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Soft Hands, Fast Feet, Can't Lose

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Track: Demi Lovato - Confident

The morning after a kegger was the worst. The absolute fucking worst.

Not even a victory on the field—a walloping, more accurately—could dull the discomfort of too many shots, too little sleep, and the sweaty mess that happens to your ass when you pass out in skinny jeans.

Your whole body is shot from the game. Every muscle, every tendon, every square inch of bruised flesh is done. You deplete every bit of energy you have in you for the game, use every last brain cell to run plays and stay focused, but you push through the exhaustion.

You stay up too late. You shout over music that’s too loud for too long. Braincells are replaced by foam from the tap of a keg. The empty spaces in your muscles where potential energy used to reside are filled with adrenaline and the buzz of sex. Booze. Power. Pride. Praise.

You’re Harry Styles: Superstar wide receiver for University of Texas at Amarillo, home of the Mighty Armadillos. Number 14. Son of John Duke ‘JD’ Styles, grandson of Emmett Styles, and future member of the Styles family’s legendary football dynasty for the Dallas Cowboys. Praise is something you’re used to.

The only thing that could numb the horror of a post-game kegger would be a morning blow job. That would dull the pain enough to make the day worth something. An egg sandwich wouldn’t hurt, either. A blowjob followed by a messy egg sandwich with too much ketchup, salt and pepper. That would hit the spot, alright.

Harry’s eyes moved beneath his closed lids. His dreams were flooded by the smell of butter and American cheese melting over a stack of sizzling fried eggs. He licked his dry lips and exhaled a puff of sour air. The breath bounced back at him, his nostrils wrinkling. He shifted his face and inhaled something that smelled fresh and felt silky against his nose.

The warm body tucked in his arms squirmed with a quiet huffed noise, small feet digging between his ankles. Harry tightened his left arm’s hold around the person, who hummed ever so softly and nuzzled their head backwards. The motion deepened their spoon, Harry’s chin digging in on the crook of their neck and their bodies fitting together.

They were motionless and silent for a long beat. Their breaths synced up, their chests and backs expanding and touching for each inhale or exhale. The frat house was quiet, no one traipsing up and down the halls in football gear or making protein shakes in the kitchen. No one having sex on the pool table. No one shouting mid-Madden marathon in the living room.

Curiosity finally overpowered sleepiness. Harry opened his green eyes and lifted his head off his pillow. He blinked a few times as he dragged his gaze up and down.

Soft, messy brown hair. Sharp jawline. High cheekbones. Fluttering eyelashes casting tiny shadows on dewy skin. Delicate collarbones.

Harry pinched the duvet away from the stranger’s chest.

‘Huh,’ he thought with furrowed brows.

It wasn’t the first time he’d taken a boy with a pretty face to bed, and it likely would not be the last. As long as none of said boys got too attached or made a public spectacle, life would go on as usual. Sports media was enchanted with his equal opportunity policy, which was absolutely not the norm, but was one of the many benefits of being a rich, star athlete in the modern age.

Harry shut his eyes and yawned.

“Cool.”

The mystery person bicycled their feet. They started to pull away to the edge of the bed. Low, raspy mumbles buzzed on his pillow. Harry opened his eyes and slid his hand up the front of the person’s shirt, smoothing his palm over lean abs. He thumbed over a fuzzy navel and nuzzled his nose behind the mystery man’s ear.

The man pushed Harry’s hand away with a muffled giggle, but his body stopped shifting. He settled with his ass nestled against Harry’s groin. Harry lightly kissed his neck.

“All good?” he murmured.

It took a moment, but a positive sounding, “Mmm,” was hummed. The body in Harry’s arms sagged into the mattress, his voice quiet to mumble, “Tired.”

“Whassyer name again?” Harry asked.

“Louis.”

“Louis. Right,” Harry said, holding out the word, his honeyed baritone settled in his deep Texas drawl. He yawned. “You comfortable?”

“Mmhmm.”

“Want water or something?”

“Hnngg. No.”

“You smell nice.”

“Thanks,” Louis said, half asleep. Harry’s warm palm smoothed circles on his lower stomach. He murmured, “You’ve got soft hands,” and Harry snorted. Louis’ ear tilted towards the sound. “What’s funny?”

“Was that a joke or something?”

“About what?”

“My soft hands.”

“Why would that be funny?”

Harry burped. “Doesn’t matter.”

Louis’ nose wrinkled with his eyes shut. He reached back to push Harry’s face away.

"Ugh. Gross.”

“Did we fuck last night? I can’t remember.” Harry yawned. “Would love to fuck you again. Actually, do you think you could just get on top? I’m super tired, big game and all, and you’re probably still loose, you know, so, yeah.” He landed a soft slap on Louis’ ass. “Help a pal out.”

Louis peeked over his shoulder. His eyes widened.

“Oh God,” he gasped, spinning away. He fell off the bed and clunked onto the floor. His head popped up, his hair fluffy and wild. He looked at Harry again. “Oh good God.”

Harry blinked at him.

“What’s up?”

Louis stood from the floor.

“What are you?”

Harry pushed himself up on one arm and laughed, “What?”

“What do you play?” Louis asked in the same demanding, quick tone.

Harry snorted.

“Football, of course. Don't you know who I am?"

Louis shoved his hand down the front of his boxers. He shifted his hand to the back of his pants then swayed his hips side to side. He lifted his hands, clasping them and staring up at the ceiling.

“Oh, thank fuck,” Louis exhaled. He linked his fingers behind his head. “We didn’t have sex.” He looked at Harry, then looked down at himself. “What the fuck?” His eyes widened to even rounder blue, his fingers pinching a red and black Armadillo’s jersey away from his chest. “Where am I? Why am I wearing this?”

Harry stretched his arms over his head.

“Beats me,” he said, sounding cheerful even as he stretched. His shoulders popped, his arms lowering. “You don’t deserve to wear those numbers with your piss poor attitude.”

“You’re obnoxious.”

“You’re the one in my bedroom.” Harry made a shooing motion with his hands. “Now get. You’re ruining my morning.”

Louis shoved his foot into one black Adidas sneaker.

“There has to be a reasonable explanation for this.”

“I mean, hello?” Harry drawled on a low laugh. He flexed his fingers and gestured from his body up to his face. Dark, wild waves framed his face. His red Armadillos tee was caught up above his abs, his jeans slouched low enough to show his hip dents and his backwards Packers cap sat crooked on top of his head. “You obviously wanted me.”

Louis stomped his foot on the ground to get his heel inside his shoe. “Not quite, pit stains. Try again.”

“Then what are you doing in my jersey and my bed? I don’t give that honor to just anyone. Well,” Harry drawled thoughtfully, nibbling his bottom lip with a proud smile. “I mean, yeah, lots have gotten the honor. But even so”—momentary disgust wrinkled his nose—“you’re sullying a proud piece of Texas history by wearing that.”

Louis looked around the room.

Pastel polos and Oxfords. Boat shoes. Khakis. So many khakis. Multiple bottles of Axe products. A fish bowl of colorful condoms. An abundance of UT Amarillo and Alpha Alpha Alpha Fraternity memorabilia. Posters of Harry Styles, Wide Receiver running on the field with his hands lifted towards a soaring football.

“This is a literal nightmare.” Louis’ gaze landed on a pile of wet, black fabric. He pointed at it. “Ah! Ah ha!” He brought his finger to Harry, who was standing beside a lifesized cardboard cutout of himself in uniform. “You! You must have spilled beer all over my shirt. That’s why we came in here together. That has to be it.”

Harry rolled his eyes and tossed his wrinkled tee onto the bed. He started unbuttoning his jeans.

“I highly doubt I left the party to fetch you a shirt, munchkin.”

Louis lifted his shirt off the floor with prim fingers. “Well, I highly doubt I’d have followed you into your bedroom otherwise.” A few drops of liquid dribbled onto the floor. “Ugh.”

“Are we done here?”

Louis moved towards the door.

“God, you’re the worst.”

Harry laughed, “Me?” and kicked his jeans off, knocking over the cardboard cutout of himself. He strode towards Louis on long, muscled legs with his hands on his hips. “Why am I the worst?” He pointed two fingers. “You’re the worst. Completely ungrateful for the opportunity to have sex with me, which you clearly fumbled. Pardon the football pun.”

Louis laughed, he downright cackled, and bulged his eyes.

“Do you hear yourself? Honestly, do you?”

“Crystal clear, bro, crystal clear.”

“I’m not your bro, thank fuck.” He shivered his shoulders within the borrowed, oversized jersey, the material slouching lower on the left side to reveal his collarbone. “Contrary to what your fans feed you on the regular, the world does not revolve around football, nor does it revolve around you.”

Harry pinched the bridge of his nose and clenched his eyes shut.

“Why are you being such a Bitter Betty about football? Do you even go here? Do you know you’re in the state of Texas?”

“I do go here, but I couldn't care less about a mob of idiots pounding into each other. Football is not the only sport on Earth.”

“Ohh, I see. You’re a jealous...What?” Harry sniffled and itched his navel. “Tennis player?”

“Not that it matters, but I run cross country—”

“Ah, here it is,” Harry drawled as he giggled, swirling his hand in the air. “The jealous track guys. You’re all alike, man. I hate to break it to you, but no one wants to watch a bunch of guys run through dog shit covered fields for, like, a hundred hours. Sorry not sorry.”

“Typical. You’d be jealous, too, if all the university funding went to a sport you didn’t play. Precious, spoiled football player. This school has some of the best athletes and artists in the country. Track, soccer, ballet—”

“Ballet!?”

“—And yet we’re working with old equipment in old gyms. We’re shoved into an impossibly tight schedule to make room for your kind to dick around and act like you’re the kings of the universe. It’s tiring.”

Harry cradled his ears with a rumpled frown. “You’re, like, legit shrill. Like an angry bird. And not the enjoyable phone game. You’re like an angry pigeon straight-up squawking in my ear. I’m too hungover for this shit.”

Louis pushed the bedroom door open and walked to the grand oak staircase. He was met with the beginnings of a hooted chorus, but he held up his hand to the nearest football player.

“Save it,” he said simply. He started jogging down the steps. “Nothing happened with your highness, thank fuck.”

Liam Payne (#7, Kicker; Senior; Orlando, FL) stared at Louis as if he said Harry had turned into an actual armadillo and was munching on his football pads. Liam looked to the players that lined the top floor balcony. The entire team was stunned, some even appearing visibly concerned with their hands clutching their cheeks.

Harry walked out of his bedroom in nothing but his black boxer briefs. He let out a mighty yawn, his arms stretched as wide to the sides as he could manage. He released his stretch.

“Anyone make breakfast yet? I’d kill for some bacon and eggs.” He thumbed crust out of the left corner of his eye as the front door slammed. “What?” He angled himself towards Liam. “What’s everyone looking at me for?”

“Did you sleep with him?” Liam asked.

“Ugh, no. Thank God,” Harry said, disgusted. “He was such a pill.”

“Uh oh,” Chase Headley said(#1, Quarterback; Senior; Philadelphia, PA), grinning and leaning his elbows on the top pole of the staircase bannister. His forehead wrinkled beneath his buzzed blond hair. “Has Hugo lost his touch? Hu-go, no!”

The mob of frat boys roared with laughter. Harry held his hand out as he trotted to the stairs.

“Hush, all of you. Fuck, I’m hungover. Is everyone else hungover? Y'all need to relax and stop paying such close attention to where my dick is going. I don’t have issues getting laid, unlike some of you,” Harry playfully elbowed a linebacker named Eric Dellarocca(#58, Linebacker; Sophomore; Nutley, NJ) in the stomach, “no names mentioned.”

“Maybe he’s just not into you,” Eric shrugged, clutching his middle.

“He’d have been into me if I wanted him to be,” Harry said as he rolled his eyes at Ryan Lange (#49, Running Back; Senior; Houston, TX), one of his best friends on the team. They bumped fists, Ryan giving Harry a small smirk. “He was in my room, wasn’t he?”

Chase and Liam followed closest behind Harry.

“And yet he ran from the building as if it was on fire,” Chase said with a wince, sucking air through his teeth. “Not the strongest vote of confidence.”

Harry swatted towards them without turning around.

“Y’all need to pay more attention to your own sex lives and less attention to mine.”

“What sex life?” Chase asked.

Harry barked, “Ha! You’re funny this morning, Headley.”

"It's noon," Liam said.

"Ugh, that pill woke me up so early," Harry groaned, rubbing his palm in circles over his scrunched nose. “Such a waste of a nice ass.”

He reached into a cabinet and grabbed a box of Frosted Flakes. He opened the box and sniffed, then stuck his hand inside.

Chase leaned over the breakfast bar and rested his chin on his palm.

“You know what, Hugo?”

“What?” Harry said with his head in the fridge.

“I don’t believe you.”

Harry stood up straight and turned. He held a carton of milk in one hand while munching on cereal cupped in his other hand, the cereal box balanced against his chest.

“About what?”

“I don’t think you can get him to want to fuck you,” Chase said, other football players flocking to the kitchen. He shrugged one muscled shoulder. “I don’t think he’s like that. He’s too...Studious, or something. Way too smart for you. Can see right through your aw shucks, Southern gentleman bullshit.”

“Louis is the vice president,” Liam pointed out.

“Of what?” Chase asked.

“Our student body.”

Chase, and a few nearby players, all tilted their heads right at the same time.

“We have that?”

Harry laughed and put his hand over his heart. “I don’t care if he’s the vice president of these great United States of America. I’d still be able to bang him against a goal post at half time.”

Chase’s lips twitched up.

“I don’t believe you.”

Harry poured milk into a blue cereal bowl.

“Well, QB-1, I don’t know how to break this to you gently, but I couldn't give a shit what you do or don’t believe about me. I’m just gonna keep living my life. YOLO and and FOMO and all that, you know?”

“C’mon, Styles,” Chase goaded, handing Harry a spoon. “We could have some fun with it. It’s been too dull around the house lately.”

Harry stuck his spoon into his cereal and stirred.

“You angling for a threeway with me and the VP?” He blew an air kiss before shoveling a bite of cereal into his mouth, batting his eyelashes. “Not happening, Freckles, no matter how sweetly you ask.”

The frat boys laughed, Liam snorting as he leaned on the bar beside Chase. Chase tapped his fingers against his closed lips, then arched his brows.

“Want to make a bet on it?”

“A bet?” Harry asked, snuffling as he chewed. “For what?”

“I’d be happy if you bet your room on it.”

Harry swallowed. “You’re serious? You want to make a bet to get my bedroom?”

“You’ve got the biggest room in the house, by far. Private bathroom, too.”

“Biggest cock, biggest room, you know how it is,” Harry said, the right side of his mouth higher than his left. He bumped fists with a nearby player, the kitchen laughing raucously. Harry scooped another spoonful of cereal and grinned before chewing it. “Dunno if you qualify for my room.”

Chase narrowed his eyes, wiggling one finger towards Harry.

“You’re dodging me.”

“I’m not. Why would you care if I get laid or not? I’d fuck him, win the bet, and you’d have to stay in your jizz rag filled bedroom as the universe intended.”

“I don’t give a shit about you getting laid, princess. I just don’t think you can land Laney Boggs. Plus, it’ll be fun to watch you crash and burn. Your room will be a bonus.”

“Louis is not Laney Boggs,” Harry said on a proper laugh. “He’s not hideous, shitty personality aside.”

“Laney Boggs wasn’t hideous,” Liam butted in. “Once she cut her ponytail, it became clear that she—”

“I think you like him already,” Chase gloated happily, folding his hands beneath his chin. “That’s why you’re being such a pussy.”

Harry’s laughter quieted.

“I don’t like him. Don't be ridiculous."

“No?”

Harry munched on cereal. “No. He’s an angry little twink.”

“Sounds to me like you don’t think you can do it.”

“I never said that.”

“What’s wrong? Not up for a challenge, Silver Spoon?”

Harry’s shoulders bobbed with a silent laugh. He shook his head, then swallowed his mouthful of cereal. Without warning, he dropped his empty bowl on the breakfast bar and surged forward.

“Hey, hey, hey, guys,” Liam said, gripping the center of Chase’s back. He squeezed his shoulders, holding him in place by his mesh tank. Another couple of players stood between Harry and the breakfast bar. “Chill out. It’s all in good fun. This is just a joke, yeah? No one’s making any bets about Louis, who is an actual person, yeah? We’re not living in She’s All That.”

Harry leaned over the bar, his nose practically touching Chase’s. They stared at each other, Harry smiling calmly. Though he smiled, his eyes flared with fury, his voice crawling out of his throat.

“Just who the fuck do you think you’re talking to, Headley?”

“I think I’ve been quite clear, Silver Spoon.”

Harry gripped Chase’s tank and pulled him half over the bar. Players shouted and stuck their arms between them, Harry relenting and releasing his grip. He smoothed his palms down Chase’s shirt, then tapped his knuckles once against the bar. His right hand straightened in the air between them.

“Let’s shake on it, then,” Harry said.

“Guys,” Liam warned, his hand gripping Harry’s wrist.

Chase asked, “How long?”

Harry’s brows pinched.

“For what?”

“How long until you get him?”

“Thanksgiving.”

“That’s, like, six weeks away. Lame, Styles. So fucking lame. I thought this was supposed to be a bet? A challenge?”

“Thanksgiving,” Harry repeated lowly, stepping closer. He winked. "He'll be eating cranberry sauce off my dick by then."

Liam’s hand fell from his wrist. He crossed his arms over his chest, watching both men eye each other.

"Just butting in to say I think this is a really bad idea,” Liam said as he tilted his head towards Harry, who was focused solely on Chase. "Like, bad bad idea and should not happen. We don't need another scandal. Louis is really well respected among students and faculty alike. I repeat: This is a bad idea." Liam looked at the surrounding players. "Surely I can't be the only one that thinks this is a bad idea?"

The players glanced at each other, some of their mouths gaping open and closed. The silence was deafening in the messy kitchen.

"Well, it is kind of mean, yeah," Ryan said slowly. Chase glared at him and Ryan held his palms out. "Hey, man, Tomlinson tutored me in Bio. He's a good guy. This plan sounds shitty."

"Hell of a runner, too," Eric piped up. “He’s really nice.”

"No one asked you losers, and who gives a shit about nice?" Chase barked with a hand flick. He made horns with his fingers and dragged his hand around the room of players. "The rest of you better keep your mouth shut. Don’t ruin our fun. This is a team only sort of situation." His pointed fingers landed on Harry. "Thanksgiving?"

“I’ll get him to fuck me by Thanksgiving Break, I can promise you that. I’ll get it done." Harry's cheek dimpled. "I always do.”

After a beat, Chase nodded and joined their hands. Harry grinned and pulled him into a hug over the bar. Chase slapped the center of his back.

“You’re gonna be First Lady, Styles! And, hey!” Chase gripped Harry’s outer biceps. “If you can get him to actually like you, I’ll throw in an extra hundred bucks, just for shits and gigs.”

“Dude,” Harry snorted. “I’m fucking loaded.”

“It’s about the pride, bro. The pride.”

“Well, then.” Harry bumped their fists, his eyes sparkling. “Consider it done.”

. . .

Track: La Roux - Bulletproof

“Grande iced coffee for Alice,” Louis said with his arm outstretched. He winked at a pretty student with long black hair as she took her drink. “Have a great day.”

“Thanks, Lou,” she said with a smile.

Louis pressed his palms to the small of his back and arched backwards. His bones popped audibly.

“Oof,” he exhaled.

His night in a strange bed made his muscles ache while his night of too much alcohol left his stomach feeling raw and queasy all day. He shifted his weight from foot to foot to relieve some of the soreness. His hips involuntarily swayed to the music piped through the sound system.

“Oh, fuck me,” he whispered, then stretched his right arm across his chest.

He switched to his left arm while pressing the ball of his left foot to the floor. He took an easy breath in and lowered his chest, letting his knuckles brush his ankles before gripping the backs of his calves.

“All good, man?”

Louis slowly rolled himself up and looked at Zayn.

“Yeah, I’m good. Tired, but it’s alright. We can start doing end of night stuff. It’s been a long day.” He yawned, blocking his open mouth with the back of his hand. “A weird, long night that led into a weird, long day.”

“Yeah, what’s up with you? You still didn’t tell me where you were the whole night.” Zayn crossed his arms. “I was worried.”

Louis tilted his head sideways. Both walked towards the registers.

“I was at that stupid frat party with Niall.”

“Ugh, I still can’t believe you caved.” Zayn opened a bag of hot coffee cups. “I told you it’d be shit.”

“I know. It was such a waste. You were right. Niall had fun, though, so at least that happened.”

“Fun? In a frat house? You’re lucky you didn’t catch leprosy.”

“Yeah, who knows. Beer pong. Quarters. Football.” Louis weakly pumped his fist as he read over a clipboard. “‘Rah rah college!’ and all that.”

“What’d you do, pass out at Niall’s?”

“Yeah,” Louis droned, his tone dropping the longer he held out the word. He scratched the back of his neck, keeping his eyes on his clipboard. “Something like that.”

Zayn stared at Louis in a way only Zayn seemed able to do. Brooding, thoughtful, amber-hued, but with laser-beam focus that knew every secret written on the inside of Louis’ brain. Louis looked up to find Zayn’s lips were pursed. A customer shuffled up to the counter and Louis hurried forward.

“I’ve got it,” Louis said.

Zayn's eyes followed him. “Want me to start on the bathrooms?”

“Sure, thanks.”

Zayn squeezed his shoulder and went towards the supply closet. Louis completed the customer’s order and started on their closing tasks, only working for a moment before the door swung open again.

Loud, booming voices poured into the sleepy Starbucks lobby. A pair of students looked up from their laptops. Louis craned his neck towards the door.

“No, no, no,” he whined under his breath. He spun towards the back room then spun again. Louis swallowed, pressing his palms together. “Give me strength, Starbucks mermaid.”

Half the football team filed in front of the register, led by one grinning Harry Styles. He looked much fresher compared to in the morning, wearing a blue plaid shirt and dark jeans, his hair blown back off his face and held in place by an American flag bandana that set off his tan.

Once Louis was home from his hellish morning, he did a Google search for Harry Styles. He found many articles about Harry’s sports prowess, his potential, his personality, and fan interactions (of which there was not a single negative story). He even learned what Harry’s preferred protein shake was and how many times a day he ate to maintain his muscle mass during the season.

The interviews he read and clips he watched that morning straddled the border of endearing and amusing. Harry was charming and quick on his feet despite what his Texas drawl would lead one to believe. He never lost his cool, even when interviewers crossed the line.

When pressed on the rumors of dabbling with both men and women, the young Styles merely grins, complete with an extra twinkle in his eye, and sips his iced coffee through its plastic straw.

HS: I’m not into limits—on the field or off the field. Simple as that.

INT: You don’t deny having relationships with men?

HS: No. I won’t deny it. And I don’t think I’d go so far as calling it relationships. (laughs) I’m not looking for a relationship. I like people. When I like someone and they like me too, we can have a good time.

INT: Are you openly bisexual, then? That would be a milestone if you ever play in the NFL. That’s a milestone in the NCAA!

HS: Another thing I don’t like is labels. Limits. Labels. Not for me.

INT: You had to have known that question was coming when you drop a bomb like that to SI.

HS: I like to think I’m open to whatever. Whoever. I’m open.

INT: But do you consider yourself bisexual?

HS: I was eating out—Uh—(smiles, holds up one finger, then drops his head for a beat before continuing)—I was eating a meal out with this lovely little lady and she told me about something called pan. Like, being open to people, and not being fixed on sex or gender or whatever. (shrugs)That works for me. Bi works for me too.

INT: I can see why you love the Alpha house so much. Lots to choose from. Like a naked buffet of hotties!

At that question, Styles’ smile never falters, but his eyes narrow ever so slightly. Is there more going on behind that pretty face besides football, sex, and parties?

HS: (quieter) It’s about people, and I happen to like a lot of people. (claps and laughs brightly) Football! I like football, too! (HS and INT laugh) Wanna talk football for a bit? Did you see the Dolphins game last week?

The articles and clips about his sexualtity led to sports gossip blogs about his rumored sexual partners, which Louis x-ed out of quickly. He would rather fall down a Wikipedia hole about Oscar award winners from the sixties than build a family tree of everyone Harry Styles was rumored to have fucked.

Louis could not fathom what he was doing in Harry Styles’ bed that morning, but if he had to wake up being spooned by any football player, a small part of him was relieved to have woken up with Harry Styles. He seemed human enough compared to most athletes at his level and was doing his part, in his own way, to widen the horizons of football fans.

That said, he was looking forward to never seeing Harry again. One awkward morning-after was enough.

“Hi, welcome to Starbucks,” Louis said as he grabbed a black Sharpie. He pasted on a smile and met Harry’s eyes. “What can I get started for you?”

Harry gave him his best sly, playful grin. “You’re sexy in green. Let’s go out tonight. I promise that you’ll have an amazing time.”

Louis blinked.

“No, thank you. What drink can I get started for you?

“I feel like we got off on the wrong foot this morning.” Harry held his hand out. “I’m Harry Styles. You’ve heard of me, I’m sure.”

“Hi, welcome to Starbucks,” Louis repeated, extra cheerful. He used the capped end of his Sharpie to guide Harry’s hand to the side. “What can I get started for you? Unless...” His eyes darted from large male to large male. “You’ve never been inside a Starbucks?”

Harry chuckled and leaned his hip against the counter.

“You’re funny. I like that. It’s hot.”

Louis gestured between them.

“I feel like we’re speaking different languages right now.”

“Anyway,” Harry drawled, fiddling with a display of rice crispy treats. He refocused on Louis and smiled, tapping his knuckles to the counter. “There’s a party at Kappa Beta Beta. They always have the most amazing ice luges. What time are you done here?”

“I don’t do parties, thanks.”

“You did last night.”

“I really just need your drink order, please.”

“Well, let’s see,” Harry said, leaning both elbows on the counter. “If you’ll go out with me, I’ll take a small coffee, please. Black."

"It's called a Tall."

Harry propped his chin on his palm and smiled wider.

"But, if you don’t want to go out, the team and I will just hang at home tonight. We’ll definitely get thirsty, so we would all like venti S’mores Frappuccinos, please.” He tilted his head towards the row of football players. “All of us. Frappuccinos with extra whipped cream. Cookie straws, too. If, like I said, you don’t want to go out tonight.”

Louis’ clenched jawline flickered with their eyes locked. The right side of Harry’s mouth quirked higher. Louis gripped a venti iced beverage cup without breaking eye contact.

“Frappuccinos it is.”

Harry stood up straight and laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Is this a joke? I didn’t seriously mean for you to pick Option B.”

Zayn appeared behind the counter. Liam pushed himself through the crowd of football players.

“H-Hi, Zayn!” Liam smiled wide with all his teeth. He rolled up on the balls of his feet, his hands fidgeting in front of himself. “How are you doing? Did you have a good weekend? What'd you think of the Anthro assignment? Pretty tough, don’t you think? I’m sure you did amazing though. Your Blackboard replies are always so well thought out and so well written.”

Zayn stared at him. Liam bounced in place with his hands clasped in front of his stomach. Zayn exhaled and turned to shove his hands under the sink.

“I’ll help you with their order,” he murmured to Louis. He muttered, “Fucking pigs,” and soaped up to his wrists.

Louis only smiled wider and stared at Harry as he wrote on the plastic cup.

“Would you like extra graham cracker crumble on your Frappucinos, sir?”

Harry raised his eyebrows. “I’m offering you an out. Take it. Go out with me.”

“Have you made up your mind about that extra graham cracker crumble”—Louis tilted his head—“sir?”

. . .

Harry managed one more icy swallow before he heaved and pushed his cup away. His throat bobbed, his frown deepening. He wiped his hand over his mouth.

“These are disgusting. How does anyone drink this regularly? So expensive, and I say that as an actual rich person.”

“I think they’re kind of good.” Liam’s cheeks hollowed around his straw, a touch of whipped cream on his top lip. “Oh, and, um, thanks for treating us.”

Harry pushed his venti Frappucino across the kitchen table.

“Anytime. You can eat mine.” He sat back in his chair, his feet up on his seat and his knees pressed to the edge of the table. “He’s a real pain though, isn’t he?”

Discomfort flickered over Liam’s face, but was quickly masked by a suck of his drink.

“Um, who? Louis?”

“Uh, yeah,” Harry scoffed. He held his hands up to his face, palms outward. “I mean, hello. I’m offering him the chance of a lifetime and all he would talk about was graham cracker crumble.”

“Maybe he’s not into you.”

“Everyone’s into me.”

Liam burst out laughing. “Maybe that attitude is why he’s not so into you. Just be yourself and be nice. Don’t be so cocky.”

“But why? I don’t get it,” Harry said, his face scrunched. He blinked confusedly at Liam. “I am nice, ain’t I?”

Chase cackled from his spot sprawled on the sofa, a half eaten cookie straw hanging out of his mouth like a cigar. He lifted his body over the edge of the couch to grin towards the kitchen. He plucked his straw from his mouth and pointed it at Harry.

“You’re fucked, Styles. Or rather, you won’t be fucked, which works out nicely for me.” He chomped on his straw, continued to laugh. “You picked the wrong Laney Boggs!”

. . .

Track: The Strokes - Reptillia

Louis exhaled a smooth breath. The sun had not risen fully, the milky purple air in front of his mouth turning to fog each time he exhaled. He gripped his ankle and stretched the front of his thigh, switching legs twice before bending down to touch his toes. He held the backs of his calves, his nose resting on the air between his shins.

“Woah, baby. Hot view in the morning. I like.”

Louis’ relaxed body turned to a tense bundle of muscles and bones. He glared backwards through the gap between his ankles.

Harry jogged closer. His long legs made for an effortless gait. Custom red and black Armadillos gear clung to his lithe limbs, a black snapback pushing his curls down to his neck.

Louis slowly rolled upright.

“I don’t care what you like. I don’t care about being hot for you.” He stretched his right arm across his chest, looking in the opposite direction of Harry. “And don’t ever call me baby again.”

“That’s no fun.”

“I’m not here for your fun.”

“Yeah, I sort of got that memo.”

Louis switched arms. “How did you even find out where I work? Where I run?”

“You work at the campus Starbucks. Not exactly a specialty store. This is a path on campus that any student can use. Why can’t I use it?”

“Don’t you have your own training to get to? Why do you have to mooch off of mine and mess with my training schedule?”

“I’m not mooching.”

“And my schedule?”

“The cheerleaders know everything about everyone. I just had to mention your name and they basically gave me a printed copy of your day-to-day. I even know your study spot in the library. Nice view. Very plant-y.”

“That’s fucked up.”

“I know, I was shocked they ever went into the library, too.”

Louis sighed, his hands on his hips and his posture tight. His eyes narrowed, cool blue cutting through the foggy morning air.

“I meant it’s fucked up that you’re so lazy that you need a rundown about someone you’re pretending to be interested in for whatever mysterious, bullshit reason. And don’t speak of the cheerleaders that way, dick. They’re serious athletes, just like you, but make a fraction of the income, if any, while having to remain in unreal shape to please the unwashed masses.” He turned away and stepped on the back of his right heel. “You’re the definition of clueless.”

“So, do you run every morning at the same time?” Harry stepped around Louis’ discarded sneakers. “Just trying to plan my schedule around football and stuff.”

Louis did not grace him with a reply. Instead, he popped his earbuds in and trotted towards a marked trail. The muscles of his legs twitched and flexed beneath his royal blue running shorts, which hit mid-thigh.

Harry jogged behind him. “Hey, you lost your shoes.” Louis’ stride sped up, his calves rounding above his tapered ankles. Harry panted and willed his legs to work faster. “What if you step on a nail? What about broken glass? What about dog shit?”

The soles of Louis’ bare feet flew across the path before he turned a corner. A cloud of actual dust puffed in Harry’s sweating face in the wake of Louis’ sudden speed. The words, “Bye, baby,” floated through the dust, Louis already sounding miles away.

Harry bent forward while cradling his side. He panted and held one hand up.

“I’ll catch up with you,” he called out, his words visibly puffing in the chilly air. He heaved a breath into his lungs. “I’ll be right there.”

Louis did not reply.

. . .

“Come on, Styles,” Harry panted to himself, just barely able to see Louis jogging ahead of him. “You’re a college athlete. NCAA. All American.” He pumped his arms faster and tried to get his legs to work. “Come on, Styles. You got this.”

Ahead of him, Louis’ stride was as easy and natural as ever, his body seeming to bounce on the balls of his feet and only move further away from Harry. Harry grit his teeth and continued to run.

. . .

“Oh, hey, good morning,” Harry said, already running across the field. He reached Louis as Louis put his earbuds in. “How’s it going? Did you eat breakfast yet? I make really good smoothies. How are you—Okay, cool.” Harry waved at Louis’ rapidly retreating figured. “Nice talking with you, as usual!”

. . .

Harry reached Louis’ running spot at quarter to five—quarter to five in the morning—and did a victorious fist pump. When no one appeared after a couple of minutes, he slowly spun around the field. He checked his watch, nibbling his bottom lip. A crackling sound came from the woods and Harry glanced up.

Louis emerged through the morning fog, his sneakers clasped in his hand, white earbuds bouncing on the sweat soaked blue material of his tee that was glued to his chest. Harry opened his mouth and went towards him, but Louis continued running as if he wasn’t there, bypassing him without so much as a glance.

“Are you kidding me!?” Harry shouted, looking at his watch again. “You ran at—When do you sleep!? What’s wrong with you!?”

. . .

Five mornings of runs and Harry had yet to get a single word out of Louis. He tried his best to keep up, but long distance was not his forte. Anytime Louis seemed close enough to talk to, the runner would get a surge of some sort of otherworldly power that allowed him to fly, his breathing seemingly unaffected by running for so long.

Finally, mid-run on morning six, Harry caught sight of Louis a few yards ahead of him.

“Ah ha!” Harry cried, reaching his hands out in front of himself. He made grabby hands. “I’m almost as fast as you!”

He was sweating profusely, had lost his headband in a bush fifteen minutes earlier, and couldn’t feel his fingers or toes, but he was so close he couldn’t help but beam.

“I’m almost to you!” Harry said, pushing himself faster. He panted, “I’m almost—I’m—”

Louis rounded a sharp corner with heavy greenery.

Harry panicked and jumped over a fallen log as he hurried to get to him. When he rounded the same corner, he was met with three empty paths. Louis was nowhere to be found. The woods were silent, fog misting over each path.

He clutched his hands in his hair, tilted his head back, and howled, “No!”

It was a moment of drama, but after killing himself to go on daily runs at five in the morning, only to then go to his daily morning practice for the football team, he was feeling a touch exhausted and hysterical. His arms stuck out straight and gestured to each path.

“What are you? A wood nymph? A fairy of the woods? Legolas!? Jesus Christ!” He spun with his arms still out. “This is ridiculous! Who do you think you are!? This is fucking—”

He heard something in the brush behind him and froze, his breath caught in his chest. He didn’t think these woods had any deadly animals, but what did he know? His experience with the great outdoors was mostly limited to taking Instagram pictures in pumpkin patches.

Harry gulped, his eyes sliding sideways toward the crackling sound. Slowly, he turned his body, only to be met with a leafy branch that thwacked him square in the face.

“Fuck,” he gasped, landing flat on the ground. Mud squelched under his ass, the back of his head mushed into what smelled suspiciously not like mud. “What—”

The sound of quiet, high pitched laughter coincided with light feet jogging down the path that led to school. Harry lifted himself on one elbow, leaves stuck in his hair, and peered at Louis’ legs disappearing into the fog.

“Legolas,” he whimpered, then shut his eyes and flopped on his back.

. . .

Liam plucked the last bit of green out of Harry’s hair. “Good, um, run th-this morning?”

“You can laugh.”

Loud laughter poured over his face before Harry even finished his statement of permission. Laughter echoed around the grunt-filled weight room from nearby athletes. Liam’s teary eyes crinkled at him.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Liam said, still giggling. He squirted antibiotic ointment on Harry’s left brow. “I’m sorry, I swear. It’s just…C’mon, you gotta admit that it’s kind of funny. And symbolic.”

“No,” Harry said stubbornly. “It’s not funny.”

“It is. He’s literally running circles around you in your pursuit for this stupid bet, which I think is a sign you should drop it.”

“No. I’m going to win.”

“Well, then, you’d better start running faster, or else you’re never going to catch him.”

“He’s like a gazelle, Li,” Harry said, wincing and crunching his face. Liam smoothed a bandaid over the tiny cut over Harry’s brow; a wound from his brush with the brush. “A short, stumpy gazelle that doesn’t wear shoes or like football. I tried being friendly. I tried being nice. I hit on him the way I hit on everyone else, but he hates it. I’m lost. I’ve never had this happen to me before.”

A weight stack thumped against the floor. “Maybe you need to catch him when he’s not gazelle-ing,” Eric said from beside them.

Harry’s face lit up, wonder softening his features. “What do you mean?”

Liam snapped the first aid kit shut and whispered, “Dammit.”

“Like, he has to go to class,” Eric said while stretching his legs in a vee. “He has to eat, right? Try to talk to him then, when he’s not able to outrun you.”

“Will wonders never cease?” Harry said happily, cupping Eric’s sweaty cheeks. He planted a wet kiss on Eric’s forehead. “Who knew they made geniuses in the state of New Jersey!?”

Eric laughed, Liam snorting and Harry planting another kiss on Eric’s nose.

“Styles,” Chase barked, appearing in front of them in a sweat drenched red tank top. He thrust a pile of paper at Harry. “You’d better fuck that angry bitch.”

“Calling him an angry bitch is a bit much, don’t you think?” Harry winced. “Be nice, QB. Be nice. He’s a person, you know? Even if he’s a pill.”

“Read what he said about the team." Chase shook his handful of paper. “Read it.”

Harry sighed and sat up on his weight bench. His eyes scanned side to side over the article. “This is an article about”—his words slowed—“allocation of donor funds.” He squinted at Liam, a playful glimmer of knowing present in his eyes. “Did I say that right? Allocation?” Liam nodded with a small smile. Harry looked to Chase. “Why do you care? You’re a senior. And didn’t you get a full ride like the rest of us?”

“Well, yeah, of course I got a full ride,” Chase scoffed, tilting his chin up. “But read what he says about fairness and accountability. Fairness! Accountability! As if we ain’t fair and accountable!”

Liam muffled a laugh as Eric whispered, “Jesus Christ,” and resumed his weight reps.

Harry handed Chase the paper. “I just don’t get why you care. It’s not like he names you in the article. He’s talking about funds in general and making things fair for all athletes. What’s wrong with that?”

“He says that football is a drain on academics and culture.” Chase pointed his finger and poked at the pages, eyes furious. “Can’t you read, Styles?”

“Yeah, I can. I just don’t see why you care. The NCAA is pretty shitty to athletes, so I don’t get the fury, man.”

“They printed it in the school paper,” Chase said, extra slow, tilting his head as he spoke. “A school paper which I didn’t know existed until today, but it exists. People apparently read this shit. This dribble. We can’t have this kind of thought going around.”

Harry exchanged a look with Liam, who rolled his eyes and focused on his bicep curls.

. . .

Harry checked his printed schedule, then craned his neck to look at the names of two enormous classrooms. He stepped into the closest one.

“Wow,” he whispered, awed and grinning. “So this is what the school part of school looks like!”

He spun in a slow circle with his arms outstretched. The other students unpacked their backpacks and quietly ate their bagged lunches in their seats, as per usual.

“Harry—Harry Styles? The Harry Styles?”

Harry looked towards the stuttering voice. “Yes, sir.” He held his hand out and flashed a winning grin, the green of his brand new flannel shirt causing his eyes to glow extra bright. “I’m Harry Styles. Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

“You’re Harry Styles,” Professor Mullins said on a laugh, his bowtie practically spinning. Harry eased his hand out of his grip. “I mean, of course you are!” The professor knocked his fist on the top of his desk. “You’ve been attending my class all semester,” he winked dramatically, “Harry Styles. Wide receiver. Son of JD Styles, the NFL’s greatest quarterback since Joe Montana. Harry Styles. Cowboy dynasty. Attending my class. Yes.”

Harry drawled, “Right, so, are seats in ABC order or…”

Professor Mullins held his arm out.

“Please, feel free to sit wherever you’d like.”

Harry gave him a thumbs up, appearing every bit the cardboard cutout he had of himself in his room. Professor Mullins gripped the center of his chest and backed against the white wipe board. Harry walked towards the steps of the lecture hall. His smile widened at the sight of a familiar face.

Louis, who was trying his hardest to hide behind his open laptop, whispered, “Please, God, no,” and slouched lower in his seat.

His effort to disappear failed. Harry happily shuffled into his row and sat down right next to him.

“Got some good porn going on there?”

Louis’ face went pink. He sank lower in his chair. “Go away. Ugh.” He waved his hand in front of his face, coughing. “You reek of Axe.”

“Not happening.” Harry unzipped his backpack and pulled out a blue spiral notebook. “You can’t run away now, Legolas.”

Louis tilted his laptop away from wandering eyes. Harry propped his brown cowboys boots on the seat in front of him, Louis kicking his ankle hard enough to get his feet down.

“Why did Professor Mullins cream himself when you walked in?”

“I guess he’s a Cowboys fan.” Harry slid his arm along the back of Louis’ chair. “You know the drill. Family dynasty and all.”

“I figured your family dynasty was a couple of sad used car dealerships and—What the fuck?” Louis shoved Harry’s hand off. “We’re not on a date. Chill out.” He lifted himself up and moved one seat away. His mouth warped to dry heave. “Ugh, I almost just threw up in my mouth thinking about that possibility.”

“Excuse you,” Harry laughed easily. “Every location of Styles Ford, Styles Dodge, and Styles Jeep are the highest rated dealerships in Texas.” He held up one finger. “We’re number one, darlin’. I can sell a truck in my sleep.”

“Congratulations.”

“Alright, everyone,” Professor Mullins said from the front of the room, clapping his hands. “Let’s get started.”

The lights dimmed and a white projection screen lowered from the ceiling. Students fell into a trance, the glow of laptop screens and the tap of keystrokes hypnotizing beneath Professor Mullin’s droning voice.

Three minutes into the lecture, Harry propped both boots on top of the chair in front of him. A woman sitting beside his boots glanced at the intrusion, momentarily alarmed, then exchanged a look with Louis. Louis rolled his eyes.

Harry leaned across the empty seat and asked Louis, “What class is this?”

Louis stared straight ahead.

“Shakespeare's Tragedies.”

“Sad.”

“Uh, yeah,” Louis whispered, a vein in his neck bulging. “Kind of the point.”

“Louis?”

Louis took a smooth breath in through his rounded lips, his fingers never stopping their typing.

“Hey,” Harry whispered, poking his shoulder with his pencil eraser. “Louis? Lou?”

“What?” Louis hissed over him, swatting at the pencil. Some nearby students glanced their direction and Louis shifted in his seat. “What do you want?”

“Why is everyone so quiet?”

“Because we’re in class.” Louis looked to him, baffled, Harry’s pencil hanging from his lips. Louis sighed and refocused on his notes. “Your pencil isn’t even sharpened. Be quiet. You’re distracting.”

“You know,” Harry said, lengthening his words. He widened his eyes and pouted. “I might need a tutor for this class.”

Louis’ typing slowed.

“Don’t even try it, Styles.”

Harry’s hand shot up in the air and Professor Mullins pointed at him.

“Yes! Mr. Styles! You have a comment about the use of Desdemona’s Willow Song in Othello?”

“Nah, I don’t know or care about any of that,” Harry said with a bright smile. “I was just wondering, would it be possible for me to get a tutor for class? I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.”

“Don’t,” Louis exhaled.

Surprised, Professor Mullins clucked, “Oh! Well, we usually handle this during office hours, but...” He shuffled a stack of papers on his desk, his glasses fallen to the very tip of his nose. “Let’s see here.”

The other students all looked at Harry, exchanging frustrated glances, and refocusing on their laptops.

“Isn’t Louis Tomlinson on that list?” Harry poked Louis’ cheek with his wet eraser. Louis pushed his pencil away, Harry chuckling as he said, “He’s smart, right?”

“Oh, yes! I was actually just about to say that he’s listed as a tutor and would be more than capable of helping.” He let the papers flutter to his desk. “Does that sound good, Louis? You can fill out the usual paperwork and drop it at the Office of Academic Affairs once you begin tutoring,” Professor Mullin’s voice sped up with excitement, “Harry ‘Hugo’ Styles, the legend, the—”

“Do you really need to call him that?” Louis said over him, his voice clipped. “We’re not in the stadium right now, we’re in class. Our focus should be on academics, yes? Shouldn’t he just be Harry Styles, Student?”

A number of students nodded, one whispering, “Fuck yeah, Tomlinson,” and pumping up his fist.

Harry laughed easily and propped his hands behind his head. “He’s just a fan, Tomlinson. Lighten up.”

“We’re here to receive an education, not to lighten up, Styles,” Louis said, quiet but venomous. His eyes bore into Harry. “Not all of us are here wasting time before we inherit our family cash cow. So, if you wouldn’t mind, either send your body double for the remainder of the semester, or kindly shut the fuck up. Some of us are here to learn.”

The class went deathly silent. Harry blinked wide-eyed at Louis, his mouth slightly agape. Even Professor Mullins was standing stunned with his hands on his cheeks, the entire class staring at the tense duo.

Harry arched his eyebrows.

“So, like, can I get your number for tutoring?”

. . .

Track: The Editors - Papillon

Louis refused to give Harry his phone number, but agreed to meet him in the library the following day at six. Harry power walked through the stacks of books, his hair still wet from showering at the gym.

Practice had not been easy that day, despite their win the previous week. Coach railed them the entire time. Drill after drill after drill, even when it started to rain. The day ended with so many bleacher laps Harry thought he was going to vomit. The last thing he wanted to do was talk Shakespeare on an empty stomach.

He made it to their designated meeting spot with three minutes to spare. Just before he rounded the last book shelf, he heard a soft duo of laughs from the table-filled study area. One laugh was low and grunted; definitely not Louis.

“I’m never going to get it,” that person said. Something thudded on the table. “It’s hopeless.”

“Nonsense.” Louis’ higher, more gentle laughter mixed into his voice. “You just did it. You’ve got this.” Harry peeked through a row of books. Louis pushed a thick math textbook towards the student sitting beside him. “C’mon, one more equation, man.” Louis tapped the right page of the book. “You’ve got it.”

The student’s shoulders sagged with a sigh, but he peered at the book, his pencil scribbling into his notebook. Harry watched Louis’ eyes slowly scan side to side, following along with the student’s work.

“Yeah,” Louis droned happily, his eyes crinkled. He nodded slow and proud, the student’s smile growing as his pencil sped up. “You’re doing it, Matty, you’re totally doing it.” Matty started to laugh before he dropped his pencil. Louis glanced at his work. “Boom!” He made an exploding sound and fluttered his fingers above the paper. “Done. You smoked it. You are going to destroy your exam tomorrow.”

Matty laughed and sat back in his chair, stretching his arms over his head. His Amarillo Basketball shirt rode up on his stomach.

“You wanna get beers like usual? My treat.”

“Nah, not tonight. Thanks, though.” Louis checked his watch. “I’ve got a new student coming in after you.”

“Busy, busy.”

Harry stepped out from the book case. Louis’ eyes darted towards him. Harry lifted his right hand.

“Hi.”

“Hey,” Louis said tightly. He stood up. “Matty, this is—”

“Harry Styles, holy shit, yeah,” Matty blurted out. “I mean, uh, hi. Yeah. Okay.” He side stepped around the table, pink warming the tips of his brown cheeks. “I’ll go now. Thanks, Lou.” He gave them two thumbs up. “From athlete to mathlete.”

“Yeah,” Louis said, his face softening. “You’ll be great tomorrow.”

Matty walked past Harry and smiled wider. “You’re in good hands, man.”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” Harry held his hand out with a grin. Matty’s joy only multiplied as their hands slapped. “Nice to meet you, man. See you around.”

“Yeah,” Matty squeaked, Louis sighing audibly from the table. “See you, Harry Styles.”

Harry laughed, “Bye,” as he passed. He gestured to the open chair beside Louis. “May I?”

Louis nodded.

“Sure.”

Harry sat down and unzipped his backpack. He pulled out two heavy textbooks.

“Cool, so, I have homework in all my classes and I haven’t, uh, technically attended many classes. Strenuous practice and event schedule, you know? I gave my unofficial tutors the week off, so if you could maybe clean everything up, it would—”

“Um, hold on one second,” Louis said quietly, squinting at the pile of books. “What do you mean your unofficial tutors?”

“Some of the football players have unofficial tutors.”

“Unofficial as in...” Louis left his statement open-ended and raised his brows. “What does that mean?”

“Like, private donors pay for them. Football boosters. They’re students, but not work-study people like you.”

Louis rested his cheek on his palm. “So, they’re, like, professional class takers?”

“They take our notes.”

“And exams?”

“Well, not technically,” Harry drawled, grinning. “You know how it is.” His right eyelid flickered. “Busy schedule and all.”

They stared at each other for a moment.

“Right,” Louis said and clapped his palms. He tilted his fingers towards Harry. “I’m not here to do your homework. I’m specifically meant to tutor you for Shakespeare’s Tragedies. You come to me with completed assignments for that class, I look over them, and we talk about any issues you’re having.”

Harry tapped a fresh pencil eraser against his mouth.

“But...I didn’t do any assignments yet.”

“Were you planning on getting started anytime soon?”

“Can’t you, like, get me started?” Harry’s nose crinkled as he smiled. “Just this once, I promise.”

“No.”

Harry continued smiling, his eyes darting side to side over Louis’ face. When Louis did not budge or say anything further, Harry chuckled, “No?”

“No,” Louis repeated, just as mellow. “I’m not here to do your homework. Do it yourself.”

“But—”

“No buts.” Louis sat back in his seat, his arms crossed over his chest. “I’m not doing your assignment.”

“So,” Harry held out the word, “what are we supposed to do this entire hour?”

“You can start on your assignment.”

“Which one?”

“I would suggest Shakespeare, since you’ve got me here.”

“Can’t we just talk?”

“About Shakespeare.”

“What about you?”

“I am a tutor for Shakespeare.”

Harry sighed, his face suddenly drained.

“Why are you being so frustrating?”

“Why are you fucking with me?”

“Tutors can say, ‘Fucking with me,’ on the school’s dime?”

Louis blew a breath through his lips. “I’m not going to say anything in about a minute if you don’t get to work or say something constructive.”

“You’re being such a pain in the ass. Jesus Christ.” Harry rubbed his fingers over his forehead. “Dragging me here after practice. I haven’t even had dinner yet and you’re being difficult as hell.”

“I dragged you here?” Louis touched the center of his chest. “Me? I dragged you here? You are the one who made a spectacle of himself in class the other day on your weird crusade to talk to me.”

Harry smiled with his mouth shut, his jawline clenched.

“Isn’t it exhausting to be this way all the time? You’re so difficult.”

“You don’t seem to understand, so I’ll say it real slow.” Louis swayed his pinched fingers towards Harry for each word to say, “I cannot stand you.”

“Me? What’s so wrong with me? Most people love me.” Harry pointed over his shoulder. “That guy, Matty, loves me and I just met him.”

“Would you like a bullet-pointed list?”

“Oh yes, please. By all means. Tutor me in why I’m such a terrible person.”

Louis ticked items off his fingers.

“You’re self-centered. Spoiled. Lazy. Annoying. Pushy. Completely out of touch with how the world really works for normal people. Fake. Reliant on your charm.” Louis flared his fingers and eased his palm towards Harry before pulling it back to himself. “It makes me nauseous just to be around you, quite honestly.”

“That’s not very nice to say,” Harry said, tutting his tongue. “Not very gentlemanly.”

“I don’t care if you think I’m nice, don’t you get that? I don’t like you,” Louis said with perfect diction. “I don’t want to be friends with you. I want nothing to do with you.”

“Tough.” Harry sat back in his seat with his arms crossed over his chest and nodded towards his stack of books. “You’re my tutor and you work for me, so sit back down and get to work.”

Louis stood and shouldered his blue backpack.

“Okay. I’m out. The university’s twenty dollars an hour isn’t worth it.”

Harry gaped up at him.

“Hey, you can’t just leave me here! I have homework!”

Louis leaned over with one hand on the back of his chair.

“This is a library, child,” he said quietly, blinking his eyes extra wide. “Find the aisle and it will lead you to the exit. If you’re scared, just yell, ‘I need an adult!’ and one of the nice librarians will help you find the potty.”

Harry’s outrage only grew as Louis strode away from the table. “Who do you think you are?” he called out.

Louis waved over his shoulder without turning around. Harry stared at his back, shaking his head, small gasps still leaving his open lips.

“The nerve of that guy. Terrible manners. Just terrible,” Harry whispered. He rubbed his hand over his groin, wincing and shifting his hips. “Fuck me.” He bit his bottom lip and rubbed his palm up and down once. “He’s kinda hot when he’s an asshole.”

“Hi, Hugo.”

Harry looked up as if angels had floated down from the highest shelf of the reference section. He smiled wide, his groin still aching but his body relaxing in his seat.

“Evening, ladies.” He tipped his head forward. “How are y’all doing tonight?”

“Saw you were havin’ a bit of a tough time,” a blonde sorority sister named Mila said as she sat down in Louis’ empty seat. She ran her fingers through Harry’s hair, her lips so glossy they reflected Harry’s face. “Wanna come to the Delta house for a bit?”

Another blonde sorority sister named Alison leaned back against the table. “It’s pasta night and you love pasta night.”

“I do love a Delta pasta night,” Harry said with a quiet chuckle. “You sure it won’t be a bother?”

“A bother? With you?” Alison giggled, her curly hair bouncing along with her shoulders. “No way!”

Mila said, “We can fool around for a while, watch TV, eat pasta, you know. Fun stuff.” She stroked his cheek. “You look like you could use some fun.”

Harry sighed and shrugged one shoulder.

“Oh, alright.” His dimple deepened. “If y’all insist.”

. . .

“We’re fine,” Zayn said, shooing his hands towards the door. “Go.”

Louis looked at him wryly and rounded the counter of Starbucks, but left one foot behind the counter.

“You’re sure?”

“Dude. You make the schedule. You’re off. Get out of here before I order a dozen S’mores frappes.”

That was enough to get Louis to move. He pushed through the door as he pulled his apron over his head.

“Hi, Lou.”

Louis jumped away from the greeting with his apron-wrapped arms twisted over his face. He pulled his arms down.

“What do you want, Styles?”

Harry took one step closer with his hands clasped in front of himself. “I want to apologize to you.”

Louis arched his brows as he untangled his wrists.

“Oh, yeah? And what brought this on? You found Jesus in the ripples of your Gatorade at practice?”

Harry jogged beside Louis’ quick strides. “No, I’ve never seen a Gatorade Jesus, sadly. I’ve thought a lot since our tutoring session yesterday and I spent a lovely evening with a dozen beautiful sorority sisters. Beautiful inside and out.”

“You found Jesus between twenty-four boobs?”

Harry jogged backwards to keep up. “No. No boob Jesus. But I realized that I wasn’t treating you like the beautiful soul you are. I was treating you like a game. Like I was competing. And that’s wrong.” Harry shook his head. “That’s no way to make a new friend, and I love making friends. I excell at it.”

Louis surged past him.

“You’re a hippie slash football player slash narcissist combo? Cool. Good to know.”

“Do you accept my apology?”

“No.”

Harry’s mouth flopped open. “Why? I’m being genuine, I swear.”

Louis granted him a moment of eye contact.

“What are you apologizing for? Verbalize it.”

“Um…” Harry exhaled and shook his arms out, as if he was about to catch a pass. “For coming on too strong and being weird and going to your running spot and being loud in class and making that stupid comment about you working for me. That was awful and I’m sorry. Old habit from my dad, I reckon. My cheerleader comment was awful, too.” Harry ran his hand over the back of his hair, looking down at the ground. “You were right to call me on it. It was not nice, and the cheerleaders are so nice to the team. I need more people like you around me, to be honest. I need people to call me on my shit.”

Louis’ eyes flickered away from Harry’s face. “It’s not just coming on too strong,” he said, quieter. “It’s…” He licked his top lip. “It’s that you’re coming on at all.” He looked at Harry, his arms crossed over his chest. “What do you even want from me?”

Louis’ posture was closed, yet still relaxed. His stare was firm and unwavering, but his eyes looked genuinely curious. Harry tried to think of something charming to say—something convincing and interesting to someone as smart as Louis. But he didn’t know Louis. Not really. He knew details about his day to day schedule, he definitely knew what pissed him off, but that was about it.

“I want to get to know you,” Harry said.

“Why?”

Harry’s head tilted sideways. “Uh…” He smiled with all his teeth and nodded along as he drawled, “You, uh…Uh...”

“Right.” Louis turned and walked towards his black Nissan Altima. “That’s what I thought.”

He lifted his keyfob. The Altima’s lights seemed to snicker at Harry. Instead of watching Louis run away from him, Harry would now have to watch him drive away. Progress.

“I...I read your article,” Harry blurted out. He ran up to the driver’s side and waited as Louis put his backpack in the trunk. “Your article about allocation of donor funds.”

Louis didn’t look up from his bag.

“And?”

“And it...I...It made me think about things differently. It made me think about how lucky I am. I’m rich. My dad could have paid for me to go anywhere, but I went here because they gave me the best funding. Full ride and bennies. All the football players get that because they want a winning team.”

Harry felt like he was still blurting out whatever thought came to mind to keep Louis still, but the words popped out of his brain and flew even faster out of his mouth. Louis peered at Harry around the open trunk, a bit of his bottom lip nibbled between his teeth.

“I, um, didn’t know how unbalanced scholarships were for athletes and artists,” Harry said softer, taking a step towards the back of the car. “I didn’t know that artists and most other sports teams are not even eligible for a full ride when that’s the norm for football players, even the shitty ones. It’s not fair and I hope a lot of people read your article, because it was...It was eye opening.”

Louis never broke their stare, even as he shut his trunk and walked closer. He stood toe to toe with Harry.

“How’d you stumble upon my article when you won’t even open a textbook?”

“One of the players on the team showed me. He wasn’t too happy about what you had to say.” Harry smirked wryly. “He’s not your biggest fan.”

“Not a surprise.”

Harry lifted his hands with his palms aimed for Louis’ shoulders, but paused and dropped his arms. He swallowed, then clasped his hands in front of himself.

“Let me make it up to you. Everything. The frappuccinos. Class. The tutoring session from hell. All of my stupid behavior. I’ll make it up to you.”

“There’s nothing to make up,” Louis said on an easy laugh. He pulled his car door open. “We don’t know each other.”

Harry gripped the top of the door.

“But I want to. I want to know you.”

“Because we accidentally cuddled for one night? Jeez, Styles.” Louis laughed as he sat in his car and tossed his phone in his cup holder. “Didn’t pin you for a romantic.”

“It’s not about that.”

Louis’ brows arched as he turned the key in the ignition. “Please. No guy puts in as much effort as you if he doesn’t want to get off.”

“I swear, it’s not like that. I’m not into you like that. You hate football, for God’s sake.”

“Then why?”

“Because you…” Harry’s mouth went fishy and round for a moment. “Because I think you’re interesting.”

“Was that a question?”

“No, I think you’re interesting.”

“What is interesting about me?”

Harry’s fingers clenched on the door, his forehead wrinkling.

“Do you have to ask so many questions all the time?”

Louis looked straight ahead and tightened his grip on the steering wheel.

“Could you try not to be lazy for one goddamn second of your life? Jesus Christ, Styles, it’s like I have to coach an apology out of you when you’re the one trying to apologize to me.”

“I’m not lazy,” Harry said, rare snappiness entering his tone. “Stop saying I’m lazy. It’s rude.”

“Look,” Louis said quietly. He glanced at his watch. “I need to be somewhere, like, now. I don’t have time for this. Let’s just call it a truce and move on.”

He went to pull the door closed but Harry’s hand held firm.

“I don’t do truces. I want to make it up to you. Let me make it up to you. Please?”

“You want to make it up to me?”

“Yes.”

Louis thumbed at the passenger seat.

“Get in.”

Harry’s eyes brightened, his chest swelling beneath his shirt. He hurried around the other side of the car and jumped inside. His joy was short lived when a McDonalds bag deflated under his ass like a whoopie cushion.

“Yuck, you’re messy,” Harry said, kicking an empty soda cup off his left foot. “Who would have thunk it? I thought nerds were tidy?”

Louis put his hand on the back of Harry’s seat and looked over his shoulder. A hint of a smile licked at his lips as he backed the car out.

“Fuck you. I’m not messy. Have you seen your bedroom?”

Harry plucked an empty Starbucks drink tray off his right boot and tossed it in the book filled backseat. The car slowed at a red light.

“Right.” He brushed his hands together, turning in his seat. “So, where are we going? And how am I going to”—he flattened his palm on Louis’ inner thigh—“make it up to you?”

Louis held his stare for a long beat, his eyes innocent and soft.

. . .

Track: Tchaikovsky - Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

Harry did not expect Louis’ sweet smile to lead to him running around backstage in a dusty theatre he did not know even existed while carrying armfuls of heavy costumes and helping to move heavy sets.

It was a bye week. Usually, he spent his free Friday night unwinding with a keg and relaxing inside of someone lovely, not sweating and pushing set pieces on stage while wearing a borrowed black shirt from a stage hand that smelled like old Subway sandwiches.

“Intermission,” the stage manager announced through the intercom. “Fifteen until curtain, fifteen until curtain.”

“Thank you fifteen,” came the reply of the dancers and crew as they hurried around the dressing room.

Harry flopped into a green velvet arm chair, which had caused him to rip a hole in the right knee of his jeans during an Act I set change. He rubbed his bare knee.

“Are we almost done, Tomlinson?”

“No,” Louis said, laughing lightly. He pinched a needle and masterfully stitched along the seam of a shimmery white top draped on a mannequin. “Intermission is like half time in your language.”

A dancer appeared in front of him and Louis smiled at her, plucking the top off the mannequin and handing it over.

“Should be good to go,” he said, spinning and taking another spool of thread out of his belt. He called out, “Anne Marie, are you around?”

A brunette dancer ran up wearing what appeared to be an Arabian Nights themed costume.

“You look like Jasmine.” Harry gave her a thumbs up. “Hot.”

“Thank you,” she replied softly. Her smirk was hidden by her pink veil, but she and Louis’s eyes crinkled at each other as he stitched something on her waistband.

Anne Marie left them. Louis gripped a feathery headpiece and adjusted a jewel on the front.

Harry asked, “But, like, why are we here? How many jobs do you have? Tutoring and Starbucks and…” Harry watched Louis fluff the headpiece on another dancer. “Whatever this is.”

“This is what I do. This is what I want to do. Why I came to this hellhole of a university. So, you’re helping me.” Two more dancers ran up to Louis with flowy skirts in hand. Louis pulled out pale blue thread from his belt and accepted one of the skirts, his eyes extra feline as they focused on Harry’s face. “Isn’t that what friends do? Help each other?”

Harry let his right hand flop exhaustedly in the air.

“I would have preferred to suck your dick or something.”

Louis snorted and sent the dancers on their way. “Great job pretending your effort in getting to know me wasn’t to get laid. You lasted a whole two hours.”

“Hey, I can think you’re interesting and still want to suck your dick. This is America.”

“While that’s not a surprising reply from you, it’s sad that you value your self worth as nothing more than someone to give blow jobs to make up for bad behavior.” Louis stretched his arms over his head, his back cracking as he arched side to side. He pulled a rack of costumes closer and flicked through the hangers. “Explains a lot, actually.”

Harry sighed. Louis shoved a rack of costumes at him, a layer of frilly costumes covering his body.

“This sucks,” Harry griped, tule stuck over his mouth. “I’m bored. It smells weird back here. Let’s leave early. I’ll buy us burgers.”

“I’m at work right now. Bring that rack to Stage Left.”

“You’re at work? Then where’s my frappuccino?”

“Be quiet and go stare at the sequins or something. I’ve got shit to do.” Louis waved over a dancer named Miranda. He gave her a small smile, softness lightening his eyes. “Alright, babe, let’s see it.”

Miranda lifted her slender arm and stretched to the left. A sliver of her side was revealed from a burst seam in the velvety green material.

“I’m so sorry, Lou. I must have caught it on something and then it just ripped.”

Louis nodded and felt over the rip. “No problem. I’ll have it fixed in no time. You’ll be perfect for the next show.” He winked and stood up straight. “Randy Randa. Always busting my work up.” Miranda laughed loudly. “This seam, though...” He ran his fingers over the seam around her flowy gold skirt. “This one is worrying me more. C’mere.”

As if they knew a secret language Harry was not privy to, the dancer jumped into Louis’ waiting arms, appearing weightless and effortless. Harry’s eyes widened, his mouth a perfect circle amidst the layers of ballet costumes. Louis’ legs seemed to bend even more gracefully than the dancer as he sank into a low squat before easing her higher in his arms. Harry held perfectly still, his breath caught in his chest.

“Yeah, I figured Greg was probably pulling it for that last lift,” Louis said easily, as if he wasn’t holding another human in his arms. He lowered the dancer. “I’ll double up on that seam, just incase, and take some of the volume out before next performance. You can leave it at my station. I’ll fix it by the weekend.”

“You’re the best, Lou,” she sighed. “Thank you!”

“You’re welcome.” Louis’ smile fell when he looked to Harry. “Get up. Do your job.”

Harry sighed and got up, gripping the top of the musty clothing rack and pushing it away. Miranda muffled a laugh in her small hand, Louis rolling his eyes as he started to mend another costume.

“What are you doing with a football player?” she inquired, stretching the ball of her foot forward. She glanced at Harry’s ass before he rounded a corner backstage. “With that football player?”

With pins in his mouth, Louis said, “He won’t leave me alone, for whatever reason. He’s like head lice.” He spun his mannequin. “I figured I’d put him to work.”

“Maybe he likes you.”

“Doubtful.”

“I think my roommate has slept with him before. Aria, too.”

“Not shocking.”

She looked around them, lowering her voice to whisper, “I’ve heard that he’s nice and super fun in bed, but that he’s also kind of a player. He sleeps around like crazy.”

“Even less shocking.”

“Bad boys can be hot, though. I dated a football player once.” She adjusted her high bun. “Wretched human, decent lay.”

Louis snorted and looped his needle through the seam of her skirt.

“I’m not interested.”

“He could be fun just to fuck.”

That made Louis laugh properly. He spotted Harry nearby and quieted, steeling his expression. “Oh, good. You didn’t get distracted by the shoes again.”

“Hey,” Harry said, grinning lopsided and slow. “Ballet shoes are so cool to watch when they get all burned and ripped and all that. I had to learn how they do it. It’s part of my art education tonight.” He held his hand out towards Miranda, charm seeping out from his twinkling eyes. “Hi, I’m Harry Styles. Louis must have forgotten his manners and didn’t introduce us. You were spellbinding out there.”

Miranda shook his hand. Her heavily made up eyes crinkled and darted between them.

“I’m Miranda.”

“Clara to makeup,” the stage manager’s voice said through the intercom. “Clara to makeup.”

“And that’s my cue,” she said. She waggled her fingers at them. “See you.”

She floated away with a chorus of younger ballerinas following after her.

“I thought she said her name was Miranda?” Harry asked.

Louis pushed a clothing trunk closed. “Clara is her character.”

“You know”—Harry tapped his fingers on his chin—“I think I fucked her once.”

“She said you fucked her roommate.”

“Oh, right. That makes sense.” Harry scanned the backstage area. “I definitely fucked the pink fluffy one with the nose. Chrissy, I think?”

Louis didn’t look away from his work to prompt, “Caitlin?”

“Yeah, maybe. The one in blue, as well. With the sparkles on her face.”

“You must be more of a ballet fan than you think,” Louis said as he closed another trunk. “Company mascot, even.”

“No, not really. The music makes me sleepy.”

“Sleepy?” Louis snorted, both arms full of costumes. “You’re ridiculous. The music is, for the most part, exhilarating. It’s the best part. Sorry they haven’t choreographed a ballet to Pitbull’s Fireball yet, though I’m sure that’s soon to come based on the state of arts funding in America.”

“What is this opera even about? Everyone’s dressed all, like, slutty Disney with weird monks and creepy animals.”

“Thanks for the feedback about my creations,” Louis said on a belly laugh. Harry’s face flushed, his eyes going wide. “Don’t worry, I could give a shit what you think.” Louis slid a hanger into a leotard. “This is a special Halloween show for children. It’s not one ballet. There’s a bit of everything to keep the kids engaged. Romeo and Juliet, Nutcracker, Swan Lake. That’s why the costumes look a little crazy and mismatched.”

“There are kids out there?”

“Mmhmm.”

“They voluntarily came to see the ballet?”

“They did,” Louis said, high and sweet. “Art outreach is something that should be a priority in this country. How else do you think your array of exes got into ballet? Monday Night Football?”

Harry chuckled. “They’re not my exes, silly. I don’t do exes. Relationships just aren’t my thing. Plus, I’ve found that ballet dancers tend to be too regimented and serious about their art. Too disciplined.” He looked pointedly at Louis. “Often stubborn.”

Louis thumbed over his shoulder.

“C’mon, we have to set the costumes for the finale.”

Harry groaned, heaving himself out of his green chair.

“This sucks.”

“Yeah, you’ve said that already. You’re doing a real bang up job of trying to make up your bad behavior by exhibiting even more bad behavior.”

“I’m not behaving badly,” Harry said, dropping his voice to a whisper. They went through the back passage behind the stage, neon tape on the floor lighting their way. “I’ve done everything you asked.”

“Yeah,” Louis chuckled softly. They emerged on the other side of the stage. “You’ve been a peach.”

Relieved, Harry sighed, “Thank you.” Louis raised his eyebrows, the backstage lighting giving his cheekbones a haunting blue glow. Harry whispered, “Oh, was that...Were you being sarcastic?”

Louis’ lips twitched up at the ends and he turned away. Orchestral music started to sing from behind the blackout curtains, the sound of pointe shoes touching the stage barely able to be heard. Louis nodded his head to the passageway. Both were silent for the quick walk back to the dressing room.

They were alone at Louis’ workstation, save for the makeup crew cleaning brushes one room over. Harry leaned his butt on a countertop covered in organized rows of thread, watching Louis pack up his materials in a black case.

“So, were you a dancer or something?”

“Yeah,” Louis chuckled, “or something.”

Harry crossed his ankles.

“I thought you’re a runner?”

“I am, but I’ve always loved dance. My whole life.”

“Even the dancing with the tappy shoes?”

A giggle shook Louis’ chest before he could smother it.

“The tappy shoes?”

Harry’s body stiffened, Louis quickly swallowing his laughter.

“Tap shoes, they’re called,” Louis said, stifling another small laugh. “And yes. I did that. Jazz, tap, modern, hip hop, everything. I loved ballet the most, though my body was better suited for more modern styles.”

“Why’d you get into costumes?”

“My mom’s an amazing seamstress, my dad’s a tailor, and my family owns a dry cleaners. I’ve alway been good with a needle. I know I don’t have what it takes to be a pro dancer. Plus, I’d rather not live that life. I like creating things and chilling out with my sewing machine and making regular money.” Louis held up a sewing kit and pushed it to Harry’s chest. “Hold, please.”

Harry cradled the kit in his arms.

“How’d cross country happen if you loved dance so much?”

“That was a way for me to get a scholarship to college. This college, specifically, since they had a really good design program. Excellent dance program, too, but they don’t have the money for full scholarships.” His eyes darted from compartment to compartment. His hands moved evern faster to pack up spools of thread and shiny metal tools. “So, I got partial scholarship for cross country, partial for academics, partial for design, and then make up living expenses with work study and Starbucks.”

“Okay, but, like, people don’t just wake up one day and decide to be a Division I cross country runner.”

“My dad wouldn’t help pay for ballet lessons if I didn’t play a sport at school. My friends were runners, so I joined. I didn’t know I’d be decent at it. I’m a utility runner, at best, but I’m consistent. I’m not here to be a superstar—I’m here to get an education.”

“What is your major? Project Runway?”

Louis’ eyes crinkled as he sorted thread into his kit. He smiled up at Harry.

“Close. Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in Fashion Design and a minor in Dance. I just couldn’t fully give it up. Not yet. Maybe not ever. Who knows.”

“Christ, how do you fit it all in? Work and school and clothes and cross country and everything?”

“I’m busy.”

“When do you have time for a social life?”

Louis snapped his kit shut. “We need to get backstage.”

Harry’s eyes followed Louis out of the workspace. He placed the kit on the counter and pushed off. He saw a male dancer run up to Louis and snag his arm, spinning him away from the backstage entrance.

“Oh, Lou! Can I talk to you for a second?” the dancer asked. “I need an alteration by tomorrow and I’m panicking.”

“Yeah, sure, um...” Louis looked over his shoulder at Harry. “Can you find your way to where we dropped the costume rack? I’ll be there in a second.”

Harry nodded. “Okay.”

“Holy shit, you’re Harry Styles,” the dancer said, his hand loosening from Louis’ forearm. He surged forward with his arm outstretched, wearing nothing but flesh colored boy shorts on his muscled, tall body, his face painted like a lion. “Shit, man, I’m such a fan. That play against Alabama last week? Out of control! You’re a genius. A genius! I’m Sebastian, by the way.”

Harry gripped his hand and smiled wide. It was like the air in his lungs had been changed back to oxygen instead of whatever stuffy, hair spray scented chemical of discomfort he had been inhaling the entire time he was backstage at the ballet.

“Thanks, man. Thanks so much.”

The orchestra surged through the speakers in the dressing room. Louis sighed.

“Right. Now that you’ve gotten the tip of your mental dick sucked a little, can you please get to Stage Left? That’s our musical cue.”

“Yeah,” Harry laughed, releasing Sebastian’s hand. “If you ever want to check out a game, let me know. I can get you tickets, no problem.”

Sebastian clutched his heart, his lion eyes watering.

“Thanks, man!”

Harry smirked, then turned away. Sebastian’s eyes followed Harry’s back. He bit his thumb.

“So,” Sebastian said, letting the word hang in the air. “Is he fair game?”

After assessing Sebastian’s emergency alteration, which was a one inch rip in his favorite pair of skinny jeans, and dodging questions about how long he’d been fucking Harry Styles, Louis made his way backstage. From the music, he could tell they were nearly at the last quick change of the night. He reached the rack of skirts and looked for Harry’s looming figure, but he was nowhere to be found. A chorus of dancers ran backstage, fresh sweat shining on their necks.

Louis handed Miranda a small white towel.

“Do you know where Harry went?” he whispered. “It’s like watching an oversized puppy. He’s probably pissing on a newspaper right now.”

“Check Stage Right,” Miranda whispered, huffing quiet laughs into her towel. She caught her breath for a moment. “I think I saw him there for my last entrance.”

“Thanks.”

Louis snuck through the back passage behind the stage. The orchestra was playing so loudly that the walls were vibrating, even if the thick cement muffled the sound. He came out on the other side and bypassed a group of chorus girls. He did a quick scan of everyone standing in the wing and frowned, itching the back of his neck. He stepped up to the stage manager and opened his mouth, but closed it, his teeth clicking.

Boots stuck out over the arm of a velvet couch hidden within the curtains. Louis stepped closer and pulled the curtain aside. Harry was sprawled on his stomach with his face at the very end of the curtain’s edge, his palms cradling his cheeks. His face was lit from the stage lights, his eyes wide and his mouth slightly agape.

Louis glanced at the stage and smiled to himself. Rows of male dancers dressed as Nutcrackers did fast pirouettes until they all fell down. Children cheered and laughed from the audience, a low laugh mixed in with their high pitched giggles. Louis watched Harry’s back shake as he giggled.

Gently, Louis touched Harry’s calf. Harry jumped, his head whipping over his shoulder. His mouth fell open even wider.

“Sorry,” he whispered, scooting back on the sofa. He got himself upright and brushed his hands over his dusty black shirt. “What do you want me to do?”

Louis glanced at the dancers as another round of laughter came from the audience. He swallowed and shook his head.

“Nevermind. I can handle it. You can watch, if you want. This is one of my favorite parts, too.”

Aloof amusement flickered over Harry’s face. “I don’t care about the ballet.” A cymbal crashed and the children all roared with laughter. Harry’s aloofness disappeared, his eyes dropping to the floor. “I mean, um…”

Louis stood on tiptoe and whispered in his ear, “Your secret is safe with me, Tim Riggins.”

He lowered himself to flatfoot, Harry’s lips moving without sound. Harry glanced at the stage, the right side of his mouth rising. He looked to Louis, the scrunch of his brows deepening. Louis smiled softly and Harry looked down at their hands. Their pinky fingers were linked for all of a second before Louis was gone, jogging around the corner of the backstage passage.

Louis reached the other side of the stage and quickly handed over skirts for the finale. He tried not to prick his fingers on the pins that attached name tag to each skirt, but every once in a while the light would scan over the wings and there would be a flash of Harry’s face, grinning with childish wonder and fixed on whatever dancer was center stage.

He grit his teeth and wiped the back of his hand over his forehead, shaking his head and muttering to himself.

“Good thing you’re a dog person,” Miranda whispered as she floated past.

. . .

“We’re done?”

“We’re done.”

“Oh, thank God,” Harry said, collapsing on top his green chair from earlier. A cloud of dust was expelled from the material, but Harry just groaned with pleasure. “How the fuck do you do this all the time? It was like packing up would never end. You should just make all your dancers wear, like, yoga pants and a t-shirt of their choice. This all takes so fucking long.”

Louis snorted and shouldered his backpack. “You had a tough night, I’ll give you that.” He could feel Harry’s bright eyes scanning over his face, but he kept his head tilted away. “It was our first time doing this particular show, so it’s always a little more nuts.” Louis took his keys out of his pocket, glancing at Harry. “I can give you a ride home.”

Harry heaved himself out of the chair.

“Best thing you’ve said all night.”

“Oh, c’mon,” Louis laughed, “besides the work, you didn’t hate this. Admit it.”

“It…” Harry’s mouth battled to remain a straight line, but his cheeks rounded, his dimples emerging. “Was interesting.”

“Like me?”

Harry’s smile only grew, his hands digging into his pockets. “Yeah.” He nodded and fell into step beside Louis. “You are interesting for sure.”

“I don’t know why you feel so shy about admitting you liked watching the show. It’s supposed to be enjoyable.”

“I’m not being shy.”

Louis held the door open for Harry.

“You are.”

They walked into the crowded lobby. Kids ran around their legs in colorful Halloween costumes, some of the dancers standing on the sides and signing programs.

“I guess I just...I dunno. I feel weird in a place like this because I never really spent time around art and stuff.”

“No?” They both stopped to allow a parade of tiny Marvel heroes pass. “You mean there’s no YouTube video of Harry Styles in show choir?”

Harry laughed delightedly, his eyes following a tiny Spiderman as he ran into a little girl dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Both kids fell on their bottoms amidst the chaos.

“Nah.”

“You seemed to like it tonight,” Louis said, starting to walk again. “There’s no shame in it.”

“My mama took me to see Peter Pan at a local theater when I was, like, five, and I...I told my parents I wanted to be an actor when I grew up.” Harry laughed quietly. “My dad nearly cried. Then he told me I was never allowed to go to the theater again and he got me a private football coach. That sort of took away any time to go to the ballet.”

Louis stopped in place.

“You were five years old.”

Harry turned towards him with his thumbs looped in his belt.

“I was.”

“That’s...Sad.”

Harry shrugged one shoulder. “It is what it is.” He wrinkled his nose as he smiled. “I don’t think I’d have been a good actor. I probably just wanted to fly.”

“Excuse me, sir!? Are you Harry Styles!?”

Louis watched Harry’s eyes go extra wide. His energy somehow grew warmer as he knelt down in front of a little boy dressed as a scarecrow.

“I certainly am,” Harry said, his voice deep but airy with excitement. “And who are you, Mr. Scarecrow?”

“My name’s Tyler! Oh, wow, you’re Harry Styles! Me and my daddy watch you on TV every week! You’re really Harry Styles!?”

Harry’s cheek dimpled, a few more little boys in Halloween costumes rushing up behind Tyler.

“I am.” Harry held his hand out, shaking Tyler’s tiny hand. “So nice to meet you.”

A little boy dressed as Bob The Builder asked, “Did you go to the ballet!?”

Harry glanced up at Louis, his smile going sly for a hair of a beat. He directed his attention back to the crowd of boys.

“I certainly did. I was actually backstage the whole time. Did you see me?” They all shook their heads, their attention completely on Harry. “Did you all like the show?”

They cried, “Yeah!”

“My favorite part was the part with the knights. Oh! And the big line of nutcrackers. That was awesome.”

Just saying the word nutcrackers sent the boys into giggles, the skin beside Harry’s eyes crinkling as he laughed with them. One of their mothers came up with her phone held to her chest.

“Would you mind taking a photo with the boys? They’re all in the same Cub Scout den and they’re huge Armadillo fans. Hometown and all.”

“Sure, of course,” Harry said warmly. He held his arms out and got on both knees, the little boys crowding around him. “Now, y’all better promise to stay in scouts until you reach Eagle Scout, you hear?”

Mini-Spiderman asked, “Are you an Eagle Scout?”

Harry held up three fingers.

“Scout’s honor, Spidey.”

The boys all twittered with excitement, Harry chuckling quietly. They huddled together for the photo.

“So, you see, boys?” the mother said as she a photo of the crowd. “Boys can like football and ballet. You can like whatever hobby you want.”

Harry squeezed Bob the Builder’s shoulder. “That’s right. Do whatever makes you happy. And make sure to listen to everything your mama says. Promise?”

The group of boys nodded, reverence and awe widening their eyes. They left with the den mother, who mouthed, “Thank you so much,” to Harry before she was pulled into the crowd of children.

Harry stood up. “Sorry about that. You probably want to head home.”

Louis blinked rapidly, dragging his eyes from Harry’s face.

“No worries, it’s...fine. Yeah. That,” he tilted his head towards the exit, “that was nice of you. Really nice. You were so good with them.”

“We do a lot of events where we talk to kids about sports and not doing drugs and all that. I actually really like that part of what I do. Plus, it’s usually at a pancake breakfast or an Applebee's. I love pancakes, so it all works out.”

“Cool.”

Harry took two quick steps to get to the door of the theater. He held it open for Louis, gesturing with his arm.

“After you.”

“Thanks.”

They walked in silence to the car. Harry glanced at Louis out of the corner of his eyes.

“Um, so, do you think we could try tutoring again?”

Louis laughed without sound, his shoulder twitching up. He unlocked the car and peered over the roof.

“Are you going to do your assignments?”

Harry slid into the passenger’s side. “I promise.”

Louis pulled his door shut and buckled his seat belt. He turned the key in the ignition and tilted his head side to side, then put his hand on the back of Harry’s seat.

Track: The Wombats - Give Me A Try

“Yeah, we can try again.” He stared out the back window. Headlights from a passing car illuminated his eyes electric blue. “But you have no more second chances.”

Harry nodded quickly.

“Okay. Thank you. You won’t be sorry, I promise.”

“Whatever,” Louis sighed.

He put the car in Drive and turned out of the parking lot. Harry smiled wide and bounced in his seat, his feet antsy on the floor.

“Oh, can I get your number now?”

Louis turned another corner.

“Nope.”

Harry pouted. “Then how am I going to contact you about tutoring?”

“You have my school email.”

“But what about texts?”

“We’re not going there. If you want to communicate with me, communicate like a human with a brain.”

“But texting is fun.” Harry waggled his iPhone. “I can have an entire conversation in only Emoji. C’mon, it’ll be fun.”

“I’m not here for fun.”

“Can we stop at McDonald’s? You have a nice collection of leftovers in the car, but I’m hungry.”

Louis’ fingers tightened on the wheel, though the corners of his lips started to twitch upwards.

“I’m about ten seconds from kicking you out of my car and screaming, ‘Hashtag: Blessed,’ as I drive away.”

“Well, I’d just scream back”—Harry raised his voice to a shout—“‘Emoji: Praying hands with the blue shirt. Hashtag: Not lazy. Hashtag: FOMO. Emoji: Seashell. Hashtag: Ballet sucks. Hashtag—’”

Loud, uncontrollable laughter finally spilled out of Louis, his head dropping forward at a red light. Harry laughed along with him, delighted, his face sending beams of warmth across the front seat.

“I’m not giving you my phone number,” Louis said through his giggles, sniffling. “Hashtag: Get over it.”

“Why? Too afraid I’ll make you laugh and you’ll actually start to like me?”

“Oh, that’ll never happen,” Louis said, still laughing. “Don’t you worry about that.”

“Hashtag: You suck.”

“Hashtag: You’re not getting McDonald’s, brat.”

“Hashtag: Heartbroken. And hungry.”

Harry sounded legitimately hurt, a simper in his voice and his face smushed in a frown as he stared straight ahead. Louis’ left leg bobbed as he drove for a few blocks. His eyes glanced right for a split second before he sighed. The car made a sharp left turn, Harry’s grinning face illuminated by the yellow and red arches of a McDonald’s Drive-Thru.

. . .

Track: Ariana Grande - Focus

Two tutoring sessions passed, during which Harry completed two short Blackboard essay assignments and mapped out an outline for a paper about Othello. Session three was not as productive.

Louis said, “You’re not focusing.”

Harry ran his fingers through his hair, knocking his Packers cap to the library floor. He groaned and buried his face in his hands.

“I’m tired, alright? Give me a break. I did, like, a million laps today.”

“You? You’re tired? I ran this morning—”

‘We. We ran together.”

I ran while you flailed. We did not do anything together. Then I trained, then Starbucks, then had class and sewed my fingers to the bone, then came here to tutor your sorry ass when I should be home studying. I don’t want to hear you’re tired when you spent the day with your hand down your pants or on an XBox controller.”

“Play Station.”

“Whatever.”

Harry dropped his hands. “But, wait, aren’t you the one always telling me that I shouldn’t judge the extent of other people’s problems? My problems are my problems and your problems are your problems.” Louis stared at him for a moment with his mouth agape. Harry prodded Louis’ shoulder with his eraser. “I got you there, don’t I?”

“You didn’t get anything.”

“I bet you think I don’t listen to a word you say.”

“A broken clock is right twice a day. Get back to work.”

“This is boring,” Harry groaned, pulling his cheeks down to make a monster face at Louis’ profile. “Do something funny.”

Louis laughed lightly, shaking his head. “You have this strange idea that the world is here for your entertainment.”

Harry poked Louis’ wrist with his eraser, dragging the rubbery nub up the arm of his maroon sweater.

“You’re not being a very good tutor if you can’t keep me engaged,” he said in a sing song voice.

Louis’ pen stilled mid-word. He placed his pen on the table and flattened his palm on top of it. He spread his legs, turning to face Harry head on. He casually propped his cheek on his fist.

“And what would you have me do to keep you engaged?”

Harry grinned as he scanned Louis’ front. Their eyes locked.

“A little one-on-one action. A little skin,” Harry said quieter with a small narrowing of his eyes. He pinched his bottom lip between his teeth, then released it. “A little heat. Something to keep the blood pumping. Loosen us up, you know?”

“Blood pumping, hm?”

“Mmhmm,” Harry hummed lowly. As Louis smiled wider, Harry followed suit. “Please and thank you.”

Louis leaned in to conspiratorially whisper, “I think you’re full of it.”

“Full of what?”

“You wouldn’t know what to do if I actually got your blood pumping.”

“Try me.”

Without missing a beat, Louis stood and flattened his palms on Harry’s chest. He gracefully swung his leg over Harry’s thighs, straddled his lap, and scooted close enough for their groins to line up.

“Is this what you want?” Louis let his head loll as he ground slow circles. Harry dropped his pencil, and his mouth flopped open. “A little one-on-one action? A little personal attention?”

The high, gentle rasp in his voice made Harry’s brows twitch inwards. Louis ran his palms up to stroke the sides of Harry’s neck, his lower body gyrating in slow circles. His version of a lap dance was precise in its own way, his movements as controlled as one would expect from a trained dancer, but with just enough looseness to make Harry arch hungrily against him.

Harry gasped until words made it out of his throat. “I...I did not anticipate our tutoring session taking this sort of turn, but, fuck me.” His hands settled on Louis’ ass, squeezing and kneading the flexing muscles. “I am so game. Why do you always have on so many layers? You’re a hot little spinner type. You should wear, like, no clothes ever.”

“Yeah?”

Harry arched his hips up, his chin lifting and his lips just missing Louis’ mouth.

“Fuck, yeah.”

Louis’ gaze slowly, ever so slowly, dripped from Harry’s eyes to his mouth. “You wanna fuck my mouth, Styles? Wanna watch my ass bounce when I ride that python between your legs? Want me to swallow you whole behind the card catalog? Let me suck you real slow in the stacks?”

Words were lost yet again for Harry, who looked from Louis to the surrounding empty tables. The tables around them were empty, his heavy breaths panting into the air. His head shook minutely.

“Am I awake right now?”

“Oh, you’re awake, babe.” The sound of his quiet laughter made Harry even harder, his head dropping further back the more Louis ground against him. Louis gasped and made a shallow thrusting motion with his hips. “Definitely awake down there.”

Harry’s right hand slipped up the bottom of Louis’ sweater while his left hand dug into Louis’ ass. He massaged whatever lean, rolling muscles he could get his hands on, but could not look away from Louis’ eyes—blue and heavy-lidded yet light with mischief, the playful heat of his stare matching the tender murmurs falling from his lips.

“Or maybe you’re the one who likes to get fucked, hmm?” Louis asked, letting his head roll to the side. Harry mirrored him, their gazes linked. Low laughter crawled from Louis’ throat, his fingers tightening in the back of Harry’s hair. “I think that’s it. You want me to fuck you, don’t you, Styles? God, you’re such a dirty fuck, aren’t you? Say it. Say you’re a dirty fuck.”

“I’m a dirty fuck.”

Louis swayed his lips closer to Harry’s face, Harry’s mouth opening hungrily and his hands clenching on Louis’ hot skin. Another deep grind of his hips made Harry gasp.

“You want me to fuck you so hard, don’t you?” Louis pulled his hair. “Say it.”

“I want you to f-fuck me. So hard.”

“God, you’re easy. Say it again.” Louis dragged his lips up Harry’s neck then snagged his earlobe, tonguing the underside of the fleshy bit of skin. “Say it, baby. Tell me what you want and I’ll give it to you.” He kissed beneath his ear. “Whatever you want, baby.”

“I wanna fuck you,” Harry said, encircling his arms around Louis’ ass. He pushed Louis down as he ground up. “Let’s go to the bathroom. Gotta get you naked.”

Louis simpered, “Yeah?” and opened his teeth on Harry’s neck.

Harry’s eyes clenched shut, his hips jutting upwards. “Fuck, yeah,” he breathed.

Louis let out a whimpered moan and rotated his hips, his thick ass clenching under Harry’s palms.“When was Othello published, hm?” Louis gripped Harry’s hair and rolled his head back. “Can you tell me, baby?”

“Sixteen-oh-eight.”

Louis gave his hair a sharp tug.

“I said published, bitch.”

“Sixteen twenty—Sixteen twenty—” Harry pushed Louis’ shirt up with both hands, his fingers sliding around to the front of his stomach. “Fuck, keep doing that with your hips, Lou. Gonna come.” Louis pulled his hair hard and Harry moaned, “Sixteen twenty-two.”

“And what are the main conflicts?”

“Race. Isolation. Bloodlust. Military versus civilian. Lack of communication. Oh, fuck—” Harry surged forward for a kiss but his head was pulled backwards. “Fuck, this is so hot. Keep quizzing me.”

Louis gave his hair one more sharp tug and sat back. “God, you’re so easy to rile up. Too easy. And you’re full of shit. You’re focused and absorbing information, you just don’t want to work. Lazy.”

Harry made a quiet, whimpered sound and squeezed Louis’ ass. He thumped his thighs up against Louis’ ass and looked down at their groins with wide eyes, as if they were sitting in a stalled car and he was willing the engine to start. Harry squirmed, squeezing his ass again.

“Keep going, c’mon. Was just getting—”

“Hey,” Louis barked. He pulled Harry’s hair hard and glared at him, which only made Harry moan lowly and let his head sway in the direction of his tug. “Hands off.”

“But we—But you—” Harry’s frantic eyes darted over Louis’ face. “We were just getting going. What about all that mouth fucking dirty boy talk? That was hot shit! Real hot!”

“As if I could ever let someone fuck my mouth who thinks there are still card catalogues in libraries.” Louis snorted and stood up. “Please.”

“But—”

“Asshole!”

Louis looked at the new voice in time for his face to be pelted with icy slush. He clenched his eyes and dropped his head forward, able to hear Harry shout, “What the fuck!?”

“Ow, shit, ow.” Louis pushed the heels of his hands over his eyes. Another shower of something freezing and icy slapped both he and Harry in the face. “What is this?”

“Lara?” Harry said, confused. He licked his lips. “S’Mores Frappuccino?”

“You’re an asshole, Harry Styles,” Lara said, sounding on the brink of tears. “A huge, gaping asshole!”

Harry blinked.

“Why?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because we fucked all last weekend”—she dumped another Frappuccino on Louis’ head and Louis weakly cried out—“and you never fucking called. And now you’re here, doing whatever it is you’re doing with him!”

“I’m not fucking him,” Louis said loudly, frustrated. “Why is that so hard for everyone to understand?”

“But I never said I’d call you. We were a one night stand,” Harry said, baffled even as marshmallow whipped cream dripped off his nose. “And he’s my tutor. He’s very nice.”

Lara’s voice went higher and higher until she shrieked. An empty Starbucks cup bounced off of Harry’s forehead. Louis opened his eyes in time to see her flounce away beneath a cape of long blonde hair.

“Fuck these fucking S’more Frappucinos,” Louis muttered. He glared at Harry. “Ever since you came around, it’s like I’m doomed for them to haunt me the rest of my days.”

“I’m so sorry.” Harry pushed a blob of whipped cream off of Louis’ hair. “I had no idea that would happen.”

Louis fixed him with a bored stare. Chocolate fudge dotted the end of his nose.

“You don’t say.”

Harry held his hand over his mouth, his eyes crinkled and his shoulders shuddering. He sucked in a quick breath as Frappuccino dripped from his earlobes.

“Shit,” Harry said, starting to giggle. “I’m so sorry to laugh. This is totally not funny and all my fault. I’ll, um, get us paper towels and clean this up. You wait here, okay?”

Louis shifted off of Harry’s lap. “Actually.” He pushed their items into their backpacks with his sticky arm. He stood and handed Harry both bags. “Hold these.” Louis looked down at him with a face full of sugar water and gripped Harry’s hand, cold goop squishing between their fingers. “And come with me.”

Harry glanced at their joined hands. The icy drink gluing their palms together suddenly felt a whole lot warmer, his feet stumbling to run behind Louis. Curious eyes pinged in Harry’s peripheral vision. Hissed whispers, camera shutters, and muffled laughs buzzed in his ears.

“We should go to the bathroom and clean up,” he whispered, more and more stares landing on them. Louis continued marching through the library. “Lou,” he hissed, slowing their steps, “where are we going? What are you doing?”

Louis stopped in front of the main library desk and dropped Harry’s hand.

“Everyone,” he called out. His voice was loud enough to carry but not a harsh shout. More like a driven announcement. He clapped his hands in front of his chest. “If I could please have everyone’s attention, I’ll only interrupt your study for a minute.”

The library full of students looked up. Curious murmurs and whispers licked over their faces, including, “Is that Frappuccino?” and, “Ooh, want to get Starbucks on the way home?” and, “I heard Harry Styles has a huge dick.”

Harry blinked at Louis, his lashes sticky and dark.

“What are you doing!?” he whispered.

Louis clasped his hands in front of his his lower stomach. “Alright. So. Please raise your hand if you have ever had consensual, good sex with Harry Styles.”

A beat passed with no sound of movement.

Slowly but surely, students lifted their hands. Even a couple of hands behind the reference desk rose. Soft rounds of applause and wolf whistles could be heard, prompting muffled giggles and snorts. Louis squinted at the older women behind the desk. He looked to Harry, who shrugged as if to say, 'What?'

Louis steeled his expression and nodded slowly.

“Right. Now, raise your hand if Harry Styles ever forced you to do something without your consent, or did something you didn’t enjoy.”

All of the hands dropped. Louis’ eyes scanned around the silent room.

“Uh huh,” he said, letting the silence linger for a moment. “Finally, please raise your hand if Harry Styles ever told you that he was your boyfriend, told you that you were dating, or told you that you were in an exclusive relationship.”

The student hands remained down, though a handful of students tittered with visible annoyance; mostly huffed sighs and eye rolls. Louis pushed slush off his brow.

“Right, that’s what I thought. Okay, so, just because he likes to have sex with a lot of people doesn’t mean he should be villainized. If you were both consenting adults and he never said you were in a relationship, I’m not sure what the problem is. And, if you were paying attention, I did not raise my hand because I am not, and never will be, having sex with Harry Styles.” He itched ice out of his left ear and exhaled a sigh. “Thank you for your time.”

Louis took his bag from Harry and walked away without looking back. Harry watched Louis walk out of the library with awe softening his face, his mouth agape and something warm swirling in his belly. Did he have too much Mountain Dew that morning?

Harry heard a quiet cough and looked forward, then remembering his audience. The mostly friendly crowd stared at him. Some students waved or discreetly made, ‘Text me,’ motions with their phones.

“Um...” He ran his fingers back through his wet hair and pasted on a smile. “Thanks for the applause, y’all. Means a lot. Happy to get the positive feedback and, uh...” He held up a peace sign. “Go Armadillos.”

He winked at the desk of librarians before he legged it out of the library. Louis was already a block away when he reached the street.

“Hey,” Harry called softly. His sneakers slapped against the sidewalk. “Lou, wait.” He caught sight of bright pink tinting Louis’ cheeks. “Slow down. Please?”

Harry’s fingers brushed his palm and Louis slowed his steps.

“What do you want?”

“Why did you do that?”

“I don’t know,” Louis said over him. Tension curled his shoulders forward. “I shouldn’t have done it. I shouldn’t have made a scene like that. There are enough soapboxes in the world. I shouldn’t—” His eyes darted to Harry. “I’m sorry for not running it by you.”

Harry’s palms rounded around Louis’ outer biceps. Their shoes tapped slower over the sidewalk until they came to a halt. Confusion clouded Harry’s eyes, but pleasant surprise softened his voice.

“Are you kidding me? That was—That was amazing. I’ve never had someone do something like that for me—someone stand up for me like that. Usually I just brush it off or pretend it’s a joke. I should be thanking you. You don’t have to apologize for anything. I’m just...I’m shocked you would defend me.”

“I did it for the good of humanity. Shaming you for enjoying sex is not okay. People should mind their business and focus on their own sex lives, whether you’re an athlete or a librarian.”

Harry thumbed Louis’ cheekbone.

“Hot damn, Tomlinson.” He sucked a bit of graham cracker crumble off the pad of his thumb, never breaking eye contact. “I wish we would have accidentally spooned years ago. You’re kind of a hero under all those cardigans.”

Louis rolled his eyes and snorted, walking away with his thumbs looped in his backpack straps. He saw Harry’s long legs striding beside him and ducked his head down, his Frappuccino covered cheeks burning bright red.

. . .

Harry shut the front door of the frat house. Laughter and hoots greeted him, along with some slow claps.

“Heard about your little study date,” Chase laughed, clapping as he came closer. “That Lara, man. A real wild one, hm?”

Harry snorted and ran his hand over his sticky face.

“Yeah, it was interesting.”

“Good thing Tomlinson’s so thirsty for it, yeah? Or else he’d have been gone the second she lost her shit. That’s what you get for putting your dick in crazy.”

“Yeah,” Harry said gruffy. He cleared his throat. “Yeah.”

Chase tilted his head, peering up at Harry with a smirk.

“You don’t…” His eyes narrowed, victory puffing his chest. Other football players popped their heads up from the living room, their audience growing more by the second. “You don’t actually like him, do you?”

“Nope,” Harry said, shaking his head. “Not in the least.” He breezed towards the steps. “I gotta shower this shit off.”

Harry ignored the chatter of the team on the main floor as he went upstairs. He dropped his backpack beside his bed, pulled off his sticky clothes, and jumped in the shower.

His phone was vibrating on the middle of his bed when he emerged from the bathroom. Harry picked it up and scanned through his new messages. Booty calls, party invites, praise for his last game. All the norm.

As he contemplated which party to grace with his presence that evening, his eyes eyes were drawn from his phone screen to the collection of books spilling out of his backpack. He looked away from his paperback copies of Hamlet and Othello to refocus on his text messages.

Harry’ lips tightened the more he scanned. His head dropped forward, his own words, flippant and arrogant, bouncing around his head.

A deep, gnarled, sick feeling burrowed into his lower belly. It reminded him of the time when he accidentally complained too loudly about how salty the vegetable soup was in the cafeteria. He was certain the nice older lady behind the register who wore colorful headbands to work every day heard him. The sight of her sad, but still professional, face was burned into his memory.

But Louis wasn’t there like the cafeteria lady. Louis didn’t hear him talk to Chase. Louis defended him in front of the entire library, while he talked poorly about Louis behind Louis’ back to his teammates and called him terrible names. His stomach clenched tighter. He didn’t even really like Louis. Why the sudden wave of nerves?

Harry tossed his phone on the bed and grabbed clean red boxers. His hand went towards his phone, but his arm started to move in the direction of Othello.

It wasn’t like he wanted to read or something. He had an assignment to work on before his next tortuous tutoring session and Louis had, of course, left an annoying blue Post-It reminder in his paperback.

There was a knock at the door. Harry stood up straight with his arms at his sides.

“Yeah?”

Liam popped his head in.

“Hey, man. You coming out?”

“Um...” Harry pressed his lips together and glanced at his pile of books. “Nah. Thanks. I gotta study.”

“What?”

“I have homework to do.”

“Oh.” Liam clutched the doorframe with both hands. “Are you...Are you alright, man?”

“Yeah, of course,” Harry chuckled. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I just...I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say you were doing homework. Or turning down a party.”

“Yeah, well, I…” Harry’s throat bobbed as he swallowed. He shrugged. “It’s the bet and all, you know? I gotta pretend to be into all his stupid shit to keep it going. Once the bet is done, I’m so gonna be back on the scene.”

Liam’s face fell.

“Oh. Right. The bet.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. Um,” Liam said, thumbing behind himself. “We’ll be down the road at Delta, if you wanna come out.”

“Cool, thanks.”

Harry watched Liam walk down the hall. Players stampeded towards the steps, some loudly discussing the festivities on the night’s agenda, some slapping hands with Harry as they passed.

It wasn’t until the front door slammed and the house went quiet that Harry shut his bedroom door, locked it, and walked back to bed. He grabbed his copy of Othello from off the floor and slid under the covers. He cuddled his upper back against his pile of pillows and itched his bare feet together, stretching his body along the length of the bed. He opened to his marked page.

Don’t be lazy. Don’t Google. Read the whole thing. I’ll know if you don’t.

Harry ran his fingers over Louis’ neat handwriting on the Post-It. He started to smile, his body snuggling lower under the covers as he started to read.

. . .

Louis sketched idly for a moment with the tip of his pencil not touching his sketchbook. He placed his pencil on the cafeteria table and swapped it for a purple pencil, which he used to fill in a paisley pattern hanging on his faceless male model.

“Evening, Lou.”

Louis looked up. “Oh. Hi.” He pushed his undone hair off his face and sat back. “What’s up?”

Harry pointed at the empty seat across from Louis.

“Can I sit with you?”

“Yeah, sure, of course.” Louis used his foot to push the chair out from under the table. “I’m only here another ten minutes, though.”

“Class?”

“Textile Manufacturing, yeah. What are you doing in here? I thought you always ate at training table?”

Harry sank down into the chair and placed his tray on the table.

“I like to switch up my snack options from time to time.”

Harry’s meticulous arrangement of raisins and almonds in the shape of a flower on top of his bowl of steaming oatmeal made Louis’ lips twitch.

“Oatmeal is your snack of choice?”

Harry stirred brown sugar into the bowl.

“It makes my belly feel cozy.”

Louis laughed and picked up a green colored pencil. He started to add eyes to his sketch’s model.

“Are they really strict with your diet during the season?”

“Eh. Depends.” Harry ate a spoonful of oatmeal, chewing while saying, “My metabolism is pretty fast, so I actually have to make an effort to eat more and build.”

“You’re lucky.”

“Did you have a good day?”

Louis’ eyes slowly slid up from his sketch. “Yeah,” he said, nodding. “It was alright. Busy.”

Harry gave him a dimpled smirk with his mouth closed, his jaw moving as he chewed oatmeal. He swallowed.

“You’re a busy bee. Always buzz-buzz-buzzing all over the place.”

“Ha.” Louis switched to a regular pencil. He glanced up at Harry. “You? Good day?”

“Yeah, it was good. Oh! I have news.” Harry reached into his backpack, rifling around an unruly bundle of papers. He slapped a piece of paper on the table and said, “Bam!” Louis tilted his head and focused on the page. “You’ll have to give me more lapdance quizzes. I got an A-Minus on that Othello quiz!” He started to raise the roof. “I said published, bitch!”

Louis smiled softly. “Congratulations. Let’s see it.” He pulled Harry’s quiz closer, scanning over his answers. “Harry,” he said on a laugh. He poked the only question Harry got wrong with his red colored pencil. “Why didn’t you answer Iago? You definitely know that’s the character’s name. We’ve talked about Iago countless times.”

“I got confused with the parrot in Aladdin and the little dog, Percy, in Pocahontas.”

Louis’ head fell back as both laughed. A group of football players came up to the table.

“Hey guys,” Ryan said, holding a tray of full of hard boiled eggs and grilled chicken. “Can we sit?”

Harry looked to Louis.

“Yeah, sure.” Louis held his hand out. “Make yourselves comfortable.”

Every seat at the table was taken up by members of the team, all wearing various red and black Armadillo’s shirts and sweats. Some seemed uninterested in having conversation, and set into inhaling piles of protein, while a few sat near Harry and Louis.

Liam sat down next to Louis. “Oh, cool, is this something you’re making?” he asked, staring at the sketch.

Louis dropped his pencil and stretched his hand.

“Sort of. We’re working through popular fabrics, decade by decade, and have to incorporate them into current trends. This is the sixties. I’m not sure if I’ll actually make this look, but it’s been bouncing around my head.”

Harry said, “Oh shit. Liam, this is Louis. Louis this is Liam.” He swayed his hand between them. “Sorry, how rude. I should have introduced you two.”

“Thanks, but we know each other,” Louis said, amused. “Student government stuff.”

“And Statistics last year,” Liam added.

“Yeah, sadly,” Louis groaned, he and Liam grinning at each other. “I hate numbers.”

“But you’re so good at math,” Ryan said as he cut into a chicken breast. “I might need you for help next semester. I think I have to take some finance class.”

“That class sounds like the worst,” Eric said with a mouthful of hard boiled egg. “Not looking forward to that when I’m a senior.”

Louis popped the top off his cup. “It’s actually not too bad.” He dunked his tea bag. “I’ve tutored a few people for it. I could definitely give you a hand, no problem.”

Harry ate his oatmeal and watched Louis interact with his friends. Louis was quiet and usually waited for someone to address him, but he was still friendly. He never seemed uncomfortable, but his replies sounded guarded to Harry’s ears, even if he warmed up when speaking to Liam, Ryan, or Eric.

“So, um,” Liam said, scooting a touch closer to Louis. He lowered his voice. “How’s Zayn doing?”

Louis gave him a surprised smirk. “Oh, you know Zayn? I didn’t know that.”

Liam licked his lips, then pressed them together. He cleared his throat.

“No, um, no I don’t.” He sat back, laughing out, “Nevermind.”

Louis stared at Liam curiously. His phone alarm went off, the phone buzzing on top of the table.

“I’ve got to get going.” Louis silenced the alarm and stuck his phone in his pocket. “Actually—” he pointed to his sketchbook and pencils, “—can you all watch my stuff for a second? I want to get more tea before class.”

“Yeah, sure,” Harry said. His fingers crept towards a few loose colored pencils. “Can I color?

“Try not to draw any dicks on my models, Riggins,” Louis said as he stood. “And use a fresh page.”

Harry grinned and grabbed a red pencil.

“You’ll just have to wait and see my creation.”

“Ha.”

Louis glanced at Harry and grabbed his cup. He walked towards the coffee and tea station on the other side of the cafeteria.

When he finished with his tea, he went back to the table. Some of the players had left, but Harry and his friends were still there, laughing at something Liam said. Louis shut his sketchbook and placed his items in his backpack. He shouldered the bag.

“Thanks for watching my stuff. I’ll see you guys around.”

The nearby players all said good-bye. Harry gave him an extra sunny smile and waggle of his fingers.

“Bye, Lou. Have fun in class. Draw pretty.”

Louis waved at him before turning away from the table. He hurried to get to class and made it with seven minutes to spare. He was so caught up in prepping his fabrics for class and setting up his sewing supplies that he didn’t open his sketchbook until halfway through class, when his teacher instructed students to design two patterns that might have been used in the eighties.

He opened to his last sketch, then turned the page. Instead of a blank sheet of white he found sketched doodles, and someone had written a note in blue colored pencil, their handwriting stumpy and efficient in all-caps.

Louis blinked at the message. There were so many people in the cafeteria table. Who would write the note, and why?

“Louis, do you have any questions?”

Louis quickly turned the page and looked at his teacher. He shook his head.

“No. No questions.”

Chapter Text

Harry had mastered Louis’ running schedule, his class schedule, and his Starbucks schedule, but Louis sometimes seemed to disappear for hours at a time. He pressed Louis for information about his schedule during tutoring, but Louis brushed him off and made him study in silence as punishment for distractions. The cheerleaders said they thought Louis had class, but Harry could never find him in any of the regular classrooms.

It wasn’t until he stopped into Starbucks to ask Zayn, who accidentally said, “He’s at ba—” before he shut his mouth, turned away from Harry, and refused to say another word.

After a few attempts to find out what Zayn meant to say—including baseball, banjo lessons, and bartending school—Harry found himself walking into the musty building that housed the school’s dance department. He smiled at a security guard sitting at the front desk.

“Excuse me, sir, but do you know where the ballet class is?”

The elderly man finished reading a page of his fishing magazine before he blinked up at Harry. There was a pause.

“Aren’t you Harry Styles?”

“Yes, sir, I am.”

A beat passed.

“Are you lost, son?”

“No, sir,” Harry chuckled, low and quiet. He shook his head and took off his Packers hat. He smoothed his hair back. “I was...I was in the area and wanted to say hello to a...To a fellow student. Who is a dancer.”

The guard tilted his head left.

“Follow the music. Only one advanced class going on right now, though it’ll be over in a few minutes. Just don’t get caught peeking. Madame Beverly is a strict one.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Harry grinned at the guard and walked down the hallway. Piano music got louder the more he walked. Most of the studios were dark, but some had small groups of students working through choreography. While the football team’s locker room in the stadium was state of the art, modern and new, the dance studios were a bit more used. A bit more vintage.

He reached the end of the hallway and was met with an open door. The music sped up, the sound of feet hitting the floor matching up with the faster tempo. There was a rhythmic clapping sound keeping the beat, a woman’s stern voice shouting commands every few seconds. Harry stood beside the open door and held onto the doorway, sneaking his head inside.

He saw Louis immediately. It helped that Louis was soaring through the air at that very moment.

Louis’ legs were stretched forward and back in a split, his upper body arched with his arms over his head. Black tights appeared to be painted onto his legs, sweat dripping down his throat to dampen his white, skin tight t-shirt. The reddish brown hair on the center of his chest and under his arms showed through the thin material.

“Yes, Louis.” The woman at the front of the mirrored studio clapped once. “Lovely.”

Louis landed and stepped off to the side, his chest heaving and sweat pouring down from his hair, which was held back by a thin black headband. He lifted the bottom of his tee and wiped it over his face. His stomach was as wiry and muscled as the rest of him, his upper abs especially defined. He had a line of matching reddish-brown hair sinking below his tights, his ribs puffing out every few breaths.

“Excuse me? Yoo hoo? Curly? Who are you and what business do you have in this class?”

Harry looked down at the tiny, furious woman with a loose high bun glaring at him from inches away. He opened his mouth, his eyes searching for Louis. Louis stood with the other curious dancers, his hand over his lips and his brows arched.

“Um, I…Sorry, ma’am,” Harry said, ducking away from the top of her wooden cane. “I just…”

“This is a closed class,” she said, her words clipped. She reached for the doorknob of the studio door. “No lookie-loos.”

Harry stepped back in time for her to slam the door in his face.

. . .

Zayn came out of the break room with his hands behind his back. He tied his apron, his eyes zoning in on a head of curls seated in one of the worn leather arm chairs by the window. He grunted.

“What’s he doing here again?”

Louis yawned as he checked a box on his clipboard.

“Who?”

“Styles.”

Louis glanced over the counter and caught Harry staring. Harry smirked at him before he lifted an upsidedown textbook over his face. Louis smiled, chuckling under his breath.

“He’s pretending to study but actually just eating all the cookie straws. I guess he got tired of being booted out of dance classes.”

“I don’t like him.” Zayn’s top lip sneered. “At all.”

Louis pushed a metal cup onto a hot water spout. “Why?”

“I just don’t.”

“He seems harmless enough.” Louis dried his hands. “He’s amusing, actually, even if he doesn’t realize it.”

“I don’t think he’s harmless.” Zayn looked towards Harry as he shook his head. Softer, he said, “Not at all.”

“What makes you say that?”

Zayn crossed his arms over his chest. “People don’t just start pursuing strangers for no reason. Especially not douchey football players like him. There has to be something else going on.”

“Oh. Well, um...He’s not the douchiest person I’ve ever met, by a long shot, but, I guess...” Louis stepped closer, his eyes darting from Harry to Zayn. He could see a page in his sketchbook turning in his head “What should I do? I know it’s weird for someone like him to want to talk to me—”

Zayn squeezed Louis’ shoulder. “No, no, no,” he whispered, his eyes warm and glued to Louis’ face. “No, I didn’t mean it that way. Not at all. He has every reason to want to get to know you. I just don’t trust him. His intentions. That’s what I mean.”

“What should I do?”

The front door opened and Liam stepped inside. Zayn’s eyes slid to him over Louis’ shoulder. Liam waved wildly at him.

“Hi, Zayn! And Louis. And Harry. And, um, other patrons of Starbucks.” He smiled at the masses, but his face emitted beams of happiness directly to Zayn. While he was busy radiating pure joy, he walked into a display of Via Coffee boxes. “Oh,” Liam’s face drooped, his hands attempting to catch each falling box, “sorry, shit, sorry.” He fell to his knees. “I’ll clean it up. So sorry.”

Zayn ran his tongue along the inside of his top lip. His eyes snapped to Louis.

“I’ll figure it out.”

Louis watched Zayn round the counter.

“Figure what out, Z?”

Zayn gave him a thumbs up over his shoulder. “Don’t worry, man.” He walked towards the fallen Via display. “It’s all good.”

At the display, Liam bundled as many boxes into his arms as he could. He stood, but his sneakers slipped on the tile. An attempt to catch himself in a squat failed. His legs wobbled until he landed on his ass with half the boxes spread across the floor. The snorts of nearby students carried to his burning ears.

“Shit, sorry,” Liam whispered. “I’m so—”

“Good thing all you have to do is kick, not catch.”

Liam’s eyes flew upwards.

Track: Halsey - Colors

There Zayn stood. Sunlight from the door poured around him and gave every one of his edges a soft, gold glow, like some sort of green apron wearing superhero. A quirk of Zayn’s hip made the remainder of the boxes in Liam’s arms slide to the floor, like a cascade of boxed coffee. Zayn got to his knees and picked up two boxes.

“Hi, Liam.”

Liam didn’t move a muscle, his mouth agape and his arms limp at his sides. Zayn arched an eyebrow, removing a box off of Liam’s groin.

“You okay?” Zayn chuckled softly.

“H-Hi—Hi, Zayn. What are you doing here?” Zayn looked down at his apron, a crooked smirk making Liam blurt out, “I mean, doy, you’re at work. Sorry. You’re probably busy.”

“Nah, it’s alright.” Zayn let his wrist brush Liam’s forearm to take a box from beside his hip. “How are you?”

Liam looked from his arm to Zayn’s face. “Me? I’m, yeah, good. I’m…” He started to bundle boxes into his arms. “Sorry, so sorry, about this mess.”

“No worries. I’m glad you came in.”

“You...are?” Liam asked, his brows rising higher and higher.

“Mmhmm. I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately.”

“Me? What about?”

Zayn took a box of coffee out of Liam’s pile and smiled shyly.

“How about we get that drink you mentioned?”

Liam’s arms slackened, sending coffee boxes down the front of his body.

. . .

Louis stepped in the door of his apartment, kicked off his shoes, removed his coat while doing a wide pirouette, dropped said coat on the kitchen table, and set off for the sofa. He glanced at Zayn’s open door and checked his watch. His neon green socks slid for his last two steps, his body propelled onto their old sofa. He grabbed the remote and turned on the television, flicking for a few seconds while crossing both of his legs on the couch.

“And we are just about to get started down at the good old Armadillo Bowl,” a male announcer named David said loudly. Louis’ placed the remote on the couch and crossed his arms over his chest, glancing at Zayn’s empty bedroom. “Word has it that the Armadillo’s are mighty fired up from last week’s win, thanks, of course, to the domination of wunderkind Harry ‘Hugo’ Styles.”

A stock photo of Harry in his uniform flashed on the screen, along with his stats and records he had broken during his college career. Where other football players looked intimidating, Harry grinned as if he was about to get cotton candy and board a ferris wheel. His eyes sparkled and his hair was bouncy, a black fabric headband holding his curls off his forehead.

The screen panned out to show a row of men in ill fitting suits sitting in a box somewhere above the football stadium. Cheerleaders in red and black performed in the distance.

“They are not thinking about anything less than the big W for today’s game against Ohio State,” David continued. “And that would be a huge W.”

“Right you are, David,” another male announcer named Bill said. “Ohio State is having one hell of a year—one hell of a season. This won’t be an easy win, but something tells me the mighty Armadillos are not too worried about it.”

The stadium roared so loud the announcers turned around.

“It appears our home team is taking the field,” David chuckled through his words. “And...to different entrance music than usual.”

Track: Prokofiev - Dance of the Knights

Louis’ mouth fell open.

“Pitbull has been replaced by, huh, let me get my glasses for this one.” David put on a pair of tiny, wire rimmed glasses and held a sheet of paper far from his face. “Prokofiev.” He squinted beyond the camera. “Am I saying that right, fellas?

A voice off camera confirmed, “Prokofiev,” amidst laughter in the studio.

“And it appears we have Julie on the field with Captain Harry Styles.” David took off his glasses and grinned with all of his extra white teeth. “Julie?”

The screen changed to the madness of the sidelines. Louis tried to keep up with everything going on, from players stretching to coaches shouting at clipboards to mascots running around with flags while shooting t-shirts out of cannons.

Booming cheers of, “Hu-go! Hu-go! Hu-go!” caused Julie to hold her hands over her ears. Julie shouted into her mic, “Julie Jones here with Captain Harry Styles. Also known to fans as Hugo, or”—she thumbed towards the crowd—“maybe you haven’t heard.”

Harry ambled into the frame wearing a dimpled grin and his entire football uniform. His jersey was red with black print, rolled up a couple of cuffs on his biceps. His socks were red with a black stripe around his calf, which contrasted with the tight black pants that clung to his long legs from hips to knees. He looked broader than usual due to his shoulder pads.

“Afternoon, ma’am,” Harry drawled, hugging her amidst all his gear. “How are you today? How are the kids?”

“I’m just fine, as are they, thanks, Harry.” She held her hand towards the screaming crowd “Sounds like you’ve got some fans today.”

Harry waved both hands at the stands, his grin growing along with the chants of, “Hu-go! Hu-go!”

“We’ve got the best fans in the world,” he said loud enough to be picked up on the mic, then rested his right hand on Julie’s shoulder. “We’re truly blessed. One might even say”—he looked the camera head on—“Hashtag: Blessed.”

“Harry, can you tell us a bit about your new entrance music today?”

Harry smiled playfully.

“Oh, the Prokofiev? That old thang?”

A wry amusement curled Louis’ lips. “Could you sound prouder of yourself for pronouncing Prokofiev right?”

“I practiced saying his name, like, twenty times today to make sure I said it right,” Harry said on camera. Julie laughed and Louis rolled his eyes. Harry continued, “Well, I saw a ballet the other night that was”—he looked into the camera—“inspirational. Dancers are so disciplined. So focused. So gifted.” His eyes seemed to sparkle even more, his voice dropping even lower. “Captivating to watch.”

Louis cuddled down so deeply into the cushions that he felt as if he was being eaten alive by foam, his limbs all wrapped around his body in some sort of protective cocoon. He pulled a Frito-scented blanket from the top of the sofa and swaddled himself in it, then turned up the television volume.

“Yes, we saw photos of you at the performance,” Julie said. “I think the whole country saw it! Are you becoming a ballet fan? Will we be seeing the football team in tights and tutus anytime soon?”

The screen flashed with the Tweeted photo of Harry with the Cub Scouts. Harry glowed with a dimpled grin, looking chic and ever the All-American hero even in his wrinkled black long-sleeved tee. He had held up a peace sign and two of the little boys, Spiderman and Bob the Builder, beamed up at him instead of the camera, mirroring his peace sign with their smaller fingers.

The inside of Louis’ body became as warm and drowning as the outside. He fanned himself with the blanket. “You hate football. Football sucks. The NFL is evil.” He wiped his hands over his face. “The NCAA exploits student athletes for profit on merchandise. Fuck football culture.”

The opening of The Dance of the Knights restarted in the background.

On screen, Harry looked at the camera, smiling but focused. “Well, I’m certainly trying my best to be a ballet fan. UT Amarillo has an amazing dance program. All of our art and design programs are amazing, but are functioning on a fraction of the budget they deserve. I’d encourage any potential donors to think about nurturing the student artists of our community with as much enthusiasm and generosity as they provide student athletes.” Harry’s stare never wavered from the camera but his eyelid flickered. “Lord knows I’m gonna do my best to support student artists in any way possible. Whatever it takes.”

The announcing booth was silent. Julie blinked up at Harry with the mic frozen in air. Louis held his cheeks from his position in the center of the sofa. Even the fans behind them were chanting, “Hu-go,” with softer confusion.

“Wow,” Julie finally said, quickly amending, “I mean, yes. Right. Very good, Harry. Uh, and,” Julie adjusted her sensible sportcoat, “the game today, how are you…” She looked baffled from the camera to Harry’s rapt face, “Feeling?”

“Oh, we’re totally going to win,” Harry said, giggling at the end of his statement. A coach came over and touched Harry’s bicep, whispered something in his ear. “I’ve got to go, ma’am, but thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. I do appreciate it.”

The cameraman just caught Harry pecking Julie’s cheek and pulling her into a hug before the shot went back to the men in the booth.

“Well, that was...” Bill blinked, his brows furrowed. “Unexpected. Not in a bad way, but…” He shrugged his meaty shoulders. “Different. Just different.”

David said, “You know,” while pointing his pen at the camera, “Harry Styles is a good old boy that likes to have a good time. He’s a Texas boy at heart. He’s the life of the party. He is the party. He’s not afraid to get caught with his hand in the cookie jar, or cookie jars, if you know what I’m saying.”

“Oh, we do, Dave, we do,” Bill chuckled. “I’ve shadowed the young Styles before for a feature and I can verify he is a legitimate celebrity on campus. In the state of Texas, really.”

“He knows how to have fun, and he sure as hell knows how to play football, but his celebrity status has led to questions about his maturity, and his ability to avoid distractions and lead a team but, I have to say, Bill, I’m seeing a whole new Harry Styles today. Always a charmer, always a prodigy, but finally seeming to settle into his role of leader for the mighty Armadillos.”

Louis snorted. “He listens to fifteen seconds of Prokofiev and suddenly his maturity is national news.”

The front door unlocked and Louis fumbled for the remote. He collapsed backwards on the sofa with one arm thrown behind his head. Zayn came inside.

“Hey, man.” Zayn shrugged his coat off. “What’s up?”

“Yo. Nothing. You?”

Zayn shuffled into the living room while itching the left side of his neck.

“You watching that for a class or something?”

Louis blinked confusedly. “Huh?”

Zayn pointed at the television, where the movie Happy Gilmore was playing with Spanish voiceovers.

“Oh, yeah,” Louis said, his voice extra deep. He twirled his fingers in the back of his hair. “Yeah. Trying to become fluent.”

“Cool.” Zayn stood still and watched the movie for a moment, then turned away. “I’m gonna shower.”

“Cool,” Louis said, bored and casual.

He waited until he heard the shower turn on before he craned his neck backwards. He scrambled to sit up on the center of the couch and palmed around the cushion while keeping watch for Zayn. He gripped the remote and hit one channel back.

“Nice,” he whispered.

The Armadillos were already up by seven. The screen flashed with Harry’s small photo in the corner, indicating that Harry had caught the touchdown pass. He saw #14 STYLES run past the camera on long, endless legs with his black helmet on, though curls peeked out the bottom. Louis exhaled shakily and hugged his knees.

. . .

“You need to learn how to study. Better late than never.”

“I’m not much of a visual learner.”

Louis peeled a Post-It, chuckling easily. “You’re a type of learner? Will wonders never cease?”

“You could give me another lap dance.” Harry sat back in his seat with his hands behind his head. “I’m sure that will get my study skills back on track. C’mere.” He spread his legs, nudging his knee to Louis’ thigh. “Ride ‘em, cowboy.”

Louis fastened the Post-It to Harry’s textbook without looking at him (or the sliver of abs and happy trail revealed by his scrunched red Armadillos tee).

“That is never, ever happening again. Why did you pester me into tutoring you in the first place if you didn’t want to do any work?”

“To get into your pants.”

Louis snorted.

“At least you’re honest. Now.” He circled the next assignment on their syllabus. “You’ve had over a week to do this. Show me what you’ve got.” Harry opened his notebook and revealed two blank pages. Louis hung his head, looking up to squint at him. “Please tell me you at least outlined like I showed you?”

“Umm…”

“Right, so that’s a no.”

“I just don’t get why we need to write about ourselves for this assignment. I crushed the last quiz we prepped for—”

“You got a B.”

“—but I don’t feel like talking about me.”

“I don’t think Professor Mullins wants the dirty details of your life. The assignment is meant to show that you’re thinking about what a tragedy is and can relate it to your own experiences, not that you’re regurgitating memorized facts like on the quiz.”

Harry tapped his temple with two fingers.

“I don’t think about tragedy. A positive outlook is key for success.”

“You don’t find anything tragic?”

“Nope.”

Louis chuckled, the sound lacking in humor. “Must be nice.”

Harry replaced his hands behind his head.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I think you’d be hard pressed to ask someone, anyone, about tragedy and find that they have experienced no tragedy in their life. Or they don’t understand that tragedies happen in the world outside their own happy, little bubble.”

“I don’t have a happy, little bubble.”

“You literally just said that you don’t register tragedy for your positive outlook. That sounds bubble-ish to me.”

“I don’t.”

“Then what do you find tragic? What makes you sad?”

“I thought sad was different than tragic?”

“Very good,” Louis said, a hint of a smile teasing his lips. “That’s true, but maybe for this assignment, you can start with what makes you sad. Maybe that’ll be a springboard and get your juices flowing.”

“I know other ways to get juices flowing.”

“God, you’re such a cheeseball. Do you hear yourself talk?”

Harry snuffled, “Hey,” as he gently shoved Louis’ shoulder. Nearby students looked up from their papers and books, Harry and Louis ducking lower in their seats. After a moment, Harry whispered, “I’m not a loser.” He poked Louis’ wrist with his eraser. “You’re the loser.”

“Yeah? Well, I’m the loser who completed this basic, simple assignment a week ago. Think about that when you’re still trying to remember who Shakespeare is at eleven-fifty-nine the night before the paper’s due.”

Harry’s eyes strayed from Louis’ face to slowly meander towards his laptop screen.

“What did you write about?”

Louis slapped the screen shut.

“You’re seriously trying to copy my paper about a personal tragedy?”

“I’m just curious about what you wrote about, God,” Harry groaned. “Everything with you is so fucking tough.”

“Funny.”

“Why is that funny?”

“You do nothing but deflect onto others. Everything is always everyone else’s fault. Everyone else is difficult or tough. It has nothing to do with you or your lack of commitment or your weak sense of fortitude.”

“I have fortitude,” Harry interrupted him. “I’ve got plenty of it.”

“On the field? Maybe. In real life? Not a chance.”

“That’s not true.”

Louis kept his face away from Harry to ask, “No?”

“No.”

“You could have fooled me.” Louis unzipped his backpack and quietly chanted, “L-A-Z-Y. What does that spell? La—”

“Rainy block parties.”

Louis slowed his motions. He didn’t look at Harry, but he asked, “What?”

“Rainy block parties are tragic.”

“Rainy block parties.”

“Yeah. You happy?”

Louis balanced his backpack on his lap and crossed his ankles under the table, turning to face Harry.

“Go on.”

“About what?”

“Rainy block parties. Why you think it’s tragic.”

“I just…” Harry looked up at the ceiling, his right fingers tapping on the library table. “I think it’s tragic that a whole neighborhood of people spend time organizing a block party and printing flyers and renting a bounce house and paying a DJ. They went to the town and got permits to get those wood things. You know. The wooden street closing things that sit on the road. They, you know, made potato salad and got heros and whatever other things people eat at block parties. Then it rains and it’s like...everyone is stuck in the house eating soggy heros and a DJ is just standing there in the rain playing the ‘Cha-Cha Slide’ to an empty street. It’s…”

Harry looked down. Louis’ eyes never wavered as he arched his brows, his expression calm yet rapt. Harry slid his notebook towards his backpack.

“Forget it,” Harry said.

“No, no, that was good,” Louis said quickly. His hand shot out to hold Harry’s notebook to the table. “Seriously.” Harry’s gaze flickered to his face, his full lips pouting as he frowned. “I’m serious. That was good.”

“Talking about soggy heros?”

“You were talking about the tragedy of lost potential.”

“I was talking about the ‘Cha-Cha Slide.’ I can’t exactly put that in a paper.”

“Well, I wouldn’t name the Cha-Cha Slide specifically, but your ideas are right. And besides, it’s a personal statement. It doesn’t have to be about some big, huge tragedy going on in the world. As long as you show you understand the concept, and express yourself clearly, you’ll be fine.”

“Puppies.”

Louis tilted his head, asking, “Puppies?”

“Yeah, I...” Harry ran his fingers back through his hair. “I think they’re tragic, too.”

“Puppies?” Louis repeated, slower.

“I think it’s tragic that they’re born from their mom, and they probably have brothers and sisters, but then they get broken up after a few weeks. They all go different places and don’t even know they have siblings. They don’t get to be with their mom or dad. That’s tragic.”

After Harry’s quick barrage of words, his face went rosy and his fists clenched on the table, Louis sitting silent beside him. Louis opened Harry’s notebook.

“Alright.”

“Alright?” Harry said, huffy.

“Yeah. Try that out, too.”

“I can’t write a paper about puppies.”

“Harry,” Louis said with a hint of amusement in his voice. “It’s not about puppies and bounce houses. It’s about showing you understand the concept of tragedy and are able to relate it to your own life.”

“How are puppies tragic?”

“You’re saying puppies, but the root of what makes it tragic to you is…” Louis scrunched his lips side to side, squinting at the highest book shelf. “Sort of a mix of the loss of innocence and the tragedy of destiny. The puppies are destined to grow up without their parents and, because they’re puppies, they have no say over it.”

“You’re serious.”

“Look, Riggins, you can write about whatever you want, but we’re running out of time.” Louis checked his watch. “You’ve only got ten minutes of my time left. Then you’re on your own.”

“Ten minutes? I can’t write it all in ten minutes!”

“You have ten minutes of my time and guidance,” Louis said calmly. He placed his hand on top of Harry’s. “Christ, stop flailing. You’re gonna shred your notebook. Why are you even using a notebook? You’re rich. You have a laptop. Bring it to class and the library.”

“I like notebooks. They’re classic.”

Louis removed his hand. “Well, get to writing. Try to get some of yourself in there, not just an ode to puppies and potato salad.”

Louis opened his laptop and double clicked on a document. He had ten minutes of library time left. He could at least finish his conclusion for Fabrics of the Medieval Court. He glanced at Harry.

“What?” he asked, tapping his pencil beside Harry’s notebook. “You were just super inspired and chatty. Start writing while your juices are flowing without the aid of a beej.”

Harry closed his notebook and pulled it towards his backpack.

“Hey,” Louis said, blocking his book. “What? What’s up?”

“Nothing.”

“Bullshit. What’s wrong?”

“I was just thinking about destiny. Tragedy. All that...Shit.” Harry exhaled, looking everywhere but Louis’ face. “I’m just over this.”

“Over your paper or over thinking thoughts that aren’t football, beer, and sex? C’mon,” Louis drawled, opening Harry’s notebook. “You’re doing so well. Truly. Don’t stop now. Unless you want to share.”

“Share?” Harry laughed, his brows sky high.

“Yeah. If you wanted to talk some stuff out.”

“About tragedy?”

“About whatever you want, if it relates to your paper.”

Harry bit his bottom lip, looking at the table. “My favorite player of all time is Don Hutson.”

Louis rested his face on his hand.

“Why do you like him so much?”

“We have similar body types. He was an old timer. A lifelong Packer. He’s who I would have wanted to be if I was born a hundred years ago.” Harry chuckled under his breath. “He’s who I want to be now, even being born when I was.”

“Wow. A way old timer, then.”

“Yeah. It was a completely different game. A completely different world.”

“Right.”

“He played while war was going on. There was no glitz and glamor. No crazy money or endorsements. He just played his ass off and revolutionized the game while the rest of the world was at war.”

“What about Don Hutson made you think of tragedy?”

“Where did I get my hands from?”

Louis thought about Harry’s question in reply to a question. He lifted his right shoulder, gently tapping his pencil against the table.

“Maybe you just have a natural inclination. A natural ability. It happens. It happens in dance. Some people are born with better feet than others. You can stretch and train forever, but sometimes it just comes down to genetics. Your dad and grandpa were NFL stars. It makes sense you might have a bit of a head start on the genetic lottery compared to...Well...Anyone else.”

“Do you know what the opposing teams call me?”

“Oh! Um...” Louis sucked air through his back teeth. “Hugo, right?”

Faint amusement softened Harry’s face, but he shook his head, his stormy pout returning.

“They call me Silver Spoon.”

“Harry, you’re…” Louis ran the very tip of his tongue over the inside of his bottom lip. “You’re a rich kid from an NFL dynasty. Silver Spoon is probably the kindest thing they could call you.”

“It should really be Silver Platter, though.”

“Why?”

Harry’s mouth flattened to a tight line, his tongue pressing his left cheek outwards.

“Jerry Rice is arguably the best wide receiver of all time.”

Louis was starting to feel like a football; tossed and thrown for loops one question after another.

“Okay. And?”

“And do you know how he says he got his hands?”

Louis shook his head. “Tell me?”

“His dad was a bricklayer. His sons would help him at work. Jerry Rice and his brother would throw bricks at each other from one floor of a house to another. That’s how he says he got his hands. Working, as a kid, with his dad. Laying bricks.”

“That’s interesting. I never knew that.”

“So, what I think is tragic is that these guys were working. They were living lives as people. Jerry Rice didn’t even get a scholarship to college, which is tragic by itself. He was a fucking phenom. Then I’m here”—Harry held his palms out—“with a natural ability, I guess, and my parent’s money and everyone kissing my ass. When did I ever throw bricks? When did I fight in a war? When did I—”

Louis’ phone buzzed. Harry tore his eyes from Louis’ face, his jawline twitching. In his peripheral vision, he saw Louis lift his backpack, put his phone inside, and zip the bag. Louis placed his backpack under the table, then rearranged his limbs on his chair, his left foot tucked under his bum.

“Sorry, Riggs, you were saying?”

Harry’s eyes slid from his empty notebook to Louis’ face.

“Don’t you have to go?”

“Nope,” Louis said, popping the p. Harry turned to look him head on, Louis’ lips twitching upwards. “You were saying?”

A slow smile stretched the corners of Harry’s mouth as far as they could go, Louis mirroring his grin and tapping his eraser on the table.

. . .

The football team all shouted, “Armadillos!” at the top of their lungs while pushing against each other in the middle of the field. They had another glorious victory in the books to continue their perfect season. They were the visiting team, but enough of their fans made the trip to their away game to cheer and scream as if they were at home. It was a good day.

Coach Taylor walked by to shake the hand of the coach from the opposing team. With him, came a flurry of media.

“Harry!”

“Hugo!’

“Harry Styles!”

Chase watched Harry grin with his arm around Liam’s shoulder. Cameras flashed brightly as sweat ran down Harry’s exhausted, but ecstatic, face. His helmet dangled from his fingers, his hair sticking up in wild curls behind his thin headband.

“Hi,” Harry drawled, giving the media a friendly wave. “Did y’all enjoy the game?”

The crowd around Harry was so large that some of the media started to get frustrated. A few pushed past Chase to join the mob, Chase stumbling and glaring at them.

One reporter shouted, “Harry! What can you tell us about your approach to today’s victory? What was your secret?”

Harry lifted his helmet and pointed to Chase. “This guy, over here, was throwing fireballs right into my hands. You should be talking to him. He’s the hero.”

Some of the media looked at Chase while Harry fielded another question, but boredom radiated from their half glances. They turned back to Harry. Chase grit his teeth and turned away, joining the other players moving towards the locker room.

“Hey, man, great game!” Eric said, patting Chase’s chest.

“Fuck off, Jersey.”

Eric frowned behind his face guard. “Um, okay. Sorry for saying anything.”

He went to run towards another group of players, but Chase reached out and gripped his forearm.

“Sorry, man, forget I said it.”

“What’s up with you? You just won. You alright?”

“Nothing, just...Just tired.”

They walked with a group of players to the visitor’s locker room.

“So, you know Louis?” Chase asked casually. “That twink with the bet?”

Eric took off his helmet and shook out his hair, his brows furrowed.

“What about him?”

“Do you know where he’s from?”

“I think California. Why?”

Chase shrugged.

“Just curious.”

“Why?”

“No reason.” Chase shoved Eric into a cart of dirty laundry. “Thanks, Jerz.”

Later that night, the team got on their luxury bus. Harry grinned up at Chase from his seat and held his hand out, both men bumping fists. Harry’s wet hair was bundled in a tiny, high bun. Liam was already sleeping against his shoulder with his headphones in.

“Hey, QB. Amazing game.” Harry’s voice was rough, as if he was on the brink of sleep. “Did you talk to the people from ESPN? I sent them your way. They were looking to interview you.”

The corners of Chase’s lips pinched. “No. They didn’t seem interested.”

Harry frowned. “No way. I talked all about you and the game today and how on you were. That’s so strange.”

“Yeah, who knows.” Chase shrugged and chuckled. “Maybe next game.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Harry said, holding his hand up. They slapped hands again and Chase moved on. “Have a good sleep.”

“You, too, man. See you at home.”

Chase moved to the end of the bus. He glanced at a freshman named Joe Adams (#59, Defensive Line; Freshman; Boise, ID) and flicked his hand.

“Get up.”

Joe blinked wide-eyed and pulled his earbuds out. “Me?”

“You’re in my seat. Get the fuck out of here.”

Joe looked at the empty seats surrounding them and shrugged. He picked up his duffle bag and moved away from Chase, who threw his bag in the aisle and plopped down over two seats. He took his iPhone out of his sweatpants.

“Let’s see here,” he murmured.

He typed ‘Louis Tomlinson’ into Facebook. Louis was there, though his profile was on complete lockdown. Chase hummed and checked his Activity Log. Everything was wiped clean except for a recent Like for a page called Golden Bay Turkey Trot 2015!.

Chase went back, searched for Golden Bay High School, and waited. Many student profiles popped up that listed Golden Bay as their high school. Chase read over a couple of names with mutual friends, swirled his finger in the air, then tapped on the screen of what looked like a football player.

“Easy as pie,” he said as he crafted a message.

. . .

Track: Janet Jackson - The Great Forever

Harry tiptoed to the dance studio hallway, his knees rising extra high as he glanced behind himself every few steps. When he got to the studio, he started to lead with his ear. There was no classical piano music. Instead, the beat of a futuristic R&B song vibrated the floor beneath his shoes.

He reached the entrance and peeked inside. Louis was not in his dance tights and white shirt. He was wearing a wisp of a black tank top that clung to his sweaty, shining torso, the hair on his chest darker than usual. His sweats were grey and bunched at the knees. His bare feet were darkened on the bottoms as he strutted across the floor.

The chorus kicked in and Louis started pirouetting, another male dancer mirroring him until their moves synced up. Their bodies seemed to tumble together, their moves modern and sensual, as opposed to the strictness of ballet class the week before.

The sound of two people murmuring to each other made Harry’s ear lean towards them. He listened in, even though his eyes were glued to Louis sliding and spinning on his knees as his partner chased him. Their bodies collided and melded, the dance partner pulling Louis to his feet and pressing their bodies together.

A man asked, “Who’s the smaller one?”

“Louis,” a woman answered. “Louis Tomlinson.”

“Why hasn’t he come to any of the auditions? He’d be a natural for the tour. Great body.”

“He’s not looking to go pro. He just minors in dance. He’s a costume designer, and on the track team, of all things.”

The man tutted his tongue. “Shame. He can move. Lovely technique. Ballet training?”

“Very strong.”

“Feet?”

“Fast, though his arches could be higher. He works well with what he’s got.”

Harry tuned out their voices completely once Louis was bent backwards with his dance partner’s face pressed to his neck, the partner’s muscled arms holding him tight around his lower back.

Then Louis broke out of the intimate hold. The strength of Louis’ strut as he charged towards the mirror made Harry’s heart race, every pound of his bare feet against the wood floor sending shockwaves through Harry’s bones. The two dancers synced up for the final chorus, both mirroring each other’s intensity and strength.

Harry didn’t realize he was standing with his mouth agape and his backpack hanging from his fingers until he heard, “Can we help you?”

He blinked towards the voice. It was Louis’ dance partner who asked. The dancer smirked at him as he sipped from a water bottle. Louis was beside him with his back to Harry, shaking his head and pulling shoes out of his gym bag.

Oh, Harry thought. The music had ended. The voices behind Harry had disappeared.

“I, um, wanted to see Louis, if that’s okay?” Harry tucked his backpack strap over his shoulder and looked to Louis, who was heavily invested in the contents of his gym bag. “Louis?”

Louis stood. “Yeah.” He looked over his shoulder as he rolled a striped sock over his foot. “I’ll be right there.”

Harry looped his thumbs in his backpack straps and rolled up on the balls of his feet. Louis said something to his dance partner, who winked at him and patted his back. Louis scoffed quietly before he faced Harry to jog his way.

“Hi,” Louis said, slowing his pace. “What’s up?”

“Can I walk you home?”

Louis raised his eyebrows. “Walk me home?”

“Yeah, I figured we could walk and talk and stuff.” Harry hurried to walk next to him. “You have work soon, right?”

“Uh...” Louis held out the word, “yeah.”

“I can walk you there, too.”

Louis stared straight ahead and blinked, Harry holding the door of the building open for him.

“What do you want to talk about? Thanks.” He stepped through the door. “Shakespeare?”

“Whatever you want.”

“Like?”

“You. Things about you. I want to learn about you.”

“Like what?”

“Like, um, everything.” Louis turned a corner and Harry stumbled after him. “Wow. You even walk fast.”

That earned a small smile from Louis, Harry running faster to get in front of him and walk backwards.

“So, um...” Harry fanned his hands away from himself. “Why do dancers wear leg warmers? And why do you wear a leg warmer on only one leg? Doesn’t your other leg get cold? Why do you bundle up so much all the time if you just take your clothes off for ballet class? Why do you wear such fancy clothes to regular classes?”

Louis’ small smile grew to a grin.

“Didn’t take you for a dance fan.”

“I’m a new dance fan, but definitely interested.” His eyes flickered over Louis’ entire body, his easy grin never faltering. “Really interested.”

Louis chuckled softly and slowed his steps, running his fingers through the back of his hair. He and Harry walked beside each other through an archway of golden trees.

“Hmm. Let’s see if I can answer some of your questions. Well, dancers wear leg warmers because it’s easier to take them off during class. Sweats are too annoying to put on and take off over shoes when we only have a few seconds between sets.”

“Do you ever wear only leg warmers and dance around the house naked?”

“No,” Louis laughed and shook his head. Harry grinned sideways at him, mischievous and sly. “God, your brain is...Terrifying.”

“At least you’re acknowledging I have a brain.”

“Touche. Dancers bundle up because most dance studios are in basements or are air conditioned. When class first starts, it’s pretty chilly. It takes a bit before you warm up and get sweaty. I like looking put together in academic classes because I spend most of my time in workout clothes or covered in thread and steamed milk. I wear a leg warmer on my left knee sometimes because I injured my knee in high school and it gives me trouble once in a while.”

Harry’s brows furrowed.

“How?”

“My first, and only, moment of glory doing hurdles at a meet. Too bad. They were fun, when I wasn’t busting my knee.”

“It still gives you trouble?”

“Nothing huge, just mild aches and soreness. Occasionally I have to baby it a bit. The leg warmer keeps it toasty, which I’ve found helps when it’s acting up.”

“Are those tights you wear comfortable?”

“Yeah, actually. Male dancers wear a dance belt, which helps with junk related issues. You get used to it.”

“I don’t know how you understand a word your teacher says.” Louis laughed, a flurry of hot pride swirling up through Harry’s entire body. “I’m serious! Madame talks so fast and it’s all in French.” Louis’ giggles multiplied, his body hunching forward. Harry swayed his hands in the air like a conductor. “One, two, pottery yay, boulangey, five and six. What does that even mean?”

Louis wiped his fingers under his eyes, still tittering.

“You pick it up after dancing for so long. That’s part of the fast feet thing.”

“Fast feet?”

“Yeah. Choreographers will only give instructions once, and you have to catch on really quickly. I think of it like fast feet.”

“Is that why that Madame said your feet are fast?”

“Um, yes,” Louis snorted. “But you kind of do the same thing. It’s not hard when you do it every day.”

“Me?”

“Yeah, with football. You have to learn all sorts of plays and the coach seems to just yell them at you. I don’t know how you understand that.”

“We have books and stuff. Binders with plays in them. Plus, we practice a lot.”

“Well, dancers practice a lot, too. I guess it’s similar. You’ve got soft hands.” He did a little spin as he walked. “And I’ve got fast feet.”

Harry stopped walking, shaking his head.

“Fuck me, Tomlinson.” He broke into a jog with hands outstretched. “You’re so damn cute.”

“Shut up,” Louis laughed, running backwards. Harry tackled him with as much care and gentleness as he was physically able, cradling the back of Louis’ head as they landed in a pile of leaves. “Harry! What are you—” Airy giggles bubbled out of Louis’ mouth as he shoved Harry’s face out of his neck. “Ugh, I stink right now. I need to shower before I go to Starbucks and stink for another reason.”

“Nah, you smell good.”

“You’re crazy. I’ve been dancing for hours. I’m rank.”

“Nope.” Harry took a long, loud breath beneath Louis’ ear, prompting more squirmed giggles from Louis. “I’m right. And after a shift at work, you smell like coffee. It’s a good stink.”

“You been smelling me often, Styles?”

Harry rolled half off of him, draping his arm over Louis’ chest.

“It’s one of my favorite hobbies.”

Louis lifted a vibrant red leaf from the grass. He tucked the stem behind Harry’s ear, his fingertips meandering through Harry’s curls before he pulled his arm to himself. Harry tried to look at the leaf in his hair, the sound of soft chuckling pulling his eyes back towards Louis’ face.

“How’s it look?”

“Charming.” Louis placed another leaf over Harry’s other ear. “There we are. Now you’re balanced.”

“Lou.”

“What?”

“This would be, like, the perfect fall makeout moment.”

Louis laughed and pushed him off with two palms to his chest. Harry fell onto his back and Louis stood.

“You’ve been reading too much Shakespeare, Romeo.”

“What happened to Riggins?”

Louis scanned Harry’s relaxed, sprawled body, a rainbow of leaves pillowing Harry’s curls.

“He’s still around.”

Harry stood just as Louis took off. “Hey!” He started to run before his feet were fully on the ground, and his shoes slipped in the leaves. “I’m supposed to be walking you home!”

Louis called over his shoulder, “Some gentleman you are!”

. . .

Harry panted, “Why am I always,” he breathed for a moment, sweat dripping down the sides of his nose, “running after you?”

“Do I have to say the L Word?”

“Oh, please,” Harry groaned out. He was around ten feet behind Louis, his lungs and legs absolutely burning. “Please tell me you love me. It might be the last thing I hear before I die in these woods.”

They turned a corner.

“You’re so dramatic. We’re almost done. And you’re thinking of the wrong L Word. You know it amuses me how much it annoys you when I call you L-A-Z-Y.”

Louis pranced the last few steps of the trail on light toes, his ass bouncing further away from Harry. Harry heaved a breath into his body and caught up with Louis, then promptly collapsed on his back. Louis’ chuckles barely sounded in the early morning air.

Harry heard his phone ringing in his backpack, but he could only focus on the steamy breaths puffing out of his mouth. Louis leaned over him with his hands on his thighs. He nudged Harry’s side with his shoe.

“Hey, I gotta go. I have an early meeting with my advisor.”

“Yeah,” Harry said, his voice cracking. Louis laughed again, standing up straight. Harry lifted one limp hand. “See you tomorrow morning.”

“See you.”

Harry heard Louis trot away. His phone rang again and he groaned, hiding his face with his forearm.

“Too early,” he mumbled, still not moving. “Go away, phone.”

When a squirrel ran too close to his head for comfort, Harry rolled his body up. He crawled to his backpack and dug through until he found his phone. He tapped Accept and lifted it to his ear.

“Oh, hi,” he said, a touch breathless. “What’s up?”

. . .

The next morning, Louis found himself working extra slow during his dynamic warmup. He had already done a sufficient amount of movement to start his run, but he still had his sneakers on.

A crackled sound behind him made Louis spin, but it was only a squirrel. He exhaled quickly and refocused on his stretching.

He jogged over to his backpack and took out his phone, tapping his thumbs on the side of the phone while studying the time. He opened a new text message and scrolled through his contact list, but his scrolls slowed as he reached letter H. He nibbled his bottom lip for a moment, then shook his head.

“Whatever,” he muttered, then silenced his phone and started his playlist.

Upon returning from his run, he turned alerts back on. He had a new email waiting for him from the Office of Academic Affairs. Louis frowned and tapped his screen.

Due to a personal matter, HARRY STYLES will be unable to attend any previously scheduled TUTORING SESSIONS for the remainder of this WEEK. Please contact HARRY STYLES privately to resume your TUTORING SESSIONS. Thank you for your service to our university.

. . .

JD Styles sank into a chaise lounge on the back deck of his home. He crossed his ankles at the end of the chair, his eyes scanning over his sprawling green property. He swirled his glass of scotch on the rocks, toeing his loafers off.

“Guests gone?” Harry asked from beside him.

JD took a quick sip, then hissed. “Yessir. It’s too bad about old Marjorie, but the catering was a real success. I’ll have to keep this company in mind for the next Armadillo alumni event.”

Harry slid his thumb under the seam of his beer bottle label.

“Marjorie seemed like a real nice lady from all the...the pictures and stuff. You know?”

“She was.” JD held his glass to the sky. “God bless the old girl.”

Harry propped a hand behind his head and used the rim of his beer bottle to push his sunglasses higher on his nose. He itched his feet together.

“It’s great Gretch has you during all this. I’m sure your support is important during such a tough time in her life. She seems really upset, with good reason. I’d be...” Harry sipped his beer, letting the slightly warmed beverage smooth over his tongue. “Inconsolable.”

“Support? In-con-solable?” JD’s gruff laughter mixed in with the clink of ice cubes in his glass. “You’re going soft on me, son.”

“What’s funny about supporting Gretch when her mama passed away?”

“Nothing, nothing at all. Gretch is a good girl. She’s great. A great girl.” JD sipped a mouthful of scotch. “Too bad we’re divorcing so soon. I had high hopes for us, but, you know how it goes.”

“What?” Harry craned his neck to look at his father. “You’re divorcing Gretch?”

“We are. My little sugarbell doesn’t know that little detail yet, but”—JD chuckled—“I’m sure she’ll take it like a champ.”

Harry’s brows wrinkled. “But...Why? Why now?”

“I think it’s time to trade-in and trade-up.”

“You just got married last summer.”

“I know. Waste of money but, it was one hell of a party, wasn’t it? Worth it for the publicity.”

“I just…” Harry turned in his chair and sat on his socked foot. “I just don’t get it.”

“You’re young, son. You don’t get a lot of things. Least of all about relationships.”

“What does her mother dying have to do with you getting a divorce?”

JD laughed with his head thrown back, his salt and pepper waves flowing around his tanned face.

“I figured you’d be thrilled!”

Harry’s confusion only deepened. “Why would I be thrilled you’re divorcing Gretch?”

“You’ve always had your eye on her, you salty dog, you,” JD said on a playful growl. Harry shook his head with his mouth agape. “It’s fine. If I was your age, I’d be fucking my way through your university.”

“But I…” Harry looked down at his empty beer bottle. Something sour bloomed on his tongue, his stomach aching. “Forget it.”

“What?”

“Don’t you…Don’t you think it’s weird that you’ve always…”

“Always what? All this talking.” JD snuffled into his scotch. “Who knew you were such a chatterbox?”

Harry looked at him over the top of his sunglasses. “You’ve always encouraged me to have sex with as many people as possible, including your exes.”

“So?” JD held his arms toward his vast property. “I like to share the wealth.”

“That’s weird, Dad,” Harry said with more firmness. “I was a kid and you were telling me it’s okay to sleep with older women. Encouraging me. I was a kid.”

JD breezed, “Were you? How quickly time moves.”

Harry crossed his arms over his chest and faced forward.

“That’s fucked up. It’s taken me years to realize that was fucked up, but for whatever reason, I…” Harry’s lips twitched shut for a beat. “I’ve been thinking more clearly lately and, looking back, that was fucked up.”

“Harry,” JD drawled, staring at Harry’s profile. “It’s okay. You’re a chip off your old man’s block.” Harry looked at his father. While he had inherited most of his mother’s facial features, he was built just like his father, with the same wavy hair and long limbs. “What’s wrong with a young man making the best of his youth? You’d better do it now, or else you’ll wake up and have to listen to your wife go on and on about her dead mother.” JD scrunched his fingers in the air in a talking motion. “Blah blah blah.”

Harry stood up.

“Forget it. Forget I said anything. I’m going to my room.”

JD dropped sunglasses down from his hair without looking at Harry. He waggled his fingers as he took a drink, multiple Super Bowl rings glinting in the sunlight. His lips slapped.

“Give Gretch my best, son.”

Harry turned back and whispered, “Jesus Christ, Dad. I’m not going to go fuck your grieving wife.”

“Woah-oh,” JD laughed, craning his neck back. “Sounds like someone needs to get laid.”

Harry walked through the deck doors.

“I’m going back to school tomorrow.”

JD rolled his upper body over the side of the lounge.

“But I thought we were going to go golfing?”

“I’m not in the mood,” Harry said in the distance.

. . .

Track: Pink Floyd - Young Lust

The dance studio was empty save for one dancer. A pure white spotlight illuminated the center of the room and the solo dancer, but it was otherwise dark.

A rock song featuring a relentless guitar lick and roaring singer accompanied the dancer’s choppy, modern movements. The dancer’s bare feet pirouetted across the floor, their hair standing up high with peaks of sweat and a sheen of grease highlighting their wiry muscles. They wore nothing but tight black sweats and a ripped white tank that dripped down their shoulders, dipping so low it barely covered their lightly-haired chest.

Harry snuck through the open door and tiptoed along the mirrors. The dancer’s shirt flew up to expose his flat abs and Harry stumbled over his own feet. He fell ass first into the nearest folding chair.

The dancer strutted towards him as the chorus of the song kicked in. Harry froze in his seat with his legs spread, his arms hanging at his sides. As the dancer came closer, Harry opened his mouth to call out, “Hi, Lou,” but no words came out.

Louis walked directly up to him and peeled his white tank over his head. The swaying of his rounded hips synced up with the pounding beat and the scrunching of his obliques, more and more skin revealed. He threw his shirt at Harry, the damp material melting down Harry’s face to pool on the floor.

Harry’s head dropped back, waves of arousal engulfing his entire body so suddenly he felt paralyzed. He was reminded of the smell of locker rooms. The sweet smell of fresh sweat. The rank smell of too much sweat at the very end of a game. The feeling of relief when he made the connection between his hard-ons after practice and the smell of men.

Then Louis was gripping the chair between the vee of Harry’s thighs. He held Harry’s stare with blazing blue eyes and dragged the chair to the center of the dance floor, the chair vibrating underneath Harry’s ass.

Louis straddled him in one quick motion. Harry pressed his nose to the dip of Louis’ sweaty collar bone and gripped his ass.

A hard slap stung Harry’s cheek. Harry’s head was thrown to the side, his mouth opening to moan.

“Did I say you could touch?” Louis murmured.

Harry’s voice whimpering, “No,” echoed around his head.

Louis laced his fingers in the back of Harry’s hair and pulled his head backwards.

“No, who?” Louis asked, low but direct. He gyrated deep, slow circles to the beat, his hand tightening in Harry’s hair. “Answer me.”

Harry moaned, “No, sir.”

Louis giggled.

“Sir,” he taunted, his voice a high coo. “Sir?” He pulled Harry’s hair back and lifted himself enough to peer down at him, their open lips barely a breath away from each other. “You can do better than that.”

Harry’s mouth swayed closer to Louis’ but Louis pulled back. Louis chuckled and pushed Harry’s face into the front of his throat, Harry huffing in deep breaths of Louis’ scent while mouthing whatever skin he could, his motions frantic.

“Lazy. Lazy. Lazy.” Louis hips ground for each word, sweat and grime from Louis’ chest transferring to Harry’s own heated skin. “L-A-Z-Y. You’re fucking lazy, Harry Styles.” His hand squeezed between Harry’s legs, the weight of Louis’ body pushing him tighter for each grind. “L-A-Z-Y.”

Harry groaned, “Please,” and his hair was pulled back hard, pleasure surging through his frozen body. “I want you,” Harry said, breathing harder. “I need you. I worship you.” Louis pulled his hair again and Harry breathed, “I love you.”

Louis’ amused laughter poured over his face.

“Oh, Harry. How darling.”

Harry’s eyes widened.

“But I do. I love you, I love you, I love—”

Louis’ lips smothered him and sucked the air out of his lungs, Harry moaning with their tongues sliding together. The bite of Louis’ stubble only made Harry press harder kisses to his lips, until Louis tightened the grip on his hair and sealed their lips together, Harry’s chest heaving to breathe.

Even though his mouth was taken over, Harry felt air rush through his entire body, his hips arching up for more, more, more of Louis’ body. Toe-curling pleasure drilled through the center of his body, the base of his spine on fire. Harry gasped and sucked on Louis’ lower lip, his hair pulled hard but their lips never breaking apart.

A dull beeping sound snuck into the music. Harry’s motions grew frantic, his hands scrabbling up Louis’ sweat-slick lower back.

“Louis,” he panted. Louis’ mouth pried his lips open, the ache in the center of Harry’s body almost unbearable. “Louis, Louis, Louis, Lou—”

 

Harry’s eyes flew open as his body seized inwards. He looked down at his groin and clenched his eyes, his hips rutting against his mattress without his control. Hot stickiness glued his cock to his boxers, his motions slowing.

Harry panted loudly in the silent night air. His body went limp.

“What the fuck was that?” he whispered, burying his face in his pillows. He gulped, able to feel sweat racing down between his shoulderblades. He ripped his face out of his pillows to suck in a breath. “What the fuck?”

His childhood alarm clock on his bedside table beeped. Harry groaned and reached out, fumbling to hit Snooze.

Track: Jennifer Paige - Crush

He knocked a few buttons and dials. A song blared through the radio. Harry blinked at the alarm clock with come cooling on his groin. His eyes darted side to side, his mouth falling further open.

“What the fuck?

. . .

Louis eased his arms down and touched his toes. He let his head fall forward, his hamstrings burning pleasantly. He rolled his body up and stretched his arms one by one across his chest. He kicked his feet forward and wiggled his ankles, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he reached for the sky. He toed off his trainers and stretched his toes against the Earth. One more round of bounces and he turned towards the woods.

“Wait!”

Louis’ bounces slowed.

“Wait! Lou!”

Louis started to jog towards the path.

“I’m here!”

Louis didn’t slow, but he didn’t speed up. Harry ran up on his left side.

“You’re back,” Louis said.

They followed the path to the right.

Harry said, “I’m sorry I missed the last few days. I…” They jogged for a few seconds, Harry’s breaths puffing into the chilly air. “I had to go home.”

“Why? Had a Republican ball to host? A Jeep that needed selling?”

“Death in the family.”

Louis’ face remained forward, but his eyes darted to Harry.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said, softer.

“It’s okay. It was my stepmom’s mom. I didn’t really know her.”

“Still, I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thanks. I tried to keep up with my classwork, I promise.”

Louis felt himself starting to smile and sped up his stride.

“Enough talking. We need to go faster.”

“Okay, Goldblum. Lead the way.”

“You and your Jurassic Park obsession is so…” Louis trailed off and looked at Harry. His gaze dropped to the ground. “Hey, what the fuck? Are you looking at my feet? Why are you looking at my feet?”

Harry’s head snapped forward.

“I’m not.”

“You totally were.”

Harry sped ahead of him.

“Was not.”

“Ugh, you just get back and you’re already such a menace.”

“Aw,” Harry drawled, slowing enough for Louis to pull ahead. “You missed me!”

Louis called back, “I did not.”

“You totally did.”

A smile stretched across Louis’ face as his feet flew on the ground. He and Harry became equal, both breathing in sync, their feet pounding the path at the same time.

Louis held his hand out. “Can I have your phone, please?”

Harry stuck his hands in his pockets as he ran and just missed running into a hanging branch, if not for Louis hurrying ahead to lift it as Harry ran by.

“Why do you want my—”

“Jump,” Louis said, and Harry jumped over a log.

“—my phone?”

Louis took the phone from him and typed as he ran. He handed the phone back.

“There. Now you’ve got my number and I’ve got yours.” Harry gasped and cradled the phone against his chest, Louis hurrying to add, “For tutoring purposes only. This is not an invitation to text me at all hours to talk about God knows what.”

“Hashtag: Happiest day of my life.”

Louis laughed loudly. “C’mon, we need to actually train.”

“Hashtag: We?” Harry teased with arched brows.

“Hashtag: Shut up and run before I leave you behind.”

. . .

Harry and Louis stood in front of the library with both of their heads tilted left. A paper printout was hastily taped over the locked doors.

“Gas leak?” Louis hitched his bag higher. “How weird.”

“Yeah. I hope the books will be okay.”

Louis smirked as he checked his watch. “Um, Zayn said he needed the apartment for some art thing for the evening. We could go to Starbucks?”

“Why don’t you come to my place?”

“The frat house?” Louis dropped his wrist, squinting. “You want to study at the frat house?”

“Yeah, why not? We can go in my room if it’s too loud downstairs.”

“Are you going to be able to focus in your room?”

“Of course,” Harry scoffed, looping his thumbs in his backpack straps. “I promise. We will be totally studious.” Slower, he repeated, “To-ta-ly stud-i-ous.”

. . .

Zayn pinched his black tank away from his chest and fluffed it once. He put his hand on the doorknob to his apartment and let out a long sigh, then sniffled. He pulled the door open.

“Hi,” Liam gushed, thrusting forward a bouquet of roses.

Zayn curled his lips and held his face away.

“Ugh,” he grunted. “I hate the smell of roses.” He flicked his hand at the flowers. “They’re the most cliche of gifts.”

“Oh, I’m—I’m sorry,” Liam said, softer. He lowered the roses. “What’s your favorite? I’ll bring them next time. I’ll bring bushels of them.”

Zayn turned from him and walked into his apartment.

“Doesn’t matter,” Zayn said, bored. He didn’t hear footsteps behind him and slowed. He glanced over his shoulder. “Are you coming to my room or what?”

“I just…” Liam’ black boots went pigeon-toed in the doorway, his hands clasped around the rejected roses. “I just thought we were going on an actual date this time?”

Zayn crossed his arms over his chest and leaned his weight on his left leg.

“A date? An actual date?”

Quickly, Liam said, “Yeah, like, I know last time was kind of, um, rushed. But amazing! But just, like, sex.” He held his palm out. “Really, really good sex. Fantastic. Mind blowing. Ama—”

“Get on with it.”

Liam pulled a glossy brochure out of his blazer pocket.

“Right. So, I was thinking we could walk around The Abbey Museum and then get Pakistani food at a restaurant three blocks from the museum. It has near perfect Yelp reviews and I’ve already memorized the menu.”

“The Abbey?” Zayn asked with arched brows. “Pakistani food?”

“Yeah! I thought that you would, um, like the museum. Since you’re an artist. I’ve always wanted to go, but I never had anyone to go with. And, though you didn’t verbally tell me you like comic books, um, I noticed some comics on the floor when we were having sex, and they have a special Marvel exhibit running at the Abbey right now that I think you’d really like. If you haven’t, like, seen it already, of course.”

Zayn walked up to Liam, his steps slow and measured. He ran his tongue over his top lip.

“What is this, Payne?”

Liam blinked, backing up in time with Zayn’s steps.

“What is what?”

“What is this nice guy shit? What is this date planning and museum visit and Pakistani food routine?”

“It’s—It’s not a routine,” Liam said quickly.

“How the fuck did you even know I was half Pakistani?”

Liam’s back hit the doorway.

“I’ve had a crush on you since freshman orientation.”

Zayn narrowed his eyes, their shoes touching.

“What does that have to do with anything?”

Liam took a big breath in. “At orientation, we had to go around a circle talking about ourselves. Chase made a stupid joke about you being Aladdin from Arabia. You calmly informed him that he sounded racist and that Saudi Arabia is a real place, but that your dad’s family is from Pakistan, which is a nearby, but completely different, country.”

Zayn’s lips fell open. Liam took a quick catch breath.

“And I just thought you were a genius hero with the prettiest eyes I’d ever seen, which I didn’t understand at first, because I—” Liam’s voice cracked, his eyes flitting away from Zayn’s serious stare. “As you know, I’d never been with a guy until the other night. But I always tried to pair with you when we had group projects in classes. I think I was the only person who looked forward to group projects. But…” His words slowed. “You would never talk to me unless it was about class stuff and, even then, you seemed to only like me because I was good with PowerPoint and Excel. But I...” He looked down at the collar of his black blazer, where Zayn’s hands had curled into the stiff fabric. “I...What are we...You…”

Zayn gently pulled him down, Liam’s gaze darting to Zayn’s lips a half-second before they were kissing. The plastic surrounding the bouquet of roses crinkled between their chests, Liam inhaling deeply through his nose with their lips joined.

“We can go to the Abbey and get Pakistani food,” Zayn whispered, Liam’s lips surging forward to kiss him again. “But I’m paying for myself.”

Liam pouted.

“But I want to take you out on a date.”

Zayn tightened his hold on Liam’s blazer and kissed him harder, murmuring, “Don’t fight me on this, Payne.”

“I don’t want you to think I’m just coming to you for sex. Or to experiment,” Liam whispered, shuddering breaths over Zayn’s lips. “It’s not about that for me. Not with you. I...I like you.”

“So you won’t mind if we don’t have sex after our date?”

“Of course not.”

Zayn smiled slowly and wrapped his fingers around the stems of his bouquet.

“Let me just put these in water.”

Liam stood stunned and frozen against the door frame. His eyes followed Zayn’s motions around the kitchen to find a vase, fill it, and place his roses on the center of the kitchen table. Zayn stood with his back to Liam to close the cabinet above the refrigerator.

“If Lou asks, I’ll say they’re from a still life project.” Zayn turned towards Liam. “Your secret is safe with me. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, fantastic.”

Zayn exhaled a round of quiet, huffed chuckles as he shrugged on his black leather jacket. He walked up to Liam and cradled his cheek, thumbing his cheekbone.

“We’re definitely having sex after our date, if you’re game.” He pecked him softly on the lips. “Just to let you know.”

“O-Okay,” Liam said as he nodded.

They walked out of the door. Zayn locked the apartment and pocketed his keys, bumping hips with Liam as he walked past him.

“A genius hero with pretty eyes,” Zayn muttered, chuckling. “How ridiculous are you?”

Liam ran after him and laughed, “Hey, I was very taken with you! And you do have pretty eyes!”

“Who actually enjoys group projects?” Zayn teased, bumping Liam into the wall with his shoulder. “I should run for the hills now. You’re clearly a sadist.”

Liam clasped Zayn’s hand while they walked down the steps, their arms swinging between them.

. . .

For Harry and Louis, ‘totally studious’ meant opening their books and holding onto writing implements, but in reality meant lying head to foot on Harry’s bed with Daredevil streaming on the flat screen in Harry’s bedroom as they worked their way through the frat house snack pantry.

Harry came back into his bedroom through the open door.

“Ooh, yeah,” he said, giving his voice extra grit. “I knew I bought the good shit for a reason.”

He placed a pint of ice cream in front of Louis, who was lounging on his stomach with his socked feet at the head of the bed. Louis popped the top off his vanilla bean gelato.

“I’m impressed. You actually have good taste in snacks.”

Harry stuck a spoon into his pint of Chunky Monkey. “I’ll take that as a compliment, thank you.” Louis chuckled softly. Harry sat at the head of the bed with his back against the headboard, both of his legs bent and crossed. “You have the most extensive sock collection I’ve ever seen. You have a new pair on every day.”

Louis peered over his shoulder at his feet clad in black socks with white aliens.

“Not really. I think that’s just called wearing clean clothes. Something you clearly never got the memo about.” He narrowed his eyes. “You’re always looking at my feet, weirdo.”

Harry gave the back of his spoon an obscene lick.

“I think you’ve inspired me to develop a foot fetish, to be completely honest.”

Louis’ high laughter came on so suddenly and strongly that he could only flop on his stomach, his back shaking and his ass bouncing. Harry laughed, raspy and low, before swallowing another mouthful. He pinched Louis’ pinky toe and Louis kicked at him.

“Seriously, though,” Harry said, his giggles quieting. “Why do you run barefoot but wear socks all the time?”

“My coach in high school said I was over-correcting a lot because of my shoes when I ran. I had blisters and stuff. Then he was like, why don’t you try it barefoot? Some runners like it better. It worked, so now I just run without shoes. It makes me more grounded or something. Makes my stride more natural.” Louis rolled onto his back and bent his knees, his feet flat on the bed. “My parents seem to think socks are a neutral enough gift for me, so I get them for basically any life event or holiday. That’s why I have a lot, I guess. And, um, my feet are always kind of cold, so—”

“Hu-go! Hu-go! Hu—”

Harry and Louis looked confusedly towards the broken off chant. A crowd of freshman players stood in the open doorway. Their arms were pumped up at uneven heights, their expressions equally confused at the sight of Harry and Louis, fully clothed and over the covers, surrounded by textbooks while eating ice cream.

“Yeah?” Harry asked on a soft chuckle, stirring his pint. “What’s up?”

“Nothing,” the player, Mark Mallory, said (#47, Running Back; Freshman; Boston, MA). He slowly backed away. “Sorry, I just thought…You know.” He made a shallow thrusting motion with his hips. Uncertainty colored his voice. “Hu-go?”

“Door’s open, man. We’re just studying.”

The group of freshman moved away from the door, their confused mutters fading in the distance. Louis stared at the ceiling, his toes curling on top of each other at the head of the bed.

“Do you like when they call you that?”

Harry turned a page in his notebook. “What, Hugo?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, I guess so. It pumps people up. It works well on the field. Announcers can say, ‘Hu-going all the way’ when I score. The press seems to like it. It’s a nickname.”

“Yeah, but do you like it? Who gives a shit about the press?”

“I mean, I guess I like it? I think it’s funny that it caught on, but it only adds to my hook.”

“Your hook?”

“Yeah, like, my press package. Things about me that commentators can talk about on-air that makes fans want to be fans of me. Everyone has to have a story.”

“Being part of an NFL dynasty isn’t enough of a story?”

“That’s fine for football people. Hugo makes people want to fuck me, which gets me an entirely new fanbase.”

“This is bizarre.” Louis turned onto his stomach. “Hearing you talk about it so nonchalant.” He uncapped his highlighter. “What does Hugo even mean? Is it your middle name or something?”

“Oh, you…” Harry propped himself up on one elbow, his legs out straight ahead of him. “You don’t know?”

Louis highlighted a line. “Why would I know your middle name?”

“No, like, Hugo is, um...” Harry laughed softly for a moment. “It’s a nickname I got in high school.”

“Does it have something to do with football?”

Harry sat up straighter and crossed his ankles. He scrunched his long toes on his bare right foot and itched his heel to his calf.

“Sophomore year, my team had an overnight trip for a championship game, so we were all staying in a hotel. And, you know, we were all revved up after the game and we picked up some girls from the hotel pool. So, I’m having sex with this girl, and I presume it was going well,” he chuckled, “because she starts screaming, ‘Hugo! Hugo! Hu-go! Hu-go-oh!’ at the top of her lungs when we were, like, really going at it.”

There was a small, but joyful, chorus of, “Hu-go! Hu-go! Hu-go!” from nearby frat boys.

“I guess she thought that was my name? I dunno how she got Hugo from Harry, but I can’t really talk. I don’t remember her name. So, yeah. My teammates heard it in the hallway and were fucking dying laughing. It sort of stuck.”

Louis rolled onto his side and brought his knees closer to his chest, propping his head up on his hand.

“Do football players often listen to each other have sex and pretend that’s normal?”

“It happens.”

“You’re a weird bunch.”

“It was a joke.” Harry lifted his foot and shoved Louis’ shoulder. “It’s funny. People find it charming and kind of hot. It sends the message I’m a good fuck.”

Louis arched his eyebrows.

“It sends the message? Wow.”

“What?”

“Nothing. We just...We have very different views on privacy and sex, I guess.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means I don’t care if strangers think I’m a good fuck. The people I choose to have sex with should be the only people in that equation.”

“C’mon, Lou, you’re smart. You know that, in this day and age, to be famous in any field, you have to have hype. You have to have something that sticks.”

“So, you want people to know you as being a good fuck or being a good football player?”

Harry pursed his lips and weighed his head side to side.

“I’m both, so I don’t see a problem with either.”

Louis snuffled, “Whatever,” and rolled onto his stomach. He swallowed a spoonful of vanilla gelato, refocusing on his notes and swaying his feet in the air. “Do you have your notes for Shakespeare? We have to start working.”

Harry got to his knees and stretched out on his stomach beside Louis. He lifted his backpack from the floor and half pulled it onto the mattress, leafing through loose pages scrunched between books.

“What’s that?” Louis asked curiously.

Harry’s hand slowed. He pulled his notes out and shoved his backpack off the bed, but Louis caught the strap.

“Louis—”

Louis pulled out a Post-It filled copy of Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order. His jaw dropped.

“Are you—Are you reading Noam Chomsky?” Louis looked from the book in his hand to Harry’s face. Harry stared intently at his bedspread. “Harry, this isn’t on the reading list for any of your classes. Neither is…” Louis pulled out a dogeared copy of The Hobbit. “This!” He pulled out a worn copy of A Song of Fire and Ice. “Or this!”

Harry buried his face in a text book.

“You mentioned Chomsky a few times in conversation. I sometimes have to look words up on my phone, but I, um, have Amazon Prime. It was super cheap in paperback.”

“Harry Styles,” Louis whispered in awe, his smile beaming. “Do you actually like to read?”

Harry frowned, his lips pouted forward and his brows drawn together.

“Just, like, don’t tell anyone, please. Okay?”

“What, that you like to read?”

“Yeah, I can’t have that getting out.”

“Harry, scholar-athletes are a thing. Liam’s a really good student. A lot of athletes are actually really involved in academics. There’s nothing wrong with being both. Weren’t you a Boy Scout?”

“Eagle Scout. I built park benches for the grounds of a retirement home.”

Louis giggled, “See? You’re not as dumb as you look.”

Harry grinned and rolled onto his back, his head pillowed by paperbacks.

“Mmm, babe, maybe we should shut the door afterall. All these compliments.”

“Ridiculous.”

“Want me to feed you ice cream? All romantic-like? Since we’re both getting in the mood and all.”

“You’re being ridiculous, Hugo.”

“No, no, no,” Harry said, holding the word as he laughed. “No, you always call me Harry. Not Hugo.” He knocked their feet together. “I like that.”

Louis put a Post-It on a page in Harry’s textbook. “I thought you liked the nickname?”

“Yeah, like, on the field and for public stuff and sometimes as a joke with friends. My real friends don’t seriously call me Hugo.”

As Harry settled down with his textbook, Louis’ eyes scanned from the fresh Post-It to his own notes.

“Right,” Louis said slowly. “So, do you have your outline for—”

“Not that we’re real friends,” Harry blurted out. “I mean, I know I’d like to be real friends with you, but, uh...Uh…”

“We’re getting there. I can tolerate you for extended periods of time, at least.” Louis looked to Harry and guffawed. Harry stared at him with his hand over his chest, his eyes shimmering. “Jesus, don’t look so shocked. You act like I hate you or something.” Harry said nothing, but dropped his face. Louis felt his insides soften as if his lungs decided to visit the bottom of his belly. “Harry, I-I don’t hate you. Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Yeah, I know.” Harry chuckled. “Yeah. I know that.”

Louis arched his eyebrows.

“Do you?”

“Yeah, it’s all good.”

“Is it?”

“Yes. Why wouldn’t it be?”

“You sound unsure.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Alright.”

Harry broke their stare and scratched his eyebrows, staring seriously at his books. Louis’ eyes followed him as he picked up his pencil and turned to a fresh page in his spiral notebook.

“It’s...weird,” Harry said.

Louis took a moment to reply, “What?”

Harry pressed on the spine of his paperback Othello.

“I feel like...I feel like sometimes when things happen to me, I think of it in terms of, like, marketability. It’s always been that way. When I was having sex with that girl and she was yelling Hugo, I was hoping my teammates would hear, because I thought it’d be funny and a cool story to tell if I got famous. Sometimes, I…” Harry bit his bottom lip, tapping his eraser to his book. “Sometimes I feel like I can see my future ahead of me. Pieces fall into place and I can tell how it’ll be played off in public. Or I know how to play things in my favor. I know what to say or do to make myself desirable and buzzworthy, but still natural and cool.”

Harry looked up from his book and was hit with a wallop of blue eyes. Devoted, focused, interested blue eyes.

“That’s actually really interesting,” Louis said quietly. “You feel like you’re not in the moment, because you’re plotting the next move.”

Harry swallowed. “Yeah. Exactly.”

“That must be tiring.”

“A—A little bit, but not…”

“Not what?”

“Not when I’m with you.”

“Oh.” Louis arched his brows. “That’s—”

Harry hopped off the bed and grabbed their ice cream pints.

“I’d better pop these back in the freezer. I think they need to chill out.”

Louis snorted. “Ha. Good one.”

Harry hurried out of the room and pulled his bedroom door shut behind himself. He padded down the steps and through the living room on the way to the kitchen. He opened the freezer and threw his ice cream in the side section to avoid the plethora of frozen meats so old they were basically blocks of dirt colored ice.

“There he is! Didn’t know if you were balls deep in twink yet.”

Harry shut the freezer and blinked at Chase.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You’ve got your boy all alone in your room.” Chase patted his wallet in his pocket. “Is this the night I lose a hundy?”

“No one calls it a ‘hundy,’” Harry said with a bored flutter of his lashes. He narrowed his stare. “And don’t talk about Louis that way. It’s not true and it’s not polite. We’re just studying.”

Chase’s blond brow shot up as he cackled.

“Well, well, well! My suspicions are true.”

“What?”

“You like him. You’re actually into him, aren’t you? You’d have fucked him by now if you weren’t actually into him.”

Harry snorted and shook his head, his eyes skirting towards the living room. “Bye, QB.” He started to walk out of the kitchen.

“Just checking on the status of our bet. Maybe I’ll come up and watch Netflix with you and Louis, if you don’t like him or whatever.”

Harry froze, then turned. He smiled kindly.

“Stay away from Louis. Leave us alone. You’re not welcome in my bedroom at any time, least of all when I have guests in there.”

“Us? You and Louis are an us?

Harry groaned and turned away, flicking his hand over his shoulder.

“Go jerk off or something, Headley. You’re annoying the daylights out of me.”

“Maybe your boyfriend can help me—”

Chase’s statement was cut off by Harry gripping his shirt with both hands and backing him against the fridge. Chase’s feet dangled inches above the ground, the tips of their noses brushing.

“You keep Louis’ name out of your mouth,” Harry said quiet and low, but not unkindly. He squinted and nudged his forehead forward. “Don’t you ever speak of him like that. Just because we have a bet, that doesn’t mean you can treat him that way.”

“Whatever you say, Silver Spoon.”

Harry released his grip and walked away without another word. He ignored the loud, suggestive hoots from players immersed in a Playstation battle in the living room and went upstairs. He swallowed outside his bedroom door, blowing cool air out of his pursed lips before stepping inside.

“Hey,” he said, leaning back to close the door.

Louis looked up with a soft smile.

“Hi.”

Harry flopped on his stomach beside him.

“Sorry I disappeared. Chase was being an asshole.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed he has a habit of that.”

Harry’s hand froze on the remote control.

“What?”

“He made a strange comment when I was coming in tonight. Something about if I had a hundred dollar change of clothes in my backpack? Is that a football thing or something?”

Harry’s jawline tightened.

“Ignore him.”

“So.” Louis sat up with his legs crossed. He tapped his pencil to his copy of Hamlet. “We’re doing a really, really bad job of studying here.”

Harry winced, but his smile was too wide to hide for more than two seconds.

“Yeah, we kind of are.”

“I think we should budget Daredevil time to study time.”

Harry sat up and mirrored his position, their knees almost touching.

“That sounds awesome!” His full, open lips pursed curiously as he blinked. “What is a budget?”

“Fifteen minutes of TV, thirty minutes of studying.”

Harry’s grin faded. “That’s not—That’s unbalanced. You love balance. It should be fifteen and fifteen.”

“If we say fifteen for TV, it will really end up being, like, twenty if we get wrapped up in a good part.”

“So?”

“So? We have to work.”

“How about I rub your feet while we have TV time? Does that sweeten the deal?”

“That makes me want to watch TV even less.”

“You can rub my feet, then?”

“You’re straight up Gaston-ing right now.”

Harry got to his knees, puffed out his chest, and held his fists to his pecs before belting out:

“When I was a lad, I ate four dozen eggs, ev’ry morning to help me get laaaaarge!

Louis hid his face in his hands, collapsing on his side and curling in a ball. His huffed, hysterical laughter was drowned out by Harry continuing to sing, “And now that I’m grown, I eat five dozen eggs!” He bent over, crooning in Louis’ face, “So I’m roughly the size of a baaarge!

“No.” Louis laughed and groaned in the same breath. He fell back with his arms flat on the bed. “No, you don’t know every word of Gaston’s song. Nope. You can’t.”

“I also know Tale as Old as Time in English, Spanish and American Sign Language. We sang and signed it at my pre-school graduation.”

Louis smiled as his giggles softened, his eyes even softer than his voice. He watched Harry arrange his limbs into a kneeling teapot position.

Harry dipped his arm sideways into an imaginary cup and chirped, “Tea, Chip?”

“I am not Chip,” Louis said firmly, Harry cackling.

. . .

Louis took a slow breath in. Something hot and firm pinned his front to the pillowy mattress. He breathed in deeper and nuzzled his nose to his pillow. Warm lips pressed to the back of his neck.

“You’re up,” Harry said, low and growly. “Good.”

“Why?” Louis rasped. Harry nuzzled his ear, Louis slapping his lips and pushing his face away. “Shh. Early. Shh.” He felt Harry’s hand slip under his body and smiled. He took a breath in and exhaled it as a stuttered laugh. “What are you doing?”

“We’ve got time before class.”

“Psh. As if you attend classes.”

Harry merely chuckled and slipped his hand down the front of Louis’ boxer briefs. He kissed his neck slowly and deliberately, his nose nudging each spot that he kissed. Louis’ chest ballooned, Harry’s palm closing around his morning wood. Louis ground his hips backwards with a soft whine.

“Such a simple lay, you are,” Harry whispered, lips brushing beneath Louis’ ear. His low, deep words sank through Louis’ every pore, dripping sweetly into his brain like warm maple syrup. “I’d suck you or fuck you ‘til the cows come home, but you love a good hand job.”

“I do,” Louis whispered. He reached behind himself and laced his fingers in Harry’s hair. Harry started kissing his neck faster, Louis exhaling a long, low moan. “Fuck, I do.”

Harry licked his earlobe, purring, “Today at work, no one will request a drink based on temperature.”

Louis’ nose wrinkled to hold back a giggle. He hummed, “Mmm,” while scratching Harry’s curls. “Tell me more.”

“Then, track practice will be cancelled and you can take a three hour nap. Guilt free.”

Louis bit his bottom lip, his hips thrusting shallowly into Harry’s hand.

“Oh, baby, now we’re talking.”

“And then,” Harry whispered in a low, seductive tone, “you’re gonna get an email from Mood Fabrics in New York City. Congratulations. You won an hour long shopping spree at Mood, plus a date with Tim Gunn at Red Lobster.”

Louis laughed so hard he curled into a ball, Harry snorting against his neck.

“C’mere, giggles,” Harry said fondly. He squeezed his cock. “I wanna make you come.”

Louis rolled over with his arms already above his head. Harry pulled his red Armadillo’s jersey off of Louis and tossed it to the floor. Louis smiled and arched his back, Harry sucking his left nipple in passing.

Harry flattened on him, grinning with sleep mussed curls and soft eyes. Louis cradled the back of his head with both hands and pulled his face down. Their lips hissed as they sucked wet kisses. Harry lifted his face to breathe hotly against Louis’ mouth.

“Lou?”

Louis’ eyes opened.

“What?”

“After I jerk you off, can I go down on you?”

“Uh, yeah,” Louis said, breathless. He looked at Harry’s lips and lifted his head, joining their lips. “Sounds good.”

“Then,” Harry said, licking his own lips, “can I eat you out for a while?”

Louis panted and jutted his hips up.

“Yeah, sure, sounds awesome.”

“Cool,” Harry grinned.

Their kisses deepened, Harry resuming his tight, sure strokes over Louis’ cock. Louis moaned into their kiss, arching under him.

“Almost seems like you’re enjoying this, Grumpy Gus,” Harry whispered into his mouth, his hand speeding up. Louis shivered as he whimpered, his eyes squeezing shut. Harry dropped his face to suckle Loui’s pulse. “Tell me you like it, Lou. Wanna hear you say it.”

“I l-love it.”

“Yeah?”

“I love you,” Louis said, his eyes opening. He smirked. “Even when you wake me up early for no damn reason.”

Harry smiled crookedly. “Love you, too, babe. Now, how about you come for me? Wanna suck you off so fucking badly.”

“Yeah,” Louis exhaled, his breaths breaking into a series of moans. His voice took on the high, weak tone only Harry seemed to wring out of him. Their lips sealed together, Louis’ cock throbbing in Harry’s fist. “Fuck, Harry—”

Each quiet murmur from Harry sent puffs of warm air over his face. “C’mon, Lou, come for me. C’mon, Lou. C’mon, babe, you’re so fucking hot. Christ, Louis, nearly—”

 

Track: Robert DeLong - Don't Wait Up

Louis’ eyes shot open. He did not blink for almost thirty seconds. Air barely made it in through his nostrils.

He stared at Harry’s sleeping face resting one inch from his own. Soft, chocolate curls, tanned skin, bitten lips, and complete relaxation. Even his eyebrows were attractive and elegantly shaped while he slept. Tiny breaths puffed out of Harry’s nose, his hands curled up against Louis’ chest with one leg linked between Louis’ ankles.

Louis blinked.

The sight in front of him did not change due to moistening his eyeballs. He looked around the dark bedroom. The Daredevil page for Netflix was frozen on the television. Harry’s comforter had been thrown over them from Harry’s side, which meant that Louis fell asleep first, which meant that Harry saw him sleeping and voluntarily wrapped them up in blankets.

“No,” Louis whispered.

He slipped off the bed and slid bonelessly to the floor. He laid on the floor for a moment, his heart pounding in his ears. He gripped the hardness between his legs, biting his bottom lip and pushing his cock down from his tight fly.

“No,” he whispered again. He shook his head and felt around for his shoes. “No. No. No.”

The mattress creaked. Louis looked up with wide eyes and saw Harry’s hand rubbing over the bed.

“Lou?” Harry mumbled into his pillow.

“No,” Louis said as he shoved his shoe on. “No.”

Harry pushed himself up on his forearm, his relaxed expression replaced by that of a rumpled kitten. He slowly licked his lips.

“What are you doing?”

“Leaving.”

Louis bent for his other shoe. Harry’s warm hand gripped his wrist.

“It’s late,” Harry whispered, his voice even deeper than usual. He squinted and thumbed the underside of Louis’ wrist. “Stay.”

“No. No, thanks. No.”

Harry sat up straighter. “It’s late and cold out. I’ll sleep on the couch downstairs and you can take my bed.”

Louis checked his phone and turned away, Harry’s hand falling from his wrist.

“It’s not that late. Not even eleven.”

Harry slid his legs out of the blankets.

“I’ll get you an Uber.”

“Nah,” Louis said, zipping his hoodie. “I’ll run.”

“Louis,” Harry said, frowning. He rubbed his hand over his lips. “It’s late.”

Louis shouldered his backpack. “I’ll run fast. Thanks, um...” His mouth faltered as he stepped backwards. “For the study venue. And for the ice cream.”

“Yeah, sure. I’ll,” Harry yawned, “I’ll walk you out.”

“Nope,” Louis said, already at the door. He opened it and stepped out. “Night, Harry.”

He didn’t wait for Harry’s reply before he shut the door.

. . .

Track: Carly Rae Jepsen - I Really Like You

“Hit the showers!”

The football team groaned and rolled onto their backs.

“I have actual nightmares about these suicides at the end of practice,” Liam panted, ripping his helmet off. He squinted up at Harry, the sun blazing and casting shadows over Harry’s broad shoulders. “How are you so normal? Aren’t you exhausted?”

Harry cradled his helmet to his side.

“I dunno. Ever since I started doing extra runs every morning, it’s like my tolerance at practice went up. It sucked for the first couple of weeks, but now I think I’m in a groove or something.”

Liam scrambled to his feet. “Oh, so, you...You still do that? You run with Louis?”

Harry grunted as he and Liam trotted to the locker room. Coach Taylor squeezed Harry’s arm in passing.

“Nice work today, Styles. Showing real fortitude and endurance.” He patted his shoulderpad. “Great speed, too. Whatever you’re doing, keep it up, son.”

“Thanks, coach,” Harry said, grinning.

As the football team got closer to the locker room, another team exited. Harry saw Louis walking with a couple of other runners. His hair was dark and freshly washed, his skin scrubbed clean, a red duffel bag looped over his shoulder. He listened intently to whatever was being said then murmured something, prompting the other runners to laugh louder.

Louis’ gaze slid across the mass of football players until he landed on Harry. Realization brightened his face. His lips curled into a small, gentle smirk as the other runners chattered beside him.

Harry mouthed, “Hi, Lou.”

Louis rolled his eyes, but couldn’t hide his growing amusement. He held Harry’s stare until the runners walked past the football players.

Harry spun to face him. He caught Louis peeking over his shoulder ever so quickly before Louis smiled and shook his head, turning away from Harry.

The sound of football cleats tapping blacktop faded in Harry’s ears, but he could feel Liam’s presence beside him.

“You like him,” Liam said softly. “You actually like him. For real.”

Louis turned his head and gifted Harry with another peek of shimmering blue eyes. Harry tightened his grip on the face guard of his helmet, standing motionless until Louis turned away a final time.

Harry gave Liam a dimpled smile as he itched his sweaty hair. “Yeah, I do,” he said simply. He walked towards the locker room. “For real.”

Chapter Text

“Stupid, sloppy handwriting,” Harry muttered. He rubbed his thumb on a blot of ink where a word was supposed to be. “Stupid, correct Louis.”

He reached across the kitchen table and grabbed his dog-eared paperback of Hamlet. He propped the open book on top of his notes and looked back to his laptop, biting his bottom lip. He started to type again.

There was a knock at the front door. Harry didn’t look up from his work, but saw Chase jog through the living room in his peripheral vision. The door creaked open.

“Oh, shit, hi!” Chase practically squealed. “Welcome. Please, come in. It’s an honor, sir. A true honor!”

“Thank you, son. Excellent game, last weekend.”

Harry craned his neck towards the door with furrowed brows. He stood from the kitchen table. The sight of a familiar broad back in a tight grey polo made Harry walk faster. He walked into the foyer full of over-excited frat boys.

“Dad? What are you doing here?”

JD patted Harry on the shoulder and grinned, his face tan and glowing.

“I just finalized my divorce and thought I could come party with y’all.” A horn honked outside. “That’d be the kegs, I reckon.”

“Kegs?” Harry asked amidst loud cheers.

Another horn honked.

“And that’ll be the wings,” JD said on a laugh. He thumbed over his shoulder. “You boys think you can help with the ladies?”

Harry asked, “What ladies, dad? What are you talking about?”

“Don’t ruin this for us, Styles,” Chase whispered beside Harry, his eyes bulging. “Wings and beer and ladies and the Dallas Cowboys should never be questioned!”

“I like how this boy thinks,” JD said, patting Chase’s back. Chase stared at him with his feet practically levitating off the floor. “How about you boys go grab those kegs, hm?”

“Dad,” Harry said firmer. “It’s almost midterm week.”

His father, and the rest of the football team, stared at Harry in confused silence.

“And?” JD asked.

“And I have to study.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m trying to pass my classes.”

“Isn’t that what your tutors are, for?”

Harry flushed and grit his teeth behind his closed lips.

“Because I don’t want to use tutors. I want to get an education. For real.”

JD cackled, “A bit late for that, don’t you think? Dunno why you even stuck around for senior year. You’re here for football, not your smarts, son.”

The crowd of football players and frat boys laughed, causing Harry’s flush to deepen. The mob filed outside towards the beer and wing trucks.

“I stayed because Mama wanted me to get a degree,” Harry said tightly. “You know that.”

JD stepped up to Harry and held both of his shoulders.

“Let’s turn that frown upside down, son. Why don’t you send a tweeter to some of those cheerleader friends of yours. Surely, you’d be willing to share with your old man?” JD pinched Harry’s cheek and grinned slyly, his dimple popping. He patted Harry’s cheek. “C’mon, Hugo. Time to party. Let your old man show you how it’s done.”

. . .

Louis poked his pot of ramen with a wooden fork. Thunder boomed outside, rain pattering against the living room window. He left the fork in the pot and went to the living room to shut the window. His gaze caught on a dark, tall blur coming closer to his building. Louis squinted through the foggy glass. He opened the window and stuck his head out.

“Harry?” he called down.

Harry waved at him, his wet clothes matted to his body.

“Yeah, hi! It’s me. Harry. Hi. Can I come in?”

Louis ran to his door and buzzed Harry in.

“Shit,” he whispered. He went to the stove and poked at his bubbling pile of ramen. He turned off the heat, then said, “Shit,” and lifted the silver packet of seasoning. He ripped it open at the same time as Harry knocking on the door. A cloud of chicken flavored powder shot up his nose. “Oh, shit,” Louis coughed, wiping his face with a dish towel. He dumped the remaining powder into his sad looking ramen.

Harry knocked on the door again.

“Lou? Am I at the right apartment?”

“Yeah,” Louis called out. He jogged to the door and pulled it open. “Hi, sorry, chicken emergency.” He held the door open and stepped back. “Jesus, you’re soaked. What’s going on? What are you doing here?”

Harry ran his hand through his hair, water dripping down the strong line of his nose. He licked his lips.

“My, uh, my dad decided to come by and throw a frat party.”

“Why?”

“Who knows. He just got divorced, so, yeah.”

“From the lady who just lost her mom?”

“Yeah,” Harry said slower.

“Gross and sad.”

“Yeah. I couldn’t concentrate with all the noise and people and shit, so I snuck into my room to get my school stuff and, um, left. My car was blocked in, so I ran. Can I study here? I figured you’d be studying, too. What’s a chicken emergency?”

Louis arched his eyebrows.

“You ran from your place to my place? In the rain? To study?”

“Yeah,” Harry said, shivering. “Wasn’t bad. You’re the cross country guy.” He shook for a moment, his hands over his nipples. “Running in the rain for you is like going to Dunkin Donuts for me.”

Louis held his arm out and stepped backwards.

“Please, come in. You should change. I’ll get you fresh clothes.” Harry stepped inside and Louis closed the door behind him. He heard Harry hum deeply, his tone going up at the end. Louis faced him with his hands on his hips. “What? What are you staring at?”

The right side of Harry’s lips quirked.

“Looks good on you, Lou.”

“What are you talking about?” Louis followed Harry’s stare and looked down at his chest. Shiny red and black material seemed to shimmer extra bright over his chest. “Oh, I—” He crossed his arms and turned away, then turned back to Harry. “I didn’t have any clean, um, shirts.”

Harry murmured, “That so?” and stepped closer. He pointed his pinkie and index finger towards a basket on the living room sofa. “What’s all that?”

“It’s…” Louis glanced at the basket of neatly folded clothes. “Right. That’s clean clothes. But, like...” His wide, panicked eyes landed on Harry’s smirking face. “Your jersey is, like, big on me, so it’s comfortable to sleep in. Not that I sleep in it a lot. I don’t. Hardly ever. I’ll wash it and give it back. I can give it back right now.”

“You don’t have to,” Harry said, amused. He thumbed the seam of Louis’ jersey sleeve. “It looks good on you. Keep it.”

Louis spun away from his touch.

“I’ll give it back the, uh, the next time I do laundry.”

“If you say so.”

The ramen on the stove chose that moment to deflate and let out a farting noise. Harry snorted and Louis laughed softly. He went to the stove and picked up his pot of slimy looking ramen.

“Um.” He poked the pile of noodles with his fork. “This is my last pack. I’m sorry I don’t have a ton of snacks right now. I haven’t had time to go grocery shopping this week.”

“That’s alright. Wanna just order pizza?”

“Uh…”

“My treat.”

Louis ran his tongue over the edge of his top teeth.

“Yeah,” he said slowly, as if he was only half committed to the word. “Okay.”

“Wanna study on the sofa?”

“No soft surfaces. No soft surfaces,” Louis said quickly, incredibly focused. Confusion rumpled Harry’s face. “I mean, no. It’s...It’s hard to study over there. I like table.” Harry’s confusion only grew. Louis flung his hand at the kitchen table. “The table. Studying at the table.”

“Okaaay,” Harry laughed, dropping his backpack. He pulled his soaked shirt over his head. Rain water glistened between his defined pecs and down the lines of his abs. “So, clothes?”

Louis’ gaze snapped to his face.

“Yes. Clothes. Right.”

“Your ass looks great in those sweats.”

“Oh, God, shut up,” Louis groaned, palming his nose. “You’re annoying me already.”

. . .

“So, full honesty: How many times have you made out with Mr. Mannequin?”

Louis snorted and looked at his half dressed mannequin. The beginnings of a shimmery silver cocktail dress hung on its body.

“Um, that would be a zero.”

“Seriously? No lonely nights where you cop a feel?”

“I’m never leaving you alone with my mannequin, you freak. Who even thinks these things?”

“Do you dance with it?”

“No,” Louis laughed, shaking his head. “Get back to work. You keep making random comments about every object in the room like some sort of one-sided game of I Spy. It throws the whole study buzz off.”

They were silent for a few minutes until Louis finally sighed and pushed his eraser to his forehead.

“What,” he droned.

Harry glanced from his notebook to Louis’ profile. “What what?”

“You keep looking at me.”

Harry leaned his head on his palm, grinning.

“You’re cute. Especially in my jersey. The colors suit you.”

“Ha,” Louis said, huffing out a breath. “Very funny.”

“You are.”

“That has nothing to do with your notes.”

“Do you have a boyfriend? A girlfriend?”

“No and no.” Louis highlighted a passage. “Why?”

“Because you’re…” Harry tapped the tip of his pencil against his notebook while studying the curve of Louis’ neck. “Cool.”

“Cool?”

“Yeah. You’re nice and smart and stuff. You smell good. And you’re pretty, in a bird sort of way.”

“A bird sort of way.”

“Yeah, like a pretty bird. You’ve got that whole swan, dancer walk thing going on.”

“Pretty bird? Swan walk? With sweet words like that, it’s no wonder you were flunking Shakespeare.”

“Do you not want one?”

“I don’t have time.”

“Bullshit. We’re seniors. You have tons of time.”

Louis exhaled and dropped his head back.

“If you must know, I saw someone over the summer pretty regularly, but that didn’t work out and we ended it in September. I had a boyfriend for a lot of last year and he’s very nice, but he’s from Missouri. The distance was too much. We broke up last May.”

“Why?”

“Because we both got tired of having to travel so much. It was too expensive and stressful. And, I dunno.” Louis highlighted another couple of lines. “It just seemed like we were both checked out.”

“What was he like?”

Louis raised an eyebrow. “Why? You looking for a date with a Missourian?”

“Nah. Just curious. Was he like you? Like, all school and ballet and running?”

“Eh. Sort of. He’s a runner, too.” Louis turned a page. “We met at a track clinic over Christmas Break.”

“What about before him?”

Louis dropped his highlighter and clasped his hands.

“I’m sorry, are we studying for an exam on me?”

Harry bit the crust of his pizza, chewing while asking, “Why are you so bashful about your exes?”

“Because it doesn’t matter. No one I date or fuck at this point is the person I’m going to end up with.”

“Why? How do you know that?”

“Because this is college. I have zero expectations from anyone I date during this period of time.”

“Lots of people meet their spouse in college.”

“Not me, thank you. Could you imagine the wedding website?” He softened his voice and batted his lashes. “My love and I locked eyes across the frat party and shared the same toilet to ralph up Jagerbombs, then made out in the bathroom and passed out in the tub. I just knew it was meant to be!”

Harry laughed, “That’s a sweet story!”

“Ugh, Harry, honestly.” Louis picked up a piece of cold pizza and bit the tip. “We’re supposed to be studying.”

“How many people have you slept with?”

“Why would you—How can you think that’s a normal follow-up question to asking about my ex-boyfriends?”

Harry gnawed on his crust.

“I lost count years ago.”

“That makes sense.”

“But you haven’t lost count,” Harry said, smiling and leaning closer. He nudged their socked feet together. “I bet you remember each person.”

“So what if I do?”

“Let me guess,” Harry said, relaxing back in his chair. He licked pizza grease off his thumb. “Ten?”

“None of your business,” Louis sang over him with a fluctuating melody. “None of this is your business.”

“Twenty?”

Louis just laughed and shook his head.

“You were closer with ten.”

“Hmm…” Harry squinted. “Twelve?”

“Nope.”

“Nine?”

“No.”

“Ssss...seven?”

“No.”

“Six?”

“No.”

Harry sang, “Five Golden Rings?” in his gentle baritone.

“Four Calling Birds.”

“Four!?” Harry laughed raucously. Louis shut his textbook and went to stand, but Harry held onto his shoulder. “Hey, hey, chill out.” Harry calmed his laughter but giggled every few seconds, his hand searing Louis’ skin through the thin jersey. He squeezed his bicep. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh.”

Louis plopped back down in his seat and shook his hand off.

“You seemed pretty comfortable laughing. Did I judge you for your unknown, incalculable number?”

“You’re right. I shouldn’t have laughed. I’m sorry. Whatever your number is, it’s all good, man.” Harry stroked Louis’ forearm, Louis huffing a breath and opening his textbook. “But, like…” Harry’s fingers tiptoed over the bone of Louis’ wrist. “Does that include oral, too? Or is that full blown anal?”

Louis stood up.

“Again: None of your business.”

Harry propped his hands behind his head.

“Well, I’d assume your Four Calling Birds were all-the-way sex since you consider them your number, you know?”

“Well, you guessed right. Congratulations.” Louis flared jazz hands. “You now know how many people have either penetrated me or had me penetrate them.”

“This clinical talk is hot. Keep going.”

“Absolutely not.”

“We can talk about something else. Something less about penetration.”

Louis sat down and pulled his chair a few inches away from Harry. He opened his books.

“What are we supposed to talk about? My mother’s stuffing recipe?”

“Oh, does she make good stuffing?”

Louis laughed. “Yeah, but that’s not…” He shook his head. “Nevermind. Just study.”

“Do you have to work on Thanksgiving because you’re an assistant manager?”

Louis exhaled some of the oxygen bursting out of his lungs. He tiredly rubbed the side of his nose.
“No, actually, not this year. A few of the younger kids aren’t going home, so they wanted to take the overtime on Thanksgiving. This is the first Thanksgiving Break I’m going home for the whole time.”

“Oh, nice. So you get some vacation time?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. You deserve it.”

Louis snuffled and pulled off a Post-It.

“What about you? Jetsetting with the Styles Dynasty to eat gold-encrusted turducken in paradise?”

“Nah. With my dad divorcing Gretch, he’s going to Cancun.”

“What old man takes a solo trip to Cancun?”

Harry laughed softly, writing in his notebook.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s just him and a bunch of his football buddies trolling for young pussy. He invited me, but I declined.”

“Such a wonderful family legacy you have to look forward to.”

Harry nudged his elbow into Louis’ side but continued to write, both smiling down at their assignments.

“What about your mom?” Louis asked. “Are you going to see her?”

“She lives in France.”

“France? Why?”

“Eh,” Harry shrugged, turning a page in his textbook. “I think after everything went down with my dad, she was just done. She wanted out of Texas. Out of the country. I don’t blame her. He was a total asshole about it.”

“What happened?”

“Do you know who my mom is?”

Louis sat on his foot to face Harry. He shook his head.

“No. Why? Is she an athlete, too?”

“Nah.” Harry put his pen down. He stretched his clasped fingers in front of himself. “Google ‘Annie Mox.’”

Louis opened a window on his browser and typed in Annie Mox. His mouth fell open an inch as his eyes scanned the screen.

“Oh my God, that’s your mom?”

“Yep.”

“Holy shit,” Louis whispered, scanning through photo after photo. “She was really famous in the eighties! She walked in some major, legit fashion shows.”

Harry laughed and stared at the screen.

“Yeah.”

Long, wavy brown hair parted down the middle, full bee-stung lips, and feline green eyes were all balanced with perfect symmetry on her creamy, olive skin, her cheekbones still rounded and glowing despite their stratospheric height.

“God, she’s gorgeous,” Louis said, scrolling through Google images. “She was in music videos, too, right?”

“Yeah, she was in a few music videos for some hair bands. She had the nicest things to say about Slash. Never rolled on a car hood, though. She makes sure you know that if you ask about her video past.”

Louis clicked on a Revlon advertisement. “Wow, she did big endorsements, too.”

“Yeah.”

“So, what happened? I’m assuming she’s still gorgeous?”

Harry smiled wryly and opened his photos on his phone. He scrolled through a few and tapped the screen, turning the phone towards Louis. Louis tore his eyes away from Harry’s mom closing a Calvin Klein fashion show to look at the snapshot.

“She’s the most beautiful woman on Earth. My dad’s just an idiot. Always into trading up, whether it’s cars or wives, even if my mom is a beauty queen turned supermodel turned music video model turned awesome mom.”

Louis stared at the photo. Harry wore an oversized, loose-knit black sweater and beanie. He stood with his arm around his mom. She looked every bit as effortlessly beautiful as the woman splashed across Google Images. Both held large white mugs and were standing in front of a snowy window, generic looking rainbow Christmas lights strewn over the window valance.

The layer of softness in Harry’s rambling voice seemed to have extended itself to the photo as if it were an Instagram filter. Harry’s dimpled grin and warm eyes were mirrored in his mother’s proud smile.

Harry continued, “I think it was too much for her ego, to be honest. For him to be…” Louis could only see Harry’s face in his peripheral vision, but he noticed his eyes narrowing for a beat. “He was just really dismissive of her, after she stood by him and had his kids and…” Harry licked his lips. “I think it hurt her really badly to be traded in for a Playboy model. Some sort of model hierarchy or something.”

“Well,” Louis said, his voice cracking. He felt Harry’s gaze shift to his face. “Now I see where you got your height.” Louis looked at the photo for one more beat. “And…Your cheekbones.” Louis’ eyes darted to Harry’s softened face. “And that big, fat mouth of yours.”

Harry chuckled and took his phone back. He looked at the photo for one more beat, then locked the screen and tucked the phone in his back pocket. He picked up his pen.

“So, yeah.” He itched the back of his hair with the end of his pen. “She’s in France, my sister is traveling through Brazil, my dad’ll be in Cancun, and all those spots are too far to travel for one meal. My mom said I should come over for the weekend, but I don’t want to spend the entire break flying internationally. I’m prone to colds whenever I’m on an airplane and we’ve got too many big games coming up to risk it.”

“But,” Louis said slowly, watching Harry write something on a study guide, “you’ll be going to another family member’s house, right?”

Harry’s hair swayed as he shook his head.

“Nah. My mom’s family members mostly live in the New England area. I’ll be damned if I spend my Thanksgiving in Patriots territory.” His upper body experienced the tiniest of shivers. “My grandparents on my dad’s side are both gone. I’ve got some aunts and cousins and stuff, but they’re kind of scattered all over. I’m better on my own. A couple other guys in the house might stick around, so we'll probably order Dominos.”

Louis’ voice sped up to ask, “What about a friend? You have millions of friends and teammates.”

Harry thought for a moment, tapping his pen on his chin.

“I went home with Liam last Thanksgiving and it was definitely fun, but his family eats tofu turkey, which eliminates the purpose of Thanksgiving. They didn’t even have cranberry sauce.”

Louis propped his elbow on the table and his cheek on his palm.

“Thanksgiving itself is a problematic holiday, but...” He shrugged, swaying his head side to side, “I don’t think I could stomach tofu turkey either.”

“See?”

“What about the other football guys. Uh, Ryan’s your good friend, right? And he’s from Texas.”

“He’s going to Cancun with his girlfriend’s family. Maybe he can hang with my dad.”

“What about the quarterback? Chase, right?”

“Ugh, no. Chase is…” He trailed off, then turned to face Louis. His jawline straightened, his voice low. “You shouldn’t even talk to Chase. He can throw a pass, but he’s trash. Complete trash. Don’t ever listen to anything he says. He’s not a good guy.”

“Okay, so, why don’t you go to Aspen with your girlfriend?”

There was a beat of silence before Harry laughed, “I don’t have a girlfriend.” Confusion crinkled the skin beside his eyes. “Who said I have a girlfriend?”

“But I thought—” Louis snapped his lips shut. He refocused on his paper, Harry’s stare boring heated spots into his face. “Nevermind.”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Why did you think I have a girlfriend?”

“I didn’t.”

“You did,” Harry said amusedly. He poked Louis’ cheek with the end of his pen. “C’mon, spill. Why’d you think I had a girlfriend?”

Louis swatted at his pen.

“It was on Deadspin, alright? I read Deadspin sometimes when I’m bored and they said you were dating a model.”

“First off, while I’ve definitely fucked some models, I can’t remember the last time I went on a date. I don’t date. Second, since when do you read Deadspin?”

“I…” Louis swallowed down a mouthful of saliva. “I read it when I’m bored and have exhausted all other time wasters.”

“You said sports blogs are the internet equivalent of used toilet paper.” A burst of loud, barked laughter escaped Louis’ lips before he muffled himself with his hands, Harry laughing along with him. “What? You said it, not me.”

“I can’t believe you remembered I said that. Do you remember everything I blurt out?”

“Most of it, yeah.” Harry pet his blue notebook. “All your gems are in this baby.”

Louis’ mouth fell open, his eyes widening.

“Oh my God, no. Please tell me you haven’t been recording all the shit I say?”

Harry opened his notebook to a page about a quarter of the way through. He swirled his index finger in the air before letting it land on a sketch of a toilet, his sloppy handwriting commemorating Louis’ quote about sports blogs.

“Oh no,” Louis laughed, hiding his face in his hands. He removed his hands and bounced in his seat. “This whole time, I thought you were studying!”

“I am,” Harry insisted, turning to the next page. He gestured grandly to the page of notes. “See? This is all about tragedies.”

Louis’ laughter softened to gentle giggles, his eyes scanning over the page. He brushed his fingers over the center of the right page.

“I like that you drew a pig and named him Hamlet.”

“It had to be done.”

Louis’ smile grew, his eyes crinkling as he stared at Hamlet, or, ‘Hammy Baby,’ as Harry had dubbed him.

“Were you Googling me?”

Louis’ eyes snapped to Harry’s face.

“No. No way. I wasn’t Googling.”

Harry smirked. “I think you were.”

“I wasn’t,” Louis insisted. His traitorous mouth had started to twitch up at the ends. “God,” he looked to his notes, “your ego is insane.”

“It’s alright if you were.” Harry opened his laptop and tapped the spacebar. His screen came to life. “I totally Googled you.”

Louis finished writing a Post-It before he dragged his eyes from his notes. An unusual mix of sudden embarrassment, panic, and arousal expanded out from his gut to coat his insides in one messy explosion of heat. His mouth fell open and his breath caught in his throat.

Harry’s desktop was an image of Louis in black dance tights, black ballet shoes, and a clingy, white short-sleeved workout shirt. He was staring intently at the ballet class instructor and, though there were other students in the class, the camera’s focus was on him.

One hand was poised on the bar, his other arm extended gracefully above his head with his hand delicately curved. He stood on the ball of foot, the muscles of his legs swollen outwards, his pointed toe and straight leg stretching up until his toes almost passed his face. Sweat shone on his flushed face and the wiry tendons of his neck, the fabric of his shirt darkened under his raised arm and on the center of his lifted chest.

“Oh my God, you freak!” he cried, though laughter made his pitch rise until his voice cracked. Harry laughed loudly, Louis’ face bright red and his eyes rounded wider. “Where did you even get that!?”

“It’s part of the school’s website, doy.”

“But why is it your desktop!?”

“I like having pretty things on my desktop.”

Louis shook his head as he laughed in disbelief, genuine shock brightening his eyes.

“You’re a nut, you know that?”

Harry placed his face next to the photo.

“Wanna take a picture? You can send it to Deadspin.”

“Psh, yeah, right,” Louis laughed on a scoff. He picked up his pen and faced forward. Pale pink glowed on the tips of his ears and cheekbones, his foot bobbing quickly under the table. “You’re ridiculous.”

Harry turned a page of his textbook.

“You are.”

“Shut up.”

“Besides, when would I even have time for a girlfriend when I’m so busy chasing you around?”

Louis said nothing in reply to Harry’s half murmured-half chuckled statement, but his foot bounced faster. A warm hand landed on his knee and he jumped in his seat.

Harry laughing softly and squeezing his thigh. “Y’alright? Jumpy all of a sudden.”

“Yeah, totally.” Louis stood from his seat, knocking Harry’s hand off. “Just...Just need to stretch.”

He went to lift his hands above his head, then paused, Harry’s eyes glued to him. Louis turned away from him and clasped his hands, bringing them to the ceiling. He arched his body side to side and did a lap halfway around the table, but no matter how he moved, the heat of Harry’s stare followed him.

Their phones vibrated at the same time. The heat between Louis’ shoulderblades dissipated.

“Oh, sick! Hey,” Harry stood from his seat and reached across the table, gripping the bottom of Louis’ jersey. “C’mere. Look. I got a B-Plus on my last paper! The one about rainy block parties!”

Louis moved back to his seat and accepted Harry’s phone. He smiled faintly at the familiar email from their blackboard software.

“That’s awesome.” He handed Harry the phone, and both smiled wider when their eyes met. Louis dropped his gaze and huffed a silent laugh. “Congratulations. You worked really hard on it and you totally deserve it.”

“I’m, like, kind of proud? I think that’s what that is? I just feel really happy, kind of like when I score.” Harry breathily giggled, “You make me feel all these wacky feelings,” and flared his hands by his face.

“You should be proud. You did a good job.”

Louis rubbed Harry’s shoulder for one motion up and one motion down. Harry looked from the spot Louis’ hand touched to his face. Louis shifted in his seat and lifted his hand, ignoring that his palm could now carve Harry’s muscled shoulder out of marble, if required.

“Um. I’m glad you feel that way,” Louis said, quick and professional. “That’s how you should feel when you complete an assignment, in my opinion.”

“What’d you get?”

Louis shuffled a pile of papers around and grabbed his phone.

“Yeah. I, um…” He tapped the screen. “I got an A.”

“Nerd,” Harry drawled loudly, prodding Louis’ side. Louis laughed and put his phone on the table, weakly pushing Harry’s fingers away. “That’s sick, though. Congrats.”

“Yeah,” Louis scoffed, smiling but shaking his head. He lifted his body to sit on his foot, reaching across the table for another textbook. “Glad something good could come of it.”

“Of what?”

“Of…” Louis’ eyes did a slow scan left to right, even as his face was angled at the open textbook. “Um. Like, what I wrote about. The tragedy I picked to write about.”

“Let me guess,” Harry said, lifting his hand. He started to tick items off on his fingers. “Starving babies, gender inequality, the state of the track team’s equipment closet, overcooked pasta. Am I getting warm?”

“No,” Louis said, chuckling. He uncapped his pink highlighter. “Though three of your four items are actually tragic and should be taken seriously. Don’t make jokes about them.”

“So what, then? What’d you write about?”

Louis peeled a Post-It off the cube.

“I wrote about the time in high school when I was still in the closet, but stupidly had sex with a lacrosse player that I thought could keep his mouth shut because he was in the closet, too.” He placed the Post-It as a bookmark in his textbook. “He decided it’d be funny to take photos of me without my consent while my back was to him, while I was getting fucked by him, then texted said photos to all his lacrosse friends. I guess it wasn’t gay to them if he was the one fucking me with his needle-dick, but, I’ve never claimed to understand the mentality of most athletes. ”

Harry’s pen tumbled from his limp fingers, his mouth agape. The pen rattled on the floor.

“What?”

Louis continued writing notes as if he was reading his grocery list aloud.

“The photos, of course, spread like wildfire through the entire school. Spread through the whole town. My dad could barely look at me for years. Still can’t.” Louis laughed with little humor, running the tip of his tongue over his bottom lip. “He still doesn’t talk about the fact that I’m gay. Won’t even acknowledge it. Oh.” He tapped his pen to his notebook. “And my parents practically went bankrupt getting a lawyer to defend me in a defamation of character lawsuit, since the lacrosse player was from a rich family who was angry I, ‘corrupted,’ their boy. Who took and sent the pictures. I’m just glad we were both eighteen at the time. It could have been much worse.”

The new sense of pride that had shocked Harry’s body was replaced with something on the absolute opposite end of the spectrum. Not jealousy. Definitely anger with rage sprinkled in. But the overwhelming emotion that froze his limbs in place was protection. The need to protect. He could practically hear a stadium chanting, ‘De-fense! De-fense! De-fense!’ in his head, his blood boiling as it surged through his veins.

“What?” he rasped, his voice rough.

“You heard me,” Louis said quietly. “I guess I should just be thankful there wasn’t a video on YouTube or something. It was mostly contained to my town and the surrounding towns.”

“That’s…” Harry swallowed, but his throat still felt like sandpaper. “Louis…”

Louis pushed his tongue against the inside of his cheek, ballooning the skin outwards. He huffed and itched the back of his head.

“Funny how it works out, yeah?”

Harry had not moved since he dropped his pen, but his jawline flickered.

“How is any of that funny?”

“You’re from Texas and play football, which is arguably the least accepting combination that would accept you being potentially anything but straight, but you can do whatever the fuck you want, do whomever the fuck you want, and it’s all good because you’re rich. You’re white. You’re you, so it comes off as charming and quirky and progressive.”

“You say it like it’s so easy. My dad isn’t a big fan of me being into guys. He’s a, ‘This is a phase, son,’ type. He just keeps it to himself because the public seems to like it. He’s made it very clear to me that he wants me to marry a woman and would not be okay if I ended up with a guy.”

“True, but what I’m saying is that I’m from California and I’m a dancer, two things that would usually match up just fine with being gay. I’ve been nothing less than a perfect student for my entire academic career, I’m a college athlete, I work multiple jobs, I’m an artist, and I’ve never asked my parents for a dime besides the lawsuit. I’ve tried to do everything right my entire life, yet I’m the disgrace. I’m the black sheep. It’s funny in a sick sort of way, that’s all I’m saying.”

“I don’t think that’s funny at all.”

“You don’t?” Louis laughed, still not looking away from his notes. “Good for you.”

“Why don’t you sound like you believe me? Why would I ever think it’s okay for someone to take a picture of someone else without their consent?”

“Yeah, that Deadspin visit was mostly a waste of my time, but the articles tagged for Hugo Styles were sort of eye opening.”

Harry’s face paled, his head recoiling on his neck.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You and your fellow players must have had a real good laugh about all the women you put up on your private team Snapchat last year. Or was that just a nasty rumor?”

When Harry said nothing, Louis looked to him.

A source had let it slip to someone in the sports world that the mighty Armadillos had a Snapchat to swap sexts they had received, mostly for group mockery. No photos had been leaked from the mysterious Snapchat and no names had been mentioned in the article. It could have been a blow up, a huge disgrace to the school, but donor funding and a strong legal team squashed most talk of the Snapchat account, even after numerous complaints from students.

Harry simply stared at him, his jawline tensing. Louis nodded for a beat, tapping his pen against his notes.

“I haven’t told anyone but Niall and Zayn about what happened at home. I’d appreciate it if you could keep your big mouth shut about it.”

“Why’d you tell me, then?”

“Because maybe the next time you and your football buddies decide to humiliate someone for your own amusement, you’ll think twice. People are people and actions have consequences.”

“I know that people are people.” Harry frowned. “I...I didn’t send anything on the Snapchat.”

“But did you look?” Harry was silent yet again. Louis huffed a soft laugh as he wrote. “Did you laugh with your friends? Have a good old time with your good old football buddies?”

“We were just joking.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not a joke to the person who trusted someone on the team and had their private bits blasted to the universe,” Louis said, snappier, looking at Harry head on. His smile faded a touch and his demeanor remained calm, but his voice whipped wickedly over Harry’s face. “It’s not a joke to someone who now has to worry for the rest of their life that a naked photo of them is going to pop up and make them lose their job or upset their spouse or get their future kids teased at school about it.”

“It’s just naked bodies, Jesus Christ, I don’t know why everyone’s so goddamn prudish about everything in this country.”

“Okay, Mr. Big Dick. I’m so glad that you, a lifelong rich person, aren’t concerned with losing your job. For normal people, it’s a serious concern. Our country is prudish for sure and that’s a valid, obnoxious issue, but how can you not see that the root of the issue is the exploitation of Person A by Person B?”

Harry’s brows furrowed. “Wait, is Person A the naked photo person? Or is that the sender?”

Louis blew out a quick breath.

“Forget it.”

“No, I’m trying to learn here. You think I’m gonna get this kind of conversation at home? In the frat house?”

“I’m not being a good teacher about this topic because I’m emotionally invested in my own shit and...I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to jump all over you. It’s just…” Louis swallowed, itching the side of his neck. “It’s a sensitive subject with me.”

“With good reason,” Harry said softly. He placed his hand on the back of Louis’ neck and squeezed with his thumb and middle finger. Louis’ head fell forward at the barest hint of pressure. “God, you’re all wound up in knots. C’mere, turn a little. Turn your back. My massage therapist showed me this trick for necks.”

Louis shifted in his chair, ending up sitting sidesaddle with his back to Harry. His eyes fluttered shut as relief worked its way through his tense muscles.

“You have a personal—Ah!” Louis jerked his head away but Harry hushed him, using his thumbs to make small, gentle circles on a knot above his left side. “You have a personal massage therapist?”

“The team does.”

Louis softly moaned, “I hate football,” and shut his eyes, his head swaying left as Harry’s thumbs squeezed. Harry laughed but continued the neck rub lower to massage his shoulders. “I’m shocked, legitimately shocked, at how good you are at this.”

“I like to make people feel good.”

“God, listen to you,” Louis said, his smile growing. “You sound so pleased to be getting praised. You’re like a puppy.”

Harry chuckled lowly.

“Praise from you is basically like winning a hundred Heisman’s at once.”

Louis opened his eyes, staring at the floor as Harry thumbed between his shoulder blades.

“Uh...” He guided his shoulders away and sat right in his seat, avoiding Harry’s confused stare. “Sorry, I didn’t even ask if you wanted a drink with dinner. Do you want a drink?”

“We sort of tore dinner apart before drinks were discussed.”

They both looked at the empty Domino’s box. Nothing but a grease stain remained to indicate food was ever in it.

“Yeah, so, do you want water?”

“Yes, please, but we need to take a break.”

“Why?”

“We need to stand up and move around and not do work for a few minutes. We need to relax.” Harry stood up, as if to punctuate his opinion. “C’mon, get up.”

He reached for Louis’ hand. Louis pulled his arm back before his fingers brushed skin.

“What do you want to do to relax?” Louis’ face flushed bright red the minute he asked, Harry’s smirk mischievous. “Forget it.” He reached for the Post-Its. “We have studying to do.”

“No, c’mon,” Harry drawled as he sat down. “Relax with me. We’re having heavy conversation. We need some relief.”

“You have math to study.”

“I’ve been practicing every day for weeks.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“You get ten practice equations correct, I’ll take a ten minute break.”

“Can we make out during the break?”

“Ha. You wish, pizza breath,” Louis laughed, typing something into his laptop. “Sorry, Riggins. I was thinking we could watch TV for a few minutes.”

“Can we,” Harry held out the word, tapping his pen against his notebook, “dance? Oh! Yeah!” He sat up straight. “You can teach me a dance! Like, an iconic movie dance!”

“Absolutely not. There’s more of a chance of us making out than me teaching you to dance.”

“Oh, is there?”

“No, we’re not—” Louis sliced the air with his flattened hand. “There is to be no making out. I don’t want to make out with you. Ridiculous.”

Harry lifted his copy of Othello and held the book horizontal over his mouth, flapping the book open and shut as he said, “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much,” in a stuffy, old British voice.

Louis dropped his head back to laugh.

And that was how they found themselves in the middle of the living room with the coffee table pushed to the wall. Both were in socked feet and sweats, Louis’ black while Harry’s were dark blue and a few inches too short on his ankles. Sweat started to seep into the neckline of Harry’s borrowed grey American Ballet Theatre tee, Louis’ borrowed jersey darkened in the center of his chest.

“C’mon, Lou, say it.”

“No.”

“Say it,” Harry drawled, his dimples deepening.

“No.”

“If you don’t say it, I’m going to start singing songs from the soundtrack.” He wiggled his brows. “Loudly. I know all the words to She’s Like The Wind.”

Louis sighed, quirking his hip to the left. He gripped Harry’s wrists and stood up straighter.

“Spaghetti arms,” Louis chided, sending Harry into hysterical giggles. Harry laughed so much he fell back onto the sofa and hugged himself, his high laughter pulling unwilling, completely unnecessary giggles from Louis. “You’re ridiculous.”

Harry eased himself into a standing position, still tittering giggles.

“Hey, at least I dropped the Mickey and Sylvia role play.” He held his hands out. “Shall we?”

“One more time,” Louis said, getting into position. He held Harry’s outstretched hand and placed his other hand on the small of Harry’s back. Harry straightened his posture like the model dance student he was fast becoming. “We can try the routine one more time. Deal?”

“Deal.”

“And if you laugh again during the arm up part, we’re done.”

“But it tickles!”

“Then you can’t be Baby.”

“I will be totally focused, cross my heart.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes.”

Louis smiled and exhaled out of his nose.

“Alright. Let’s do this.”

. . .

Louis laughed uncontrollably, running around the kitchen table.

“Harry, no! No, Harry, down!” He held his palms out. “We are not doing lifts.”

Harry’s socks skidded closer on the hardwood floor.

“I swear, I could definitely hold you up. Try me! I’m very strong, I promise!”

“I’m not going to have the entire football loving country up my ass because you broke your arm while doing ballet with your tutor.”

“Ooh, that sounds kind of dirty.”

Louis snorted and opened the refrigerator. “Sit. I’m getting us both more water.”

Harry shuffled back into the living room.

“Hey, can I eat these?”

Louis looked around the door of the refrigerator towards his voice. Harry wiggled a half empty bag of Swedish Fish.

“I guess so,” Louis said, taking out a Brita pitcher. He shut the fridge with his butt. “I don’t know where those came from.”

Harry’s weight settled on the sofa. “Liam loves these,” he said while chewing.

Louis placed two glasses of cold water on the coffee table. “Hm. Dunno.” He sat down and picked up the remote. “Maybe they’re Zayn’s. I’ll buy a new bag for him tomorrow. Have to go shopping anyway.”

Harry watched Louis channel surf as he sipped his water. His lips smiled around the rim of his glass.

“What happened to studying after our cardio break, tutor?”

“We’re clearly not studying anymore tonight,” Louis said, tossing the remote on the table. He sat back and bent his leg, tucking his foot under his thigh. “And we can still catch some of Jeopardy.”

Harry poked Louis’ cheek with a Swedish Fish. “Nerd.”

Louis pushed his hand away.

“You recite entire Disney scenes by heart, different character voices and all, and I’m the nerd?”

“Shush. You’re interrupting Alex.”

Louis snorted and propped his foot on the coffee table. He drank half his glass of water. Harry slurped next to him while quietly offering answers to Jeopardy. Louis placed his water on the table and nibbled his bottom lip.

“I’m probably going to regret saying this—”

“What is Achy Breaky Heart?” Harry said.

“What is Achy Breaky Heart?” a contestant said.

Harry pumped his arm. “Yes! Get in there!” He did one more victorious pump before he lowered his arms and looked to Louis. “What’s up?”

“Nothing. Just…” Louis pulled at the knee of his sweats. Softly, he said, “If you wanted to, you could come home with me for Thanksgiving, so you wouldn’t be stuck here eating pizza like you do every other night of the week.” His eyes flew to Harry’s face. “I mean, if you, like, wanted to—But, shit. Nevermind.” He waved his hand. “You’ve got a game Wednesday and—”

“No, no, I’d love to,” Harry said over him, breathless. “Yes, please. And thank you. Thank you for offering. I’ll be there.”

“I didn’t mean come home with me, I meant you are invited to Thanksgiving in my home. You’re not”—Louis’ eyes narrowed—“coming home with me. Got it?”

“Got it,” Harry grinned.

“I’m flying home late Tuesday night, though, so with the game on Wednesday—”

“I’ll be there Thursday. For sure. I’ll find a way.”

“It’s a random town in Southern California.”

“I’ll be there.”

“You have to take an airplane, then a shuttle, then a bus.”

“Done. What’s your favorite pie? I’ll bring a dozen.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Louis said, his air sputtering unevenly out of his mouth to laugh. “One pie will do.”

“I’ll bring two. Maybe three. Just incase.”

Louis rolled his head along the back of the sofa. “A pie emergency.”

“I like to eat.”

Harry’s drawled phrase hung in the air between them. Louis watched Harry wet his bottom lip with his tongue before his mouth moved.

“Lou?”

Louis’ brows arched. “Huh?”

The corner of Harry’s mouth quirked. “I asked what your favorite pie was.”

The depth and slowness of his voice was, in Louis’ opinion, completely inappropriate for such talk of dessert. His arm fitting across the back of the sofa, and his long fingers draping to innocently brush Louis’ shoulder, also fell into the innappropriate category. Louis thought about moving, but he only seemed able to stare at Harry’s open mouth, his lips rosy and bitten.

“Pecan,” Louis said, swallowing. Warmth from Harry’s body seeped over his side. “Pecan is my favorite fall pie.”

“Pecan it is.” He smiled, tracing over Louis’ collarbone. “Quirky until the end. I figured you’d say pumpkin.”

“I hate pumpkin.”

Harry gasped. “I’m shocked.” His soft, sugar-sweet breaths tingled on Louis’ lips. “Pumpkin’s my favorite.”

“Yeah?”

Harry’s head tilted ever so slightly, his eyes never leaving Louis’ face. “Mmhmm.”

Louis opened his mouth to reply, but no words came out. The warmth of Harry’s body seemed to explode against his side. He could smell his own laundry detergent mixed with something masculine and sharp. His gaze landed on the slightly darkened material that ran around the neckline of his grey tee, tiny speckles of darkened fabric just starting to show through under Harry’s extended arm.

The front door unlocked. Louis sucked in a breath and looked towards the footsteps.

“Oh, hey,” he said on an exhale, shifting away from Harry’s body. He felt the weight of Harry’s arm slip off the back of the sofa. “How was work?”

Zayn dropped his keys on the table. “Fine.” He rested his hand on top of a kitchen chair and tapped the top of the chair once with his thumb. “You should head home.”

Louis’ gaze slid from Zayn to Harry, who was the center of Zayn’s focus.

Harry merely smiled and nodded, then stood. “Yeah, you’re right. It’s getting late and I think the rain stopped.”

Without breaking his stare, Zayn turned the front doorknob and pushed the door open.

“It has.”

Harry bit the left corner of his mouth as he smiled down at Louis. “Right, so, I’ll see you at the library tomorrow? Regular time?”

“Yeah,” Louis said, standing and brushing his hands together. “I’ll give back your jersey tomorrow, too.”

“Nah, keep it.” Harry looped his index finger in the vee of his jersey. He pulled the material away from Louis’ chest and grinned crookedly. “You could even, um...” His eyes darted to where Zayn remained in the kitchen, making tea with one ear facing the living room. “You could, um,” he lowered his voice to a whisper, “wear it? At the game on Friday, you know? I could give you my player’s box tickets. Enough for you and whoever else you want to bring. They’re awesome seats.”

Louis’ throat bobbed and his eyes widened.

“Oh! That’s, uh, very nice of you to offer and yeah, I would—” Light flooded Harry’s face. “I mean, I would consider the game, but I can’t come on Friday. I’ve got a show. Ballet.”

“Oh, right,” Harry said, deflating a bit. “Right.”

“It’s, um, nice of you to offer, though.”

“Yeah. Cool. Cool. I just said that, but okay. Cool.”

“You two about done?” Zayn’s voice popped in. “Door’s open.”

Louis and Harry stepped back from each other.

“Yeah, we’re good. C’mon,” Louis said, tilting his head to the kitchen. “I’ll walk you out.”

. . .

Louis ran his fingers over a skirt’s seam.

“Lovely.” He smiled up at Miranda from his knees. He sat back on his feet. “Works for you?”

“Of course!” She did a quick pirouette, flowy blue chiffon swirling around her like frosting on a fresh cupcake. “I love what you’ve done with the length! I don’t know how you managed to do that so quickly between shows, but it fits perfectly. Much better than the dress rehearsal.”

“Awesome.”

The stage manager said, “Five minutes to curtain. Five minutes to curtain,” through the intercom.

“Thank you, five minutes,” Louis, and the nearby crowd of performers, said in unison.

It was the tail-end of Intermission and Louis was happy. His stitching held up and his dancers were comfortable. Now, he just needed to buckle down to tackle the breakdown and storage of costumes.

He stood up and observed his final alteration. He took his needle and thread out of his mouth.

“You good, gorgeous?”

“Perfect,” the dancer chirped before pecking his cheek and darting away. “Thanks, Lou!”

Louis rubbed lipstick off his cheek as he turned towards his work station, but ran straight into a wall of muscle.

“There you are!” Harry laughed. He held Louis’ shoulders and steadied him. “I’ve been looking all over for you. It’s crazy back here tonight.”

Breathless, Louis asked, “What—What are you doing here?”

Harry gathered his hair on top of his head.

“I ran here straight from the game. We won.” He snapped a hair tie around his tiny bun and grinned. “I showered before I came, I promise. Changed into all black, too.”

“But—You—” Louis was distracted by both Harry’s biceps in his black t-shirt and the flurry of dancers running between them. “Why are you here?”

“You said the breakdown is the hardest part, yeah?”

“Well, yes, but—”

“I thought I could help you and we could hang out after.”

“You,” Louis said slowly, laughing through the single word. “You did?”

“Yeah.” Harry gripped the rail of a clothing rack and started to walk. “These have to go Stage Left, yeah?”

“Yeah. And then we need to—”

“Pack the trunks, yup. Got it.” Harry winked over his shoulder. “I’ll be right back.”

Louis watched Harry hustle the clothing rack towards backstage, slapping hands with dancers as he ran past. Miranda sidled up beside him and rested her cheekbone on his shoulder. She whispered, “What was that you said about not fucking him?”

The remainder of the show went off without a hitch. The breakdown flew by thanks to Harry’s attentive help.

“We good?” Harry asked.

Louis closed his last plastic bin. “Yeah. We’re good.” He put his hands on his hips, surveying the rows of stored costumes and accessories. “We’re really good. Thank you for all your help. It really made the time fly.”

Niall, one of the principal dancers in the company, popped his head through a rack of tutus.

“You guys are coming over tonight, right?”

Louis opened his mouth and glanced at Harry, who said, “Yeah, for sure,” before Louis could speak. Harry raised his eyebrows at Louis. “We’re gonna go to game night, yeah?”

“You know about game night?”

“Yeah.” Harry ruffled Niall’s hair and Niall just about levitated off the floor. “Nialler filled me in backstage.”

Louis chuckled. “You call him Nialler?”

“Don’t ruin this moment for me, Louis,” Niall said sharply. He resumed smiling at Harry without missing a beat, his eyes round and sparkling. He whispered, “Harry Styles.”

Harry laughed and pulled Niall into a side hug.

“I can’t believe Lou was keeping you from me all this time.”

“Enough.” Louis cut between them with his palm. “I don’t need Niall to jizz all over my costumes. It’s a pain to get out of velvet.”

. . .

They left the theatre and took the student shuttle to Niall’s row house. Harry hopped out of the back of the shuttle and slapped its front door.

“This shuttle really runs all the time? All over campus? For free?”

Louis stepped out of the van, three dancers tumbling out behind him. He and Harry walked side by side up the leaf covered path.

“Yes, pumpkin. I know it’s not your usual tickertape parade of Escalades and Range Rovers, but, yes. It’s here all the time. You see, there are things called routes—”

“I know what a route is,” Harry scoffed.

“And some students like to take the shuttle to class or work or—Oh.” Louis winced and snapped his fingers. “You don’t know what those things are, either. Hm. Let’s see if I can explain in football terms.”

Harry came up behind Louis and wrapped his arms around him, lifting him off the ground. Louis giggled and bicycled his legs as he tried to sway out of his bear hug, Harry’s fingers digging into his stomach through the barrier of his coat and sweater.

“My hat!” Louis laughed.

Louis’ gray beanie fell off his head. Harry released him from his crushing hold and swiped the hat. He also grabbed a handful of fresh, crunchy leaves and placed them in the hat before he stuck it on top of Louis’ head.

“We’re taking too long on our route to Nialler’s,” Harry said, walking backwards in front of Louis. Louis pulled his leaf filled hat off and tried to frown at Harry, but Harry’s silly grin made that physically impossible. “Show some class, Lou, Jesus. You should really work on that.”

Louis plucked a leaf out of the back of his hair.

“Just because you’re emphasizing the words I said, that doesn’t mean you’re using them correctly.”

“What is Context Clues, Alex?”

Louis laughed and hid his face in his hands for the walk up the steps. Niall waited for them in the open doorway. He held his arms out in welcome.

“Cool! You two are finally entering the party. I was about to start blasting Barry White out the windows and throw you a couple of condoms for good luck.”

Louis snorted, “In his dreams,” and walked past.

Harry asked, “Wanna get Domino’s? Games make me hungry.”

Niall clutched his chest with one hand while removing his black baseball cap with his other hand.

“How are we just now becoming friends? Hell yeah, pizza for sure. Normally, we’d all sob and say no to pizza, but tonight was the last show before the holiday break, so we’re all probably down to cheat.”

Harry reached for his wallet.

“I can pay for it with my—”

Niall handed a dancer his hat and called out, “Pizza, pizza, pizza!” Harry watched the hat float from party guest to party guest as Niall directed him. “Right, so, our living room is small, and we were going to try to mimic this thing we saw on an episode of Property Brothers, but we ended up blowing most of our decorating money on this and got derailed.” He pointed to a red race car bed sitting beside an armchair. “It was a great deal at a garage sale, so I’m not complaining.”

The baseball hat returned to them, full of cash, within seconds.

“Sweet, we can get a bunch,” Niall said as he rustled his hand through the bills. “I’m starving.”

“You don’t want me to pay?” Harry asked.

Niall snorted, “Why would you pay for our pizza?”

“Right,” Harry said slowly, laughing it off. Niall smiled at him, slightly confused but still overjoyed. “Um, yeah. Cool. So.” Harry slung his arm around Niall’s shoulders. “Drinks?”

They walked further into the party. The living room was full of people and various boxed board games. There was even a Twister mat open. Harry’s gaze caught on Louis hugging someone in the kitchen. He recognized him as his dance partner from the rehearsal Harry had crashed. Louis moved on to hug another dancer, people milling around him with red Solo cups.

“So, this is my humble abode,” Niall said, guiding Harry to the middle of the living room. “Where the magic happens.” Harry blinked at him and Niall hurried to add, “Like, Magic the Gathering. We legitimately play Magic the Gathering here sometimes, but that’s”—he laughed brashly and swayed his hand in front of himself—“nevermind. Not important.”

Harry picked up a blue gingerbread man from Candy Land. “Wow, you guys really do game night,” he said, impressed. He replaced the man on Candy Land’s board. “Where’d Lou go? We should get to Twister stat.”

Louis appeared beside him and handed him a red Solo cup.

“We usually wait until we’ve had a few drinks until we move on to Twister.”

Harry sniffed his cup.

“Mmm. Apple?”

“Warm apple cider with whiskey.”

“You artsy kids. So fancy.” He sipped, his eyes widening. He licked his lips. “Shit, this is fucking delicious.” He rubbed his stomach. “And cozy.”

“Also, you’d most definitely lose at Twister. You’re playing with a bunch of dancers. It’s our job to be bendy.”

“I honestly just want you on top of me. I’m not fussy about how we get from A to Z.”

Louis laughed into his cup of cider. Niall held out a board game, wiggling the box at Harry.

“What do you think, H? You up for it?”

“Nialler, that’s sort of a random history game,” Louis said, waving his hand in front of the box. He glanced at Harry. “You’ve probably never heard of it. We could start with Scrabble or—”

“Excuse me, Louis,” Harry said, outraged but smiling. He flattened his palm on his chest. “I happen to be exceptional at Settlers of Catan.” He looked to Niall. “Have you got Risk around here, too?”

Niall’s eyes filled with such joy his lower eyelids shimmered. “You—You like Risk?” His breathing sped up. “You? Harry Styles?”

“Yeah! Love Risk. We should play some time. Takes forever, but so worth it.”

Niall lifted the board game above his head and did a rapid series of pirouettes while droning a high, pleased sound.

Harry cackled. “Oh man, can you teach me to do that!?” He tossed his arms up and spun in place beside Niall. “Lou said I have a natural inclination towards dance.” He grinned at Louis and spun around. “Ain’t that right, Lou?”

“I literally never said that.”

He watched Harry and Niall spin around each other, laughing as happily as two ducklings splashing in a puddle. No other guests seemed to notice or care.

. . .

“You like him, Lou Lou.”

Louis snuffled a laugh and shook his head. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” He ladled more hot cider into his cup. “Shut up.”

“You do, I can tell,” Gregory said, smirking. He leaned his hip on the counter beside Louis. “C’mon, man. He’s hot and seems into you. Do it. Do it for the good of every art kid in high school that crushed on the star quarterback.”

“I don’t know. And he’s a wide receiver, not a quarterback”

“What don’t you know?”

Louis leaned his ass against the counter.

“I don’t know what I don’t know. I need more alcohol.” He held his cup up. “That I do know.”

“You like him.”

Louis licked his lips, tilting his head side to side. “Yeah, maybe,” he said slowly, his smile growing. He pinched the air. “Just a little bit.”

Gregory’s face lit up.

“Oh, shit! You’re gonna bang a baller!”

“Shh, shh! I dunno about that,” Louis laughed, shoving Gregory’s hands away from his hair. He ran his fingers through his bangs. “I do like him, though.” He took a long swig of cider. “Don’t know what I’m thinking.”

“I’m shocked. Legitimately shocked.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re so picky. You wouldn’t even fuck me,” he said as he gestured to himself, “and I’m stunning.”

“You’re straight, ass.”

“I could have been swayed by your ass. Why else would I have asked you to do my senior duet with me?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Louis giggled. He took a quick sip of cider. “A likely story.”

“What do you like about him? C’mon. Let’s hear it.” Gregory nodded, his wavy blond hair swaying over his shoulders. “What does Harry Styles have that every other male on campus does not?”

Louis narrowed his eyes. “He’s…” His smile slowly widened. “He’s a lot brighter than I originally thought. He’s clever. Surprising. Warm. Very warm. And he…” He chuckled and looked down, spinning his cup in his hands. Softer, he said, “He makes me laugh. A lot.”

“Who does?”

Louis looked up at the sound of Harry’s voice. His mouth flopped open.

“Hi there,” Gregory said with a grin. Harry smiled from the doorway, glancing from Louis to Gregory. Gregory held his arm towards the stove. “Want some more cider?”

Harry took two steps into the kitchen. “Yeah, thanks. I came by to get some more and to see what you guys were up to.”

“Right, of course,” Gregory said as he backed towards the doorway. When he got behind Harry, he gave Louis a dramatic wink and pumped his hips forward. “I’ll leave you two alone.”

“Bye, Greg,” Louis said, smirking despite his best effort to sound annoyed.

Harry stood in front of Louis. He held out his cup and gave him a big smile.

“More, please.”

Louis sighed but lifted the ladle.

“Spoiled brat.”

“So,” Harry drawled, watching Louis ladle cider into his cup. Louis’ eyes flickered to his face. “Who makes you laugh a lot?”

Louis sweetly batted his lashes and dropped the ladle in the cider pot.

“Stephen Colbert.”

“Oh, really? You were talking about Stephen Colbert with that guy?”

“Maybe,” Louis said, a giggle breaking through his voice. Harry laughed delightedly. “You’ll never know, now, will you?”

Harry stepped close enough to feel Louis’ warm, apple scented breaths on his lips.

“You weren’t, perhaps, talking about me making you laugh, were you?”

Louis laughed and ducked his face down, Harry grinning at the high, bubbly sound. Harry lowered his head to nuzzle his nose against the crown of Louis’ head. Soft, gentle breaths fluttered against Louis’ skin until Harry reached his temple. Harry’s warm hands curved around his hips.

“What are you doing, Styles?”

“Your hair smells so good,” Harry whispered.

Louis chuckled quietly, but didn’t move right away. His head swayed to the left as Harry ran his nose along his jawline.

“You have a thing for smells.” Harry’s nose brushed beneath his jaw and his eyes fluttered shut, his breath stuttering. “Yeah?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Harry murmured. He bracketed Louis against the counter with his thighs, his hands flat on the sides of Louis’ ass. “Mostly how you smell, though. You always smell so good to me.”

“Might as well put that big old nose to—” Harry hummed lowly and pressed his whole face into the crook of Louis’ neck, stepping close enough to bring their bodies flush. Louis weakly moaned, “Oh,” before he could control it. He flattened his hands on the small of Harry’s back, Harry humming and nuzzling his neck. “Fuck,” Louis breathed, his head falling straight back. Harry’s lips dragged over the bulge of his throat. “You’re so warm.”

“I want to make you feel so good,” Harry whispered, his right hand sliding lower to grip Louis’ ass. Louis made a soft, high sound and ground against him. Harry squeezed him again, exhaling audibly with his nose crunched to Louis’ neck. “I promise, Lou. Let me. I promise I’ll—”

“Come dance, guys!”

Harry froze in place, the pads of Louis’ fingers digging into his lower back. They both craned their necks to look at the doorway. A dancer named Michael grinned at them.

A beat passed before Michael’s smile faded, his springy red hair seeming to wilt on top of his head.

“Oh, am I—” He pointed from Harry to Louis. “Am I interrupting something?”

“Nope, you’re cool,” Harry said, stepping back. He smiled easily and took his cider cup off the counter. “No interruption. I’ll have to pass on dancing, though. We’re about to start Scrabble.”

“I’ll come dance, Mikey.” Louis grabbed his own cider cup and breezed past Harry, able to feel Harry’s gaze burning below his waistline. He swiped the back of his hand over his forehead. “Need to blow off some steam.”

. . .

“Fuck me, you’re good, Styles!”

Harry grinned and reorganized his Scrabble tiles. He looked across the game board at Niall, but his eyes swerved over Niall’s shoulder. Harry quickly refocused on the game while the player to his left laid down his letters. They played in silence for a few moments until Harry gently cleared his throat.

“Can I ask y’all a question?” Harry asked.

The trio of male dancers playing Scrabble—including Niall, a muscled blond named Lance, and a Japanese student with swoopy black bangs named Cy—smiled at him.

“What’s up?” Niall asked.

Harry tossed a Q tile from palm to palm. “So, y’all get pretty, like, handsy with the other dancers. ‘Cause you’re lifting them and touching them and all that stuff, right?”

“Yeah,” Lance said.

“Is it weird?” Harry asked, squinting at something in the distance. “Like, does it ever get sexual? You’re both sweaty and wearing next to no clothes and touching everyone’s business.”

“If both parties are into it, it happens,” Cy said with a shrug. He brought his beer to his lips, swaying his head side to side. “You’re feeling inspired and connected to your dance partner and you spend hours with them every day. We’re all really hot. It happens.”

“Ah.” Harry placed his Q tile on his wooden holder. “Cool. Good to know.”

They refocused on their Scrabble game. Niall did a casual stretch of his head to the left and looked over his shoulder.

Track: The 1975 - Love Me

Amidst the group of people bopping to the beat, Louis and another dancer named Nick were grinding face to face, both laughing through their fast chatter. Niall snorted and turned back to the Scrabble game.

“Pause. I need a beer.” Lance waved his hands over the board. “No peeksies.”

Cy stood and stretched his arms above his head. “Me too. No peeksies.”

“No peeksies,” Harry and Niall said together.

Cy and Lance shuffled away from the coffee table. Harry sat back on the sofa and ran his fingers through his hair. His eyes rose for a split second, then dropped back to the floor. He ruffled the front of his hair with more gusto.

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Niall said, amused.

Harry blinked at him. “What?”

Niall tilted his head backwards.

“They’re just dancing. Promise.”

Harry snorted and sipped his drink. He could feel his face warming as he gulped another mouthful of apple cider, his shoulders involuntarily rising towards his ears.

“According to y’all, it’s normal to be sexual with other dancers,” Harry grumbled.

“Sometimes. But I wouldn’t worry.”

“Why would I worry?”

“You keep looking at them.”

“I’m…” Harry’s brows furrowed. He laughed for a moment, rearranging his tiles. Quietly, he admitted, “I’m not used to not being the person someone wants.”

Niall laughed. “Lou’s not doing anything with Nick tonight. Believe me.”

Harry peered through the party to the impromptu dance floor. Louis was still dancing, but now had his back to Nick’s front. His face was flushed, his lips wet and his feathery hair falling down to tangle in his long eyelashes. Their eyes locked.

Louis smiled with his lips shut, his hips continuing to grind backwards against Nick’s taller frame. He lifted his arm to place his hand behind Nick’s head. Nick’s palm slid up the front of his shirt and Louis giggled, letting his head fall to the side, his eyes still on Harry’s face.

Harry looked away. “And how do you know that, hm? They look pretty cozy.”

Niall chewed a pizza crust with his mouth open.

“Lou is the Grinding King, and occasionally a Prince of Making Out, but not so much into anything more. He doesn’t like to mix sex with people he works with or are in his program. Nick’s in the dance program, too. They’ll dance together, yeah, but that’s it.”

Harry’s eyes widened.

“Really? A Prince of Making Out?”

“Mmhmm.”

“How do you know all this?”

“I know thangs,” Niall said with a southern drawl.

Harry quirked a brow. “Have you ever made out with Louis?”

Niall sat back in his seat and crossed his leg.

“Why? You liiiike him or something?”

Harry smiled along with Niall and shook his head.

“Doesn't really matter. I’ve offered to make out a number of times and he’s always said no.” He studied the bottom of his empty cup. “I guess I don’t meet his royal standards.”

Niall continued to laugh at him.

“Man, are you kidding me? You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t meet his standards. I wouldn’t stress. You’re within inches of the end zone.” He shoved the rest of his crust in his mouth. “That’s all I’ll say.”

“Inches,” Harry scoffed. “Yeah, right.”

“Go dance with him.”

“We’re playing Scrabble. I can’t leave. That’d be shameful.”

“Go dance with him,” Niall said as he giggled. He jutted his chin up. “C’mon. Move that sweet little ass to the beat. The guys are probably making out in the kitchen right now, anyway.”

Harry blinked faster.

“Wait, are they involved, too?”

Niall laughed and walloped his face with a throw pillow.

“Go dance!”

Harry placed his empty cup on the coffee table and stood, brushing his palms over his thighs. He pushed his hair back off his face. The music changed from bouncy electro rock to a groovier sounding R&B song.

Track: Daft Punk - Lose Yourself To Dance

As Harry approached the group of grinding dancers, Louis stared at him the entire time. Every step Harry took, Louis’ smile grew wider by a fraction of an inch, their eyes remaining locked. Harry stood still in front of Louis as people swirled around him, heat from other dancers already seeping into his skin. The whiskey in his belly seemed to heat along with his skin, numbing some of the nerves he would normally feel dancing in public amidst a crowd of professionals.

Louis bit his bottom lip, his bicep clenching as his fingers gripped Nick’s hair tighter.

“Hi,” he said, voice barely carrying over the music.

Harry arched his eyebrows.

“May I cut in?”

Louis’ grin went lopsided. He tilted his head back as Nick whispered something in his ear. Louis laughed, his eyes snapping to Harry and his sweat-curled hair flopping over his forehead. Nick peered at Harry with the bottom half of his face hidden behind Louis. He planted a wet kiss on Louis’ dewy cheekbone and winked, then turned away to join in with two female dancers.

Louis gripped the center of Harry’s black tee.

“C’mere, cowboy.”

Harry gulped, his hands fumbling on Louis’ hips. Louis smiled, sweat darkening his hairline and his eyes sparkling.

“Relax,” he murmured. He smoothed his palms around Harry’s sides and up his back. Each press of his hands made Harry’s skin tingle, his touch firm and confident. “C’mon, then.” He lined up their middles as he straddled Harry’s thigh. “Let’s go. Put your hands on me.”

Harry’s hands slid lower to cradle Louis’ ass and Louis hummed, his muscles starting to move beneath Harry’s palms.

“Shocked you’re not slapping me right now.”

“We’re just dancing and you have a nice body,” Louis giggled out on one breath, Harry grinning wider. He looped his arms around Harry’s neck. “What’s wrong? You’re not moving.” He twirled one of Harry’s curls between his fingers. “You want to do the Dirty Dancing choreography we worked on?”

“Why are you always wearing so many layers?” Harry asked as he slipped his hand under the shirt beneath Louis’ cardigan. Miles and miles of refined muscles twitched under his palm. “It’s a hundred degrees in here and, fuck me.” He watched Louis’ ass gyrate, his hand clenching on his lower back. “You’re so fucking hot.”

The searing burn of Louis’ skin caused even more throbbing, pulsing heat to rush to Harry’s most sensitive parts. Other dancers crowded around them, ignoring Harry and Louis’ movements, but their bodies coming closer and closer. Combined body heat and the sharp smell of Louis’ skin made Harry feel lightheaded.

The confidence of Louis’ every move and touch made it feel as if Louis was the taller, broader one. Louis moved as if he was aware of how he looked from all angles. He moved with perfect ease and comfort and confidence, one of the benefits of being a lifelong dancer.

When Louis touched him, his body moved how Louis wanted him to. He was upright, but he was putty in Louis’ hands. When Louis breathed in against his skin, Harry’s lungs sucked a breath in, as if he was waiting on Louis for cues.

Each time there were claps on the song, the dancers clapped in unison, all swirling around them as if they were privy to choreography Harry hadn’t learned. Harry shut his eyes and rested his forehead on Louis’ shoulder, his nose under Louis’ jawline.

“You’re a really good dancer.”

“Thanks, Riggs.”

“And I feel like we’re in A Knight’s Tale.”

Louis’ throat jumped with a low laugh. “Or She’s All That.”

Harry’s posture stiffened, his shoulder blades twitching together. He stood up straight.

“What?”

“Because of the iconic dance scene.” Louis widened his eyes, his smirk sly. “Doy.”

Harry breathed for a shaky moment, then said, “Right,” and settled back into position. He nuzzled his face to Louis’ slightly sweaty neck with his eyes shut. “Right.”

Louis guided him closer with his hand on his lower back then ground against him.

“Relax your hips. Pretend they’re not part of your body anymore.”

Harry hummed, his hands sinking lower to squeeze Louis’ ass. He watched the muscles framing Louis’ spine flutter and stretch beneath his palm each time he ground against him, their movement rhythmic yet so fluid and natural.

“Now I want you to imagine circles, circles, circles,” Louis continued to whisper, placing each incarnation of circles on every other beat. “Pretend we’re in a hula hoop together.”

“I’m good at hula hooping.”

“I’ll bet you are. Ungh, yes. That’s it.” As their hips synced together with perfect, tear-inducing friction, Louis tilted his head to the side, breathing a touch faster. He gripped the back of Harry’s hair, tightening his grip as Harry took a deep breath. Louis’ eyes crinkled at the ceiling. “Can you smell him on me?”

“Fuck you,” Harry growled.

Louis’ next laugh was louder. Harry’s teeth nipped the bottom of his neck and Louis moaned softly, tilting his head the other way. He pulled out of Harry’s embrace but stayed within inches of him, reaching out and gripping Harry’s hips. He spun Harry in one practiced, easy motion and pulled him against his body.

Harry’s hazy eyes widened—he’d never been the little spoon while dancing before—but he just kept making hip circles. He felt a definite hardness pressing against his ass and held his breath as they danced, until Louis pinched a tiny bite of skin just above his collar. Harry gasped and sucked a breath in, his heart pounding in his ears. Louis’ body melded against his back, his small hands sliding over the fronts of his hips. He felt Louis’ lips brush his neck.

“I saw you watching us, cowboy,” he whispered.

Harry tilted his head sideways.

“I saw you putting on a show.”

“Got you over here, didn’t it?”

Harry leaned back into Louis’ weight, one of Louis’ hands sliding up under his shirt to rest on his stomach.

“Is that what you wanted?”

“Hmm, maybe,” Louis hummed lowly. He thumbed Harry’s navel, Harry’s strong abs ballooning under his palm. “Do you like this song?”

“I like what we’re doing to this song.”

Louis whispered, “You know,” and let his lips brush the shell of Harry’s ear. “I bet this song would make a great track for a lap dance.”

Harry clenched his eyes shut.

“You’re torturing me.”

“Nah,” Louis said, his voice a low rasp. He smoothed his palm down Harry’s belt buckle, but slid his hand to the right just before he touched Harry’s bulge. He gripped his upper inner thigh and pulled him closer. “You’d know if I was torturing you.” Harry whimpered as Louis’ nose pressed against the sweaty curls sticking to the side of his neck. Quietly, Louis murmured, “You smell good, too.”

Harry lifted his arm and laced his fingers in Louis’ hair, their hips grinding slow, deep circles to the beat.

“Lou.”

“What?”

“Can we please go have sex already? At this point, I’d even be down to use the race car bed in front of all your friends.”

Louis laughed loudly, Harry turning in his arms. They ended up with Louis’ hands cradling Harry’s neck, Harry’s arms wrapped low around his waist. For whatever reason, they did not immediately go back to grinding. Instead, they smiled at each other, sweat glistening on both of their faces, and swayed to the beat as the song switched.

Track: One Direction - What A Feeling

Louis linked their pinky fingers. “Thanks for the dance, cowboy.”

“Why haven’t you been playing board games with me all night? Do you suck at Scrabble or something?”

Louis tugged on Harry’s pinky finger and walked them back towards the living room, both men weaving through groups of dancers. Some of the surrounding body heat dissipated, Harry inching closer to Louis’ side as they walked.

“I’m sort of a throw you in the deep end to see if you sink or swim type.” Louis’ eyes crinkled up at him. “You get it?”

Harry thought for a moment. “Like…You’re seeing if I sink or swim with your friends?”

“Maybe.”

“How am I doing?”

Louis rubbed his thumb over Harry’s knuckle. “Um,” he laughed, nibbling his bottom lip. He looked at their shoes. “I’d say you’re basically Ariel at this point.”

Harry’s entire face brightened. “Oh! So, that’s good, right? Because she can swim and walk on land?”

“Haz! Yes! Thank God you’re back.” Niall wrestled Harry away from Louis and threw him on the sofa. Harry looked at Louis’ smiling face as Niall plopped down beside him. “Cal’s being an ass about Green Bay’s chances this year and I need your professional assistance to defend the honor of my fantasy team.”

“I got you two more cider,” Michael said, handing Harry and Louis fresh Solo cups. “I’m sure you need a drink after all that…” His lips quirked. “Activity.”

“Yeah, Styles,” Cy said, throwing a thumbs up his way. “Nice ass. Team squats totally paying off.”

“Here ya go,” a female dancer said, handing over shot glasses of something amber colored.

Harry took the shot of whiskey. He could see Louis toss back a shot in his peripheral vision. He felt breathless and tingly and surrounded by warmth, new faces and new voices enveloping him from all sides. That feeling only multiplied when Louis squeezed next to him on the sofa and slid his arm around the small of his back.

“I’m gonna be on Harry’s team for the rest of the game,” Louis said, his thumb sneaking under Harry’s shirt to rub his hip.

“You can’t do that, it’s cheating.” Harry’s hot, whiskey-tinged words broke into giggles. “What?” Louis fingers dug into his lowest rib and Harry’s laughter multiplied, his eyes widening. “It is!”

“Lou sucks at Scrabble,” Niall said as he placed tiles on the board. “You’re probably weaker as a team with him. I’m cool with it.”

“Hey,” Louis warned, giggling. “I’m not that bad!”

Niall fluttered his fingers above his most current word. “You’re a terrible speller. Accept it. Understand it. Move on.”

Louis brought his lips to Harry’s ear. “Your next word should be,” his voice dropped to an even more secretive whisper, “F-A-R-T.”

Harry laughed so hard he fell sideways and bumped his head against Louis’ chest, Louis laughing with his face in Harry’s frizzing curls.

. . .

Many hours, games, and cups of warm, boozy cider later, Harry and Louis walked by themselves to Louis’ apartment building. They bundled up in their beanies and scarves, both hugging themselves in their jackets. Crisp fall air added to the rosiness of their cheeks.

“I can’t believe you kept this secret from me for this long, Styles.”

“That you pop boners during Twister? I found that out the same time as you, little darlin’.”

“No,” Louis laughed, his giggles high and uncontrollable. He swayed into Harry, who giggled and nudged him back with his shoulder. Their breaths puffed fog as they laughed. “I didn’t pop a boner, Jesus Christ.”

“Felt pretty boner-y to me.”

“If you thought I got a boner from your puny ass barely resting on my thighs, I feel sorry for whatever dick you’ve gotten in the past.”

Harry cackled and poked his tongue out.

“God, you’re sort of dirty when you’re drunk! I love it! But, alright.” He straightened himself up. “You have my full attention. What’s the big Styles Secret? Do tell.”

They stopped walking and faced each other in the middle of the empty street. Louis prodded Harry’s chest.

“You...are a secret nerd.”

“A secret nerd?”

“Mmhmm. You read fantasy novels and love Disney movies and kick absolute ass at every board game ever invented, even the obscure hard ones, and you’re…” Louis smiled up at him, his fingers curled in the fuzzy collar of Harry’s coat. “You’re actually not dumb. Not at all. You just pretend to be dumb to fit the football player narrative.”

Harry giggled softly. “Well…” He scuffed his shoe against the ground. “Maybe a little, yeah.”

“Why?”

“Why, what?”

Louis released his jacket and they started to walk. “Why do you play dumb? Why do you pretend you don’t like to read?”

“It’s...It’s just sort of the way I’ve always thought I should be. And it worked. People liked it, they liked me, so I guess I just kept it up and….Fuck.” Harry exhaled, his breath puffing into the air. He laughed lowly. “That sounds pathetic.”

“At least you understand it. That’s leagues beyond most of your colleagues. And it’s not pathetic if you’re learning from it. That’s...”

Harry tilted his head towards Louis. “That’s, what?”

“That’s, um, one of...one of my favorite things about you.”

“Y-You have favorite things about me?” Harry laughed, giddy and loud. He slapped his hand over his mouth, earning a sly smirk from Louis. “I mean, you do?”

“Yeah. I like that you’re open to learning. And you try to learn. It’s…” He licked his lips and looked at the ground. “Nice. I like it.”

“I’m...shocked. And honored. And”—he made a creepy little smile with crinkled eyes, elbowing Louis’ side—“a little frisky.”

Harry’s extra schmoozy voice and funny face made both laugh while they strolled. Their shoes crunched on the concrete as they turned a corner.

Track: Carly Rae Jepsen - Gimme Love

Louis shoved his hands in his coat pockets and glanced at Harry. “Thanks again for walking me home. You really didn’t have to.”

“Nah, it’s fine. Was my pleasure.” Harry took a deep, audible breath in through his nose. “S’nice night for a walk. Do you smell that?”

Louis slowly sucked air in. His eyes fluttered shut.

“Fireplace wood.”

“Mmhmm.”

“You like it?”

Harry walked with his eyes shut, his hands tucked into his jacket pockets. “Mmm. I love that smell when it’s a little chilly out. The burning wood smell when it’s cold. Make me want to stay in bed all day covered in blankets.”

Louis chuckled. “Yeah, me too. Um…”

Harry turned towards him, his face still softened.

“What?”

“You…” Louis adjusted his beanie, his eyes peering up at Harry. “It was really fun with you tonight.”

Harry’s tongue darted out over his bottom lip.

“Um, yeah, it…It was so fun,” he said, his voice breathy. “Your friends are really nice. Really welcoming and, uh, normal. And generous with snacks and fun drinks and stuff. It was awesome.”

Louis smiled at Harry for a split second, then looked at the ground.

“I’m sorry it wasn’t, like, you know. A wild kegger.”

“Why would I want that?”

“Because you won a game. That’s what you usually do to celebrate.”

“Aw, that’s alright. This was so fun. Really.” He tilted his head, his eyes sparkling and his wet lips pursed. “We can save the kegger to celebrate after you get your ass to a game in my jersey.”

Harry laughed, as did Louis, but Louis’ laugh was softer.

“Yeah, about that,” Louis said, stepping on the toe of his shoe. “Um…”

“I didn’t mean to make you, like, uncomfortable,” Harry said quickly, palms outstretched. “I’m just kidding. You don’t have to come to a game or wear my jersey. It was a stupid joke.”

Louis unbuttoned his jean jacket and pushed his knitted scarf over his shoulder. The dip of his throat still glimmered with a hint of sweat from the crowded coziness of Niall’s house. Harry watched the tips of Louis’ fingers pull at the buttons of his black cardigan. Halfway down the row of buttons, his sweater wilted open. A flash of bright red was revealed.

Harry’s mouth slackened. His cheeks ached and his eyes stung, the wild, rapid-fire fluttering in his stomach pounding in his eardrums.

“Lou, you…You...”

Louis held his hands away from his body. His full red and black #14 STYLES jersey was revealed beneath his unbuttoned cardigan. He looked at Harry’s face, stunned and slack-jawed, and let out a small laugh.

“Yeah, um, I wore it all night. I’m sorry I couldn’t come to your game, but maybe some time it’ll work out schedule-wise. Uh.” He gulped and tucked a longish wave of hair behind his ear. “Yeah. So.” He walked sideways up the first two steps of his building. “I’ve actually never attended a football game before, can you believe it? Barely even seen one on TV. Anyway, thanks for walking me home and—”

“Louis.”

Louis stopped walking when a warm hand wrapped over his wrist. He looked over his shoulder. Light glittered on the tips of his long eyelashes.

“Yeah?”

Harry walked up one step. He slid his hands inside Louis’ open jacket and cradled the dips above his hips, his long fingers wrapping around far enough to touch the small of his back.

Louis’ nose scrunched, but he smiled. The crinkles beside his eyes reflected even more tiny beams of moonlight. He curled his hands around the fuzzy collar of Harry’s jacket and pulled him closer, his sweet breaths puffing against Harry’s lips.

They walked down the steps together, Louis forward and Harry backwards. The space between them never grew, their steps moving in natural dance with Louis leading and Harry dancing blind.

Once both reached on the ground, Harry smoothly turned Louis with their eyes locked. Their hands never left each other’s body, breaths traded between them. They swapped their positions, Louis moving backwards while Harry led.

Harry walked them to a broad tree with branches weighed down by golden yellow leaves, the leaves appearing silver under the full moon. Louis’ back bumped against the tree trunk. Harry swayed closer, illuminated from behind by moonlight. Half of Louis’ face was shielded by Harry’s shadow, but he tilted his head. The sliver of pure white light that spread across his cerulean eyes lit his face like a superhero’s mask.

“Come on,” Louis whispered. Harry puffed sweet, spicy breaths close enough for him to feel them. Louis softly chanted, “Don’t be L-A—”

Harry tilted his head forward at just the right moment to catch Louis’ open mouth with his lips, his strong jaw guiding their kiss. The letter Z was weakly moaned into Harry’s mouth, Louis’ hands tightening on Harry’s collar. Wind whipped through the trees around them, leaves whispering with the same tingling, delicateness that blanketed both as they kissed.

They inhaled through their noses at the same time with their lips joined, Harry’s arms tightening around Louis’ narrow waist and pulling them flush. He pressed Louis up against the tree, Louis’ shoes lifting against the base of the tree trunk with his heels pushing into the bark. Louis’ hands slid to the back of his neck to tangle his fingers in his hair, their heads tilting and their tongues sliding together.

The firm, tall pressure of Harry’s body up against him as they kissed caused Louis’ fingers to clench in his hair. The relentless, but still gentle, push of Harry’s lips against his own made the dull bite of tree bark into his scalp more than worth it. Every small squirm he made was met by Harry adjusting his position to kiss him with even more perfect pressure, with even slower teases of his tongue.

Harry couldn’t stop blindly pursing his lips whenever Louis thumbed his cheekbones, his eyes too heavy to open as he was kissed so softly. The tiny, tender, almost innocent pecks exchanged between brain-melting kisses matched up with the tiny, tender, almost innocent touch of Louis’ small hands against his face, Harry leaning more and more weight against Louis’ lean body.

The wind whipped around them and through the trees. Swirls of gold and red leaves fell in waves, trickling down their backs to pool at their feet. The branches above them swayed with a low, calming, “Shhh,” as their lips sucked.

Finally, they separated to breathe, though neither opened their eyes. Harry felt Louis exhale hotly against his lips. He could see the fog forming between them, even with his eyes shut, the warm nip of whiskey cider buzzing in his belly.

Louis rasped, “Do you want to come up?” while Harry asked, “Can I come up?”

They opened their eyes, both smirking. Harry slipped his right hand up the back of Louis’ jersey.

“God, I’ve been dying to hear you say that for so long,” he murmured. He firmly pressed their lips together, his nails teasing up the strong line of Louis’ spine. His voice was even deeper to admit, “Been dying to kiss you for so long.”

Louis laughed and rolled his head to the side. He gently pulled Harry’s hair.

“Was that kiss autumnal enough for you?”

“Full moon, chilly night that smells like a bonfire, leaves falling around us, knit scarves and jackets, and we taste like warm apple cider?” He smiled brightly. “Yeah, I’d say so. Too bad I forgot my pumpkin lube at home. We’d turn into a Thanksgiving candle display.”

Louis’ chest bumped with soft laughs.

“Actually, uh…” He shook his head. “I can’t.”

“Right, you hate pumpkin.”

“No—Well, yes. I do hate pumpkin flavoring. But I meant no, like, no sex. Not tonight.”

Harry’s bottom lip trembled.

“Why?”

“I don’t have sex before meets or big exams. It messes with my focus. We still have midterms on Monday.”

“Ohh, okay,” Harry drawled. “You’re one of those types of athletes?”

“Yeah. I’m gathering you’re not?”

“I am now.”

“Ha.”

“So, Monday, then?”

“Yeah,” Louis said slowly, his smile widening. “If you’re up for it. I’m usually pretty ready to go once either my meet or exam is done.”

Harry hummed, “Mmm, hot,” and lowered his face, pressing his lips to the front of Louis’ throat. “I’ve never been so excited to take a midterm.”

Louis let his head loll and his eyes close. Sensitive, shivery bolts of pleasure exploded on his skin with each suck of Harry’s lips. The fruity smell of his shampoo was softened by the lingering sweetness of sweat from the crowded party, plus the mossy, fresh gushes of air each time the wind blew through the trees around them. Harry slid both hands up the back of his jersey.

“Did you, uh, did you feel good about how Shakespeare went?” Louis bit his bottom lip as Harry’s teeth nipped below his ear. “When I saw the exam’s essay question, I knew you would nail it.”

Harry stood up straight and stared at Louis with his head tilted. Louis’ lips were swollen and his stare held plenty of fire, but something about his smile cut through the heat. His voice was breathier than usual, but he still spoke with the same sureness as when he was encouraging Harry to complete an assignment.

“You knew I’d nail it?” Harry asked.

Louis’ eyes crinkled as he chuckled.

“Yeah, of course. That sort of thematic comparison drawing from current events is right up your alley. I knew you’d do great.”

Harry stroked Louis’ cheekbone with the backs of his fingers. His confused puppy expression had only grown more confused.

“Why do you have such faith in me?”

Louis held his stare.

“Should I not have faith in you?”

“No, I...I’m not…” Harry laughed, his body unable to push out any other words at that moment. “I’m just...I’m not used to it.”

Louis snorted. “Harry. You have people mentally sucking your dick every time you walk into any room.”

“That’s different, though. They like my playing or my personality. I don’t”—his lips tightened and he shook his head—“I don’t usually have people think I can do anything other than football. That’s why I’m...I’m…” He held Louis’ face and joined their lips, but kept his tongue to himself, his eyes falling shut at the gentle purse of Louis’ mouth. Louis hummed quietly and tilted his head, guiding their lips open. Harry breathed, “Thank you. It’s all because of you.”

“I dunno about that.”

“No, it is,” Harry said seriously. “Take the credit.”

“I’ll have to add, ‘Tutor to Harry Styles,’ to my official job history. Maybe I’ll get a discount on a Jeep one day.”

“You should actually add, um...” Harry bit his bottom lip, his face wrinkled as he thought. He snapped and his face brightened. “Builder! Builder.”

“Builder?” Louis said, amused.

“Yeah, like...You helped me build up a part of me I forgot about.” Louis pulled Harry closer by his collar and opened his mouth on the arch of his neck. “The talking part. And the thinking part. And the—Fuck,” he groaned, clenching his eyes. “Neck shit gets me so hard.”

Louis laughed and lifted his lips, then pecked the light pink bite mark he left above Harry’s collar.

“You’re certainly making up for lost talking time, though I’m still not sure what I built.”

Harry held Louis by the shoulders. “You gave me the instructions, but let me learn to use my own blocks to build me.”

“Blocks?”

“Yeah. Legos that I already had inside of me. I love Legos. But you didn’t do the building for me. You showed me how I could do it myself. And—And—”

Harry wrapped Louis in a sudden bear hug so tight Louis’ breath got stuck in his compressed chest. Louis’ eyes widened with his chin on top of Harry’s shoulder.

“Thank you,” Harry whispered. Louis stroked the back of his hair, Harry nuzzling his face into the curve of his neck. “Just thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Louis said softly. Harry squeezed him. “I’m glad it worked out for you.”

“I’m so glad this all happened.”

Louis squinted at the moon and giggled, “What?”

Harry stiffened in their embrace.

He often forgot about why he started talking to Louis in the first place. Being with Louis was so different than being with anyone else on the Earth. There was no disconnect between what was currently happening in reality and what he hoped would happen in the public eye. Everything was fresh and real and unpredictable in the best way. Remembering a bet made with a football friend felt like old news from a million years ago. Unimportant and inconsequential.

Monday, though. Monday they could go out. They could be together. He could explain himself. He and Louis could spend the night together and no one would even notice. Everyone would surely be wasted to celebrate the end of midterms and the start of break. And then, who knew what would happen between them? Unpredictable was okay because it would be with Louis. He would be with Louis.

Harry shut his eyes and pushed his face tighter to Louis’ neck, breathing in the warm, lingering body wash scent on his fuzzy scarf. Some of the prickles of anxiety that lined his stomach smoothed.

“Kissing you. And hugging you. I’m glad hugging you happened,” he said. Louis arms tightened around him and Harry sighed. “I feel like not enough people like hugging these days.”

“Hugo Styles likes hugs? Get me Deadspin’s number—I’ve got a scoop for them.”

Harry pulled his head out of Louis neck.

“Don’t you worry your pretty little swan head. I have full confidence that we are going to destroy each other on Monday.”

“Destroy?” Louis laughed.

“I want us to have absolutely insane, Olympic Village sex on Monday, but I also...Uh...” His dimples popped. “Can I take you out on Monday?”

“Take me out?”

“Yeah, on a date.”

Louis giggled, “A date, hmm?”

“A date.” Harry cradled his face. “Dinner?” He pressed another hot kiss to Louis’ lips, Louis sliding his hands underneath the bottom of his shirt. “Yes, please?”

Louis dragged his fingernails down Harry’s back.

“Maybe,” he whispered.

Harry laughed lowly and sealed their lips together. Louis smiled into the kiss, lifting his arms to loop around Harry’s neck. Their kisses became wetter and more open-mouthed, the puffs of fog happening at a more frantic pace.

“Please?” Harry exhaled.

“Fuck, you get me hot,” Louis panted. He tipped his head as Harry mouthed along the front of his throat. Harry grumbled low nonsense that buzzed through his skin. Louis’ toes curled in his shoes, Harry’s fingers digging in on his ass right at the center seam of his jeans. “Ugh,” he moaned, shutting his eyes. “I usually hate that.”

Harry hitched him up with a hand on each ass cheek. Their lips joined with a low hiss, Louis’ hands clasping behind Harry’s neck.

“Dinner?”

Louis tilted his head and softly pecked Harry’s swollen, puffy lips.

“Yeah, of course.”

Harry firmly sealed their lips together, then broke apart to breathe, “Fuck, yes. Awesome. For now, how about I blow you against this tree?”

“No. I’m not going to jail tonight or failing my midterms so you can slobber all over my dick.”

“Slobber all over your dick? How do you know how I suck dick?” Harry teased, amused. That sweet, crisp, autumn scent swirled around them as they kissed. Harry lowly murmured, “We haven’t even done it yet.”

“You sound ridiculous.”

Harry blinked with wide eyes.

“Louis, will you do the sex with me on Monday?”

Louis laughed, “Shut up,” against his lips.

Their kisses kept getting interrupted by smiles. After a few tries, Louis had Harry grinding against him as their tongues tangled.

“You moan as pretty as you look,” Harry whispered, which only prompted Louis to moan softer into their next kiss.

The sound of someone clearing their throat broke through their autumnal makeout marathon. Louis opened his eyes with their lips still sucking. His mouth angled away from Harry, Harry kissing along his jawline.

“Oh! Uh, hi.” Louis turned his head. “Hi. Zayn. Hi.”

Harry’s lips popped off. He looked over his shoulder. “Hi,” he said, his breaths puffing in the air. “Hi, Zayn.”

Zayn stared at them for a moment.

“About time for you two to say goodnight, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, of course,” Harry chuckled. He faced Louis and Louis gave him a small smile, his blue eyes glimmering. “It’s late. We should get some sleep.”

Louis said, “Yeah. Definitely.”

“Seperately,” Harry said sternly, nodding with even more firmness. His eyes slid towards Zayn. “Of course.’’

Louis felt Harry’s hands gently squeeze his ass and stifled a grin. “Of course.” He pushed off the tree and walked to Zayn. He looked over his shoulder and waved. “Night, Harry.”

Harry gave him a dimpled grin. “Goodnight, gorgeous.”

“Oh, good God,” Zayn muttered under his breath. He pushed the door open. “Please tell me you’re not falling for his yeehaw, aw shucks, y’all bullshit?”

Louis peeked back at Harry. He was in the same place Louis had left him, staring with the same goofy, alcohol-softened smile and moon eyes. Louis faced forward.

“I kind of am,” he whispered through his teeth. “Is that bad?”

Zayn snorted and stepped inside. “Not...bad. I dunno.” They started up the stairs. “I just get a weird vibe from him.”

Louis gently gripped Zayn’s forearm. They stopped walking with Zayn one step higher than him.

“Did Liam say something?”

Zayn stared at him for a long moment, then shook his head. He continued up the steps.

“No.”

“No?”

“He said that the only time Harry mentions you is when he’s rambling about books or your tutoring sessions or running or how smart you are or Daredevil, which”--Zayn glared over his shoulder--“thanks a lot for moving on without me.”

“Okay,” Louis exhaled, leaning on the wall beside their apartment door. “So...He’s okay, then, right? It’s okay for me to hook up with him? No cause for alarm?”

“I...guess.”

“I mean, he puts up with you being my personal cockblocker. That’s got to win him some points, right?”

“He is polite, I’ll give him that.”

Once Louis and Zayn got into their apartment, Louis washed his face and went straight to his bedroom. His morning shift at Starbucks would come soon enough. He had just shrugged on a loose white tank top when something tapped on his bedroom window.

He looked at the window as he tugged royal blue sweats up his thighs. Another tiny tapping sound itched at the window’s glass. Louis padded to the window in slouching white gym socks pulled over his sweats. He pushed the black curtains aside.

Track: ELO - Strange Magic

He sputtered a sudden, uncontrollable bark of laughter with his brows skyhigh. He unlocked the window, then pushed it up and stuck his upper body out.

“What are you doing?” he whispered, still laughing softly. Chilly air prickled the bare skin of his arms. He hugged himself. “It’s cold and late.”

Harry grinned up at him from a few inches below.

“Ooh, is that what you sleep in? Hot little gun show for bedtime.”

Louis fought another laugh and asked, “How did you get up here?”

“Fire escape.”

Louis peered down at the rickety iron bars that Harry stood on. The landing of his fire escape was below his apartment window, making Harry’s face only a few inches higher than the ledge of his windowsill.

“But there’s no ladder leading to our level without unlocking it. How did you get up to my window?”

Harry ticked items off on his fingers. “I climbed up the fire escape for the building next door, then shimmied on a drain pipe to get to your building, then walked on a windowsill, then swung over from the fire escape next to yours. It was fun—like monkey bars!”

Louis’ eyes bulged as he laughed. He cradled Harry’s face without thinking.

“Are you nuts? Your coach would kill me if he knew you were drunkenly swinging around fire escapes! Who do you think you are, Matt Murdock?”

Harry’s grin went crooked. “Well, you do have a thing for both of our voices, so it makes sense.”

“Shut up,” Louis laughed, visibly shivering. “You don’t know that. What are you doing up here, anyway?”

Harry held Louis’ biceps, rubbing heat over his goosebumped skin.

“I wanted to kiss you again before we go to sleep.”

Louis stared out his open window, his limbs unmoving save for the tiny sways caused by Harry’s warm hands as they stroked from wrist to shoulder.

“Oh,” he said softly.

“That okay?”

“Yeah,” he said, his voice breaking into a high giggle. “Um.” He reached for a gray Brooklyn Circus sweatshirt on the floor. “Lemme just put this—”

“Nah, don’t.” Harry wrapped his hands over Louis’ forearms. The sweatshirt fell soundlessly to the floor. Harry’s palms traveled higher to rub his biceps. “You don’t have to put that on.”

Louis leaned out the window. He tilted his head, his eyes darting down to Harry’s lips. A gentle peck was shared between them, both smiling shyly before opening their lips together.

Their tongues teased into each other’s mouth and their wet, cider-sweet lips fell into sync, Harry rocking up on the balls of his feet for leverage. The wind whipped around Harry and gushed into Louis’ bedroom. Louis’ lips kept shivering slightly as they kissed, which only made Harry hold him closer and keep kissing him.

Harry could sense that Louis wore invisible armor every single day. It was impossible not to feel or see it in the way Louis carried himself. That armor seemed to be melting off piece by piece and kiss by kiss. Armor fell with each half-second of softness Louis revealed of himself, like a sweet dessert with hidden pockets of saltiness, or a sweet entree with an undercurrent of heat.

“Mmm, you still taste of apples,” Harry murmured, sliding his hands up the back of Louis’ tank. Louis shivered against him and Harry kissed his sharp collarbone, nosing his neck. “Will keep you warm.”

Louis let Harry’s low drawl wash over him. He let his warm touches soothe his skin and his sweet words tease the neglected, romantic corners of his brain. He ignored the tiny voice that reminded him that this would not last, no matter how good it felt.

A quick read of an article on some sports blog or another led to him stumbling onto a story about Harry’s bedroom reputation. The running theme of all of his sex rumors was the comfortable, mind-meltingly hot, completely addicting feeling of confidence that came from being with Harry, along with the crushing aftershock once that feeling was gone.

As Louis happily sucked on Harry’s tongue, he could definitely vouch that Harry had the gift of making you feel like you were the only person on Earth. Even being the only person on Earth, you were the most important person to ever walk the Earth, because Harry was looking at you. Harry wanted you.

“You’re coming inside to leave out the door,” Louis said between kisses, his breaths puffing tiny clouds of fog. “Safer that way.”

“Ooh, you’ll let me in your bedroom?”

“To walk to the door.” Louis nipped his bottom lip, pulling Harry up by his coat collar. “That’s it.”

Harry squinted one eye open as they kissed, peering around the dark room. “Do you have a twin sized bed?” Their lips clicked wetly. “Is this really your room and not a closet?”

“Be quiet, brat,” Louis whispered, chuckling. He stepped back. “C’mon. Come in. Time for bed.”

Harry swung one leg up onto the window ledge and pushed himself up.

“On our second date, can we watch West Side Story?”

Louis offered his arm. “Who said you’re getting a second date?”

Harry took his arm with a wink. His sly smile negated what would be a cheesy move for anyone else.

“Monday,” Harry said simply.

“We can totally watch it,” Louis said as he pulled Harry to his feet. “I can’t say that’s what I thought you’d want to do on a date, but I’m game. I’ll never turn down that choreography and music. Why do you want to watch it?”

“This made me kind of think of it. You know.” Harry stood up straight with his arms wrapped around Louis. “Balcony stuff.” He walked Louis towards his bed. “I’ve never seen it, and you’re a sick ass dancer, so I thought maybe you’d be into it.”

Louis spun Harry away from his bed, walking them to his bedroom door.

“You’ve never seen West Side Story?”

“Nope. I know some of the songs, though. Watched them on YouTube. Do you think Zayn will hear us if we start singing Tonight?”

Harry widened his eyes and started to take a big breath, but Louis held his hand over his mouth, giggling and pressing him against the wall. He replaced his hand with his lips, Harry humming and hugging him as they kissed.

. . .

The frat house was bumping when Harry got home. He saw Liam walking up the path to their house with his head down, blue light from his phone illuminating his face.

“Liam! Hey!” he called out.

Liam turned. “Hey, man. What’s up?”

“Not much.” Harry jogged up to meet him. “Just getting home from this dance party I went to with Louis.”

Liam laughed with arched brows. “Yeah? Dance party?”

“Yeah, it was awesome. We had a lot of fun. It was great. You should come to the next one, I think you’d get along really well with Louis’ friends. What’d you do tonight?”

“Oh, I, uh...” Liam shoved his phone into his back pocket. “I was at Starbucks. Studying. All night.”

“Oh. Cool.” Harry looked at Liam. No backpack. He scanned his put together, all-black outfit, his hair gelled but messy on the back of his head. “Where’s your bag? And books?”

“Right! I...I read on my phone,” Liam said quickly, patting his phone in his pocket. “I downloaded some reading materials on there.”

“What were you studying? I thought you just had your last midterm on Friday?”

“Right, this was, uh....” Liam cleared his throat. “Just reading. Reading for fun.”

“Oh, cool! What are you reading?”

“Nothing big.”

“You okay, man? Your eyes are a little....” Harry squinted at him for a moment, Liam itching the reddened left side of his neck. “Woozy or something.”

“Is this Louis’ influence coming out?” Liam asked on a breathy laugh. Harry blinked with scrunched brows. “You’re so innquizitive.” Harry blinked again. “You ask questions.”

“Ohh, yeah.” A slow smile warmed Harry’s face. “Yeah, that’s probably him popping out.”

Liam squeezed Harry’s shoulder, then thumbed sideways. “Let’s get a beer on the deck before we brave the masses inside.”

“Cool. Hey, so, remember when you found that Pakistani restaurant?”

Liam’s hand softened on Harry’s shoulder, but he did not drop his arm.

“Yeah. What about it?”

“Do you think you could help me pick a nice restaurant for Monday? Louis and I are gonna go out on a date. Like, a real date.” Harry said softer, his eyes bright. “I wanna take him someplace really nice and cool and him. All I know are the closest places that deliver pizza and wings twenty-four-seven.”

“O-Oh!” Liam exhaled on a laugh. “Yeah, sure. Of course. I’d be happy to help.”

They stepped onto the deck and moved around the perimeter, avoiding the main crowd and instead sneaking to a cooler by the bar-b-que. Liam bent over to dig through the ice, Harry leaning on the banister of the deck. A group of players ambled up to them.

“Hey, y’all,” Harry said with a friendly smile, bumping fists with Ryan and Eric. He winked at Chase and lifted his fist. “QB.”

“Hugo. Payner,” Chase said as he bumped their fists. He raised his eyebrows. “Good night?”

“Yeah, great,” Harry said with a giggle, unable to hide the bubbly, excited energy bursting from his body. “Great night.”

Ryan blew on his cupped hands. “I’m freezing and going inside. Fuck fall.”

“You bite your tongue,” Harry gasped, pinching Ryan’s closest earlobe.

“Me, too." Eric followed Ryan. “You coming, QB? Thought we were gonna play pong?”

“Yeah, coming,” Chase said with his eyes still on Harry. He smiled, sweet and calm. “Hope your great night continues, Hughie.”

Harry said, “Thanks, man,” as Liam stood from the cooler.

“So, a date, hm?” Liam handed Harry a beer. Harry placed the bottle cap just above the line of the deck railing. “A date, date?”

“Uh huh,” Harry slapped the top of the bottle cap, which flew off the top of the bottle and soared towards the deck’s screen door, where Chase stood inside with his back to Harry and Liam. “A real date. I’m so fucking pumped. I can’t believe he likes me back.”

They clinked bottles.

“I’m happy for you, man,” Liam said, giggling through his words.

“What? What’s so funny?”

“Nothing. I just think it’s cool. That’s all.” Liam sipped his beer, humming and widening his eyes. His lips popped off the bottle. “Oh, but did you tell him?”

Harry blinked owlishly.

“Tell him about what? That I like him?” He grinned, slow and hazy-eyed. “Yeah, I think he’s got it. He’s real smart, you know?”

“No, not that. The bet.”

Harry’s smile faded. “Ohh. Right,” he said, quieter. He scratched the back of his neck. “Jesus.” He clenched his teeth and squinted at Liam. “I kind of forgot about it, to be honest.”

“I figured.”

“No, not yet. I haven’t told him.”

Liam tilted his head. “Harry. You should tell him.”

Harry held his hands out. “I will, I will, I swear. I should have told him tonight, but it just...It was all so nice and...” Harry thought for a moment, his eyes rolling up to the starry night sky. “Real? Normal? But still awesome?” He looked back to Liam, then looked down. He picked at the label of his beer. Quietly, he said, “I know I should have said something sooner, but I guess I, um...I guess I was selfish tonight.”

“So? No big. Tell him tomorrow.”

“I don’t want to stress him out for his exams on Monday, though. He takes all that really seriously and, if he gets really mad at me, I don’t want to mess up his exams. That would only make him madder, I think.”

“True. You could tell him at dinner on Monday?”

“I could. Well,” he said slowly, then licked his lips, “maybe dessert. I don’t want to ruin dinner. It’s not polite.”

“You’re such a weirdo,” Liam laughed, slinging his arm around him. “C’mon, let’s go in. I’m cold.”

“I’m all warm.”

Liam opened the screen door.

“Because of Louis?”

Harry pinched the bridge of his nose.

“He is so smokin’ hot that it brings tears to my eyes.”

Liam laughed loudly. He and Harry melted into the crowd of frat boys and their admirers, though neither stayed long.

When Harry got up to his bedroom, he rid himself of all his clothes and crawled into bed. He picked his phone up from his discarded jeans and plugged it in to charge. His phone screen lit up.

“Oh,” he whispered, pushing himself higher on his pillows. He unlocked the screen and tapped on Louis’ new text.

home safe?

Harry typed his reply.

yyyeeeessss!

The little gray dots indicating Louis was typing appeared. Harry waited a beat, then smiled and typed an immediate follow up.

ur so hot.. . i like the taste of your mouth

*you’re* drunk

r u tutoring me via text ?
hot
can you do a tutor lapdance via text 2??

#monday

Harry’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open. Before he could reply, another text came through.

goodnight H

Harry giggled at the shooting star Emoji.

night qt

No. Just no.

night ...gorgeous?

better. goodnite.

He put his phone on his bedside table and curled on his side, running his fingers over his bottom lip until he closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

where r u?

Louis stared at his phone while tapping both shoes against the library carpet. He typed:

regular table

He told himself not to assume Harry would appear from somewhere in the library. He willed his body to remain calm. He begged his face not to flush and his heart rate not to spike. That all was shot to shit when Harry popped his head around a stack and grinned, his backwards Packers cap on a touch crooked.

“Hi,” Harry whispered. He trotted to the table and sat down beside Louis, letting his backpack wilt off his shoulder. “How was your exam?”

Louis focused on his study guide for his last exam, which was happening in under an hour.

“Fine. You?”

“Good.”

“Cool.”

“You studying?”

Louis snorted and rested his cheek on his palm. “Yeah. Doy,” he said in a deeper voice, Harry chuckling. “Why aren’t you studying?”

Harry flipped open his trusty notebook. “I was just about to review my notes.”

“Congratulations.”

They both went quiet for a few minutes. The sound of notebook paper ripping cut through Louis’ study trance. Bit by bit, paper popped away from the metal spine of Harry’s notebook.

Louis started to turn in his chair, but Harry’s lips brushed his ear to murmur, “Relax.” Louis stared straight ahead and didn’t move a muscle, not even when Harry’s warm hand slid to his thigh. The paper pops stopped.

“I finished my last exam a few minutes early,” Harry whispered. He folded the loose piece of notebook paper once and pushed it on top of Louis’ study guide. Louis tried to read the backwards words that seeped through in vibrant blue ink. “I wrote out a study guide of my own.”

Louis swallowed and sat up straighter, Harry exhaling warm breaths against his neck while his hand wandered between his thighs.

Louis asked, “And what are you qualified enough to write a study guide about?”

“It’s some of the the things I’d like to do to you tonight. And tomorrow.” Harry sucked beneath Louis’ ear, his large hand flattening over Louis’ bulge. He applied enough pressure for Louis to whimper ever so softly, his head dropping down with his eyes shut. “And a few more days after that. I even included CMOS citations.”

“You’re fucking cruel,” Louis murmured.

Harry’s heat evaporated from Louis’ side at the same time as his chair dragged over the carpet. He tapped his knuckles on top of the folded list.

“You have a lovely exam, Lou.”

Louis glared up at him with fire in his eyes.

“Oh, I will.”

. . .

The tip of Louis’ pencil flew over his Blue Book. He used his right foot to itch the slouching sock on his left ankle. He scanned his page full of neat handwriting as he wrote, words continuing to pour from his brain through his pencil.

Fists banged against the thick glass window of the stadium-style classroom, startling the class to look up.

“Louis!” Harry cried, grinning from ear to ear and banging the glass again. “Lou!”

Louis looked around at the stunned classroom by moving only his eyes, the tips of his ears burning red hot. Harry slapped a Blue Book against the window, his breaths puffing fog on the glass.

“I got a B-Plus in Shakespeare! Me! B-Plus!”

Louis gave him a tiny thumbs up, smirking. Professor Potter opened the door to the classroom. She cleared her throat and tapped her orthopedic shoe against the floor.

“Shall I call Campus Police, Mr. Styles?”

“Oh,” Harry gasped, wide-eyed. He made a zipped-lips motion and backed away. His whispers grew louder and louder. “Sorry, ma’am. Grade big! Go Armadillos! Cheers!”

. . .

Louis walked up to the frat house. In an effort to appear seasonally appropriate, someone had left a jack-o-lantern on the front steps. Seeing as it was almost a full month after Halloween, the pumpkin was now a toothless bundle of mush. At least they tried.

He adjusted his black blazer and smoothed his tight burgundy tee over his stomach. If you would have told him six weeks ago he’d be going into a frat house to pick up his date for the night, he would have laughed and gone back to sewing whatever shimmery tutu he was working on. Yet, here he was. Picking up Harry ‘Hugo’ Styles to go out to dinner.

He rang the doorbell. A stampede of footsteps ran towards the door before it was pulled open. Chase grinned at him, all of his square teeth on display, sunlight making his blond buzz cut appear white.

“Hello there,” Chase said slowly. His eyes darted over Louis’ body. “No backpack tonight?”

“Hi. And, uh, no,” Louis laughed, running his fingers through the back of his hair. “Not tonight. Tests are done and all.”

“Yes, they are. Nearly on break. Just one more day.”

“Yeah. You’re Chase, right? I’m not sure if we’ve been properly introduced, but I’m Louis.” He held his hand out. “I watched one of your games on TV and, while I know very little about football, I could tell you were amazing.”

Chase gripped his hand, humming.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“You’re Harry’s friend, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well!” Chase held his arm out and stepped back. “Please, come in. I’m sure you know where Harry’s big old room is.”

“Thanks.”

Louis started up the majestic wooden staircase, but paused halfway up. He could feel Chase’s stare. He looked back at Chase, who offered him two thumbs up. Louis smiled, confused, but nodded at him.

“Happy Thanksgiving. Oh, and good luck on Wednesday. I’m sure you guys will win.”

“I’m sure we will win, too,” Chase said, laughing his words. “All we do is win, win, win.” He winked. “I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving, too.”

Louis gave him one more small smile before walking up the remaining steps. He went to the end of the hallways and knocked on Harry’s bedroom door. He heard faint singing through the door. He turned the knob and stuck his head inside.

“Harry?”

The hiss of the shower muffled most of Harry’s deeply sung words, but the melody for the Spice Girls masterpiece Wannabe pinged in Louis’ brain.

“God, you’re such a dork,” Louis whispered, grinning. He shut the bedroom door and locked it.

Harry’s room was clean. Very clean. Most of his sports memorabilia had been toned down and his clothes were stored away. His cardboard cutout was nowhere to be found and his bed was made. The room smelled like cotton without a whiff of Axe.

Louis ran his fingers over a lavender sweater Harry had laid over his armchair. A pressed pair of black jeans were also resting on the seat of the chair. Was Harry planning on dressing up to go to dinner? Dressing up and cleaning his room? Harry Styles?

Inside the bathroom, Harry toweled his hair and swayed his hips. He dropped his towel to his groin, rubbing the hair between his legs. He sang, “Here’s the story from A to Z, ya wanna get with me, ya better listen carefully,” and opened the door.

“Hi, Sporty Spice.”

Harry’s wide eyes flew towards the bed. Louis waved from the edge of the mattress. He had taken off his black blazer and shoes, sitting in only his tight burgundy tee and black jeans. His hair was blow dried to give it a bit more volume, but was still piecey.

“Oh! Hi! Oh!” Harry gripped his cock with his towel and stepped backwards. Heat prickled over his entire body, his towel just barely holding on to cover the darkened hair of his groin. He laughed, “Shit, I’m sorry. I-I thought we were doing dinner at six?”

“It is six.”

Harry looked at his empty wrist and gasped, “Is it?”

Louis stood.

“It’s a few minutes to six.” He stepped closer and slid his hands into his back pockets, the shift causing his hips to tilt forward. He smiled, his tee tight across his torso. “I’m early. Is that okay?”

“Yes. Always okay.”

“I had no idea you were such a talented Spice Girl.”

“Yeah, I, uh...” Harry bundled his sweater and jeans to his chest. “I have lots of talents you don’t know about.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Many, many talents.”

“Like getting amazing grades on all your midterms? All by yourself?”

“Not by myself. Because of you,” Harry said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Louis chuckled and dropped his gaze, tucking a bit of hair behind his ear. “Do you still want to do dinner? Liam helped me Yelp and we found a few amazing places I think you’d like.”

“Yeah, about that,” Louis said, dragging out his words. “I was thinking maybe we could chill out here for a bit? I’m not that hungry right now. Maybe watch a bit of a movie or an episode of Daredevil? It’s early.”

“Oh!” Harry cleared his throat. “Yes. Yeah, sure.”

“Unless…” Louis’ shoulders started to lean towards the closed bedroom door. “You want to go out right away? I know it’s right before the break and tests are done and you probably want to go bar hopping or to a party or—”

“No, no, chilling for a bit sounds amazing,” Harry said, stepping closer. “And, no. No way.” He shook his head, water bouncing off the tips of his hair. “No bar hopping. I’m all yours for whatever you want to do. Lemme just get dressed.”

Louis’ gaze wandered from Harry’s curled toes to his bright eyes, his body still damp.

“Yeah,” Louis shrugged. “I guess.”

He crawled onto the bed with his ass high in the air. Harry sucked in a shaky breath and backed into the bathroom.

When he opened the bathroom door, fully clothed save for socks, Louis was sprawled on his back under the covers. Louis tilted his head and smiled, a strand of hair falling over his eyes.

“Hi.”

Harry swallowed thickly. A familiar sort of pulsing, deep rooted heat ignited in his lower belly. Louis’ look was a look he recognized very, very well. He was going to get laid that night, and he was going to get laid with Louis Tomlinson. The familiar heat usually brought with it a surge of euphoria. Instead of euphoria, all he felt was the need to grip the doorway until the wood splintered beneath his fingers.

Louis’ laughter broke through his thoughts.

“What are you doing over there?”

“Nothing,” Harry said, dropping his hands to his side. “Nothing at all.”

Louis pushed the duvet down. Harry walked to the bed and got under the blankets. Louis rolled onto his side while Harry laid on his back with his hands clasped on his chest. Louis fingered the wrist of Harry’s sweater.

“Nice ensemble.”

“Thank you. My mama always told me lilac was a good color for me. I mean,” Harry winced, clenching his eyes shut, “sorry. That was a weird thing to say. Bringing up my mom.”

Louis chuckled. “No, it’s true. She’s right.” He ran his fingers up Harry’s arm until he reached his shoulder. “The color makes your eyes look even prettier.”

Harry’s eyes widened and he remained perfectly still as the bed lulled beside him, body heat coming closer and closer. Louis’ right palm melded to his jawline before he started sucking on his neck, light fingertips teasing below his ear. Harry’s nerve endings were rejoicing and his dick was already twitching in his pants, but his limbs remained frozen.

“You smell so good,” Louis murmured, kissing to his collarbone. “Been thinking about this all day.” He laughed lowly. “All weekend.”

“Don’t you—” Harry blinked fast at the ceiling. “I thought you—you wanted to watch something?”

Louis’ lips made a slipping sound to lift off of Harry’s skin. He pulled back with his mouth shut.

“Oh, I’m—I’m sorry. I...” He pushed himself away with his feet then laughed, ruffling the back of his hair. “I must have misread signals or misunderstood what we, like, talked about the other night. Sorry, my mistake.”

“No, no, fuck, no.” Harry pulled Louis back on top of him with both arms. “You didn’t misunderstand anything.”

Louis giggled as he exhaled. He rubbed the back of his hand over his forehead.

“Then why are you asking about movies? Shit, you scared me. I thought that I was, like, completely off.” His smile softened, stroking down Harry’s neck. “I figured you’d be just as ready to go as I was.”

“You said you wanted to watch a movie,” Harry laughed, Louis dropping his face to hide his nervous, jumpy giggles. Harry carded his fingers through the side of Louis’ hair. “I was just trying to follow your instructions.”

“I didn’t think I’d have to give you, of all people, instructions to fuck. Not that—” He shook his head and cupped Harry’s cheek. “Not that we have to have sex. Not at all. We can do whatever you want tonight. Whatever you’re comfortable with.”

Harry stared up at Louis, confusion fogging his face. In his many years of sexual activity, he could not remember a single instance of someone saying those words to him, let alone with such conviction and honesty. He had done the occasional, ‘We can just cuddle,’ speech when needed, but none of those speeches led to just cuddling.

“You want to have sex with me?”

“Yes,” Louis laughed breathily. “Very much.”

“With me? You—You’re excited to have sex? With me?”

Louis’ eyes rounded. “Excited? Yeah, I’d say so. It’s usually tough enough to abstain for meets and exams, but knowing you were my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow made it that much more difficult this time around.”

“You like having sex?”

“Yes?” Louis drawled as a question.

Harry broke their stare.

“I feel stupid.”

“Why?” Louis tilted his head to maintain eye contact. “You’re not stupid.”

“I just figured that you’ve only had sex with a few people, so you were...I dunno. You didn’t really like sex or something.”

Louis chuckled. “I wait until I trust someone. Then all I want to do is have sex with them. All the time.”

Harry felt like the bed had both fallen out from under them and also rocketed them to the moon.

“You trust me?”

“I do.” Louis’ gaze narrowed. “Should I not trust you?”

“No, no, you totally should.” Harry cradled Louis’ cheek, his eyes darting all over his face. “I just...I guess I’m shocked you want me like that. I’m honored.”

“Harry,” Louis laughed, stretching his arms up. He propped his hands behind his head. “We’ve been teasing the fuck out of each other for weeks. I almost came in my pants to Daft Punk. I was, like, ten seconds away from letting you suck me off against the tree by my building and I almost wept when we stopped making out in my bedroom that night because I wanted you so fucking bad. You’re in.” He bent his elbows and mimicked a field goal. “Touchdown or home run or whatever.”

“This is so beyond a touchdown,” Harry said with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. “This is like a thousand Super Bowl wins!”

Louis laughed again, softer. His leg bent to rest his ankle against the back of Harry’s calf. Harry looked from Louis’ chin to the soft, shiny peaks of his hair, lingering extra long on each eyelash and beauty mark.

“What?” Louis asked.

“I like seeing you like this so much.”

“Like what?”

“You’re always running, running, running,” Harry said warmly, his accent causing his vowels to sound extra drawled. “Running to work. Running to practice. Running to ballet. Running away from me,” Harry said on a low laugh. “Running, running, running everywhere.” Harry thumbed his cheekbones and leaned closer, but did not join their lips. He scanned from Louis’ chin up to his hairline, then lowered to his eyes. “I like when you hold still and I can just look at you. When I can smell your hair and feel your breaths on my face.”

Yuh do?” Louis asked, mimicking Harry’s pronunciation of the word you.

Harry smiled slowly. “Yeah. Ahhhh do,” he said, giving the word I extra slow, Southern drawl. “It’s like a luxury or something. When we--” Harry shook his head and laughed on an exhale, dropping his gaze. “Nevermind.”

“What?”

“When we fell asleep studying. The Daredevil night, you know? I…” Harry’s cheek dimpled. “I, um, think I only fell asleep a few minutes before you woke up, ‘cause I just laid there staring at you for a while.” He dragged his fingers down Louis’ chest. “You looked so peaceful. I just wanted to look at you. I always want to look at you and be able to hear your voice. Hear you talking to me.”

“Are you,” Louis said, then reconsidered and shook his head, dropping his gaze. “Do you have anything else to tell me?” He drew light circles beneath Harry’s ear, bringing their gazes together. “Any other secrets to share?”

“I’ve had wet dreams about you.” Harry slapped his own forehead as Louis’ brows shot up with a shocked chuckle. “Whyyyy do I say these things?”

“Multiple wet dreams?”

“Oh yeah. Long ones.”

Louis turned over to lay half on top of Harry.

“Were they fun dreams?”

“Yes. Very fun. You, um...” His smile grew. “Danced in them.”

Both laughed, Harry burying his face in Louis’ neck and rolling them over. Now on his back, Louis stroked the top bump of Harry’s spine, playing with the neckline of his sweater.

Harry lifted his face out of Louis’ neck. “But it’s not just that, I swear. It’s not just the dreams or sex. I…” His mouth moved to speak, but his voice sounded as shocked as the words came out. “I care about you.”

Louis rubbed his toes up the right leg of Harry’s jeans. They stared at each other for a moment. Then Louis’ eyes skirted away.

“Harry, you…You don’t have to say that if you don’t mean it just because we’re...Because we might sleep together.” Harry swayed over him. Louis smiled, though the light in his eyes was duller than usual. “We can treat this like it’s just sex between two horny adults that like each other, but don’t expect anything more.”

“No,” Harry said slowly, confusion narrowing his eyes. He kissed Louis, gentle and open-mouthed. “No.”

“No?”

Harry leaned down, revelling in the soft, easy give of Louis’ mouth, Louis arching against him as his eyes fluttered shut. Hot, wet breaths puffed between them. Harry thumbed Louis’ shining bottom lip before kissing him again.

“No,” Harry said, pressing another plush kiss. He felt Louis’ fingers curl in the the back of his hair as their lips met. “You and I both know it’s not just sex. Not with us. It can’t be.”

The blue of Louis’ eyes lit from within.

“We do?”

Harry nodded.

“We do.”

Louis played with a fluffy curl above Harry’s ear. “I’m giving you an out, Styles. I’m giving you a chance to keep your options open before we have sex and before anyone gets hurt. If you don’t take the out and you act like an asshole, I will completely cut ties with you.” He paused for a moment. “I won’t look back.” His eyes narrowed. “Do you get that?”

Harry’s face scrunched.

“I’d never hurt you. Why would you think that I’d hurt you?”

“I don’t know,” Louis admitted in that same careful, patient voice. “That’s why I’m asking up front. I know we like each other, and I know we’re attracted to each other, but everything you’ve ever said tells me you’re not looking for a relationship. I’m just trying to keep everything straight between us.”

Harry bit his bottom lip.

“Do you not think I’d be a good boyfriend or something?”

“No, it’s not that,” Louis said gently, rubbing his upper back. “I didn’t say that you’d be bad at it. I’m just trying to figure out where we stand before my dick falls off from being so hard in these tight ass pants I wore for you.” Louis squeezed his shoulder. “Hey, what’s wrong? That was sort of a joke. What’s—”

“I don’t want to turn into my dad.”

The soft understanding in Louis’ eyes made Harry roll off of him and hide his face in his hands. He could feel his heart throbbing in his ears and pounding the back of his throat. He tried to breathe normally, even with all of his organs rioting at the same time.

“Fucking fuck.” Harry curled his toes and bent his knees. “Why do I keep saying the absolute weirdest shit tonight? What’s wrong with me? We should be fucking right now. You look fucking edible in those pants.”

Louis turned onto his side.

“It’s not weird. We’re just talking.” He smoothed slow circles over Harry’s stomach. “That’s what friends should do, whether they fuck or not. Maybe you’re just in need of someone to talk to and that’s okay. I can listen.”

Harry was reminded at that moment of one of their first conversations in the parking lot of Starbucks. At the time, he scrambled to find something to say to Louis to get him to trust him after their disastrous start. The newspaper article was the freshest thing in Harry’s mind and fast words tumbled out of his lips, but were those words really part of a scramble? Or were they actual thoughts he had but didn’t have anyone to express them to?

He could feel that tumbling, out of control feeling returning, even if he was motionless on his back. Trying to control every word he said to portray whatever version of himself was needed, whether that was to please an interviewer or get a blowjob or motivate the team, didn’t work with Louis.

The shivery nerves that came with honesty could also bring a raw sort of satisfaction each time he revealed a part of himself, a true part of himself, to Louis and was met with a smile or a question or a conversation. He didn’t realize he missed talking to someone until Louis was the person he was talking to.

Louis thumbed his nipple through his sweater, then dropped a kiss on his clothed shoulder.

“What do you mean when you say you don’t want to be like your dad? I thought you like your dad?”

“I do. He’s my dad. I like him. I just meant that I—Because I care about you, I want to treat you right. I don’t want to—”

He shook his head, his lips twitching in a frown. Louis continued rubbing his upper stomach, soothing and slow. Harry turned his head on his pillow and Louis cradled his cheek.

“C’mere, Riggs.”

The sight of Louis holding his arm out brought a rush of heat to Harry’s cheeks. He nudged his face into Louis’ neck, exhaling a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. He settled with his cheek on Louis’ shoulder and his arm curled over Louis’ middle.

“Are you cool with this?” Harry murmured.

“With you revealing that, in addition to being a secret nerd, you’re a cuddlebug when you reveal personal stuff? Yeah. We’re cool.”

Harry smiled and ducked his face down. “I don’t do this a lot. And I’m not a”—his voice dropped—“cuddlebug.”

“No?”

“No.”

Louis walked his fingers to Harry’s ribs.

“You’re not a cuddlebug?”

“No, I’m—Hey,” Harry chuckled, squirming away from Louis’ gentle digs. He laughed properly and clutched the hem of Louis’ shirt. “Alright, alright! Maybe I’m a—a little one.”

Louis smoothed his hand down Harry’s flank and hitched the blankets higher. It was not totally necessary, as they were both fully clothed and warm pressed together, but it made Harry’s face cuddle harder against him as he exhaled the conclusion of his breathy giggles. Louis thought back to their library chats.

Harry was so closed off to expressing anything potentially personal, but would relent and start blabbering if given enough time and guidance. Louis had no problem expressing his opinion at all times—he could not see living his life in any other way. He knew the underdog life. He fought his entire life for everything he had, whether it was the chance to have dance lessons or the funding needed for his degree or his affordable apartment or even his summer internships.

Harry’s silver platter lifestyle was the complete opposite from his experiences. While Louis didn’t have the wealth or access to celebrity luxury, at least he knew who he was and could voice that. It must have been exhausting for Harry to hold onto every thought he ever had and only voice the select few that worked with the image he felt comfortable portraying.

Louis watched his fingers stroke through the shiny, loose swirls on the crown of Harry’s head.

“What don’t you want to do like your dad?” he asked softly.

Harry pinched the hem of Louis’ burgundy shirt.

“I don’t want to hurt the person I care most about. I don’t want to disrespect you or make you ashamed of me.”

“You mean like how your dad was with your mom?”

“Mmhmm. Was awful. I was young, but I remember.”

Louis danced his fingertips down the back of Harry’s neck.

“I know you’re a hot rich boy and all, but I wouldn’t pick out our china pattern just yet. We haven’t even gone on a date.”

Harry laughed softly and pushed himself up. He found Louis to be smiling at him.

“I know that, I just…I don’t want to end up divorced five times and alone when I’m an old man, with no one to talk to that actually wants to listen to me, and no one who actually likes me besides whatever kids I have.”

“If you know that you don’t want to be like your dad, don’t be like your dad. Make your own choices. It can be scary sometimes, but being a good person isn’t always the easiest. Figure out what you want and don’t pay attention to what anyone else says.”

“Well, I already know the answer to the last one.”

“What, what you want?”

“You. Doy.”

Louis laughed. “Me? Who said you can have me, brat? You can’t always get everything you want.”

Harry flattened Louis on his back, the sheets shifting around their clothes, and laid on top of him. They stared at each other for a beat, Harry thumbing Louis’ cheekbone.

“Why do you still seem not into it?” he asked softly. “Is it...me?”

Louis slid his hands down Harry’s back, feeling his muscles flex and relax beneath his sweater.

“I’m into it. You. Believe me, I am. I just…” He let his head loll to the left as Harry pressed soft, sweet kisses down his neck. He shifted his hips and Harry hummed, swiveling against him. “I don’t think I’m what you want. Not really.”

Harry lifted his face and Louis’ breath caught. The angles and curves of his face all combined for one wallop of sincere beauty.

“You are, Lou. You are what I want.”

Louis sighed as he pushed Harry’s hair back.

“Riggs, you’re gonna be a professional athlete in the NFL. Rich and famous. You’ll have enough dick or pussy to drown in for the rest of your life. You’re young. Why would you want to deal with a relationship now?”

“Can you handle another awkward story?”

“Sure. Go for it. Spill those guts.” Louis stuck his tongue out and rubbed his hand on his cheek. “Spill ‘em all over my face.” Harry laughed and went to lick Louis’ extended tongue. “Ew! What are you—” Louis’s words melted into moaned half-giggles, Harry cupping his face as they kissed. “Mmm. C’mon. Tell me a story.”

Harry settled on his side with Louis still on his back. He played with the bottom of Louis’ shirt, dragging his lips over his shoulder.

“Yeah, so...Um…” He sat up straighter, their eyes flitting together. “When I was a kid, my dad bought me a puppy. He was out of town a lot. I guess he thought the puppy would keep me company, which he did.” Harry traced the swirled front of Louis’ hair. “His name was TD—like touchdown, you know?”

“Of course.”

“He was a little white puffball of a dog.” Harry smiled faintly. “I wanted to name him Snowball, but my dad said TD was his name and we didn’t have snowballs in Texas.”

“Snowball would have been cute.”

Harry laughed with wide eyes. “Right? Super cute. Anyway, um, when TD was around a year old, my dad brought him back to the store where he got him and he replaced him with a new puppy for Christmas morning. He never told me and I didn’t get to say goodbye and when we went to the store to get him back, he had already been sold to someone else.”

Louis’ face fell.

“Shit. That’s fucking awful.”

“Yeah. And he...” Harry bit his bottom lip, pausing for a beat. “He didn’t get why I was upset. He’s always wanted new. Young. Cute. Easy. But me? I wanted to watch TD grow up. I wanted to teach him things and have him be my best friend like people in dog movies. I didn’t want or need a new dog because I loved TD.”

Louis held up one finger.

“As your tutor, I’m going to butt in and advise you that it will not go over well if you draw a comparison between me and a dog to make your point.”

“No, no, no, of course you’re not a dog.” Harry stroked his cheek. “More like...a cute swan.”

“A cute swan!?”

Louis started to straddle him, but Harry gripped his biceps and rolled him onto his back. He had barely sucked a breath in before Harry was on him, hot and firm. Louis heard himself murmur, “Okay,” as his eyes fluttered shut and their lips wetly joined, his arms looping around Harry’s back.

Harry held his face with both hands, lifting up enough to murmur, “I just—Do you get what I’m saying?” He kissed him again, Louis digging in between his shoulder blades. “I’ve always been different from my dad, but it was expected I’d be just like him because of who he is. And I’m…” Harry frowned, and Louis pecked his protruding bottom lip. “I’m just afraid that I’ll end up doing the same shit that he does.”

“I get that. I get what you’re saying.” Louis swallowed, looking sideways. He shifted under Harry’s weight. “I don’t exactly want to end up like my dad, either.”

“I can’t believe I’m telling you all these things,” Harry said with a slightly frantic laugh. Both stared for one long beat before they laughed again. “I don’t think I’ve ever said this many words in bed before, even in the midst of, like, talkin’ dirty. I dunno what’s gotten into me. Like, what the fuck was that puppy story? I haven’t thought of TD in a while. Weeks, at least.”

Louis thumbed Harry’s bottom lip.“Do you have anything else you want to tell me? Anything at all?” He pinched Harry’s earlobe. “I’m all ears.”

Harry exhaled a smooth breath and nodded once, as if they were in a huddle.

“I’m a better person when I’m with you. One hundred and ten percent.”

Louis hugged Harry with his legs. “I have the most fun when I’m with you.”

Louuuu,” Harry giggled, beaming. He became suddenly serious. “But, wait. What do you want to talk about?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m unloading all this emotional shit on you. You’ve got to have some things to unload.”

“I don’t need to unload on you.”

“But you want balance, don’t you? You want equal?”

Louis’ mouth opened and closed like a fish. Harry continued playing with the feather-soft front his hair.

“How did you know that?” Louis asked slowly.

“I just figured you would, knowing how you are with other stuff.”

“Y-Yeah. Yeah, that’s what I’m looking for. And I, um, can’t really think of anything right now, but I’ll let you know if I need to share.” He smiled crookedly. “I’m sure I’ll be ranting enough on Thanksgiving when my mom is driving me nuts and my dad says something questionable about the next election.”

Harry grinned. “Cool. You know, maybe you’re right about watching stuff for a while. All this talking has made me sleepy. That good with you?”

“Yeah.” Louis shifted his hips, ignoring the throb radiating from behind the fly of his jeans. “Good. Sounds good.”

Harry rolled off and reached for the remote control. Louis blew a breath through his lips, pulling his shirt away from his chest. Harry fell against him like an overexcited puppy.

“Let’s swap,” he said, jostling Louis. “Wanna hold you while we watch.”

Louis got onto his hands and knees and crawled to the middle of the bed. He was pulled backwards into Harry’s lap.

“Alright, alright,” he laughed, “I’m just trying to fix the blankets. God, who knew you’d be so spoony tonight? I figured you’d have fucked me at least once already.”

“Oh. Right.” Harry loosened his grip on Louis’ hips. “Yeah, we can, um, totally do that. That’s cool.”

Louis turned at the sound of his soft, stilted words.

“No, no, don’t be silly.” He smoothed Harry’s hair back and Harry tilted his head, following the motion. “We can do this all night, if you want, and that’s totally fine.”

Harry arched his brows.

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah, of course.” Louis pecked his lips. “We have to finish Daredevil.”

“Okay, cool.” He pounded his chest Tarzan-style. “C’mon. Get on me.”

Louis chuckled and shifted backwards, wiggling until they were spooning in a sitting position with Harry’s shoulders against the headboard. He had imagined a different scenario when Harry would say, ‘C’mon. Get on me,’ but this sudden surge of cuddliness from Harry was not a hardship. Not at all.

Harry reached to the side and turned off his bedside lamp. The room was bathed in soft orange light from the sun setting outside. He dropped a kiss on Louis’ ear and pulled the comforter up to their chests, their bodies snuggling together.

“Should have made popcorn.”

“Mmm. True.”

“We could always order delivery.”

“I wanna make out tonight. I’m not having Domino's for dinner.”

“I was going to suggest sushi, darlin’. That’s a good sex food.”

“Sushi is not a good sex food,” Louis said, tilting his head back. Harry smushed his lips on Louis’ nose and both laughed. “Who wants to eat sushi off someone? I don’t want wasabi near any of my organs, thanks.”

“I meant it’s a good food to eat before or after sex. It’s easy on the asshole.”

Louis’ body curled with uncontrollable laughter, Harry laughing lower and bouncing him on his chest.

“What?” Harry giggled, hugging Louis with his legs. “It is!”

Louis dabbed his eyes with his shirt, his laughter quieting. “I am never going to forget the phrase, ‘Easy on the asshole.’” Another little burst of light giggles escaped his lips, his body cuddling back against Harry. “Never ever.”

Harry looped an arm over Louis’ chest.

“Well, I’m glad I’ve given you something iconic.” He flicked through the Netflix menu, then clicked on the next episode. He dropped the remote on the bed. “I’ll have to add it to my notebook.”

“With a sketch?”

“Of course.”

Louis squirmed and tilted his head back, his hair brushing Harry’s jawline. Harry looked down at him, then looked back to the screen, smoothing his hand over Louis’ chest. Louis started to rhythmically rub his palm up and down Harry’s outer thigh, his thumb dragging over the bump of his knee for each pass.

“You good?” Harry asked.

“Yeah. Just enjoying your legs.”

“My legs?”

“Yeah,” Louis said on a yawn. He nuzzled his head backwards again, stretching his neck, his hair brushing Harry’s nose. “You’ve got nice legs.”

Harry was about to reply when he got a good whiff of Louis’ freshly scented hair, rubbing so soft against his skin. He looked down at Louis. His shirt had ridden up on his abs with the barest hint of his rounded hips peeking out his skinnies. Louis rubbed his toes over his ankle, Harry exhaling a tiny, low grunted sound.

Louis tilted his head. “You okay?” He reached behind himself and grasped the back of Harry’s hair, his tee slinking down his chest. “Harry?”

Harry’s eyes snapped up from his sharp collar bone.

“Y-Yeah. Good. Cool.”

Their lips sucked for a lazy, languorous beat, Louis’ ass shifting against Harry’s crotch. Louis scratched the back of his hair and broke the kiss, pecking the corner of his mouth before settling again with his arched, graceful neck on display. He left his hand in Harry’s hair, whirling his fingers against his scalp.

Harry tilted his head, his lips brushing Louis’ cheekbone. He felt himself throbbing in his pants, all from the smell of Louis’ hair and the weight of his body. Louis stifled a smile and turned in time for Harry’s lips to press against his own, Harry inhaling audibly. Louis tightened his fingers in Harry’s hair.

“Feels good,” Louis exhaled, tilting his head and nipping Harry’s bottom lip. “Yeah?”

Harry nodded, his hands smoothing down Louis’ stomach. He licked his lips, his face leaning closer.

“Y-Yeah. Real good.”

They were distracted from Daredevil by another round of kisses, their tongues sliding together and their faces tilting back and forth. Louis pushed himself higher and joined their lips again, his arms looping around Harry’s neck. Harry rolled Louis sideways, his thigh flattening to pin Louis’ legs to the bed while his hand bunched in the bottom of his tee, pulling it down lower and sucking the center of his chest. Louis gripped his hair and guided his face up, their lips searing together.

“Wanna make out for a while?” Louis whispered against his lips.

“Fuck, yeah,” Harry said lowly, his accent drawling deeper without his control. He kissed two fingers, then pointed at the ceiling. “This is a dream come true and a real honor.”

“You’re not on ESPN right now—we’re in bed together. Turn off the TV, please.”

Harry tried to grasp the remote while kissing Louis’ neck. He slapped buttons until the TV turned off. Louis pulled him on top of him, their open lips teasing quick kisses.

“I thought you like when I’m a dick athlete?” Harry asked. “Figured you’d like the whole Hugo thing.”

“I like Harry just fine. And is that, like”—Louis pushed Harry’s shirt up his back—“a way to describe frat boy sex? Being a dick athlete?”

“No, it’s me being a dick. And an athlete.”

“Why would I want you to be a dick? I know some people are into that, but when have I ever said I wanted that?”

Harry blinked at him with round, curious eyes, both panting for a beat.

“One day in Starbucks, I asked Zayn what to do to get in your good graces, and he said that you really like guys who are dicks and to talk a lot about your feet.”

Louis let out a stream of bubbly giggles, kissing Harry through his laughter. “Fucking fuck, why did you believe him? God, I can’t believe Zayn. Actually, I can, but still.” He giggled again and arched his neck, Harry sucking beide his Adam’s apple. “Wow.”

Harry squeezed his ass.

“I genuinely do worship your ass, though. Feet too.”

Louis wrapped his legs around Harry and rolled him onto his back.

“Let’s stop talking now.”

Harry’s height might have given him an advantage while they were vertical, but Louis was in complete control once they became horizontal. The extreme concentration Louis exhibited for study and dance was present when Harry was his main focus. Harry gasped for breaths and scrambled to hold onto him, working just to keep up as he was kissed relentlessly.

Though he couldn’t see a view of them from above, he could feel the muscles of Louis’ back fluttering under his palms, like the thrums of motion that shivered through a bird’s feathers as it pumped its wings. Sweat beaded on the back of his neck and his breathing was labored as if they were having a workout session, his skin itching to be free of his clothing.

He had been with athletes, dancers, and even an occasional brainy type if the mood struck, but never with someone that was all three in one, and never someone that he actually knew. That actually knew him. The intensity of Louis’ every move, the built up strength in every lean muscle, the grace of every motion his body made. All of it made Harry breathless and sweaty, pleasure coiled tight in his lower belly.

As they ground together, both straining hard and heavy against the flies of their jeans, Harry panted out, “I know we sort of, uh, were maybe not going to go further tonight, but would you want to—”

“Yes.”

Track: The Rolling Stones - Let’s Spend the Night Together

Harry barely had time to lift his arms before Louis pushed his sweater up his stomach. Cool air burst over the damp skin of his bare chest, only to heat again with Louis biting wet kisses from nipple to nipple. Harry clasped his hands in the material between Louis’ shoulder blades and pulled, his red tee sliding up and over his head. Louis’ head popped out of the neckline with hair fluffy. Louis tipped forward, falling onto Harry as Harry held him around his back and kissed him firmly.

“You have stuff, I’m guessing?” Louis asked between kisses.

“I’ve got a pharmacy in my bedside table. Condoms. Lube. Morning after. Spermicide. Even have a few tampons in there.”

Louis laughed as Harry lifted him and placed him on his back. “I wish you would have shown more enthusiasm for academic preparation.” Harry snorted and crawled on top, unzipping Louis’ jeans with ease. Louis arched his lower back as his pants were pulled down his thighs. “Tampons?”

Harry threw Louis’ jeans on the floor and fell forward, grasping his ribs and sucking a kiss just above his navel.

“I like my overnight guests to be comfortable.” He bit the bottom of his stomach. “Periods seem like a pain in the ass, but they aren’t the end of the world. I have a sister.”

Louis arched his lower back, his torso shining with sweat.

“Fuck, why is your acceptance of periods turning me on?”

Harry grinned with his chin on Louis’ stomach, his right hand firmly squeezing the front of his black boxer briefs.

“Wanna know something else about me?”

Harry’s tongue slipped below his waistband and Louis gasped, “What?”

“I voted for Obama.”

Louis’ legs closed in with a loud, shuddered moan and Harry kissed his navel, guiding his legs apart. Harry peeled Louis’ boxer briefs down his hips, but Louis grunted and hugged Harry’s face with his thighs.

“Up here, please.”

“Ooh,” Harry cooed, crawling up on his elbows. “Are you going to order me around in bed like you do in the library? Yes, please, sir.”

Louis pushed Harry onto his back.

“I don’t order you around.” He straddled him, then unbuckled his belt. “Well…” He pulled his belt out of his pants. “Sometimes, I guess.”

“I like it.”

“You wear a belt tonight of all nights?”

“I wanted to look nice for you.”

Louis grinned crookedly and threw the belt to the floor. He ran his palms up Harry’s chest and leaned down, sucking a kiss to his left nipple. He kissed his collarbone, then returned to suck his nipple again.

“Jesus Christ. You’re fucking hot, Styles.”

“Me? You’re the—” Harry moaned, Louis’ teeth closing around his nipple to tug. “You. You’re the hot one and—” Harry’s head tilted back, his open-mouthed expression of relaxed, lush arousal making Louis rut against him. “Shit, Lou, if you keep doing nip stuff I’m gonna bust a nut.”

Louis moved higher to kiss Harry’s neck, his poorly muffled laughter sending bursts of air over Harry’s skin. Harry held his shoulders and rolled them, planting his face in Louis’ neck while growling playfully. Louis laughed and gripped Harry’s hair, Harry kissing lower down the center of his chest. Harry held Louis’ wrists and placed them above his head. Louis lowered his arms but Harry hummed, guiding them back up.

“What are you—What are you doing, Riggins?”

Harry smiled and smoothed his hands up Louis’ ribs. His fingers traveled over the lines of flat, wiry muscles that swelled each time Louis breathed.

“Lemme look at you for a bit, would you?” He dragged his fingertips around Louis’ nipple, teasing down to stroke his highest ab. “You’re so goddamn hot. You work so goddamn hard to look like this.” Harry thumbed Louis’ nipple. “Lemme play a bit.” He pressed his nose under Louis’ arm and Louis squeezed his eyes closed, tilting his face to the side. “Fuck, you smell good.”

Louis bit his bottom lip as Harry kissed randomly over his torso. He was always touching him somewhere—fingers ghosting up and down his abs or palms gripping the meat of his hips to pull him closer. It grounded them to the mattress even as the playful, confident motions of Harry’s mouth made his head spin.

Harry’s soft hands cradled his jawline before their lips opened together. Louis’ feet pushed against the mattress as he arched against him, their tongue sliding side by side before Harry hummed and guided his mouth open wider. Louis’ arms wrapped around Harry’s back without thought, one hand planted on his lower back with his other clenched in his hair.

“Just fucking look at you, Lou.”

Harry kissed a frantic line from the front of Louis’ throat to his chest, as if he’d just seen Louis for the first time in one hundred years. He licked down the reddish brown hair between Louis’ pecs, then pushed his face into his chest, dragging his nose down his abs and inhaling deeply.

Before Louis could reply to his deep murmur, Harry swirled his tongue in his navel, Louis exhaling a soft, high sound and sucking his stomach in.

Harry kissed his lower belly. “Can I blow you?”

“Y-Yeah. Fuck yeah.”

Harry rolled Louis’ waistband down, planting rapid, fluttered kisses from hip to hip. Louis squirmed with a shy smile. Harry nudged his nose in the damp, darker hair just below his waistband, then took another deep breath. Louis’ legs bent, his abs clenching.

“Your smell thing is making me so fucking hard.”

“Yeah.” Harry gripped the strong line of Louis’ cock through his boxer briefs, grinning roguishly up at him. “I’ve noticed.”

“Shut up and take your pants off, for fuck’s sake.” Louis was unable to quiet the low, nervous laughter bubbling beneath his voice. “C’mon. You’re boring me.”

Harry pushed Louis boxer briefs down his thighs to reveal the base of his cock, then pushed them even lower until he sprung out from the material. Harry hummed lowly with his mouth already on the vee of his thigh and groin.

“Look at this,” he whispered, his words muffled by Louis’ skin. He gripped Louis firmly, his hand strong and warm. “God fucking bless. This is a nice one.” He sucked at the fuzzy base of Louis’ cock while gripping his shaft, jerking him for a moment. He let go, Louis’ hard length swaying bouncily. “I’m gonna fucking enjoy this, Lou.”

Louis watched Harry’s tongue lick up the underside of his cock before flickering at his head. His skin and nerve endings twitched beneath each hot, teasing lick, Harry’s lips bumping against the reddened tip of his cock. Their eyes locked.

Harry opened his mouth and suckled Louis’ head, smiling with his cheek puffed out. He took more of Louis into his mouth, his motions rhythmic and slow.

“Fuck me,” Louis gasped, the back of his head hitting the pillow. He bit on his fist and looked to the side. His legs trembled beneath Harry’s palms, Harry rubbing up to his groin for each suck. “Who knew you’d—Who knew actually be good at this?”

Harry pulled off to murmur, “I like sucking cock.” He licked his shiny lips and lowered his face, smirking. “Yours, especially.”

Harry’s sucks resumed. Louis looked all the way to the left and bit into his fist, muffling a soft moan. He arched his back and closed his legs, then tangled his fingers in Harry’s hair.

“A-Actually, can we—Sorry,” Louis said quietly, breathily. He pulled the blankets over Harry’s head. “Can we stop for a second?”

Harry blinked, his lips loosening from around his cock. He pushed himself up enough for his head to pop out of the comforter.

“Yeah, sure, of course.” He licked his lips, rubbing Louis’ inner thighs. He pecked his navel, his eyes never leaving Louis’ face. “What’s up? Want me to do something else or do it differently? I love sex feedback.”

“No, it’s great. You’re great at that. And sex feedback is”—Louis let out a stuttered laugh—“really cute. Very you.”

“Then what is it?”

Louis’ laughter quieted. “It’s...I just...Can we…” He closed his mouth, his lips twitching tightly. His gaze flickered to the bed. “Can we both turn off our phones?”

The mattress sagged, weight spreading over Louis’ front. Louis looked up as Harry cradled his cheek. Neither spoke for a long beat.

“Of course.” Harry’s voice was rough but as warm as his touch. He thumbed Louis’ cheekbone. “Of course. Yes. Whatever you want.”

“It just makes me feel more comfortable.”

“You don’t have to explain anything to me,” Harry said quietly, moulding his palm to Louis’ jawline. “It’s fine. All you had to do was ask. All you had to do was tell me. I want you to enjoy everything. All the time.”

Louis leaned into Harry’s hand before he burst out laughing.

Harry giggled, “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, you’re just making me sweat, Styles.” Louis fanned himself with his bent arms lifted away from his sides. “I’m legitimately sweating.”

Harry rolled onto him with a low moan. “Mmm...” He sucked the arch of his neck. “Tell me more.”

“Phones. Phones first, then sweat.”

Harry looked around his bedroom with a scrunched face. “Now I just need to remember where I put my phone.”

“I think it’s...” Louis felt around beneath the blankets, then gripped the front of Harry’s jeans. “Oh, whoops. That’s your dick.” Harry grinned and Louis moved his hand to the side. “Here we are.” He took Harry’s phone out of his pocket and dropped it on the bed. “Mine’s on the floor, I think.”

Harry kissed across the back of Louis’ shoulders as Louis searched for his phone. Louis popped up. They both held their phones up and pushed down on the side button. Their screens went dark.

Louis bent over the edge of the bed and tucked his phone in his jeans, Harry pressing kisses on the small of his back. Louis turned over and was pulled against Harry’s front.

Louis giggled, “Thank you,” and let his head fall to the side, Harry sucking on his collar bone. “Take your pants off.”

Harry bit beside his nipple.

“I believe I was promised sweat.”

“You’re the silliest, I swear.”

Harry wiggled his hips as his legs moving up and down. His feet knocked the comforter off the bed, his jeans caught around his knees. He kicked his right leg like a proud Rockette, complete with pointed toes. His jeans and boxer briefs went flying across the room. Louis gasped.

Harry casually placed his right hand behind his own head and flexed his bicep, his ankles crossed at the end of the bed. “What’s up?” He flexed again. “You’ve never seen one this big before?”

Louis laughed and prodded Harry’s cock with two fingers, watching the hard length twitch away from his touch.

“No, your dick’s fine or whatever. I’m just stunned your pubes aren’t shaved in the shape of an armadillo.”

“Hey,” Harry warned.

“Or a football. Or your own face. Or—” Louis hugged himself, Harry motorboating his face in his neck as both laughed. “Or a D-Domino’s pizza!”

“You’re just such a comedian once you’ve got your dick out and our phones are off, aren’t you?”

“It seems like it’s mostly me laughing at you,” Louis giggled, barely able to get words out as Harry growled against his skin and dug into his stomach. “Ooh, I like that sound.” He wrapped his legs around Harry and murmured, “C’mere,” through the last of his breathy laughter. “Wanna hear you make it again.”

Harry suddenly forgot their reason for play fighting, his hands smoothing down Louis’ stomach as they kissed. Louis ground up against him and Harry gasped into his mouth, Louis gripping his bare ass to push them tighter together.

“What else do you like?” Harry asked.

Louis smacked a kiss to his lips, gasping out, “What?”

“You said you liked that sound, but do you like anything else?”

“Oh. Uh…” Louis’ eyes fluttered shut while Harry nibbled beneath his ear. “I, uh, like hands.”

“Hands?”

“I like hand stuff. Jobs.”

“More than blow jobs?” Harry asked, sounding both confused and intrigued.

“Sometimes.”

Harry gently bit the arch of his neck as he wrapped his hand around him. He kissed higher on Louis’ neck, dragging his lips along his jawline until he reached his mouth. He pressed their lips together and Louis whimpered quietly.

“Sounds good to me,” Harry murmured. Louis’ hand gripped his cock, thumb firmly pressing on the bottom of his head. “Then we can do other stuff at the same time—Ooh, fuck, yes.” He thrust into Louis’ tight fist. “Just like that.”

Sweat ran down the sides of their necks, the sheets tangling around their bodies as they ground and thrust against each other. The dips of their throats and the centers of their chests all glistened, both kissing and jerking each other off faster and faster.

“Can I eat you out?” Harry asked between kisses. “Get you wet?”

Louis flipped Harry onto his back and straddled him.

“No. You haven’t earned that honor yet.”

Harry peered up curiously. “What do I have to do to earn it?”

“Show me you’re capable with your fingers, then maybe I’d consider it. Besides, number three on your list is to finger me. Rim jobs aren’t until lucky number seven. I’m just following your outline.”

Harry grinned and reached toward his bedside table. He pulled out lube and a condom.

“I see you’ve been studying.”

“I noticed one thing missing from your guide, though,” Louis said, kissing down Harry’s stomach. He sucked below his navel, Harry’s stomach caving in. “No mention of me fucking you.”

Harry’s hands gripped the comforter on both sides of his hips, his cock visibly twitching beside Louis’ chin. Louis sucked his head into his mouth.

“Yeah, I…” Harry swallowed and arched his lower back. Quieter, he mumbled, “I, um, never got around to that.”

The head of Harry’s cock slipped out of Louis’ lips. Louis lifted himself to peer up the bed, then laughed breathily, his hair fluffed in the front.

“What?”

“I never did that.”

“No one’s ever fucked you? In your years of orgies and adventures and legendary sex?”

Harry shook his head. “Nope.” He shrugged his right shoulder. “Just never felt right.”

“Oh.”

“Did you…” Harry’s eyes skittered to the side. “Did you only want to fuck me?”

Louis rubbed his stomach.

“No, no, it’s cool. I’m fine with either and would actually love to get wrecked tonight. I need to get fucked hard enough to forget my name.”

The temporary haze of awkwardness lifted from above Harry, his sunny enthusiasm recharging the air. “Oh nice. Cool.” He resumed unwrapping his condom. “That’s a relief, and I can definitely do that.”

Louis kissed his hip bone, lavishing the area with little kisses in the shape of a circle.

“I...I guess I’m just shocked.”

“That you’ve done something I haven’t?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m not opposed to it, I just…” Harry placed the unwrapped condom on the bed and lifted the lube. “I dunno. It just never happened. Fingered? Yeah. Eaten out? Yeah, once in a blue. Just never me on the bottom.”

“Fair enough.”

Harry sat up and bent his knees, his thighs bracing Louis on either side. “C’mere. Lemme finger you.” Louis crawled higher, kissing his way up Harry’s body. “And, um...” Harry tilted his head to align their gazes as Louis reached his neck. He mumbled, “That’s, um, why I left number ten open on the list.”

Louis scrunched his brows, looking from Harry’s lips to his eyes.

“I thought you wrote, ‘Wild Card,’ in there?”

“Yeah, I did.”

The right side of Louis’ lips lifted. He said nothing, but he nodded, cradling Harry’s jawline. He looked to Harry’s mouth before he lowered his face, sucking a kiss to his lips.

Louis breathed, “Fuck me, Styles,” and kissed him hard. His fingernails bit ever so sharply into the soft skin below his jaw, his tongue teasing against Harry’s. “Get me ready and fuck me. Let’s go. Don’t be fucking lazy about it.”

Harry’s face scrunched in ecstasy just from a few whispered, driven words. He gripped Louis’ ass and rolled him onto his back with a growl. Louis giggled quietly into Harry’s mouth as wet fingers stroked between his cheeks.

The carnality of Harry’s large hands made Louis arch up against him and jolt as if he was electrocuted each time his fingertips just missed his prostate. Strong palms gripping and squeezing his sweating flesh as if he owned him for one breath, then plunging his long fingers deeper into him the next.

Louis tried to get his throat to create words and alert Harry that he was ready, but only a low, guttural moan came out. Harry lifted his face from the hickey he had sucked to Louis’ collarbone and drawled in his ear, “You’re ready, yeah?” He thrust his fingers slower, his thumb rubbing lube on the back of Louis’ balls. “You’re fucking ready for me. Can feel it.”

“Yeah. Good. I’m—” Louis lifted his legs in one easy motion, then rested his ankles on Harry’s shoulders. “I’m good. You’re good?”

“So good.”

Louis glanced at Harry’s cock swaying closer as he crawled forward. “Really, Harry?”

“What?” Harry grinned and gripped himself, his length sheathed in lube-covered thin pink latex. “My favorites are the neon ones. This kind tastes like strawberries, too.”

Louis almost laughed, but Harry pressed three fingers inside of him, massaging the strong, flexing muscles beneath the slick pads of his fingers as he lined himself up. Their eyes flickered together just before Harry pushed inside. Louis clenched around him, but let his head fall back, a smooth breath blown over Harry’s face.

Harry pushed an inch deeper, mumbling, “Okay? You okay?”

“Good.” He gently slapped Harry’s ass. “You’ve got this.”

Harry smiled, thrusting again, his hands gripping Louis’ hips. He had heard that same sentence so many times before, though it was always during a tutoring session. He sped up his thrusts ever so slightly, running his fingers back through Louis’ hair as their lips bumped and sucked.

“Just a bit—Big—” Louis bent his legs knees closer to his body, pulling more of Harry’s weight on top of him. He shifted his hips slightly, his fingernails digging into Harry’s lower back. His hands slid lower to palm Harry’s ass. “Just a little more—”

“Like this?”

Harry gripped the headboard with his right hand and aimed his thrusts harder to the left. His hips rhythmically slapped Louis’ skin, the head board’s slaps to the wall matching their pace.

Track: Donna Summer - I Feel Love

Louis cried out, high and loud and frantic, with bulged eyes and a full body arch. Harry grinned and whispered, “Guess so,” against his mouth, Louis sucking his bottom lip before their lips sealed.

They broke apart to breathe, then kissed again before both were quite ready, their chests panting together with uneven breaths. Louis’ legs hugged Harry tighter, true shock flushing his face as he stared up at him. Shimmery, silver colored squares of light seemed to swirl around the room like a disco ball, the lights throbbed a brighter, purer white for each thrust.

“You’re so—Good, so, so good, Harry.” Louis’ fingers scrabbled on the sweat-drenched skin of Harry’s ass. He gasped out choppy, throaty breaths for each fast thrust, Harry humming against his neck. “You’re so—So fucking good, Harry. Such a—Such a good fucking job.” Harry moaned deeply into their kiss, and Louis chanted, “Come on, Harry. Come on. Fucking come on.”

“I can do better.”

“Yeah?”

Harry grinned with his damp curls brushing Louis’ forehead. “Yeah.” Harry planted his hand on the pillow beside his head and pulled himself higher. Louis watched over his shoulder as Harry’s strong back muscles fluttered and clenched. “I gotta kiss you more.”

They breathed harder while attempting to kiss and fuck at the same time, slivers of smiles traded back and forth between choppy breaths. Like athletes competing for a gold medal, they pushed each other. They drove each other to do better, to make the other moan louder. They physically pushed against each other, sweat dripping down the divots of their bodies and darkening the wrinkled sheets.

The bed shook beneath them, the headboard pounding the wall. Precome dribbled from Louis’ slit, leaving a shiny trail on his stomach and dripping down his ribs. Like the cheers of a full football stadium, Louis’ growing praise only made Harry work harder. Only made him thrust deeper and jerk him faster.

“Fuck, you feel so good,” Harry said quickly, watching his cock pound into Louis’ ass. “Shit, Lou, oh my fucking—Wanna chase you forever.” He looked up to Louis’ sweaty, reddened face and pushed his hair back, biting Louis’ bottom lip. Louis tilted his chin and joined their lips fully, Harry’s hips speeding up. “Would chase you forever. Just wanna—Make you happy and—Can’t believe this is—I—”

Harry held Louis’ face smothered Louis’ mouth with his own. Louis moaned into their kiss, then tore his face away and shouted, “Fuck! Oh fucking shit!” Harry’s hips stuttered, starting to jack rabbit without his control. Louis’ feet bounced on top of Harry’s back. “Come on, Harry! Fucking fuck, come, come, come, you—Ah!”

Harry squeezed his eyes and pushed his forehead to Louis’ cheek. His neck twisting as he moaned, “Fuck,” and buried himself balls deep in Louis, his ass cheeks clenching as he emptied inside of him. Louis whimpered and squeezed around his cock. “Oh fuck, Lou!”

Louis bucked into his fist until come squelched through Harry’s fingers, Harry droning, “Louis,” with his mouth huffing against Louis’ cheek. Harry turned his head and joined their lips, both humming with their mouths sealed.

“Oh God, you did so fucking good,” Louis said with a rough break in his voice. He ran his fingers through the back of Harry’s hair and tilted his head, kissing him softer, Harry panting as his hips slowed. Louis cradled the small of his back, kissing him again and scratching his scalp. “Fuck, Harry. Fuck.”

Harry shifted just enough to pull out, but his cock nestled between Louis’ cheeks, slippery and hot. He fell on top of him and face-planted on his collarbone, Louis’ legs loosening from around his waist. Both caught their breath, their sweat melding together. A quiet calm enveloped the bedroom, silent but comfortable. Harry took a deep breath on the lowest point of Louis’ neck, then held his wrist and lifted his arm.

“You’re so fucking sexy.” Harry pressed his nose to Louis’ upper ribs and kissed beside his nipple. “Sound like heaven. Taste like heaven. Fuck like heaven. Feel like heaven.” He dragged his nose higher, letting his face press into the soft brown hair under Louis’ arm. He breathed in a swirl of sporty deodorant and soft soap and his hot, sweetly musky sweat. Harry’s cock twitched between Louis’ cheeks, his length throbbing inside the slick, spent condom. “Smell like heaven.”

Louis arched his neck. “You’re actually not lazy in bed. Will wonders never cease?” Both laughed, Louis’ laugh light and high, Harry’s laugh lower and gruffer. It took a few beats of heavy breathing before Louis spoke again. “Wanna doze?”

Harry nuzzled against him. “Mmm...I’m…” He nuzzled his face against Louis’ neck and wrapped both arms around him. “So happy.”

“Mmm. Take off the condom.”

“Too tired.”

“Mmm. Gross.”

The heady dose of pheromones, the warmth of the blankets, and the weight of each other’s body was was too much for them when combined with the tingly exhaustion of a good, honest fuck. Harry kissed Louis’ nipple once before he heard soft snores, his vision going dark as both tipped asleep.

. . .

A loud burst of orchestral music in the distance startled Louis awake. He inhaled sharply and opened his eyes, looking side to side in the dark bedroom. Was that...Tchaikovsky? In a frat house?

The music stopped as suddenly as it started. Louis looked down and saw Harry curled up with his face under his arm. From his vantage point, it looked like his shoulder had it’s own personal wig of Harry’s hair.

“You’re such a weirdo,” Louis whispered, though he smiled. He arched his back and moved to the side, Harry flattening on his stomach. Louis bent over the bed, but was pulled backwards by two strong arms. “What?” He laughed lightly. “What’s up?”

Harry’s voice rumbled against his neck. “Where are you going?”

“Was gonna get dressed.”

“Nah. Not happening.”

Louis turned onto his other side and found Harry to be grinning sleepily at him. They shifted closer and curled up, their knees touching beneath the blankets. Harry reached out, cradling Louis’ jawline before pressing their lips together. Louis bit his own bottom lip and tilted his face down, but Harry just kissed the bridge of his nose.

“You’re so...different than I thought you’d be.” Louis levelled his gaze on Harry. He hurried to grip Harry’s hip, his thumb rubbing circles along his hip dent. “I figured you’d be good at the whole comfortable thing, which you are, but you’re still different than I thought. In a kind way.”

“Different kind of what?”

Louis’ chest shook with a silent laugh. “No, like, you are kind. And a little goofy.”

“You like that?”

“That you’re kind and goofy while also being blazing hot and a cuddlebug? Yeah. It’s a pleasant round of surprises.”

“I like…” Harry dragged his fingers down the front of Louis’ throat. “That you’re a hot fuck.” Both grinned, Louis’ brows arched high. “But you’re also so damn beautiful. Jesus H Christ. Dunno if I want to have sex with you forever or just look at you forever.”

Louis narrowed his eyes. “I’m pretty sure both of those things can happen concurrently.”

“Not if we do it doggy style, though we could get a mirror, I guess.” Louis laughed loudly, Harry kissing his neck with quick, playful sucks. He peered at Louis, his mouth hidden in the crook of his collarbone. “Hey, Lou.”

“Hmm?”

“You know what this means now, don’t you?”

“What?”

Harry held up both arms and sang, “Fiiiiiive goooolden riiiiings!

“Oh God,” Louis laughed, moving to roll away. Harry cuddled him to his chest, planting loud kisses on the top of his head as Louis laughed and squirmed. “I can’t believe you remembered that. Don’t even tell me you wrote a note about it in your notebook?”

“Nope.” Harry tapped Louis’ temple. “It’s all up here. Like a vault.”

Louis giggled quietly, then kissed Harry’s nipple, stroking the pads of his fingers over his other nipple. He kissed his pec, kissing to the dip of his throat.

Harry thumbed his cheekbone. “You know how you said I was different than you thought?”

“Yeah.”

“You are too.”

“Me?”

“Mmhmm.” Harry walked his fingertips over the curve of Louis’ shoulder, his eyes following the path until he reached his collarbone. “You’re soft like this. I want to do soft stuff with you.”

Louis rolled onto his stomach and pillowed his face with his folded arms. The new position only led to Harry’s fingers tracing down the deep dip of his spine. Louis lifted his feet, tenting the blankets.

“You want to do soft stuff with me?”

“Yeah, like…” Harry traced around his shoulder blade. “Like, nice stuff. The nicest and best stuff. With you.”

Louis swayed his feet.

“Nice stuff?”

“Yeah,” Harry whispered, dropping his face. He bit his bottom lip. “Is that—Is that stupid?”

“No,” Louis said, quiet but immediate. He rolled his upper body on top of Harry and cradled his cheek. “No. That’s not stupid.” He pressed a plush kiss to Harry’s lips. “Not at all.”

“Do you know what I mean?”

“I think so, yeah.”

“And...you’re okay with it?”

Louis slid one foot onto Harry’s ankle. “The only person holding you back from nice stuff all the time is yourself. If you believe in that part of yourself, the nice side or the soft side or whatever, then there is no reason why you can’t show that to the world all the time.”

“But I don’t want to show it to the world. I want to show it to you.”

Louis’ smile grew slowly. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Harry, I’m…I’m shocked and disappointed, to be honest.”

Harry blinked and rounded his lips. “Disappointed? Why? I thought we were having an awesome time? I know I am. Are you? Or you want to do something else? Want me to do something else to you?”

“You just missed a prime opportunity.”

“For what?” Harry asked with a huff in his voice, even more visibly distressed. “I’m so confused.”

Louis pressed his face into his pillow. He tilted his head towards Harry, though his cheek was still touching the pillow, and smiled wider. A small laugh escaped but was muffled by him clearing his throat. He started to sing quietly, his mouth barely moving.

“I can show you the world. Shining, shimmering, splendid.”

Any fear or nervousness in Harry’s eyes disappeared, his mouth falling open to exhale a tiny, high gasp. “Oh my God, I love your voice.” He fell onto Louis, kissing all over his face. Louis giggled and tried to paw him off, Harry continuing singing, “Tell me, princess, just when did you last let your heart decide? C’mon, Lou,” he said, laughing and poking Louis’ stomach. “Sing more lyrics. It’s a duet!”

“How did we go from not being able to stand each other to singing Disney duets naked in bed?” He held up a finger over Harry’s lips, fighting a grin. “Don’t. I know what you’re about to sing.”

Harry took a deep breath and gleefully sang, “New and a bit alarming, who’d have ever thought that this could beeee?”

Louis snickered and rolled Harry over, kissing him between sung words. Harry’s lyrics melted into quiet moans, his hands running up and down Louis’ sides. Louis pushed Harry’s hair back, then slid off his body. He bent over the bed.

“What are you doing now?” Harry asked behind him.

“I told you, I’m getting dressed.”

“But why?” Harry kissed his shoulder. Louis half turned to face him, Harry’s hand warm on his waist. “Where are you going?”

Slowly, Louis said, “Home?”

“No,” Harry said, just as slow. His brows pinched. “Please, don’t. Why would you go home now? We haven’t even had dinner yet.”

“I just figured you’d want me to go. Because we fucked.”

Harry laughed, “What? No. I want you right here.” Harry poked his pointed index finger into the mattress for each statement. “With me. Overnight. Food. Spooning. Netflix. Chill. Morning boners. Bad breath. Back rub. More spooning.”

“Well, um…” Louis started to smile and ruffled the back of his hair. “If I’m saying over, I need to pee and wash my face.”

“Have at it. My cleaning lady just came, so there should be lots of fresh towels in the basket. Take whatever you want.”

“You have a cleaning lady? Ugh. Brat.”

“In a house with this many guys, it’s needed for public health and safety.”

“Fair enough.”

Louis got out of bed and stretched his clasped hands, arching side to side. He strode to the bathroom. Without turning, he said, “I can feel you looking at me.”

“Good,” Harry grinned from the bed. He spread his legs, the blankets just below his navel, and propped his hands behind his head. “Fuck me, you look so good naked. I’m gonna have to enroll in ballet class with you just to watch your thighs jiggle on the regular. You’ve got an unreal ass.”

Louis gave an extra swervy sway to his hips as he walked, then propped one hand on the doorframe and popped his ass backwards.

Harry said, “Again!” and clapped.

Louis looked over his shoulder. “Did you just applaud my ass?”

Harry pointed two fingers at his groin.

“You’re about to get a standing ovation, too.”

Louis snorted and went into the bathroom. Before he set to his own tasks, he wet a washcloth and tossed it out the door to Harry, then shut the bathroom door. He took care of peeing and freshening up. As he was washing his hands, he eyed a basket of neatly folded laundry resting on the floor. He didn’t need anything besides a small towel, but he picked through curiously.

In the bedroom, Harry itched his freshly scrubbed groin. He sniffed under both arms, then rolled onto his stomach and went into his bedside table. A travel-sized can of Axe body spray emerged.

“Hurry,” Harry said as he sprayed under his left arm. He sprayed the other side, then tossed the can in his drawer. He used his fist to shut it. “I miss you, baby.”

Louis’ voice floated through the door to say, “Good thing I’m near a toilet and can vomit freely.”

Harry giggled and arched his back. “C’mon, darlin’, admit it. You kind of like it when I call you pet names, don’t you?” The bathroom door swung open. Harry’s laughter died in his throat, though his mouth continued to move without sound for a long moment.

Track: Jason Derulo - Want To Want Me

Louis smiled, playful yet shy, and walked up to the bed while ruffling his hair. Harry’s red jersey with black lettering hung low enough to brush his thighs. Thick red football socks with black stripes at the top were pulled up to his knees. Louis crawled up Harry’s legs and straddled him, the jersey slinking up to reveal a borrowed pair of tight black briefs.

“What’s up, baby?” Louis asked, keeping his raspy voice kittenish. He held both of Harry’s shoulders and dragged his groin higher, his thighs flexing as his his head swayed. “Do you like this ensemble or something?” He pinched the center of his jersey. “I borrowed it.” Then released the bit of material. “I hope that’s okay.”

Harry gaped up at him. Louis wasn’t pinning him to the bed, but his arms were stuck above his head on the mattress. He could feel his heartbeat in the head of his cock, the rush of blood to his groin almost painful.

Louis lifted the jersey a few inches to reveal his flat stomach and the soft, fuzzy line of hair that led below his briefs. His abs tightened and released with each gyration. “Did I let you touch me in your dreams?”

“S-Sometimes. I was happy with either option.”

Louis smirked and released the jersey.

“You can touch wherever you want.”

Harry placed his hands on Louis’ ankles and slid his palms up his sock-covered calves. He reached Louis’ thighs and moaned softly, taking his time to feel each shift and bulge of muscle.

Louis ran his fingers through Harry’s hair, leaning low enough to snag his lips. Harry gripped his ass and moaned as their tongues slid together. Louis crooked a smile as he sat up straight, tightening the grip of his thighs on Harry’s lap. He bent his raised his arms, the jersey slinking down his biceps as he gyrated with the ease of a professional bull rider.

“Look at you. Getting hard because I’m wearing your jersey. I mean, honestly, Harry.” He anchored his hands on either side of Harry’s head and bent a touch lower, speeding up his grinds, the hypnotic motion of his hips and ass completely fluid and easy. “Could you be more cliche?”

“You can say whatever you want, as long as you keep doing that thing with your ass. Honest. Holy fuck. Did you learn this in ballet? I’m investing in the arts for the rest of my life. This is—” Louis kissed him, Harry humming and bunching his hands in his jersey. Harry rolled Louis onto his back and flattened on top of him, slipping his hand up the front of his shirt and sucking a kiss to his neck. “Goddamn, Tomlinson, you’re fucking hot.”

He pushed the jersey up Louis’ stomach and kissed both sides of his hips, kissing down the straining fly of his briefs and stroking the bare skin of his inner thighs. He kissed lower, nibbling wet bites on the front of Louis’ thighs until he reached his socks.

Louis’ brows pinched as he smiled. Harry reverently kissed down both legs from knee to ankle, cradling his ankle each time as if it were something precious. Louis rested his right foot against Harry’s shoulder.

“You can take them off me, if you want.”

Harry gave a dimpled grin and pulled him down the bed in one swift motion, Louis’ body sliding and the jersey hiking up his stomach.

“Later. I’ll take them off you later.”

Harry bit Louis’ inner thigh and Louis gasped. His legs spread as Harry crawled between them, Harry burying his face in Louis’ groin and digging his nose into the clean fabric stretched over his thick cock.

“These, though.” Harry gripped the waistband of his black briefs and peeled them down Louis’ thighs. “These can go now.”

The briefs flew over the edge of the bed. Louis wrapped his legs around Harry, who was rapidly kissing his way up his chest. Their lips tangled, Harry slipping his hand to the small of Louis’ back as he arched against him. Harry gripped the back of Louis’ head and tongued him, both breathing heavily.

Louis’ fingernails dragged between his shoulder blades. “You smell like middle school.” His mouth was pried open by Harry’s firm kiss, his groin grinding upwards as Harry squeezed his ass. He pried his mouth away to pant. “Why the fuck did you douse yourself in Axe? You smelled hot before.”

Harry bit a kiss to Louis’ pulse point. “You look like me in middle school, you’re so small in that jersey.”

Louis’ jaw dropped. He opened Harry’s bedside table, pulled out a neon green condom, then bucked his hips up.

“Get on your back, Styles.”

Harry snickered and rolled over. “That one tastes like lime, by the way.”

“I’m not sucking your dick, brat. Psh.” Louis ripped the wrapper open with his teeth and spit it at Harry. “Saying I’m small. Please.”

“I didn’t mean your dick, baby,” Harry said, mimicking the kittenish tone Louis used on him earlier. “That’s real nice sized.” Louis snorted and squeezed a little dollop of lube on the head of Harry’s cock, then rolled the condom over his length. “Have I earned access to Lucky Number Seven yet?”

“Nope.”

“Ooh, you wound me, baby. All I want in life is a cozy ranch on a few hundred acres and a sweet ass to eat before bed every night.” Louis’ grumpy facade disappeared for a split second, a loud laugh ripped from his stomach. Lower, Harry chuckled, “Ooh,” and arched his back. His stomach trembled as Louis’ slick hand jerked him. “Fuck me, that’s nice.”

Louis reached behind his body, prodding himself a few times with lube dripping off his fingers. He stopped jerking Harry and smeared his hand back through Harry’s hair. Harry smiled proudly and leaned into his touch, as if his lube was a badge of honor. When Louis let go, both laughed, Harry’s hair flopping in sticky pieces like an extreme version of There’s Something About Mary.

Louis gripped Harry’s cock as he eased his head inside. He bit his bottom lip and squeezed his shaft tighter, Harry hissing with furrowed brows and spreading his legs.

“Thanks for the hair gel.” Harry pumped up into Louis’ heat for a few seconds, his mouth pursed in a perfect circle. “You sure know how to treat a man with respect.”

“Don’t give me that how to treat a man shit. Me doing this is my respect and you should count your lucky stars,” Louis said, breathier than usual. “Oh. O-Okay.” He bounced a few times, scooting his groin higher by half inches with each bounce. “Fuck, yeah.”

Louis shut his eyes and took a quick breath, hands pawing higher on Harry’s torso. He palmed Harry’s pecs and resumed his grinding gyrations, Harry moaning low and long as his head tipped back. Louis dug his fingernails in just above Harry’s nipples and sucked on his throat.

“C’mon. C’mon, Styles.” Louis squeezed tighter around Harry’s cock, leaning down, their lips joining hotly. “You can give me more.”

Harry held onto his ass and guided Louis’ bounces for a few seconds, snapping his hips upwards.

“Like this, baby? You like this?”

“Not faster.” Louis pushed his hands away. He held Harry’s chest and slowed his grinds, Harry’s eyes clenching and his head falling back. “I said more. Do better. I know you can do better. And I’m not your baby. Would you want me to call you daddy?”

Harry’s hips stuttered without his control, a guttural, “Guh,” sound choked out of his throat as his eyes rolled back in his head. Louis snickered and pinched his nipples.

“Oh, so you like that?” He bounced faster, changing the angle of his pelvis with each bounce. He found a position where Harry’s cock rammed nearly directly on his prostate. Shivers wracked his body, his fingernails biting into Harry’s skin. “C’mon, daddy. Fuck me good. I know you can.”

“Who are you?” Harry moaned with wide, hysterical eyes. “What are you?”

Louis flicked his head back to get his damp hair off his forehead. The motion caused his neck tendons to bulge, his lean torso straining before everything seemed to smooth back into its perfect place. Then he was peering down at Harry, intense and focused.

“I’m smart. And you—Umph!” Louis shuddered wildly, his voice raspy to continue, “You love that.”

Harry thrust up faster, sweat starting to drip from Louis’ pubic hair onto his own stomach. “You’re a fucking genius, baby. A fucking—g-genius, holy shit.” He slid his hands up Louis’ thighs and gripped his cock. “Look at this fucking beauty.”

Louis let out a weak cry, his body keeling forward. The shiny, red head of his cock ached as Harry thumbed beneath it, precome dribbling down to wet Harry’s palm for each sure stroke. Harry’s other hand slid between his cheeks to finger around his asshole, the skin slick and twitching. Then Harry squeezed his cheek and dug his heels into the bed, his hips flexing with each snap upwards.

“That’s it—That’s fucking it,” Louis babbled and lowered his head. His face was close enough for Harry to lick as he murmured, “That’s it, Styles, fuck yeah. Oh! Fuck yeah, you’re—Come on, I gotta coach you to do a fucking—” Harry’s cock pounded into him so perfectly that Louis fell forward. “Oh fuck yes!

“You don’t have to coach shit,” Harry practically growled in his face.

Louis gently shoved his shoulders. “You sure?”

“You fucking tease,” Harry said, grinning with flushed cheeks. Louis smiled crookedly. “Gonna make you come, Lou.”

“Yeah? When?”

Harry’s laugh melted into a series of deep, rhythmic grunts for each thrust. Louis matched him with quiet exhalations of, “Yeah,” his pitch going higher. Their sounds grew louder as Harry guided Louis to pound down on his cock while thrusting up at the same time.

“Oh God, yeah,” Louis said, his face screwing up. His fingernails dug into Harry’s pecs, his thumbs pressing hard on his nipples. Harry cried out deeply, Louis tightening his fingertips around his nipple and pulling. “Fuck, yeah, Harry. Come on.”

Harry rolled his torso up with his hands on Louis’ waist, but Louis pushed his chest down. Harry’s head bounced on his pillow, his hair going wild. Louis leaned down and seared their lips together.

“Make me come like this, not on my back,” he whispered before kissing him harder. Harry’s fingers dug into Louis’ hips, his top lip snarled as he rapidly jutted up into him. “You’ve fucking got it. Come on, Harry, come on, come on, yeah, you—Ah!” Louis gasped broken breaths against Harry’s face, their gazes locked as hot tears prickled Louis’ eyelids. “Oh fuck, Harry!”

Harry howled a low, nasal moan. The back of his head pressed into his pillow and his heels slid on the sheets. Come dribbled out of Louis’ slit before a sudden burst gushed high enough to reach Harry’s upper belly, Louis clenching tight around Harry’s cock as Harry shot into his condom.

“Oh my God,” Harry gasped, sucking in a breath. His hips continued to pound up into Louis’ tightness, even as his brain was already deep in the land of pleasure, his head repeatedly nodding forward without his control. “F-Fuck, oh, fuck. Ohhh.” The tremors that propelled his hips started to ease their pace. His abs clenched as he thrust slower and deepened. “Oh,” he exhaled. His grip on Louis’ hips loosened. “Oh fuck.”

Louis echoed, “Oh fuck,” before he tipped over sideways, Harry’s cock slipping out of his ass. He bounced bonelessly on the bed and landed curled on his side with his head at Harry’s chest height. Weakly, he mumbled, “Ow.”

The room was silent save for their quick breaths, no more creaking bed or thwacking headboard. Harry’s attempt at a soothing gesture resulted in a firm slap to Louis’ ass.

“Whoops. Sorry,” Harry said thickly. “Meant to...Uh…” He panted for a moment, rubbing circles over his ass. “Touch. Better.”

Louis just hummed and shut his eyes, sweat stinging his pores. He patted Harry’s flank. “Cool.”

“Yeah. Cool.”

Both tittered quiet, exhausted laughs. Harry groaned but stretched his arms towards Louis.

“Lou. Come here, please.”

“Too tired.”

“Ugh, come on. Cuddle time.”

“Tired.”

“Lou,” Harry droned even longer, putting vibrato in as if he were singing. Louis giggled breathily and opened his eyes. Harry waved at him from inches away. “You’ve got a sexy stomach. We should do abs together.”

Louis shut his eyes again and laughed, scooting his upper body closer. Harry’s arms enveloped him. He was pulled the rest of the way until his head rested on Harry’s shoulder. Louis kissed Harry’s nipple, then settled down with a deep breath.

“Please don’t use Axe again tonight.” Louis nuzzled his cheek against his warm skin. “You smell much better without it.”

“Wanna just shower?”

Louis opened his eyes. “Okay.” He patted Harry’s stomach, but didn’t move otherwise. “Let’s shower.”

“Wanna fuck me in the shower?”

Louis’ eyes bulged wider. His gaze traveled up Harry’s chest until he reached his face.

“Um…Like, you want to bottom for the first time?”

“Mmhmm.”

Louis sighed and pushed himself up on one elbow. His hair was extra fluffy in the front, Harry lifting his arm to tease the messy strands.

“You’re sure? It might not be fun for you and you probably won’t come from it.”

Harry smoothed his hand down the side of his neck. “I’ve gotten fingered before. I’ll be cool.”

“It’s a little different from fingers.”

“I’m up for anything with you.”

Louis thumbed Harry’s navel, digging into the bouncy muscle.

“Let’s…Let’s get clean and see what happens.”

“I’m gonna get a boner.”

“Uh, yeah,” Louis laughed, “I figured. I meant, like, if we’re not too tired and want to fool around in the shower, that’s cool. If not, that’s also cool.”

“Mmm.” Harry cupped Louis’ face and joined their lips, humming lower. “Love how you think. So logical.” Louis snorted and shifted to the edge of the bed, but Harry gripped his jersey. “Ah ah. Where are you going?”

“Are you still questioning me exiting the bed? Haven’t we been over this?”

Harry snickered, walking his fingers down Louis’ bare hips. He got to all fours, then crawled down the bed. Louis started to smile before Harry reached his knees. He tilted his face to the side, wrapping his arms around the top of his head.

“Let’s see here,” Harry mumbled, kissing over a fresh hickey on Louis’ inner thigh. He peeled his red knee sock down, brushing his lips over Louis’ strong calf and dark leg hair. He opened his mouth on the front of Louis’ ankle, sucking to the sharp bone on the outside. Louis huffed laughter into his hands. Harry grinned up at him. “What?”

“I have t-ticklish ankles,” Louis said, still giggling. He rolled his foot away. “Hurry up, would you?”

“Oh, no, not with this revelation.”

“Harry,” Louis laughed.

“Alright, alright.” Harry planted a careful kiss on Louis’ ankle and rolled his sock off. The sock was tossed to the floor. Harry blinked curiously, staring at Louis’ small feet. “Oh.”

“What?”

“Your feet are…” Harry squinted up at him, half smiling. He ran his fingers over his heel. “Kinda rode hard.”

“Shut up.” Louis gently kicked Harry’s shoulder as both laughed, Harry’s eyes twinkling with mischief and Louis’ brows high. Harry started to peel off his other sock with much quicker motions. “I’m a runner and a dancer. You’re lucky I don’t have hooves.”

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding, they’re fine.” Harry held Louis’ foot to the bed and sucked hard on his inner ankle, prompting a loud, shouted laugh from Louis. Harry beamed up at him. “Fuck, I love this new detail about you.”

“Ugh. I’m going to have to wear knee socks all the time now to keep you away.”

“I’m rich. I’ll buy you lots. Then take them off of you.”

“Thanks so much. Let’s shower.”

. . .

Louis should have known that taking a shower with Harry Styles would not just be them soaping up as if they were rushing in the locker room. Any sleepiness promptly disappeared when Harry pressed him to the shower wall, hot and wet and hard against his thigh. Any thought of going to bed evaporated when Harry dropped a tube of silicone-based lube in his hand and whispered, “C’mon, baby, finger me. Pretty please?”

And that was how he ended up sucking Harry’s lips with three fingers sliding in and out of his tight ass, the shower pounding their shoulders. Harry seemed to be enjoy himself, based on the breathy, low moans he exhaled into Louis’ mouth every few seconds.

“I’m so fucking ready, Lou. Please? Let’s go. Fuck me.”

“You’re not ready.” Louis wiggled his fingers. “I can feel you’re not ready.”

“I can take it. I’m ready.”

Louis’ brows pinched. “I don’t want you to hurt. You have a game on Wednesday. I don’t think you want NCAA commentators speculating about why bisexual wunderkind Harry ‘Hugo’ Styles is bowlegged on the field while being broadcast on national television.”

“You’re walking around just fine.”

“I’ll be sore tomorrow.”

“So? I can be sore, too. I’ve dislocated knees and shoulders, gotten concussions, broken bones. I’ll manage.”

Louis sighed and let his head drop back. He continued to pump his fingers into Harry, even as he stared at the tile ceiling while Harry kissed across his collarbone.

“You’re sure about this, Styles?”

“Hells yes.” He squeezed around Louis’ fingers, as if to punctuate his statement. “So ready.”

Louis studied him, then shrugged.

“Alright.” He eased his fingers out and wiggled them. “I’ll be right back. Gotta dry off and get a condom.”

“Top drawer under the sink.”

“Cool.” Louis handed him the lube. “Keep fingering yourself. Put a lot of lube inside. A lot, a lot.”

Harry held the lube and saluted him with it. “Yes, sir.”

Louis stepped out of the bath tub and pulled the red Armadillo logo-covered curtain closed. Harry’s frat house was a historical landmark on campus, but some modifications had been done to the bedrooms and bathrooms. The tub was clawfoot and antique looking, but the fixtures, such as the shower head, had been updated.

Harry braced himself on the wall and bent over. He prodded his fingers as deep as he could, lube squelching between his knuckles. The shower curtain slid along the railing, and Harry looked over his shoulder. He grinned.

“Welcome back, daddy.”

Louis stepped over the tub’s edge. “I thought you were daddy?”

“Can we both be daddy?”

“How about neither of us are daddy, and we’re just Harry and Louis?”

“We can do that, too.”

Louis smiled as he stroked himself with a regular, non-neon condom stretched over his cock. He pulled the curtain closed, bathing them in a soft rosy light.

“Have you been fingering yourself?”

“Yup.” Harry pulled Louis to his front, planting his lips on the base of his neck. “I’m so into this, Lou, I can’t even express it.” He kissed his Adam’s apple. “It’s like you’re tutoring me in sex.”

“I doubt you need tutoring in that area.”

Harry chuckled and squeezed Louis’ ass. “Get warm. C’mere.” He walked them under the stream of water. “Warm up.”

“I’m good. You good?”

Harry gripped his hard cock, swaying it towards Louis with raised eyebrows.

“I’m good. I’ve been getting fingered for, like, ever. I’m pumped. Anything with my ass and I’m hard as fuck.”

Louis kissed the back of Harry’s shoulder.

“Alright. Wanna do it against the wall? Might be easiest.”

Harry turned and bent forward, holding the wall with both palms. Louis came up behind him, running his palms up the backs of his thighs until he reached his lower back.

“You’ve got a nice ass, too.” He squeezed his cheeks, easing his thumb inside. “Kind of flat, but still cute.”

Harry looked over his shoulder, offended. “Hey, I do plenty of squats.”

Louis smirked, kissing between his shoulder blades. “I’m sure you do. It’s a nice ass. You’ve got hot thighs, actually. Don’t stress.” He kissed the arch of his neck, his voice softly soothing over Harry’s skin. “Relax, cowboy. Relax and lean forward.”

Harry bent over and stared at their feet on the white tub floor. He had experienced plenty of ass action in his lifetime, mostly of the giving variety, but action nonetheless. This would just be like flipping a coin and getting tails instead of heads—just another notch on his bedpost.

Track: Carly Rae Jepsen - All That

Louis kissed his neck and wrapped his soft hands around his hips, massaging the highest creases of his groin and thighs. “Breathe,” Louis whispered. Harry opened his mouth to speak, but a sharp pinch of pressure between his ass cheeks made him freeze. “Breathe for me, Styles.”

Harry breathed and the pinch only grew more painful, more pronounced. Louis squeezed his hips, jutting forward once.

“Um,” Harry hummed while squinting at the tile. He tilted his head. “Ow?”

“Yeah. It’s weird for a while. You want to stop?”

“No, no. Keep going.” Harry gave Louis a thumbs up despite the feeling of overfilled burning that had settled at his stretched rim. “I’m good.” Louis anchored one hand on the base of Harry’s cock and Harry looked down at the quick twinge of pleasure. His whole body flushed. “Shit, sorry.” Harry started rapidly jerking himself, his fist bumping Louis’ hand. “One second, I promise.”

“Harry, you’ve topped, yeah?”

“Yeah. So?”

Loui planted a warm kiss behind Harry’s ear. “So, it’s fine. It happens sometimes when you first bottom. You’re in pain. Just relax.”

“No.” Harry shook his head, jerking himself faster. “Not to me.”

“You need to relax, or else I’m not getting any further inside. Hey. Like this.” Louis held his hand over Harry’s knuckles, guiding his strokes slower and deeper. He kissed his neck, pinching Harry’s nipple with his other hand. He whispered, “Like this, babe. You’re doing so good already. A natural. You feel so good.”

Harry tried to ignore the pain that only burned tighter and rough between his ass cheeks. How could Louis’ dick ever fit all the way inside? Instead of voicing that question, he focused on the meaty slapping sound Louis’ balls made each time he pushed deeper into him. His lower back started to ache and his toes grew cold, but Louis’ voice quietly murmuring encouragement in his ear soothed some of the pain, as did the lazy strokes to his cock.

He thought back to his array of firsts. Handjobs and blowjobs. Eating ass and eating pussy. Threeways. Fourways. Orgies. Men and women, together or separate. Even kissing. He barrelled into sex with the same energy and enthusiasm that he had on the field, eager to get the awkward over with and learn how to be the best.

This time, though. This time he could not barrel through. Louis seemed determined to do the opposite of barrel through, taking his sweet time opening him up and making sure he was comfortable.

Was he himself that careful and devoted to his bedmates if he was their first time? He hoped so. It had been so long since he’d been in that position. He couldn’t remember the last virginity he took, and memories of his own losses were sweaty and wild and doused in cheap beer.

When Harry’s lower body finally relaxed, both men exhaled at the same time. Louis slid inside deeper.

“There we are,” Louis whispered, then kissed the point of his jawline. “Better?” Harry grunted and arched his lower back, turning his face. Louis sucked his bottom lip, nibbling it with his teeth. He squeezed his cock. “Still hurts?”

Harry blurted out, “Yes. Uncomfortable. A little. Kind of...like I...have to…” He felt Louis laughing against his skin before he whispered, “Yeah.”

“That’s normal. Is it unbearable?”

“No. Not at all. Glad we’re in a shower. Just...learning. M’fine. Keep moving.” He dimpled over his shoulder. “Don’t get lazy on me, Tomlinson.”

Louis chuckled, his dick vibrating inside Harry’s ass. Harry looked down their bodies and watched his shiny, reddened cock twitch to the left as Louis’ balls slapped against the back of his thighs. His face screwed up.

“Okay, it’s starting to—Starting to feel good.” He licked water off his lips and pushed back against Louis. “Yeah. Good. Weird, but good.”

“Yeah?”

“Mmm.”

“Good.” Louis lavished his head with rhythmic, circular fist twists, Harry’s ass fluttering around his cock. “Good like this?”

“Yeah. Y-Yeah. Fuck,” Harry panted out, his head dropping forward. He grit his teeth and pushed back, the flares of pain a mere sparks compared to the rolling rush of pleasure. The inside of his throat felt swollen, and he swallowed. “Yes. Yeah. F—Yeah.”

Louis jerked him faster from root to tip. Harry had been mostly quiet up until then, but now was exhaling high whimpers, the sounds growing louder with each thrust. The increase in pleasure and relaxation pulled Louis deeper, lube squelching in Harry’s ass and dripping down his inner thighs.

Harry shuffled his feet and bumped into Louis’ toes as he braced himself in a slightly more bent position. He moaned long and low, his head dropping down as the overfilled feeling bloomed into the most satisfying soreness he’d ever felt. The ache only made him want more, more, more of Louis, his skin itching under the stream of hot water.

He looked up at Louis’ reflection in the shower head. Louis’ eyes were tightly shut, his forehead pressed to the back of Harry’s head, his mouth open and slackened as he panted.

“Lou.”

Louis’ eyes opened. “You good, babe?”

Harry reached back and gripped Louis’ wet hair. “Yeah, but is it—” Their lips sealed, both huffing hot breaths through their noses. “Good, Lou? For you? You good?”

“So good.” Louis sucked a kiss to Harry’s neck. “So good, babe. Don’t stress.” He smoothed his hand down Harry’s stomach. “Relax.”

“You’re not making noises—Ah!” Harry jutted forward into Louis’ palm, then whined to himself and pushed back, Louis swallowing his sound with his mouth. Harry whispered, “Oh God,” and shut his eyes. “Speaking of w-weird noises—Fuck!”

“Honestly, I’m trying not to come,” Louis admitted with a breathy laugh. Harry smiled and pushed back against him, causing both to groan lowly. “You feel so fucking—so fucking good. I’m here. You’re—” Harry let out another throaty, broken sound and Louis moaned against the back of his neck. “You’re good.”

Harry turned, causing Louis’ cock to slip from his ass. He held Louis face and guided them into a hot kiss.

“C’mon, Lou, come. Come on my stomach.”

“We were just getting to the good part, you bos—” Louis twitched his hips backwards. Harry jerked his oversensitive cock with one hand while palming his balls with his other. Louis breathed out, “Bossy brat. Let’s—Let’s keep going.”

“Like, you fucking me?”

“Yeah. I think you’ll like it after a while. If you don’t, I’ll get you to come. Promise.”

Louis wrapped his hand around Harry’s length and started to pump. Harry droned a long moan, his face falling forward to rest on his shoulder. Louis walked his fingers around his ass, grabbing handfuls of flesh as he inched his fingers closer to Harry’s rim.

“Your ass is actually not that flat, Styles.”

Harry licked under his jawline. “Ain’t you sweet?” He pursed his lips for a kiss, but Louis got down to his knees. “Where you going? Thought you were fucking me?”

Louis sucked Harry’s head into his mouth as he held his ass with both hands. His fingers prodded Harry’s opening, Harry whining and tilting away. Louis hummed as he sucked him and eased two fingers inside of him. Harry exhaled, then sucked a quick breath in, his hips bucking forward.

“L-Lou, that’s—” Louis pressed his fingers deeper and Harry cried out, “Louis!” as he reached forward, grasping the wall and shower curtain. He felt Louis laughing, still sucking. Harry’s stomach rapidly ballooned outwards as he breathed, his knees unable to straighten out. “Okay, fuck, I—I—”

Louis pulled back, Harry’s cock slipping out of his mouth. He pecked his head, then nosed along the hard, straining length.

“Just wanted to give you a little fluff.” He stood to his full height, smirking crookedly. “Get your blood pumping.”

Harry wrapped his arms around him and pulled him flush to his body, their lips opening together. Shower water pelted both of their faces, but they simply shifted, Louis pushing Harry’s back against the wall.

“You wanna turn again?”

“I wanna get down on the floor.”

“What?” Louis laughed. “In the shower?”

“Hands and knees, yep.”

Louis furrowed his brows but nodded, smoothing his hands over Harry’s hips.

“If you say so. Standing is usually easier, but okay.”

Harry lowered himself to the floor. Louis pumped up the hot water and stood on tiptoe, angling the jet to pound between Harry’s shoulder blades. He slathered more lube on his cock, then looked down.

The muscles of Harry’s upper back flexed and fluttered as he got comfortable. His legs spread wider, and the pale soles of his long feet crinkled as he curled his toes. Harry peeked over his shoulder with a lopsided grin.

Louis’ hand squeezed around his cock, murmuring, “Look at you.” He got down to his knees. “I’ll hold back a tight end joke.”

“Ooh,” Harry shuddered as he chuckled, his ass winking around Louis’ thumb. “Slippery.”

Louis opened his mouth on the top of Harry’s shoulder, letting his teeth sink in for a moment. He sucked on the firm muscle and Harry moaned softly, his head falling to the side as Louis’ cock throbbed between his cheeks.

“C’mon.” Harry ground backwards. “Fuck me.”

Louis pressed as far inside as he could before Harry whimpered and clenched. He nibbled along the back of his neck and snapped his hips gently, his hand snuck between Harry’s legs. He felt Harry’s insides tremble as his palm brushed his head, and he eased further inside, their motions more fluid. The more he stroked his cock, the more Harry squirmed against him, their thrusts deeper and their noises growing louder.

“You feel so good, babe,” Louis said against his neck. “So fucking good.”

With his eyes half closed and his brain more than halfway to delirious, Harry murmured, “Mmm, pet names, yes.”

Louis laughed breathily. “That’s what turns you on? Me calling you babe?”

Harry grinned. “Hells yeah, baby.”

“Good God.”

“Fuck me, baby.”

Louis tilted his head with a challenging brow arch, his tongue extra sharp to say, “Come, daddy.”

Harry’s full lips fell open with a silent scream, his eyes shut and his ass twitching back against Louis. His entire lower body, from ankles to belly, shook uncontrollably. The slow, almost frustrating buildup to orgasm led to a different sort of deep pleasure coursing through his body. Not as explosive as coming from fucking someone’s ass or mouth, and not as quick as that of a fast handjob or messy dry hump. This was a different sort of release—a different sort of letting go.

Louis seared their lips together, squeezing Harry’s cock as he spurted hot against his palm, his come borderline clear. Both breathed heavily into their kisses, Harry’s body fluttering rapidly around him.

Harry wilted forward against the tub’s wall. “Oh, fuck, come—” He breathed for a moment, his boneless body propelled by Louis thrusting into him. He rasped, “Come on my face. Pull out.”

“Face?”

“Mmm.”

Louis thrust one more time then pulled out. Harry hissed, hiding his face in the crook of his arm.

“Sorry, shit, I’m sorry.” Louis rubbed his opening, sympathy softening his voice. “Hurts? You alright?”

“No, m’fine. Wanna feel you again.”

“We’re stopping after this, hot shot.”

“But I wanna—” Harry turned over and landed hard on his ass. His wince was even more pronounced, his knees bending to curl in on himself even as he smiled. “Maybe you’re right. Could use a breather, I guess.” He spread his legs and sighed happily. His spent cock, still reddened and slightly hard, rested against the crease of his thigh. His eyes fell to Louis’ middle, and his smile grew. “Hello there. C’mere. Stand up. Come on me already. Your dick looks like my purple sweater.”

Louis huffed half a laugh and crawled closer while sliding his condom off. He jerked himself as he stood.

“Coming on faces is such a porny, frat boy fantasy.”

“Porny? You just fucked a fantasy frat boy in a shower, Lou.”

Louis’ body seized inwards. “Fuck.

Harry snickered breathily and nuzzled his face to Louis’ stomach. He brushed his lips against the head of Louis’ cock, large green eyes peering up at him. “C’mon, baby. Come on me,” he murmured lowly, batting his lashes. “I’m a rich as fuck football star and I want you to paint my fucking face like the artsy snob you are.”

Louis cried out and gripped the wall behind Harry’s head. He thrust uncontrollably into his tight fist, his hips jutting forward. Harry lapped at his sticky head, come spurting on his lips and smearing up against the side of his nose.

“That’s it, Lou, gimme more. Want all of you.”

His hand joined Louis’ to jerk him, Louis moaning and letting his cock slip between Harry’s open lips. Harry hollowed his cheeks with their eyes locked, pain flickering over Louis’ scrunched face before he moaned even louder and pulsed his last bit of come. Harry let his cock slip out. A gush of drool and come dribbling down his chin before he smiled wide.

“Oh my fucking God,” Louis gasped, out of breath. His knees knocked, his hand grasping the wall. “Oh my fucking God.”

Harry held his hips and guided him to the bathtub floor. Louis lowered himself on shaky legs, resting his back on the opposite end of the tub. Harry stretched his legs out from the other end, propping his feet on Louis’ thighs. Louis held his forehead and stared at Harry as his chest panted quick and erratic, his body twitching every other second.

“So,” Harry yawned with a casual stretch of his arms. He lowered his arms and gripped Louis’ closest foot, then dug his thumbs in on his sole. “Now that we’re done with asshole stuff, wanna get food?”

Louis watched Harry’s chest get pelted by shower water for a few seconds of foot massage. He nodded.

. . .

They got out and dried off. Ordering sushi delivery was easy, but pulling away from each other to answer the door felt like an impossible task.

Louis panted, “You need to answer the door,” against Harry’s mouth.

Harry hummed lowly and pushed his face against the crook of Louis’ neck, his hand sliding up the front of his jersey and settling at nipple height.

“But now you smell all soapy.” He kissed beneath his jawline, dipping down to kiss the front of his shoulder. He thumbed Louis’ nipple, his skin extra warm, and Louis whimpered, arching beneath him. “Like clean clothes.”

Louis guided Harry’s face up and joined their lips, wrapping his legs around him. Harry pinched his nipple and rolled it between his fingers, nibbling his bottom lip. Louis moaned but arched his neck to hide his smile.

“Lighten up with my nips, would you? We need to eat.”

“But it gets you so hard.” Harry sucked on Louis’ stretched neck, his other hand gripping his half-hardness. “And you look so fucking sexy in just my jersey.”

The doorbell rang again.

“Get the damn door,” Louis laughed, slapping Harry’s hand away from his chest. “Stop getting me going. And enough with the jersey worship. Half the campus has probably porky-pigged it in this thing.”

Harry smirked crookedly. “But none were as pretty as you, darlin’.” Louis used both feet to shove Harry off the bed, only prompting Harry to giggle, “Ooh, yeah, baby. Use those magic legs on me. Wanna watch your junk bounce.”

Louis’ entire body flushed bright pink as he pulled the blankets over his middle. He observed Harry pouring himself into short red boxer briefs before he darted out of the bedroom. Louis had just relaxed on his back when Harry popped through the door.

“Whoops,” Harry said as he palmed his wallet off his dresser. He paused in the doorway, scanning from the bottom of the bed to the top. Louis was propped up against the pillows, the jersey kissing his upper thighs and his legs bent lazily. Harry sucked his bottom lip, then let it pop from his teeth. “Fuck, Tomlinson.”

Then he was off, running down the stairs and through the empty frat house until he reached the front door. He pulled the door open and beamed, “Hi!”

The delivery man didn’t blink an eye at his lack of attire. He handed over the bag and receipt. Harry glanced at the receipt, then pulled bills out of his wallet at random. The delivery man held the bundle of money, but opened his mouth and squinted.

“Keep the change, Kirk,” Harry said happily, turning before the delivery man could even say anything. He paused and turned back. “Oh, and thank you so much! Happy Thanksgiving!”

The delivery man waved without looking up from his wad of fresh cash. Harry ran inside and went straight for the stairs. He made it to his room in record time, shutting the door behind himself and panting for a moment.

“Okay, cool. You’re still here. I missed you. And yeah, you were right. My ass is killing me.”

Louis snickered and sat up straight, then brought himself to his knees. “You were gone thirty seconds. And you act like I was going to sneak out the window. Pantsless.”

“Been there. Done that.”

“Ha.”

Harry placed their bag of sushi on the bed and pulled it open. Louis picked through it, organizing each styrofoam container and packet of soy sauce. Harry walked to his television and pulled open a cabinet door.

“Beer cool?”

Louis looked up. “Beer?” Harry stepped aside and held his hand out to a hidden mini fridge built into the cabinet. “Wow. Okay, rich boy. Corona, please.”

“Excellent choice.”

Harry came to bed with two Coronas and sat next to Louis. He bent and kissed the top of Louis’ shoulder as he handed over the beer. Louis smiled at the array of sushi, tilting his head enough for Harry to softly peck his lips.

“I guess I, um, did kind of miss you, too,” Louis quietly admitted.

“Aw, Lou,” Harry said, droning his words through his low chuckles. “You like me.” He kissed his neck. “And I like you.” Then his jawline. “And we like each other.”

Louis giggled into a wet kiss. “Yeah, yeah.” He popped open a container and revealed a Spider Roll. “C’mon, I’m starving.” He reached for another container. “Did you order the Armadillo Roll or did I?”

They divided up their sushi and settled with their backs against the headboard. Harry watched Louis as he chewed.

“What?” Louis asked, not looking away from Daredevil. “You keep leering at me.”

“Not leering. Just looking.” Harry studied the roll clasped between his chopsticks, his voice a touch bashful but his entire face warm. He rubbed their legs together. “This was the best first date of all time.”

Louis hummed and dunked his roll into a tiny plastic cup of soy sauce. He tried to chew as he smiled wider, sneaky fingertips gently massaging his ribs.

“Yeah, yeah.” He laughed softly and nuzzled his cheek to Harry’s bare shoulder as Harry dunked a roll into the soy sauce cup in his hand. “It was a pretty good first date.”

“Do I get a second date?”

Louis sighed as if he was completely put out. “Well, we have to watch West Side Story for educational purposes, so I guess if we repeat what we did tonight while also watching the movie…” He popped a roll into his mouth and glanced at Harry with only his eyes. His lips quirked as he shrugged, then he swallowed. “That could work for me.”

Harry grinned while trying to keep his mouth shut and chew. He slid his arm around Louis’ shoulders, Louis cuddling against him. Harry tilted his head and pecked Louis’ lips. Louis mumbled something that sounded like, “Mmm, wasabi,” before kissing him again.

. . .

. . .

. . .

Liam knocked once, twice, three times, each knock a cheerful, staccato rap. On the fourth knock, the door creaked open. He grinned and rolled up on the balls of his feet.

“Good morning, sunshine. Again.”

Zayn raised his right eyebrow with utmost slowness. “I didn’t even know you got up and left.”

“Because you sleep like the dead. I got up, ran, did back and shoulders, showered, changed, and kissed your forehead about a hundred times. And…” Liam lifted a white paper bag in one hand and a cardboard tray of coffee cups in his other. “I got us egg sandwiches and tea, Mr. Anti-Coffee-But-I-Work-At-Starbucks. Hash browns, too. Can’t have a movie marathon without some greasy sort of carb. May I come in? Again?”

Zayn blinked heavily before stepping aside and holding his arm out, his loose black tank draping low on his chest.

“Why are we doing this again?”

Liam strode through the door in a cloud scented like fresh body wash, dressed in spanking clean jeans and a white polo beneath his black blazer. Even his red snap back and white Nikes were neat and clean.

“Because it’s a travesty that you haven’t seen all of the Indiana Jones movies.” Liam dropped their breakfast on the cluttered kitchen table. “This is as important a part of your college education as your finger painting classes.”

“Hey,” Zayn said, his voice still rough with sleep. Liam smirked over his shoulder. Zayn lifted two fingers and gestured from his eyes to Liam. “Watch it, jock.”

“I love watching you, you know that.”

Zayn scoffed, “Jesus Christ,” and turned towards the living room. A smirk of his own threatened to explode into a full-blown smile. He collapsed in an artful pile of limbs on the sofa. “Need help with anything?”

“Nope. Thanks.”

Liam joined him in the small living room with a pile of napkins and a bottle of ketchup in one hand, their breakfast balanced in the other hand. Zayn sat up enough to take the tray of drink cups from him. He placed them on the table, snagging the bag of sandwiches and plopping them on the sofa. Liam went to the television and knelt down to open the XBox 360. Zayn took the large hot tea marked Z! :) :) :) in Sharpie.

“How many movies are there?”

Liam sat down next to him on the sofa and grabbed his own coffee. “Four, technically, but,” he toed his right sneaker off, “I’m omitting film four at this point in the essence of time.”

“Why?”

“I’d rather not soil your viewing experience of films one through three. They’re...They’re so good.” Liam grinned, boyish and bright, and seemed out of breath. “I just know you’re going to love them. They’re my favorite.”

Zayn took a slow breath of the steam rising from his tea, dunking the bag once. Liam broke into the bag of sandwiches. Zayn stayed facing forward, his body angled towards the opening credits of Raiders of the Lost Arc, but his eyes slid towards Liam.

“You made my tea right,” Zayn said quietly. His voice was low, but his level of surprise was high. He dunked the bag again. “Thank you.”

Liam’s smile could have lit the Temple of Doom. He quickly muffled his joy and gave Zayn a quick nod, offering a casual, “Yeah, no problem, you’re welcome, cool, yeah.”

Liam leaned back on the sofa with his cup of coffee balanced between his legs. Before Liam could sip, Zayn placed his hand on his inner thigh. Zayn saw Liam’s throat bob out of the corner of his eye, could feel the muscles beneath his jeans twitch.

Liam held his coffee cup for one second, then released it, then repeated the action with his other hand. His leg bobbed beneath Zayn’s hand, his socked feet shifting on the floor. Zayn’s other hand lifted to Liam’s chest. His long, elegant fingers curled in the handful of buttons at the collar of Liam’s polo. Without speaking, Zayn pulled ever so slowly, Liam’s body leaning towards him.

Air brushed between their lips. Liam’s eyes darted up and down Zayn’s face, lingering on his mouth each time. The fine, dark hair of Zayn’s beard framed the pink softness of his lips, his shaggy hair kissing his high cheekbones and almost shielding his eyes. Zayn licked his lips and Liam exhaled a pained sound, the right side of Zayn’s mouth lifting just a tic.

It was just like this, Liam thought. Their first date. Their first kiss. Their first time. It all made sense.

He learned very early on that Zayn was a watcher. He watched and assessed and took his time before showing his hand. The moments without action were somehow more exhilarating than the moments with action, though those were in a completely different universe of exhilaration. Any attention from Zayn was like a Super Bowl victory. Even if Zayn revealed himself in slow slivers, as opposed to Liam’s uncontrollable need to share every part of himself, it was the most exquisite sort of torture to Liam to endure.

Liam was sucked back into the present by Zayn’s eyes. Long, swaying lashes framed hypnotic amber eyes, eyes that were coming closer by the second. Soft lips nearly brushed his own, but Zayn retreated at the last second. Zayn watched Liam’s lips open and close as his chin nudged forward, as if he was starving and seeking out a morsel of food.

More warm air was breathed between them as Zayn smirked again, one-sided, and tilted his head in the other direction. His fingers tightened their hold on Liam’s shirt just enough to bring his body closer but, again, he moved before their lips touched. Liam’s throat bobbed, his tongue licking the corner of his mouth.

“You always do this to me,” Liam said lowly.

Zayn’s eyes flickered with amusement.

“Is that a bad thing?”

Liam exhaled, “God, no.”

Zayn’s sharp, white teeth emerged in a small, but warm smile. He let his fingers crawl higher on Liam’s shirt until he hit skin, his fingertips tracing along Liam’s collarbone.

“You know,” Zayn said quietly, as if they weren’t sharing the same oxygen and body heat. His head tilted towards the television. “You look kind of like the guy in the movie.”

Liam’s answering moan nearly died in his throat, but emerged as a weak, pained sound.

“My dick is going to spill my coffee, you’re making me so hard.”

Zayn pulled Liam in and their lips softly pressed together. Liam’s fingers flexed out from his hands, his arms bent but extending further from his body. Zayn smiled so wide against Liam’s mouth that he had to break the kiss. For someone who limited his daily smile count, Zayn was always smiling when their lips touched, which only made Liam want to kiss him more.

Liam placed their drinks on the coffee table, said, “Okay,” and turned his body to fully face Zayn with one foot tucked under himself. He cupped Zayn’s face before they leaned in, their open-mouthed kiss tender and innocent. Liam pecked him, then licked his lips. “Did you not have your morning smoke yet?”

“I quit.”

Liam tilted his head back.

“What?”

Zayn licked the inside of his top teeth with the tip of his tongue. It was a motion usually reserved for when he had a cigarette between his teeth.

“I quit. Smoking, I mean.”

“When?”

An easy shrug of Zayn’s right shoulder sent his tank tumbling down his outer bicep.

“About a week ago. Cold turkey. Right in time for Thanksgiving.”

“What—You—” Warmth flooded Liam’s voice, his breaths panted out. “You really quit?”

Zayn dropped his gaze and tucked his hair behind his ear. “It’s an unhealthy habit, you know?”

“Uh, yeah, I know,” Liam said on a laugh. “I said that to you on our third date and you looked furious. I thought you were going to stab me in the throat with your chopsticks.” He tapped the side of Zayn’s neck. “Right in the jugular.”

Zayn chuckled, “Yeah, well, you were, uh...” He licked his bottom lip. “You are right. Should give the old lungs a break. Maybe I won’t taste like an ashtray, too.”

Liam, overcome, could do nothing but beam and make clucking sounds from the back of his throat. Zayn laughed and pushed Liam back with a palm to his forehead.

“You’re such a dork,” he said, voice shaking with laughter.

“I’m just...I’m so proud of you. Not that, uh,” Liam quickly shook his head as he righted himself, “not that you did it for me, or something, I just—”

“No, you were the main reason.”

Liam’s mouth flapped without words, his blinking eyes growing wider. He was unsure if Zayn actually said anything aloud. Maybe he just imagined Zayn’s reply, which flowed so easily out of his lips.

“You never tasted like an ashtray,” Liam said, wrapping his hand over Zayn’ on the sofa. “Never.”

“Yeah, well…” Zayn’s Adam’s apple bobbed, his gaze glued to Liam’s thumb as it gently traced each of his knuckles. “That’s good, I guess.”

“But you know what this means, don’t you?”

Zayn looked up.

“What?”

Liam curled his fingers into the bottom of Zayn’s tank. “We need to kiss, like, a lot. Right now.”

“Why?” Zayn asked, grinning.

“Because I need to find out what you taste like, of course.” Liam widened his eyes and crawled on top of Zayn’s hips, chuckling, “Doy.”

“You’re such an astounding loser. Who even says, ‘Doy,’ anymore?”

“And yet,” Liam cupped his sharp jawlines with both meaty palms, “you’re pulling me onto you.”

Zayn scoffed and relaxed on his back while gripping the center of Liam’s shirt. Liam nibbled the front of his throat, his gentle thumbs tracing to the back points of his jawline. Zayn held back a laugh but smirked before turning his face away.

Liam’s lips dragged through his stubble until he reached his mouth, his hot tongue tenderly parting Zayn’s lips. Their tongues touched and Zayn exhaled through his nose, his bare feet shifting on the sofa. Liam pulled back a half inch only to surge forward again, firmer, their lips opening wider. Zayn’s right hand slid up the back of Liam’s polo, his left hand gripping the juncture between his thigh and ass cheek. Liam rolled up against him and Zayn hummed, Liam moaning into his mouth.

“Oh,” Liam blurted out, breathless. “Shit. We should, um,” he glanced over both shoulders, “go in your room.” He licked his glossy lips, mild panic scrunching his brows. “I don’t want Louis to see.”

Zayn smoothed his palm up the fluttering muscles of Liam’s lower back.

“Relax. He’s not home.”

“Oh,” Liam said, a lot more relaxed. He settled on top of Zayn, who started sucking tiny kisses to his lips. “Where is he so early? Work?”

“He stayed at Harry’s last night.”

“Oh, did he? Finally,” Liam chuckled lightly and widened his eyes. “Phew. Glad that’s done with.”

He leaned in for a kiss, but Zayn’s lips went limp against his mouth. Zayn’s head recoiled on his neck, his eyes completely focused on Liam’s face. Liam’s eyes darted side to side to look anywhere but Zayn, his breath clicking in his chest. His limbs froze in an awkward jumble on top of Zayn, who was motionless.

The room took on a high, pinging frequency that rang in both of their ears. They could feel each other’s breaths, could smell each other’s skin, but it felt as if two strangers accidentally woke up on top of each other. An uncomfortable, stifling silence blanketed them, Liam’s jaw twitching and his teeth grinding behind his lips. Zayn’s eyes remained focused on him with laser beam sharpness, sweat beading on Liam’s brow.

Zayn murmured, “What did you just say?”

“Nothing.” Liam pushed himself up and reached for the remote. “You’re missing a good part of the—”

“Liam.”

“It’s nothing—”

Zayn took the remote out of his hand and threw it across the room. He straddled Liam in one swift motion, faster than it took for the remote to shatter on the floor and the batteries to bounce into the kitchen. Zayn held his face with both hands.

“You’re going to tell me why you said what you said,” he said, quiet and low. “Right now, Liam.”

Liam’s bottom lip twitched, his brows pinched so tight his forehead wrinkled.

“I didn’t mean anything by it, I swear.”

“You’re going to tell me why you said what you said,” Zayn repeated calmly over him. “Right now, Liam. You’re going to tell me right now.” Liam shook his head, his mouth trembling faster. Zayn coaxed, “Liam.”

“But, you’ll—” Liam shook his head. “You’ll never speak to me again.”

“That’s not true.”

“Please, I can explain.”

“So, explain. Shh, babe.” Zayn stroked Liam’s right cheek. Sweat prickled under the pads of his fingers. “It’s fine. Explain to me what you meant and I promise I’ll speak to you afterwards.” He cradled his face with both hands and leaned closer. “I promise, Li.”

“It’s just—” Liam sucked a quick breath in as his head shook, earnestness weighing down his eyes. Words tumbled from his lips. “I know you don’t like that we’re secret, that I’m not out, and I know we’ve only been seeing each other a month, and we’re not public, but I’ve never felt like this before. With anyone. We could really be something. I can change. I can make changes in myself, like you with the smoking, and I don’t want to fuck this up.”

“Liam,” Zayn said, voice dissipating over Liam’s face like smoke.

“It’s,” Liam started, swallowing again. “It was just a bet. Just a stupid bet.”

Zayn’s nostrils flared. A memory of a sketchbook flashed in his mind, scribbles in blue colored pencil standing out from crisp white sketch paper.

“A bet?”

“Louis fell asleep in Harry’s room after a party but they didn’t have sex. That, like, never happens with Harry, and Louis was pretty openly not into him. That also never happens. Chase bet Harry he couldn’t get Louis to sleep with him—he couldn’t get Louis to like him. So, Harry started trying to, you know, get Louis to like him. He had until Thanksgiving Break. That’s why I—” Liam’s eyes dropped to Zayn’s heaving chest. “That’s why I said, ‘Phew.’ Because I was relieved they finally hooked up and the whole thing was over. And, I mean, they both like each other now, Harry’s so into Louis it’s crazy, so it’s...It’s not a big deal, right?”

Zayn patiently listened to Liam struggle through each of his sentences. He nodded along, his stare fixed on the bobbing roundness of his stubbled Adam’s apple. How quickly the sound of someone’s sweet voice could turn to something rotten.

“Z?”

Zayn’s gaze rose from Liam’s bitten lips to his shimmering eyes. He held his stare for one heartbeat.

“Say something. Please,” his voice cracked, “you promised. You promised you’d say something if I explained.”

“I know. I did. I promised.”

“And?”

With their eyes locked, Zayn licked his inner top lip, then pressed his lips together to swallow.

“I never want to see to you again.”

Liam’s face fell. “Zayn—”

“I told you I’d speak to you after you explained and I have.” He swung himself off Liam’s lap, pushing his hands off his hips. “Now get out of my house.”

“Zayn—”

“I said get out of my house,” Zayn said, his volume rising.

Liam stood up, but held his hands out.

“I tried to tell them it was a bad idea. I promise, I did, right from the start. Harry would never hurt Louis, I promise, he—”

“Don’t fucking care,” Zayn said over him, shaking his head and bumping his chest to Liam’s. “You went along with a sick fucking bet against my best friend. We’re done here.”

“But—”

“Am I not being clear?” Zayn reached behind himself and grabbed Liam’s coffee. He hurled it at his chest, coffee exploding over Liam’s entire front. Liam gasped in shock and ran backwards. “Didn’t you hear me? Fucking leave!”

Liam shouted, “Zayn!” and dodged the shower of tea, ducking too late to miss an egg sandwich to the face.

. . .

Track: Swan Lake (Finale), The London Symphony as conducted by André Previn

AN: I played most of this track throughout this entire scene, so I’ve included some minute markers in brackets (ex: [1:30]) to indicate which part of the track I imagined for that part of the story.

Harry lost count of how many minutes he watched Louis’ back swell with breath. Louis still had his borrowed red jersey on, but the material had been hiked up to his shoulder blades in sleep, revealing a long stretch of curves.

Sunlight illuminated the tips of his barely-there body hair. It teased over the gentle dip of his lower back and warmed the tan skin on the backs of his shoulders. The blankets rested just above his ass, one of his legs bent and sticking out from the comforter.

Harry pressed his lips to the center of his spine, then whispered, “Heavy sleeper?” Louis did not reply, which was all the answer he needed. Harry brought himself level and wrapped an arm around Louis, Louis curling on his side and pulling his leg under the blanket. He pressed his face to the back of his hair. “Baby?”

“Mmm.”

“Do you have work soon?”

Louis breathed for a moment.

“No. Closing.”

“Ooh la la. Well, then.” Harry wiggled his hips slightly. “Wanna stay in bed a bit longer? I have a few hours until practice.”

“Yeah, obviously,” Louis barked as he yanked the blankets up to his shoulders. “It’s my one morning to sleep in. Shut up, would you?”

“God, you’re a grump in the morning.” Harry twirled his fingers through the back of Louis’ hair, fondness softening his raspy voice. “A real Grumpy Gus.”

Louis spun in bed and lifted himself high enough to peck Harry’s lips. He put on a smile and raised his voice to a sugary-sweet level, then cooed, “Good morning, my dearest darling. Did you sleep well?” He widened his sleepy eyes and laid a delicate hand on Harry’s cheek. His voice went even higher and more saccharine. “You did? Oh, how lovely. I’m ever so happy for you.” Louis batted his lashes. “How shall I please you today?”

“Now, if you could say that to me every morning for the rest of our lives, we’d be golden.”

Louis flopped down. Harry laughed and snagged him around the waist to pull him into a spoon, but Louis kicked at his feet.

“Aw, c’mon, grumpy,” Harry drawled, enveloping him from behind. Louis pulled the blankets up. Harry’s soft hands rubbed his stomach, his full lips brushing down his neck. “You’re too cute when you’re grumpy for me not to cuddle you half to death.”

“I’m not grumpy, you just don’t understand the value of sleep. Get a job.”

Harry kissed behind his ear. “You’re like an angsty teddy bear.”

“I’m not a teddy bear.”

Cabbage Patch?”

“Look in a mirror. You’ve got the hair and terrifying eyes, not me.”

“A Pound Puppy?”

Louis sputtered, “Ridiculous,” but sounded suspiciously close to laughing aloud.

“A Polly Pocket?” Harry teased his earlobe with a kitten lick, then whispered, “You’ve got the build for it.”

“That’s it.”

Louis spun and pinned Harry to the bed. Even before he started to prod his sides, Harry squealed the most boyish sounding laugh Louis had ever heard coupled with the sparkliest smile he’d ever seen.

“Tickle me all you want, I’m still gonna cuddle you.” Harry rolled Louis onto his back and blew on his neck, Louis flailing with hysterical machine-gun laughter. “Uh oh, Lou.”

Louis squirmed under him, his voice skyrocketing to say, “Harry!” as Harry blew another farting noise on his collarbone. Harry grinned, planting lazy kisses on the spots he had blown on. He slid off of Louis and propped his head up with one hand. Louis flopped his face in his direction, panting happily. “Do tickle fights qualify as soft stuff?”

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Harry said, gruff as if he was talking football. He ran his fingers through Louis’ bedhead. “Please prepare your study guides and academic schedule accordingly.”

Louis giggled, leaning into the heel of Harry’s hand. Harry came closer, his motions slow and smooth, their gazes locked. He joined their lips, Louis’ giggles quieting.

“You’re pretty cute in the morning, Styles.” Louis relaxed with his arms bent on his pillow. “Another...mmm...nice surprise.”

[1:21]

The room grew very still, even as Harry’s hand smoothed down Louis’ front and their lips gently sucked. Harry pushed his jersey higher on Louis’ ribs, revealing more of the soft divots of his abs.

“Look at this stomach. Just look at it.” Harry kissed his around navel, his mouth brushing warm skin to whisper, “Let’s take this off, yeah?”

Louis quietly replied, “Okay.” The room’s quiet seeped into his body, resulting in a pliant languorousness as he straightened his arms above his head. Harry eased the jersey up until it melted off his wrists and fell between the pillows and headboard. Harry’s kisses reached the crook of his neck. “Are you...smelling me again?”

Harry pressed his nose to Louis’ skin, inhaling deeply. Good sweat was usually fine enough on its own, but something about the chemical makeup of Louis’ molecules combined in such a way that Harry wanted to run his nose over every inch of him.

“Hells yeah,” Harry breathed.

“Why? I need a shower.” He nudged his toes to Harry’s shin. “Someone woke me up in the middle of the night and got me all sweaty again.”

“You always smell so good to me, even when you say you need a shower.” Harry tilted his head to grin. “And I don’t remember you complaining about sweat last night, though you were pretty vocal when I went for your ankles.”

“Who sucks an ankle? Who does that?”

Harry raised his hand and both chuckled. Louis tangled his fingers in his hair, lazily scratching his scalp. Harry pressed his face to the center of his chest, then rolled his face to the side. He slid his arm over Louis’ stomach, cradling his ribs.

Louis’ smile grew in the amount of time it took him to ask, “What? What’s up?”

Harry shook his head.

“Nothing.”

“What are you looking at?”

“Your face.”

“Why?”

“‘Cause you’re so damn gorgeous.”

“Come on, man, enough.” Louis laughed as he rolled away. “You already got laid.”

Harry gently held his shoulder, his eyes focused on his face.

“No, c’mon. I’m serious. It’s got nothing to do with getting laid. For the first time, it’s got nothing to do with getting laid.” He smoothed his palm to Louis’ chest, his touch ghosting over his nipple. “Although…” He leaned down and kissed his nipple wetly. “It you believe me…” He lapped at the dip of his throat, Louis starting to smile. “We can totally explore the whole, ‘getting laid,’ thing again.”

“Oh yeah, hot shot?”

Harry kissed him, flattening on top between his spread legs. “Hells yeah.” His hand slipped between their bodies. “I’d blow you, but I think you’d rather this, hm?”

Something about Harry’s low drawl brought that quiet, pleasurably calm back to Louis. He gasped against Harry’s mouth as a strong hand wrapped around his cock. He nodded weakly, Harry giving him a lopsided smirk before joining their lips.

Harry jerked Louis with one hand, his other hand cradling his face as they kissed. He guided Louis’ lips wider and licked into his mouth. Louis moaned and ground upwards, hugging Harry with his thighs.

[2:24]

“Hey,” Louis whispered.

“Mm?”

“Do you hear music?”

“Music? Like, in my head when we make out? ‘Cause I’ve been having that happen, but didn’t want to freak you out.”

“No,” Louis chuckled. “Trumpets.”

Harry lifted higher to ask, “Like the Jason Derulo song?”

“What? No, not like—”

Their kissing rhythm was interrupted by Harry’s attempt at trumpet sounds to the melody of Jason Derulo’s Trumpets. Louis started laughing, Harry grinding his hips to the shaky beat. Harry kissed down to his collar bone, huffing breaths against his skin.

[3:00]

“Actual trumpets,” Louis said, smiling wide. “Like, brass music.”

“The guys are probably watching a movie downstairs. We have an in-house cinema room.”

Louis’ arm wilted above his head. “I fucking hate football.”

“Shhh,” Harry said, holding one finger over Louis’ lips. He replaced his touch with his mouth, Louis’ crabbiness melting into a quiet groan. “Wanna jerk you off, Lou. You sound so good when you moan.”

Their kisses were so hot, so good, brimming with such skin melting heat, that neither noticed the growing chorus of deep laughter in the hallway [3:11] followed by a sudden silence [3:20].

As Louis whimpered and arched against him, and Harry breathily murmured, “Fuck, you’re hot when you make those noises,” the doorknob creaked. The theme of Swan Lake blared into the room at wall-shaking volume.

[3:24]

Louis opened his eyes in time to see a confetti cannon fired directly at Harry’s back. White feathers flew over the bed, showering their bare shoulders and getting tangled in their hair. The pounding music was marred by laughter from a wall of players, some holding marching band instruments and blowing through the mouthpieces.

Harry flattened on top of Louis as he glared over his shoulder, the feather-filled room moving in slow motion.

"Get the fuck out of my room," Harry shouted over the noise. He shook feathers out of his hair and hugged Louis with his thighs, holding the blankets tightly over them. "You hear me? Get out."

Chase smirked at the end of the bed with his arms crossed over his chest, then arched an eyebrow. "Did y'all have a nice night?"

Harry clenched his jaw and shook his head, but Chase’s face only glittered with more amusement, a sick sort of darkness clouding his eyes.

Louis stuttered, “What is—What is this?”

Harry put on a sly smile despite the turning of his stomach and gripped Louis’ cheeks, keeping himself over Louis’ naked middle. “Just go with it,” he whispered against his lips. “Please, just play a—”

Louis shoved his face away. “Ugh, get off of me. Go with—” The blankets started to be pulled down the bed. Louis gripped the comforter to cover himself, more feathers exploding in the air. Harry pulled the blankets up. “What the fuck is all this?”

Harry’s heart pounded in his throat and his hands shook. The falling feeling from the night before took on a whole new height and level of fear, his insides flopping upside down.

“Aw, they’re just teasing ya, babe,” he said as naturally as he could, shielding Louis with his body. He tried to meet Louis’ eyes. “Relax, baby, relax.”

“Psh,” Louis muttered and pushed Harry away. “Baby my fucking balls.”

Another explosion of feathers showered over them.

“They don’t mean any harm. Think of it like an initiation,” Harry said with an extra lazy drawl. He pointed both index fingers at the players, his eyes darting over Louis’ back as he searched over the edge of the bed. He hitched the blankets up to cover Louis' entire middle. “Y’all better behave yourselves and put those phones away. He’s a good one. Be nice to our guest. He’s a keeper.”

Louis squinted at Harry with feathers floating around his head, chants of Hu-go! echoing over the booming Tchaikovsky, and a beefy linebacker blowing a trumpet beside his ear.

“Are you fucking kidding me, Harry?”

Chase rounded the bed as Louis hurried to get dressed. Harry pushed himself up on his elbows, his hand reaching out towards Chase. He curled around Louis’ lower body, but Louis shoved him away.

“Now, you leave him alone, QB,” Harry warned as his chest heaved faster, his voice playful but his expression dead serious. “He’s being a good sport.”

Chase smiled innocently. “We’re just trying to celebrate the big win, Styles. I thought Swan Lake worked well for your little ballerina, don’t you?” Harry’s smooth grin faltered. He gave another tiny, near invisible head shake and Chase laughed aloud, delighted. He clapped his hands. “Oh, you haven’t told him yet?”

[4:09]

Chase tapped the screen of his phone. The sound of muffled moans and shouts buzzed over Swan Lake. Harry’s jawline clenched while Louis stared at the ground, both motionless. Louis’ voice clearly cried Harry’s name over and over, his every ecstatic breath picked up on the recording. Harry watched a visible shiver run up Louis’ back.

“You seemed to enjoy him last night, Tomlinson.” Chase laughed along with all the other players. “Shit. Listen to that! Who knew you’d be such a slut for it?”

“That's enough,” Harry said firmly. "You're being rude, Headley. Cut the shit. That's fucking creepy."

Louis pulled his jeans up. “Is this whole display supposed to make me feel bad? The fact that I had sex with the captain of your football team?” He zipped his pants and pushed Chase’s phone out of his face. “Get out of my way, please.” He picked up his shoes. “You’ve all got too much time on your hands. You’re sick.” His stare drilled into Harry. “All of you.”

[4:28]

Harry said, “Louis,” as his eyes darted around the room of players, all of them watching his every move. The line between cool, team leader and decent human was becoming muddied beyond repair. Priorities were being jostled and shattered. Harry picked up his boxers and hurried to put them on. “C’mon, Lou, relax.”

“Yeah, Lou, relax,” Chase drawled in a deepened Southern accent. He threw his arm around Louis’ shoulders and spun him back towards the bed. “Might be time to revive the old team Snappy-Chatty, what do you think, Lou?”

[4:43]

Louis saw a split second of the photo on Chase’s screen. A familiar arched back led to a familiar round ass. There was just enough of his eighteen year old profile to be identifiable, but he didn’t need much to identify himself in a photo that was forever burned into his brain.

He fell half forward and gripped the footboard of the bed on the way down. The crack in his armor had been located, zoned-in on, and impaled by a twenty foot steel sword. Chants of “Ang-ry twink!” and “Lain-ey Bogg!” pounded in his muffled ear drums. Time seemed to slow, feathers seemed to freeze in the air, and sound repeated endlessly in his brain.

He thought he heard Harry shouting, “Louis? Fuck—Get out of my—Louis!” in the distance, but his brain was too busy weeping over the loss of Tchaikovsky to filter Harry’s voice into the mix.

It was theatrical, almost operatic, how things were executed, but he was not enjoying a drama from the audience or helping a dancer change her costume. He was the star of a production he had no desire of being a part of. It was a cruel twist on the recurring nightmare performers had about being dropped into a show they’ve never heard of and never rehearsed.

How could he ever enjoy Swan Lake again after the last four minutes of his life? A rich athlete ruined casual sex and his childhood reputation when he was eighteen. Now, at age twenty-one, a wealthier, better athlete ruined his favorite ballet, his favorite composer, his collegiate reputation, and any ounce of rebuilt sexual confidence he had established.

“Fuck this,” Louis grit through his teeth.

He looked forward through hazy eyes and found Ryan and Eric stood in the doorway. They were sweaty and had on workout gear with headphones hanging over their shoulders, true shock written all over their faces. They were not present for the big event. He saw Ryan’s lips say, “What the fuck, man?” as he reached out.

[5:09]

Louis clasped their outstretched hands and ducked his head down in time for another pop of feathers to fire at his back. Both Ryan and Eric closed in on either side of him, using their arms to push players out of the way.

[5:14]

Harry got to the end of the bed. He saw a half second of the photo on Chase’s phone and his hand shot out. The phone flew across the room and shattered against the wall.

“Have you lost your fucking mind, Headley!? What’s the matter with you!?”

[5:21]

Chase shoved Harry. “Dick! That was my fucking phone!”

“That wasn’t part of the bet, you sick fuck! None of this was! Are you really that bitter that I fucked him and I won?”

Track: Radiohead - No Surprises

The room went silent and slow to Harry, even though the crowd continued to hoot and holler and blow air through their band instruments. Harry opened his mouth but no sound came out. He could hear himself gasping breaths in, could hear his heart pounding in his ears, could feel feathers pooling at his feet, could see Louis standing in the doorway.

Louis stared at him with delicate white feathers swirling around his head. The skin of his face was gray, as if he was made of ash and gently crumbling to a pile on the floor. His knuckles were white, gripping both sides of the doorway. His body was straight, but sunken forward at the hips, as if his shoulders were struggling to maintain his normally perfect posture.

His eyes were the worst. Wet. Electric blue even amidst trauma. Shocked. Stunned. Disappointed. So, so disappointed, his eyes twitching as they stared.

Harry breathed, “Lou.”

He had lost him. All of their building blocks were gone. All of it. Soft stuff. Kissing under the golden tree. Campfire air. Balcony scenes. Sushi in bed. Bickering without heat. Bantering with heat. Body heat so hot that there was no boiling point.

All of it disappeared in the five seconds it took for him to blurt out the absolute wrong thing at the absolute wrong time. Five seconds. Gone. Football bouncing off the field goal in overtime. Career-ending spinal injury. Done.

They held their stare for one more breath, then Louis turned away.

Harry could dodge bodies on the field and dance his way to the end zone, but getting to Louis was like jogging in quicksand. Louis seemed to levitate, always two steps ahead of him as he pushed through the packed top floor.

“Shit, did you get that on tape?” a player laughed to another player.

Harry gripped both of their phones and spiked them into the ground. “Why did you all even do this? Am I not your captain!?” he shouted over their gasps of annoyance. A few players stepped aside, discomfort starting to dull the energy in the room. “Turn that fucking music off!” The music stopped immediately, as did the band instruments. Harry looked from player to player. “He’s right. You’re all fucking sick. What did he ever do to you to deserve this?”

“Chase told us he wrote an article that’s going to take away our scholarships,” a player said with a cocky snort. “He had this coming...Um...” Harry loomed over him, his fury only growing. The player squeaked, “R-Right?”

“What are you even talking about? Louis has nothing to do with scholarships! Nothing! Why did you believe that?”

The players all exchanged confused looks. Chase appeared in front of him, snickering with his arms crossed over his chest.

“Damn, Styles. We’re your teammates. Your brothers. All this fuss for a mouthy bitch?”

“You get the fuck out of my way.” Harry shoved past him. Chase held onto his forearm and Harry spun, pulling his arm away. “Get away from me, Headley, I swear to you. You didn’t have to do that to him. He had nothing to do with this!”

Chase gripped his shoulders, his snickered laughs never ceasing. “It was too easy, Styles. A couple of free game tickets for a friend of a friend who coughed up just what I needed. God, you’re stupid to have not seen this coming.”

“What are you talking about?”

Chase’s fingers dug into Harry’s skin. “You never gave a shit about the bet. You had nothing really to lose. And you might be an untouchable rich boy, but he isn’t. For a bet to work, you need something that you don’t want to lose. You like him, you might even love him, and you made it easy. So easy.”

Harry’s hot breaths huffed unevenly out of his nose.

“But, why? Why do you care if I love him? What’s in this for you?”

“I couldn’t let you win it all, man. The bet and him? Nope.” Chase narrowed his eyes. “Sorry, Silver Spoon. The great Harry Styles can’t win at everything.”

“You’re disgusting,” Harry spat and shoved past him.

Chase started a slow clap while Harry ran down the hall. “Look, boys. Hugo is going after his high school porn star boyfriend.” He laughed gruffly. “Well, actually, his soon to be college porn star boyfriend, once that photo leaks to the right people.”

Harry spun and charged at him as if they were on the field. His shoulder connected with Chase’s middle, propelling Chase backwards into the wall. The sheetrock dented behind his back. Harry lifted his his upper body and swung his right arm, his fist crunching into Chase’s nose.

“Fuck, Styles!” Chase cried out and fell onto the ground. Blood poured down his face from behind his hand. “What the fuck!?”

Harry got on his knees and gripped the straps of Chase’s tank top, heaving him upwards. Blood sprayed from Chase’s panted breaths onto Harry’s chin, but Harry only pulled him closer, their eyes locked as he growled lowly.

“If you do anything with that photo, anything, I will sue you with every cent in my trust fund and please believe me when I say my trust fund is endless. I will use every ounce of pull my family name holds to bury you in the fucking ground will take great pleasure in making sure you never step on a football field ever again. We’ve all put up with your bullshit for long enough. You’ve gone too far this time.” Harry released him, letting Chase’s head smack against the wall. “We’re done, Headley.”

“I should sue you, you fuck!” Chase shouted, blood dripping over his lips and coloring his teeth dark red. “You broke my fucking nose! And everyone saw!” He looked around the football players. The players glanced at each other, then milled away, turning from the scene while whistling or looking at their phones. Chase squeaked, “Guys!? C’mon, back me up, here! He broke my goddamn nose!”

Harry said, “Call my lawyer,” over his shoulder as he ran down the stairs at full speed. He got outside and saw Louis running in the distance. He was already two blocks away. His shoes dangled from his fingers, his shirt on inside out and his jeans pushed up unevenly on his ankles.

“Louis!”

The concrete cut into Harry’s bare feet and the morning air nipped at his skin, but he pushed until he was mere inches behind Louis.

“Louis, please! Let me explain!”

Louis slowed his stride and Harry gasped in relief, but his relief was short lived. Louis turned and threw his shoes on the ground. Harry stumbled to jump over them with flailing legs.

“Louis, I’m—”

Louis held his flexed palm towards Harry. “We’re done. I never want to see you or speak to you again. You’re a monster and I’m ashamed to have ever given you the time of day.”

Harry panted, “Please don’t say that. I—” He held his cramping side, his body swaying forward. “Sorry, just—Out of breath and—” He stood up straighter but still cradled his stomach. “I tried to-to make it better. To make it not a big thing. I tried tell you to play along because I thought they would—”

Louis backed away from him.

“Play along? Play along? Do you have any idea how terrifying it is to be naked, in a bed, with an army of football players staring at you and taunting you? Taking pictures? Laughing? Pulling the blankets off? I weigh a hundred and fifty fucking pounds, Harry! I thought I was gonna die in there.”

“They weren’t going to do anything, though. I was there and—”

Louis narrowed his gaze and quirked his head. “Were you there? I couldn’t tell. And what did you think I was going to do? I wasn’t thinking to play along with your fucking football sex god routine so you could save face in front of them!”

“But—”

“Oh! And you made a bet about having sex with me. Let’s not forget that. I was a joke to you and your entire team.” Louis laughed with no humor in his voice and crossed his arms over his chest. “Right, so, I should have played along with whatever sick initiation you claim is the norm so I could, what, be humiliated by the bet reveal five minutes later? That was the goal?”

“No, no goal. No, Louis, please, I didn’t know they were going to do any of that, I swear to you. And the bet—Please, let me explain.”

“You didn’t know this morning would happen,” Louis stated, unconvinced.

“No, I promise,” Harry said with his hand over his heart. He shook his head, swallowing to clear the scratchiness from his throat. “They’ve done stupid shit before, like the”—he swirled his shaking hands—“like the marching band in the bedroom thing when I’ve fucked someone new, but never without them giving me a heads up. Never so huge. Never the pictures. Never—” Harry shook his head rapidly. “No. It’s not supposed to be that way. Today was all Chase’s doing and I had no idea it was going to happen.”

Louis licked his top lip, nodding along with Harry’s explanation.

“Done?”

“Done?” Harry asked.

“Done with your explanation?”

Harry took a step closer. “No, I have so much more I need to say, Lou. I’m so sorry, I—”

“Right, so, I don’t believe you,” Louis said, ticking a finger and stepping away from him. Harry’s face fell, his arms outstretched. “That’s first. Second,” he ticked his middle finger, “I feel so, so sorry for any other person you’ve ever had in your bedroom.”

“Louis, please—”

“Please what, Harry?” Louis’ fists balled at his sides, his voice growing louder. “You think I didn’t hear them chanting angry twink? You think I didn’t hear them chanting Laney—fucking—Boggs? How stupid do you think I am? I know it was you who said those things about me! How else would they have thought of it!?”

“No, it—”

“Deny it. Deny it right now that you ever called me an angry twink.”

“I…” Harry’s lips trembled open, his eyes squinting tighter. “When I…”

“You can’t deny it because it’s true,” Louis said calmly, his fists relaxing. He snorted. “Jesus Christ. I don’t know why I even bothered with you.”

“Lou,” harry said, his voice cracking. “I—” His body swayed closer, the morning chill sending shivers over his bare skin. “Please, just let me explain. It’s not—It’s not so clean cut.” He wrapped his hand around Louis’ bicep. “In the beginning, I was a complete—”

Louis shoved Harry’s hand off. “You get your hands off of me right the fuck now. You’d better not lay a single finger on me, Harry Styles, I swear to you.”

“If you would just let me explain,” Harry said, his voice shaking. “Please, just let me explain! You keep cutting me off.”

“Because I don’t want to hear it.” Louis’ face crumpled for a half second, only to be masked by a stern, neutral expression. He started to jog. “I can’t even stand to look at you right now. What a fucking disappointment.”

“Please stop running.” Harry’s bare feet ached from the cold, rough cement, and his stride was unsteady. “Please talk to me. I’m begging you.”

“Fuck off.”

“It was just a stupid sex bet,” Harry insisted as he ran. His stomach ballooned outwards—his boxers barely held on to his lower hips. “It was a bet about sleeping with you because you rejected me after that party. That’s it.”

“That’s it,” Louis repeated, slowing his stride. He faced Harry with his hands on his hips. “That’s it? That’s it?”

“It doesn’t change how you and I feel about each other. Not at all. If you’d just accept my apology, we can—”

Louis stretched his arms out to the sky before roaring, “I told you about what happened to me! I told you that I was humiliated and shamed for something I had no control over!” His volume decreased, though his furious stare held Harry frozen in place. “I told you something personal, something painful, about myself and you fucking blabbed to your frat boy friends.”

“But I didn’t. I promise you, I never said a thing to anyone about it!”

“You told them,” Louis said over him, his voice low, “and they found the pictures and you let them do the exact same thing to me this morning.” Slower and softer, he repeated, “The exact same thing, Harry. What a fucking hilarious bet. What a great display of fraternal unity and the ‘Boys will be boys’ mentality at its finest.”

“It wasn’t part of—”

“I thought I was—I—” Louis’ gaze dropped as he swayed on his heels. “I thought I was about to have a panic attack. And all you could do was fucking sit there.” He looked at Harry with his eyes narrowed. “Smug. King of the goddamn universe. You took their side, not mine. That tells me all I need to know about how you think we feel about each other.”

Harry shrugged and held his palms out. “I was—I was trying to keep the peace. That’s it. We’ve got a game on national television tomorrow, and I was trying to keep the team together.”

Louis laughed, “I don’t care about your peace or your team, Harry! Are you fucking kidding me? I’m supposed to go along with this just because you have a big game?”

“I’m just trying to explain why I didn’t immediately jump to—”

“You know what? Good thing this happened now, because I’m not fucking built for this. I am not built for the subservient, supportive partner role while you do whatever the fuck you want. I will not stand by and smile and pretend.”

Harry’s head shook rapidly. “I don’t want you to do that and I never said you needed to do that!”

“You just said you wanted me to play along for the sake of the team. So, I was supposed to just take it? Just take being used, lied to, humiliated, intimidated, and laughed at? Why? Why would I ever do that for someone who lied to my face for weeks?”

Harry reached for Louis’ hands. “I swear to you, baby, I swear to you. Everything I said to you—everything I said last night—was true and today was not my doing.”

Louis lifted his arms. “Get away from me.”

“I didn’t tell them about the pictures and I didn’t know any of that—”

“Oh my God.” Louis barked a laugh and turned away. He rested his hands behind his head, staring at the sun. He breathed for a moment, his back heaving. He whispered, “You’re...You can’t even assume any responsibility for this.” He looked at Harry over his shoulder. “Though, in the essence of honesty, I should have known this would happen. I did know. I never should have fucked with you.”

The cold had started to numb Harry’s skin, his body shivering uncontrollably.

“What are you talking about? What did you know?”

Louis wilted, his hands hanging at his sides. “The bet, Harry. I knew about your stupid fucking bet.”

Harry recoiled as if he was slapped. The Tectonic plates beneath his feet seemed to experience a hard switch to jolt him in place. The cold that had prickled his whole body rapidly changed to heat, then back to cold. He took one step closer.

“How?” he asked, his voice crawling out of his throat. “How did you know?”

“I was tipped off early on.”

“Tipped off? How? Who? How did you—”

“It doesn’t matter,” Louis said, sounding drained. “It doesn’t fucking matter.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

Louis clenched his hands at his sides as he breathed in, then exhaled and shrugged, a sad sort of smile lifting the corners of his mouth.

“Because I wanted you to tell me yourself. Because I had faith in you. Because I thought you were a good person under all the bullshit. I thought you just needed some time to work up the nerve and tell me like all your other stories, but now I know the truth: There is no truth with you. Now I know that they were just stories. Fake.”

“No,” Harry gasped, his body shrinking with each of Louis’ statements. “No, it wasn’t fake.”

“You’ve probably never seen a block party—”

“No, Lou,” Harry interrupted.

“Or had a fucking puppy named TD. What a sob story you concocted.”

Harry inhaled sharply, his eyes wet. “No, that’s—They were real. They’re true. I’m not lying about any of it and I—I told you things I never told anyone. Ever.”

“Funny, so did I, but you weren’t the one covered in pig’s blood this morning.” Louis punched the center of his own chest. “I was.”

Prickles of heat in the corners of Harry’s eyes morphed into thin tears trickling down his cheeks.

“And I’m sorry, I’m so sorry for that. For all of this. We’re—” Louis turned his back on him and Harry reached out. “Louis, please—”

“Away,” Louis said as he spun. “Get away from me, Styles. You keep your fucking distance.”

“They weren’t stories,” Harry said with his hands raised by his head. “It’s all true. Everything I told you was true.”

“I highly doubt that. I bet you even lied about bottoming. You really dug deep to sell this shit.”

Harry’s head recoiled on his head, horror scrunching his face. “No. No, I didn’t lie about that. You were my-my first.”

Louis whispered, “I gave you an out, Styles. I gave you multiple outs, but you—You started being—” He pointed at Harry, his hand shaking. “You’re the one who started the soul sharing and feelings and promises and declarations. You. You said those things first, Harry, not me. You didn’t have to say all that to get me to sleep with you—to win your fucking bet. You took it to a whole other level of sick and that is why I’m done. I am done with you.”

“Lou—”

“We’re done.”

Louis jogged to the end of the block, Harry jogging right beside him. Some of the students in nearby homes had started to peek curiously out their front doors as the fight extended down the street.

“I said it because I meant it,” Harry said breathily. “Because I want that with you. I want to be with you.” His words tumbled faster from his lips as his feet sped up, his hands cradling the air in front of his chest. “Why aren’t you getting that? Why don’t you believe me!?”

“Why don’t I believe you? Why?” Louis stopped running and brought them toe to toe. “Were you blacked out for the last ten minutes?”

“I know all that happened, but I’m trying to—to understand all this.”

“There’s nothing to understand. We’re done.”

“I just—I just wish you would have told me you knew. This might have gone differently.”

“You wish I would have told you that I knew about your sick bet that involved me?” Louis laughed. “I can’t. I can’t believe it. You are still—even after everything, even after we fucked each other and I’ve got feathers in my hair from your fucking frat brothers—you’re still unable to take responsibility. You’re blaming me for your bet and your fucked up frat’s behavior.”

“I’m not blaming you.”

“You are, Harry! You’re trying to push this off as if it’s my fault for not telling you I knew.”

“I’m not!”

“You are.”

“You fucked me,” Harry whispered, his hands clenched at his sides. “You went along with it. You—You were good to me. So good to me. Why? Were you—Why, if you knew about the bet, were you like that with me? Why? I don’t fucking get it, Lou, I don’t.”

“God, Harry, are you really as dim as you pretend to be? I like you,” Louis said, exasperated. “I mean, I—I liked you. That’s why I went along with it. I wanted you and I wanted to be with you. I knew you made a bet, but I didn’t know details. I thought it might be something stupid or sex related, and I wouldn’t have been that mad if—Actually, fuck that.” He dismissively flicked his fingers. “I would have been mad about the terms of the bet even if you told me before we slept together. It’s disgusting enough to make a bet about sleeping with someone, but after this morning—”

“This morning wasn’t my fault!”

Louis held his palms out. “I don’t want to hear it.”

“Well, I think you fucking should. You like me and I like you. Stop being so stubborn and let me explain myself!”

Louis drawled over him, “Oh, fuck you for calling me stubborn right now. Just fuck you.”

“No, not fuck me. Listen to me, just fucking listen to me.”

Louis raised himself on the balls of his feet, Harry glaring down at him. “Why should I? Why should I listen to a thing you say? You’re a liar.”

“I’m not a liar! I just—I just didn’t get a chance to tell you about the bet.”

“Oh,” Louis laughed, turning away. “Convenient. Convenient timing. Plenty of time for puppy stories and anal, but no time for a quick chat about a bet.”

Harry ran around him to jog backwards. “I care about you. I care about you the most. Soft stuff. I want our soft stuff. Together,” he said quickly, walking faster, desperation weakening his voice. “Just with you. Please—Please, Lou, I—I want it all with you. I want to be—”

“You can’t always get what you want, you spoiled fuck. Now get out of my way.”

Harry stepped towards him.

“Louis, I—”

Louis’ hands lifted to face height with his arms spread. He danced away like a boxer in the ring.

“Get away from me, Harry. I already told you to get away from me.”

Harry reached for his nearest floating hand. “If you’d just let me apologize, we could—”

Louis spun to push him away but Harry was closer than he anticipated. His elbow accidentally connected with the tender, thin bone just beneath Harry’s left eye. Harry cried out and cradled his face, bending forward and stumbling.

“Oh my—Oh my God, Harry!”

Louis tried to hold him upright, but Harry fell onto his outer thigh. Louis got down to his knees and landed hard on his ass. Harry’s head ended up on his thighs, his long body sprawled like a broken doll with his hands shielding his face.

“Shit, I’m so sorry, are you—Your hands—The game on Wednesday—Your—” He held Harry’s head steady, though his eyes darted all over his body. “Even your feet are all scraped up. Are you gonna—” He cradled his cheek with one hand, his other hand flat behind Harry’s neck. “It was an accident. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to—”

Harry lifted his hands and Louis gasped. Harry’s eyelid and cheekbone had already started to blow up and swell shut.

“Fuck, Harry, oh fuck.” Louis’ eyes trembled half shut, his body shaking. “I’ve never hit someone in my life. I’m sorry, oh fuck, I’m sorry!”

“I know you didn’t mean it and it’s my fault,” Harry rasped over him. “I should have stayed back. It’s my fault.”

“No, it’s not. I shouldn’t have—”

“Don’t blame yourself. It was an accident and I should have listened to you. Fuck, I’m sorry. I deserve it. I’m so sorry. Please.” He curled his fingers in the bottom of Louis’ tee. “Please, Lou. You have to believe me. Please believe me.” Louis nodded along with his rambling, his breaths stuttering unevenly. The sight of his small nod made Harry’s chest rise faster. He tightened his hold on the thin material of Louis’ shirt. “You—You believe me?”

Louis stared at him for a long moment. The wind whirled through the leaves of trees that lined the street, lending a hissing sound to the silence that stretched between them. Louis was close enough for Harry to feel his warm, puffed breaths on his mouth, Louis’ fingertips massaging the back of Harry’s head.

Gently, Louis whispered, “The thing is...I don’t. I don’t believe you.”

“Louis, please.” Harry’s face crumpled, even with Louis still cradling his cheek. He turned his face to bury it in Louis’ stomach. “Please believe me. Please!”

Louis looked towards the frat house as he stroked Harry’s wet, hot cheekbone.

“I believed you last night. I believed you when you said you—You wanted me. And you cared about me. I felt it,” he said even softer, almost confusedly. “It felt true. My gut is almost always right.” Hot tears slid under the pads of his fingers, his own eyes pouring tears down his cheeks. He looked down at Harry and shook his head. “But my gut was wrong. It was so, so wrong.”

“No, it wasn’t,” Harry said, grasping his forearm. “It was right because it’s true. I want you. I love—”

Louis’ neck quirked painfully to look down at him. “You don’t fucking love me, Harry,” he spat. A puff of white feathers flew off his hair. “You don’t let something like this morning happen to someone you love. You just don’t.”

Harry felt as if he was saying the same thing over and over, but his brain could not find another way to make Louis believe him. It was the most helpless, out of control feeling he’d ever experienced in his life. He was telling the truth, but nothing seemed to make Louis understand, as if he was speaking another language completely.

“But it wasn’t my fault,” Harry said quietly, his voice hoarse.

“Even if I believed you now, even if I believed what you said last night, how am I supposed to ever trust you again when the one time I trusted you the most, I was completely wrong?”

“But you weren’t wrong,” Harry said as he sniffled, dabbing his swollen eye with the back of his hand. “You weren’t. I—I need to fix this.”

“Fix this? You can’t.”

“Tell me how.”

“I don’t have a quick fix for erasing slut shaming, bullying, homophobia, and the undeserved societal power of white male athletes, plus I’m not your fucking tutor anymore. Figure your own shit out.”

“But I’m just trying to—”

Louis interrupted, “You know, I almost feel bad for you, even after everything that just happened.” He eased Harry off of his thighs, Harry’s hands clenching in his tee. “I know who I am. I am who I am, and I can’t be anything other than me. But, you? You were able to be you—your actual self—with me and I liked you for it. I liked you. The real you. That’s an intoxicating kind of freedom, but now? It’s over. It’s done.”

“It doesn’t have to be.”

Louis plucked a feather out of Harry’s hair, then watched it float off his fingers. He smiled down at him with tight, wobbling lips.

“Bye, Hugo.”

“Louis, p-please don’t.”

Louis took off with the stride of a sprinter, leaving a flurry of feathers in his path. Pain settled into Harry’s skull, hot tears stinging his skin. He watched Louis disappear around a corner then whimpered as he lowered himself on his back. The cold concrete bit into his skin, his shivers multiplying. He hid his face with his hands, ignoring the curious stares of nearby frats and sororities that had emptied onto their lawns.

“Hey, man.”

Harry looked up. Liam stood above him. He blinked, but only his right eyelid moved, his left already swollen shut.

“Is that…” He squinted. “Egg on your face?”

Liam brushed his hand through his hair. “It’s been a bad morning.”

Harry exhaled a laugh, the sound as watery as the tears pooled below his eyes.

“I know how you feel.”

Chapter Text

Louis unlocked the door to his apartment and Zayn was on him before the door was even fully opened. He sighed into his smoke-scented shirt as they hugged. The door creaked shut and bumped into Louis’ butt, but they continued hugging.

“Thank you for the calls,” Louis whispered. Zayn softly kissed his temple and Louis sighed again. “Sorry I didn’t answer sooner. My phone was off.”

Zayn swayed them, his hand cradling the back of Louis’ neck. “Want me to cover your shift?”

“No.”

“You should rest.”

“I’m just gonna shower and go to work.”

Zayn pulled back, but kept his hand in Louis’ feather filled hair.

“You’re closing tonight. Why would you go in now? It’s so early.”

“I’ll send the day shift people home with pay so they can start their break. I can do a longer shift.”

“Lou,” Zayn said carefully. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“I just don’t want to think. Work will keep my mind off of it.”

Zayn took in Louis’ outfit and bare feet. “What…” He cradled his jawline as he clenched his teeth. “What happened?” He saw Louis’ toes curl into the ground. “What the fuck happened?”

“I don’t want to talk about it. Not now. I just want to shower and...” Louis stepped over a puddle of cold coffee. “What happened here?”

i

He looked at Zayn, who was slowly licking the inside of his top lip. Zayn opened their junk drawer and pulled out a crumpled pack of cigarettes.

“Nothing.” He slid a cigarette behind his ear and popped another between his lips. “A mistake. That’s all.” He thumbed towards the window. “I’m gonna smoke quick, then I’ll come with you to work.”

“Why?”

Zayn’s cigarette bobbed as he said, “Because the holidays aren’t shitty enough without making nonstop S’mores Frappucinos.”

. . .

Going into worked proved to be just the trick to take Louis’ mind off of the living nightmare that was his morning. His stress level made him more cheerful than ever. He offered customers joyous holiday greetings and even started to draw hand turkeys on their cups.

“Take care, Lou,” one of his regulars, Cass, said as she dropped a ten dollar bill in the tip mug. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“Thanks, same to you,” Louis said with a wave.

Zayn placed a red cup on the counter and said, “Skim vanilla latte for Derrick.” A man came up and retrieved his drink. Zayn wiped his hands on his green apron and leaned his hip next to Louis. “I’m gonna take my ten. That okay?”

“Yeah, sure.” Louis opened a carton of half and half. “It’s slow tonight.”

“Cool.”

Zayn disappeared into the back room with a cigarette already between his lips. Louis went to the milk station and wiped it down, along with refilling the pitchers. He walked around the counter and replaced the half and half in the fridge. Someone cleared their throat behind him.

“Oh, sorry, sir.” He stood and turned. “What can I—” His lips closed, his nostrils flaring. “You.”

Liam clasped his hands in front of himself and stepped up to the register. “Hi,” he said shakily. “Look, Louis—”

“You know, I’m kind of over people saying my name and expecting me to listen to whatever bullshit they’re about to say.”

“Harry doesn’t know I’m here. He’s been stuck at practice all day. Coach extended practice ‘cause of the game tomorrow and Harry’s a captain, so he had to stay.”

“I couldn't give a shit what Harry knows or doesn’t know.”

“I just...I wanted to talk to you.”

“I don’t want to talk to you.”

Liam rubbed his hand over his eyes, words tumbling out of his mouth like a man in a confession booth. “This whole thing got...It’s a mess. I’m so, so sorry about everything.” He squinted, his bottom lip trembling. “I tried to make them stop the bet. I promise you I tried.”

“The bet was the least of the issue,” Louis said tightly. He tapped his fingernails on the counter. “What do you want to drink?”

“And it’s not all Harry’s fault,” Liam said over him. “Not entirely. The bet, yeah, we both knew about, but this morning—”

"Grande Pike Place?" Louis asked with a smile. He moved with ease to grab a fresh cup, all while his eyes were locked with Liam. "Black? No sugar? Great. Coming right up."

Louis turned and went to the coffee, Liam chattering quietly behind him.

"Harry didn't mean to have this happen. I swear to you, it was all Chase being Chase. He lied to the players to get them to help him. He’s just jealous of Harry and you were, unfortunately, the one who suffered the brunt of—”

Louis held his palm out to Liam.

"Enough."

"But—"

“But nothing.” He pushed the cup of coffee into Liam’s chest. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

Liam took his coffee and cradled it with both hands. He stepped back from the counter, then paused.

“I know Zayn isn’t going to want to hear it, but...” His eyes rose to the camera above the register. “I love him. I’m more sorry than I will ever be about anything. Ever. And there will be tickets at the box office for him. He said he was going to come before…” Liam dropped his gaze and sucked on his lips for a moment. “Before all this all went down.”

“I can’t say for sure, but I’m going to guess those tickets will go untouched, pal.”

Liam nodded slowly. “Yeah. I figured.” He looked up at the camera once more. “I’m just really sorry. About everything. I think…” He looked to Louis. “I think Zayn and me, and you and Harry, we all…” He smiled, but sadness weighed down his eyes. “It could have been something great for all of us.” He lifted his cup. “Happy Thanksgiving, Lou. Thanks for the coffee.”

He watched Liam walk towards the door. Liam held the door open for an employee named Angela, then popped his jacket collar up to his chin before he went out into the blustery night.

As Angela settled at the register, Louis stuck his head through the backroom door. He saw Zayn staring at the security feed, one hand clasped over his mouth and an arm wrapped around his stomach. No wonder Liam kept directing statements at the cameras.

“Hi,” Louis said quietly.

Zayn’ head snapped towards him.

“What? I mean, yeah. Hi.”

Louis gave him a half smirk.

“Angela just got back. Wanna go to Chipotle?”

They bundled up and walked through the shopping center parking lot. They ordered their food to-go and went back to Starbucks. They sat on the curb behind the store. Zayn lit a cigarette.

“I thought you quit?” Louis poised his burrito at his mouth. “You’ve been like a chimney all day.”

“Temporary insanity.”

Louis chewed and stepped on his left Van with his right foot. “So,” he said before taking another bite. Sour cream dribbled on his wrist. “I’m guessing you saw Liam came by.”

Zayn stabbed his guacamole with a chip.

“Yeah.”

Louis licked his wrist. He kept his gaze fixed on Zayn’s profile as he ate. A car honked in the distance, something rustling in a nearby dumpster. Zayn bit a guacamole covered chip, then huffed a soft sound out of his nose. He swallowed and lifted his cigarette.

“I started fucking Liam because I wanted to know what was up with Harry,” Zayn said, quiet and low. Louis nodded while he chewed. “And...he’s hot, you know, so...It was enjoyable in a basic, sexual way. But then I…” Zayn sucked a slow drag with his fingers pinched around the end of his ashing cigarette. He flicked ash off. “I started to kind of…” His face dropped, his lips tight. He bit the corner of his mouth. “I started to like him.” He barked a weak laugh as he brought his cigarette to his lips. “I’m a fucking idiot.”

Louis squeezed Zayn’s shoulder.

“Just because Harry’s an asshole doesn’t mean you can’t still see Liam if you like him.”

Zayn blew smoke out on one big breath. “He was associated with their bet.”

“Yeah, but—And seriously, I love you.” Louis hugged him to his side as Zayn stared straight ahead. “I love that you’ve got my back.”

“Ride or die, man.”

“Ride or die. But if you like Liam, I don’t think you should blame him for Harry’s actions. He seems to be really, really into you.”

“Yeah, well, according to Liam’s hysterical explanation this morning, Harry actually likes you and was going to tell you about the bet.”

Louis released his hug. “I find that hard to believe.”

“So, I should forgive Liam but you shouldn’t forgive Harry?”

“I don’t see Harry here. I don’t see Harry coming to me and apologizing.” He dragged the toe of his shoe through the smears of dry dirt on the concrete. “I’m sure he’s balls deep right now in some booster club organized orgy with people who are only too happy to lick his wounds.”

“Liam said he’s at practice.”

“Whatever.”

“I thought you two had a street fight and he apologized, like, a hundred times?”

“You say it like I was Chun-Li,” Louis said, his voice melting to a quiet laugh. “He would have said anything in that moment. He was floundering.”

“But he ran after you in his underwear, man. I saw a picture of his junk on Deadspin when he was sprawled out on the ground. He looked rough.”

Louis’ eyes widened. “There’s a picture of his junk on Deadspin?”

“In boxers, but yeah. Visible.”

Louis took Zayn’s cigarette and brought it to his lips, his lungs stuttering as he inhaled.

“Whatever,” he coughed. “I don’t care. He...I don’t know. I don’t know what to believe. It just…” He inhaled, then blew smoke out on a quick, smooth stream. “It just would have been nice if, for once, someone I fell for actually...actually supported me. Was in my corner. The bet was one thing and it’s gross as fuck, but him just...not taking my side in his room with all those...with everything.” He shook his head. “Nope.”

Zayn nudged their knees together. “You fell for him?”

Loui licked the ridge of his bottom teeth. He took another drag.

“Yeah,” he said, smoke stuttering out of his mouth. He coughed into his shoulder, then sniffled. He shook his head. “I’m the fucking idiot, not you.”

Zayn took back his cigarette. “You and me both, man. What the fuck were we doing with football players?” They were both silent for a moment, then brought their gazes together. Zayn smirked as he took a drag. “I mean, besides the sex.”

Louis laughed properly and lowered his face to rest between his bent knees. The back door opened and Angela popped her head out.

“Hey, guys, sorry to interrupt, but could one of you come back in a minute? It’s getting busy again.”

Louis started to stand. “Sure, Ang.”

“Nah.” Zayn pushed Louis down and stood up. He handed Louis the remaining inch of cigarette. “You chill out here. I’ll help.”

“Thanks, man,” Louis said.

They tapped fists. Zayn and Angela’s chatter grew softer and further away until the metal door slammed shut. Louis sucked one last long drag of the cigarette and blew it out. He stubbed the cigarette on the concrete and dropped it in an ancient Starbucks mug propped beside the back door. He licked his lips and stared up at the moon.

“Right,” he whispered.

He pulled his phone out and dialed home. The phone picked up after two rings.

“Hello, my Smoosh,” his mother, Lisa, said happily through the phone. “What’s up?”

“Hi, um...” Louis pushed a rock with his shoe, able to hear pots and pans clanking in the background. “Nothing.

“Everything alright? Everything on schedule with your flight later?”

“Yeah, it’s good. I’m good. Zayn’s dropping me at the airport. I’ll be fine.”

“Good, good.”

“How’s home?”

His mother launched into a rapid-fire babble. “Oh, you know, busy busy. Mary’s out at some varsity swim team something or other and Emily just got home from Girl Scouts. Both of them have homework over the break. High school and elementary school kids need Thanksgiving weekend homework? I don’t think so! It’s the holidays. Can you believe I’m just now getting to organize and wash the china? So busy! Last year, I had my table set by this time.”

“I’m sure it’ll all be great, like always.”

“So? What’s new? We’re all so excited to see you.”

Louis could visualize his mother walking through the kitchen and into the living room based on how much louder the television grew in the background. Football was playing, of course. He could also visualize his father sitting in his recliner and dozing off to Sports Center.

“I…” Louis licked stale smoke off his lips. “I wanted to let you know that it’s going to be just me for dinner on Thursday.”

“Oh, really?” Lisa asked quietly. There was a pop as she murmured, “Here, baby,” with her face away from her phone. Another beer for Dad, then. “But what about your friend from school?”

Louis’ lips tightened.

“He can’t come.”

“Why not?”

“Work.”

“Aw, that’s too bad! You sounded so excited for him to come!”

Louis clenched his fist in his hair. “I wasn’t excited. It’s whatever. It doesn’t matter.”

Lisa was quiet for a moment but she hummed low in her throat. The television got softer in the background, the metallic sound of pots clinking again.

“Okay, Lou. Whatever you say,” she said gently, back in the kitchen. “And, hey, that just means more leftovers for us, right? I’ll see if I can pick up a pecan pie tomorrow from Schneider’s, since your friend can’t come. Sound good?”

“Yeah,” Louis exhaled and swallowed, his head dropping between his legs. “Ma, I gotta go. I’m still at work.”

“Oh, alright! Text me when you’re at the airport, ‘kay?”

“Sure. See you later.”

“Bye, bye, sweetie. Love ya.”

Louis said, “Love you,” and tapped the screen. He pocketed his phone.

While sitting beside a Starbucks dumpster, he realized he was finally alone for the first time that day. Even when he was in the shower, Zayn was doing his hair in the bathroom and chatting with him the entire time.

Louis exhaled a shaky breath and pushed his fists into his closed eyes. Then he moved his hands to his forehead, his breaths growing faster. His hands shook, his palms sweating and his fingers clenching over and over. He pushed his fist to his lips, which trembled and clenched, his nostrils huffing wet breaths as his back started to heave.

The first beads of hot tears prickled the corners of his eyes just as the back door flew open.

Angela asked, “Lou, can you come back? A goddamn peewee football team just came in. Frappucino emergency.”

“Yeah,” Louis said, cheerful and completely even. He dabbed his eyes with the backs of his hands and popped up. “No worries.”

. . .

Harry waited under the golden tree beside Louis’ apartment building, his eyes glued to the front door. Most people had left for the holidays and he himself was due at the stadium in half an hour. If someone didn’t open the door soon, he’d have to scale the wall.

Finally, someone pushed the door open with an overstuffed duffel bag blocking their view. Harry ran over.

“Let me help you with that,” he said, gripping the door.

The student, a small girl with purple hair, let out a relieved sigh.

“Oh, thank you so much!”

Harry held the door with one hand and her duffel with another. “Want me to carry this to your car?”

A taxi honked its horn from the curb.

“No, thanks.” She thumbed at the taxi. “My ride’s here.”

“Cool. Happy Thanksgiving.”

“Thanks, man! You, too!”

He stepped into the building and ran up the steps. He stood outside Louis’ apartment, exhaled a quick breath, and knocked loudly. The door swung open.

“How much did you say it was?” Zayn asked with his face down as he smoothed crumpled bills in his palm. He unfurled a bill and murmured, “Oh, nice, a five.”

“Hi,” Harry said.

Zayn looked up, shocked. His eyes ignited and his jawline set in a hard line. Wordlessly, he slammed the door. Harry nodded and rolled up on the balls of his feet. He knocked again. And again. Then he swapped to constant, rhythmic knocks.

“Zayn,” he said, still knocking.

“Get the fuck out of here before I call the cops, trash.”

“For what? Impersonating a delivery guy?”

The door opened halfway, but Zayn stood in the crack. His furious, tight expression had not dimmed. If anything, he stared with even more intensity.

“What the fuck do you want?”

“I want to give you these.” Harry held out two tickets. “They’re for you and Niall to go the game tonight. Box seats. You can still make it if we leave together. I’ll drive you.”

With their gazes locked, Zayn took the tickets and let them flutter from his fingers. He tilted his head.

“Anything else, asshole?”

“Liam is devastated.”

“Good.”

“He had nothing to do with the bet. Please don’t blame him. Please don’t end whatever you two had because of my mess.”

“I don’t want to hear it,” Zayn said over him, shutting the door. Harry shoved his foot in the way. “You’re lying. He knew about the bet. He told me himself.”

“I’m not lying. He knew about it, yeah, but he tried from Day One to get us to stop. He did, Zayn, I swear it.”

“You swear it?” Zayn laughed, crossing his arms over his chest. “And why should that mean a goddamn thing to me?”

“It shouldn't,” Harry said, nodding. “I turned out to be the monster you always thought I was. I did everything that you thought I’d do. I was the horrible person that you always had a hunch about. I hurt your best friend in the worst possible way, the way you always knew I was capable of.”

“At least Lou wasn’t wrong about you being semi-coherent of reality.”

“The thing is, that’s not what happened. That’s not me. What happened was not my doing. The bet, yes.” Harry held his hand up to halt Zayn’s outrage. “Yes, I was part of it. I take responsibility for that. It was nasty and immature and I shouldn’t have had any part in it. But I cannot even express how hurting Louis was the absolute worst thing I’ve ever been a part of in my life. It was a nightmare.”

Zayn snapped, “A nightmare? You think what happened to him was a nightmare for you? You don’t even know what a real nightmare is, rich boy. How do you think Lou felt? You don’t seem to understand the gravity of what happened yesterday. Your apologies keep coming, but the sincerity is really, truly lacking. Why are you even apologizing to me? I’m not Louis. I didn’t see you chasing after him yesterday. At least Liam tried to come to me. What did you do? Jack shit, that’s what you did. You’re lucky he’s not me. I’d have gut you in the street and burned that fucking frat to the ground.”

“Coach called extra practice,” Harry said softly. “And I thought Lou wouldn’t want to see me.”

“You’ve got that right. And don’t call him Lou—you’re not his friend.”

Harry’s jawline set. “I’m going to fix this.”

“You can’t.”

“I can.”

“How?”

Harry picked up the tickets and held them out.

“Please. Please, come with me to the game. If not for me, do it for Liam.”

Zayn’s mouth opened to snarl a reply, but a rough, rattled cough ripped out of his throat. He pounded the center of his chest, stale cigarettes stinging the back of his mouth. His nostrils felt suddenly wet, his brows pinched tightly.

“Are you alright?” Harry asked, holding him up by his shoulder.

Zayn shoved his hand off, coughing again.

“Don’t touch me.”

“I’m sorry. I apologize. But, please.” Harry held the tickets out. “Please come. I promise you won’t regret it. I have a plan to make it right, and that includes you and Liam. What have you got to lose?”

“It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about right and wrong. Good and bad.”

“Yeah, I know. I know that now. And that’s why I’m going to make it right.”

. . .

“How’s that corn coming, boys?” Lisa asked through the kitchen window.

Louis and his father, Thomas, both said, “Good,” from the backyard.

Thomas handed Louis another shopping bag of corn. His hair and eyes were similar to Louis, but his build was much larger and broader, his legs spread away from his chair.

They ripped green husks in silence. Shimmery strands of yellow silk fell onto the grass, covering the tops of their bare feet. The rhythm of their rips was calming, neither speaking for a few minutes.

“So,” Thomas said finally. He elbowed Louis in the ribs. “Any pretty girls I should know about?”

Louis chuckled with little humor as he pulled off a husk. He threw the husk into the garbage can and rubbed his hands together.

“You can’t be serious, Dad.”

“What was that?”

Louis sat up straighter, his forearm flexing as he ripped off a husk.

“I said: You can’t be serious,” Louis said, slower and clearer. He rubbed his hands over the top of his thighs. “Dad.”

Thomas offered him a tight smile as he brushed silk off a fresh husk. “What’s wrong? Girl troubles?”

Louis arched his eyebrows.

“I’m gay, Dad. I’m a gay man. I like having sex with men.” Louis’ gaze never faltered, despite Thomas’ eyes squinting down at the garbage can of husks. Louis bent and brought himself into Thomas’ line of vision. “You’ve know that since I was eighteen years old and, quite honestly, I just can’t bring myself to play along anymore.”

“Christ, Lou,” Thomas muttered. “Do you have to be so dramatic?”

“I’m not even raising my voice. I’m just tired of pretending.” Louis reached for a fresh corn. “I’m tired of swallowing it whenever you make comments about girls and girlfriends, when you know I’m gay.”

“You don’t know that for sure. You’re still young.”

“Dad,” Louis said on a quiet laugh. “I don’t understand. Honestly.”

“What?”

“Something…Something bad happened to me when I was eighteen and I—” Louis’ voice broke. He took a slow breath in through his nose. “I was the victim. Me.” He touched his chest with the end of the corn he was peeling. “Your son. And yet you act like it was my fault that—”

“Well, you had to have known you were being photo—”

“No, I didn’t know!” Louis tossed the unfinished corn on the ground and stood up. “I didn’t know. My back was to him and I had no idea. No idea. Would you say that if it had happened to Mary? Or Emily?”

Thomas was silent, dutifully peeling husk away.

“No,” Louis said, firm and low. He put his hands on his hips. “No. You wouldn’t have blamed them. But because I was gay and got caught being gay, it was my fault. It was my fault that I was enjoying sex with a guy in a private setting, right? I was to blame, when it was completely out of my hands.”

Thomas placed his corn into the basket and reached for another. Louis watched his father husk corn for nearly a minute without a word between them.

“You’ve got nothing to say, Dad?” Louis strolled closer. “Nothing at all?”

Thomas sighed. “What do you want me to say, Lou?”

“I want you to acknowledge that I’m gay. Just acknowledge it. You don’t have to accept it. You don’t have to like it. Just promise me you understand it, and you will stop this girlfriend bullshit—”

“Language, Louis,” Thomas snapped.

“—and we can move on.”

Louis waited. And waited. And waited. Thomas continued to peel husks with his head down, Louis’ face growing redder.

“Dad.”

“Yeah?”

“Dad.”

“Yes, Lou?”

Louis sat down and leaned close to his father.

“I’m very lucky that I found an amazing therapist after it happened who helped me get through it and figure myself out. Dr. Sadie. I found my therapist on my own, of course, because I seem to remember you telling me to, ‘Man up and get over your little stunt,’ when Mom and I mentioned me talking to someone about what happened.”

Thomas frowned and squeezed the corn in his hand. “You were eighteen, Lou. A legal adult. You could deal with your own doctors. You didn’t need me holding your hand.”

“After it happened,” Louis continued, “I couldn’t get naked in the presence of another guy for two years. Two years. Not even in the locker room at school. I had to change in the bathroom every goddamn day. I didn’t have sex with anyone for two years, Dad. Two years. How do you not get how devastating it was for me? How devastating it was for me that my family—” His voice cracked, his lips pressing together for a beat. “That my family made me the villain? That you couldn’t even acknowledge that I was gay, when everyone in the entire county knew? Do you understand, Dad? Say something. For fuck’s sake, say something!”

Thomas tossed his corn to the ground.

“I don’t care that you’re gay! I just want you to be happy and healthy, Louis. That’s all. That’s it.”

“Then why have you asked me about girlfriends for years if you accepted I was gay?”

“Just because I want you to be happy doesn’t mean I need to know”—Thomas wrinkled his face—“details. I’m not...good at this. I expected you to be a ball player, not a damn ballet dancer.”

“It’s a little late to be bitter about that, don’t you think? And, Christ, I run track at the college level. You act like I’m useless to you.”

Thomas picked up his corn.

“I’m not bitter, Lou, and I never said you were useless. Never. I just…” He shook his head. “I just need time to get used to it. The whole...gay thing.”

Louis resumed pulling husks. “You’ve had a few years.”

“Yeah, well, maybe it’ll take a few more years.” Thomas tilted his head to the side and raised his brows. “Is that alright with you?”

“I guess it has to be.”

“Good.”

Louis snorted. “Yeah. Real good.”

“Finish your corn.” Thomas picked up a fresh ear. “Mom’s got a barrel of potatoes for us to peel and the game’s on tonight. I don’t want to miss kickoff.”

“Ugh,” Louis groaned, pulling husk away. “Football.”

“Your team is playing! The Mighty Armadillos. You should show some school spirit. It’s a big game and they’re having an unreal season.”

“That makes me want to watch it even less.”

“That Styles kid, man.” Thomas chuckled gruffly and was too busy ripping corn to notice Louis’ back stiffen like a cat on high alert. “He’s a legend already. You ever see him around campus? I heard he’s pretty popular.”

The corners of Louis’ lips fell. “No.” He dropped an ear of corn with a thud. “No, I don’t see him around campus.”

. . .

“Nearly there, nearly there,” Coach Taylor shouted to Harry and Chase. The roar of the stadium made it almost impossible to hear what was being said. Coach pushed his headset away and shouted louder. “Keep your heads on.” He looked pointedly at Chase. “Don’t lose focus now.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry said. “We’ll do our best.”

Coach Taylor brought his headset mic to his lips. “Get Payne ready,” he shouted as he walked away from them

Chase and Harry ran onto the field together. They had led the entire game, there were seconds left on the board, and the ball was in their possession. At this point, all they needed to do was avoid an interception, run out the clock, and maybe get close enough for Liam to kick.

“Your little swan at the game today?” Chase said, letting his shoulder pad shove Harry. “No, I guess not. Womp womp.”

Harry glared at him through the plastic of his helmet, but said nothing.

They made it to the huddle. Chase shouted a play in his standard shrill, deranged voice. Harry made eye contact with a few players that participated in Swan Lake from Hell. They withered embarrassedly under his stern look. Harry wiggled four fingers behind Chase’s back and the players nodded.

“Break!” Chase yelled.

. . .

Louis happily left the house for a few last minute errands. His renewed hatred of football ran deep enough that he preferred to brave a grocery store on Thanksgiving Eve than listen to the Armadillo game.

“Oh, good, you’re home.” Lisa accepted a grocery bag from him and pecked his nose. She zoomed past in her hand crafted turkey sweatshirt and sensible jeans. “Could you do the onions for me? Pretty, pretty please? You never cry whenever you cut them and I turn into a big mess.”

“Sure.” Louis grabbed a cutting board propped beside the coffee maker. “No problem.”

He ruffled Mary’s hair as she polished the silver. Mary smiled up at him. Louis picked up a bag of onions and went to the kitchen island.

“How many, ma?”

“Uhh,” Lisa droned from the pantry, “like, six? Please?”

“Six!? You trying to kill me?”

“For the stuffing, of course,” she sang sweetly. “You love my stuffing!”

“Sure, sure. Anything for stuffing.”

He washed his hands and set to chopping onions. As if the pungent smell wasn’t rough enough on his senses, the television in the living room was blaring the Armadillo game.

“Fucking football,” he muttered.

Thomas stepped into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.

“Ugh, those stink,” he said, waving his hand in front of his face. He popped his beer can. “How do you stand it?”

Louis continued calmly chopping. “I think about all the sad things in life that are out of everyone’s control, and a little syn-propanethial-S-oxide doesn’t seem so bad.”

“How are you my son, again?”

Louis snorted down at his pile of minced onions. Thomas pressed a quick kiss to his temple and ruffled his hair. Louis’ smile grew along with his onion pile.

“Holy good God, what was that!?” Thomas laughed and ran back to the living room. “Did you see that, Lou? Look.” He turned up the volume with his ass hovering above his recliner seat. “Look, Lou. Watch.”

Louis looked at the television as an announcer, Bill, spoke over a replay.

“It seems that quarterback Chase Headley was left out to dry. I don’t know what the line was thinking, but he was left completely unprotected. All game, Headley has had issues with protection.”

Louis watched the replay. When the play started, every player ran away from Chase, who was sacked by three enormous players from the other team. The replay ended and went to the field view of Chase shouting and flailing his arms at his teammates. Louis noticed Harry standing with his back to Chase. The other players all turned away from the red-faced quarterback, who only grew more agitated.

“There seems to be some miscommunication between Headley and the others,” Bill said over the video. “This is the fourth sack of the day that, to me, seemed easily avoidable. Let’s see what they do to recover.”

. . .

Chase shoved Harry’s shoulders. “Who do you think you are, Styles!? What do you think you’re doing!?”

“I think you’d better cool the fuck down,” he said through gritted teeth. He gripped the front of Chase’s helmet and held him in place. “You’re making a fool of yourself on national television.”

Coach Taylor ran up to them and pulled them apart.

“What the hell had gotten into you two!? Get your shit together and run the play! Jesus H Christ, boys, I want my damn turkey dinner sometime this year!” He pushed them towards the field. “Get the hell out of my sight and finish this!”

They jogged to the huddle.

“You ready for another sack?” Harry called over the crowd’s roar. “Plenty of time left on the clock.”

“Fuck you,” Chase seethed. “This whole thing is so fucking stupid. Get over it, Styles.”

“Fine. Sack it is.”

“Fuck. You.”

“You know what you need to do to make it right.”

Chase glared at Harry through his facemask, his face red as a tomato.

“Fine. You win. No more.”

. . .

Thomas pumped his fists and cried, “Hell yeah!” The cheering crowd and Prokofiev boomed so loud that the television speakers crackled. “You won, Lou! Kind of a weird ending with all those crazy plays, but, they won! Armadill-oh yeah!”

On screen, Bill, the announcer, shouted, “Put it in the books! Another stunning win for the mighty Armadillos. A solid showing by kicker, Liam Payne, and the entire team led by Harry Styles, who continues to impress fans, coaches, and competitors alike.”

Louis glanced up from his onions and saw Harry embracing his coach on screen amidst the dogpile of players. Coach Taylor gripped the back of Harry’s helmet and shouted something in his ear.

“Man, that boy is hot right now,” Dave, the other commentator, said from the commentator’s booth. “Rumor has it that Green Bay is aggressively pursuing the young Styles. The Cowboys are going to have a fight on their hands come draft time. It was a controversy when Styles opted to finish all four years for his degree and skip the draft last year, but something tells me this is going to be a wild ride for Armadillo fans.”

Bill pointed at the screen. “Let’s go to Julie on the field with Harry Styles.”

Louis looked down and continued chopping, even as he heard Harry greet Julie on screen.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Miss Jones.” Harry hugged her to his side. Exhaustion caused his voice to sound even raspier than usual. “You enjoy the game?”

“Thank you, Harry. Wonderful game, yes. Congratulations.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“Nice shades, too. Very rock star.”

Louis looked up from his onions. Harry had on large black sunglasses with his hair tied in a top knot. Louis’ stomach dropped. A hint of a black eye could be seen peeking out from below Harry’s sunglasses.

“Yeah, just, uh...” Harry laughed quietly. “Just trying out a fashion statement.”

Thomas leaned closer to the television from his recliner. “I think that boy has a shiner. A real bad one.”

Louis focused on the television.

“Now, Harry,” Julie said into her microphone. “There’s a rumor going around that there’s been some tension between you and Chase Headley. Though today’s game had many high points, I can’t help but wonder if something is going on behind the scenes. There were some bizarre plays and bumbles that seemed easily avoidable. Care to comment?”

“Right, yeah,” Harry drawled, nodding. “We had an argument and are working on fixing the issue between us.”

Julie blinked at Harry, then touched her earpiece. “Oh. Um. Care to comment on the issue?” she asked, sounding unsure as she placed the mic near Harry’s face.

“I don’t want to talk about Chase, he’ll speak for himself soon enough, but I do want to say something very quickly.” He looked straight into the camera and slid his glasses up to his hair. Harry’s nostrils flared, his eyes squinting. He whispered, “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry and I’m going to make it right.”

Louis’ knife slowed. He stared at the television, his fingers curling in the pungent pile of onions.

“What the hell is he talking about?” Thomas asked. “I hope he didn’t get a concussion.”

“Shut up, Dad,” Louis said quickly.

On screen, Julie asked, “Is there someone in particular you’re speaking to? A special lady, perhaps?”

Harry shook his head. “No, there’s no lady in my life besides my mama.” He gave the camera a weak smile and lifted his hand. “Hi, mama. Happy Thanksgiving. Miss you.” His bitten lips pressed together for a beat. “I’m talking to a special person who is a he.”

Louis’ mouth fell open. He lowered his knife to rest in a watery pile of minced onions. Harry seemed to be staring at him through the television.

“He is amazing. He is the best person I know and he is too good for me and I don’t deserve him. He might never speak to me again, and he’s probably not even watching this, but if he is, I’m sorry. I’m—I’m so sorry. You are my armadillo and I promise I will never, ever be anywhere but behind you, supporting you, having your back, for the rest of our lives. No more L-A-Z-Y. Only L-O-V-E.” Harry blinked and nodded at the camera, giving it a friendly wave. “Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there. God Bless America.”

Julie looked wide-eyed at the camera with her fingers pushing on her earpiece. “Right! Thank you, uh, H-Harry. We…” Her eyes darted side to side. “We—”

“Let’s hear from Mr. Liam Payne, star kicker,” Harry said as he held his arm out. He passed Julie’s mic to the left. Liam came into view in full football gear, complete with sweat dripping down his face and smeared eye black on his cheeks. In his best announcers voice, Harry said, “Mr. Payne, great game, hell of a final kick. Have you got anything to say?”

Liam gripped the mic with both hands.

“My name is Liam Payne and I’m in love with a man.”

There were audible sounds of panic from the control room of the television broadcaster’s box, announcers and producers shouting confused, hysterical words and clicking buttons. Julie’s eyes bulged as she rapidly tapped her earpiece.

Liam continued, “I’m in love with a man that I hurt, and I’m sorry. I’d do anything to make it up to him, I’d do anything for him, and I...” Liam trailed off as Harry whispered something in his ear and pointed out of the camera’s view. Liam’s mouth fell open. The mic slipped from his grip and thumped on the ground. “Oh my God, he’s—”

The camera spun and caught Liam running at full speed with his arms out. He lifted Zayn off the ground and twirled him. Zayn’s ecstatic grin was visible even with his face pressed against Liam’s neck, his arms wrapped around Liam’s shoulder pads.

“Wow, Harry, a little warning would have been nice,” Julie whispered out of frame. “This is beautiful but we could have had stock footage ready.”

“I do apologize, Miss Jones,” Harry murmured. “Just one more surprise.”

The camera turned back to Harry. He stood with Chase and a group of nervous looking players behind him. Chase had a white bandage over his swollen nose, a sheet of paper clutched in his hands. His lips were a straight line, his face flushed. Harry handed Chase the mic. Chase cleared his throat, glancing at the camera before looking back to his paper.

“To Harry’s armadillo, I am truly sorry for my disgusting, ignorant, offensive actions,” Chase read, muttering his words. “We all are sorry and apologize for our immature, hurtful, idiotic behavior. I am an asshole”—his next few words were bleeped by a network television censor—“and don’t deserve the sweat in your tappy shoes.” Chase’s skin was sickly green when he looked the camera head on. “Happy Thanksgiving and God Bless America.”

The feed from the field gave out and switched to the box of stunned football commentators. Their ties were undone, Bill’s hair standing in high peaks, David sipping from a silver flask.

“Oh! We’re on! Well!” Bill sat up straighter and shuffled his papers. “That…” A tiny picture in picture shot of Liam and Zayn kissing on the field popped into the corner of the screen. “I...don’t know what to say, quite honestly, so here’s some stock footage of baby armadillos, which, thanks to a quick Wikipedia search, we now know that armadillo means small, armored one in Spanish. What that has to do with Harry Styles’ boyfriend—” He laughed and shrugged with both hands in the air. “I don’t know if we want to know. Happy Thanksgiving, America.”

The screen went to a video of baby armadillos rolling around in a pen and getting their soft, white bellies rubbed. Thomas stood up from his recliner and stretched. Lisa buzzed through the living room.

“Want another beer?” she asked.

“No thanks, hun.”

“Okay. What time do you think we should…” She redirected her quick steps to walk into the kitchen with her arms outstretched. “Smoosh, what’s wrong?” She leaned on the kitchen island. “Onions finally got you?”

Louis continued to stare at the television with his mouth agape. Tear after tear raced down his cheeks. Lisa pulled him into her chest and murmured, “Smoosh.” Louis tucked his face into his mother’s neck, so soft and scented like a Bath and Body Works shopping spree, and let out a loud sob.

“Are you...are you okay?” Lisa frowned. “What is it, baby?”

“M’fine,” he sniffled, though he immediately sobbed again, louder and wetter and messier. He pushed his face to his mother’s sweater and wrapped both arms around her, his eyes clenched shut. His breaths were uneven as he cried, “I’m—I’m fine. I’m fine.”

Thomas came up behind them, concern wrinkling his rugged face. He and Lisa exchanged a look. Of all their children, Louis was by far the least likely member of the Tomlinson family to cry. Thomas couldn’t even remember the last time he saw his son cry. He rubbed between Louis’ shoulder blades.

“It’s okay, Lou. You’re okay,” he said, gruff but soft. He curved his arm around Louis’ back. “They’re just onions with their...Uh...Propol-O-Smoxide.”

Louis let out a laugh that quickly changed to a sob, then morphed into a higher giggle a second later.

“Oh, is this because the bakery was out of pecan pie?” Lisa said softly, stroking the back of Louis’ hair. “I’m sorry, Smooshy. They apparently got a big order from out of town. I can try to make you a pie, if you want? We might have to run to the store again. I don’t know if I have enough of that syrup stuff.”

Louis shook his head. “It’s not the pie. Don’t worry about the pie. It’s—It’s just the onions.”

“Fucking stinkers,” Thomas whispered in his ear.

Louis laughed properly, his head falling to rest between both of his parent’s shoulders. He felt his sisters wrap around him on the other side. Even their cat, Buttercup, curled up on top of Louis’ feet. The entire family stood together in the kitchen as the remainder of Harry’s interview played on the television.

. . .

The next morning, Thanksgiving, the entire Tomlinson family arrived in the center of town. Everyone was decked out in running gear. The yearly Turkey Trot 5K was but a blip for a long distance runner like Louis, but it was always fun to do something athletic with his entire family, especially when he knew he had a turkey dinner, desserts, and days of leftovers waiting for him at home.

Thomas jogged up to Louis. “Hey, Lou. Guess what?”

Louis rolled his body upright from his stretch. He pulled his right arm across his chest.

“What? What’s up?”

“You know Abe Bryant?”

Louis gripped his left ankle. “Abe Bryant? You mean the butcher’s son?”

“Yeah! That Abe Bryant. Well, guess what? He’s...” Thomas widened his eyes and his voice became even more hushed. “Gay.

“Okay,” Louis said slowly, releasing his ankle. “And?”

“Well, I was thinking maybe you two could, you know.” Thomas shrugged and fiddled with the zipper of his Under Armour hoodie. “Get together? Is that the right term? The discounts on steak and chops would be unreal, and we could even cross advertise for our shops!”

“Oh my God,” Louis said as he giggled. “You accept I’m gay for a whole twelve hours and you’re trying to sell me off to the butcher’s son for a ration of meat? This is so Oregon Trail. Are you going to barter your daughters for cheese and tobacco?”

Thomas opened his mouth, embarrassment clouding his face.

“I have no idea what you’re even talking about, Louis William.”

Louis pulled him into a half hug and pinched his tanned cheek. “I’m kidding,” he laughed softly. He pecked Thomas’ temple. “You’re cute, dad. And I, um, appreciate the effort, but Abe’s not really my type.”

“You have a type?”

“Do you really want to know the answer to that question?”

Thomas thought for a moment, then shook his head. Louis hugged him again.

Mayor Morris stepped up on a small stage platform. Her smart black skirt suit was complemented by a turkey patterned silk scarf, her blonde bob motionless in the gentle morning breeze. The bluegrass band on stage came to a cadence. Mayor Morris tapped the mic and cleared her throat, prompting a polite smattering of applause.

“Racers to the starting line, please! Racers to the starting line.”

Louis and Thomas went to the starting line, where the rest of their family was already waiting.

“You gonna win this year, Lou?” Mary bent over and stretched her hamstrings. “Keep the streak going?”

Louis bounced from foot to foot. “Probably not. I’m tired.”

“So, you’re gonna let me win?” Thomas asked.

“Uh, no. I’m still gonna beat you, old man.”

He tapped his phone in its arm band case and navigated to his lazy morning running playlist. A strand of messages came through from Zayn as texts, not iMessages.

so sorry i didn’t reply last night...was busy:)
all good things
u were right about liam...so happy :)))
he fixed it. can’t believe it
u ready for him?

Louis tilted his head sideways and reread the texts, which included a photo of Liam sleeping on Zayn’s chest as they laid on a sofa. Indiana Jones was visible on the television, along with an enormous plate of hashbrowns. He smiled as he typed a reply.

cute pic!! you old softy
what? who?

“You ready?” Thomas asked, breaking Louis from his confusion.

Louis nodded and went to his playlist. He popped his earbuds in and arched his back one more time, then got into position beside his father. His mother and sisters were two rows of people behind them.

“On your mark, get set,” Mayor Morris said, lifting a toy gun in the air. The gun popped and spit out a green flag. “Go!”

Track: The Struts - Could Have Been Me

The runners started to hustle across the starting line. People who were serious about their time shot out front right away, including Louis and Thomas. The more casual participants jogged or walked in the back.

Louis felt his muscles and bones starting to relax as his stride clicked into place. He had lost sight of his father, but figured he was a few strides behind. There were a handful of people in front of him but his pace was comfortable, his limbs smoothly slicing through the air as he dodged other runners.

After five minutes of running, he noticed people disappearing on his left side. His stride continued until cheers cut through his headphones, then he turned his head towards the hubbub. His eyes bulged.

“Hi, Lou,” Harry panted with a grin. “Happy Thanksgiving. You look super hot in those shorts.”

Harry had on his full Armadillo uniform, including his jersey, tight black pants, high socks, and cleats. He was carrying a stack of boxed pecan pies from Schneider’s as he ran, his long wavy hair bouncing sweatily.

Louis pulled his headphones out and hissed, “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Didn’t you hear me on TV? I said I was coming.”

“You said that on national television!?”

“I didn’t say your address or name. It’s cool. Look!” Harry held up the pies. “I brought you pecan pie. Lots of them. All of them, actually. All of the pecan pies.”

They both swayed to the right to follow the bend in the road.

Louis sped up. “But why? Why are you here? Why won’t you just let this die?”

“Because I messed up. I messed up so, so, so—” Harry panted heavily for a moment, his cleats clicking on the concrete. “So big. I’m here to make it right.”

“What if I don’t want to talk to you?”

“You absolutely can be mad at me and not talk to me and you can tell me to leave. I have my private plane pilot on call. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

Louis’ face scrunched as he glanced at Harry. “Ugh, you took a private plane? Why? Texas and California aren’t that far away. Our poor environment.”

“It was a scheduling and availability thing, plus, contrary to what my dad might think, it does snow in Texas. It snowed a lot and all flights were cancelled late last night, which I found out after sitting in the airport for hours.”

“Oh God, is that why you’re wearing your uniform and you stink like a farm animal?”

Harry lifted his jersey to his nose and winced. “Yep. Straight from the game. Private was the way to go, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make.”

“You have a point?”

Harry laughed and glanced at the crowd of people following close behind them, his breath coming in fast. Louis’ lead had been lost and they were now amidst the back of the running pack. Harry looked down at a small boy struggling to keep up with a group of older boys.

“Hey, little man,” he said gently, holding out his pies. “You think you could carry these for me to the end? I need to talk to my friend and you look like you can handle the job the best out of everyone.”

The little boy beamed and took the stack of pies from him. “Yes! Okay!”

“Thanks, man,” Harry said, ruffling his hair. He looked to the group of curious older boys. “Too bad no one else is as cool and helpful as you.”

The other boys scrambled up to them and each took a pie.

“We’re good at helping,” one said, nodding quickly at Harry. “Promise, Hugo!”

“You’d better be nice to my friend here,” Harry warned with a smile. “He’s cool, so you’d better be cool too. Yeah?”

“Yeah!”

The group of boys ran off with Harry’s pies. Harry grinned at the little boy now leading the older boys. He caught up with Louis.

“Hopefully half the pies make it to the finish line.”

“Your magic powers with kids is completely unfair,” Louis grumbled, starting to run faster. “And you’ve completely ruined my chances of winning, so thanks for that.”

Harry went around a group of people to meet Louis’ pace, both breathing heavier.

“Lou.”

“What?”

Harry blew out a breath and squared his jaw, then nodded once.

“Right. So, you’re Belle, I’m the Beast, but I want to be the Prince for you.”

Louis’ eyes widened even further. “What? What are you talking about?”

Harry ran sideways, his feet gracefully switching as if he was running through a ropes course.

“I’m going to fight for you, Lou. I’ll do whatever it takes to show you I’m not lazy and that I’ve got you. I’ve got your back. Anything. I’ll do anything to get you to forgive me.”

They split to bypass a couple of older runners, then met up again in the center of the pack.

“Is this supposed to be your grand gesture, then?” Louis glanced at Harry out the corner of his eye. “Your rom-com big moment?”

“Part of it. Did you see the interview with Liam?”

Louis slowed his stride. His fists clenched as his pumping arms also slowed. He sighed and came to a halt. Harry stood in front of him with runners darting around them, his hair like Medusa but his eyes like Simba.

“Did you?” Harry asked quietly.

Louis nibbled his bottom lip. “I think the entire world saw the gay football kiss heard round the world. I’ve already seen gifs and memes of it on Instagram.”

Harry raised his eyebrows.

“Did you hear the Chase part?”

“Yeah. It was…” Louis looked away, his weight shifting foot to foot. “I can’t believe you got him and the other guys to apologize. On national television. What's that gonna do to his reputation? What about the draft? I mean, Jesus Christ, wasn't every owner in the NFL watching that game?”

"I dunno, but he's done other things that he should have been held accountable for. He might get picked up eventually, but he's had issues in the past that might come back to bite him." Harry flattened his hand on the small of Louis’ back and walked them to the sidelines. “And, um…” He smoothed his hand over his shoulder, then cradled the base of his neck. “The, um…” He looked down at the concrete before peeking at Louis through his lashes. “The armadillo part?”

All Louis could do was nod, his mouth trembling. Harry cradled the tip of his chin and guided his gaze higher. Louis looked from Harry’s lips to his eyes.

“Yeah,” Louis breathed. “Yeah, I saw it. I heard you. I...I saw the armadillo part.”

“And you know that I was talking about you, right?”

“I’ve spent the semester teaching you about symbolism.” Faint amusement flickered in Louis’ eyes. “I figured it out.”

Harry started to grin with relief, but he quickly went serious. He held both of Louis’ shoulders.

“Look, I know I fucked up. I know I fucked up big with the last person I’d ever want to fuck up with. You’re the only person who’ll call me on it and that’s...that’s why I love you.” He watched Louis’ mouth pop open an inch and blurted out, “I love you for lots of reasons, but you’re the only person who has ever not taken my shit. You hold me responsible and I need that. I never knew I needed it until I met you, but I do. I need you.”

“I’m not your parents, Harry,” Louis said sharply, turning away. He started to jog and talk at the same time, Harry trailing right behind him. “I want someone who will be my equal. Who respects me and supports me. Who doesn’t need me to take care of everything and guide them like some sort of Obi-Wan—”

Harry ran around to stand in front of him. “I will be your equal—I will be your best equal. I’m not looking for a parent. I promise. I’m looking for you. I’ve been looking for you, even if I didn’t know it. I want to be with you and I want to go to your dance recitals with flowers and I want to rub your back when you stay up too late at your sewing machine and I want to just—I want to be with you.”

Louis stopped and crossed his arms over his chest. “Why should I believe you after what happened on Tuesday?”

“Something horrible happened to you when you were eighteen and something horrible happened to you a few days ago.” Harry put his hand on his heart. “I take complete responsibility for not telling you about the bet sooner to avoid that entire mess. I’m going to be sorry forever about it, but I promise I will never, ever let anything bad happen to you every again.” He pressed a kiss to Louis’ forehead, sweat stinging his lips. “I will only be good for you. I will only do good for you. Not just good. Great.” He kissed his temple, Louis leaning into his touch. “I will only allow great things to happen for you.”

“Great things,” Louis said quietly.

“Yeah, you know.” He kissed his cheekbone. “Soft stuff.” Then his browline. “Great things.”

“I just..." Louis could not speak for a moment, his mouth moving silently. "Tuesday was…”

“I know, baby,” Harry whispered. “I know it was bad.”

“It was really, really, really”—Louis’ voice shook—“bad. If those photos get out—”

“They’re gone. Done. I took care of it.”

“Did you…” Louis could feel his cheeks heat, his lashes blinking faster. “Did you look at the pictures?”

“No. They’re not my business. I had my dad’s lawyers handle it. They’re, um, good at making things disappear. At least this time, their powers were used for good.”

Shock slackened Louis’ jawline. “You—Gone? They’re gone?”

“Gone.”

“That’s…Thank you. Wow, th-thank you. You didn’t have to do that.”

“Yes, I did.”

Neither said anything for a long moment. Runners jogged past, some grabbing cups of water from volunteers on the side of the road. Harry exhaled shakily and clasped his hands in front of his groin.

“Sorry, I—I should have asked if I could, you know. Kiss your face. That was probably me overstepping. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Louis said, a different shade of shock softening his expression. “I don’t want you to get, um, nervous about touching me. I like when you touch me.” Harry started to grin and Louis quickly said, “Not, like, touching my— You know. You know what I mean.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. Shall we keep running or do you have any other Disney characters to compare us to?”

“I could cast you as Disney characters until next Thanksgiving, but I’ll spare you.”

“Thanks.”

“I just...I have to ask you something.”

“What?”

“Do you still think I was involved with Tuesday?” Louis said nothing and Harry stepped closer. “Lou—”

“No.”

“No?” Harry exhaled, wide-eyed and near ecstatic. “You don’t believe I was involved?”

“No. I think you were just as caught off guard as I was and it was Chase being an asshole.”

“Okay! Okay, good. That’s a start.” Harry pulled Louis into his arms, their bodies colliding. “Oh God, Lou, yes. Okay.”

"But that doesn't mean everything is peachy keen. It's not."

Harry stepped back and held his palm out. “Right. Yeah. Absolutely. And I know I was part of the bet and I am totally aware of that and that I was a douche, but I was going to tell you because I, you know, fell in love with you and stuff.”

“Yeah, I got that.”

“Okay. Cool.” Harry looked from Louis’ sneakers up to his face, grinning. “So.” He linked their fingers. “Now what?”

Louis quirked his hip with his hands on his waist. “So what, you think that because you made a big, grand gesture, I’m just going to fall over myself for you?”

“No way,” Harry said with a snort. “When have you ever fallen over yourself for me? That would be unnatural.”

“You know what would be totally natural?”

“What?”

Louis jogged backwards while he waggled his fingers. “Me beating you. Later, Beast!”

“Hey!” Harry ran after him. “You got a head start!”

They wove between bunches of runners. Even with their extended discussion break, they were able to salvage the time and made it to the middle of the pack. Their growing laughter helped them keep track of each other and stick close together. When Louis pulled ahead, Harry surged to keep up. Any lead Harry got was short lived, as Louis would be beside him in seconds.

They ran over the finish line with Louis perched on Harry’s back. Harry did a series of pirouettes as Louis held on for dear life, both cackling.

“Louis?”

Louis’ laughter died in his throat and Harry stopped spinning. His entire family stared at them, stunned, with medals already around their necks. Lisa took an accidental photo with her old silver digital camera she refused to turn in for an iPhone.

Louis climbed down from Harry’s back. “Hi, um everyone,” he said slowly. “Uh, so, remember when I said I had a friend coming for Thanksgiving?” He thumbed at Harry. “This is—”

“Congratulations, Louis!” Mayor Morris chirped as she looped a medal over his head. “And congratulations….Um…” She looked to Harry. A second medal swayed in her grip. “I’m sorry, dear, did you register? I don’t believe I know your name. Did you vote Morris last election?”

“He’s Harry Styles,” Thomas said, his voice awed. He blinked and shook his entire body, then swiped his hand over his forehead. “I mean, you’re Harry Styles. You are…” He trailed off, staring at Harry in all his red uniformed glory with a dreamy smile. “You’re Harry Styles.”

Mayor Morris signaled for the local news crew to come over. She mouthed, “Get here, Gerard. I said here! Get here!” while gesturing to Harry and pointing at the ground.

“Why is Daddy making that weird face?” Mary asked her mother. “He looks drunk.”

“That’s his fanboy face,” Emily said knowingly.

“Shh,” Lisa laughed.

Harry held his hand out, out of breath but glowing. Their hands clasped and Thomas’ eyes glimmered as if Harry was Jesus Christ come a month early.

“Yes, sir, I am. I’m Harry. It’s a true pleasure to meet you.”

“And you!” Thomas lowered his voice. “And you. You’re...You…” He cleared his throat, puffing his chest up. “You’re a real legend.”

“You’re too kind, sir.” The little boys carrying pecan pies swarmed around them. Harry’s face brightened. “Oh! Hey, guys, thanks so much.” They handed the pies over one by one, Louis and his sisters helping Harry hold the boxes. Harry patted his pockets, then looked down at his tight black football pants. “Hm. I don’t have any cash on me. How about…” He pulled his red Armadillo wristbands off, then his sweaty headband, then took his leather game gloves out of his back pocket. “Who wants what? I left my shoulder pads in the bakery, if you want to grab those, too.”

The boys all jumped up to get the merchandise that featured the sweat of the legendary Harry Styles. Harry waited for the larger boys to run away, then peeled off his jersey. Mayor Morris, Lisa, Emily, Mary, Louis, numerous bystanders, and even Thomas gasped at the sight of Harry in his black Under Armour tank.

Harry got to his knees and looped the neckline over the head of the smallest boy. “Thanks for your help, man. You saved the day. You ever come to Texas, you’ve got a seat with your name on it at any of my games.” The little boy beamed under the attention, his grin wide enough to be a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Harry asked Mayor Morris, “Pardon me, ma’am, but you wouldn’t happen to have a pen around here, would you?”

Mayor Morris let out a flustered giggle and patted the pockets of her jacket, then pulled a black Sharpie from her inside pocket.

Harry winked at her and drawled, “Thanks, darlin’,” before pulling the cap off with his teeth. Major Morris’ flush only grew deeper. Harry scrawled his autograph on the shoulder of the jersey. “There you go, bud. Happy Thanksgiving.”

The boy squeaked, “Thank you!” and ran to his parents, who were both looking from their phones to Harry with wide eyes. The mother’s mouth looked to be saying, “I just told you that’s Harry—fucking—Styles,” to her husband before she put on a big smile and cooed, “Hello, my little turkey trotter!” as her son barrelled into her legs.

Harry handed Mayor Morris her marker. “Thanks so much, ma’am, I do appreciate it.” Mayor Morris giggled and dabbed her neck with her Thanksgiving themed scarf.

“Jesus Christ,” Louis murmured to his mother. “Here we go with the Southern gentleman routine.”

“Do you see Mayor Morris complaining?” Lisa whispered back. Both she and Louis snickered. She stepped forward with her hand out. “Hi, sweetie. I’m Lisa, Louis’ mom.”

“Hi! You’re so pretty, ma’am.” Harry hugged her tightly, then stepped back. “Oh sorry, I’m absolutely gross right now.”

“That’s alright,” Thomas said, enveloping Harry’s back in a hug. “I don’t know why Louis never mentioned he knew you, but thank you for being associated with our son.”

Harry caught eyes with Louis, who was smirking softly. “Believe me, the honor is all mine. It’s an honor that Louis associates with me, sir.” Harry faced Thomas and held him by the shoulders. “And, if you’ll allow it, sir, might I be completely honest with you?”

“Of course. Say anything you’d like. You’re Harry Styles!”

“I’m in love with your son, who is the most amazing human, scholar, athlete, and lover I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.”

Louis dropped the stack of pies in his hands. Pecans and pie crust made a heavy walloping sound as they fell to the concrete and broke in their boxes. Thomas gaped at Harry. His sisters burst into hysterical giggles while his mother whispered in his ear, “Looks like Mayor Morris isn’t the only fan of southern gentlemen.”

“Sorry, did you say lover?” Thomas asked.

“Yes, sir.” Harry’s eyelid flickered. “You should be very proud of your son.”

“Harry’s had a really long day,” Louis said quickly as he moved his palm over Harry’s mouth. “He should probably, uh, clean up or get back on his plane or—”

“You know what?” Thomas laced his fingers with Lisa’s and gestured towards a row of shops. “We’re actually going to run to the market for some heavy cream.” He slung his arm around both of his daughter’s shoulders. “All of us.”

Lisa’s smile dimmed. “We are?”

“We are.” Thomas looked to Louis. “Lou, why don’t you help Harry settle in at home?” He looked at Harry. “Harry, I’m sure you’d like a shower before we start in on dinner. Lou can help you with…” Momentary discomfort weakened his face, but he bravely smiled and nodded. “Whatever.”

Louis’ mouth popped opened an inch. “Uh…” Harry’s tiny giggle made his whole body heat. Their eyes met for a moment, Louis baffled while Harry was amused. “Uh, okay? I’ll...help.”

“Great,” Thomas grunted.

“Thank you, sir. I do appreciate your hospitality,” Harry said, shaking Thomas’ hand again. “I know I sort of surprised y’all, so if you need me to stay at a hotel—”

“No, no, no.” Louis held onto the waistband of Harry’s tight football pants. “No. There’s room for you. You’re good at our place.”

“Cool,” Harry said quietly. He bumped their hips. “Thank you.”

“But, honey, we don’t need more heavy cream,” Lisa said to Thomas, confused.

Thomas nodded. “We do.”

“I just bought an entire carton yesterday.”

Thomas continued smiling and holding his family, but brought his wide-eyed gaze to Lisa as he heavily hinted, “I think we should give our son and Harry Styles some privacy to settle in. Don’t you?”

. . .

Louis opened the front door of his house.

“C’mon in.” He placed Harry’s football helmet on the table in their foyer. “I can’t believe you came with legitimately nothing but the clothes on your back.”

“I like to travel light.” Harry stepped inside then gasped. “Oh my God, it smells like the holidays in here.” He hugged Louis from behind, planting quick kisses down his neck. “I love your house. So cozy.”

Louis could only imagine how pristine Harry’s house was with constant maids and designers to keep everything current. He looked around his childhood home and felt a bit like he had stepped into a time capsule.

The Tomlinson house was clean and tidy, even without the help of a housekeeper, and had a somewhat unified design of beachy California with pale colors. The glass doors that led to the backyard featured a stunning view of the beach in the far distance, but inside the house itself was barely enough space for five people.

Some of the picture frames were mismatched. Louis knew that the ceiling in the second bathroom upstairs had water spots coming through the paint. His dad kept insisting he would repaint it, but hadn’t yet.

The chairs in the kitchen were as old as he was, made of woven basket material and faded butter yellow wood. The tile under his regular chair had been chipped years ago when the metal frame scraped too deep.

His mom refinished the hardwood in the dining room as a DIY project, and it was her pride and joy, but she had yet to replace the faded blue throw rug in the family room, where his father’s new brown leather recliner mismatched the older khaki sofa and armchair.

“D’awww,” Harry drawled with a grin. He propped his face next to Louis’ elementary school graduation photo on the foyer wall. “Look at this little cutie. And look!” He squinted at the photo. “You won an award for being the best helper in your class!”

Louis chuckled a touch nervously as he walked up to him. He pocketed his keys and fit himself between Harry’s legs.

“We...have to talk.”

“Sure.” Harry grinned and reached for him. “I love talking to you.”

Louis guided his hands away from his hips. “It’s not going to be a fun talk.” He took a step back, his steps lining up with the gentle sagging of Harry’s eyes. “You’re not going to like it, but we have to have it.”

“Yeah, I...I don’t think I should like it.” He glanced from Louis to his cleats and back again. “I shouldn’t like it. That’s the, uh, the point.” He clasped his hands in front of himself, then swayed his arms backwards. “You should be mad at me.”

“I am mad at you.”

“With good reason.”

“I’m…” Louis breathed for a moment with their eyes locked, Harry nodding without Louis having to speak. “I’m so mad at you,” Louis said lowly. Harry only nodded faster. “I think I was caught off guard when you, like, appeared at the race. It was a shock but it was sort of exciting and you, uh, you were funny with my family, which was great. And after Tuesday morning, I went into survival mode. I haven’t had a chance to really process what happened, but when I do...It’s going to change things. We are not okay.” He shook his head. “Not one-hundred percent.”

“I know. I’m an asshole.” Harry shuffled sideways. “I should leave.”

“No, you’re—” Louis blocked his path. “You’re not an asshole. And you don’t have to leave. That’s not what I’m saying.”

Harry squared his jawline. “Lou, after what happened, you should call me an asshole. Call me an asshole. Please call me an asshole. Throw me out of your house.”

“I’m not throwing you out and you’re not an asshole,” Louis said firmly. “Me calling you one isn’t going to help anything. That’s the—That’s one of the frustrating parts of everything that happened. You’re not an asshole. You acted like an asshole and I got fucked up because of it, when you yourself said you didn’t want that to happen.”

“I know. I acted like a coward.”

“Yeah, like a coward,” Louis echoed. “Like a big fucking coward.”

Harry’s throat bobbed as he swallowed, his nostrils flaring and his eyes blinking faster. “Yeah.” His voice cracked. He dabbed his lips with the back of his hand. “Yeah, I know. You’re right. I—I tried to say I’m sorry as best I could, but it’s not good enough.”

“I know you tried,” Louis softly. “I know you did. I know you’re trying.”

With desperation flooding his face, Harry said, “I don’t know how else to say it. I don’t know what else to do to fix it. I can’t go back and make myself not act like a coward asshole but, fuck, do I wish I could.”

“There is no quick fix. It’s going to take time.”

“But there has to be something else I can do.”

“It’s not like I’ve got mono and you can bring me chicken soup. I’m touched by your gestures. Really, I am.” He swirled his hand as he listed, “The TV stuff. You being, uh, you with my dad to try and open his mind. You coming all the way here with the plane and all, but I’m…” Louis pressed his lips together, and his eyes slid to Harry. “It’s going to take a long time for me to fully trust you again. Gestures can’t just fix that after what happened.”

Harry nodded, the motion jerky. He sniffled and dabbed his nose with his hand. “I Skyped with my mama and told her about what happened and it was…” He exhaled a laugh and looked away. “It was a real mess.” He swayed his head side to side. “She cried, I cried, we all cried. I think her poodle even cried.”

Louis smiled sadly, watching Harry’s chin wrinkle as his lips pursed.

“What did she tell you to do?”

“She told me to get down on my knees, put my hands together, and pray to the good Lord that you would one day forgive me, even if that day never comes. Then she told me to slap myself in the face.”

“Did you do that?”

“I did.”

“Even the slap?”

“Yeah,” Harry said sheepishly. Louis huffed a quiet, breathy laugh and Harry’s lips quirked. “She, um, she also told me to do whatever you wanted. To take cues from you for what you’re comfortable with.”

Louis ran his hands through his own hair. “Okay. That sounds…” He dropped his arms, his sweaty hair standing straight up. “That sounds okay.”

“You’re sure you want me to stay here? In your house?”

“I’m sure.”

“But we’ve only had one sleepover. Did I annoy you when we were asleep?”

“Annoy me?”

“Yeah, like, did I snore too much? Was I too sweaty? And now I’m at your house, so, what if I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and I disturb your parents? What if I—”

“You were fine and you’ll be fine,” Louis said gently with two fingers pressed to Harry’s lips. “I meant it when I said it at the race. I still, you know…” He shifted his weight and lowered his arm. “I still like you, even if I’m furious and I ought to castrate you for saying the word lover in front of my family.”

“Oh, c'mon," Harry laughed, his stomach bumping with the sound. "I didn't mean we're lovers, like, fancy French people. It's just, I dunno, a way to say we're fucking and I love you."

"How beautiful."

"But how incredible was your dad’s face when he realized his son had fucked Hugo Styles? And when he downright encouraged us to fuck in the shower while they got mystery cream?”

“His face was pretty damn incredible,” Louis said, grinning slowly.

“So I get to keep my dick?”

“Yeah, yeah. Mmm.” He pressed his nose to the front of Harry’s throat. “You stink, Riggs.”

“Yeah, I should probably shower. I tried to wash up with hand sanitizer in the airport.” He sniffed under his arm. “I don’t think it worked.”

“C’mon.” Louis tugged the bottom of his tank. “I’ll show you around.”

Harry followed Louis upstairs and into the bathroom. Louis opened a linen closet.

“I have clothes you can borrow when you’re done. You’re lucky my mom gave up on us getting dressy for holidays a couple years ago. We can just wear whatever and go surfing later.”

“Surfing?”

“Yeah.”

“God, you get sexier and sexier by the minute. By the damn second.”

Louis pushed two towels and washcloths into Harry’s chest. “Here.”

Harry quirked a brow.

“Wanna join me?”

Louis looked from Harry to the Little Mermaid shower curtain. He had used that tub from age zero onward. Would he now branch out into having sex there?

“Sorry, nevermind. I shouldn’t have said that.” Harry pulled his tank over his head. “You’re still mad at me, with good reason.” He sat on the closed toilet seat and bent to unlace his cleats, his back muscles fluttering each time he pulled at his laces. “Forget I said it. I don’t want to make you feel weird just because I’m staying here.” He peeled his socks off and shoved them in his cleats, then stood with his hands on his hip dents. “So, do you have an air bed I can…” He trailed off, Louis backing him against the sink. “Yes?”

“We have to be quiet.” Louis sucked a kiss to his lips, pulling at the laces of his pants. “And fast.”

Harry grinned. "You're sure you want to?"

"We're not fucking, so you can get that out of your head. But yeah. Let's take a shower."

Track: The Darkness - I Believe In a Thing Called Love

Louis’ running clothes were quickly removed along with the remainder of Harry’s uniform. They tumbled into the tub, which featured tiles the color of avocados, and pulled the curtain closed. Louis turned the hot water on and picked up a washcloth.

“We need to actually clean up before we do anything crazy.”

“Sounds good.”

Once they had soaped up and scrubbed down, Harry took their cloths and hung them on a plastic hook labeled L.

“So,” Harry droned, lining up their groins. He linked his hands behind Louis’ head, their mouths pressing hotly. Louis licked water off Harry’s jawline, their bodies coming closer together. “How about…” He brought his lips to Louis’ ear. “A little Number Seven?”

Louis scanned the ceiling as his smile grew, Harry humming and kissing behind his ear.

“You want to?”

“Always. Mrph.” Harry hummed deeply, sucking his collarbone. “You smell all clean now.”

Louis went to fix his hair, but then realized that his hair was waterlogged and sticking to his head. “Yeah, y-yeah, you can, uh—” He giggled lightly. “Okay, yeah.”

Harry cradled Louis’ face and pressed a searing kiss to his lips, their tongues teasing and hands wandering. Harry’s kisses went lower, his hands dragging down Louis’ body and tweaking bits of him here or there.

“See you in, like…” Harry kissed down his stomach and gave him a crooked grin. “Three minutes.”

“Three minutes?” Louis laughed, gently kicking his shin. Harry held his ass with both hands and spun him to face the wall. “I think I’ll…” He arched away from soft licks to he cleft of his ass.

“Uh uh,” Harry tutted, one hand wrapping around Louis’ cock. “You’re not running anyway.”

“I was saying that I think I’ll last a little...A little…” Louis leaned forward and rested his face on his arm, biting into his wrist. “Oh, God,” he gasped, his asshole clenching under Harry’s tongue. “I come way too fast when I get rimmed.”

Harry hummed and thumbed his head, lathing his tongue between his cheeks.

“O-Oh!” Louis cried out.

“Well, at least we’ll tick the fast box. Quiet?” He swirled his tongue and Louis’ legs shook, his voice whimpering around the shower. “Not so much.”

. . .

Thomas and the rest of the family eventually returned with a carton of cream, a box of rainbow Christmas lights, and a new spatula. Though the girls didn’t initially understand why they went to the market, then home, then back to the market, then back home, they didn’t question their father’s advice that the family stay back from the house for a while. Mary, the middle sibling, explained to Emily, the youngest, that it was sort of like the times Dad quickly changed the channel when they watched a PG-13 movie on HBO.

The whole group started to assist with dinner prep and, to Louis’ surprise, Harry was proving to be a star at more than just rimjobs.

“You are such a good helper,” Lisa said to Harry as he mashed sweet potatoes by hand. “Thank you so much.”

“Thank you for having me, ma’am.”

Lisa speed walked out of the kitchen, and Louis whispered, “Suck up.”

“Hey,” Harry laughed. “She’s so nice. I’m not being a suck up.”

Louis dropped his carrot peeler, smirking as he said, “Ma’am?” with a heavy accent.

“It’s called manners, darling.” Harry fluttered his lashes. “I’ll have to give you a copy of my study guide on the matter.”

“Sure,” Louis drawled. “Whatever you say, partner.”

Harry put a lid on his mashed potatoes and carried them to the table. “I’m kind of loving a California Thanksgiving. No shoes, no pants, no problem.”

“You’re just excited to wear as little clothing as possible. I thought I was going to have to pry you out of the shower.”

“True, though you’re the one who let me borrow these bad boys.” Harry held his arms out and widened his stance. His jean shorts crept up his thighs. “Would love to see you in these.” He pinched his baggy white tank. “This too. That said, your ass looks hot in those shorts.”

“Let’s focus more on sanitary food prep and less on taking clothes off.” Louis said one thing, but his eyes did another as he snuck a glance at Harry, from his long bare feet to his tousled curls and every bit of tanned skin not covered by draped, skimpy clothing. “Though, fuck me.” He pushed pot holders to his face. “You look so fucking good.”

Harry patted his ass with a wooden spoon. “Have you got any extra cranberry sauce not needed for dinner?”

Louis lowered his pot holders to ask, “Do I want to ask why?”

“I’d kind of like to eat some off your dick tonight,” Harry whispered, Louis laughing and covering his face with pot holders. The doorbell rang. Louis and Harry broke apart when they heard Lisa’s slippers slapping the floor.

“Who is that?” Lisa sped past them while trying to redo her bun. She was running further away to get to the front door, but her voice rose in volume and carried to them as if she was in the same room. “No one should be here for at least an hour. An hour! I have to shower. I still have to shower! Thomas can you get that?”

“Mom, relax,” Louis called to her, leaning over the stove to turn up the oven’s temperature. “It’s probably just Mr. Carter or something.”

“Got it,” Thomas called from the foyer.

“Mr. Carter?” Harry asked.

Louis popped a baking pan into the oven. “Adorable neighbor who buys treats for Buttercup.” Harry hugged him from behind once he was upright, Harry’s lips resting on the back of his neck. “What’s up, babe?”

“I just like holding you, is all. And I like being here.” He kissed his jawline. “I like being with you and learning about you. I’m honored you let me through the door.”

Louis leaned against his weight. “You know how you said you loved me for lots of reasons?”

“Mmhmm.” Harry idly stroked his fingers up the front of his pastel colored patterned tank. “I do. Want me to start a list? Number One—”

“No, that’s okay. I just...Well, I, uh…” He brought his heel to Harry’s toes, applying pressure as if he was stepping down but actually just letting their skin touch. He murmured, “I think I could kind of love you, too. Maybe. Maybe one day.”

“Yeah?”

Louis turned and Harry’s arm slid under his shirt to cradled his lower back. He rested his hand on the front of Harry’s shoulder, letting his fingers play in the curls at the base of his neck.

“Yeah,” he exhaled, then nodded shakily. “What’s weird is that I don’t know if I can rattle off a list right now. It’s like an all encompassing...feeling, I think. I just feel it.”

“Even..." Harry nibbled his bottom lip with flushed cheeks. "Even after everything?”

“We'll see.” A faint smile lit Louis' face. "It's that pesky sense of faith I have with you. Can't seem to shake it." Louis shook his head. "Don't want to shake it, probably because of the whole...love thing."

Harry wrapped him in his arms, his hold so tight that Louis’ breath caught. Both swayed in the kitchen as the warm, bready, onion heavy smell of Thanksgiving pillowed the air around them.

The front door creaked open in the distance. They faintly heard Thomas start to say, “Hello,” but he only made it to, “Hel,” before he gasped, “Oh, my good God!” A human-sized thud shook the ground. Louis and Harry looked towards the sound.

“Thomas?” Lisa’s slipper shuffles sped up. “Thomas!?”

“Dad?” Louis called loudly. He moved towards the hallway with his and Harry’s hands linked. Lisa got in his way as she speed-walked back into the kitchen and went for the refrigerator. Louis “What-What are you doing in here? What’s up with Dad?”

Lisa offered them a warm, albeit tight, smile and looked to Harry.

“Harry, sweetie, your father is here.” She looked to Louis. “Louis, your father temporarily fainted in the foyer due to being in the presence of NFL royalty JD Styles but is now awake. I’d like to get him some ice for his head.”

“My-My dad?” Harry stuttered. “Here? My dad’s here?”

Louis grabbed a dish towel and held it under the freezer. “Here, put the ice here.”

“I’ll just use one of the squishy ones,” Lisa said. She took the towel from him. “But I’ll wrap it in this, thanks.”

They all went into the hallway and stood in front of the foyer. Thomas was sitting cross legged in Buttercup’s cat bed with a bottle of expensive whisky in his lap and the great JD Styles rubbing his back.

“You’re alright, brother, you’re alright,” JD said, warm and soothing. “You’re alright. Sorry for the spook.”

“I just…” Thomas looked at Harry, then to JD. “I just can’t believe this is happening in my house.”

“I take it you’re a fan?”

“Uh, yeah,” Mary and Emily said together.

JD laughed gruffly and nodded at the girls. His eyes moved to Harry and Louis. “Oh. Um. Hey there,” he said quietly, standing. He brushed his hands over his dark jeans. “Good to...Good to see you, bud.”

Harry squinted and asked, “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to spend Thanksgiving with you.” He nodded at Lisa and Thomas. “If you all will allow me to join your beautiful family.”

“Oh! Of course,” Lisa said, nodding, Thomas nodding even faster from the floor. “You’re more than welcome anytime.”

“You can even take our bed,” Thomas said. Lisa shot him a look. “Or...the pull-out sofa?”

“The pull-out sofa,” Lisa echoed sweetly.

JD chuckled. “Thanks, y’all, but I have a suite at the Ritz, so I’ll be out of your hair in no time.”

“What about Cancun?” Harry asked.

JD looked to his son and his smile faded. He stepped closer to Harry with his hands clasped in front of his large metal belt buckle.

“Cancelled.”

“Huh.” Harry shrugged one shoulder. Louis’ fingers laced with his own behind his back. “That’s too bad.”

“You’re my son, Harry,” JD said, softer, his expression that of surprise. “You and your sister are the most important people in my life, even if…” He spun a Superbowl ring on his middle finger while studying the floor. “Even if I don’t always say or do the right thing to let y’all know that.”

He looked up at Harry as he walked closer, both Styles men near mirror images of each other’s body type and height. Even their hair was of similar length and style. “When you let me have it at Marjorie’s funeral, and then seeing you on television being so...so different from what I thought you were like, it was eye opening. Seeing you help your pal Payne and stand up for others, seeing you be a good man, seeing you hold that dick Headley accountable for whatever he did—that was eye opening, as well. I don’t know where you got that sort of…”

JD trailed off in his low southern drawl. The Tomlinson family leaned forward, as if they were actually watching a movie on HBO.

“Fortitude.” JD gave a wry, slightly sad smile. “We’re lucky that you are your mama’s son.”

“That’s not…” Harry shook his head, then cleared his throat. “That’s not totally true. There’s some of you in here too. I don’t think I got my hands from mama, you know?”

Everyone laughed lightly, some of the tension in the foyer released.

“All I know is that you’re my son and it’s Thanksgiving. Cancun can wait.” JD looked beyond Harry, his smile small but his face open. “Plus, I’d like to meet this magic armadillo everyone’s a-talking about.”

Louis felt his cheeks heat as Harry squeezed his fingers.

“Ohhh, are you the armadillo?” Thomas asked from the cat bed.

“Yeah. Um. Hi.” He smiled gently and held out his free hand, Harry still holding his other. “I’m Louis.”

JD stepped closer and their hands grasped. “I figured.” He released their grip to hug Louis. “So happy to meet you, Louis. I’m JD Styles, Harry’s dad.”

. . .

“Everyone good?” Lisa asked, standing at her seat. She was met by a chorus of happy hums. “Anyone need anything? More gravy? Water?”

“Everything is perfect, Ma,” Louis said. He used his foot to push her chair away from the table. “Sit. Relax. Eat.”

“Lisa, these green beans are simply stunning.” JD lifted his glass towards her. “You’re an incredible chef.”

“Why thank you,” she said, chuckling her words. She clinked their glasses. “Thanks so much. Thanks for the wine, too.” She sipped. “Delish.”

“And these sweet potatoes.” JD swirled his fork in the puff of vibrant orange creaminess. “I don’t know if I’ve had sweet potatoes this good in years.”

“Oh, you can thank Harry for them.” Lisa winked at Harry. “He was in charge of those.”

Harry’s face warmed, though it wasn’t from the steaming bowl of gravy beside his plate.

“Ah ha,” JD said quietly. He smiled at Harry from across the table with his lips shut, his fork lowered to rest on his plate. “I reckon that’s why they remind me of your mama’s.”

“I used her recipe, yeah,” Harry said, just as quiet. “We Facetimed during prep.”

“They’re delicious. Well done, Hu—I mean—Harry.” JD nodded at his son. “Well done, Harry.”

. . .

The meal went on without a hitch, helped partly by JD bringing enough alcohol to recreate a Cancun pool party. Thomas was especially fond of the liquor and cigars JD contributed to their Thanksgiving cornucopia. Conversation flowed and the food seemed to never end. Some of Louis’ extended family didn’t quite understand who Harry and JD were, but the Styles boys were so charming together that not even crabby old Aunt Vee could resist.

Louis swallowed his last mouthful of mashed potatoes as he observed the table. He leaned to the left and brought his lips to Harry’s ear.

“Your dad’s kind of hot.”

Harry muffled a dry heave with a bite of biscuit. “Ew, shut up,” he said as he chewed. He swallowed. “Ugh. No. Just no.” He kicked Louis’ feet under the table. “Besides”—he took another bite—“I thought you didn’t like dicks?”

Louis giggled under his breath. “He’s not that bad. Plus, it’s good that he’s hot. That means you’ll be hot when you’re old.”

“Such a forward thinker.”

“And, hey,” Louis said as he tilted his head towards their fathers, “I think your dad found someone to talk to afterall.”

They peered across the Thanksgiving table. Thomas and JD were both red faced from drinking whiskey and talking football from the moment Thomas recovered from his fainting spell.

“He’s a good businessman,” JD said as he refilled Thomas’ glass.

“I agree!” Thomas clinked their glasses. “I don’t know why everyone is so afraid to tell the truth these days. He’s just saying what everyone’s thinking.”

“Ugh.” Louis reached for his wine. He swallowed a mouthful. “They’ve moved on from football.”

“We should just make out every time they start talking politics,” Harry murmured reasonably. Louis snorted into his wine, his eyes crinkled at Harry. “Full blown makeout sesh. Like, yeah, dads. Get a look at this.” He put on an extra gruff voice. “Your sons are making out, with tongue, and they totally do stuff with each others’ assholes.”

Louis’s head fell back as laughter howled out of his body, his stomach shaking. Harry laughed beside him with his wine glass dangling from his fingers.

“Oh my God,” Louis said, panting slightly. He lifted the neckline of his tank to wipe under his eyes. Harry poked at his lower belly, but he just continued to giggle. “Your use of the word asshole always makes me laugh.”

The table was so chatty that no one paid much attention to Harry and Louis’ uncontrollable bursts of laughter as they tucked back into their meal.

JD poised his fork with a piece of turkey hanging from the prongs. “What do you think about that doctor? He seems reasonable.”

“I agree,” Thomas said enthusiastically. “His voice is so soothing.”

Louis and Harry met eyes.

“Well?” Harry smirked and arched his brows. “What do you think?”

“Well,” Louis drawled, holding out the word. As he pondered, he looked from his sisters to his mother. First they had sex in the Little Mermaid bathroom. Now they might make out during Thanksgiving dinner? At the table?

Even with his whiskey glass blocking his mouth, JD’s voice carried to them as he quietly said, “I just don’t get why they make such a big old deal about the word marriage. Rights are rights, and if they want ‘em, they can have them. God bless ‘em. No argument there. But the word marriage means a man and a woman, simple as that. It’s in the dictionary.”

Louis faced Harry, gripped his cheeks, and pressed their open lips together. Harry laughed into the kiss, cradling the back of his neck to press their lips firmer.

. . .

After a long Thanksgiving Day, Louis tucked their wet towels into the bathroom laundry basket. He heard a quiet thunk from down the hall and quickly hit the lights on his way out the door.

“Hey,” he whispered, stepping into his room. “You okay? What are you…” He snickered as he shut the door. “What are you doing?”

“Sorry,” Harry whispered apologetically, like he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He pointed at the square heap of air mattress in his lap. “I didn’t know the motor thing was attached and I dumped it out of the box and it made a loud noise on the floor. Did I wake everyone up?”

“No, it’s okay. It wasn’t loud. It’s…”

Louis watched Harry untangle the extension cord for a moment. Harry crawled on his knees to the left, but found no available outlet. Then he crawled right and hummed, the plug hanging from his hand. Louis pointed towards his bed.

“You have to plug it behind my nightstand.”

Harry glanced at Louis, then followed the line of his hand. “Oh. Cool.” He crawled towards the bedstand in nothing but a borrowed pair of Louis’ boxers, blue plaid barely covering his ass. “Um…” He looked over his shoulder, his eyes going from Louis’ feet to his face. “Did you...How are you?”

Louis pinched a tiny bite of his bottom lip as he smiled. He nodded and stepped towards the air bed.

“I’m good. Still…” He adjusted himself in his loose gray sleep shorts. “Sticky. And salty.”

“Yeah, um.” Harry smiled shyly as he plugged in the air mattress. He itched his damp hair and licked his lips. “Me too.” He and Louis sat back on their feet as they watched the mattress fill with air, its motor droning a low buzz. “Do you know where the bunchy sheet is?” Harry lifted a pile of folded linens. “Is it the blue one?”

“I think it’s the striped one.” Louis took one sheet from him and opened it. “Yep. Stripes.” He placed the sheet on the growing mattress. “Do you want an extra blanket?”

“Nah, I’m cool with what you gave me.”

“Cool.” Louis rested his hand on the top of the half-filled mattress. Both watched it fill for a moment. “Actually, um...You know what?” He leaned forward and pulled the air bed’s plug. “I don’t want this.”

Harry looked curiously at him as the bed started to deflate.

“Don’t want what?”

Louis tilted his head towards his bed. “You should just sleep in my bed with me. If you’re okay with that?”

“You’re sure? I mean, yeah, of course I’d want that, but I don’t want to rush anything.”

“You made me come with your mouth twice today, though you didn’t let me repay the favor.”

“Yeah, but...” Harry sputtered for a moment, his mouth trembling as he froze under Louis’ stare. “Being in bed with you would be, like, more personal.” He lowered his voice and curled his fingers against Louis’ outer thigh. “Like...soft stuff, you know?”

“I know.”

Harry frowned. “I just…”

“What?” Louis crawled closer. “What is it?”

“I feel a little confused.”

“Why?”

“Because I thought...I dunno.” Harry pulled an elastic off his wrist. He felt warm under Louis’ rapt, intense stare, though Louis sat relaxed beside him. “I thought we’d not be physical for a while, which is totally fine and makes sense to me, but we’ve been doing physical stuff all day.” He itched his hair. “Like, kissing and hooking up and doing naked activities and all that stuff. And we had fun at dinner. We had fun making out, like, ten times in front of our parents.”

“They did that to themselves, really.”

“Fun surfing. Fun…” Harry started to smile but forced his mouth to a line. “Fun with the after surfing stuff.”

“I know.” He slowly walked his fingers up Harry’s thigh, then back down to his knee. “It has been fun.” His fingers traveled up Harry’s stretched ribs. “I like having you here.”

Harry bundled his hair. “And is that okay?” A small bun now sat high on his head. “Is that okay with you?”

“It is. I’m comfortable doing all those things with you. Touching you and stuff. I wouldn’t be doing it if I wasn’t okay with it.”

Harry studied him for a moment, lowering his arms.

“But...you’re mad at me, Lou.”

“I am.”

“So…”

Louis pushed on the air bed, watching it shrink under the pressure of his hand. He looked to Harry.

“People are different, you know? Reactions are different. Situations are different. Some people might not want you to touch them after a traumatic event like Tuesday morning, but I do. It might not be like that tomorrow or the next day, but it’s like that today, so here we are. There is no comparison between you and the lacrosse player, so it makes sense that I’m feeling different this time around.”

“What was his name?”

Louis sighed, then wrinkled his nose and said, “Chadwick.”

“Blech. I’ve never met a Chad I liked.”

Louis stacked the unused sheets on the air mattress, then sat back on his heels, his hands on the sheets. As he breathed, his shoulders hunched forward. His collarbones deepened. His gaze skittered up to Harry’s face.

Harry moved towards him and covered Louis’ hand with his own. “What’s up, baby? What is it?”

“Just thinking about the whole Chad thing.”

“Oh, fuck, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked. I shouldn’t—” Harry lifted his hand. “I shouldn’t be all touchy. Sorry about the, um, calling you baby, too.”

“No, it’s okay. It’s okay.” Louis nibbled his bottom lip for a moment, then looked Harry straight in the eye. “I spent a long time avoiding being touched after the first time, and that’s what I needed to do then, but…” He shook his head. “I’m not eighteen and you are not Chadwick. You didn’t do what Chadwick did. There is no comparison. I don’t want to give you a complex because I like how much you touch me.”

Harry smoothed his palm up Louis’ forearm, peering curiously at him from under his lashes.

“You didn’t want to be touched when you were eighteen? After it happened?”

“No.” Louis pinched the corner of a pillowcase. “Not for a couple of years. I have an awesome therapist, who I’m actually seeing on Saturday, who helped me out a lot. You should come for the ride to her office. We can get lunch afterwards at my favorite burrito place.”

“I’ll drive you.”

Louis snorted. “In what, your private plane?” Harry looked hurt for a split second and Louis bumped his cheek to his bare shoulder, nudging his fingers into his side. “I appreciate the offer. You’re sweet.”

As both sat side by side in their boxers, Harry ducked down and softly pressed their lips together. Louis touched Harry’s hip, his hand flattening on his lower ribs as their lips tenderly touched again, close-mouthed with no tongue. Both smiled, and Harry kissed Louis’ forehead.

“I know you don’t like grand gestures, but does this Chadwick live in town? Can I pay those pie carrying kids to egg his car or something?”

“Nah, that’s okay,” Louis said, laughing breathily. “I have no idea where he is and I don’t care. And I like your gestures. I just need time and we need to figure each other out.”

“I’m going to do my best, Lou.”

“I’m sure of it.” Louis pinched his cheek. “Fortitude and all.”

“I’m gonna be backstage at every show packing costumes.” Harry popped up to stand with his hands on his hips. “I’ll thread all your needles. I’ll carry your books to class.” He held his arm out for Louis to grasp.” I’ll even get a job at Starbucks and make all the Frappuccinos so you don’t have to.”

“That last idea is a heroic gesture if I’ve ever heard of one,” Louis said through his giggles. He held Harry’s arm to stand. “I can handle my own needles and books, thanks. You just have to be you. I want an equal, remember? Not a servant.” He lifted himself onto the balls of his feet and brushed their lips, Harry gently holding his waist. “Don’t worry about the Frappucinos.” Harry lowered his face for another quick kiss, Louis pursing his lips before he huffed out a laugh. “Sorry.”

“What?” Harry asked with a smile.

Louis flattened his hand on Harry’s sides and kissed his jawline. “I’m just really tired. I get giggly when I’m tired.”

“I know,” Harry said quietly. He thumbed Louis’ hip bones, stroking the back of his hips. Even lower, he murmured, “I love that part. But yeah, we should sleep. I might fall asleep standing.”

“I don’t blame you.” Louis turned to hit the lights. When he turned back towards his bed, Harry was standing on the opposite side while biting his thumbnail. “You can get on the bed, Styles.”

Harry held the top of the blankets. “You’re sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“Fuck me, I’m nervous,” Harry blurted out as he wiped his hand over his face. He pulled the waistband of his boxers away from his stomach, fanning air over the revealed patch of skin. “Now you’re the one making me sweat.”

“You’re nervous to sleep in a bed with me?”

“It’s more than that. It’s—I felt, I feel, so bad still. So bad.”

Louis sat on his side of the bed. He wiggled his legs under the blankets. “You know how you and your pals are all, ‘Go big or go home?’”

“Yeah. What about it?” Harry tilted his head as he fanned his groin. “Is that a problematic expression?”

“No, but you went really fucking big in a really bad way, so you’re probably going to feel like shit for a while. Punishment fits the crime and all that, you know? That’s guilt for you.”

Harry laid on his back with his feet were still flat on the floor. “Maybe I ought to make an appointment with your therapist.”

“Probably not a bad idea in the future.”

Harry turned his head. He watched Louis arch his entire body and yawn as he stretched. Even his toes pointed perfectly, his body appearing as if he was performing a graceful leap while horizontal on the bed. Harry curled up on his side.

“Hey, Lou?”

Louis gave him a sleepy smile. “Hm?”

“Can I ask you a, um—” His knees bumped Louis’ legs, his mouth going crooked in a smiled wince. “Question? Sorry.” He squirmed lower and wiggled his feet. “Not meaning to kick you.”

“Here.” Louis shimmied a bit backwards and fluffed the blankets. “Fit in, like—” He made space for Harry in front of him and gestured to the shape of his body. “Like, here. Come here.” Harry shuffled closer. Both propped their heads up on their hands in mirrored positions. Louis squeezed Harry’s bicep, smiling crookedly. “Sorry. Woes of a tiny bed. What did you want to know? And before you ask, no, Chadwick was not my first. Thank fuck. That sweaty honor goes to a sweet guy named Andy that I met at track camp one summer, and who…” He ran his fingers through the front of Harry’s hair. “Kind of has the same kind of hair as you, now that I think about it.”

Harry opened his mouth, then closed it with narrowed eyes. “How did you know I would ask that?”

“I just did. And no.” Louis held his palm out. “I didn’t experiment with my mannequin.” Harry guffawed so loudly that he muffled his mouth with both hands, Louis snickering as the blankets shivered on top of them. “Okay, okay. Seriously, though. What’s up?”

“Who tipped you off?”

Louis’ smile faded a touch, but soon returned. “I’m…I’m not sure, actually.”

Harry slowly asked, “What?”

“Someone left a note in my sketchbook that night we all were eating. Before I had class.”

“A what? A sketchbook?” Confusion made Harry’s tone breathier. “An anonymous note in your book?”

“Mmhmm.”

“What is this, The Scarlet Letter?”

“Nice try, but no. I’m guessing you didn’t leave it?”

Harry’s eyes widened. “No, I didn’t. I should have,” he quickly amended, “I wish I had, but no, it wasn’t me.” He snapped his fingers. “Liam? It had to be Liam.”

“Liam was my front runner, but I’m thinking he didn’t write it either. When he told Zayn about the bet and didn’t say anything about trying to tip me off, that made me knock him out of the race. I think he would have said something when trying to calm Zayn down.”

“True. By the way, Zayn is legitimately terrifying.”

Louis chuckled softly. “Zayn knew about the sketchbook note, but he thought it was just some stupid thing you wrote about your dick. I mentioned the possibility of a bet, but he thought you were just hiding something weird. That’s why he kept pumping Liam for information.”

“What did the note say?”

“Ask H about it.”

“About what?”

“No, that’s what it said. All caps in blue pencil.” Louis swirled an imaginary pencil in the air. “ASK H ABOUT IT. They didn’t say there was a bet, but I figured the IT was something I wasn’t going to be excited about. Something you might not want to tell me. Something related to why you started sniffing around for no reason.”

Harry squinted. “Ask H about it?”

“Why are you looking at me like I should know who it was that wrote it?”

“It’s just that…” Harry shrugged as he shook his head. “A lot of people call me H.”

“Well, little darlin’, your name does begin with it.”

Harry poked his nipple. “I know that, thanks.” They shifted closer, Louis pulling the blankets to their shoulders before settling his head on a pillow. Harry remained propped up with his fingers pinching the tip of his chin. “If I had to put money on it, I’d guess it was Ryan or Eric because they were sitting next to us. They knew about the bet. They were against the bet from the start because they knew you.”

“Makes sense.” Louis yawned. “They’re nice.”

“But I…” Harry scanned the ceiling for a moment, then lowered his shocked gaze to look at Louis. “It had to be Ryan.”

“Why do you say that?”

Harry held his hand out in the space between them, gesturing three times. “We passed the book from Liam to me to Ryan. One, two, three. Liam, me, Ryan. Eric’s hands had mayo and eggs on them so he didn’t want to write.”

“Ew, gross.”

“I drew a hot dog.”

“That’s why we thought it was dick related.”

“Liam made a smiley.”

“Appropriate.”

“Ryan was the last one with the book and then he put it back at your seat with an empty sheet up,” Harry said, his voice speeding up as if he was remembering the key clue for a murder investigation.

Louis droned, “Ah haaaa, the mystery is solved. Now it makes sense that Chase pulled Swan Lake from Hell when Ryan and Eric were out running.”

“Yeah, they...I mean…” Harry’s eyes darted to Louis. “The deadline to fuck you was before Thanksgiving, so that probably makes sense with the timing of Swan Lake more than them being out of the house.”

“Charming.”

“But…” Harry laid on his back and gripped his bun with both hands. “Holy shit,” he exhaled. His elbows fell away from his face. He sucked in a breath only to blow it out and whisper, “Holy fucking shit.”

“What?” Louis propped himself up and rubbed his stomach. “What’s up? Ryan was trying to do a good thing. Did anyone ever tell him he looks like Michael B. Jordan?”

“Yeah, he gets that a lot. I just…I can’t believe that Chase played me. Chase didn’t even know that people call soccer ‘football’ everywhere else in the world, but he made this whole…” Harry put his hand on top of Louis’ as Louis rubbed his stomach. He swallowed; his throat felt swollen and rough. “It makes me sick just thinking about it.”

“Yeah, I know how you feel.”

Harry blinked rapidly and squeezed his hand. “Fuck, I’m sorry. I’m not—I’m not trying to make this about me. I know that it was horrible for you and you didn’t deserve any of it.”

“I know that. But...you were shocked, too.” Louis rested his chin on Harry’s pec. “You were caught off guard, too. And you took responsibility. Eventually.”

“I’m just…” Harry’s lips gaped open. “I’m…”

“Sweaty.”

“What?”

“Sweaty.” Louis rubbed his chin on his chest and smiled crookedly, smoothing his hand up his abs. “You’re sweating. A lot.”

“Sorry. You make me so nervous,” Harry admitted. Louis huffed a quiet laugh and pressed his face to Harry’s ribs, thumbing the damp hair below his navel. Harry started to sit up. “Should I, um, sleep on the air bed?”

“No.” Louis eased Harry onto his back. “You know what I think you need?”

“Another shower?”

“No.”

“More deodorant?”

“No. You’re fine.”

“Then what? What are you…” Harry trailed off. Louis straddled him and his eyes widened, his mouth pursed and his hands glued flat to the bed. “Lou, wh-what are you doing? I absolutely do not deserve a lap dance. Not now and maybe not ever.”

Louis ran his hands up Harry’s chest to cradle his neck. “You’re not getting a lapdance.”

“Then what do you think I need?”

“I think you’re in need of some hardcore...” He gently ground against him. “Uncut...” He lowered his face. “Totally raw…” Their lips brushed as Louis smiled and whispered, “Soft stuff.”

Harry jerked his face away. “I don’t deserve that either. Not at all.”

“I think you do. I think you need it.”

“Why are you being nice?”

“Because I’m mad at you, but I still have a heart and a brain. Hey.” Louis held his cheek and guided him to look at up. Softly, he said, “You’re my friend, Harry. We’re friends.” Harry gave him a small nod, his smile equally small but brightening his eyes. “Are we more than friends? Yeah. We’re more than friends and we had sex and are still fooling around and all that, but you’re my friend. I don’t know what your other friends are like, but I take care of mine, even if I’m mad at them. I’m not saying we’re okay, and I’m not saying let’s jump into being perfect boyfriends. I’m just trying to make you feel better because that will make me feel more normal.”

“But I should be the one doing soft stuff to you. I should be making you feel better.”

“We do soft stuff together, genius. And what are you gonna do?” Louis giggled lightly. “Cover me in cotton balls and bunnies? C’mon.” Harry pouted and Louis slid onto the bed, their legs bumping. “I’ll spoon you this time.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah.”

“But aren’t you better to spoon because you’re smaller than me?”

“Again with the smaller thing. Have you learned nothing?”

Harry smiled and held his palms out. “Hey, you’re shorter than me. It’s a matter of public record.”

Louis shook with uncontrollable, muffled laughter. Harry didn’t help matters as he grinned and gently squeezed his shaking lower belly.

“It’s not public record, you weirdo.” Louis giggled and pushed his hand away. “What, did you watch Law & Order on the plane?”

“SVU.”

“Of course.”

They stared at each other as the sound of Buttercup’s cat paws darted through the hallway, frantic and erratic, as if she was chasing an invisible mouse. Louis flattened his palm on the front of Harry’s chest and pressed their lips together.

“We can sleep like this,” he whispered, smoothing his hand to Harry’s flank. “Face to face is cool, too.”

“Can I ask another question?”

Louis’ eyes crinkled. “You don’t have to ask permission to ask questions, Riggs. We’re friends, you know?”

“Yeah,” Harry murmured, his smile growing. “I know.”

“You act like you have no friends. You have good friends, like Liam and Ryan.”

“I know, but I never had a friend like you. Oh!” He took a deep breath, then quietly sang, “I ain’t never had a friend like youuuu!

“I set myself up for that one,” Louis deadpanned, Harry muffling his laughter in Louis’ neck. “What did you want to know?”

“Um…” Harry bit his bottom lip as he stroked the dip beneath Louis’ ribs. “Do you remember?”

“Remember what?”

“The first night.”

“Like, the party before we woke up?”

“Mmhmm.”

“No, not really. I remember...I remember being stressed about a deadline all week and then finally getting it done that day. I remember being annoyed because I had to get all new tires and it cost a shitload of money. I remember getting a weird ass text from this guy I dated over the summer. And I remember Niall begging me to go to a party at your frat house, which, just saying, I am never going back in there ever again.”

“Understood. I dunno if I even want to go back in there.”

“You should. Just go in, steal that sick beer cabinet, and leave.”

Harry smirked. “Yeah.”

“Other than that, I remember thinking, like, ‘Okay, cool. Free alcohol. I’m broke as hell right now,’ and sort of downing it because I was stressed. I remember…” He nibbled his lips. “I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember laughing. And...books. And you. Together. And I never felt weird with you. I was just there and you were there. We were okay.”

“Books?”

“I know. You don’t have any in your room, so who knows where I got that.”

“I have books now, thank you.”

“After that, it goes fuzzy. Do you?”

“Remember?”

“Yeah.”

“I…” Harry nuzzled his cheek against his pillow and tucked his hand under his cheek. “I remember the sound of your voice, even though I don’t remember what we talked about.”

“Okay.”

“And I remember liking you.”

Louis’ brows shot up. “You did?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“You were a total dick the next day.”

“I know, but I was hungover,” Harry said with a guilty smile. “And you’re a pretty intense person to wake up to. You grilled me with, like, nonstop questions.”

Louis fixed him with a stare. “You asked me to get back on top and referenced my loose asshole.”

“Hey, you said you like my asshole talk.”

“You’re such a shit,” Louis said, giving his nipple a gentle flick. Harry snickered and curled his arms up, Louis moving on to pinch his waist. “You just said you liked the sound of my voice.”

“I do. I did. It was something with your voice and just feeling okay, like you said. I dunno.” Harry thumbed his closed eye. “I was really overtired and wasted and I’m just…” He yawned and stretched his arm. “All I know is that I’m really glad I ended up with you and you ended up with me, however it happened and whatever we did.”

“I agree.”

“You sure?”

Louis’ fingertips meandered down the front of Harry's throat to stroke between his pecs.

“Yeah. I’m sure.”

Harry released a breath and kissed his forehead. He let his lips rest against Louis’ hairline as he breathed through his nose, Louis’ palm smoothing circles over the small of his back.

Harry’s words ruffled through Louis’ hair. “I’m so sorry.”

Louis thumbed his spine.

“I know.”

“I’m probably going to keep saying it over and over.”

“I know, but let’s go to sleep,” Louis whispered. “We’re tired.”

Harry swallowed, pushing the lump in his throat lower to lodge in his chest. He shut his eyes and exhaled a big breath, then nodded. Louis pulled him closer with an arm around his waist.

The bed creaked as they shifted in their places. Harry adjusted the pillow under his head and Louis shuffled his feet. Both shut their eyes and wiggled closer.

When he heard not a peep out of Louis, Harry opened one eye and glanced around the dark bedroom. Being in a house other than your own was usually easy with the help of alcohol, but their dinner buzz had worn off hours before. Now he wondered if Louis’ parents could hear them talking, or if his sisters heard every time one of them moved in bed. He looked back to Louis and was hit by a sleepy blue gaze.

“Oh.” Harry blinked. “Hi.”

Louis smiled softly, his thumb drawing circles on Harry’s spine. He raised his brows. Harry’s face flushed and he ducked his head before looking back up. Their eyes locked, their smiles growing together.

“Alright, alright.” Harry snuffled despite his flushed cheeks and turned onto his other side. “You win.”

Louis wrapped an arm around him as their feet slid together under the covers. Harry hitched the blankets up to their chests and curled tighter, Louis’ body following the motion.

The warmth and weight of Louis behind him made Harry’s eyes feel instantly heavier. His muscles and bones sent signals to his brain that it was time to shut down. It had been a long day. His small movements, a shift of his foot or scrunch of his nose, lost some of their speed. His eyes battled to stay open.

Both took a breath at the same time. They exhaled, the space between their bodies growing smaller and smaller. Louis kissed his shoulder blade, then pressed his face against the back of his neck, and Harry’s eyes fell shut.

“Dunno if I’ll be able to fall asleep like this,” Harry murmured. “Might….Might be…”

Louis didn’t open his eyes, but he raised his brows. “Hmm?”

Buttercup made another frantic dash down the hall. Even cats in their house were always running, running, running. The sound of her paws coincided with Harry’s soft, rhythmic snores, Louis’ hum melting into a drone before he sniffled into Harry’s hair and tipped asleep.

. . .

The next morning, Louis woke to the rough feeling of sand on his feet. They had washed up before bed but they weren’t able to rid themselves completely of sand from their late-night surf session. He focused enough to see an empty bowl on his bedside table, the porcelain stained bright red.

Louis smiled with sleepy eyes. The sight of the cranberry sauce plate made his morning wood throb, but also made his stomach growl. Along with sand, he and Harry probably had cranberry in places they shouldn’t. He looked over his shoulder.

Harry was fast asleep with his mouth pursed, and his hair tie barely hung on to the tiny bun on top of his head. He was tilted, as if he wanted to sleep on his stomach but bumped into Louis and decided to lean against him with only certain parts of his body. The green and blue baseball themed sheets, sheets that he had on his childhood bed for as long as he could remember, were bunched at Harry’s waist, Harry’s abs rounded as he breathed.

Louis looked away from Harry and relaxed. The soothing rhythm of Harry’s easy breaths made Louis curl tighter on his side and cuddle into his pillow. Just as he was about to fall asleep, his stomach growled. He opened his eyes.

He had almost gotten his legs out of the blankets when a deep, amused voice murmured, “Are you trying to sneak out to get the last piece of pecan pie?”

Louis froze on the edge of the bed. “I would never.”

Harry wrapped him in his arms. “Sneaking out of bed on me in the name of pie. What kind of manners is that? That’s how you treat guests?”

“I’ll make it up to you.”

“Oh, yeah?”

Louis yawned and snuggled back against him. “Absolutely.”

“You gonna give me the last piece of pecan pie?”

“No way. I meant sexual favors. I’m eating that pie.”

“I’ll eat your pie any day.”

Louis let out one honk of laughter before he muffled his mouth with his hands, squirming away from Harry’s prods.

“Shh, don’t make me laugh,” Louis said, giggling his words. He rolled his neck as he got comfortable. “My dad just accepted I was gay a day ago. I don’t want to spook him.”

“Mmm. Temporary truce.” Harry kissed the top bump of his spine. “Want me to rub your back?”

Louis curled his arms under himself with his hands tucked under his chin. “Okay,” he said softly. Harry smoothed his palms up and down his rounded back, dragging his thumbs on the inner line of his shoulder blades. Louis sighed, his eyes fluttering shut. “Feels nice, thanks.”

Harry rubbed in silence for a moment. He brushed his nose in the back of Louis’ hair.

“Yesterday was so fun, but so much work.”

Louis tilted his head to rest his cheek on his pillow. “Yeah, I’d say so. You had a huge game on national television, got Liam and Zayn back together, traveled here on no sleep, ran an unintentional 5K in full football gear, gave me the rimmy of my life in the shower, then ended up in the clutches of Lisa Tomlinson, who wrangled you into cooking, cleaning, and assisting with Christmas lights. Oh, and your dad showed up. So yeah. You had a day.”

Harry smiled into Louis’ hair. He squeezed the sides of his neck.

“What do y’all usually do on the day after Thanksgiving?”

“My sisters and I usually watch dance movies all day and eat leftovers.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah.”

“Can we watch Center Stage?”

“Of course. That’s one of the pillars of our movie marathon. I think we’ll skip Black Swan this year, though.”

Harry moved his hands to the small of Louis’ back, smoothing slow circles with his palms rather than massaging.

“I’m sorry,” Harry whispered.

“It’s okay.” Louis rubbed his toes against Harry’s ankle, exhaling a soft breath. “We can watch West Side Story instead.”

Harry kissed behind his ear and hugged him from behind.

“Are you a Cubbies fan?”

Louis looked at his bedroom door, which still featured his weathered Chicago Cubs poster on the back.

“Yeah. Why?”

“Aw, cute. Such faith.”

“They’re in a rebuilding phase.” Louis looked over his shoulder with narrowed eyes. “You, of all people, should be very enthusiastic about my sense of faith.”

Harry kissed his cheekbone. “Very true. We should try to catch a game.” He dug into Louis’ upper back and Louis moaned, wilting onto his front. “Wrigleyville is fun.”

“I’d love to. I’ve never been.”

“When’s your birthday?”

“December twenty-fourth.”

“Ah. Hm. I was going to say I could whisk you away to Chicago for a Cubs Birthday Weekend, but it might be a little too chilly. And no one would be at the stadium. Half birthday work for you?”

“Sure.” Louis rolled onto his back, causing the bed to bounce. “Move over, Riggins. This is a twin bed.”

Harry gave him room to wiggle, then snuggled up to his side. He smoothed his hand over Louis’ stomach. They stared at each other, their bodies touching from toes to shoulders.

The room was silent. There was no frat party shaking the walls or librarian pushing a cart of books beside their study spot. Everything was out in the open.

“Good morning, my darling,” Harry whispered, his smile growing as he spoke. He cradled Louis’ face with one warm palm, smoothing his hair off his forehead with his other hand. He leaned down and pursed his lips, Louis tilting his head up a soft peck. “Did you sleep well?”

Louis ducked his face away. Harry’s hands smoothed over his cheeks. Louis blinked at him with sleep-heavy eyes.

“I thought that I was supposed to say that to you every morning for the rest of our lives, hm?”

“We can alternate,” Harry said, low and magnanimous. He pressed their closed lips together, Louis’ fingers curling on the center of his chest. “Take turns in an equal rotation.” Harry kissed the corner of his mouth, tilting his head and whispering, “Sound good?”

Louis nibbled the inside of his bottom lip, his gaze dipping to Harry’s puffy mouth before returning to his eyes.

“Yeah,” he exhaled, Harry grinning wider. “That sounds good.”

Harry murmured happy, growling sounds as he kissed Louis’ neck. Louis arched his back with his hands linked behind Harry’s shoulders, then kissed his forehead. He his lips lower to kiss both of Harry’s cheeks, all while sneaking his feet out of the blankets.

“Harry?”

“Yeah, babe?”

Louis brought his lips to Harry’s ear. “I’m totally eating that pie.”

He took off.

“Hey!” Harry gasped and threw his long legs out of the bed. His feet got caught in blankets as he flopped sideways, but he grabbed Louis’ heel. “I, umf, swear, Lou.” He pulled Louis back by the calf. “You never stop moving!”

Louis said over his shoulder, “I’m always running, running, run—Ah!” His hand popped off the doorknob when Harry lifted him off the ground. Louis bicycled his legs in the air, laughing out, “You finally got me!”

Track: Years and Years- Shine

Chapter Text

In the beginning...

Track: Ke$ha - Blow

“It’s always the same people at every party, man,” Harry said with his nose pressed against Liam’s cotton-scented shoulder. “I’m starting to gross myself out with how many people in this room I’ve slept with. It’s a big room, you know? Too many repeat bodily fluids. I swear, it’s like they all get a group text and just show up at the same time. Mmm, you smell good tonight, Li.”

Liam snorted and licked beer foam off his lips. “Uh, yeah. There’s a big text notification sent out to, like, everyone. Doy.”

“There is?”

“There is.”

Harry tipped his head back to finish his Red Bull and vodka. He wiped the back of his hand over his lips, then burped. Someone poured something syrupy and clear with floating gold flecks into his cup, which he promptly downed as a shot. He pounded his chest with both fists and roared, “Fuck, yeah, cinnamon! I fucking love fall!”

Surrounding party guests chanted, “Hu-go! Hu-go! Hu-go!” over the Ke$ha song booming through the grand room, their voices almost drowning out the music. The members of the football team on the sofa laughed raucously as Harry fist pumped to the rhythm of their chant with his head down and his shoulders bobbing from side to side.

“Best fans in the world,” Harry cackled with a sloppy, hazy-eyed grin. He kissed his fingers and pointed up at the ceiling. “God Bless America.”

“Here, Hughie, have another,” Liam said as he tipped the bottle of Goldschläger into Harry’s cup. He giggled and arched away from Harry’s lips blowing weak raspberries on his neck. “The gold standard for the golden boy.”

“I need to speak to someone official about this text message chain,” Harry slurred, straightening up. “I, personally, have never gotten a notification.”

“You live here,” Ryan said with a snort, smushing Harry’s Packers hat over his eyes. Harry giggled and sank further into the sofa. “You’re on the team, genius. Do you need a text inviting you to your own victory party in your own frat house?”

Ke$ha suddenly cut out. Boos echoed around the high ceilings. Harry turned his hat backwards and peered towards the stereo.

Track: Foo Fighters - Everlong

The barest hint of blue eyes cut through the crowd as the first strum of guitar sounded through the speakers. Those same blue eyes darted out of Harry’s sight line, taking with them a head of tousled brown hair.

The hair on the back of Harry’s neck stood up. He felt like he had a string attached to the center of his chest that lifted his torso higher, higher, higher. He scanned across the party.

“Who is that?” His lips felt like they were moving slower than usual. “Li?”

Liam looked in the direction of Harry’s gaze. “What? Who?”

Harry’s eyes locked with the mystery man and his breath caught in his chest. The man froze under Harry’s stare, his wet, pink lips opening half an inch. He turned away, but was too slow to shield his small smile. His eyes teased over his shoulder one more time before he disappeared into the crowd.

Harry rose from the sofa with his cup pointed forward.

“That guy. In the black. I’ve never seen him here before.”

He couldn’t hear Liam’s first few words over the music. Liam’s breathy voice filtered into his ears as he babbled, “--omlinson. His, uh, roommate is named Zayn and he’s, well, he’s a really good artist. Like, amazing artist. He’s really smart, too. Zayn, I mean. One time, Zayn asked me for a light—he’s a smoker, you know?—but I didn’t have one, and I said I’d bring a lighter to class the next time, but then—”

Chase tumbled into Harry’s empty spot on the sofa. “No one gives a fuck about your artsy fartsy shit, Payner.” He nudged Harry’s butt with his Nike. “Here’s an idea, Styles: Ask him to drop his pants and spread his butt cheeks. That should freshen your memory real quick.”

The surrounding players howled with laughter. Ryan tipped a vodka bottle into Harry’s empty cup. Harry craned his neck, a small frown wrinkling his brows.

“You’re a nasty fuck, Headley. And I don’t think I’ve seen his asshole.” Harry’s frown morphed into a sly smile. “Not that I wouldn’t like to, but I should introduce myself, as the host and all.” He smoothed his red tee over his abs. “It’s only polite.”

“The host of the party you weren’t even invited to,” Ryan said, peering into Harry’s half full cup. He tapped the neck of the vodka bottle on Harry’s knuckles. “Sit down and drink up. You’re drunk, but there’s always room to grow.”

Harry downed his oversized shot of vodka. Then another shot of vodka. Then a shot of rum, for variety. He scanned the room as he drank, his blinks growing slower and his gaze going woozier.

“I’m not even that drunk,” Harry said to no one in particular. That prompted more laughter, the loud sounds woofing around inside his head. He pinched the air, blinking his eyes extra wide. “Maybe I’m a wee bit…”

When he relaxed his eyes, he saw the back of the mystery man’s head. His gaze dropped to take in the arch of his lower back and the swell of his ass beneath his dark, tight jeans. Harry’s legs started to move without notice and dragged his body off the sofa.

Liam’s voice cackling, “You look like Jack from The Nightmare Before Christmas!” was the last thing he heard before he left the main room.

Harry pushed through the crowd and followed the mystery man to the kitchen, but the man ducked outside into the backyard. A surge of party guests wedged between Harry and the door. Dodging more grinding bodies, Harry darted through the kitchen to get outside. Fresh air greeted him, as did the back of the mystery man’s head going through the door that led to the library.

A group of people doing keg stands blocked Harry’s direct route to chase after the man, but Harry hurried around the cheering crowd, exchanging only a handful of high-fives in his quest towards the library. He half expected the library to be empty when he got inside, as it usually was every other day of the year, but there was the mystery man, his back to Harry, his weight on his left leg, and his head ducked down.

“Hello,” Harry said.

The man turned, startled, with an open book clutched in his hands. Harry tried to take in every inch of him, from the rosy tips of his stubble-dusted cheeks to the tapering of his ankles at the ends of his black jeans, but the alcohol sloshing in his stomach short-circuited his mental cataloging system. He tried to remember details, but kept getting stuck on the mustard-yellow cover of the book in the man’s small hands. The details that seemed life altering in that moment would be long forgotten by morning.

“Hi,” the man said quietly. He started to smile, the movement of his lips slow. He shelved the book without breaking eye contact. “How are you tonight?”

His gentle, raspy voice burrowed its way to the back of Harry’s gold-flecked brain, sending pleasure signals to his fingers and toes and every nerve ending in between.

“Uh…” Harry thought for a moment, his lips moving without sound. “So...How are you tonight?”

The man squinted playfully. “I believe I just asked you that question.”

“Right,” Harry drawled, grinning and leaning his forearm against a bookshelf. His hand slipped and shoved a heavy book off the shelf, the book slamming to the floor and Harry’s body tilting sideways. He saw the floor and fallen book rush closer. “Shiiiiit.

He braced himself to hit hardwood, but he was hauled to his feet.

“Easy, Riggins, easy,” the mystery man chuckled as he squeezed Harry’s forearm. “It’s just a book. Frightening for you, I’m sure, but no reason to take a tumble.”

Harry blinked at the small hand cradling his arm, then looked to the man. “I’m Harry, not Riggins. Do we have a Riggins on the team? First the texts. Now this.” He blew a breath through his lips. “No one tells me anything around here.”

The mystery man smirked, his eyes never wavering. He put on a serious, deeper tone of voice.

“Right. Harry. Of course. Sorry for the confusion.” He held his hand out. “I’m Louis.”

Harry shook his hand.

“I’m Harry. Hi.”

“Hi,” Louis said on a light, breathy giggle.

“So,” Harry said with their hands still joined. “What are you doing in our library? Party’s out in the main rooms.”

Louis’ smile fell and he released Harry’s hand. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” He took a step back. “Is this room off limits? Like in Beauty and the Beast?” He palmed his forehead. “Why did I just reference Beauty and the Beast? What’s wrong with me?”

Harry stepped forward. “The Beast let Belle go in the library. He gave her the library as a gift. It was the West Wing she was forbidden to enter.”

Louis leaned his back against the shelf of dusty books, the shimmer in his gaze returning. “Hearing you talk so clearly about this while we’re both on the brink of a blackout is sort of like watching A Beautiful Mind in real life.”

“Thank you,” Harry said, pleased. Louis’ sudden giggle slapped him in the face before Louis muffled his mouth with his palm. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing,” Louis giggled, shaking his head. He stepped around Harry. “I’ll, um, leave you alone with your books.”

“No, please, don’t,” Harry said. His fingers brushed Louis’ forearm before closing around his thin wrist. Louis stared at the point of contact, his eyes scanning back at Harry. “Wow, your eyes are, like, blue laser beams that are also wide beams, like headlights on a Jeep. But blue.”

Louis started to laugh again and turned away, his hands covering his face and his back hiccuping. Harry walked around to face him head-on.

“Hey,” Harry warned, low but amused. “I’m being nice, here.”

“You are. You’re being nice. A perfect southern gentleman.” He dabbed beneath his eyes with the backs of his hands, sniffling as his laughter calmed. “Sorry, I’m just kind of really drunk and way overtired. I get giggly when I’m like this.”

Harry crossed his arms over his chest and leaned his shoulder on the wall. “You’re drunk and you seek out the library?”

“My friend got with the girl he wanted and I was bored and books are old friends and...” Louis dissolved into a round of airy laughter. “Wow.” He held a book over his face and turned away. “I’m mega-drunk and embarrassing myself. This is why I don’t do parties. I’m just gonna go.”

Harry jogged after him.

“No, wait, don’t go.”

Louis rounded an antique coffee table and tossed the book at Harry, who caught it.

“Nah, I should go.”

“Stay,” Harry said softly, dropping the book to the floor. His long legs scaled over a sofa to get in front of Louis. “Talk to me.”

Louis’ eyes narrowed as he smirked.

“You don’t even know me.”

“And I love that about our friendship.”

“Our friendship?”

“Do you know who I am?”

“The Anti-Riggins,” Louis said, starting to giggle as he spoke. He held his hand out and blocked Harry’s face from looking at him as he walked. “I’m sorry, I’m really drunk. Time to sleep.”

Harry snagged his hand and pulled him back.

“We can go to sleep.”

“We?” Louis asked on a high rasp, his brows arched. He shook Harry’s hand off. “You’re nuts, cowboy. Pretty eyes and a nice voice can only get you so far.”

Harry’s eyes rounded as he grinned wide enough to show all his teeth.

“Oh my God, we’re the same! I think you have pretty eyes and a nice voice, too! That definitely means we’re meant to be and you should stay to talk with me. For sure.”

Louis’ face flooded with heat. He dropped his head forward.

“Um, I…” Louis squinted up at him with a small smile, Harry swaying forward on his feet. “I recently got out of a relationship and I’m not, uh, looking to hook up yet. So, um”—Louis thumbed towards the door—“I’ll just go.”

“Who said I want to hookup?”

“Well, what do you want to do, then?”

Harry snorted.

“Talk. Doy.”

“Who says doy anymore?”

“Uh, hellur,” Harry drawled, rolling his eyes. He pointed both thumbs at his chest. “This guy, doy.”

Louis’ light laughter tittered around the drafty library, sending shivers up and down Harry’s spine. Harry thumbed the underside of Louis’ wrist.

“C’mon,” Harry said quietly, walking towards the sofa. “Talk to me. Please? Just a little.”

Louis allowed himself to be pulled closer to Harry. “Why do you want to talk to me? We don’t know each other.”

Harry squinted at the leather of the couch for a beat.

“Yeah, uh...I just…” He brought his gaze to Louis, who stared back at him with an intensity that did not match up with his giggly drunkenness. “I kind of would like that. Tonight.”

Louis lowered himself onto the sofa, the sharpness of his jawline accentuated by Harry’s view from above. He offered Harry a small smile and patted the empty cushion.

“What do you want to talk about?”

. . .

And that was how Harry found himself chatting about everything and anything with Louis, a stranger he didn’t know the last name of and who he normally would have finished off in bed well over an hour ago. Instead of finishing him off in bed, the two men finished a bottle of tequila between them as stories spilled from their lips.

Harry tipped the bottle back as Louis gulped. Louis smiled and hummed with his lips wrapped around the rim of the bottle.

“Alright,” Louis laughed, pushing the bottle away. He wiped his hand over his mouth and wilted onto the arm of the sofa. He propped his tucked arms behind his head, his black tee riding up on his stomach. “Your turn.”

Harry’s lips popped off the end of the bottle. “Hmm. Let’s see.” He took another small sip. “Why...Why did you break up with your ex recently?”

Louis shrugged, his shirt riding up higher on his stomach.

“Eh. A few reasons. We weren’t meshing past a certain point.”

“Meshing about what?”

“Like,” Louis said, laughing through the word, “uh, a few things. He wasn’t a good sport.”

“A good sport?”

“Yeah, like, if we were playing board games with friends, he either didn’t want to play, or he’d pout the whole time. Then, if he lost, he’d pout even more.”

“Ugh,” Harry said with great, dramatic disgust. Louis giggled and rubbed his right hand over his face, his left hand still behind his head. “That’s awful. Unacceptable. What else?”

“Um, just the good sport stuff mostly. Oh! And laughing.”

“Too much?”

“Not enough, actually. I...I love a good laugh, you know? I want to be with someone funny. Not, like, annoying class clown funny, but sometimes I need someone who’s gonna make me laugh so hard my stomach aches. Someone that helps get me out of my head once in a while. Not get annoyed at me for thinking the word, ‘Fart,’ is always funny.”

“Doy. It is.”

Louis giggled lightly, his eyes bright. “Yeah, see! You get it.”

“We’re basically, like, twins.”

“Not so sure about that.”

“Why?”

“Well...I’m actually…” Louis winced, clenching his teeth as if bracing for a punch. He swirled his fingers around the Armadillo memorabilia covered walls, complete with team photos from decades ago. “Not a football guy.”

“What!?” Harry exclaimed, laughing at Louis’ muffled giggles. “You’re in my house and you’re not a football guy? I might have to boot you!”

“I like baseball! Baseball is awesome, I swear!”

Harry’s pretend outrage, complete with flailed arms and bulging eyes as he chanted, “Baseball? Baseball!?” only made Louis giggle more, his body curled in the corner of the sofa. Harry handed over the last of the tequila, Louis sucking on the rim of of the bottle until his giggles subsided and he could swallow. Harry’s arm stretched around the back of the sofa. “Where are you from again?”

Louis’ lips popped off the bottle.

“California.”

“Let’s see,” Harry said, stroking his invisible beard. He narrowed his gaze. “Are you...A Dodgers fan?”

“Ugh, no way. No way. Ugh. No. The Angels are my number two team.”

Harry guffawed, wide-eyed. “The Angels? Who is your number one? Any other team in baseball?”

“The Cubs.”

Harry smirked and tilted his head. Sweetly, he asked, “The Cubbies?”

“Yeah,” Louis giggled, excitement bursting from his crinkled eyes. “They’re my heart. My soul.”

Harry ran his fingers along the back of the sofa.

“How did a California boy get into the Cubs?”

“I dunno. History, I guess. And I didn’t really have a strong pull towards any team near me, so it just made sense. I’d love to get to a game at Wrigley.”

“You’ve never been?”

“Nope.”

“Oh, then it’s settled.” Harry stroked Louis’ fringe out of his eyes and smiled slowly. “I’m definitely going to propose to you at Game Seven of the World Series at Wrigley Field once the Cubs win.”

Hysterical laughter shook Louis’ body, Harry laughing along with him and their heads leaning closer on the sofa.

“Yeah, be sure to mark that date down in your calendar, Marty. It’s gonna be a long courtship.”

“My name’s Harry, not Marty.”

“Yeah, I...I know,” Louis laughed, softer. He watched Harry’s fingers stroke the back point of his jawline. His throat bobbed. All the tequila seemed to hit him at once, his gaze going woozy. “That was a joke. Um. Back to the Future. I sneak out of frat parties to read. You know the drill.”

Harry nibbled his bottom lip, his fingertips familiarizing themselves with the soft stubble dusting Louis’ cheek. His lip popped from his teeth, the corners of his mouth weighed down.

“You should actually probably get away from me.”

Confusion flooded Louis’ sleepy face.

“Why’s that?”

Harry leaned in and whispered, “I’m a total asshole.” He shrugged, twirling his fingers in the longish strands at the base of Louis’ hairline. “Ask anyone and they’ll tell you.”

Blue eyes pinned him in place, making his drunken haze feel more like a drunken mist. Louis stared at him for one long, discerning breath before his eyes narrowed, his smile slow.

“Why don’t you let me be the judge of that?”

The weight holding the corners of Harry’s lips lifted as a smile worked its way across his face. He opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by something ice cold dousing his head.

“Asshole!”

Harry watched Louis turn in time to be slapped in the face with a cup of beer, Louis gasping and pressing his palms to his eyes.

“What the hell, Veronica?” Harry asked, his arm settling around Louis’ narrow shoulders. “What was that for?”

“You are an asshole, Harry Styles,” she hissed furiously, slapping Harry in the face with another Solo cup of liquid. Harry shut his eyes, liquid dripping down the front of his neck. “I drag my ass to your stupid party, hoping to recreate last weekend, and I find out you’re with this guy!? I mean, come on, what the fuck?” She gestured at herself from head to toe. “What’s wrong with you!?”

Harry swayed on his feet as he stood with palms outstretched. “We were just talking, Louis and I. And, uh, did I say we were fucking tonight?” He patted his pockets. “I forgot where my schedule is.”

“You have a fucking schedule?” Louis asked from below.

“Some people keep their ducks in a row, but I also keep my fucks in a row.”

Veronica shrieked and dumped a final cup of liquid on top of Louis’ head, then stomped away.

Harry started to say, “Why are you taking it out on him?” but the only words that made it out of his mouth were, “Why are you—” He dry heaved and doubled over, holding his stomach with both arms. “Ugh, is that—Is there jager in that? I hate the smell of—”

“You are an asshole, Harry Styles!” Veronica shouted from the doorway.

Harry gasped out, “Jager,” as the contents of his stomach rushed up his throat and emptied in one focused stream spewing out of his mouth, his vomit shooting directly on top of Louis’ already soaked head. Louis remained motionless as it happened, his mouth and eyes clenched tightly shut, pinkinsh puke dripping down his face and coating the entire front of his shirt. Harry put his hand over his mouth when the vomit stopped, his eyes as wide as they had ever been. Louis swiped his hands over his eyes and lips. He stared up at Harry, both men silent.

Louis nodded. “Right. This is why I don’t do parties.” He pushed himself off the sofa and Harry immediately wrapped him in his arms. "What...is this?"

“I’m so sorry,” Harry murmured into his puke covered hair. Louis squirmed, Harry only tightening his hug. “Shit, I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”

“It’s whatever.” Louis’ voice showed none of the playful lilt it had during their long conversation. “I’m gonna go.”

Harry stepped back from their hug.

“Come to my room with me.”

“Uh, that’s gonna be a no.” Louis stepped around Harry, slicking his hair back with one hand. “God only knows what other fluids I’d be pelted with.”

“Come with me, please. I can help you clean up and give you a new shirt, at least. You’re”—Harry plucked a vomit covered Frito off Louis’ shoulder—“kind of a mess.”

“Yeah, I noticed,” Louis said, tighter. He pushed Harry’s hand away. “I’m done with this pretending we’re friends thing. The charm is gone.”

“Please,” Harry begged, gripping Louis’ hands, a blob of pink vomit stuck to his cheek. “Please, we can, um, keep talking there. Get you cleaned up. We can do whatever you want.”

Louis sighed.

“To be honest, I really want to just go home, take a shower, and watch Daredevil until I pass out.”

“Okay!”

“That...wasn’t an offer,” Louis said slowly, lifting his hands from Harry’s. Harry’s smile faded a touch. “I’m going to do that at my home. Alone.”

“But we can do all that here, I promise. I have Netflix hooked up to my TV and a big bed. We can just chill.”

Louis blinked his heavy, vomit covered eyelashes, fixing Harry with a stare.

“I mean, honestly, Harry. Netflix and chill? I’ve got your vomit inside my nostrils. I’m not really in the mood for you to enter me tonight.”

“God, you’re stubborn. I’m trying to help you, not enter you. Who even says it like that?”

“I’ll take a new shirt and a bathroom to wash up, but that’s it. That’s. It.”

. . .

And that was how Louis found himself toweling his hair in a private bathroom far too nice for a frat house. His eyes sagged more and more while he dried his bare chest. The lights of the bathroom felt too bright, too white, as they pounded into his squinted eyes. His body begged him to lie down, but he knew the minute he became horizontal that it was lights out. He had to get home.

Harry knocked on the door.

“You alright in there?”

“Fine,” Louis said.

“I brought you water. And a shirt.”

Louis opened the bathroom door, bare from his jeans up. He could see Harry was suffering from the same tequila-induced sleepiness, his refined features all softened, his body hunching forward. Harry held out a red shirt and a bottle of water.

“Thanks,” Louis said, accepting both.

“I know you probably want to run for the hills, but…” Harry held his arm out towards the television. “I have Netflix ready. You should probably just sleep over. We’re both,” he burped, “pretty drunk.”

Louis tucked his head inside the smooth, shiny shirt, the material hanging off his frame. He handed Harry his wet towel.

“Why do I get the vibe you’re not really a ‘stay in to cuddle and watch Daredevil’ type?”

“I’m not,” Harry said simply. He stared at the wet towel, then let it drop to the ground. “But tonight is all about pretend, right? Might as well go all out.”

Louis kicked a pile of clothes out of his path as he sucked down a mouthful of water.

“Your room is gross.”

“You’re gross.”

“Very mature. And I’m gross because you puked on me.”

“Hey, I apologized, like, many times.”

Louis sighed, “Whatever,” and crawled on top of the messy bed. The lights went dark, the flat-screen television glowing. He placed the bottle on Harry’s bedside table. “What episode are you on?”

“Five.”

“Me too.”

“Nice.”

Louis flopped on his stomach into a mound of pillows. The smell of faded Axe and stale sweat bombarded his nose. His belly swirled and his lips curled. He flipped onto his back, ignoring the swaying shadows on the ceiling that seemed to mirror the swirling feeling taking over his brain. He watched Harry get under the covers, fully dressed down to his backwards Packers hat.

“Why don’t you go back to the party?” Louis asked. He shut his eyes. “I’m fine here.”

“Nah. I was bored with it tonight, anyway.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Mmm.”

The opening started and Louis cracked his eyes open, sliding his gaze sideways to Harry.

“Why?”

Harry shrugged, light flickering over his cheekbones.

“Was just bored with the same people.”

“That why you came chasing after me?”

Louis could see Harry’s cheek dimple, Harry rolling the back of his head along his pillow.

“Doy,” he said softly.

Louis snorted and propped his right hand behind his head. They watched for a few minutes before Harry whispered, “Lou?”

“Mmm?”

“Can I spoon you when we sleep? Like…pretend to spoon you? In the, you know, style of our pretend friends night?”

Louis raised one eyebrow without looking away from the screen.

“You gonna keep your clothes on and your dick to yourself?”

Harry rolled onto his side, lifting three fingers.

“Mmhmm. Scout’s honor.”

“Scout’s honor,” Louis snorted. “Yeah, sure, whatever. Spoon away.” He yawned and curled on his side with his back to Harry. “I’m too tired to watch.”

The television turned off seconds later. Louis felt the bed shifting behind him before Harry’s long body enveloped him. The party continued to bang downstairs, music and people’s voice filtering into the bedroom every few seconds.

“I might suck at this,” Harry admitted against Louis’ neck, his words slurring together. He tightened his hold, nuzzling his face behind his ear. “Don’t usually do it too often without sex as a warmup round.”

Louis exhaled slowly and relaxed his entire body.

“You actually feel pretty nice.”

“Yeah?”

“Mmm.”

“Aw, cool, happy to hear it. Love positive feedback,” Harry said, his smile audible in his higher tone. “Um…” He scanned over the frizzy peaks of Louis’ wet hair, then followed the shell of his ear until he reached the soft skin beneath his jawline. He shut his eyes, focusing on the warm feeling of Louis’ socked feet linking with his own. “You feel pretty nice.”

“Someone likes playing pretend more than they thought, hmm?” Louis waited for a reply, but all he heard was quiet breathing. He shifted in the tight embrace. “Harry?”

Harry’s eyes flew open.

“What?”

“Didn’t know if you fell asleep. You didn’t answer.”

“Oh. No. I’m up.”

Louis turned onto his other side. He wiggled high enough so that his face was at Harry’s level. He rested his cheek on Harry’s bicep and slipped his hand up the front of Harry’s tee, thumbing over a defined hip dent.

“You’d never be into this every night. You’d get bored. Seems like you’re pretty popular. You wouldn’t want this forever.”

Harry touched the tip of Louis’ chin and tilted his head back. He smiled crookedly.

“Why don’t you let me be the judge of that?”

Louis rolled his eyes and rubbed his cheek against Harry’s shoulder. “You’re ridiculous. And lucky I’m feeling tactile.”

Harry shimmied lower in bed until they were face to face. He leaned close enough for their foreheads to press together.

“Hey,” Harry whispered.

“What?” Louis whispered back.

“Your mouth smells like my toothpaste. Wanna make out?”

“Your mouth smells like…” Louis sniffed. “Soda or something. How is that possible, Barfs McGee?”

“I downed a travel bottle of mouthwash I found on my dresser, plus I found some gummy worms in my closet and ate them while you were showering.”

Louis laughed and rolled onto his back with both palms pressed to his eyes.

“God, what am I doing?” he mumbled.

Harry swayed over him. He propped himself up with his forearms framing Louis’ face, his inner thigh resting over Louis’ knees. Louis stretched his arms up to the headboard and opened his eyes.

“Hey,” Harry whispered again, his fingertips meandering down the side of Louis’ neck. Lower, and with a deeper Texas accent, he drawled, “You’re real pretty.”

Louis held his sincere stare, his body motionless as Harry stroked his neck. In the dark bedroom, he could only make out vague shapes of Harry’s face. The curve of his lips or the roundness of his bright eyes or the strong line of his nose. He was in bed with a stranger, but something in his gut told him everything would be fine.

Louis let go of the headboard. He cradled Harry’s cheeks, guiding his face lower. Harry’s lips quirked once they could feel each other’s breath. Their open lips pressed together, slotting at just enough of an angle to gently suck, mint and sugar mingling as both breathed into the kiss. Louis’ feet flexed against the heavy blanket, prickly sweat springing over his entire body.

“Ooh,” Harry whispered, shimmying his shoulders. He widened his eyes, smiling crookedly. “That was...new.”

“Yeah,” Louis exhaled on a barely-there giggle. He licked his lips. “That’s for sure.”

Harry pecked Louis’s lips even softer while sliding his palms up and down Louis’ sides. He cradled his cheek with his right hand and brought their lips close enough to touch, but didn’t kiss him.

Louis blinked up at him.

“What’s up, Riggins?”

“Is this okay?” Harry whispered, his fingertips lightly toying with Louis’ small earlobe. Louis’ brows arched. Genuine surprise wiped away some of the tequila fog that softened his eyes. “Are you okay with kissing me?”

“A frat boy slash football player who respects consent? Yes, please.”

“Awesome,” Harry said with a wide grin, Louis smiling just as wide. His palm hugged Louis’ jawline, their lips bumping together as both chuckled, out of breath even though they were laying in bed. “You’re hot, too.” Harry kissed the corner of his mouth. “Not just pretty.”

“You’re super hot but you’ve got, like, five kisses left before I fall asleep. No offense.”

“Five?”

“Five. Can you count that high, or no, since there are only four downs in--”

Harry smacked his lips to Louis’ mouth, murmured, “One,” and playfully prodded his stomach. Louis smiled into kiss number two, sliding his hands up the back of Harry’s tee.

Their lips joined a handful of times with the same open-mouthed, lazy, exploratory softness until Harry’s tongue teased between Louis’ lips. Louis laughed quietly and turned his face away. Harry kissed along his jawline.

“Okay. That’s all you’re getting,” Louis said, breathing fast. “Sleep. Now.”

Harry pressed one final, firm kiss to the arch of his neck, then nuzzled his nose beneath Louis’ ear and settled half on top of him.

“I could get used to this.”

“Me rejecting you?”

Harry lifted his face. “Nah.” He dipped close enough to brush their lips together, then their lips pursed for another tiny peck. “You.” Harry tucked a longer strand of Louis’ hair over his ear, then kissed him with such soft sweetness that Louis exhaled against his lips, his feet bicycling under the blankets. Harry whispered, “I could get used to you.

Harry was permitted to watch Louis slowly smile for three seconds before Louis broke their stare and wiggled onto his side. Louis huffed and pulled the blankets up over his burning face, Harry smiling and tugging the back of his shirt.

“Would you shut up and spoon me, already?” Louis grumbled. “God. I’m tired and neither of us will remember this nonsense tomorrow. It’s time to sleep.”

Harry chuckled low in his throat. “Whatever you say, Lou.”

Their bodies fit with their knees bent at the same angle and Harry’s chest snug to Louis’ back. Harry shucked Louis’ shirt up enough to flatten his hand on his bare stomach.

“Warm,” Harry murmured.

“Mmm.” Louis dug his feet between Harry’s ankles. “You, too.”

The walls vibrated with dubstep and someone was having loud sex in the bedroom next door, but both simply sighed at the same time and curled tighter together.