry tends to forget about Louis' maturity until it creeps up on him and hits him straight on the face. Quiet moments like this is when Harry can easily picture Louis in the front of the class, commanding the attention of many students, guiding them and teaching them. Moments like this makes Harry realize what a good teacher Louis must be.

"Although," Louis says thoughtfully, as his player scores a goal. "I would like to meet Zayn Malik. Maybe you could give him my number, we could have dinner."


That is not happening. Really, really not happening. Harry doesn't want it to happen at all.

Also, Zayn's kind of in a weird place right now. Actually, he's been in a weird place for about three years. Harry doesn't think that Zayn would want to go out with Louis, no matter how attractive Louis is. Because of, well, Zayn's problem. Love problem. His shit-I-think-I've-liked -Liam-for-three-years problem.

It's a problem because Liam has Sophia.

So. Ha. That's not happening. Because of Zayn's problem. Not because Harry's jealous. Really.

Louis must mistake his hesitation for something else, because he's laughing, pausing the game. "Relax, Harold," he says. "I was just kidding. If you don't want me to meet them,  it's fine."

"No, it's not that," Harry says, shaking his head, clearing all thought of Zayn.

"Are you jealous?" Louis asks.

No. "I'm not." Harry says.

"You do know you'll still be my favourite member of the band, right?" Louis says, his voice reassuring. It's actually helping to calm Harry. Not that he was jealous or anything, in the first place. "No one else has curls like you."

Harry raises an eyebrow at him. "Right."

"Yeah, and, come on," Louis continues. Who else will make me egg on toast when I want it?"

"Not Zayn, that's for sure," Harry answers.

There's a silence where Louis pouts at him, batting his eyelashes.

Harry sighs, and pushes himself off the couch to make Louis egg on toast.

. . .

"Your phone rang again," Sara murmurs to him, while they're  at dinner with some of their friends, a few days later. She leans a bit closer, that Harry can smell her perfume. "Is it urgent? Do you need to go?"

Harry peeks at his phone. It's another text from Louis. "Nah," he says. His lips curl up into a smile. "Just a friend of mine."

Sara sighs. "Oh," she says. "I was hoping it was an emergency. So we could just leave now."

Harry laughs in surprise. From his periphery, he sees a camera flash. It must make a good picture, Sara in close proximity, and him laughing at what she said. It would really show their rumoured 'connection'.

The tabloids the past few weeks have all been blowing up about reports of him and Sara, with pictures of their coffee dates plastered everywhere. One paper has even dubbed them as 'Hara' (which sounds really weird), and reported that they were getting close, so close, that Harry's already contemplating to ask her to move in with him. It's really rather ridiculous, but the general public seems to be lapping it up. Harry truly worries about the state of media and entertainment literacy.

Sara elbows him. "Answer your friend, come on," she says. She sounds a bit smug.

One thing about Sara is that she's actually quite perceptive. In just a handful of times in his presence, she's been able to pick up whenever Harry's texting someone important. Which means, that she knows whenever Harry's texting Louis. And she's always encouraging Harry to reply to Louis.

Harry unlocks his phone. Louis' just sent him the middle finger emoji.

What's that for?, he types.

you aren't replying to me, comes the next text, complete with a sad-faced emoji. It's ridiculous how cute Harry finds him.

Sorry, Harry types. I'm at dinner with some of my friends.

i'm not interrupting, am i? is it anyone important?

No one as important as you.

ha ha.

"Harry," Jeff says from across the table, causing Harry to look up.

"Glenne was just asking about the new album," he says, inclining his head to where Glenne is sat beside him. "I told her about that song you let me listen to. It's wonderful."

Glenne smiles at him. "Jeff says it's a different sound than what you normally go for?"

"Well," Harry says. "I think that we put a lot of heart into this one. Not that we didn't put much effort in the ones before, but you know when you've been in this long enough that you keep trying to put something out that's better than the last. So I wouldn't really say that we actively made it a different sound, just that it's more heartfelt than the last, and maybe that has an effect on the overall sound."

Glenne nods in understanding. Beside him, Harry can feel Sara listening in on the conversation. "I mean, I thought your previous songs were pretty good already," Glenne says. "I can't wait to hear this one."

"Hear hear," Sara murmurs from beside Harry.

"Who'd you guys write with?" Glenne asks, and then laughs. "Sorry, I'm asking promo questions. You probably don't want to answer promo questions right now."

"No, it's okay," Harry answers, then pauses. "Umm. Same people, I guess. Julian, Jamie--the old people."

"No Ed Sheeran this time?" she asks.

"Nah," Harry answers. "He was too busy."

"Do you think you guys will ever perform during the Victoria's Secret fashion show?" Sara pipes up from beside him. "I mean, I know a lot of the Angels really like your songs. I think Lily really likes that one song, 'Clouds', I think."

"Oh, she's the one who's married to Caleb, right?" Jeff asks. "From Kings of Leon?"

"Yeah," Sara answers. "They both really like the song. I've been to their place and they played it like thrice when I was there." She pauses. "Your phone rang, by the way."

Harry didn't even hear it. He pulls it out, and sure enough, there's a text from Louis, waiting for him.

"Harry," Jeff scolds, but he's smiling too much for it to take any weight. He probably knows, just like Sara does.

"Let him," Sara answers. "I don't really care." She leans forward. "Tell me about New York. What's happened in my absence?"

Harry tunes out of their conversation, choosing, instead to quickly read through Louis' text.

not important my ass, it reads. you're not even replying to me.

Just some industry friends, Harry texts.

i should probably let you get back to that shouldn't i?

It's really not that important.

okay, well, if you're sure, i was just going to ask you if you wanted to come over tomorrow. we're due a fifa rematch and i maintain that you cheated that last goal.

Harry bites his lip to hide his smile. I didn't cheat.

harold, your player literally flew from the middle of the pitch to the net and scored a goal.

It was a glitch from the game. Which means I didn't cheat.

still, that win was bogus.

I can still beat you fair and square, without glitches, you know.

as if. i'm the reigning fifa champion.

Louis then sends him a string of football emojis, and Harry giggles so loud that Sara actually peeks over his shoulder to read the text.

"Your boy's cute," she says, off-hand.

"Thanks," Harry replies. There's a beat. "Wait, no, he's not my boy."

He looks up at his phone to find the grinning faces of Jeff, Glenne and Sara, and then suddenly, all three of them are bursting into laughter.

"I told you," Sara crows. "He's smitten. A smitten kitten. You now have to pay for dessert, Jeff."

"Wait," Harry says. "You bet dessert on me?"

"Don't worry," Glenne says, reaching over the table to pat at Harry's arm. "You're not paying. Jeff here lost."

"What exactly did you bet about?" Harry asks, but then Sara's patting his arm as well.

"Don't worry about it," she says. "Enjoy your free dessert. Your boy can come and get some too, if he wants. Tell him to meet us. Jeff will pay."

Harry looks at her, then at Jeff, then shrugs, turning back to his phone. My friend just offered you dessert, he texts.

i'll pass, Louis replies, almost immediately. Harry frowns down at the text.

Before he can type a reply, there's another text from Louis. what kind of dessert tho?

I think it's a cake of some sort, Harry replies, after listening to the conversation around him for a bit. Not really sure.

see, 'a cake of some sort' sounds really bad. what if it's poisoned? are you offering me poisoned cake?

I don't think they'd feed you poisoned cake at this restaurant.

maybe not your famous arse, Louis types, with a peach emoji at the end of it. but my peasant arse, maybe.

Your arse isn't a peasant.

very funny, harold quirky styles, but i'm sorry, i don't think comedy is your genre.

"Is your friend coming?" Glenne asks, interrupting Harry's text bubble, making him whip his head up in shock. There are three pairs of eyes blinking at him, inquisitive.

"Nope," he answers, shifting uncomfortably. The way they're blinking at him is quite...strange. "He's passing."

"Shame," Sara says, "Oh well, more for us."

Glenne starts teasing Jeff mercilessly about the dessert, with Sara joining in every once in a while and Harry just shakes his head at their antics, turning back to his phone. They remind him a lot of Zayn, Liam and Niall, he realizes, as he listens to them talk and bicker. It's really weird.

And later, at the end of the night, Sara buys Harry a slice of cake to give to Louis.

"For your friend," she says, pressing the plastic bag into his hand, before giving him a hug and a cheek kiss. "I hope he likes it."

Had they met differently, Harry thinks they could've been really good friends.

. . .

The first rebranding meeting goes well.

In fact, it goes really well, and Harry walks out of the office with his heart pounding, feeling elated and confident and so bloody ready for the months to come. Of course, it's not final yet, they still have to iron out the kinks in their current contract and negotiate with the label, the management and the PR team, but Harry doesn't care. He doesn't care if he has to sit through a million more meetings. A few meetings is nothing in the grand scheme of things, especially when it seems like they've been fighting an uphill battle for the past two years.

Beside him, Niall whoops at the top of his lungs, punching his fist in the air. Liam and Zayn are in front of them, with Liam laughing at something, and Zayn smiling, quiet but exuding an aura of jubilation.

Things are actually going to change. Harry can't believe it.

He wants to shout, wants to run around the empty parking lot until he's heaving for breath. He's just got so much energy that he doesn't know what to do with it. He needs to move, to do something, anything. He doesn't want to go home to the quiet emptiness of his large house.

So he decides to text Louis.

Can I come over?

The reply is instantaneous. now?

Now. Are you busy?

just marking. you can come over if you want. i think dirty dancing's playing on the telly. i'll order a pizza.

It's not exactly the sort of energy-releasing activity he's looking for, but he's not complaining. Anyway, it's ridiculously easy to goad Louis into running around and throwing things. He'll manage it.

He spends the whole drive there with his hands shaking on the steering wheel, his heart pounding in his chest. Shit, he feels brave. He feels brave and reckless and he feels like he could run a marathon or climb a mountain. He feels like he can do everything.

He parks his car at the back of Louis' building, taking care to lock in and everything, before he's running out the car and into the building. The wind whips at his hair and stings his cheeks, but he can't stop smiling. Everything is just so exciting.

Eventually, he's standing in front of Louis' door, out of breath, his heart pounding. He knocks.

When Louis answers the door, Harry's brain short-circuits.

"You got here pretty quick," Louis comments, stepping back to let him over the threshold. Harry dumbly takes one step forward, Louis closing the door behind him. "Not as quick as the pizza, though."

Harry' a loss for words. Louis is standing in front of him, dressed in an oversized sweater and a pair of sweatpants that look incredibly soft. His hair is a bit messy, and he's got a thick dusting of scruff on his jaw, and his blue eyes are a bit bleary.

Harry's seen all this before. Louis likes comfort above style, and every time they're hanging out at his place he's always dressed in some variation of the sweatpants/hoodie combination, so this soft-looking Louis isn't new. Still ridiculously cute, but nothing new.

No, what's new are the glasses perched on Louis' nose.

They're thin, with plastic black frames, and they frame his pretty blue eyes so nicely, and God, he's so. Attractive. He's the most attractive person Harry's laid his eyes on.

"I got a pepperoni," Louis is saying, when Harry's ears start working again. "You can't complain, okay? I ordered it, so you're going to have to eat it."

The energy returns to Harry's body, dripping like honey in his veins. His fingers itch--Harry wants to reach out and touch, wants to run his fingers through Louis' hair, wants to use his fingers to trace the tops of his cheekbones, the bridge of his nose, the shape of his jaw. He wants to grab onto a part of Louis, any part at all, wants his skin to come in contact with Louis'.

"Harry?" he hears, and he looks up to see Louis staring at him worriedly. Apparently he hasn't moved since he came in. "Are you okay?"

And it's something in his tone, something in the soft, gentle way he says it that makes Harry's self-restraint snap. He takes one step forward, and then another, and then another, his eyes not leaving Louis at all.

Louis' still looking at Harry, but he takes a step back, one, two, three. It's not long until Harry's got him pinned against the wall, bracketed by his arms.

"Harold," Louis says, angling his chin up, challenging. His blue eyes bore into Harry's through the lens of his glasses. "What are you doing?"

Harry uses one hand to brush against the bridge of his glasses, before he's pushing it up into Louis' hair.

"If you want me to move away," he says, "say it now."

He feels reckless, his heart pounding in his chest. If he's wrong, if he's read everything wrong, then it's over. Their friendship is done. There's no way Harry would be able to salvage the remains, no way Harry would overcome the embarrassment. If this moment crumbles between them, then that's it.

Louis doesn't say anything, instead tilting his chin up even more, like he's asking for something. Like he's begging to be kissed. Harry wants to kiss him.

He watches as Louis' eyes dart from his eyes, down to his lips, and back up again.

"Do you want to move away?" Louis asks lowly, after a few long moments.

Harry shakes his head minutely. "I'm happy where I am, currently."

"I'm not," Louis says, and Harry's about to move away, about to step back, the apology already on his tongue when Louis continues. "I think you should be closer."

And that's all Harry needs to hear before he's pressing Louis further into the wall and searing their lips together.

Louis' mouth parts easily for him, tasting of tea and toothpaste and something else, something so, so sweet that Harry can't describe. He sighs into Louis' mouth, using his tongue to chase the taste, following it from the top of Louis' mouth to the backs of his teeth.

Louis just tastes so good, so different from anyone else he's ever kissed. It's as if his mouth is a well of the finest wine in all the land, and Harry is parched.

Louis' hands make their way into his curls, grabbing a fistful, and then he's pulling, hard enough that Harry gasps, his head following the movement, making their lips separate with a loud sound. Harry watches Louis, watches as Louis stares at him, his blue eyes calm, his chest heaving, his cheeks flushed and his lips red, and all Harry can think is, I did that.

One of Louis' hands scratches at his scalp, and Harry makes a sound. Louis' lips quirk up in a smile.

"Bloody cat," he mutters fondly. And then, in a rush, "I thought you were going to do that weeks ago."

"Weeks?" Harry asks, staring half-lidded at Louis' lips. He doesn't need to be subtle anymore. Louis knows what Harry wants. "Why didn't you say anything?"

Louis' fingers tighten in his hair. "See," he says, his voice calm, "I was under the impression you had a girlfriend."

It takes a moment for his words to sink in. "What, Sara?"

"Is that her name?" Louis asks casually.

"She's not my girlfriend," Harry says, looking at Louis urgently. "It's just a mutual, like, promo thing. Believe me, I would never, double time you like that. Or her. If I were into her. Which I'm not. I'm ridiculously into you."

Louis studies him for a moment. "Okay," he says finally, and Harry feels like a weight has been lifted off his chest. "I believe you."

"You do?"

"Well, you seem like a decent enough guy, Harry Styles," Louis says, his mouth curling up at the corners. "A bit stroppy at times, like a proper diva, but decent enough all around."

"Well, I mean," Harry says, Louis' scratching at his scalp. "I have to live up to the hair. I've got the Beyoncé hair."

Louis laughs. "You are such a weirdo."

Harry smiles at him. "Can we go back to the kissing now?"

He doesn't even wait for an answer, just surges in, connecting their lips once more. He bites on Louis' lower lip, relishing in the way Louis moans, loud, in the silence of the flat. Louis hands grip harder at his hair, and he tugs, once, enough that it has all the blood in Harry's body rushing towards his cock.

He wants to be closer. No, he needs to be closer.

He uses his arms to grab Louis' waist, hoisting him up and pressing him against the wall. Louis' feet come around to encircle his waist, his ankles locking, and then he's breaking off the kiss to laugh.

"Really?" he says, smiling fondly, still playing with Harry's hair. He doesn't seem to want to let go. He must really like Harry's curls.

"We could go on the couch, if you want?" Harry offers.

"I like it here," Louis says. "Kiss me, come on."

Harry does. He pushes Louis into the wall and seals their lips together, suckling and biting. Louis wriggles in his arms, his hands pulling on Harry's hair, and Harry's pulling away just about to tell him to stop when Louis wriggles particularly hard, enough that he sinks down a bit, his half-hard cock brushing against Harry's own.

Harry moans.

"There," Louis says smugly, looking ridiculously pleased with himself.

The feel of Louis' half-hard cock in such close proximity to Harry's is overwhelming, enough that Harry can't think about anything else. He grinds forward slowly, and is rewarded when Louis throws his head back and gasps.

Harry does it again. And again. And again.

Soon enough, Harry's hips are rutting into Louis' with abandon, Louis doing his best to grind forward to get some pressure on his cock. There's sweat beading  at the hollow of Louis' neck and Harry doesn't even think, simply leans forward and licks it.

Louis keens. "Harry," he gasps, and then Harry is pressing kisses to his neck, sucking lovebites into his skin. Louis' hands grip aimlessly at Harry's curls, scrambling for purchase.

"Fuck," Harry murmurs into his neck. "You taste so good."

"Harry," Louis manages to say. "Please, I need..." he trails off. His hands disappear from Harry's hair, and then Louis is pulling down his sweatpants and his underwear, his cock springing free.

"Fuck," Harry says, when he catches sight of it. It's a gorgeous cock. It's thick, and the head is really prettily pink. Harry wants to taste it.

He'll save it for next time, though.

Louis' hands scramble on Harry's jeans, managing to unbutton them and pull out Harry's cock. Harry hisses as the cold hair hits it.

"It's big," Louis says, holding it in his hand. He strokes it once, causing Harry to buck up into his fist.

Louis takes his hand away and tangles his fingers into Harry's curls again. Harry whines, bucking up once more, his cock brushing Louis'.

Louis moans, an exquisite sound, and that's all it takes for Harry to pick up his pace. The skin-on-skin contact is hotter, now, bodies slick with sweat, and Harry feels like he's on fire. He can't breathe, can't think, can only remember the feel of Louis' skin in front of him, the pulsing between his legs and the friction he's trying to chase.

Louis looks no better. He looks lost, his eyes shut, his head leaning against the wall of the hallway, his oversized sweater slipping, exposing one tan shoulder. Harry leans forward and bites at it, tasting Louis' skin.  The shudder it rips from Louis is a reward in itself.

Harry keeps biting as his hips keep thrusting, bringing him closer and closer to the edge. Louis' making sounds now, little whines after every thrust that pushes Harry, encourages him to thrust harder and faster, to chase the feeling of skin and skin, to try to mould them into one person.

Maybe he kissed Louis first or maybe Louis kissed him first, but then suddenly they're kissing again, a clash of teeth and tongue and Louis keeps tugging at his hair, as Harry slams up into him, rocking into Louis', chasing the heat of his body, the friction of his skin, and this, this is already so good, and it's not even anything yet. This is just heat and sweat and the bare minimum of skin, this is animalistic and primal and something so, so base. Imagine what it would be like if it were more.

"Louis," he manages to gasp wildly. "Louis, I--"

--and then he's coming, his orgasm hitting him by surprise, making him spill all over Louis' hips and a bit of it splashing onto Louis' cock. His mind whites out and his knees almost buckle, but Louis' weight grounds him, his hands reaching forward to prop himself up. His mind is blank, void of everything except for Louis; there's nothing except for the smell of Louis' hair and the feel of Louis' skin and the way Louis says his name.

Louis follows almost immediately, his body seizing up, gasping Harry's name, before he's spilling over, his come mixing with the milky white of Harry's own. His fingers grip tightly in Harry's hair as his orgasm is wrenched from him, and it's a few moments until he slumps back on the wall, his eyes closed, clearly spent.

Harry counts one, two, three, before he's lowering Louis down on the floor and sitting down in front of him. Jesus, they hadn't even managed to get out of the hallway.

"So," Louis says, after a moment of silence. He opens one of his eyes and gazes half-lidded at Harry. "That was fun."

"We still had our clothes on," Harry points out.

Louis snickers. "Proper teenagers, we are." He reaches out, making grabby hands at Harry's direction. "Come on, help me up, our pizza's already cold."

Harry looks down at the mess of himself. "What am I gonna do with my clothes?" He asks.

"You can throw it into the wash," Louis says. There's a twinkle in his eye. "But you'll have to be naked while waiting for it to dry."

"I can work with that," Harry answers, before he's pushing himself into a standing position, before pulling Louis up with him as well.

They eat their cold pizza stark naked, as Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey dance around on Louis' television. Louis sings along softly, before demanding that Harry get up so that they can recreate that Dirty Dancing move.

(On the fourth time Harry falls on his back, with Louis on top of him, they decide to just not get up, and instead, spend the time lazily snogging instead.)

Later, when they finally manage to get onto the bed, Harry opens Louis up with his fingers slowly, painfully slowly, all while admiring the flush that goes from Louis' chest to the top of Louis' cheeks. Louis' just so pretty like this, all spread out and completely at Harry's mercy, and Harry fucks him hard, with Louis' fingers digging into his shoulders, hard enough to leave bruises.

. . .

Things don't really change, after that.

They still hang out in each other's houses, but this time, instead of spending a lot of their time watching movies and starting food fights, they spend a lot of their time snogging while watching movies and starting food fights that end in fucking. They also start cuddling a lot, because Harry had discovered how tactile Louis was after they had sex for the first time, and he wants to use it to his advantage. Louis likes to cuddle things aggressively, and Harry likes to be cuddled aggressively, so it all works out fine.

Liam, Niall and Zayn tease him--if they were horrible before, they're merciless now, making fun of him whenever Louis texts. They even poke fun at his 'Louis' face', a face which, apparently Harry makes without fail, whenever he thinks of Louis.

"I don't make that face," Harry says, rolling his eyes, as Liam and Zayn try to replicate it, while waiting for their second rebrand meeting to start.

Niall studies them. "You're right," he says. "Yours is like, a hundred times worse."

Even Sara starts teasing him the handful of times they go out.

"You're smitten," she teases gently, laughing as they stroll through the park, pretending to be unaware of the paparazzi trailing them from behind. "You're a smitten kitten."

Harry shakes his head, trying not to smile too wide. "I'm not," he says. "He's just so..."

"Wonderful?" She supplies. "Amazing? Fantastic?"

Harry blushes. "All three."

"You are so gone," she laughs. She trots forward a bit, Harry walking quickly to keep up with her long strides. Apparently she really likes the park. "But seriously though, you seem so much happier, compared to that first time we had coffee."

"He makes me happy," Harry says, in a rare moment of honesty. He thinks for a bit. "Do you think it's strange that I'm basing my happiness off another person?"

She pauses for a moment. She tilts her head, deep in thought, before turning to him. "I think it's wonderful that you have someone who makes you this happy," she says, her brown eyes kind. She looks young, impossibly young in the sunlight, and Harry's painfully reminded that she's only two years older than him. "I think it's nice that you have someone who'll make you smile, despite all the hard times." She smiles at him, before pointing to a small flower stall. "Come on, let's go buy your boy a flower."

. . .

"Hey," says Harry, a few weeks later, while he and Louis are lying in Harry's bed, sweat still cooling on their skin. He reaches out, blindly searching for Louis' hand, before tangling their fingers together. "Lou."

"Mmm?" He hears Louis answer, muffled by his pillow. He always gets adorably sleepy after he orgasms. "Whassit?"

"Niall's having a barbeque on Saturday, after the meeting. " Harry says. He tugs at Louis' hand.

Louis kicks him. "Stop," he mumbles into his pillow, but he doesn't pull his hand away. It's nice.

Harry uses his thumb to trace the ridges of Louis' knuckles, to feel the skin between his thumb and index finger. He wonders what it would be like, to be able to hold Louis' hand freely, in public. What would it be like to kiss Louis in the middle of the street, without having to worry about who will see them or whether or not they'll have their photos plastered tomorrow morning? What would it feel like, to be able to take Louis out on proper dates, to be able to actually go to places other than Louis' apartment or Harry's house?

Which reminds him. He tugs at Louis' hand again. "Lou."

Louis grumbles. "What, Harry?" he asks, annoyed. Harry has to bite on his lower lip to tamp down his smile.

"Niall's having a barbeque on Saturday," he repeats.

Louis sighs. "So you've said."

There's a pause. Harry waits for Louis to say something.

Finally, he does. "You know, I'm not going to answer if you don't ask me properly," Louis says, long-suffering. Harry can feel him rolling his eyes, even in the dark.

"Do you want to come with me?" Harry asks, trying not to sound too amused with everything. He tugs Louis' hand once more, before lifting it and placing it around his shoulders. Louis grumbles but he moves closer to Harry, beginning to cuddle him.

"What am I gonna do there?" Louis asks.

"Eat," Harry says. He buries his face into Louis' neck. "Meet my band mates?" He presses a kiss on the side of Louis' neck. "Kiss me a little bit, maybe."

"Is 'leave you for Zayn Malik' an option there?" Louis asks, and Harry pouts into Louis' skin.

"You wouldn't."

"I wouldn't," Louis agrees, and then yawns. Harry thinks his heart grows a hundred sizes larger. He can't seem to get over how cute Louis truly is.

"So? Do you want to come?"

Louis hums in thought. "Of course, babe," he says, squeezing Harry tighter. "I'd love to go and meet your friends."

It's not a public date, not yet, but it's something.

. . .

Niall's eyes almost bulge out when he opens the door.

"Harry," he greets, giving him a hug, but Harry knows that his eyes are fixed on Louis, who's half-hidden behind Harry, fidgeting with his sweater.

"Hey Niall," Harry says, patting him on the back. He pulls away, before pulling Louis forward beside him. "This is--"

"Hold that thought," Niall interrupts. He clears his throat. "Zayn!" He calls loudly. "Liam!"

Immediately, there's a sound of footsteps, and then Zayn and Liam are popping up behind Niall. Simultaneously, both their eyes fall on Louis, and Harry watches as their faces light up with glee.

"You may continue now," Niall says imperiously. Harry rolls his eyes. Really, when did Niall, exactly, become their little Irish mafia leader?

"Right," he says. "Before I was so rudely interrupted," Zayn, Liam and Niall giggle, "this is, um, Louis."

"Hey," Zayn, Liam and Niall say, at exactly the same time.

"Uh, hi," Louis replies. He shuffles a bit closer to Harry, his hand grabbing onto the lower part of Harry's shirt.

There's a beat wherein Louis just stares at them, completely overwhelmed, before Zayn is clearing his throat.

"Mate," he says. "Once I told Harry was leaving the band on February thirtieth and, literally, I'm not exaggerating, Harry cried for two hours straight."

"No," Louis says, his face lighting up. His grip on the back of Harry's shirt loosens. "Really?"

Harry buries his face in his hands as Liam and Niall laugh, moving aside to let them pass through the threshold. He feels Louis squeeze his arm once, as if in reassurance, before he's detaching himself Harry, off to talk to Zayn.

"He's really cute, though," Niall muses from next to him. "Truly 'Cute Lou from the loo'. Way to go, you sure know how to pick them, Harry."

Harry just sighs.

It's not long before Louis is back to his normal, loud self, laughing as Zayn, Liam and Niall regard him with tales of Harry's most embarrassing moments. Harry watches from the side as he fits himself easily, almost seamlessly into the group, with his sharp wit and candour, his personality complementing Niall's Irish brashness, Liam's sensible cluelessness, and Zayn's quiet intelligence. He watches as Louis endears himself to four of the people Harry loves the most, Harry's three brothers, and easily, he can tell, that Louis is truly something special.

Liam comes up to him when he's barbequeing a few burgers, Niall and Zayn still listening, rapt, as Louis tells them a story.

"He's wonderful," Liam says, no hesitation whatsoever. He goes to put a burger on the grill. "He's absolutely wonderful, Harry."

Harry preens. "Isn't he?" He hands Liam the tongs and steps aside.

"He is," Liam says, placing another burger on the grill. "He's incredibly cheeky and funny, but I can tell he's something else. He's good for you, Harry."

Harry shrugs. "He makes me happy, yeah."

"No, it's not just that," Liam says, brow furrowed, as if deep in thought. "It's like, okay, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but at the start of the year you were very..." he trails off. "Lacklustre."

Harry blinks at him. "What?"

"Please don't take this the wrong way," Liam pleads. "You just seemed very down with everything. Kind of like you were fed up with the entire fame business. I wouldn't blame you, I know you have it harder than the rest of us, but yeah. You were sad. We were very worried."

Harry inclines his head, waiting for Liam to continue.

"And then the entire 'call or delete' thing happened, and then you reconnected with him, and then suddenly, it's like you perked up again. Like you started becoming happier, more relaxed." Liam pauses. "I'm shit at articulating this. Maybe Zayn should've been the one who told you. Anyway, suddenly you just seemed happier. So much happier. And now, with him," Liam inclines his head to where Louis is sat, listening to Niall and Zayn. "You just, it's like you're alive again, you know?"

Harry knows. He remembers how incredibly numb he'd felt at the beginning, remembers how he'd felt like everything was for naught. He remembers how everything felt like a constant weight on his shoulders, how his life just seemed to be one camera flash after another. He remembers the feeling of disillusionment.

"He makes me happy," Harry repeats again. "So, very happy, Liam." He doesn't know how else to explain it.

"I know," Liam says kindly. "It's good. It's really good." He pauses. "Are you thinking of maybe," he hesitates, "coming out?"

Liam's words make Harry think. The idea isn't so daunting anymore, not like it was all those months ago. Especially since the entire contract negotiation and change of PR strategy is going well, really well, that their rebrand might be put into motion within a month or so.

Harry had simply been aiming for not having to 'date' any more models. But now, here he is, contemplating actually coming out, actually telling the entire world that he's gay, that he likes men, particularly Louis, and the longer he thinks about it, the more appealing it becomes. The idea of being an openly gay man is a heady thought.

He thinks again, of holding Louis' hand in public, of being able to take him to dates. Of posting photos of him on Instagram.

"I'm not telling you that you need to come out now that you're in a relationship," Liam says, obviously mistaking Harry's silence for something else. "I'm sure Louis wouldn't want you to come out for him. I was just wondering if maybe, you were ready to come out. For yourself, of course. If you were ready to share this large part of yourself with the world."

Harry doesn't know if he's ready yet, honestly. Maybe in time.

"I'll think about it," Harry says. And he will. This time, he will.

"Take all the time you need, yeah?" Liam replies. "It doesn't have to happen right away. And if you ever decide to do it, me and the boys will be behind you, every step of the way."

Harry doesn't reply, simply shoots Liam a small smile before gathering up his cooked burgers and piling them on two separate plates. He makes his way to where Louis is, sitting down beside him.

"Hey," Niall scolds. "Do you even know how a barbeque works? You're supposed to cook everything at once."

"You weren't cooking and I was hungry," Harry shoots back, handing Louis a plate. "Here, Lou."

"Why didn't you cook me anything, then?" Niall whines.

"You're not my boy," Harry answers back simply.

Beside him, he feels Louis stiffen, and he tenses. Shit, maybe he's gone too far. Maybe this isn't anything but casual to Louis. Maybe he misread everything.

But then Louis relaxes, and then he's reaching up, placing a hand on Harry's cheek.

"Thanks, babe," he says, smiling fondly at Harry, before leaning forward and pecking him once, lightly, on the lips.

It's nothing, but it makes Harry feel warm all over.

"Ew," says Zayn, throwing a napkin at them. "I'm gonna go to Liam."

"Get him to cook for me too," Niall calls.

"No," Zayn answers back.

"Fuck you, it's my barbeque," Niall shouts, before scrambling up from his seat and chasing after Zayn.

"So," Louis says, his blue eyes twinkling under the lights of Niall's garden. He looks smug, the apples of his cheeks rosy. "I'm your boy, huh?"

Harry holds his gaze. "I mean, only if you'd like to be."

They haven't really discussed this, but Louis has to know that for Harry, this isn't casual. That it hasn't been casual, not since the time Harry decided he wanted to send Louis the prettiest sunflowers in the shop. Harry's so, so gone for him, and Louis has to know this.

"But," Louis says, "what perks do I get being Harry Styles' kept man?"

Harry leans forward. "Well, you get me, first of all."

Louis scrunches up his nose. Harry laughs at him.

"Stop being mean," he says, throwing a napkin at him. "I'm a great person. I'm hilarious."

"No, you're not." Louis rolls his eyes.

"I am," Harry insists. "Knock knock."

"Don't you dare finish that cow joke, Harold," Louis threatens.

Harry laughs again. "Okay, fine," he says. "I'm romantic. Remember that poem I wrote for you on Nick's show?"

"No," answers Louis. "It was so awful I had it wiped from my memory."

Harry pouts. "You wound me. I was trying my best, Louis."

Louis rolls his eyes. "I suppose for your last quality, you're going to tell me you have curls?"

"I do have curls," Harry answers. "You love my curls. One of the perks of being Harry Styles' kept man is that you get to play with my curls."

Louis taps on his bottom lip. "I don't think I can live without your curls," he says faux-solemnly. "So I guess, fine, I'll be your kept man, but just so you know, I'm in it for the curls."

"Yaaay," Harry cheers quietly, fist pumping and Louis rolls his eyes.

"Bloody ridiculous, you are," he grumbles, before leaning forward and brushing his lips against Harry's. "So bloody ridiculous."

Harry leans forward and kisses him again. No matter how many times he's done it, no matter how many times he's chased Louis' taste with his tongue, kissing Louis is always exhilarating, always exciting, and it never fails to make Harry's heart pound in his chest.

To Harry, kissing Louis is the swooping sensation in your stomach, right before the drop of a roller coaster. It's being on top of the Ferris wheel and looking down to the ground. It's that moment when the plane first lifts off the airport runway, tilted upwards, on its way to the sky.

It's all those things, and then some. Because to Harry, kissing Louis is so incredibly special, that in the end, he can't even explain it.

His mind goes, unbidden, to the idea of kissing Louis on the street, in the park, to where people can actually see them. Maybe not now, Harry thinks, but soon.

. . .

"Hey," Louis yawns one morning, walking barefoot into Harry's kitchen, wearing nothing but Harry's oversized sleep shirt. He wraps his arms around Harry's middle, pressing a sleepy kiss onto Harry's shoulder, before untangling himself, hopping up onto the kitchen counter. "What are you making?"

"Pancakes," Harry answers, mixing the batter with the whisk. "Felt like having some this morning."

"Oh," Louis says. "Yay." He yawns again, rubbing his eyes. "Love pancakes."

"Know you do," Harry says. "I'm making some with chocolate chip."

"Yes," Louis cheers.

It's silent for a bit, Harry focusing on mixing the batter, until he hears Louis pick up something from the counter.

"Is this whipped cream?" He asks. "Did you actually make this yourself?"

Harry shrugs, putting the batter aside and turning around to face him. "It wasn't that hard."

Harry watches as Louis swipes a finger through the whipped cream, before popping it into his mouth and sucking on it obscenely. "Mm," he moans around his finger. "That's good." He swipes his finger through it again and sucks on it. Literally, he pops his entire finger into his mouth. He's being a tease.

Harry's still ridiculously turned on though, which, no, he can't be. He's making breakfast. He doesn't want to make breakfast with a hard on. He takes a deep breath to calm his cock down. "Stop eating it," he scolds. "It's for the pancakes."

"But I love whipped cream," Louis pouts at Harry, swiping his finger through the bowl and licking his finger clean.

Harry knows. That's exactly why he actually went and made whipped cream. For Louis. But if he keeps eating it, there won't be any left for the pancakes. And then Louis will whine, because he doesn't like pancakes without whipped cream.

"Louis," he sighs. "Come on, it's for the pancakes. Give it to me."

"No," Louis says, because he's stubborn. And because apparently, he really wants to eat whipped cream from the bowl.

"Louis." Harry takes a step forward, reaching out for the bowl. Louis hops down and moves away from Harry, cradling the bowl to his chest.

"No," he says, shaking his head. There's a twinkle in his eye, and it's then that Harry knows that Louis' up to something. "Catch me first."

And then he's running out of Harry's kitchen, by passing the dining room and into Harry's living room. Harry stares at the space Louis was for a few seconds, before he's kicking himself into gear, chasing after Louis.

If it were on an open field, Harry is incredibly sure that he has no chance of actually catching Louis, seeing as Louis is an incredibly fast runner. It's lucky then, that they're in Harry's house, which means that, easily, Harry's got, like, the home field advantage. He knows this house better than Louis does, even though Louis' been staying over a lot recently.

It takes a few minutes, but eventually, Harry manages to catch Louis, manages to pin him down on the kitchen table, bent over. They're both sweaty and panting, and Louis is still wriggling, trying to wrestle free from Harry, but Harry's grip on his wrist is firm, unyielding.

"Caught you," Harry murmurs into Louis' ear. He bites at Louis' earlobe, and Louis struggles against him harder.

"Let go of me, Harold," he says, imperiously.

"But I finally caught you," Harry answers, smirking. He presses a kiss behind Louis' ear and grabs the bowl of whipped cream from where Louis had dropped it on the table. He swipes a finger through it. "Well, you're right, my whipped cream is pretty good."

"See?" Louis huffs. "Can't blame a guy for eating it all."

"You know how it would taste better, though?" Harry asks. He drops to his knees, placing the bowl on the floor. The tiles of his kitchen are unforgiving, and his knees are probably going to hate him after this, but it's worth it.

He lifts the hem of his sleep shirt, pulling it up, exposing Louis' arse. Which is, well, bare. Apparently Louis had not been wearing underwear. Harry doesn't know how he missed that.

"You're a little minx, aren't you?" He asks. He places both of his hands on Louis' arse cheeks, massaging them, pushing him firmer into the table. They're round, and firm, and easily, one of Harry's favourite things about Louis. He would do unspeakable things to that bum.

"Harry?" Louis asks, interrupting his thoughts. "What are you doing?"

"Shh." Harry reaches into the bowl, grabs a handful, before placing it on the top of Louis' arse, right on his lower back. Louis shivers as it touches his skin.

"Harry--" he says, but he doesn't get to finish, because Harry is leaning up, licking the whipped cream from his skin. Louis gasps.

"Is this okay?" Harry asks, as he places another handful, right above Louis' bum. Some of it drips into Louis' arse crack, which, hm. Interesting.

"Yeah," Louis answers, faintly, and then Harry's lapping it up again, his tongue tracing circles into Louis' skin. He sucks a blood-bruise into Louis' lower back, and is rewarded by a moan.

Harry reaches into the bowl, grabbing a handful. He rubs his hands together, before he's placing his hands on Louis' arse, spreading his cheeks.

"Is this okay?" Harry asks, his thumbs leaving whipped cream marks on Louis' arse, close to his hole. Harry leans forward, his tongue darting out to lick at the cream.

Louis gasps, and something falls to the floor.

Harry uses one hand to pick it up. "Oh," Harry says, his eyes wide, reading the label on the bottle. "I was looking for this a while ago."

Louis whines, at the back of his throat. "Harry," he says, his voice high. "Please, I."

Harry takes one last look at the bottle, before he's shrugging, uncapping it with his teeth and the upending the contents onto Louis' arse, the syrup dripping slowly into his hole, and onto the floor.

"Oops," he murmurs cheekily. He uses one finger to catch a stray droplet of syrup, licking it off.  "Caramel. Just like your skin."

"Harry," Louis says again, but this time his voice is strained.

"Lou," Harry answers, his hands immediately finding purchase on Louis' arse. A thought pops into his head. "Do you want me to stop?"

Because, shit, right. They've never done this before, and maybe Harry should have asked right before he poured syrup and whipped cream all over Louis' arse, but, well, Harry's not very good at planning. It'd be incredibly sad if Louis was uncomfortable with this, if Louis told him to back away, because, well, Harry just really wants to eat Louis' arse.

Louis whines. "Don't you dare," he says. "Harry Styles, if you fucking stop right now I swear to God I will--"

Louis doesn't manage to finish his threat because Harry's spreading him open and licking him, one broad stripe up his hole. He tastes like caramel, of course he does, and something else. Harry can't place it.

Louis keens, high in his throat, as Harry continues to lick around his hole, swirling his tongue. The caramel is a bit cloying on his tongue, after a while, but Harry doesn't mind it at all. It still tastes good.

Louis always tastes good.

Louis moans particularly loudly, and shit, Harry has to reach down and squeeze his cock, to stop himself from shooting off on the spot.

Louis, God, Louis is so loud. Louis has always been loud when they're fucking, but this, this is different. This is high pitched whines and cries and desperation, and keeping Louis on the edge, and fuck, why hadn't they done this sooner?

Louis arches his back the best he can, thrusting his arse into Harry's face, and Harry has a moment of realization that he could practically bury his face into Louis' arse, should he want to.

God, does he want to.

He presses closer, biting at the teeth around Louis' hole, before sucking on it, trying to form a love bite. Louis whines, and Harry can hear his fingers scrabbling for purchase on the kitchen table, can hear his fingernails scratching on the varnished wood. He doesn't really care.

"Harry," Louis manages to gasp out.

"Lou?" He asks into Louis' hole, and Louis shivers.

"I'm okay," Louis gasps, sounding like he's crying. "I'm okay, fuck, Harry, please."

Harry furrows his brow, thinking, before his pushing his tongue past the tight muscle of Louis' hole. Louis shouts, right then and there, and Harry's fingernails dig into the skin of Louis' arse. Harry can feel all the blood in his body travel all the way down to his cock, making it twitch uncomfortably.

"Fuck," Louis whines. "Harry, shit."

"You're gorgeous," he says into Louis' arse. "So fucking gorgeous. God, you make me so happy all the time, Louis."

He doesn't wait for Louis to answer, just simply buries his face deeper into Louis' hole, pushing his tongue in and out, in and out, fucking Louis with his tongue. Louis clenches down his hole, his muscles quivering with the effort.

Harry uses one hand to push a thumb into his hole, the other he uses to trail up to fondle with Louis' balls. He strokes them ones, twice, thrice, and then Louis is shouting, coming all over the table, his body curving as he orgasms. He lays on the table, spent, as Harry scrambles to pull his cock from out of his pants.

He strokes himself once, twice, hissing at how sensitive he's become. It's a bit hard to stroke himself, since his fingers are sticky with syrup, but Harry makes do, biting his bottom lip to stifle his sounds.

Harry hears Louis mumble something, muffled by the table.

"What's that, Lou?" He asks.

"I want pancakes," Louis says, yawning. And then, "Come on my bum."

Harry's hips buck up into his hand, and he moans.

The idea of coming all over Louis' arse, of marking him with his come, turns Harry on more than he thought it would. He starts jerking himself off faster, and it's not long before his eyes roll back onto his head and he comes, shooting all over Louis' arse, his come mixing with the caramel and the whipped cream.

Harry sits back on his haunches and pants to catch his breath. His pearly white come is dripping from Louis' come, contrasting nicely with the light brown of the caramel, and fuck if his dick doesn't do a little twitch at that.

Louis straightens from his position on the kitchen table. "Fuck," he says. "My arse is so messy. Can we take a shower?"

Harry takes one look at the mess of the kitchen, at the half-finished pancakes by the stove, and decides he doesn't want to deal with that right now. "Come on," he says, pushing himself up to his feet. "Let's take one together."

They're halfway up the stairs, Louis' arse still dripping a mixture of caramel syrup, whipped cream and come, when Louis says 'oh' and whirls around to face him, his eyes wide.

"What is it?" Harry asks.

"I just wanted to say, um." Louis blushes, his hands playing with the hem of Harry's dirty sleep shirt. He looks up, meeting Harry's eyes with his own. "You make me really happy too," he says sincerely.

And fuck Louis' messy arse. Harry can't help himself, can't stop himself from smiling, wrapping his arms around Louis' waist and pulling him in for a kiss. Because Louis heard him. Louis knows. Louis understands.

Harry wants to shout, wants to tell the world that Louis makes him happy, and that Harry makes Louis happy.

. . .

"Am I doing this right?" Louis asks him, standing barefoot in Harry's kitchen, frowning down at the pan in front of him.

Harry peeks over his shoulder. "Looks fine to me," he says, and then proceeds to bite at Louis' ear.

Louis pushes him away. "Harold," he huffs, crossing his arms, skillfully avoiding burning himself with the spatula in his hand. Harry wonders how he did it. He's so graceful. "I'm trying to make us dinner here."

"And you're doing a great job, baby," Harry answers, winking at him. Louis' cheeks flush, but he rolls his eyes, turning his attention back to the pan.

"Is the ham supposed to cook in this colour?"

"It looks fine," Harry dismisses.

"But what am I supposed to do now?" Louis asks, still focused on the slowly cooking ham in the pan.

"Leave it alone?" Harry asks, then pauses. "Or maybe turn up the heat so it cooks faster."

He moves to turn up the heat, but Louis' head whips towards him so fast, his eyes piercing. "If you turn up the heat, this house will burn down. Do you want your house to burn down, Harold Styles?"

"I think you're being a bit dramatic," Harry says, raising his hands in defense. Because really, Louis is cooking on the lowest possible fire setting, he's pretty sure one level higher won't cause a fire. "I'm pretty sure if you turn up the heat just a smidgen, the house probably won't burn down."

"That's what you think." Louis mutters.

Harry takes one step towards him. And then another. And then another.

"Don't you fucking dare, Harry Styles," Louis threatens. Harry tries not to smile. It's kind of funny when he's being dramatic. "I'm going to stab you with my spatula."

There's a moment where Harry just looks at Louis, blinking innocently at him, before he's reaching over and turning the heat one setting up, making the fire now at the second lowest possible fire setting. It's progress.

Louis blinks at the pan.

"See?" Harry says, smirking. He leans over to nuzzle into Louis' hair. "The house is still intact. We are still relatively unharmed."

"That's what you say now," Louis replies. "Just wait for it."

"Look, forget all your cooking trauma, okay?" Harry says. He wraps his arms around Louis' middle, kissing him on the neck. "I'm your good luck charm. Nothing bad will happen. And if anything does, I'll save you. I'll be, like, your knight."

"I don't need a knight," Louis says, rolling his eyes. "I'm big and strong and manly."

"You're tiny and cute," Harry answers.

Louis growls at him. "No, I'm not."

"Like a chihuahua," Harry continues, like Louis hasn't said anything. Louis' a lot of fun when Harry riles him up like this. "An angry chihuahua."

"Are you sure you want to say this to me, who is regularly exposed to your dick? I can totally bite it off, you know."

"Flip the ham, Lou," Harry says. Louis does as he's told. "Good job, baby," he praises.

"I'm going to stab you in a second," Louis says.

Harry presses a kiss on his shoulder. "Really?"

"Really," Louis confirms. Harry presses a kiss to his neck.

"Really really?" He asks. He presses kisses on the line of Louis' throat.

"Maybe in a minute," Louis amends, tilting his head to the side. Harry smirks, pressing another kiss on the underside of his jaw.

"In a minute?" He bites the skin under Louis' jaw, beginning to suck a love bite. "Really?"

"Okay," Louis says, his voice strained, "maybe in an hour. But I'm definitely still stabbing you, Styles."

"With your dick, I hope."

Louis gasps, pulling away from Harry's grasp. Harry pouts at him. "Don't say such crude things in front of the food, Harry!"

"So I can't say crude things about your bum anymore?" Harry asks. "Seeing as, you know, that's kind of my favourite thing to eat."

Louis sighs. "Get out of the kitchen, idiot."

"But the house will burn down," Harry teases.

"Fine," Louis says, throwing his hands up. "Stay, I don't care." He turns back to the pan, poking the ham with his spatula, his eyebrows furrowed.

He looks so cute, pretending to be mad at Harry. Harry studies him unabashedly, letting his eyes roam over Louis' body. He looks so comfortable like this, so domestic, wearing Harry's oversized clothes, that Harry's heart hurts.

Later, as they sit down to have dinner at Harry's tiny kitchen table, Harry just lets his eyes trace the contours of Louis'  face. He's so beautiful, that it still takes Harry's breath away.

"I can feel you staring, you know," says Louis, his voice shaking Harry out of his daydream. His eyes are fixed on the food in front of him, but there's a small smile playing on his lips.

Harry clears his throat. "Just saw something I like, `s all."

Louis' smile grows. "If it's not on the plate, then you can't have it."

"What if I put it on the plate?" Harry muses.

Louis shakes his head. "That....doesn't even make any sense, Harold."

"I could pick you up and put you on the plate," Harry insists.

Louis' rolls his eyes fondly. "Shut up and eat my cooking."

And it's fun and it's a bit ridiculous and the banter reminds Harry of their first date, out at that little quaint Italian restaurant, and Harry wants that. He wants to be able to take Louis out in public, to hold his hand over the table, to steal food from his plate, to feed him, to do all those things couples do. It's a rather ridiculous thought, he knows, but his chest aches for it the same.

He just wants to be afforded the same freedom that Liam can have with Sophia. He just wants the world to know.

. . .

Now that Harry's let the thought foster, he can't stop thinking about it, can't stop thinking about what it's like to be free, to just put everything out there. They just had their second-to-the-last rebrand meeting, and, to their delight, their plan is being pushed forward, effective in two weeks. Just in time for Harry to finish the last of his pap dates with Sara, and right in time for the first wave of interviews for their new album.

They're still going to have a final meeting to discuss and finalize everything, right before the plan goes into action, but this is it. This the end of the uphill battle, of long monotonous negotiations and contract arguments and compromise.  They're finally going to be able to show the world what One Direction is actually capable of, musically.

And they're actually going to get good, real promo for their music. No more asinine pap walks with models, or cameras flashing in his face, no more syndicated articles about some random girl that he's supposedly seeing. Nor will he need to continue seeing the way Louis' eyes turn sad every time he says that he needs to go out with Sara, or the way Harry gets cuddled aggressively when he comes home from a pap walk with her. This is the end, the light at the end of the dark tunnel, and Harry--

Harry's excited.

But there's still something to be said about the thought of coming out.

"I want the world to know," Harry gasps out, when Louis' got three fingers inside him and is pushing them in and out slowly, torturously slowly.

"Know what, babe?" Louis asks, and Harry focuses on the stretch of his hole, the feel of Louis' fingers in him, pushing against his prostate.

"That you make me happy," he answers. He reaches out, grabbing Louis' other hand. Louis' eyes find his. "That you make me so incredibly happy, Lou."

"You make me happy too," Louis answers, ducking down to press a kiss on one of the swallows on Harry's chest.

"But I want the world to know," Harry repeats.

Louis' fingers still in their movement. "You know that you don't need to come out for me, right?"

Harry squirms, trying to get Louis' fingers to continue their pace. "I know," he says. "But I'm doing this for me."

Because he is. Louis may have been a factor in wanting to come out, but in the end, the thought of actually being free, the thought of not having to hide the fact that Louis--a man--makes him happy, is what he wants. He wants to be able to openly talk about Louis the same way Liam openly talks about Sophia, wants to be honest about what he loves and who he loves, wants to be unapologetically himself. Louis may be a factor, but he's not the only factor. There are still many, many more.

"But I want you by my side," he continues. "When I come out. Please."

Louis kisses him, searing his lips onto Harry's, tracing his lips with his tongue. "Of course," he answers, when they separate, and he's smiling wide, so wide that his eyes crinkle in the corners. "I'm glad. I'm so, so glad, Harry."

"I'm glad too," Harry answers, wriggling again, trying to take Louis' fingers deeper. "Now come on, focus, please."

Louis fingers him for a bit longer, until Harry's panting again, his skin sweaty and sticking on the sheets. "Fuck me," he begs. "Come on, Louis, fuck me."

Louis pushes into him slowly, and Harry closes his eyes, relishing in the feeling of Louis inside him, the way he fits into Harry, like a missing puzzle piece. He loves the slight burn as he stretches to accommodate Louis' girth.

Louis doesn't say anything, his eyes, instead, finding Harry's own. They're gentle, the colour of a calm lake in the middle of the woods and Harry wants to drown in them.

Louis fucks him slowly, his hands gentle on Harry's torso. He presses kisses on every part of Harry he can reach, his mouth leaving white hot burns in its wake, like Harry's very own brand.

Harry hasn't felt more alive.

He grips Louis' shoulders, feeling the way they move and shift beneath his palms. Louis is dainty, yes--he looks delicate, looks a lot like fine china--but beneath the skin, hidden in the sinews of his muscles, is a hidden strength.

"Louis," he gasps, as one of Louis' thrusts press against his prostate. "Lou, please."

"Shh," Louis says, no, whispers into the skin of his neck.

Harry whimpers.

It's not long until Louis grows desperate, chasing his release. He thrusts harder, faster, the blunt head of his cock pushing up to his prostate, and Harry can do nothing but gasp and take it, take Louis further, the furthest he can.

Louis props himself up on one arm and uses his other hand to wrap around Harry's cock, jerking him off in time with his thrusts. It makes Harry clench around him, and Louis moans, ragged. He throws his head back and fucks Harry harder, faster, like an incoming storm, and Harry can do nothing but ride it out.

Louis kisses him, pushing their lips together, and the kiss is gentle, so, so gentle, a complete contradiction from the way Louis is moving on top of him, all sweat-slicked skin and desperate, hot skin contact. Harry pants into his mouth, drinking Louis in, because he's never not drinking Louis in, can never actually stop himself from consuming all of Louis he can. His own body understands; the way he takes Louis in deeper is testament to this.

Because Louis just gives. He gives and gives and never expects anything in return. He gives Harry his light on a daily basis, shining it enough that Harry feels warm and happy inside every day. Even when he was eighteen and Harry was sixteen, in the dingy X-Factor bathrooms, Louis gave him, a boy he barely knew, a bit of his light and a fond smile, and Harry had felt warm all over, and confident enough to think that, hey, maybe I can do this.

I love you, he thinks. He doesn't know if he says it--too caught up in the way Louis' skin feels against his, the way Louis is moving inside him--but the thought is there, burning into the forefront of Harry's brain. I love you, I love you, I love you.

"God," Louis manages to gasp, tearing his mouth away. His lips are raw, bitten. "God, you're gorgeous, Harry. You're so, so beautiful. You make me happy, babe, always. You always make me so, so happy."

Their orgasm hits them in sync, with Louis burying himself into the hilt and groaning, and Harry spilling all over himself, all over Louis' hand. He holds Louis so deep that, for a moment, he doesn't know where he ends and Louis begins, and it wouldn't be a bad thing, he thinks, to be joined like this forever.

There's a moment of total quiet. It's bliss.

"You make me happy too," he whispers into Louis' hair. "So, fucking happy. I feel so alive, with you."

It's not the 'I love you' that's in his brain, but it's still something.

. . .

"Can I be honest," Sara asks, on their last pap walk together. She licks the frozen yoghurt off her spoon and leans forward. "I actually don't understand why you agreed to this stunt in the first place."

Harry sucks at his own spoon. "You don't?" he asks. "It's cause I almost outed myself on--"

"--that radio show, yeah," she interrupts, waving a hand around. "I remember."

"That's the reason," Harry says.

She tilts her head, narrowing her eyes at him. "It's kind of a shit reason," she says bluntly.

Harry's quite confused. "What?"

"It's a shit reason," she repeats calmly. "And a PR stunt of this level for that is actually sort of a useless move."


"Okay, look," she says. "We all heard about that radio thing. I heard it, lots of people heard it, it was a big thing. It was on tabloids everywhere."

"Yeah," Harry says. He remembers The Sun's cringe-worthy headline, at least.

"But did you actually look at what people were saying about it?" She asks. "Or did you just listen to what your team told you?"

Harry....didn't, actually. He looks down at his frozen yoghurt.

"There was actually a lot of support," she continues, when Harry doesn't answer. Her voice is kind.

Harry's eyes snap to her face. "Really?" he asks.

"Yeah," she answers, a small smile on her lips. "It was overwhelming, actually. Twitter was full of tweets of your fans saying that they love you, and they'll support you, no matter what."

Harry can't believe he missed this. "Really?" He asks again, just to be sure.

Sara laughs. "Really," she confirms. "Which is why when you agreed to this, I was a bit confused. Because, I thought you were just going to own it and come out. The response was already incredibly positive, anyway."

Harry blinks at her.  

"I don't know," she shrugs. "I thought you could've done it, especially since you were very open about it with me. And I thought maybe you were scared of putting yourself out there, for the rest of the world to see."

Currently, when he thinks about it, there is probably nothing that Harry wants more.

"Wait," he says slowly. "Let me just. You're saying that, after the entire radio thing, I could've come out, and nobody would've batted an eyelash?"

"Well, not nobody," Sara says. "But people were generally very supportive."

"I wouldn't have made my band lose pre-orders?" Harry asks. He doesn't really know why he's asking her. What does she know about albums and pre-orders? She's a model.

"I think you would've probably gotten a sales boost," she says. "If you saw the trending topics, God."

Harry can't imagine. He really can't wrap his head around it.

"I don't have any saved, though," Sara says, frowning. "But it's probably somewhere in the internet, if you search for it. In case you don't believe me."

"No, I," Harry manages to get out. His head is swimming with so many thoughts, of being free, of being open, of finally being able to be himself in public. Of being able to talk without restraint, being able to say things he had to stop himself from saying, before.

And of course, Louis. Being able to hold Louis' hand in public, being able to gush about him to anyone who's willing to listen, being able to take him out on dates. On public dates.

He'd thought at first that he just wanted to be free of PR romances and silly tabloid stories. Now, though, he knows that's just not it.

He wants to be himself.

Sara scoops the last of her frozen yoghurt and pops it into her mouth elegantly, mindful of the cameras still trained on them.

"Look," she says, "it's alright if you still don't want to come out. I was just curious." She drops the plastic spoon into her empty carton.

"No," Harry finds himself saying. "No, it's alright." He pauses. "But I think I'm going to do it."

Sara smiles at him, a small, knowing, smile. "Well, then," she says. "The very best of luck to you, Harry Styles."

She stands up to leave and Harry follows her, walking out the door. The paparazzi snap photos of them as they walk.

Sara pulls him into a hug. "I'll be rooting for you," she says into his ear.

Harry laughs. "Thank you." He pauses. "I hope you find someone who makes you as happy as he makes me."

"I do too," she answers, before pulling away. "Try to come visit Portugal one time, eh? I'll show you around. Bring your boy too, if you want."

"I'll try," he answers. Portugal does seem lovely.

She studies him for a moment. "Take care of yourself," she finally says, her voice gentle. "I'll see you around."

And then she's walking away from him, towards her own car, and that's it. That's it for their PR relationship.

By next week, the tabloids will be reporting break-up rumours--not that they were ever confirmed to be together in the first place--and then a few days later, a 'source' will confirm that they've split. Then their teams will simply ignore the story, until it's completely forgotten by the general public. Harry's been in enough PR relationships to know the process.

He walks towards his car, gets in, and drives.

. . .

"I want to come out," he says, during their final meeting, sitting across from their team. Beside him, he can feel Niall, Liam, and Zayn's heads whip towards his direction.

There's a moment of silence.

"Sorry?" The head of their team, Richard, leans forward, looking at Harry. "Can you repeat that?"

"I want to come out," Harry says surely, confidently. Beside him, Liam grabs his arm under the table and squeezes.

"What, you mean--"

"--gay, yeah," Harry interrupts. He takes a deep breath. "I want to come out as gay to the public."

There's another pause, before the entire room is erupting

"That's not really--"

"I'm so proud of you, Haz--"

"Wey hey, way to go Harry--"

"I don't think--"

"It might--"

Richard holds up a hand. Everyone falls silent.

"Mr. Styles," he says, twirling his pen between his fingers. "This is quite a surprising request."

Harry just shrugs."Not that surprising," he replies."I'm tired of having to hide who I am from the public. "I'm tired of having to control what I say, what I do, how I act. I'm tired of being asked questions about girls. I want to come out."

Richard opens his mouth, presumably to protest, when one of the other people on the table says, "Wait."

Harry turns to look at her. She's looking at him, her eyes narrowed, her lips pursed, deep in thought. She taps her pen on her pad twice. "Why not?"

Harry blinks at her. Actually, it's kind of like the whole room just collectively blinks at her. They were probably expecting more of a fight. Harry knows he was.

"What do you mean?" Richard asks her.

She taps her pen on her pad again. "I mean, it could work." She pauses. "Think about it. We're starting a rebrand sometime next week, right? We could do it at the same time. Hype up speculation about his sexuality, all while promoting One Direction's new sound. It would be a way of actually reinforcing to the general public that One Direction has grown up."

"But how would we do it?" Richard asks her.

She shrugs. "Same way we always do," she answers. "Syndicate a few articles, build up speculation, allow certain questions in interviews, especially in these upcoming ones, and have him answer them as vaguely as he can. Not blatant enough to cause an immediate coming out, but, subtly, just enough for the tabloids to pick up on it and write a few more articles, and for the public to wonder some more. And when public interest is at an all-time high, right before the album drops," she takes a deep breath. "Release a statement. Or something, however way he wants to come out. Instagram, Twitter, it doesn't matter."

Harry just looks at her, eyes wide. The rest of the room all seem to be looking at her as well. Some of them even have their mouths open.

"And then what?" Richard asks.

"And then nothing. The generated publicity from the story that one of the members of the world's biggest boyband came out as gay is enough to fuel public interest for," she thinks. "Maybe a month. Or maybe three weeks. That's sure to boost album sales."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm not a hundred percent sure," she answers. "But it makes a lot of sense. Didn't you see the amount of publicity we got after that radio show thing? Positive publicity," she amends, looking at Harry, before turning back to Richard. "Besides, it's 2015, a lot more people are much more accepting of these things."

Richard is silent. Harry watches as he steeples his hands in front of him, his eyes far away and calculating.

Liam squeezes his arm under the table again. Harry focuses on the pressure. It's reassuring.

He feels a bit light-headed, because he came in here expecting to have to fight for what he wanted. He had prepared arguments, had prepared statistics and points, but instead here he is, watching as the head of their team actually considers the idea, without Harry even having to pull all those out.

"It does make a lot of sense," muses one of the guys on Richard's right.

There's a few more moments of silence, with only the sound of the clock ticking. Harry feels his heart jack-rabbiting in his chest, and he's nervous, but this is the moment of truth. He takes a deep breath.

"So?" He bites his lip.

Richard's eyes fall on him with laser point focus. "It's really going to be big," he says, after a few moments of staring at Harry. "It's going to be massive. There's going to be a lot of press coverage."

That's....not a 'no'. That's actually sounding a lot like a 'yes'.

"I can't guarantee it will work," Richard continues, still looking straight at Harry. "None of us can be sure that this won't spectacularly backfire. So I'll ask you this, Mr. Styles. Are you sure you want to do this?"

Harry thinks of Louis. Thinks of Louis, in his bed, asleep, breathing deeply. Thinks of Louis sitting on the kitchen counter, bothering Harry as Harry tries to cook them a meal. Thinks of Louis cuddled up next to him, focused on a film. Thinks of the way Louis looks, spread out underneath him and panting. Thinks of FIFA games with Louis, of board games with Louis, of screaming High School Musical songs with Louis.  Thinks of the pillow fights and the wrestling and the shared kisses, the ones that make Harry's stomach swoop happily.

He thinks, then, of holding Louis' hand in public. Of taking him out to dinner, of taking him to events and introducing him as Harry's boyfriend. He thinks of buying Louis sunflowers and setting up romantic picnics in the park, thinks of kissing Louis, just small pecks, in public, where everyone can see. Where everyone can take one look at them and see that they're happy. That Louis makes him happy.

It's a simple decision.

"I do," Harry says simply. Liam's fingers dig deeper into his arm. Beside him, he can see Niall tamp down on his growing smile.

"Well then," Richard says. "We have a lot of work to do."

. . .

In the end, it's easy.

It's so ridiculously easy. They release a few articles in the press first, nothing big, just enough to garner public interest and hype up the speculation. They get a few people to talk about it--Nick talks about it extensively on his radio show--and then they have a few more articles circulated, this time with reports from 'sources'.

It gets a bit more attention when their album interviews begin. As rehearsed, the interviewer asks them about their new album, their music, their new sound, before asking them about the 'most important traits you look for in a lady'.

Liam doesn't even look at Harry from the corner of his eye, simply furrows his brow and pretends to think. "Female," he says slowly, like he'd just thought of the answer. "That's a good trait."

And, like they'd practiced, Harry smirks. "Not that important."

After that, it kind of....snowballs. Suddenly there are articles left and right, popping up with headlines, there are trending topics on Twitter, it's being discussed on panel shows and Entertainment news and on the bloody tube by the people going to work. The Sun releases more ridiculous headlines, and so does The Daily Mail, and then news outlets are reporting on it, playing that one clip of Harry saying 'not that important' over and over again.

Harry had told Louis that he was coming out of the closet, an admission that was received with a lot of kisses, but he hadn't told Louis the details of it. So Louis doesn't really think much when Harry offers to drive him to his flat, after spending the day at Harry's.

He does get suspicious, when Harry completely bypasses the turn going to Louis' house, instead, steering them to the direction of the park.

"Harold, where are we going?" He demands, lifting his leg to kick Harry in the thigh. "I thought you were taking me home."

He kicks Harry again.

"Stop kicking me, I'm driving," Harry scolds. "We might crash."

"But where are we going?" Louis whines again. Harry bites his lip and doesn't answer.

Louis pouts all the way until Harry parks the car, and he still pouts even as Harry takes his hand, pulling him down from the car. He drags his feet, but Harry simply channels all his strength and pulls him in the direction of the park.

Louis spots the paparazzi immediately, and he quickly tries to jerk his hand out of Harry's hold. But Harry's grip is tight.

"Harold," Louis hisses, still jerking his hand away. Harry doesn't pay him any mind, and slowly, deliberately laces their fingers together.

Louis jerks his hand again. Harry tightens his grip.

The paparazzi start taking photos.

"Harold," Louis says slowly, his hand going lax in Harry's grip. Harry looks to see him in deep in thought, his blue eyes calculating. "What are you doing?"

Harry bites his lip to keep himself from answering. He leads Louis to where a picnic is set up, on the grass. There's a bouquet of sunflowers on the mat and he picks it up, handing it to Louis.

Louis takes them in one hand, his eyes flitting from the sunflowers, to Harry's face.

"Are you..." he trails off, narrowing his eyes at Harry's face.

Harry looks at him for a long moment. He nods. "I am," he says. "I hope that's okay?"

There's a pause where Louis looks at Harry, wide-eyed, before he's setting sunflowers gently on the mat.

"You wanker," he shouts, and then he's launching himself at Harry, the force of it making Harry stumble on to the ground. "You're an absolute wanker, Styles. Why the fuck didn't you tell me?"

He digs his fingers into Harry's ribs, tickling him, and Harry starts laughing.

"You're a fucking idiot, you know that?" Louis continues on heatedly, still tickling Harry, while Harry gasps out giggles from beneath them. "You're such an idiot."

"Stop," Harry gasps, trying to squirm away from the relentless attack of Louis' fingers. "Lou, stop."

"No," Louis answers. "You deserve this. I hope they get bloody pap pictures of Harry Styles being tickled to death."

"Louis," Harry manages in between his giggles. He tries grabbing one of Louis' wrists with his hand.

Louis' too fast though, and he jerks his hand away.

"Seriously, why didn't you tell me?" he asks, viciously tickling Harry below his ribs, a spot he knows that makes Harry ridiculously squirmy.

"Surprise?" Harry answers. He probably deserves the look Louis shoots him.

He manages to eventually catch both of Louis' wrists in his hands, pulling him down so that Louis is flush against his chest. Louis' staring at him wide, eyes wide, and Harry feels a smile break out on his face.

"You make me happy," he tells Louis. "So, very happy."

Louis' smile could light up the world.

"You make me happy too," he answers with a fond smile. Harry likes to think of it as his Harry smile. "But, Jesus, fucking warn a guy first, next time. Now my students are going to see me kissing bloody Harry Styles on the papers."

Then he leans down and kisses Harry, tasting of tea and sunlight and happiness, and all of Harry's favourite things combined.

When Louis murmurs 'I love you' into his lips, Harry could swear that he tasted just a little bit sweeter.

. . .

It's all over the tabloids the next day, of course. There's a front page spread on The Sun of Harry holding Louis' hand, of Louis tackling Harry, of Harry getting tickled to death, of them kissing.

Nick calls him up to tell him about how proud he is, and tells him that Harry should thank him for everything. It was on his show they played 'call or delete', and so this wonderful turn of events should be attributed to him. Harry maintains that it was his idea, although at the time, he hadn't thought it was a good one. Looking back, it's a brilliant one. Maybe he should keep this phone forever, or have it blessed or something. It was his phone's fault, anyway, for landing on that number.

Harry saves the photo of their kiss in the park, uploading it on Instagram. It's the first coloured photo he posts in over a year.

The caption only says, happy :).

Because, yeah, he is. He truly is.